Monday, 2 May 2016

On with the next adventure...

In September 2015, I began MA Ceramics at UCLAN.  I keep a reflective diary of my work and experiences on the course, so I'm blogging here now for a while:

If you're thinking about taking an MA in ceramics I can't recommend UCLAN's course enough. It is superb.

We did it with First Class Honours!

 As per my last post, the Potterer certainly did come back, with a vengeance, albeit not to Blogger. This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for around 2 years now!  But I figured I might as well still publish it - and then we can get right up to date...  (for a while at least).

So here's what I wrote back in 2014...

First things first, first (did I mention the word 'first'?):  yes...  I completed my BA Creative Practice (Arts) with First Class Honours!  No-one was more surprised than me at that outcome, I can tell you.  I'm not saying I didn't feel I deserved it; with absolute modesty, I think I did.  What surprised me is that I actually got my arse into gear to do the work! I look back on it now and it seems like someone else other than me put in all those hours of research and writing, and planning, designing, testing, making...  I picked up my copy of my dissertation earlier, and thought, did I write this?  Surely I can't have done all that... ?

It turned out to be a really good year for me in terms of my academic achievements.  It wasn't just me who did all the hard work though. I was buoyed on, of course, by great support from Newcastle College's School of Creative Industries, especially Dr Celia Holmes and, as always, by AndrewP who was there on the home straits when I most needed him.  I also had the most fantastic support from close friends (Simon (especially), Harv, JohnnyD, JohnnyL) who came to my aid at various unsociable hours of day and night. I got help from complete strangers who freely gave up time and information to help me in researching my dissertation, most notably Richard  Millar, Director of Enterprise, Heritage and Sustainability at Scottish Canals, who gave me a lovely, enthusiastic and inspiring account (over the phone) of the making of the Kelpies.  I even got an email from Anish Kapoor's office providing helpful contacts so I could find the info I needed. 

I am also eternally grateful to my managers at Newcastle University who allowed me the flexibility to continue studying ceramics whilst working in my IT job.  True work-life balance! Thank you!!

Anyway, before this starts to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech with a bit of name-dropping thrown in for good measure (too late!), I think what I'm trying to say here is that I couldn't have done it all on my own.  So a big thank you to you all for your help and I hope you'll feel it was worth it since we achieved such a good result together :-)

So that's all she wrote.

I had intended to write down, in some detail, how I made my final ceramic work.  Maybe... if.. when I get time I will put together something pictorial that will tell the story!  It was quite a feat.  The finished work is at IGM and still holding together despite the odd unruly 3 year old deciding to swing on it...

Friday, 2 May 2014

It's Spring and The Potterer is back!

I hope I can remember how to do this....  Oh, yes, you just ramble away, don't you...?   Okay I can still do that :-)

Having left my blog neglected for over a year(!), I think it's about time I began writing some posts again. I might even have a little time to do it now...

I'm in the final furlong of my BA with just one more module to complete.  I can't quite believe I've got this far!  The biggest milestone was reached earlier this week when my Dissertation went to the bindery - for hand-in tomorrow :-)  Big, big sense of relief.  It was wonderful to finish it...  Not that I'm saying I didn't enjoy researching it, because I really did, but it was a lot of work and a lot of reading and a lot of sitting at a laptop typing it all up. Over the past 6 months, I've written around 16,000 words in Project Proposals, Project Plans, Project Development Reports and, finally, my Dissertation...   So, apart from a few words here, now and then, I'm having a long rest from writing stuff!

So...  the final module? It's all about clay (yippeeee) and it's going to be a challenge (so I think it is probably worth a post or two here.) 

Here's the plan:  I'm going to (try to) make a large hanging sculpture (nearly 4 metres in height and about a metre wide) consisting of around 120 ceramic helixes.  I may or may not achieve this, but we'll see...  The work is for a particular site which I'll come to in a later post along with some info on progress so far. In the meantime, here are some images of the test pieces I've made just as a taster for what's to come... 

I'll be back soon with more info on the progress with my sculpture and some feedback on the experience of my final year at Newcastle College.  BFN!

Monday, 28 January 2013

EXPO 2012 - painting masterclass

This is mainly for Pam and is a long over-due (and not that great!) blog post - I apologise for that.  Life got in the way of this one!

Last year, I took part in the Jesmond EXPO, a great local art exhibition, details of which are here: and also here:

As well as exhibiting a wide range of high quality artworks by local artists and crafts people, the EXPO included a number of events showcasing the artistic and musical skills of people who live and work in the Jesmond community.  One such event was a painting masterclass by Linda Scott-Robinson.

Tickets to the masterclass were sold out and the demonstration was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended.

In front of her audience, from blank canvass to finished work, Linda painted one of her famous and much sought-after poppy landscapes. It was fascinating to watch her work - she made it all look so effortless. Her self-deprecating manner and humility - in spite of considerable talent - made it all the more compelling to watch.

I scribbled down a lot of notes whilst it took place and I promised I'd write them up so here they are - As it's such a long time since the event, I've made no attempt to write them in any kind of sensible English (mainly because there are gaps in my memory about what some of them actually mean!) - they're just notes and cover things such as colour and type of paint, type of paper used, etc.  They will only really make any sense to those who attended.  I also include some photos taken of the event, but as we were in a candlelit church and I didn't use a flash (so as not to distract Linda whilst she worked), they are a little grainy.

Linda doesn't stretch the paper she uses - she buys 450gsm watercolour cardboard made by Bockingford.

There were many questions about how best to represent the blue in skies.  Linda uses Nordic Blue by Aquarelle, also umbre and indigo mixes.

Linda advises to have your mount frame ready before beginning painting so that you can hold it in front of your picture as you go and check how the painting looks within its intended frame. She commented that sometimes it is possible to salvage a portion of an otherwise unsatisfactory painting by trying smaller-than-intended frames on areas of the picture.

Linda usually begins painting with a broad, soft brush.

She applies a rule of thirds... (I can't remember what she said that meant!) and works flat on a table usually - rather than on an easel.

Watercolour dries lighter in shade than when first applied.

To get her trademark cloudy, dramatic skies, Linda sprays her work with water and then 'swishes' it to cause bleeding and fuzzy soft edges giving a natural impression of clouds.

For the demo, she used a hairdryer to dry the paint between stages of painting but would usually allow time for drying in between each stage.

God works in mysterious ways alright. 
Power direct from the pulpit...


For the middle ground of the poppy landscape - Linda used cadmium orange.

She mixed together crimson, nordic blue and umbre for the 'black' tree lines - she never uses black paint straight out of the tube. 

Tree lines were 'dragged down' using a light touch to blend them into their horizon.

Linda uses a palette knife to scratch texture into her paintings - laying on lots of colour and then scratching into it to soften it and create the impression of (for example) dry stalks on fields.

She sprays her work with water and then uses kitchen roll to 'dab' out patches for application of further colour and detail.

The poppies were made on to wetted canvass to encourage them to 'bleed' into natural-looking petals. Pure cadmium red and Aquarelle Bright Red were used for the colour.

More of my photos from EXPO can be found here: EXPO

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Goodbye SeaLorna

I promised I'd share the photos I took in Woodbridge and area, during my recent visit for Lorna's funeral so please find all 74(!) of them here: Woodbridge and around...  (Not all are of Woodbridge; the first few photos are of Lavenham, just a bit north west of Woodbridge, John and I had a stop off there on the way down.)

As Rhoda has said in her posts on Lorna's blog:, the day of the funeral was perfect. She and Aidan did Lorna proud; the service was truly special. On top of that it was such beautiful weather; and really great to meet so many of Lorna's friends - all lovely people - who had travelled from every corner of the British Isles!

It was an incredibly sad and emotional day - but it is no cliche to say, in this case, that there was much cause for celebration too. Lorna was special. No question.

The sailing club was a stunning venue to meet up after the funeral.  The club members looked after us all so well - and all of them clearly had a lot of affection for Lorna, who, as well as being a frequent sailor there, was one of the Club's main 'working party' who had given a lot of time and practical help to improving the club house and making it into the fine facility it now is. One of the club members, Emma, told me that when Lorna arrived at the Deben club they'd asked her if she would like to help out with club duties and had suggested she might like to help with making tea and selling cakes in the club tea shop....  Hmmmm.  Needless to say, Lorna was having none of that and was soon mucking in with the men in clearing the old club house site and building the new one - and from what I can gather, she carried on with many 'heavy duties' with the working party throughout her illness and only gave it up when she really could not do it anymore.

As well as the chance to say my goodbyes to Lorna, this visit gave me the chance to say a big hello to Woodbridge - and indeed Suffolk, where I'd never been before. Thank you for that Lorna - Woodbridge is lovely, lovely place, I really hope to visit again sometime in the near future - I feel quite smitten by it -  it will always hold a special place in my thoughts now. 

For those who couldn't make it to Suffolk, we plan to have a North East 'send off' for Lorna at Tynemouth later in the year, hopefully coinciding with the next Scammell Dash...  More news on that to follow later.

I hope everyone  who wants to can open the linked photos okay, but if not just drop me a comment below or contact me via my contact form here:

Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year from NE30 to IP12 x

Happily, as the years go by, some things don't change much. The coastline at Tynemouth and Cullercoats was truly fabulous today. For the first time in (what seems like!) weeks the sun was shining and everyone (and their dog!) was out and about enjoying a New Year's Eve wander along our beautiful seashores.
Johnny and I arrived in Tynemouth about 11:30am and headed for Crusoes Cafe for breakfast. It was absolutely heaving, but no surprise - what a fantastic place! Fancy not having been there before! What was I thinking?
(I've decided that Crusoes could be a great venue for the UK leg of my 50th birthday celebrations...)

 After we'd stuffed ourselves with our respective bacon and vegetarian breakfast butties, John and I  wandered off towards the Priory... along the beach, over the rocks, searching for signs of life in the pools and taking lots of photos.  The weather just kept getting better and better until there was not a sign of a cloud in the sky.  The wind was quite strong off the land but this just made the breakers more interesting and blew our 2012 cobwebs away into the North Sea:
(that's my first ever YouTube upload btw!)
One of the reasons I love going to visit the coast is because I find so much artistic inspiration whenever I go there.  Today was no exception, so many unusual and beautiful rocks, and the pools were full of crystal clear water and all edged with lovely purple furry sea plants and jammed full of thick strappy seaweeds....

Looks alive this one...

 The sea was so beautiful once the sun came out with lots of fine spray from the strong winds and the breakers catching the light....
It was an all-round wonderful day, thoroughly appreciated, and, as promised, 
I'm sending a few postcards from NE30 to IP12 with much love

First impressions of Newcastle College's BA Creative Practice

Well you asked for it...

There now follows a good old (and quite long!) ramble about my experiences on the BA Creative Practice at Newcastle College - peppered with images of recent ceramic works just to make it seem less wordy.... and to prove that I'm doing more than just written work!

Aquarium caves with non-toxic dolomite glaze - this is a test piece 
 made for Tynedale Aquatics who have kindly offered to trial some of my aquarium
pieces in the tanks in their shop at Mickley Square near Prudhoe
Newcastle College is now teaching its final (ever) Foundation Degree in Contemporary Ceramics with no new intake this year following the College's decision to shelve the specialist ceramics FdA in favour of a more generic arts-based certificate known as the Foundation Degree in Contemporary Applied Art and Design: As things stand, we don't really know if this change a good one or a bad one because the replacement course is in its first year - so we will have to wait and see what its students have to say...

The general mood in the ceramics department, though, suggests that the change is not a good one.  Part of the reason for this downturn in mood is due to the random comings and goings of 'general arts' students who arrive, in large troupes, and take over the ceramics studio for short instruction in some or other pottery technique and then disappear back to 3D design or woodwork or interior architecture... or wherever else they came from. This random influx is quite unsettling for the established potters in the department who are used to the college ceramics studios being the exclusive domain of dedicated ceramicists who pretty much live and breathe pottery!

More aquarium spawning and hiding caves made for Tynedale Aquatics
(That isn't the moon in the background)
 Having said that, there are some really excellent (and very inspiring) 'general arts' students kicking around the department, some of whom have already found their natural home in ceramics and perhaps wouldn't have had the chance to do this without the recent changes.  It's an ill wind that blows no good...

But... anyway... before I go off on a rant about the somewhat ruthless business practices that led the college to axe the ceramics FdA along with various other pretty nasty cuts, I'll try and keep on topic...

And, yes, this post is meant to give my opinion on the BA Creative Practice (Arts) or 'Level 6' (as it is also known) - i.e. the course I began in September 2012.

Old rope... found lying around the waterline on the beach...

So, first of all to confirm: it is still possible to specialise in ceramics to degree level at Newcastle College. You need to complete the general applied art and design FdA (or an equivalent) and then you are able to apply to specialise in ceramics at level 6. Just one ceramics FdA graduate opted to carry on studying at Newcastle College this year:  me!  (The rest of my cohort went off to various other places: (delete as appropriate) Sunderland University's Glass and Ceramics degree course/Northumbria Craft Pottery/India/their own lovely studio.....) 

Not only am I the only potter on the BA Creative Practice (Arts), I'm in a very, very small minority of part-time students (I think there are about 4 of us out of the 100s of full-timers).

The fact that I'm a lone potter doesn't matter: the course is entirely relevant to any arts discipline. 

The fact that I'm only able to attend the college one day a week does matter. My first piece of advice to anyone contemplating this course is: try and do it full-time!

The whole focus of the course is for full-time students and there is little (often no) consideration for how a part-time student might benefit from all of the 'enrichment' activities the programme has to offer, which is sad.  It is sad because the course has a lot of great activities and resources to offer and could so easily be made much more accessible to part-time and distance learners if the course designers were to incorporate some proper VLE provision into their plans.


The lectures I've attended so far have been very good, some have been excellent - all have been very interactive and enjoyable. I've even learnt stuff! :-) However, I've missed out on many of the talks from professionals in the arts industry and arts funding bodies because they've taken place on days when I can't get into the college. Since the college doesn't record its lectures (in any way, shape or form!), there's no way I can hear these talks. It's frustrating.

I also can't participate in the student 'group activities' (of which there are many throughout each week), although this doesn't bother me so much I have to admit. Why? Oh I dunno... it's an 'age thing', I think. I certainly feel pretty ancient compared with most of my cohort!  Actually, that's another thing: average age on the BA is about 20 (maybe younger!).  Not that that really matters but it's another fact worth being aware of if you're a middle-aged potter thinking about embarking on this route of study. (I'm sure it'd probably do me good to work with younger, more energetic, less cynical people :-|  )

My experience with the teaching and support staff at Blandford Square (where the course has its teaching base) has been really good.  All of the staff and support folk are very likable - all are enthusiastic and very knowledgeable in their fields of expertise. They are a lovely team of people, always keen to offer help and good advice, and there's a really nice 'vibe' about the place.  I like going there. The IT facilities (all Mac) are great too.  I've also learned a whole load of stuff I never knew about the resources available at the college library... beginning with a talk by the brilliant 'Library Richard' who writes (wrote!) a truly great and very educational blog: which  (I've just this minute noticed) the college has also now axed. I could honestly scream on Richard's behalf for the stupidity and pettiness of that decision.

Moving swiftly on... (breathe in, breathe out...)

The course structure is fine and pretty much what you'd expect;  it's broken down into modules which cover several main chunks of work, each of which drills down in the next. So you start by writing a Proposal (this basically expresses what you are going to do in order to attain your BA) which feeds into your Planning document which feeds into your Development work which eventually becomes your Project Realisation.  It's all very logical and takes the age-old good practice approach of divide and conquer to get the (big) job done.  Lectures incorporate plenty of tips and good advice on how to approach researching your subject, writing up your research, etc.

The major written work is a Dissertation of between 7,000 and 10,000 words (depending on the approach taken: vocational (less writing) or academic (more writing!))  Students have the choice of writing up a dissertation based on their arts practice project work (for which they'll already have the foundation of their dissertation, made up from the various finished documents listed above) or writing on any other arts subject (which may or may not be related to their own arts practice).  One advantage of doing this part-time is that I don't have to make my mind up about my dissertation subject matter until next September!

For the practical elements of the course (i.e. making stuff) each student is assigned a main support contact within the college, for their particular area of arts practice, but is also encouraged to engage with people from all related arts disciplines - both inside and outside of the college. The emphasis is on developing good professional and/or academic contacts who will help you to progress in your chosen area of practice or research. The main objective here is to help you move your practice away from the 'safety' of the college environment and out into the real world.... and also to provide an opportunity to learn from other practitioners' experience. It's a good approach and the college staff have many contacts and resources to share.

So, what else can I tell a prospective student of the BA? 

Well...  there's the matter of course fees. If you started your FdA prior to 2012, make sure you ensure you continue to benefit from the same low fees you've paid so far. I heard rumours recently that the college were asking some ridiculous sums for the part-time BA Creative Practice. For me, the fees were roughly £700 per year because the BA is simply another level (6) of a course I started well before the recent HE course fee increases. It is accredited by the same Leeds Met body who ran the ceramics FdA (and don't let anyone tell you anything different).

I opted to pay my fees in 2 chunks (October and January) which is worth considering (even if you can easily afford the whole amount in one go) because, if you change your mind about the course after the first couple of months, you don't need to pay the rest of the year's fees.

I'm sure, if you were already on the FdA prior to 2012, that lower fees should apply whether you choose the full-time or part-time routes but you might have to haggle...

Anyway, I guess that's (more than!) enough said for now.  I'll return with (hopefully shorter) updates.  It's still early days on the course for me, I've yet to even hand in my first module's work - i.e. my Proposal - which is due end of January 2013 along with a viva (gulp!). 

If you're a prospective BA Creative Practice student who has managed to get to the bottom of this ramble and you would like to know more about the detail of the course, please feel free to get in touch via the comments options below or through my web contact page here: