A ground breaking moment!

For the last month I’ve been reading geology books, trawling through mineral extraction reports and marking places to look for resources on my much loved Ordinance Survey Map which now lives happily on the wall of my studio. I LOVE MAPS! Maps offer so many exciting adventures, secret footpaths and new places to explore. BUT today I realise that I’ve done enough research, I know where to find the best clay and now I actually need to go and get some. Immediately, I find myself checking emails (again), then Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messanger… I’m procrastinating… It turns out that I’m actually afraid to go and start digging! Why? I think because it will turn a crazy idea into something real – once I have some clay, I’ll have to do something amazing with it.

Instead of going to one of the places that I’ve carefully marked on my map, I text my friend who lives a mile down the road as I’m sure she has ball clay in her back garden. She’s home and happy for me to dig, so I chuck my spade and bucket in the back of my car and head off to her house – not at all the ground breaking occasion I imagined it was going to be (no pun intended!!).

It felt very strange to be turning up at someone’s house to dig for clay, typically I’m used to digging for potatoes or planting trees! I’m directed away from the house (!) but unfortunately there’s no sign saying ‘dig clay here’, so I have absolutely no idea where to start. After a while of searching for the ‘right’ place, I notice some grey clay on the surface of a ditch located close to the road. I jump in, shove my spade in the ground and start to dig.

After digging a spits depth I come across top soil. As a keen gardner and watcher of archaeology programmes I know that this is definitely the wrong way round! How can there be top soil under the clay? I keep digging and quickly come to more clay (grey and orange) under the top soil. Brilliant! With nobody there to share my excitement (except for a herd of dear who’ve been watching me closely since I arrived), I do a little ‘yes’ in my head, smile to myself and start filling my bucket which I then take to the car. This sounds much easier than it actually was – clay is very heavy, the car was quite a long way away and it’s a very, very hot day – my friend is in shorts and t-shirt whilst I’m wearing jeans, a woolly dress, long sleeved top and fur lined DM’s!

Lesson number 1. Always make sure that I park close to where I’m digging, or have someone strong to help me carry the clay (or both)!
Lesson number 2. Always check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.

Still confused as to why there was clay on top of the topsoil I ask my friend. She tells me that it’s the residue from when the road is washed by the clay extraction company who are located opposite her house. Obviously! As I turn to look at the road I see a huge truck carrying tonnes of clay and I compare it to my small bucket full. I’m starting to feel worried again. How am I going to dig and transport the large amounts of clay that I’m going to need? I’m starting to think this whole thing is a bad idea!

Hot, sweaty and stinking I return to the studio to start refining the clay but I notice the time and realise I’m going to be late collecting my daughter from school. Argh!!! That’ll have to wait until tomorrow!

Back to the sea again?!

In an attempt to get away from the sea inspiration of my previous ceramics, almost straight away the books are taking me away from the land back to the sea again! Illustrations of ammonites, echinoids and collopheres cover the pages alongside chunks of text about the Jurassic. Argh!!! It seems there’s no getting away from the sea as I suppose it’s basically what’s formed the landscape. It’s also water that has made clay which I now know to be a sedimentary rock! I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never given much thought to how clay is made. If you’re interested…

Sedimentary rock is formed from the debris of other rocks and living matter. Clay is made up from the smallest particles of sedimentary rock. Little energy is needed to transport clay particles so it settles very slowly and is carried out the furthest from the shore. Accumulation of clay particles is usually associated with quiet environments such as lakes, swamps and lagoons.

From my studies I know that during the Cretaceous period, Purbeck was primarily covered in swamps and lagoons and this is when the clay that I’m gathering was formed, 145.5 – 66 million years ago! Using this clay puts me in direct contact with a time when the surrounding seas were populated with now-extinct marine reptiles, ammonites and when dinosaurs continued to dominate on land; a time when new groups of mammals, birds, and flowering plants appeared; it was also the time when the mass extinction of dinosaurs occurred.

The name Cretaceous comes from the Latin creta, meaning chalk, which is made from the deposited shells of marine invertebrates, principally coccoliths. It seems incredible that the Purbeck hills are made from millions of shells millions of years ago. It fills me with the same sense of awe and wonder I feel when I look at the stars and see my place in the universe and time, it’s incredible.

I’m beginning to realise that as a potter I should feel the same connection to clay as I do my food – I feel a connection to the food I eat because I sow the seeds, plant the seedlings, water, harvest and eat – I’m part of the whole process. I’ve felt a disconnection with my craft because until now, I’ve bought my clay and glazes from a pottery supply shop, consequently only being part of the creative process not the whole.

I am loving learning about the geology of the landscape which is already making me feel more in tune with clay and my role and respnsiblity as a potter.

A little closer to reality…

I always start a new project with primary and secondary research – I’ve always loved researching new topics and it’s partly for this reason that I first fell in love with clay. It wasn’t so much the actual material that drew me in, it was it’s endless possibilities that really grabbed me. I could never be the type of potter that sticks with the same style of working for years – I get bored too easily! My collections have a maximum life span of around three years and then I’m ready to move on to the next thing. In fact I’m often thinking about what I’m going to do next as soon as I’ve begun a new project!

Whatever I’m researching, my first stop is always a visit to the library. That first moment when you open a book on a subject you know nothing about is really exciting. I know that I have to understand the geology of the area so that I know where to source the clay and the other materials I need to make and glaze my pottery. Until today, I wasn’t even sure exactly what geology was, but armed with a stack of books about the geology of Purbeck, I’m ready to immerse myself in a subject I know nothing about!

So, on opening the first book published in the 19th Century (!), I was surprised by just how interesting it was, in fact, the study of geology is fascinating! I’ve walked, cycled and ridden my horse across the Isle of Purbeck my whole life, since it’s the place where I grew up. I’ve felt totally humbled by its beauty; it’s hills have protected me from the outside world; I’ve watched the seasons change and have revelled in the colours turning from Spring greens to the orange hues of Autumn and contrasting stark greys of Winter; it is my inspiration, but I have NEVER asked myself how this beautiful landscape was formed. This 100 year old book has all the answers!

There are numerous references to different types of clay that I didn’t even know existed – Oxford, Kimmeridge, Wealdon, Gault to name just a few! I’ve no idea what their properties are so this is something that I’ll need to study further. There’s also references to different minerals which I know to be glaze ingredients for example Quartz, Chalk and Feldspar. This knowledge is reassuring – there is clay I can use and there are glaze ingredients to be found.

I feel a little bit closer to my project idea becoming reality!

A new journey begins…

It’s quite a big thing for me let go of a style of pottery that is still selling well and leap into new territory! But I feel I have taken my current collection as far as I want to and the time is right to begin something totally new. My new journey started today…

I’ve known for a few years that my next collection would involve finding clay and glaze ingredients in my local environment, the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. This grew from:

  1. remembering the magic of digging clay as a child in a neighbouring friends garden and making pinch pots that dried in the sun.
  2. a reaction against the ceramics industry’s use of plastics to store clay and glaze ingredients and also the transportation of these materials all over the world.
  3. having a studio surrounded by clay pits which contain Ball Clay (a rare clay apparently only found in two other areas of the UK), which Wedgwood used for his pottery.
  4. living in a landscape rich in ancient history, inhabited by settlers who gathered raw materials from the earth to make pottery. I love the fact that clay was a necessary part of ancient culture and where they settled depended on it.
  5. living in an area with a huge but mostly forgotten clay heritage ranging from clay pipe manufacturing to brick works.
  6. needing a challenge – I thrive on learning new things – researching where and how to find raw materials will take a lots of learning combined with possibly months of gathering and testing to arrive at a final conclusion.
  7. an overwhelming urge to connect more with the landscape and what it has to offer.

I have absolutely no idea what form my new work will take which is terrifying! Can I even create new work that I enjoy making and people will like? Who knows?!

Throughout this project I’ll be keeping a diary of thoughts, details of research and experiments and presenting them in a blog containing words, photos and video. So if you’re interested in my hand dug and locally sourced glaze journey ( I should think of a collection title!) please walk this way…

My new studio opening celebration

I’d love you to join me to celebrate the opening of my new pottery studio.

The details of the event are as follows:
Location: Furzebrook Studios, 52 Furzebrook Road, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5AX
Date: Sunday, 26th November 2017
Time: 12pm – 4pm

Refreshments
There will be a team of helpers serving tea, coffee, cake, mulled wine & mince pies throughout the event for you to enjoy.

Additional open studios
I share the building with 5 other artists who will also be opening their studios for you to explore. There is a mixture of ceramics, art, printmaking, silver/gold jewellery and a scenic model maker.

Exhibition
The foyer houses a good selection of my work for sale – perfect for getting some Christmas presents! The other artists will also have a range of beautifully made hand-crafted items for you to purchase. In addition, the people who attend my pottery classes and Julie Herring’s art classes will also be showing a selection of their pottery and art.

Raffle
There will be a raffle with many fantastic prizes, including a voucher of £75 (to be spent on a sculpture of your choice from my ceramics collection).

Auction
I have a very ugly fish that I made some time ago that desperately needs a home! So, for a bit of fun and for the ugly fish to find a new home, I will be selling it to the highest bidder!

Music
We’ll also be having ‘Tom Pointer’ singing for us. Tom is a recording artist who takes influence from musicians such as Alabama Shakes, James Bay and D’Angelo. Lovely

Directions
From Wareham:

Continue along the A351 towards Corfe Castle. You’ll come to the Stoborough roundabout with signposts to Blue Pool, take the third exit towards Blue Pool. It’s the 2nd right just a few hundred yards from the roundabout.
From Swanage:
Travel through Corfe Castle and continue along the A351 towards Wareham. You’ll come to the Stoborough roundabout with signposts to Blue Pool, take the first exit towards Blue Pool. It’s the 2nd right just a few hundred yards from the roundabout.

Car Parking
Whilst I’m extremely fortunate to have lots of car parking space, unfortunately, due to the driveway being single track, we can’t use the car park for this event. However, there’s loads of parking along the roadside directly outside of the premises which is totally ok to use.

I really hope you can come, hopefully, see you there!

Clay Craft Magazine is visiting me!

Whether you are a professional or hobby potter, Clay Craft magazine has loads of really good information and project ideas. I get the magazine and use it as a teaching aid as well as learning loads from it too… and then yesterday, I received an email to say the editor of Clay Craft wants to run a feature on me! After quite a lot of whooping (!!) I then started to panic about all the things I need to do to the studio to make it look amazing and of course – what should I wear for the photo shoot!! Needless to say, I am very, very excited!

Enjoying my new studio

Like most artists, I’ve had to endure creating in places less than ideal! And so after years of working in small, dark, cold spaces, I’m really enjoying working in my amazing new studio. It’s light, spacious, warm and dry… perfect!! To coincide with moving into my new premises, I’ll also begin working on a new collection of ceramics… watch this space!!