Monday, 27 June 2011

National Elite Road Race Championships

Happy high speed girls!
I know I'm still completely off-topic here for anyone who decides to visit my blog looking for posts about ceramics, but nevermind...  I did say I might wander into other interests on occasions.  I will have to do some potting today so might get back with pictures of clay 'things' later...

So....  yesterday, I spent around 10 hours in the sweltering sunshine in my high-vis vest marshalling the National Champs. It was a truly wonderful day and great to be able to watch the likes of Nicole Cooke, Lizzie Armistead, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas come flying through Stamfordham at incredible speeds.

The number of people who turned out to watch the event was quite astounding.  Stamfordham was packed of course, and the Ryals were (apparently) like Alp d'Huez during the Tour de France - one of the marshalls up there said there were around a thousand people on the roadside!  Fantastic. But all around the rest of the route, too, hundreds of people turned out to give their support to the riders - it was just amazing.

Being posted at the entrance to the village for my marshalling duties meant that I got a great view of the riders coming through on each circuit, and also got to chat with some very friendly folk who were watching or recording the event, including the rather lovely Andy Jones, photographer for Cycling Weekly, who kindly gave me some suntan cream for my somewhat cooked face(!) and also showed me some of the great pics he'd taken of the spectators up on the Ryals.

I'd intended to take plenty of photos myself but didn't quite get around to it as I seemed to be constantly distracted with keeping cars off the no-parking areas or answering questions (badly most of the time!) about the race progress or handing out start lists... etc.   Getting to the podium to take pictures was difficult because the crowd was so densely packed around it, but I did manage to zoom in on Mr Wiggins as he was contemplating the possibilities of being on the podium again at the end of next month's Tour de France...

So that's it for another great Cyclone Weekend... next stop for cycling lovers...  the Vendée for the Tour de France.  One chapter ends and another begins...

Some people will steal anything...
 peeling the finish line from the baking road - 7pm 26th June 2011

Spectator painting the road during the 2010 TDF - taken by Andy Jones

Friday, 24 June 2011

And in sports news...

Well... this week has been Team Green Britain Bike Week, and if that's passed you by so far, fear not - for what a weekend of cycling you have ahead of you!!  We have Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish, Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley.... to name but a few of the stars who'll be hitting the region on their bikes this weekend for the National Elite Road Race Championships.

A huge Well Done! to Peter Harrison and the Gosforth Road Cycling Club for attracting one of the biggest events in the UK cycling calendar to our region. 

As well as the Nationals, there's the Leazes Criterium Races happening right now in Leazes Park, as I write, and the Northern Rock Cyclone takes place tomorrow.  Check out the Cyclone website for details of all of these events:

I'm gonna have a rest from potting this Sunday and head off to join the rest of the marshalls who are taking part in the event organisation for the National Road Race Champs.  Can't wait!!

This is going to be a great weekend of cycling, you'd be mad not to come down to watch at least one of the events.

Hope to see you there!

Good luck to all involved!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Pots in the Byre

Last night I went to the preview evening for Pots in the Byre. This is a lovely exhibition of the work of a really diverse group of ceramic artists - everything from sculptural work for indoors and outdoors, to domestic-ware, to decorative jewellery.... to lemon squeezers and garlic crushers!   

The exhibition is being held in a converted byre at Broadwood Studios at the beautiful Broadwood Hall:

Among the exhibitors is our own, Andrew Pentland (see previous blog) - he has some truly fabulous domestic ware on show. 

Unfortunately - and most unusually - I forgot to take my camera! So, no photos from the exhibition itself from me just yet.  However, here is a photo of some of Andrew's work that I bought at another recent exhibition:

(he made the lovely blue vase in the background too)
Andrew has lots of examples of bowls and cups like these in the Pots in the Byre exhibition, as well as large serving dishes, garlic crushers, olive oil bottles, mugs, plates... etc... many with beautiful ash detail from the wood-firing.

The Pots in the Byre exhibition is well worth a visit, it is open on all weekends from now until Sunday, 3rd July (i.e. the next 3 weeks).  The easiest way to find the the exhibition is to head towards Allendale (just type Google Maps Allendale into your search engine) and then follow the Pots in the Byre signs to Broadwood Hall.

I'll be back with some proper photos of the exhibition next week!

The business of educating potters

One of the college modules I completed this year is called "Work-based learning" (AD207).  The purpose of this module is to encourage students to try and attain some real-life experience of working in the ceramics 'industry'.  Most of my fellow students have undertaken placements with local potters but I've found it difficult to do that as I'm already working.  I've therefore had to be a bit creative in order to accumulate the necessary number of hours of work experience.  I've done a lot of visiting of galleries and studios and I've spoken to people in many areas of ‘potting life’. 

One of the areas I decided to look at was education. I wanted to try and find out what kind of a person you need to be to make a success of teaching and supporting ceramics students.  Who better to ask about this than Andrew Pentland, our top-notch instructor and technician?  So, during quiet spell at our College Open Day, I decided I'd interview Andrew and find out a bit more about him and discover how he came to be a Ceramics Instructor at Newcastle College. What follows is an account of my interview, a few of my own observations from working with Andrew this past 4 years and well... really just an opportunity to say thank you to him for all of his hard work and support.

Andrew in action. Checking on a firing.
To work as a ceramics instructor, you need to have a great deal of experience in the field but you also need to have the right kind of temperament and attitude in order to deal with the rather varied mix of students to be found on all ceramics courses.

When it comes to experience in the field, Andrew knows quite a lot about most things.  If he doesn't, he'll know someone who does! And if he doesn't know someone who does, he'll come up with a damn good solution himself! He told me that this continues to be one of the most rewarding parts of his job: taking on technical challenges and researching answers and solutions.

Andrew is a wonderful potter in his own right.  His throwing technique is just a pleasure to watch;  he makes beautiful, robust, earthy and yet fine pieces in a flash - and he can throw anything:  lovely domestic-wares, huge decorative pots, bowls and platters, teapots, massive garden pots, bottles, clay fruit(!), sculptural forms, you name it.  He can throw anything.

Andrew's name reverberates around the ceramic studio day in, day out:  "Andrew, can I have this, that or the other...?", "Andrew, how do I do this, that or the other...?", "Andrew, can you dry this work, fire it and have it ready for my hand-in.... tomorrow!" , "Oh, and Andrew, it needs to be fired on its own, in this weird position, with these weird props around it, and can I add this weird substance into the clay to see what happens...?", "Andrew, have you got a sky-blue-pink-with-yellow-spots glaze?", "Andrew, are you feeling strong today?  Good.  Can you lift this 10 tonne weight for me?", "Andrew, I'm having a crisis over my wife/husband/cat/dog/child/workmates/course deadlines... can you listen patiently whilst I have a tantrum about it?" I sometimes wonder why he doesn't change his name.  But the thing is, I've never ever seen Andrew get even slightly ruffled or the least bit impatient with anyone or anything in the 4 years I've known him.

He is the most easy-going, laid-back and even-tempered guy you could ever hope to meet and the perfect teacher: never cross, always patient, constantly encouraging. His motto seems to be 'Give it a go'.

Showing Ash how to wedge a huge lump of clay....
(some serious mathematical logic comes into it apparently...)
So how did he end up working at Ceramics Instructor at Newcastle College?

Andrew did his HND in 3D Craft Design at Barnsley College ( - where his end of course project was in furniture design!  He completed his Degree in Glass and Ceramics at Sunderland University ( graduating in 2000.

Early days - learning the skills needed to teach!
Andrew told me that he really enjoyed the degree course at Sunderland because there was a great deal of freedom to follow your own direction with it.  He went there thinking he'd prefer working with glass to clay but then ended up finding he could throw pretty well and developed something of a passion for it.  It was during the degree course that he built his first salt kiln; a major technical project, the kiln was built at the back of the University buildings on Ashburn Road, in Sunderland.

This isn't that particular kiln but this is Andrew stoking a wood kiln
over in the States at his Uncle's pottery.
When he left Sunderland University, he decided that he would like to become a production potter, selling to galleries - he decided that the place to do this was in the Big Smoke - London beckoned. Then, as he puts it, "he got real"... and got a job delivering OCN Ceramics courses at Houghall College in Stockton.  As it was Outreach work, it took him all over the place teaching ceramics to different groups:  including various Women’s Groups, WI, various day centres, etc.  He and another potter would do 2 hour sessions of throwing and hand-building, loading the Shimpo and all the other accessories into a van and going from centre to centre.  Pottery on tour is how Andrew describes it.

During this time, Andrew was also offered a free studio inside of the building that was to become the National Glass Centre.  So, during the Summer of 2000, he and a handful of other artists were the sole occupants of this wonderful huge glass building:

When the work with Houghall came to an end, Andrew got work as a Day Centre Officer in the Ceramics Department at Fullwell Day Centre.  At that time, the day centre saw 150 people a day pass through its doors.  Andrew was key worker for a group of 17 people with learning disabilities, teaching them art and ceramics.  This was a rewarding job and I suggested it might have been a little daunting as well, but, typically, Andrew didn't find it all daunting - he said he thoroughly enjoyed working with the students there, and learnt a lot about people:  and especially that there are good ones and bad ones in all types of folk.  One of the major - and most enjoyable - achievements of the group was to create a huge frieze made up of individually-decorated ceramic tiles.   Everyone had a hand in making the frieze - which was incredibly heavy when finished and was eventually mounted on to the wall of one of the Day Centre buildings.

As the work at Fullwell was only part-time, Andrew ran a ceramics studio at Byker, with 3 other graduates, on the days when he wasn't teaching at the Centre.  He did this for a year and a half until the studio rents became too high to manage.

Eventually, in 2006 he was approached by Jane Hufton to help out with the night classes she was running at Newcastle College (see my first ever blog post).  The College was looking for a permanent technician at the time, and Jane had heard about Andrew through various sources as being an all-round good bloke with a lot of experience of working in the field of ceramics and teaching.  When the college eventually advertised the permanent technician post, Andrew applied for the job and was offered an interview.  Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it!) he missed the offer as he was away on his honeymoon when the letter came through his letter box and was still away during the time the interviews took place...  It was lucky for him (and us!) that the college didn't appoint anyone during that round of interviews and he got a second chance.  The rest is, as they say, history.

In the glazing studio...

...happy in his work!

"I need to look at the filter in this spray booth"
Despite being asked to cast a student's entire foot on his first day - which might have put anyone else off the job completely - Andrew has been at Newcastle College for 6 years now and is loving every minute of it.  He likes the fact that he's been able to get his own work 'back on track', meaning that he is constantly inspired to improve his own skills because of the endless flow of talent and interest generated by people coming into the Ceramics department.
I asked him what advice he’d give to anyone considering taking on a job as a ceramics instructor and this is what he said:
Have an open mind to people’s creative direction and don’t allow personal preferences to take lead. Be proactive in developing your own skills and practice, try and keep in touch with current trends and practitioners. Keep the enthusiasm and excitement alive whilst at work; I don’t have a problem with this as I'm still as thrilled to open a kiln and see results (even if the pots are not mine!) as I was when I first started over 12 years ago.

Andrew also said that he loves being around creative people – because every day there is something new to see.  I totally agree with him that, sometimes, it is just mind-blowing to see the quality of the work of some of the students who come through the hands of the college. But do you know what?  You can guarantee that every single one of those people will, at some time during their studies, have benefitted from Andrew's patient and knowledgeable assistance with some aspect of their work and owe him a great big

Another weekend of Art and Nature

The Summer Art Tour continues this weekend ( with studios all over the region offering free entry to members of the public.  Linda and I will be on hand at her Howtel studio once again, with a hot cuppa and a home-made scone or two to welcome any visitors who venture into the beautiful Bowmont Valley.  I will also be doing a couple of demos on Sunday to show how I made some of the work on show.

There are a number of other open studios in the area, including that of Peter Podmore at West Newton at the entrance to the College Valley:

On Sunday, there is a further incentive to visit the area when the fabulous Mindrum Garden is also open to the public.  Described as "a magical combination of rose gardens, lawns, woods and water" the garden is just a mile or two from Linda's studio.  See: for details and links to some great pictures.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I haven't time to write a proper blog post at the moment as I am busy preparing for the Open Studio Exhibition, which starts this Friday:

In the meantime, though, here are some images I took at the Newcastle College Ceramics and Fine Art Foundation Degree Final Shows.  As well as ceramic works by students on my course, there are also some pictures of pictures(!) and some sculptural works by students on other Newcastle College Art courses.  The Final Shows go on all week, and are definitely worth a visit - there's such a lot of varied work on show; my photos show only a small selection of what's there.  The Shows are spread through Mandela and Trevelyan Buildings on the College Campus (

These pieces by Katharine Adams are a personal favourite. 
Just exquisite - so beautifully made.

These are Katharine's too.  So talented!

Carolyn Marr

Annie Ravazzolo
Corin Nesbit

Kimberly Bell

Lorna Beasley

Miguel Coelho

The above two paintings are by Petra Ondrova - I think they are fabulous!

Holidays on the Moon
This is an hilarious piece of work - with a message. One of a series of very funny pieces.
It was made by a guy called John Purvis - check out his blog:

Josh Donnelly

 The next few pics are of some very pretty and intricate work made by our
mate and fellow kiln-builder, Steve Nicholson. 

Everyone loved these pieces and you can see why. 
Steve really pushed the material to its limits in
making these....

 Steve and Sue having a bit of an arty conflab.

Will be back here soon with news of the Art Tour....