Friday 30 October 2009

Victoria and Albert Museum London

(A view of the dome inside the new Ceramics Gallery at the V&A. Click on the image and it should enlarge to show the installation of ceramics in porcelain called Signs and Wonders by Edmund de Waal.)

Last Wednesday I took a day trip to London to visit the new Ceramics Gallery at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum). The new gallery opened a few weeks ago as phase one of an ongoing refurbishment program which started back in 2005. Another section of the new Ceramics Gallery is planned to open next year. But who can wait till then?! So I thought, what better way to spend a day than looking at lots of lovely pots housed in their brand new home?

On arrival at the main entrance to the V&A, don’t be surprised if the new Ceramics Gallery has no sign posts pointing the way. I admit it was a little surprising to me considering the large advertisement pasted onto the refurbishment hoardings along the outside of the building encouraging me to come in and visit. But this trifling matter of signage can’t stop a potter finding pots! So if you plan to visit, here’s your route:-

Currently the only access to the new galleries is a small lift/elevator hidden away to your left as you enter through the main entrance. It’s a tiny lift that doesn’t even feel like it’s supposed to be open to the public. But it is the only way to get to level six which is where the new galleries live - don’t expect to casually stumble across them as you wander around the rest of the museum! (The V&A has a floor plan rather like an Escher print where the levels don’t necessarily connect.)

First impressions as you enter the new galleries is a very clean, white, modern display. In fact I think they’ve done an excellent job of making the rooms feel light and simple without being stark. The cabinets are big, filling all the wall spaces and are absolutely stuffed full of pots – especially in the first couple of rooms. Now I assume this is simply because the galleries are in transition and eventually the pots will be spread out: in fact as you walk through to the later rooms the displays seem more finished or finalized. Initially though it was a bit overwhelming and most of the time I couldn’t see any single pot for all the lovely distracting pots huddled around it!

I probably spent an hour walking around – but it really isn’t time enough to absorb in detail. As for reading the captions, I’m afraid I cheated and started to photograph them to read later. Visits to museums are always plagued by tired legs and thoughts of catching trains home, and caption reading feels like a waste of ‘seeing’ time! Much better to remember the image of a pot than try to recall the date it was made, in what province and under which dynasty. That’s the sort of information best absorbed while sitting on a sofa reading a book. And as for the videos – I didn’t even start on those…

I suppose the cabinet I spent most time looking at wasn’t full of pots at all, but actually full of lots of tools, equipment and furniture that once belonged to the studio potter Lucie Rie. The cabinet is a reconstruction of a corner of Lucie Rie’s workshop and contains the items she used – including two kick wheels – as they were found in her studio after her death. It sounds like a cheap gimmick and could have been a disaster, but I think they’ve managed to do it tastefully and respectfully and without it looking staged. In fact it looked like the perfect place to make a pot. Simple, functional and quietly elegant. As I looked at all the little personalized turning tools stuck vertically to a magnetic strip just within handy reach above the wheel-head, I admit I felt a tad envious. It probably didn’t help to realize the dimensions of the cabinet itself were actually larger than my own little studio back home! C’est la vie…

Thursday 22 October 2009

Ceramic Review back catalogue

This morning a very large box was delivered and inside – beneath all the old plastic bags and little polystyrene sausages – was a treasure trove. A musty treasure trove that smelled of old attics and charity shops: a back catalogue of sixty issues of Ceramic Review. Sixty issues! In fact an almost complete decade of issues from Autumn 1983 to Autumn 1993.

Needless to say I’m completely over-excited. None of these issues are available to buy anymore from the magazine archives themselves except as individually photocopied articles at £3.00 a go. So to get a whole decade of issues in such good condition is a real find. (Oxfam on Ebay by the way…)

Just looking at the covers is already interesting and the eighties typeface on many of the adverts has an old familiar charm. No doubt there’ll be elements of the magazines that show the changing fashions in ceramics – and having a bit of an historical overview is certainly something I lack at the moment. But a pot is a pot and most ceramics seem to transcend the time they’re made in. So I’m really looking forward to learning all sorts of practical tips on throwing, glazing, firing and so on; things that remain the same whatever decade.

I don’t think I’ll be short of inspiration anymore, although I might be short of shelf space. Where am I going to put sixty magazines?!

Thursday 15 October 2009

Mini tea bowls

(mini tea bowls are available here)

What did I say about prefering tea in a mug? Well most of the time it's true, but only if the tea is a generic English Breakfast type of black tea (milk, one sugar) out of a bargain box of dusty tea bags, and not if I'm drinking a proper, loose leaf, carefully prepared, Chinese green tea. There's something philosophically wrong about pouring green tea into a great big builder's mug however good that builder's mug might be. After all, builder's mugs are all about volume: they have no-nonsense handles large enough to grip (even if wearing gloves) and should make a rising bell-like sound when full of piping hot liquid and stirred vigorously with a metal spoon. And this particular form of tea ceremony is the very antithesis of green tea...

So I'm hoping that my mini tea bowls are more appropriate for the careful, considered drinking and enjoyment of speciality teas. They're only about 55mm high (that's just over 2 inches) and fit snugly in the palm. They're hand-thrown in stoneware and have been reduction fired in a gas kiln which has brought out the lovely iron fleck in the clay. I also chose a slightly closed form rather than a wide or open rim as I find the tea keeps hotter for longer. And I chose two very simple glazes - plain white and a clear, transparent glaze which reveals the natural stone-like beauty of the clay. I've listed three of these bowls on my Folksy shop today - but they can also be made to order individually or if a set is required.

Other news today. I just discovered that the lovely Jon and Sarah of Lapwing Printworks in Norwich have been styling their hand-bound journals with a raku jar in shot - one they purchased from me earlier this year. They've been kindly giving me name checks all over the place; in their folksy shop, blog and flickr sites. So thank you Jon and Sarah! You can purchase their gorgeous hand-bound journals and other printed goods from their folksy shop Lapwing Printworks.

Well that's it for today. I hope all the links work as I'm still new to all this blogging lark!

Friday 9 October 2009

Glazing Methods - Buttons

(buy this little button here)

8 egg cups
4 salt and pepper bowls
16 large stars (xmas decorations)
18 small stars (xmas decorations)
8 medium square buttons

That's how many things I glazed yesterday. It looks like a recipe for a long and busy day. And so it was (there were moments when I wondered why I was doing all of this). I admit that glazing is my least favourite part of potting. I suspect I'm not alone in that respect; and glazing very small items like buttons or xmas decorations is time consuming, fiddly and can seem like cutting a lawn with a pair of scissors. However, somehow I got through it all with only the occasional set back (lid of glaze bucket falling onto freshly glazed button and spoiling it). In fact I even managed to get a system going, which after a couple of hours generated a kind of rhythm all its own. So I thought I'd jot down this method for future reference.

Here's what I did. I put a button or xmas dec face upwards flat on my palm and submerged it horizontally into the glaze. I held it there for a few seconds then brought it up again making sure it stayed horizontal so the glaze settled smoothly on the face of the button. Then I carefully picked it up by the edges and popped it down - face up - onto a damp, flat sponge.

That's the easy bit. The tricky bit is getting the button cleaned up and presentable after its little dip. All my buttons are glazed on one side only and fired flat on a kiln shelf. This means their base has to be wiped clean. And the easiest method seems to be to grip the button at the edges and slide the base along the sponge. A couple of wipes in different directions and the glaze should come off completely. Then I usually let the button stand on a clean work surface for a minute while I submerge a few more.

Perhaps it's a little obsessive, but I also clean all around the edges of buttons and xmas decs with a small piece of sponge - this guarantees no glaze can leak down the sides. This is time consuming though; especially with five pointed stars...

Finally I get a pin tool to clean out the button holes. When I first started to make buttons, this finishing touch was my downfall. At the last moment my hand would subconsciously shake and and I'd score a nasty scratch into my perfect glaze. So to avoid this I started to unclog the holes from the back. Unfortunately, puncturing the hole from the reverse often causes the glaze to crack, weaken and small chunks to flake away. But then I realized if I dipped the pin tool in water first, the little droplet would dampen and dissolve the glaze as it was pierced and protect it from cracks. And this seems to be the best way to unclog the holes. The water naturally dispels the clog and (after a quick wipe with the sponge on the back of the piece) leaves a clean finish. Genius! Of course this is probably how I should have been doing it from the beginning. But I've never read anywhere or heard mention this little tip. Perhaps it's supposed to be obvious? Self evident? But I've rarely found pottery to be either of these...Well anyway, I've decided to take total credit for it!

So there we are: one method for glazing buttons and other small, flat accessories. Let's hope they all work!

Saturday 3 October 2009

Beginning a Blog

This is my very first post on my new blog, which means I must be talking to myself. With no one listening I can say whatever I like I suppose. So just this once I will waffle with impunity.

What are you doing writing a blog? You're supposed to be painting and/or making pots.

I did however make some buttons this morning which are drying in the studio. They're taking a while to dry today. It seems October has properly arrived: overcast and a little damp - and quiet too for a Saturday.

Right, so what's this blog for exactly? Well, at the risk of sounding supercilious, I used to keep an art journal. I even wrote it with a proper quill pen and ink in a special little Tibetan notebook made from recycled pulp - until I wore the nib out on the uneven pages and had to resort to using an old biro. I kept up writing it for about three years (on-and-off) as a reminder of what I was making and the methods used. And for all the pomp and ceremony it was actually a little bit useful because it reminded me of what I was supposed to be doing and (more importantly) how I was supposed to be doing it. So perhaps I'm continuing that same journal in another form...

Actually I admit, I don't really have a clear plan for this blog and I'm not going to make any bold claims or mission statements. So at the moment it's simply here if I want to add things - thoughts, photos, ideas, methodology, waffle. See how things go. What I do know is that this blog will be mostly about pots (and all things ceramic) and paint (and all things 'arty'). After all, these are my primary obsessions - or at least two of them.

So I'd better post this 'very first post' to see if it works.