Magpie {51}

DUNCAN2bjulietmacleod2016
DUNCAN2ajulietmacleod2016
High-fired, medium stoneware bowl, by Susan Duncan

I mentioned a while ago that I bought two things from Susan Duncan last summer when I visited her studio in Lochcarron, on the west coast of Scotland. This is the second bowl, and it is difficult to do it justice in a photograph. The way the deep blue glaze breaks to black over the rim and throwing lines is spectacular. I’m now wishing I bought two of them.

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Magpie {46}

DUNCAN1julietmacleod2016
High-fired, small porcelain bowl, by
Susan Duncan

In May 2013 we visited Wester Ross to stay in a friend’s cottage. It was a landmark time for me… Earlier that spring I had finished a short course of evening classes in ceramics at Gray’s School of Art, and had taken the decision to invest in my first wheel. It was also when I started writing this blog.

During our week’s stay I met Susan Duncan, a potter who lives in Lochcarron. We had a wonderful chat about me starting out as a potter and I got to look over her work and studio. She was generous with her time and advice, and last week I had the chance to visit her again and thank her. I bought two bowls… one porcelain and one stoneware. I’ll post about the second one another time.

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STANDjulietmacleod2016

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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POTFESTSCOTjulietmacleod2015

Last weekend I packed up all the pots I had in stock and took them to my first show of the year, Potfest Scotland at Scone Palace. I thought I’d be less nervous this time, but what with losing a significant number of large pieces in my most recent firing I was definitely feeling knots in my stomach.

Whilst I was setting up I discovered I had some lovely neighbours in my tent and, just like Potfest in the Pens last year, the weekend proved to be a wonderful combination of making new friends, meeting customers and making sales. The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us but we still had a great time… with an evening trip to Perth swimming pool for a thawing sauna and jacuzzi a welcome respite from camping in the van.

Another of the good things from the weekend was the lovely feedback I had about the new pieces I’ve been making with coloured footrings – inspired by lichens and seaweed (see gallery). I also picked up a few tips and ideas to do with setting up stand backdrops which I’ll definitely implement next time around.

YUNOMI1julietmacleod2015  PORRINGERjulietmacleod2015

Now I must get on and make more pots in time for my next show in Penrith.

Develop

SEAjulietmacleod2015

I’ve been looking forward to progressing my work and in the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to sneak in a few experiments. It’s been a wonderful combination – the methodical repetition of making established pieces interspersed with the odd opportunity to tinker.

Various threads keep coming back to me… things I have noticed; colours that spark; ideas that have been fermenting in the back of my mind. I’ve already mentioned the desire to expand my palette to allow for different seas – blues, greens and greys. There’s also my fascination with the flashes of colour that you find on the beach – the acid colours of lichens and seaweeds – yellow, green and orange.

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Then there is reflection: light on waves, the shine of quartz, water on sand, the gleam of shell. I’ve been trying to think of ways to combine all these strands and these are the first results.

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I’m looking forward to experimenting further.

Surface

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I’m just back from another amazing Scottish Potters Association weekend at Kindrogan. When I was wending my way there through the stunning Perthshire countryside I was thinking that there was no way that it could be as good as last year’s. How wrong could I be – not only were there excellent demonstrators once again, but as I was no longer a novice I knew more folk and I relaxed and enjoyed it far more this time.

The workshops were given by Patricia Shone, David Roberts and Ronnie Fulton. I spent most of my time flitting between Patricia and David’s rooms. Patricia gave us an insight into how she makes her incredible textured pieces both by using the wheel and through hand building techniques. She is inspired by the landscape of the Isle of Skye and as a result I feel a real kinship with her, although the style of our work is poles apart. David is a raku potter whose large-scale work I have admired for a long time. It was a treat to discover more about his process. He very kindly let us bring pieces to fire over the weekend, using his own barrier slip and glazes with some great end results. I’m now inspired to try further raku firings of this type in the summer.

I came away with a wealth of ideas relating to surface… burnishing for raku firing; adding terra sigillata for a fine patina; using unusual tools to create strata, roughness and waves, applying sodium silicate to obtain coarse volcanic structures; stretching and moulding to achieve organic character… more scribbles in my sketchbook. I wonder when I’ll have a chance to try them out. Until then here are a few tastes of what I saw…

Sun rise

We’re past the winter solstice now and slowly our days are getting longer. This far north we’re lucky to have seven hours daylight during December, but the sun being so low in the sky does give a fantastic light – I can see why artists and photographers like it here. I’ve been spending the last few days gearing myself up to get throwing again and, come Monday I’ll be back in the studio… but today I spent a few hours at Aberdeen docks and beach searching for sunshine and inspiration.