Kate Malone Open Studios 2017!

It’s Christmas in just over four weeks. Leaving that mad thought aside for a moment, one fantastic thing about the coming festive period is OPEN STUDIOS!

As any avid reader of my blog knows, I’m a huge Kate Malone fan and I have every intention of heading down to her beautiful studio again this December! It’s very soon – 2nd and 3rd December from 11am – 7pm and will have the wonderful  Anna Barlow (lovely melty icecreams!), Miray Mehmet Fontanelli, Erika Albrecht and the one and only Richard Miller of Froyle Tiles (and throw down fame).

It’s a little tricky to find, in that her studio is a mews and so behind the main street, but that makes it all the more wonderful! A little piece of secret, ceramics heaven hidden away. I went there last year via Highbury and Islington and took a bus a short way, but Dalston Junction is also just around the corner. But lets face it, who doesn’t have Google Maps or something else to help get about? (Postcode N1 4DX).

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I went on the second day last year and bagged myself the most luscious pumpkin from her Waddesdon Mannor collection, but from what I can see this year from Kate’s Instagram she is making some pieces especially for the weekend and to support the Clay College in Stoke, of which she is a patron! I’d recommend going as early as possible on the first day, not to miss out on any goodies you might want to pick up. Not only are there little goodies, Kate also has a pretty large selection of bigger magma and vegetable/organic items available. (I’m kicking myself for not buying the most amazing pair of magma candle holders last year. I think I’ll be regretting that till my last day. Anyway). Or go along at any time you can make! It’s genuinely an incredible experience to be allowed into an artist’s workspace, to meet her and to see her work and creative environment.

What I really, really loved about going last year was the fact that Kate is there happily chatting away to everyone, handing out mince pieces and drinks like she’s known everyone for years! She’s an incredibly warm lady and her enthusiasm for clay is absolutely infectious. Where else, in what other community, can someone so iconic be so down to earth and wonderful? I bloody love clay.

So. I guess I’ll see you all soon!

PS xx

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Mold Making!

Inspired by the recent factory tours in Stoke I have done this year and my love of Kate Malone’s work (her Instagram #Kate_Malone_Ceramics is great by the way! I bought one of her famous pumpkins that featured in her Waddesdon Manner exhibition this year during her open studio – photos on my Instgram #pstratfordceramics) I have long wanted to make my own mold. But it looks messy and a little complicated. And messy it is, but complicated less so, as I found out!

Until this weekend despite my desire to make a plaster mold, I hadn’t actually found something I wanted to create and repeat multiple times. More often than not the same thing can be hand built to the same dimensions using the same templates and tools. However this weekend I came across my first Munchkin pumpkin! Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen one, but they aren’t usually for sale in the local supermarket and if they are they’re priced at something ridiculous. However these ones were just £1! And were beautiful. Sumptuous, perfectly shaped and a gorgeous deep orange colour. I had to have one! (Two. I bought two).

Now that I had an object of desire I wanted to reproduce (channelling my inner Malone) I needed some plaster. As you may have read in earlier posts, I’m used to working with plaster to make wedging boards and my local art shop, which is usually quite pricey, sells 2.5kg buckets of plaster of paris for £7.95. Which isn’t too bad – online it can be a little cheaper but postage usually brings it to around £10 or so. Plus the wait. And impatient I certainly am! So I ran down to the art shop to purchase my plaster – but they were out of stock! They only had 1kg bag left. After a little friendly chat and explanation of what I was doing, they very kindly said they had a couple of kilos in the warehouse which they could bring in the next day and even more kindly said that because of the wait, I could have 3kg for the price of 2.5kg – woo hoo!

I headed back home one happy potter. The next stage was a little tricky however.

I knew I needed to cast the pumpkin in a container, as I don’t have the wooden molds that you see in the videos online or blogs. Hmm. I also knew I needed to re-use the mold in order to get the same shape for both sides, or have two disposable molds. HMMMM. After a lot of thinking and trying out of cardboard, chopping boards, emptying food and trying to find matching shapes, I came across a bucket container I had from a previous batt wash purchase. The bucket was perfect in shape, not too big and not too small, and tall enough to fit the clay, the munchkin and the plaster. Sorted!

In order to make extraction possible, I lined the container with a plastic bag before putting in a clay base, then building up clay around my munchkin. It was tricker than I had thought to get a nice smooth, even surface. I had previously marked the halfway point of the pumpkin with black marker, so that I knew where to bring the clay up to. It also occurred to me it’d be incredibly difficult to remove once set due to the air vacuum, so I poked a hole down one side. This could also serve as a marker so I knew which way to line up the molds when casting. I read about needing to ‘soap’ the item as well, to make sure it released easily from the plaster. I wasn’t sure what ‘soaping’ was, I understood the concept and read about people using some specialist kind of soap or oil… I just went for the fairy liquid, diluted just a tiny bit, and tried to be careful to keep the bubbles to a minimum.

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Evertyhing was working out wonderfully! Until..

I mixed up half the plaster (500g) with approx half a pint of water. It immediately went into little rocks. CRAP. I hurredly tried to add more water… didn’t work… pass it through a sieve… didn’t work… perhaps it would be fine?! I poured it over the munchkin.

3 hours later it still had not set.

I scrapped the custard like mix out and started again. This time, I thought, I’ll sieve the plaster before it goes in the water and I’ll be really accurate with my measurements.

For a second time in just a few hours, the plaster was slopped off the top and thrown in the bin. I was annoyed. I’ve used plaster many times before. What was I doing wrong? It hadn’t behaved like nay plaster I’d used before.

The next morning I wandered down to the art shop to collect my two extra kilos. I wasn’t looking forward to this – what if the plaster behaved exactly like the last attempts? I spoke to the store manager and he said, helpfully, to follow the instructions. I couldn’t be mad I felt, because they’d given me 0.5kg plaster for free. But it didn’t matter how much I paid, if the product didn’t work. On the way home I did some googling and read that if the plaster was damp it can create these pebble like beads and is essentially unusable. I think this must be what had happened – it described the condition of the plaster accurately. Perhaps this last bag had been sat on the shelf for a long time in damp conditions. Who knows.

Nonetheless I persevered on, determined to cast my Munchkin.

This time I went for the full kilo and one pint of water.. straight away, the plaster felt different in my hand as I mixed it, and I knew I was on to a winner! I poured the plaster over my munchkin and it set beautifully in less than 10mins. WHOOOPPEEEEEEEEEE!!

The plastic bag trick worked well and I was able to remove my clay and plaster easily. I turned it upside down and pulled the clay off – and out came the munchkin! OH NO. OUT CAME THE MUNCHKIN. I knew if I wanted make the second cast, I’d need to try and line up the pumpkin. Arse.

I used the shape of the stalk of the munchkin to line up the second clay setting as best I could. The fairy liquid seemed to have worked well last time, so I repeated that process by painting on a few layers of soap and letting them dry. The final kilo of plaster worked perfectly as well, and before I knew it – I had made my first casts!

The edges were a little untidy and the two surfaces a little uneven, so I used the grater tool (that’s definitely not its proper name) to neaten up the edges and smooth out the top surfaces.

 

 

I let the plaster molds dry a little more and in the afternoon I had a go at making my first munchkin!

I made two discs of clay and pressed them into the mold. I added a little extra for the stalk side, evened out the edges, scored, slipped, stuck the two together and smoothed out the join. As you can see the clay munchkin is a little smaller than the real one, but I was really happy with how it turned out! I think it might be smaller because I trimmed down the edges before putting the two halves together. It seemed to have lost some of the volume of the original munchkin.

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This morning I had another go at making a munchkin. I did the same work with two even discs of clay but this time, I worked up the edges a little – in the photo below, the first munchkin is on the left and the second is on the right. I’m really happy with both to be honest!

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The biggest problems I experienced were with the plaster (but I think I know why now) and finding a suitable reusable mold shape.

Of course before they’re fired they’ll need a hole poked in the bottom of them, and they’re a little late to be ready in time for halloween, but overall I’m really happy with how they went and I’ll happily make as many munchkins as I can over the next few weeks! I’m thinking I can cut out some faces or use underglaze to paint them different colours and spooky designs. Of course I’ll post the results when they’re finished!

Now I just need to find something else worth casting..

Happy Halloween!

PS xx

The Great Pottery Throw Down Series 2

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(The original GPTD line up!)

I owe the Great Pottery Throw Down a lot. If it wasn’t for the 2015 series, I would never have returned to clay as a medium for art and expression. And those of you who follow this blog or my instagram will know that I am a HUGE Kate Malone fan! I went to her Waddesdon Manor Exhibition and her open studio recently and have my very own KM pumpkin. It is genuinely one of my dearest things. And you can’t think of GPTD without Keith – it’s hard not to love that guy. Beloved uses the KBJ espresso cups I bought him last year almost daily and I’m hoping to see him throw in John Lewis on Oxford Street this week! (Now I just need to think of a good question or something intelligent to say…). And, despite him not being in the above photo – Rich Miller is an essential part of the programme, and an overall really warm and genuine guy! His cup is sat next to me at this moment, beautifully made and skillfully decorated. Finally, Sarah Cox expertly balances gentle encouragement and humour – it’d be a very different show without her!

The contestants were from all different backgrounds on the first series and all has very different strengths and levels of ability. It was great to see people learn and challenge themselves as the episodes passed but overall the sense of warmth and friendship between them all really came across, and the genuine competitiveness between the final contestants was great! They all wanted to win by doing their best and producing something wonderful.

The wait was on for series 2 of GPTD expected in 2016 but we were left hanging on tender hooks until 2nd Feb 2017. I don’t watch much TV but I hadn’t seen a single advert for the show before it started so perhaps I missed them, but it made me sad that the BBC wasn’t advertising this brilliant show more – friends hadn’t heard of it at all! A real opportunity missed. Regardless, the show started and now every Thursday I have a new installment of wonderfulness to watch on TV and repeat throughout the week on iPlayer – oooooeeee!

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(GPTD 2017 contestants)

Now. As a home potter, I have loved the warmth and sense of community that potting events and going to a studio brings. In my mind, amateur potters are working away all over the country making for the love of making.

However, maybe I’m missing something, because it strikes me that most of these potters have their own studio spaces and sell their work in volume. Am I wrong to think this blurs the line of amateur? I don’t know. I guess last year I was frustrated that the winner was a ceramics teacher – I wouldn’t have called him amateur at all because he was basically born in a ceramics studio and taught ceramics for his profession. After doing a little search on Instagram for the different contestants of 2017 this week I came across most of them and realised they virtually all were in the ceramics business in terms of mass producing and selling their wares. I guess the solidarity I felt with the people on the first season has been lost a little or perhaps it was misplaced as they were of a similar potting calibre? Cut from the same wedge? Were most of the 2015 contestants also selling en masse before they appeared on the show?

But please,don’t get me wrong – I’d love to sell my ceramics! I’d also love to be on the show. But I know my work is no where near the quality good enough to sell and I don’t have the time to mass produce. I guess I just made the assumption that an amateur potter was someone working with clay as a hobby as I do and occasionally selling at a local event rather than someone who owned a fully equipped ceramics studio and taught day to day or sold in large volumes – to me that is a professional.

The bakers on the Great British Bake Off didn’t work in bakeries and cake shops – or did they? Actually, I remembe one was a Home Economics teacher… Am I now questioning all I thought I knew? Ok, let’s not go that far.

Perhaps I’m just jealous they’re all immeasurably better at throwing than me!

Whatever the case, it’s great to have it back on the telly and I’ve even got Beloved watching it with me this time, voluntarily!! It’s great to see the different challenges and this has been giving me inspiration for my own work! Like the bubble glazing – it looked so cool and was actually relatively easy to do! I’m excited to see the different projects and learn from the show. It’s great to see the show making more of Rich’s role as well, giving his opinion and explanations for the technical side of what is happening with the clay – or might happen!

It takes a little while to get to know the contestants and I’ll save my personal opinions as to the individuals and my favourites!! They do seem a little more ‘cherry picked’ than the first series, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. And I don’t want to let anyone know any details if they haven’t watched it yet, no spoilers alert! So I’ll end it here.

All I can say is that I know the series will end too soon

PS xx

Kate Malone’s Open Studio!

This weekend was one I had been waiting for since meeting Kate Malone at Waddesdon Manor – Kate’s open studio!!

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I left Little One at home with Beloved as I wasn’t sure what her studio would be like (as it happened there were loads of kids in and out!), but I also knew that if I wanted to pick up a Kate Malone master piece (which I did, if possible) that I’d need to be there early!

Kate’s studio was easy to find down a little alley and what can I say… what an incredible space! A feast for the eyes. It was a well organised, beautifully lit place with a little kitchen, loads of work space and that huge wonderful kiln at the back. Upstairs was like a little Japanese studio, incredibly calm with windows the length of the building.

There was literally a pile of her famous pumpkins as we walked in the door on the left and some of her beautiful mugs, hearts and trinkets to the right. A pumpkin immediately caught my eye, a stunning blue, green and grey medium sized pumpkin. I grabbed it! I had to have it. I had a figure in mind and it was pretty much the top of my budget, but the piece was so striking, intricate and lush.. I felt like this was my chance to own a real Kate Malone piece and a pumpkin at that! The lovely assistant put it to one side for me and I investigated the studio.

Upstairs I met Rich Miller of The Great Pottery Throw Down fame! I contained my excitement and managed to have a chat about his pieces without my voice breaking with glee and even got to chat about the show! I had picked up one of his cups almost as soon as I went up stairs and after taking up so much of his time I felt like I owned the mug of his I had been clinging too, and so I purchased this as well.

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It really is a beautiful mug, well weighted and a beautiful handle. A great little cup! He used water colours to paint the different images which were reduced in size and then converted into little enamel transfers which were floated into place. The detail is stunning and Rich was an incredibly nice guy.

Upstairs I managed to snap a few pics of Kate’s personal collection – the pineapples, snapdragons and beautiful flower vases.

When I went back downstairs I managed to say hello to Kate again, she’s a very warm and happy lady! I tried to put into words my thanks to her for opening up the world of clay and ceramics to me through the TV show and her own exhibitions. I don’t think I really got any of it across, I probably sounded like a mumbly eejit.. but I tried. Clay means a lot of me, it’s my vehicle for creativity and stress relief.. it helps me balance my life. At a time when I felt like I was losing my identity, it has helped me forge a new one. I love it.

And now, I have a little Kate Malone treasure to call my own, my very own pumpkin. It’s been a great weekend!

…Can’t wait till next year!

PG x

 

Kate Malone @ Waddesdon Manor 

This morning beloved, Little One and I set off for Aylesbury to see the exhibition of Kate Malone’s work, inspired by the Manor itself. 

After nearly running out of petrol and a delayed start, we arrived at the Stables where the exhibition was taking place and who was the first person I saw? Only Kate Malone herself! I was completely awestruck. Beloved said I should chat to her, but for once – I was speechless. Genuinely speechless. 

It turned out she was giving a talk at the.exhibition – something I remembered reading online when looking up the details. As such, we didn’t have a ticket and so while the special event was taking place, we popped into the cafe to have lunch.  I recognised a few GPTD faces as well (Matt, Sally Jo and James for those interested).

Once we had finished lunch we returned and we’re allowed in to view the exhibition. Her work was breathtaking. Stunningly delicate and intricate and her colours and glazes were as bold and mesmerising as I had hoped. 

Then, just as we were walking over to the second part, who do we bump into but Kate Malone herself. She asked about Little One and introduced her friends before inviting us to her studio open day later in the year. She was genuinely warm and humble, at ease with herself and her magnificent work surrounding us. She was delightful. If I wasn’t already a huge fan of her work, I am an enormous fan of her as a person now. What an incredible role model for my little one, a gifted and creative woman who has time, patience and warmth for those she just met. 

Today was simply magnificent! 

PGx