Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Shocked and disgusted

I had my day completely ruined yesterday  along with the rest of Newcastle's football fans.

As a friend of mine said yesterday in an email rant (and I think this sums the matter up nicely - on the one hand for Chris, and on the other for fans of Newcastle United):  "throughout society, working people have to put up with complete shitheads as their management, who know nothing about the job they're trying to do, and who bugger them about with impunity .... and then they have to suffer it in one of their favourite escapes from work as well."

Goodbye and good luck, Chris - we're going to miss you!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The show must go on...

...even if it's a little later than planned!  Linda and I have postponed our Open Studio event because of the crazy amounts of snow around Linda's place.  So we'll both be there next weekend instead (11th/12th Dec), although Linda assures me she wont turn away any visitors that do happen to make it to hers this weekend.  There'll still be beautiful paintings and a warm welcome!

And in other news:

From next week, I'm working a 3-day week.  So, when I leave work on a Friday evening now, instead of looking forward to the weekend break, I'll be looking forward to 4 long days before I return to my desk...  Lovely.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow business

Well it's been a while....  So what have I been up to? 

Mostly, I've been preparing pieces for the Open Studio event with Linda which takes place this weekend, weather permitting. If the snow eases off now, it would be good to think that people will take a chance and drive out to the beautiful North Northumberland countryside this weekend to visit the studio and enjoy this unusual November weather.  I wont be surprised if Linda and I have to drink all the mulled wine and eat all of the home-made soup and hot scones ourselves though...   

Look, it's beautiful:

I must admit that I have really enjoyed this bout of snowy weather.  I love the way it changes the pace of life and brings people out on foot into the streets. I've spoken to neighbours up the road from me this week, who I've never exchanged words with in nearly 3 years of living in my street.  There's been a real sense of community for once - people helping each other out of various sticky situations.  Harv and I have spent a lot of the weekend pushing cars out of snow and clearing neighbours' drive ways, etc. It's been good exercise and a lot of fun!  Long may it go on, I say.

So a couple of things to report:

John and Simon very kindly insulated the roof in my workshop which really does feel like a workshop now. It's pretty cosy, even in this chilly spell. The insulation board has made the room a lot lighter too, being so reflective, which was a surprising additional benefit:

The Printing Project is almost completed, although it's all a bit touch and go whether I'll make the hand-in deadline having missed a day at college this week because the Ceramics Studio was closed due to issues with staff getting in through the snow, so not all of my final pieces are fired yet.  Here are some of my ceramic buttons with work-related symbols that will go into my 'Box':

And I've put together a good few lanterns for the weekend.  Here's some of them:

And finally...  I made it into the University's Newslink publication, alongside Linda:  http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press.office/newslink/item/it-problem-leads-to-a-creative-partnership  Fame at last! :-)

I'm ready for a rest now.  I've never really been a fan of Christmas, but I'll still enjoy the break when it comes, like anyone else!  And I must admit, I do like the lights... and the mulled wine.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


It's hard to believe that this

and this:

come about from processes like these:

But they do....

...and there are much finer (stunning!) examples here:  http://www.davidroberts-ceramics.com/

What's happening in the pictures above is known as a raku firing. I took part in various raku firings as part of my early ceramics night classes with Jane Hufton at Newcastle College.  They were always great occasions, we used to spend the whole day firing, but we'd chat and eat lots of nice home-made food in between the various firing stages. 

Raku is a Japanese word meaning enjoyment.  The technique of raku firing is very interesting: it was developed centuries ago in Japan and used in the tea ceremonies there to make instant chawan or 'tea bowls'.  There's a good account of the history and technique here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raku_ware but to summarise:  raku is a firing technique which takes pots made of strong ceramic materials (crank or porcelain usually) and plunges them into a hot kiln, fires them rapidly to a hot but relatively low temperature (compared with other kinds of kiln firings) and then transfers them into a 'smokey chamber' where the smoke blackens any part of the pot where there is no glaze. After a short period in the smoke, the pots are then placed, sizzling, into cold water...  and then scrubbed cleaned and it is only then that the true wonders of the technique are revealed. 

This video of Simon Leach carrying out raku firings is one of many that can be found on the web.  It shows raku for what it is:  a somewhat crazy, at times dangerous, method of producing very nice works of art!

Raku uses glazes with a tendency to 'crackle' for, within the cracks, the smoke can then work its magic.  It's an unpredictable technique because it puts pots under incredible strain - going from white hot to cold in minutes - the sound of cracking pottery is not uncommon!  But the results, when all goes well, are sometimes breathtaking and it's a lot of fun getting together with a group of potters for a raku firing and hearing all the exclamations when the pots are revealed after much cleaning and scrubbing away of carbon.  Wow!

There are lots of variations on raku firing techniques using all manner of nasty chemicals and weird materials (the hair from horses tails!) to produce amazing effects. 

I have to admit to having something of a passion for raku.  I only wish I didn't live in such a residential area of town and I would have a raku kiln of my own and really explore this amazing process.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember Remember the 5th of November....

Gunpowder, Treason and Lindsay's Birthday. 

Happy Birthday Lindsay!

Have been pretty busy lately - too busy to write much here.   Have some pics to share though.  First of all one of my Halloween lantern...  cut with a potter's hole maker of course:

Messing around with the digital camera...

Bonfire night fireworks display at Blue Flames Club (one of Newcastle United's training grounds):





Off to Hexham's fireworks display tomorrow night!  Can't wait.  I love fireworks!!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


I'm pleased to say that I've been asked to include some of my work in Linda Scott-Robinson's Open Studio event at the start of December:  http://www.mindrumart.co.uk/  I know Linda through IT-related things at Newcastle University.  Linda manages the University's Sport Centre IT needs, amongst various other roles!  One day we got talking about arty subjects and I discovered that she is a really fabulous painter.

I am very grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to show (and maybe even sell) some of my work at her exhibition.

As Linda's paintings are so lively and colourful and vibrant,  I've decided to try and complement them with some very simple lighting forms using little or no glazing.  So... I've been in the garage 'workshop' again this evening doing a little work on the first few.  The form is one I've used before and it seems to work quite well. I like to keep the lighting holes fairly small and subtle so that the lights just give a gentle ambient glow - the shadows on the wall from these pieces are really lovely. 

These are all greenware....

And here's one I made earlier that's been fired:

Monday, 25 October 2010

♫ Tell me why.... I don't like Tuesdays... ♫

... Because Mondays are now college days - and therefore fun. 

I've been working a 4-day week Tuesday to Friday for over 2 years now.  It means losing some salary but it gives me the chance to do my Foundation Degree in Ceramic Practice part-time whilst earning a living.

However, it is a college Reading Week this week so the college was closed.  It was wall-to-wall sunshine in the North East so John and I headed up Hedgehope Hill in the Cheviots to check whether we could Sea Lorna.


We could definitely see the sea! Miles of Northumberland coastline - crystal clear.  Fantastic views all round - and fabulous skies. 

Sunday, 24 October 2010


I thought I'd write a little about my current College project because a) it gives a flavour of what the course is about and b) it is related to one of my favourite activities:  doodling.

The project's official name is: Module AD203 Printing on to ceramics. Printing in this case can mean literally printing transfers to go on to pots using a ceramic printer (e.g.. making decals) or impressing designs on to pots using stamps and roulettes, or using techniques such as monoprinting where slips and underglazes are transferred from paper, plaster, lino, etc directly on to unfired clay.  It's all a lot of fun so far, and I feel more relaxed about this project than others, for some reason. 

So where do the doodles come in?  The theme of my project is Personal Culture, and given that'work' (the real work, stuff that pays the bills and that)  has helped to shape the person I am, I decided I'd do something printed on a pot about that.  And given that I doodle a lot at work (in meetings, when I'm on the phone, whilst idly chatting to colleagues... ) and I've seen others do it too, I thought that should come into it somehow. 

Mainly though my piece is going to be about the language and behaviour we use during our working day, and especially in meetings. 

One of the major and very influential changes in my working life in public sector organisations over the past 15 years has been the disappearance of the in-house Specialist from Management positions and the arrival, in their place, of external 'Career Managers' (aka Business Men!).  The Business Man and his language and very particular kind of work culture has infiltrated almost all areas of my workplace.

So anyway, avoiding going off on too much of a rant here...  and getting waylaid from the matter of printing on ceramics:  I've decided to print some of the doodles that I and my colleagues have done during meetings on to a ceramic box and (inside of the box) add some printed ceramic badges and pendants with examples of some of those now well-known management and business clichés.  The 'box' itself being somewhat symbolic - for 'thinking out of' and 'fitting into' and 'ticking', etc - seemed an appropriate form.  It is meant to be a sort of 'suggestions box' for 'thinking out of'.  Suggestions come out of it rather going than in...  I'm sure you get it.

Anyway I made a start...  with some sketches:

and I made a model of the box (I planned to make it A4 as that seems relevant to the theme but it may be a little large... ):

I punched holes into the box so that it resembles sheets of paper joined together...  I made a smaller model and painted it with white slip and then roughly sketched lines on it so, again, it looks a bit like paper...

These are just tests so are a bit rough and ready, but they help me to get a very good idea of what a finished piece might look like and also I learn what is involved with actually building the piece before attempting my final work. 

It'd be good to have some suggestions for the box - I am definitely going to print a badge to go into it that says, I'm having an email-free day and then I will make sure I wear it once a week and live up to its message!

Space of my own

Thought I'd do a couple of separate posts today to get into the swing.  First of all, here are some pictures of my work spaces.  I have 2 main work spaces:  the ceramics studio at Newcastle College and my garage!  Newcastle College have a well-equiped studio with 4 light and airy rooms.  Here's me working in the Glazing Room:

This is of our end of module assessment for the Cup Project, in the biggest studio:

The Cup Project was my first experience with throwing. Part of the remit was to throw 6 cyclinders of indentical appearance and volume.  It was a traumatic time...  The items I produced did hold liquid but that was their only similarity with the cup as we know it!  Nevermind, I did get a lot better at throwing.  It just took practice - as with most things.

The other work space I mentioned was my garage at home in Fenham in Newcastle:

Our garage has never seen a car.  It has seen plenty of cycles and a lot of pottery.  It isn't the perfect room for pottery but it is very useful to have a space to work where I am free to make a mess!  Unfortunately though, there are no windows so light is poor, and during the wintertime it is unbearably cold. Even at this time of year, it's pretty chilly. Hence the very useful woolley hats hanging on the wall! (Thanks Jenny!) I did invest in a heater but as insulation is poor (and ventilation very good!), this has not proved very efficient.  I need a proper workshop really and it is high on my agenda to find one.

Saturday, 23 October 2010


During the winter of 2007 I discovered that I had a love of working with clay. I don't use the term, work in the usual sense.  Getting my hands into a lump of clay is one of the most absorbing and pleasurable activities I can think of.  One of them.

The truth is that my love of making things out of mud goes back a lot further.  I used to sit on the ground outside my house as a very young child and make 'clay mice' out of the garden mud and bake them on the pavement in the scorching hot summers we seemed to have back then.

But my real adventures in ceramics began when I joined a night class entitled,  Ceramics for Beginners at Newcastle College, led by a wonderful teacher, Jane Hufton.  Jane's enthusiasm and encouragement led me on to further night classes and eventually to embarking on a foundation degree at the College.

Having studied part-time for 3 years I'm now in Year 2 of my degree course !  It's been an interesting and quite varied journey so far.  But more about that later.

For now, a few pics of some of those early night class pieces....