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Soda fired, stoneware bowl by John West from the Lansdown Pottery

I really enjoyed meeting John and Penny West at Potfest Scotland at the beginning of June. I’m a sucker for soda and salt glazed pottery and their stand was full of the most sumptuous array of pieces. When you take the time to look, the subtleties of their work reveal themselves… first the tell tale orange peel glazing to the exterior highlighting the tan slip; then the ash glazed interior which has pooled and crackled beautifully in the bottom. But the thing that really completes this bowl for me is the the addition of cobalt slip to the rim, which has bleached slightly in places where it has been hit by the soda during firing. Inspired.

 

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Blue Owl Bowl: hand-built, gas fired stoneware, by Chiu-i Wu

I’ve seen Chiu-i’s work on a number of occasions and have always been captivated by the whimsical imagination of her pieces. At Potfest Scotland last year I fell in love with a particular piece, but hesitated in buying it until I had reached my own sales target. Big mistake… unsurprisingly by the Sunday it had already been bought.

This year I was determined not to make the same error, so I visited her stand early last Friday to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed, and this gorgeous little bowl has come home with me.

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A week ago was the twentieth Potfest Scotland, and my second time at this wonderful event, held in the beautiful grounds of Scone Palace, Perth.

Last year I had an amazing time, but I was nervous. I had already done a couple of shows but each new location brings its own challenges and learning curve. It was great to return knowing what to expect, and therefore have a clearer idea of what I needed to bring with me – both in terms of work and stand.

Here’s a journal of the week…

Tuesday 7 June
I unloaded the kiln – the final one of a series of three sets of biscuit and glaze firings. I have been trying to build up as large a body of work as I can this spring as my summer is going to be busy with a significant amount of time away from the studio. As well as making pieces for Potfest I am working concurrently on orders that need to be finished in the next month. As the work is removed from the kiln I check each piece individually, remove any seconds or breakages and sand the bases to remove any roughness.

Wednesday 8 June
First I select the work that I want to take with me – laying it all out on the kitchen table gives me a good overview. Each piece is individually priced and a stock list taken – I find this very useful as I can note down items as they sell and then easily review which pots are doing well. Then starts the laborious job of packing everything into boxes so that it doesn’t break in transit. At the moment I use bubble wrap, but I’m in the process of changing over to a more eco friendly approach of newsprint and corrugated card.

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All the stand items are brought down from the loft; tablecloths ironed, and shelves and boards given a fresh coat of paint. I have a checklist to make sure I don’t forget anything – from a float of change, my sales book, business cards, down to safety pins and the crucial roll of duct tape.

Thursday 9 June
The morning is spent loading the van – similar to a game of Tetris. I leave home in the sunshine and make the two hour drive to Perth arriving just before 2pm. As one of the early ones to arrive I manage to get a parking place quickly and set about unloading the van before moving it to the campsite.

Each stand area is marked out clearly on the grass inside the marquees and comes with two trestle tables. The first task is to set up the basic stand using tables, boards, cloths and shelving. This year I made two backing boards to clamp to tables in an attempt to make a cleaner looking stand by screening out my neighbours’ work. Once this is done the pots are carefully unpacked and I set about creating a display. I’m always slow at this and I’m easily sidetracked by catching up with friends. Finally I head to my bed at 10pm.

Friday 10 June
Unfortunately after a glorious day yesterday the weather takes a turn for the worse and the dreich and damp set in for the entire weekend. I learned last year to bring every sort of clothing imaginable and I head to the marquees resembling the Michelin man in wellies and endless layers.

I find the first day exciting and nerve wracking in equal measure… will people come, will they like my work? It turns out to be busy despite the weather and an enjoyable day, filled with interesting conversations and meeting old and new customers and friends.

Saturday 11 June
Another surprisingly large number of visitors considering the rain. It’s hard work manning a stall, even though apparently there is a lot of standing around and chatting… you are constantly on tenterhooks, and although I try to remain relaxed in the end it all comes down to the importance of making sales and earning a living.

Last year another potter invited me to join a group going into Perth for the evening. We did the same this year – starting with a very welcome trip to the leisure pool for a thaw out in the sauna, jacuzzi and steam room. We came out glowing. Then on for some supper before heading back to the campsite.

Sunday 12 June
The rain never seems to let up and although it’s a warmer day the damp seems to be getting into my bones. Hardy visitors still seem to come however, although not as many as the previous day for me. Come 5 o’clock I’m actually relieved that the show is over and that I can start the long process of rewrapping and loading everything into the van. At 7.30pm I make my goodbyes and head home.

Monday 13 June
It’s not finished yet as the van still needs to be unpacked – the stand and work put away. I check my sales book against the cash and card transactions taken to make sure that they correspond, and enter the whole lot into my accounts. Phew.

I had hoped to photograph all the exhibitors’ stands but I never seemed to have enough time – one of the challenges of attending a fair single-handed. Here’s a gallery of the ones I managed to get round. Apologies to those I missed – there was some stunning work on show…

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Pinch pot, impressed and coloured with oxides and underglaze colours, by Katie Braida

At 2014’s Potfest in the Pens I had a stall opposite Katie. As a result we have become good friends. She makes gorgeous, sculptural vessels inspired by the sea, with layered texture achieved by using a range of blades and printing letters. Last year there was a lovely piece on her stand, but I made the mistake of not buying it instantly – by the Sunday it was gone. This year she was participating again and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. I reserved this little pod before the doors opened on the first day.

Yearling

I spent last weekend at Potfest in the Pens. This was my second time at this wonderful show and marked the end of my first year of trading. It was a real pleasure to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. It’s been a great year with some real highlights…

SHOWS
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I’m slowly increasing the number of fairs I do. The year has seen two Potfests (Scotland and Pens) and my first NEOS (North East Open Studios). I’ll be taking part in NEOS again this autumn and hopefully some local events nearer Christmas.

SALES
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I’m delighted to have received some direct sales and gallery orders throughout the year, and I’m becoming good friends with our local postmaster! I’m looking forward to increasing my production levels once my youngest heads to school later this month.

SUPPORT
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At the beginning of June I discovered that I’d been awarded a Made In Aberdeen artists’ bursary. This brilliant award will help me get some much needed tuition, and apply for a London show next year.

PROGRESS
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Over the last six months I have been testing some new colours and shapes. The feedback so far has been really positive and having the chance to experiment has been very enjoyable.

INSPIRATION
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We are just back from our annual fortnight in the Western Isles. My husband’s family come from North Uist and it is a treat to visit this breathtakingly beautiful place. We had mixed weather this year but we still had time for beaching, fishing, rock pooling, sketching, walking, camping and the highland games.

TUITION
Thanks to the Made in Aberdeen bursary I will be visiting Tortus Copenhagen for a week’s workshop this November. I am beyond excited. Eric Landon is a master potter with over 25 years experience. He is renowned for throwing large and tall pieces – something that I need help with.

And finally there is a new addition…
Mij the Border Terrier puppy now keeps me company in the studio.

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Pennine Landscape paperclay vessel, by Kath Bonson

At Potfest they have a lovely tradition called the Mug Swap. I’ve encountered it once before (at SPA Kindrogan) and really like the idea. All the exhibitors who want to take part donate a drinking vessel to the swap. In the case of Potfest the participants stand in a large circle holding their pot; then someone calls out a series of instructions, such as ‘keep passing to the left until I tell you to stop’ and ‘two places to the right’. Eventually – after seeing every type of conceivable pot you can imagine pass through your hands – you end up with an entirely different mug, which is yours to keep. This is the one I received and although I don’t think I’ll drink from it, it will be treasured.

Show and tell

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The farmers’ market and my empty cattle pen

I got back from Penrith late on Sunday night after an amazing experience. It was a weekend filled with firsts… most notably my first show and my first sales.

On Thursday afternoon, after weeks of making and days of organising, I loaded the campervan full of my things and set off. I was excited at the prospect but horribly nervous too. After a five-hour drive I arrived at Skirsgill farmers’ market, registered and was given my pen number. I walked into the hall and, after being greeted by the lingering smell of cow, discovered my space – which was much larger than I had expected.

I spent the next three hours setting up and meeting my neighbours. I had been told that Potfest was a great event on many levels; the first of which being that you meet so many like-minded individuals. I was struck by how generous people were – lending me things I had forgotten; giving helpful advice; offering to mind things if I needed a break and so on. By ten o’clock my stand was pretty much complete and I headed off for a well earned night’s rest.

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The next three days were a wonderful mix of hard work, happiness at making sales, delight in meeting and talking to customers, and enjoyment in discussing a shared passion with other potters.

As I drove home again on Sunday evening I had time to reflect on the previous three days. I came away feeling elated at having made my first sales and I think I did alright in comparison to most others. It was fascinating to see the range of work on sale which comes with an unselected, clay-only event and it was interesting to think about where my work fitted in amongst the rest. I received some kind and supportive comments both about my work and the way I had displayed it. I’m now sure that I’ll will do more shows, but try to space them evenly throughout the year.

So now, after a couple of days rest, it’s nose back to the grindstone in preparation for North East Open Studios (NEOS) in just over a month’s time.

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