Work space

Three years ago this summer my new shed studio was finally finished. It was two months late and I was desperate to get back to work, already having taken four months off to project manage alterations to our home. My previous work space was our tiny scullery which I shared with the boiler, sink, washing machine and fridge freezer.

I rushed moving in without paying great attention to layout, and it worked fine for a time. I bought flexible metal shelving and a table that I could move around the limited space as I needed. However, as months passed I began to realise various shortcomings… no sturdy workbench, no possibility of another wheel, the kiln taking up a huge proportion of the space. The interior is lined in very industrial orange OSB board. I painted the ceiling and one wall white a year ago and this added some much needed light, but the space still felt very functional.

     

I admit to having total studio envy when I see photographs of other people’s workshops on social media. In particular Pip Wilcox’s serene environment, and Tasja Pulowska’s multifunctional space. I knew I wanted a little of both.

Following much thought, discussion and deliberation about what improvements to make, a joiner fitted some bespoke shelving (inspired entirely by Tasja’s), and a workbench with additional storage. I then spent two weeks painting, and slowly moving everything back in a much more considered way. I now have a compact space that works better on so many levels; it’s a beautiful environment to be in, it works as a studio and gallery, and it’s flexible.

I’m glad that I took time before making the investment to upgrade. It’s good to know how you use a space, what the faults are, and how they could be improved.

So here it is… my new place of work.
I’m now really looking forward to open studios in September.


Much more storage and display space


Less cramped wheel space (spot the dog)


The kiln is now on wheels so it can be moved back when not in use


Standing height workbench to help my back, with storage for all my beach treasures

 

Make a thing a day

Last week I took part in makeathingaday on Instagram

‘a generous process laboratory where makers make a thing a day to giveaway. It was started in January 2015 by George Winks of Temper Studio to kick start his creative year, as a way of testing new ideas, and as a personal challenge to make something new each day for a week.’

Take a look at the website to see other makers projects… there is some beautiful work there.

It was a fantastic experience and an opportunity to experiment with concepts that I have had stored away in sketchbooks for some time. I thought it would be good to make an archive of my week’s work. Click on an image for details of the day’s process…

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the week’s work set aside to dry. They are now in the kiln being biscuit fired and hopefully they will be glazed by the end of the week. I’ll post finished images before I send them off to their already selected winners.

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As a maker, and once graphic designer, I really understand the importance of imagery. In fact I believe that a single image can portray much more than words in most instances. I try hard to take good photographs of my work, but although I know exactly what I want, I often struggle to succeed with the end result. Part of it is down to knowledge, and part down to not having quite the right tools. For example my iPad will take good day-to-day working shots in the studio, but as soon as I want a shot of a single piece of work the lens distorts it badly. When I throw a pot the shape is so important to me, particularly the slight taper that many of my pieces have. This often gets completely lost, and although there are ways to compensate it never looks quite the same.

I have an old digital SLR camera, which takes a decent photograph, and I’ve recently bought a tripod and shutter release to help with shooting in lower light levels, as we have at this time of year. I prefer to shoot using natural light, but I’m realising that I may have to bite the bullet and buy some lights.

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All images by Shannon Tofts Photography

A couple of weekends ago I went to the Scottish Potters Association annual weekend workshops. I could only manage to go for a single day this year, but one thing I did take advantage of was having some professional shots taken of my work. This is not something I can afford every day, but they are needed for upcoming show applications. It was interesting to see how Shannon Tofts worked and I’m really pleased with the results. In particular the clarity of the shots and how he succeeded in capturing the reflection of my coloured footings – things I have not managed to date. I asked lots of questions and as a result realise that I need to buy a better lens. I’m struggling to decide whether I should get a standard prime lens i.e. 50mm, which tends to take images similar to what you see with the naked eye; or a macro (which Shannon used), which could be better for close ups and often have excellent sharpness.

I’d welcome any advice you might have.

PS I find myself increasingly recommending this great book… Photograph Your Own Art and Craft by the late Sussie Ahlberg, published by Bloomsbury. It’s full of practical advice and it has helped me enormously.

Good return #2

I promised to post a picture of the finished pots from the workshop in Copenhagen. They arrived safely the other day and I’m really happy with the bottles… the rounded jar still needs glazing. As soon as the holidays are over (and I can warm up the studio) I’m going to get working on some tall shapes. I think it’s going to take a bit of practise to get them as thin as I’d like, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.

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Good return

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Me finishing the rim of a tall piece (photo by Line Klein)

In the summer I was delighted to find out that I had received an artist’s bursary from Made in Aberdeen. The award was to help me with two things, the first of which was to get some much needed tuition. I’m mostly self taught, which brings its own unique challenges. There are some things that I can work out for myself… rightly or wrongly. There are others for which the internet is an invaluable resource, but there are certain issues which can only be solved by talking to, and working with a potter with more experience.

My main obstacle has always been throwing tall pieces. This takes a combination of skill and confidence that I just don’t seem to have. The maximum height I can throw is about 20 centimetres, and the pot is always wide and heavy.

About a year ago I started following the Instagram feed of Eric Landon from Tortus Copenhagen. He is a master potter, with 25 years experience and specialises in tall decorative pieces. So last month, using some of my bursary money I boarded a plane to Denmark to take part in a week-long workshop at his studio in the centre of Copenhagen.

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Nyhavn, in the centre of Copenhagen, touristy but beautiful

It was an wonderful week on many levels. There’s something about being in a different studio, away from the usual day-to-day which I found invigorating. There were times of affirmation where I discovered I hadn’t been doing things incorrectly… however it was amazing how seemingly small adjustments to do with clay preparation; hand and body position; and wheel speed resulted in significant improvement. Thanks to Eric’s help by the end of the week I was making pots that were much taller, and were narrow and shapely. Now I am back home with a head full of ideas for new work. I still need to work on getting the walls thinner, but that will come with practise and I have set aside the next few weeks for just that. As I write this my finished pots are on their way to me from Copenhagen. I’ll post a picture if they arrive safely.

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Day one: Progress from right to left, getting taller but a bit clunky
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Day two: Eureka! The tallest piece I had thrown to date – 30cm
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Day three: Trying to go out as well as up
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Day four: Something a little more shapely, as well as 32cm high
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Day five: Taking stock of the week’s progress
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Day six: Glazing, using Eric’s particular process of layering different recipes

Copenhagen is a breathtakingly beautiful city, and I was lucky to find a place to stay that was so central. I walked everywhere, however the days were short so I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked. A good excuse to visit again! The other participants in the workshop were wonderful – from Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK and Australia! Thanks to you all and to Eric and Tasja for making my week away such a memorable and rewarding one.

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From left to right: Line Klein (Denmark), Eric’s assistant Tasja Pulawska (Poland), Silvia Woudt (Netherlands), Ashley Feijoo (Australia), Katherine Lees (UK) and me.

Earlier I mentioned that my bursary was to help me with two things. The second is to fund my application for a London show in 2016, something that would normally be beyond my means. I’ll let you know if I succeed.

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Making of a mug: Day twelve

Part one
This was the view through the peephole this morning. The firing cycle had completed before I woke up and the kiln was already cooling. I then had to wait (not very patiently) until it got below 200˚c so that I could open it up. If you open the lid too early the rush of cold air can cause pieces to crack. So another couple of hours should do it…

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Part two
I opened the kiln about an hour ago… and this is what greeted me.

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Part three
So here it is… the finished mug.
Thank you for following me through its journey.

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This series of posts has also been running on my Facebook page and Instagram feed. Apologies if you have already seen them there. If you would prefer to view them in one of these ways please click on the relevant icon in the right hand column.

Making of a mug: Day eleven

Part one

 

Part two
After dipping the mug was set aside to dry for a while. I check each piece thoroughly before putting it in the kiln. Often there are a few drips that need scraping off carefully with a knife (fettling). The bases are also given a final check and wiped if any glaze has stuck to the wax.

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Part three
Once again the mug is put into the kiln, this time for its glaze firing. With the biscuit firing it doesn’t matter if pieces touch each other, but with this firing it is very important that the mug has space around it. The mug will expand considerably as it heats up, and then shrink as it cools. If pieces are too close the glaze will cause them to stick together.

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Part four
Normally I would leave the mug overnight to dry before firing, but I’m trying to get the firing completed for the North East Open Studios (NEOS) which start on Saturday. To help dry it thoroughly I have added a preheat to the firing cycle. The mug will then be fired to cone 7 (1239˚c). This will take roughly 14 hours to reach temperature and once again a similar amount of time to cool. I hope to be able to open the kiln tomorrow night…

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This series of posts are also running on my Facebook page and Instagram feed. Apologies if you have already seen them there. If you would prefer to view them in one of these ways please click on the relevant icon in the right hand column.