2017 is here to stay

Well. Politics, both domestic and global, seems intent on repeating mistakes that were sworn to never be repeated. It’s been a tumultuous start to the year and one that many would like to forget, but as it is, 2017 is here to stay.

On an individual scale, life has been busy. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day or days in the week. Since the holidays and heading back to work, it’s been difficult to find time to do anything other than get on top cleaning/sorting/tidying the house however finally this weekend I got a few hours to myself and I thought – let’s see how a little bit of throwing goes!

img_20170129_155955_167.jpg

And actually, despite perhaps two-three months without throwing, it actually went reasonably well! I decided to try and batch throw a few mug shapes. Four mugs were produced, a bowl and a jug.

However, the jug and bowl were sacrificed in the turning stages – I need to practice turning as much as throwing!

 

I decided on pulling a few handles as well and again, this didn’t go as badly as I imagined. After being left to dry for a little while, four were selected and added to the mugs. Again I need to work on making my handles a little longer and thinner – they’re quite chunky at the top and this looks unbalanced when attached to the mug.

I carried on throwing this evening – the wheel was out, so why not! It’ll be at least a few days if not weeks before I use it again, so why not make the most of it? I played around with some recycled clay and indenting a thrown shape. It’s a little basic, but I quite liked the rippled rim and little narrow spout of these two, so I decided to keep them.

I even managed to convince Beloved to have a go this evening! Spreading the ceramics love throughout the household! I’ll have Little One making little cups and bowls in no time!! In fact, that’s a great idea.

After all the making before Christmas and the slurry from wp-image-455328090jpg.jpgthe wheel, my scraps tub was full and so the process of reclaiming began. That’s truly something I love about clay, there is so little waste.

I’m hoping that in the next few weeks I can make enough to do a biscuit firing and then two more glaze firings – one with the Mayco Foundation glazes, a low temp, and one using the Botz glazes, high temp. Although there’s no point just throwing anything in, it’d be nice if the kiln was full of things I wanted to make and give. In which case, it might be a while before the firings happen – but that’s ok. Good things come to those who wait!

Also, the second series of the Great Pottery Thrown Down starts this week! The contestants look a bit ‘cherry picked’ and seem to be far more experienced than amateurs.. but I’m looking forward to it all the same! For inspiration if nothing else.

PS over and out! Take care of each other xx

Quick pots update 

I just wanted to share with you two pots I have been working on! They are a thrown vase and bowl decorated with handmade pieces. The inspiration came from my Phnom Penh market vase, which is entirely covered and layered in textures and shapes to resemble the variety and colour of Phnom Penh’s market stalls. For these pieces I have taken one technique and developed this design that is more simplistic but (I think!) effective.

Any comments or glaze ideas always welcome! 

PG x

P.S. Kate Malone influence obvious too? 

Tuesday night update 

I spent the afternoon throwing pots in the garden while Little One slept! Well, two pots to be exact as I was able to very quickly reclaim back 1kg of clay from yesterday’s throwing endeavour! Sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and a coffee while working on my Shimpo as Little One slept- it was close to a perfect afternoon! 

I was able to turn the two pots quickly before heading to SB’s studio this evening too.

At SB’s I picked up a few things that had been glazed and I was pleasantly surprised! The sugar rollers (star and oval designs) actually came up well. I liked the glaze on the mugs but the desk tidy and dish could have been better. As it happens Beloved likes the effect so alls well. 

I also got my chess set back and they look pretty awesome if I do say so myself! 

I cut the pieces for a box to store the chess set and spent the rest of the night glazing my phnom penh market vase, which I barely half finished! So all in all it was a good evening. SB wasn’t upset I’d tried throwing, I felt really nervous about telling her but actually she was really impressed with my first efforts. I was so worried I’d disappoint her but she was genuinely pleased with my work. You know when you’re more scared of making someone disappointed rather than angry? Like that! I guess I just have enormous respect and fondness for her. 

Well past my bedtime! 

PG over and out x

Home Potter!?

As I was throwing this morning I started thinking about studio/home pottery. From the beginning I have always referred to myself as a home potter. When I first began to work with clay I didn’t know the history or significance of ‘studio pottery’ and it is something I am still learning about.

I looked up studio pottery on wikipedia:

Studio pottery is pottery made by professional and amateur artists or artisans working alone or in small groups, making unique items or short runs. Typically, all stages of manufacture are carried out by the artists themselves.[1] Studio pottery includes functional wares such as tableware, cookware and non-functional wares such as sculpture. Studio potters can be referred to as ceramic artists, ceramists, ceramicists or as an artist who uses clay as a medium.

But what then is the difference between a studio potter and what I have called a ‘home potter’?

Yes I work alone and complete all stages of production myself and my items are usually unique or very short runs. Am I a studio potter then? I guess the biggest difference is the fact that I do not have a permanent studio space. I work almost entirely from home, in short and often sporadic bursts, and have to clear up and tidy away everything!

The photo below is a typical scene when I’m working at home – vinyl fabric down to catch slurry splashes, an old ikea shelf for holding wedged clay and vessels drying, newspaper, an old milk carton for water, my tabletop Shimpo on a stool and normal life paraphernalia in the background – in this case, namely the pram!!

20160815_102506.jpg

Perhaps I am a studio potter, but I feel the term ‘home potter’ better reflects my work environment. When I finally get my dream shed with kiln, drying space, work surfaces, glazes… when I finally reach that dream, then and only then will I call myself a studio potter!

PG x

 

Throwing for the first time!

This weekend just gone I went for a one day throwing class. A few weeks ago I bought a Shimpo Aspire table top (with foot pedal) wheel and I was basically getting no where, having real trouble centring clay and even less luck throwing a vessel. I had been hunting down a one on one session or throwing day but the 2hr one on one sessions within a 30-45min drive were £60+ and the throwing days were even further and started around £100 per day, not including the items you threw or lunch or whatever.

But as luck would have it, the initial pottery instructor I had a course with back in the winter was running a single day, 10am-4pm class for £70. Much more reasonable.

I went along to the studio and met some really lovely people. Although I knew in theory what I should be doing, I’ve never had the clay in abundance or continuity of time to really bring theory and practice together – and this is what the throwing day offered. It was a little bit of a slow start but after a while I got the hang of things! Centring is still very difficult and can take a while, but I slowly got the hang of making cylinders and bowls (bowls are much easier!). Another person on the course gave me the tip of closing my eyes for centring and I really found this helped. Keeping elbows in and my hand slightly raised from the wheel also helped immensely.

I also discovered, as with many things, I am ambidextrous with the wheel’s turning direction. I am right handed but I find with most things I actually lead with my left hand (or foot is we’re talking about surfing or snowboarding). And so I had the wheel turning both anti clockwise and clockwise, depending on what I was doing. It wasn’t intentional, it just felt more natural.

The only frustrating part of the day was the fact that because we hung around and wedged clay for the first hour or so, by the time we had thrown a few cylinders or bowls, they weren’t dry enough by the afternoon to turn. This was pretty frustrating as it was taken for granted you could just pop back another time and finish them off – when my circumstances don’t lend themselves to this. Also, as I found previously, the studio is so dusty I get a blocked nose and sinus after spending a few hours there. I’ve read how dangerous breathing in clay dust is, and I’m sure the instructor knows this as well, but it made me long for the cleanliness of SB’s studio.

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the items I produced on the throwing day but if I am able to go back to turn them, have them fired and glazed, I will certainly post the pictures on here and instagram (pmstrat).

To keep the momentum going I spent this morning on my little shimpo at home! It was certainly different to the larger pottery wheel at the studio and the clay I Was throwing was my reclaimed clay which has grog in it, but I divided my clay into five 300,400 and 500g or so lumps and had a go! I was able to throw bowls and cylinders which made me very happy and I also managed to throw a few egg cups off the hump! I even pulled my own handle to attach to a mug. I left a few items to dry out in the sun and had a go at turning this lunch time – that was trickier than I had imagined! Just getting the item centred was a pain. As a result a few items were scrapped, but as always, I’m happy to do this as it’s all a learning process! Three things made it out alive, two bowls and an egg cup.

I’m going to start watching a few turning tutorials, I need tips for centring items and I’m not sure I’m holding the tools correctly to make a foot.

I’m over to SB’s studio tomorrow to pick up things and no doubt glaze the last few items. I’ve run out of clay pretty much now too (I’m in the process of drying the scraps from today). I’ll take over my thrown things as well. Although I don’t know if she’ll be happy with me – she said people should work with clay for 2yrs handbuilding before throwing…!! She doesn’t know I have a wheel either. EEK. Don’t be mad SB!

…The adventures with clay continue!

PG x

p.s. Art in Clay this weekend! And the latest copy of Ceramic Review arrived today. A great pottery day.

Wheel-y Happy Potter Girl!

Well – as you may be able to tell from the title… I did it. I bought a wheel!

I didn’t just go out and grab the first thing I saw – oh no. As you may expect if you’ve read my blog – I’m a bargain hunter! Pottery equipment can be ridiculously expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. We don’t have tons of money spare each month and perhaps because of my prolonged student days, I am determined to get value for money. So, I did my research.

From reading online, having extremely limited space (home potter, no studio, everything needs to be tidied away!) and having a small budget, I had been monitoring Gumtree and eBay for weeks. The wheels that came up were often kick wheels or very old electronic wheels, very large, very heavy and very far away. Only once did I see a smaller, new Brent wheel come up on gumtree, but that was about 4 hours away and still had a hefty price tag and again – was too large for the space I have available. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been looking for something like the Shimpo Aspire table top wheel, but was initially reluctant to pay the £500 price tag. I had looked at having one shipped in from overseas as they are significantly cheaper in the USA and other countries, but there was always going to be an issue with voltage. I didn’t want to spend a few hundred quid on a tiny, flimsy model, or risk shipping one over and it blowing up the first time I pluged it in! Slowly but surely it became clear that if I was going to spend the money,  that it was worth going for a reliable, well made wheel. 

Initially I had decided on the Shimpo Aspire table top hand lever model, which was a little cheaper than the foot pedal model. However after talking it through with Beloved, he made the point that this was going to be ‘my wheel’, not one I will be looking to upgrade. The foot pedal was £50-100 more, depending on the site, but in the big scheme of things, if I had a hand lever wheel I might want to upgrade to a foot pedal in a few years, which would cost £500-1,500. Whereas spending an extra £100 now, would mean no need to upgrade. He makes sense my beloved. Foot pedal it was then!

I have found consistently that Scarva.com is the cheapest retailer online. I always check the Potclays website and Bath Potters, as well as many others. However the price of the wheel I had decided on, the table top Shimpo Aspire RK-5TF, the lightweight table top machine with a foot pedal, varied massively on UK sites:

  • Bath Potters: £606 (including VAT, but not postage)
  • Potclays: £648 (including VAT calculated at 20%, not including postage)
  • Scarva: £530 (including VAT and just £12 postage)

So buying the wheel from Scarva saved me perhaps £100! (The hand lever Shimpo Aspire is currently £469 incl. VAT – again, more than £100 cheaper than similar sites). I don’t know why they are able to sell it so much cheaper, perhaps it has something to do with being based in Northern Ireland or because they have extra stock (?!), whatever the case, I was happy I was investing in a good, sturdy wheel at the best price I could find online.

As I was buying a wheel I realised it would be important to invest in a few more tools. Again I looked around online and found that Scarva was cheaper or equal to the cost of the same items on other sites. I decided on a sponge on a stick, a rubber kidney and two other sponges I thought might be useful. Scarva’s “own brand” of sponges/kidneys were the best price on the Web and so I went for them all except a blue mud tool sponge which has gotten rave reviews. (I’m not entirely sure the items are their own brand, the pieces doesn’t have Scarva branded on them, but they are listes on their sites as Scarva). 

I thought that adding them to my wheel shipment would save on postage but actually the combined postage for the wheel and tools was £20, whereas if I separated them into two orders the postage was £12 for the wheel and around £3 for the tools – saving myself around £5!
I ordered the wheel and the tools at the weekend and they had arrived by Wednesday!! Scarva did not disappoint!

I also picked up some chamois cloth on eBay – it was £10+ on Scarva and only £3 on ebay for two. Although it is synthetic, I think for the purposes of pottery and especially at my level, it won’t make too much of a difference! I also bought a new book (on sale on Amazon.co.uk) which had gotten great reviews and had step by step guides to different techniques, ways to make your own tools and answers to common problems! I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover and it’s been very useful already.

I finally got to have a go on my wheel this morning! I spent last night watching Simon Leach videos on centring clay, making basic cylinders and bowls and so this morning, while Little One was at the childminder, I had a go myself! This was my set up, Shimpo on a stool, clay and tools on the floor and myself on wooden chair.

20160630_100315.jpg

I saw that Simon Leach used 400g balls of clay to make small bowls with so I weighed out some balls of clay and tried to centre them! Initially the clay wasn’t sticking to the bat at all, when I tried to put pressure on the clay to centre it, it simply stayed stationary rather than rotate with the wheel. After a few failed attempts, I did a quick google and read that with plastic bats this can be an issue. I read that drying the plastic bat, throwing the clay down with force and then pressuring the clay downwards before trying to cone it or bring it back together seemed to do the trick. The clay dried a lot faster than I realised as well! I also realised there is an awful lot more wastage with throwing – I’m used to keeping all my scraps with hand building! So I I emptied my splash pan into a bowl once I was finished, to reclaim the clay at a later date.

I don’t have any photos because I was covered in slurry! But it was really, so, so much fun. I’m so grateful to Simon Leach for putting up those videos and it was well worth reading through some books before having a go. I managed to centre the clay a few times, make cone shapes and then begin to make cylinders and bowls, but at that stage it all went wobbly! But for now I will concentrate on just getting centring down, coning and compressing. EXCITING!

One WHEEL-y happy PG!! x

To throw or not to throw, that is the question

Hello Internet.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about buying a potters wheel.

SB the artist I go and see once a week is pretty old school and said in her opinion, people should work with clay for 2yrs or so before learning to throw. I understand where she is coming from – it is important to know the material well and techniques other than throwing are very important.

But… But. I want to learn!

I have come thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to buying a second hand wheel many times. But, that little bit of me says – where is the space? The time? And I don’t actually know how to throw. All the throwing I’ve done is about 5mins on a wheel making a cup, which I messed up (cup was saved by the tutor, as mentioned in one of the first posts).

But throwing just looks so fun! The style, the shape, the movement. I really want to try! I know I’ve only really been working with clay for 6months on and off but I start my new job in September and my free time will be largely diminished, so if I don’t give it a go now when I have a little time to myself – when else will I have the chance?

I have told myself to do a class or session with an ceramicist before actually purchasing a wheel, but I can’t do an entire weekend (little one and beloved need me around) but finding somewhere relatively near by that does a shorter session is also tricky.

I have contacted one lady about 30-40mins drive away who runs a pottery studio. She does a 2 hour session one to one for £60 – which is an awful lot of money. But perhaps worth it before buying a wheel of my own?

And then the cost of a wheel is astronomical! Second hand ones regularly go for £300-500 and as mentioned above, I genuinely don’t have the space for one. I’m a home potter who works on the floor and kitchen table and has to pack away all her things asap so that little one and beloved don’t end up eating clay for tea.

The wheel I have my eye on is the Shimpo Aspire with a foot pedal. There is a cheaper Shimpo Aspire with a handle lever instead of a foot pedal for speed control, but I can see myself making a right mess of everything with the hand lever and knocking the pot off the bat or reversing the spin accidentally when trying to turn it off and everything going flying.

There is a (slightly) cheaper wheel called the Junior IV from Top Pot Supplies but I haven’t seen it for sale anywhere else online. It appears from close inspection of photos/youtube videos that the wheel diameter is much smaller and the splash bowl looks more flimsy. Actually the price offered on the site doesn’t include VAT (why do so many potter sites do that – this isn’t the USA, just add VAT to the price – it’s so annoying!) and with VAT it’s close to the same price as the Shimpo hand lever wheel. Which has gotten great reviews all round.

What I have also noticed is that there is a lot more choice for wheels in other countries, particularly the USA, and even the Shimpo wheels are much cheaper there – why is this? This totally sucks. If we were talking about a £200-300 investment I’d jump on it for a new tabletop wheel, but the £500+ is just a huge amount of money, especially for the same product! I thought about trying to get one shipped over from the States but they have 120 voltage and none of the websites seem open to international shipping. I also contacted the Indian Shimpo dealer (Clay Station in Bangalore) because they are selling the same Shimpo wheel for half the price it is here, and India has 240v. A friend of mine lives there and would ship it home for me, but they weren’t open to selling me one and my friend isn’t back till after I start my new job.

HMPHF.

Ideally I’d buy a second hand Shimpo Aspire, but they don’t seem to come up very often.

…Perhaps I should listen to SB and stick to hand building. I’ve bought some pattern rollers off eBay (ones for sugarcraft – a little over £1 each!) and hand building bowls is incredibly fast – if you have the right tools (also still waiting on the Scarva.com delivery of rolling guides). Perhaps I can talk to SB and see if she’ll give me a go on the wheel… I just don’t know if she’ll be happy about it. After all, I’ve been going to her studio for short time, which isn’t exactly comparable to 2 years experience with clay.

Comments, recommendations and opinions welcome. As are offers of second hand table top wheels…

PG x