Don’t look for consistency

The decimal system makes certain round numbers look special. This year will mark 50 years since I started making pots professionally.

In September, at the Watts Gallery Near Guildford, I shall hold a modest celebration and exhibition, where along with work made recently, I will show pots made in each of those 5 decades.

One surprising feature looking back, is to see the variety of work I have made over those years. Some potters can be recognised instantly by their work…yet looking at pictures on Ebay under my name, I have been shocked to see work which I thought wrongly attributed to me but on looking closer I have been forced to admit, yes I did make that.

Many years ago, I applied for membership of what was then called The Craftsmen Potters Association. They turned me down because they thought the work had been made by more than one person. No doubt at that time I could not settle on an identity, some focus where I felt content. It has taken 50 years to show that there is no such focus. I go where I please and where my customers let me.

Coca-Cola have made billions selling a sugar drink. They have spent billions creating an image of their drink. Their commercial success must be closely related to not changing their product too often. In the same way, it must be convenient for galleries and those selling my work, to have a consistent product, and an identifiable style.

Our lusterware conforms to that requirement by chance because few other potters use that process- in this country we have the field almost to ourselves. But I hope the urge to explore and try new ideas never deserts me, so don’t look for a distinct style- with any luck things will keep on changing.

East Dean. January 2024


Making trouble, taking trouble

Making lusterware adds yet another element of hazard to a process where many things can go wrong. After throwing and turning the pot, spraying it with colour, (impossible to control with any certainty)- firing it once (where it can warp or occasionally crack), we apply glaze- not too thin or thick- clean the glaze off to the right depth otherwise it can run and spoil the foot or damage the kiln shelves. Having got thus far, we then apply one or more lustre pigments of our own.  Designs are often improvised on the pot and can be wiped out if we are dissatisfied – only time is lost. Then the kiln pack- should this pot go here or there? Every decision makes a difference, and many pots end up in places which might not be optimal, but in they must go.

So to the third firing which will make or mar each pot. We must decide during the firing whether to prolong it by one minute or by two. Of course, we keep records, but any change- say of an old pyrometer for a newer one, can yield results for which there are no precedents. Then the kiln opening- there are disappointments as well as delights, and we make choices and take more notes.

In Spain I was lucky enough to watch Alberto Mora Benavent, a third generation lustre potter, fire his kiln. It was all done in a thoroughly professional manner- a large gas kiln, automatically programmed and controlled. The pots came out in a similarly predictable fashion. Alberto uses a white tin glaze on which he can a paint blue designs, and the lustre fires a warm  bright gold. He has a family to support and earns awards from the locality and from entering ceramic competitions in Spain. He works in a tradition, but also makes modern designs using the same techniques. Missing from all this expertise was a sense of adventure and risk. I suppose the truth is every potter working today seeks something different, and I conclude that taking risks and experimenting- with colour, with designs, with silver, gives a field of trouble wide enough for a lifetime, and this ‘chasing the rainbow’ makes our work a source of continuing interest.

East Dean. 8th September 2023


The good, the bad and the ugly

Since we are never entirely in control when we fire the lustre kiln- nor would we want to be- it seems obvious that the results will be variable and some labelled good, some less so, some may even be binned.

Hamada Shoji was a close friend of Bernard Leach and said when he reached the age of 80 that he no longer worried whether his work was good or bad, he simply did it.

I have yet to reach that blessed state. After each firing, Kerry and I spend time looking at the work, grading the results in our different ways, and making notes to do better in future.

After a particularly difficult firing, a friend came to see the results and could not agree with my opinion. Instead of breaking the pots I was unhappy with, she advised putting them aside. We have done that.

Maybe it is better just to do the work. No better-no worse-just pots we have made.


Here’s to ignorance

Until a pot has been tested by fire it is only a work in progress.

When we have spent 3 months preparing for this final firing, and we know that there is only so much we can control, it is understandable that potters get nervous, may send prayers to higher powers, or cultivate certain rituals.

We try to take a scientific approach which involves recording where every pot was placed and keeping a careful log of our firing procedure.

All the same, however much we record, we know there remain many mysteries. And these are welcome because without them, results become predictable, and some of the fun goes out of what we do.

So, raise a glass to ignorance and to the incalculability of variables beyond our control.


Saving the Rhino

I was asked by a friend to make a plate with a rhino on it for the charity he is working for, and so far am rather please with the result. Ideas do not come to me easily, so when someone asks for something I’ve not thought about and somehow it rings a bell…. well you can see for yourself what can happen. This pot will not be fired till the day before our ‘Learn about lustre’ day on August 14th, but I have high hopes. It will then be auctioned and the result split between the maker and the rhinos.


Covid Restrictions Continue

The latest extension of the Covid restrictions mean that we cannot hold our Learn about Lustre day as planned on July 17th. I would like to move it to August 14th or even September 18th. I have written to those who have booked, but one or two places might become available. Do get in touch if you are able to attend either of these dates- of course first refusal goes to those already signed up.


The Lace in Lustre

It was John Ruskin who said that however closely we look, we can never see all there is to see. Even with a microscope there will be more. So we have to make do with approximations. My drawings of Queen Anne’s lace were hardly accurate(it likes to wave in the breeze for a start), but the vase I decorated from these drawings looks reasonably convincing. Recognisable at least. And there are always chances to try again.


Queen Anne’s Lace

Now is the season for Queen Anne’s Lace, Cow Parsley does not do it justice, which delights me every year and seems impossible to draw. Dark pencil or black pen on white paper seems the wrong way to record those tiny pale petals and intricate centres. Yet there is method in this seeming chaos if we give enough time to see. Pale lustre on a dark ground seems more appropriate, and today we have packed the kiln with one or two attempts to capture this delicate wayside gift. We shall see on Friday how successful my efforts have been.



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