Saturday, 10 December 2011

10. Show Time

Hello potters and friends,
I have made you a short video of my Christmas open studio exhibition. 
Click the picture below. 
Hope you like it!

Since Christmas, Rosie has opened her own online shop and is no longer with Frooly. Her work can be bought through Paypal on her website,, which you can view here.

Happy potting folks.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

9. The Calm before the Storm.

Hello potters and friends,

Let me show you Leamington Spa yesterday.

Jephson Gardens in the centre of town.

I've never seen our town look so spectacular. It reminds me of a trip we made to Nova Scotia a few years ago.

See how easily I get distracted. I've got two weeks to go to my Open Studio event and in three weeks I'll be setting up a stand at a craft fair in Stratford-upon-Avon, and here I am kicking leaves in the park! 
But I have been working quite hard, although it started unbelievably slowly. After some serious thinking and sketching I embarked on some complex, time consuming and detailed underglaze painting.

The calm before the storm.

After this I began coiling the biggest pot I have ever made. 

Height 38cms or if you prefer, 15 inches.

I created the decoration by rolling small balls of clay then pressing and dragging them onto the main body. I did the same on the opposite side so that they sort of represented handles. Then, another little break and off I went to the The Gallery Upstairs at the Torquil Pottery, Henley in Arden, and spent a day being blown away by the brilliance of the painters, sculptors and potters. What inspiration! Back home the following day I really shifted into a different gear!
My old idea of standing pots on stained wooden blocks got me excited again.

Alan bought a new blade for his electric saw and off we went. Suddenly I felt like I was making progress.

All destined for the block.

You might like to see my new purchase last week. This is a manual spray gun, £41 from Scarva Pottery Supplies, Northern Ireland.  

I need one for my large bowls that I spray with several glazes. (See Post 1. Goodbye Cling film.) It has two spraying modes, fine and not so fine and pumps up a good long spray. However it is inclined to create drips if held in one place too long. Now, drips are just what I'm after so it's perfect for me but don't buy anything like this if you're after a really even glaze. 

Happy potting folks.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

8. All Fired up.

Hello Potters and friends,
We're nearing the end of October and Warwickshire doesn't know if it's summer or autumn. It was freezing last week but today the sun is warm and shining brilliantly. I spent a good deal of time on the wheel in the basement last week and, boy, did I know then that the season had changed. Got to get an electric fire going down there.
The AMA Exhibition at Holy Trinity was a great success in terms of sales and interest in our group. In fact my shelves look a little depleted right now. So, cold or no cold, I'll be in the basement for the next few weeks.
I've got two exhibitions coming up. The first is an Open Studio here at the house, joined by Rosie exhibiting her jewellery, and friends, Steve and Kay, who are just back for the winter from their home in France, and are selling their wood carvings and hand-knitted throws. The second is a Contemporary Craft Fair at the Civic Hall in Stratford-upon-Avon.
So, what's coming out of that kiln, I hear you cry.

I just love making cups and jugs. And I have to say, these have worked well on several levels. 
Firstly, the glaze. 
This is called 'Green Hue'  and I buy it from Potterycraft. My usual method of preparing to dip a piece is to get my hands in the glaze bucket and give it a good stir to break up any lumps that have sunk to the bottom. However, for reasons unknown but maybe because it was so cold, I used a hand whisk and found it did the job much quicker and more thoroughly, because it fired to a beautiful pale, jade-like colour that I haven't achieved for a long time. 

Also, I have a leaf-shaped tool that was designed for carving wax that I had pressed into the clay in order that the glaze would pool in the depressions and appear darker. I couldn't have been more pleased and I have since gone slightly crazy putting this pattern on everything. 
If you're not too confident with drawing or painting this is a great way to add interest to a piece.
By the way, the rim was dipped in a white glaze in order to get that snowy effect around the top. 
I love adding one glaze to another - after doing a small test piece first, of course.

This is a zinc based white, glossy glaze onto which I flick a dark blue glaze (Lagano Blue, from Scarva Pottery) from a stiff paint brush. This is a table centrepiece that I sell with the wooden stand, that Alan kindly cuts and I stain and wax. These multi-vased pieces were inspired by Edmund de Waal's 'Water Shed' exhibition a couple of years ago. Mind you, Edmund had a couple of hundred pots lined-up, but when I get longer pieces of wood I'll be aiming for five, or maybe, even seven. 
Making another of my big, press-moulded bowls (as in Post 1 Goodbye Clingfilm) I always have some rolled-out clay left over that used to go in the slop bucket. But I've found a better use for it.

Leaf-shaped Gift Tags!

I paint and glaze one side leaving the back for writing on in pencil. This is easily erased by the recipient and - if they can bear to part with it - used again. 

Well, before I end this post I have to show you the latest stage of the 'embossed' sweet potato, (first coming to life in Post 7 Family Matters and the Price of Potatoes) 
It's out of the clay mould and the two halves are slurried together, and still drying out before bisque firing.  

Both sides. Pretty cool, eh!

I'll admit I'm getting a little bit obsessed with this potato thing, and I haven't even got one glazed yet. But those spuds can create shapes that I would never have dreamt up. 

Happy potting Folks


Sunday, 9 October 2011

7. Family Matters and the Price of Potatoes

Hi potters and friends,
Well, just look what's been happening in our house this month.

Alan's new book called 'The Sum of You' has hit the shops and Amazon! It states on the back - 'Are you a philosopher, an explorer, a gambler, an artist, a scientist, an environmentalist, or are you all of these things? ' He's wanted to write this book for a long time, exploring through story-telling and humour, how we all use and respond to numbers. It's not your conventional book on maths but then he's not your average mathematician. Well done Alan!

And while on family matters, here's something completely different.

Rosie Bill's  Lost and Found Collection.

Our daughter Rosie is a silversmith and she takes fragments of very old pottery, cuts them, files them and sets them in silver.
I sneaked into her workshop the other day and took this photograph before she wrapped everything up and posted it to a gallery. 
But this month she is also very pleased with herself for opening an on-line shop. So you might like to take a look at her website here.  The url for her site is  And well done Rosie!

But what have I been doing this week?  Well, I 'm selling a fair bit of pottery at the AMA Exhibition that I told you about in the previous posting. I'm told by my customers (and not for the first time) that I sell my work too cheap. Maybe, for some items, I do but I love seeing my work going off into people's homes, and seeing people getting pleasure from what my head and my hands have created. But this is a perpetual dilemma for all artists and I guess it always will be. If we realistically charged for our time we would probably price ourselves right out of the market.
So I keep it simple and work it out like this; I let some pieces go a bit cheaper and make up the difference on others. 

But what have I actually been doing this week? Well, here it is.

   In Blog 5. 'Sweet Potato and Cumbrian Stone' I suggested wrapping a potato in clay to make a mould if no plaster was at hand. This is mine - cut open at leather-hard stage and the potato removed, and as you can see by the state of it, now residing in my compost heap. 
I then thought I'd try cutting into the clay so that the pot will have a relief pattern when turned out.

As I started to do this I suddenly had doubts. Not least because the phrase "Less is More" is never at the forefront of my mind. Did I really want these lumps and pimples all over it? But then I realised that if it didn't look good on the pot, I can sand it down before firing, whereby, it will look like they never existed. It's rare that you can rectify a mistake so easily.
So, these will be bisque fired next week when completely dry, and then they will be ready to go. 
I look forward to showing you my entire potato collection when they're glazed, on the shelf and, of course, priced.

Happy potting folks. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

6. Presentation is Everything

Hello potters and friends,
It's the 2nd October and, incredibly, the weather remains hot, hot, hot, here in the middle of England. This made quite hard work of the lifting, carrying, pushing, stretching and all that setting up an exhibition entails.
This weekend was the opening of our first show to kick off the 'winter' season and this took place in Holy Trinity Church at the north end of town. Good thick church walls make for a lovely cool atmosphere and the setting-up committee was very grateful for that.

I called on Alan to help me put up the banner. It took three attempts to get it to this cock-eyed angle but I think it will do the job.

The exhibition is put on by The Association of Midland Artists. (AMA) and I discovered that I was to be the only potter exhibiting amongst the many painters. 

Work in progress

My cabinet, filled and lit.

So this is how my week panned out.
Firstly, I got together my most recent work and bearing in mind that I only have 4 small shelves I wanted a complimentary colour scheme. However, as most of my work is glazed green and white I decided to go for green and white. But I did splash out on some dried, yellow flowers to attract attention to the  centrepiece table vases.
Now, I wouldn't call myself finicky or even a pernickety type of person, but I do like smart-looking labels that stand nicely by each piece. No-one will ever remember your labels, nor will they compliment them but they will be remembered if they appear a bit tatty and dashed-off. It could indicate to the customer a lack of care and they possibly may apply that to your work. And that could be far from the truth. 
A friend once said to me as she carefully laid a table for a dinner party 'Presentation is everything.' So I gave the cabinet a good clean and washed all the pots.
My last job, and, yes ok, you could call me pernickety over this, is checking each pot to make sure that no lumps of batt wash are stuck to their bottoms. Nor do I like to feel a rough bottom that grogged or speckled stoneware clay can have. I don't want my buyers to hate the pot they've bought because it has scratched their polished wood furniture. 
So I use a coarse diamond file designed to sharpen garden tools, and this fits the bill exactly. Bought from Amazon, not expensive and it will even remove glaze from unwanted areas. It works best when wet and accompanied by a couple of minutes of elbow grease. 
But before signing out of this post I thought I'd show a new departure for me that came out of the last firing but wasn't right to be displayed in the cabinet. 

These are my flowers - for garden or home

Hand-painted inside and out. Took ages but very satisfying.

Bottle pots with underglaze decoration

Happy potting folks


Saturday, 24 September 2011

5. Sweet Potatoes and Cumbrian Stone

Hello potters and friends,
Warwickshire weather has gone mad. We're going back to summer next week with highs of 27C. Alan wants to build a shed at the bottom of the garden so bad weather will not be an excuse for opting out of that 'great wee job'. Alan is Irish so this expression is always popping out and applies to just about everything.  So next week I'll be re-locating my great wee compost heap to.....somewhere, after I've cleared a great wee space....somewhere else.
But it's not just the sun that's giving off a bright orange glow. All of the shops are lit up with Halloween paraphernalia. What great fun when my children, Leo and Rosie, were young. Pumpkins flickered on the doorstep. Cobwebs and spiders were draped around the kitchen (not all synthetic unfortunately). Faces were painted, friends were alerted to their Trick or Treat visit and food dye transformed their dinner into cauldron food.
A few years ago, at Halloween time, I was looking for something unusual to make into a plaster mould. I looked at the pumpkins, especially the big ones. How fantastic that would be, but then I chickened out of  such a big undertaking. So I picked up the much smaller sweet potato, held it upright and saw an unusual great wee vase.
After passing the pumpkins in the supermarket the other day I came home, dug out that old mould and made another sweet potato vase.

This is the original found wrapped up with old Christmas decorations!!

The two-piece mould this week with clay pressed in.

Two halves put together with clay slurry and smoothed to hide the join.

I attached a thrown cone-shape to finish the top.

This will be bisque fired when dried out. Making the two piece mould is not difficult and as there are lots of demonstrations of this on Youtube you might like to watch the process rather than having me list all points. But should anyone like me to, I will. Just put that, or any other requests, in the comment box. 

But here's a thought I've just had. What if you wrap the sweet potato in clay and press hard to get all the imprints. Leave it until leather hard then slit it open and remove the potato. These two halves could be bisque fired which means they are porous like plaster and therefore can be used like my plaster mould above. I'll go veg' shopping this week and try it out.

But while we're looking at funny shapes what do you think of this?

This is stage 1 of building my first Cumbrian stone that I enthused about in Blog 2 Cumbrian Inspiration.
After rejecting many sketches and deliberating about hand-building or throwing you can see I went for throwing and then altering the shape at leather hard stage with a damp sponge.
It looked stone-like but a bit boring so I tarted it up somewhat.

Never knowing when to stop I got slightly carried away!

Strangely, I'm really liking it. I'm working on it with sand paper now to make the base area more interesting. I fear I'm going to be working on this for some time. I just can't leave it alone. 
Clay and one's imagination is a most enjoyable great wee partnership!
Happy potting folks. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

4. Winter Draws On.

Hi potters and friends,
The sun shone brilliantly on the Food and Drink Festival last weekend which brought lots of visitors to our town.

Our Pump Room Gardens, Leamington Spa

Alan and I bought freshly baked bread, Morbier cheese from the French stall and the fantastic Hog and Hop sausages that have just been created by our local butcher. 
But since then autumn has suddenly descended with early morning mists and long dewy shadows stretching across the lawn. Leaves are falling and collecting in the pond which will keep me busy for a while but happily the migrating birds have started to appear on the bird-feeder. 

Our garden, early September. The last of summer days.

 However, our resident robin isn't so thrilled. He sits in wait on the apple tree then launches a ferocious attack as soon as an unsuspecting traveller dares to drop by for breakfast.

And here he is, last spring, standing guard .

Alan has just done a check on our log situation. Frighteningly low is the verdict. As our winters get colder and the energy bills get bigger log-burning stove sales have soared. But we not only get heat and a red, cosy glow, we also get the potters' friend .....ASH!  And ash means......GLAZE.
But even if you or a friend don't have a stove you can always burn wood in the garden as long as you don't take soil with it when you collect it as that will ruin your glaze.
My ash glaze was made from the ash tree - other wood will produce a different glaze, which is why it's such an exciting process.  Mine has a soft, creamy, satin look that I love.   

Cream ash glaze on the lower half prevents my tenmoku glaze splashed with margarite from running all over the kiln shelf.

Here's my recipe :                     40%   Ash of you choice
                                                  40%   Feldspar Potash
                                                  20%   Ball Clay
To give it some colour you can add small amounts of oxide.
And here's what you do;

1.  Collect a good half bucket of ash and add water and give it a good stir. Lots of stuff you don't want will float to the surface. Skim this off.
2. Repeat this washing process with fresh water a couple more times.
3. After the last decanting you'll be left with a thick, horrible slurry. I pour this into a plastic bowl and leave it to dry.
4. Mix with the two other ingredients, add water and voila!
But make sure you wear rubber gloves and wear a mask as the ash and the liquid are highly caustic and can be a bad irritant.
Give it a try.
Happy potting folks.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

3. Pots and Tomatoes

Hi potters and friends,
Well, the holiday season is only just at an end here in Warwickshire and my thoughts have already moved on to what to produce for the forthcoming Christmas exhibitions. So this was me last week hard at it in the basement.

However, Alan suggested we needed more coffee cups so making anything to sell is on the back burner!

But I remember I promised to show you the finished pot that I began in blog 1. 

Well, here it is and as you can see it's white, it's glossy, it's had blue glaze thrown at it and I'm distinctly in two minds about it. I think glossy is the main problem but I just don't know. What I tend to do in these circumstances is put it in the living-room and live with it for a while. I'll either warm to it or .........but Sheila you must remember what your teacher once said;  
'Embrace your mistakes as they are your best guide to perfection" 
Yes well, disappointment is very disappointing nevertheless. 
 But what better task to do in these times than take a trip down to the veg' patch to pick some successes. My purple - yes purple - tomatoes are not only as sweet as honey but are magnificently prolific.

However, the neighbours are screaming "NO MORE" and ducking and diving to avoid another bag, so soup is the answer.  And Alan found a recipe that is so good I just have to pass it on.

1. Halve and roast your tomatoes until they burn slightly round the edges.
2. Fry some onions in a sauce pan then add the roasted tom's. 
     (you can add canned tom's at this point if you want to make loads like me.)
3. Throw in a good handful of washed red lentils.
4. Add a couple of pints of stock and a generous sprinkling of dried thyme.
    Lid on and simmer for half an hour.
    Liquidise in your whizzer and eat immediately or freeze for later. Delicious !

But from one oven to another, let's go back to the kiln in the basement.
My next glaze firing will be Alan's coffee cups and a few other pots. I have a small top loader which means that by the time I am putting the final pots on the the top shelf I sometimes have to unload to re-jig the bottom shelf in order to get everything in. What a performance.

Glaze sticks to my fingers, I sometimes have to do re-touching and all in all I don't want to keep handling the pots. My friend Moira who's a potter in Stratford-upon-Avon gave me an excellent tip.
Take your shelf and draw round it, either directly onto your workbench or a sheet of cardboard. As a pot is glazed it can be placed on the drawing. This enables you to see what's what without being bent double over your kiln, your head blocking out the light and your fingers accidentally brushing off glaze onto the  shelf. Thanks Moira. So simple but I would never have thought of it.
Anyway, time for lunch I think. I wonder what I'll be having!!
Happy potting folks.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

2. Cumbrian Inspiration

Hi fellow potters and friends,
Look at us! Alan and I caught a few days in Ambleside in the Lake District.

It was green, green, green when most of the UK still looked like a desert. Yes, we had our fair share of rain but it didn't spoil our trip.
Wray Castle

Lake Windermere

We took a boat trip on the lake and had spectacular views of the mountains. Some draped in a soft white mist, others showing sun-lit yellow slopes disappearing into dense forests at the water's edge. The forest surrounding Wray Castle contains every variety of tree that exists in the UK. A thousand shades of green that turns to a thousand shades of red only to be absorbed into the grey, black choppy waters.
Hey, this is getting very poetic. Well, it is Wordsworth country after all.
Now, was Wordsworth drawn here because he was a poet or did his talent blossom as a result of living in this remarkable landscape? 

Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's Home

We were told as we were guided around Dove cottage that opium was freely taken in those days, not only as a medicine but to kick off a good night out. So that made me think - was that host of golden daffs actually just a couple nodding in his back yard? 
But what inspiration for my work: the shapes and forms of the rocks and the changing colours and patterns of the cloud shadows on the landscape.
Texture grew on every outcrop: round or spiky lichens, black through to silver.
Using all that I've seen I am going to experiment with pots that might resemble such boulders. I'll make small ones first - hand-built or thrown and I'll possibly add paper clay to alter the texture. 
Quite frankly, I can't wait to get at it. I'll post my results be they good or bad.

I have a book "Sources of Inspiration" by Carolyn Genders. Brilliant and beautiful. Her message, as is mine, is to keep your eyes open for anything and everything no matter how commonplace. As with my photos of rocks and landscapes it will be the unique detail that makes what I eventually create, my own.
Start a photo file, keep a box of stones, textiles etc for reference. You may not use any of it straight away but always remember - nothing is ever wasted.
Happy potting folks.     

Thursday, 25 August 2011

1, Goodbye Cling film

Hi potters and friends,
One thing I'm always on the look out for is good shaped plastic bowls to use as moulds. I have a large green one and I make my best selling pots out of it.
Over and over again I painstakingly lined it with cling film so that the clay wouldn't stick to it. As I worked on it the clay would move around, the cling film would crease and sometimes rip and quite frankly it was a nightmare. But all this is history now! The new word is Vaseline or petroleum jelly.
You don't need much, just be sure you don't miss any patches and - Bob's your uncle - as we English say.
As the pot slowly dries it shrinks away from the mould. This latest one took 4 days in my cool basement.
When leather hard put your hand inside, tip it over and lift the mould off. The result - a lovely smooth pot - a bit sticky but the kiln will deal with that.

This was mine out yesterday and a finished one to show you where I'm heading with it. I'll be bisque firing it next week so I'll keep you posted on what I do with it.

Just before I go I have a quick tip to end this posting. When using a tool or a stamp to make patterns in  clay you usually find that as you lift them off, the clay lifts also and stretches and distorts the pattern. Try giving the stamps a light spray of WD40. You can pattern the clay repeatedly without any trouble at all.
Happy potting folks.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Welcome to my first blog. Over many years of potting, I have had both successes and disasters along the way. It's all been quite an education but I have learned a few short-cuts in the process and I'd like to share them with you as I build my pots week by week.

Happy potting.