Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Hello Potters and Friends,
And a hello from Alan.

Click on the tunes back at the top which are played by himself on his Irish whistle.   
And, the fiddler on Castledawson is none other than me!!

As my foot is still in plaster my main occupation this month has been watching the festive preparations from the comfort of the sofa.
Alan, Rosie, and her partner, Rich, decorated our Christmas tree last week.

Meanwhile, I could only look out on one of the coldest days Leamington Spa has seen in years.

View from the bathroom.

But the kiln kept the basement nice and cosy but not entirely with my pots.  Rosie decided to try hand-building some bowls, and came up with a rather good idea for gifts that have a very festive look.

When the pots were leather-hard she made two holes in the sides, about 2cm apart, and when all were glazed and fired she threaded ribbon through and tied a fancy bow. As with all small holes, scrape out a good deal of the glaze before firing, otherwise there is a danger that the holes will close up and disappear.

I fired some gift tags which will be added to my presents.

These little ceramic leaves have become my signature now, so I no longer need to sign the underside.

I also decided to re-fire a pot that I thought looked dull and pretty uninteresting.

As you may know by now, I love my white satin glaze but this large bowl needed a bit of jazzing up. So I painted these copper oxide leaves straight on to the glazed pot. It sticks to the pot very well without having to be mixed too thick, and it won't run in the re-firing. It takes on a black metallic look with a slight bleeding of green into the glaze. So there you go, saved from being relegated to the back of the shelf. 

As Christmas and New Year draws closer I sit and think of what I might do next year. I was told about a porcelain clay called Royale; great for throwing apparently. So I've ordered a bag to try out and see if it's better than my Ming porcelain. I'll let you know. 

But until then I hope you all have a jolly time over the holidays and I look forward to reporting back on my discoveries, experiments and hopefully successes next year.


                  From Alan           

From Rosie
And from me.

Friday, 30 November 2012


Hello Potters and Friends,

Thank goodness, my kiln is now back in action. The programmer was not controlling the temperature in the kiln. I nearly lost a whole load of porcelain but I switched it off just in time, before the temperature rocketed up at a frightening speed.
However, the kiln might be in tip-top condition but my left foot is not. Owing to a dislocated toe I cannot continue potting in the workshop for a while. But I can show you what came out of the kiln after I’d re-fired the near disaster. And I’ll show you how to make my origami Christmas creations that have kept me busy whilst putting my feet up.

So here we go - first some porcelain; 

My pots on stands are very popular, look great as a table centrepiece, and I love making them. 

Now something a bit bigger ;

Porcelain and stoneware. Black stain and a dab of red underglaze. One of my favourite forms.

'Morning Glory' in the Delft style. Cobalt oxide decoration.

And here's some stoneware ;

Tall pot with incised lid. The motif was painted with red iron oxide at the greenware stage so that the lines would stay sharp, then I dipped it in my favourite white satin glaze. The oxide burns through the glaze. 

'Pot-Bellied Pot'
White satin glaze with manganese and copper carbonate. Each end dipped leaving a bare neck, which was then painted with the oxide mixture.

'Black Daisy Bowl'
Red iron oxide and gold decoration with transparent glaze. 

But now here comes the origami ! 
I love paper, and used to make paper bowls long before I got hooked on clay. 

STEP 1.  Fold a square piece of paper into a triangle.

STEP 2. Fold the bottom right corner to the top angle and then repeat with the bottom left. You now have a diamond shape.

STEP 3. Unfold each triangle, open them out by inserting a finger, then press them flat.

STEP 4. Fold back the little triangle on both sides.

STEP 5. Fold again to hide the white paper.

STEP 6.  Fold into a cone shape having put a dab of glue to hold it in place. 

STEP 7. This is the end result and then you make 4 more. Don't worry, they're very quick once you've got it.

STEP 8. Dab of glue on the side and stick all 5 together.

Mine are going to be strung together and hung from the mantlepiece as well as adding one to each Christmas gift.


Sunday, 4 November 2012


Hello Potters and Friends,

Well, just as my Christmas exhibition approaches, guess what? My kiln starts misbehaving again. This time it's the control box. It's not reading the correct temperature in the kiln. Instead of beginning at 80 degrees an hour, it decided to start at about 200 degrees an hour. So, it's going to get another overhaul and I'll just have to "hold fire" for a while.

Potclays Supplies held an open day recently and so I dragged Alan with me up to Stoke on Trent for what he dreaded was a morning of clay shopping. But no, he actually quite enjoyed it, as there were lots of demonstrations to entertain him.

I, meanwhile, chatted to the sales people. Now, I never use brush-on glazes but on the Mayco stand I was given a small pot of glaze free of charge. So I gave it a go.

I was very pleased with this result. 

This red/orange with touches of black is called Copper Float. The metallic drips are my oxide mix of 4 parts manganese to 1 part copper carbonate. The black band around the neck is just manganese. It's the copper part that creates runs - manganese alone stays put. And these were fired to 1245Âșc with a 30 min' soak.   
With brush-on glaze you apply 3 coats, letting each coat dry before applying the next. I was so impressed that I bought myself another pot. But it is more expensive than a dipping glaze so it's good to remember this when pricing. But it's just the colour for a Christmas display.

But I went a bit crazy when I bought some clay. I thought I'd try something different - and it certainly is.......

They call it Grogged Pink.

It's a mixture of Stoneware coloured with Earthenware and very, and I mean very, heavily grogged. Garden pots, birdbaths and ornaments or anything for the garden will suit this clay. But I did manage to throw one pot.  

Quite rough on the hands but not impossible.

I painted on wax in large leaf shapes in order to see the clay, then dipped it in my white satin glaze. As you can see it's reacted quite strongly with the clay and has changed the glaze to pale green. It looks gloriously rustic on my white dresser. I love pottery, just for surprise moments like this.

So as Christmas approaches it gives us all an opportunity to show off our favourite pots in the form of Christmas cards.
Every year Alan works his photographic magic, and produces a personal card for family and friends.

This year we have had our cards printed as postcards and I've added tartan ribbon for hanging.

While my kiln has been out of action I have been enjoying discovering other blogs and websites. There are two that I particularly enjoyed.
"The Beat That My Heart Skipped" was my first discovery. "A blog dedicated to daily design inspirations". It covers anything and everything and is very entertaining.

And it was on this blog I found Natasha Newton's paintings on canvas and stones. 

Delicately painted stones collected from a Suffolk beach.

They made me want to go out and get digging in the garden. I didn't of course. But it did inspire me to get painting on my pots again. 

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy doing this. 

I don't use underglaze for this, I use black glaze stain before the bisque firing, and on porcelain it shows off the crisp lines.

But, unfortunately, I'll have to wait until I can fire them so, in the meantime.................

Happy Potting Folks

Monday, 8 October 2012


Hello Potters and Friends,

In this post I thought I would tell you a story.
From the moment that I read about the extraordinary life of Juan Quezada and the Mata Ortiz potters, I have retained such vivid pictures in my mind, and I frequently study the photographs of their work, which inspires me to keep creating and learning.

Here is the man himself.   

Juan Quezada.

So, the story begins in the early 1960's in Mexico. Juan was a teenage boy in Mata Ortiz and his job was to take his two mules to the forests on the outskirts of the town and collect firewood for his family.

As with a lot of boys he loved exploring, and nothing was more exciting than searching the caves on the mountain side where a lost civilisation of Mexican Indians once lived. 
As well as the firewood he began bringing back fragments of painted pottery and sometimes even a complete pot that was made six or seven hundred years before. This collecting soon developed into wanting to know how to make such beautiful pots himself. But no-one in the town knew.  So he began digging for clay around the mountains. If this is where the ancients lived then their clay must be nearby. He experimented with different dyes to re-create the ornate paintings, and after some time he finally discovered black manganese that he ground down then added water. 
He had no tools, no teacher, only trial and error. 

A potter using Juan's tried and tested method.

He tried baking his pots in a fire-pit covered with a small metal drum and used cow manure for fuel. Eventually it worked!
His family became interested in what their young boy was producing and wanted to try their hand at it too, so he began teaching them as well as anyone else who wanted to learn.

Mata Ortiz was a small dusty town in those days, lacking just about everything, especially work. Industries had come and gone leaving behind a community that found life hard. There was not much else to do but make pots and sell them in the next town or to travellers.

And a junk shop called Bob's Swap Shop in New Mexico is the unlikely location that changed the fortunes of Mata Ortiz.
Some travelling salesmen offered to take a selection of Juan's pots to the United States to see if there was a market for them there. However, at Bob's Swap Shop they exchanged them for clothes instead. But what a lucky exchange that turned out to be. The pots were bought by an American art historian called Spencer MacCallum, who, fortunately, had a fascination for junk shops.
At first he thought they were the original Indian pots, but soon discovered that they were modern, very modern. So he set out to find the potter. And very quickly he did. MacCallum was so in awe of the boy's talent and tenacity that he offered him a monthly salary if he would keep making pots. It seemed to be a gift from heaven. Everyone joined in.

 Some built the fires; some sanded and smoothed the leather-hard pots; some coiled and shaped; some dug for clay and oxides; some painted patterns; some wrapped and packaged. They had a new industry and Juan Quezada was at its helm.

Today there are 400 potters who live and work in Mata Ortiz and their economy has changed dramatically.
Their pots are sold worldwide and are still made in exactly the same way as they were 50 years ago. 
The brushes used for the fine painting are still made from strands of children's hair.

In 1999 Juan Quezada was awarded The National Art Award by the Mexican government – the greatest honour given to any artist in the country.

Many websites and Youtube videos well document the many artists, their pottery and their techniques.

So take a look, sit back, and be amazed.  

Happy Potting Folks!


Friday, 28 September 2012

22. Coloured Clays and Castles

Hello Potters and Friends,

First things first - I promised to give you Alan's best tomato soup recipe, so here are my home-grown, purple tomatoes ready for the job.

Why do I never pick courgettes, or zucchini, when they're small and sweet? 

Ingredients;  Tomatoes (Fresh or tinned)
                     1 Onion
                     Split Red Lentils (not too many, about 3 ounces)
                     Vegetable Stock
                     1 heaped tea spoon of dried thyme.
1. Fry the chopped onions in a sauce pan for about 5 minutes.
2. Halve and add your tomatoes to the onions.
     (you can add canned toms at this point if you want to make loads like me.)
3. Throw in the 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 !

Now, I am someone who cannot throw clay away, no matter how contaminated it might be. So I keep a collection of small, smelly pots containing different coloured clays, that are the leftovers and scraps of  stained and oxide-mixed clays.  

They may look and, certainly, smell awful but they really are useful.

I take a small handful from one of the dishes and kneed it into a ball to make sure there are no air bubbles. I then cut the ball into 3 or 4 slices. Then take your chosen white stoneware or, better still, porcelain and cut that into 3 or 4 slices. Now you can make one large ball by layering alternate colours; white clay/coloured clay/ white clay/ and so on until you have something that looks like a huge Liquorice All Sort sweet. Wedge up the mixed layers and either hand-build with it or throw it on the wheel.

   Wheel thrown, then turned before bisque firing.

Because such a lot of water is used when throwing, you find that your pot comes off the wheel as all one purple-coloured mess. Where's all the lovely swirls and layers gone, you cry.  Just keep your nerve. When it has dried to leather-hard - your turning stage - pop it back on the wheel and with a good, sharp, metal tool start to turn off that top messy layer and the lovely pattern will be revealed.

I'll dip these pots into a transparent glaze, whereby I'm expecting the purple swirls to change into browns and greys. And of course, I'll be posting the results when they're out of the kiln.

But, alongside this I am still working on my commissions that I got from from Warwickshire Open Studios Exhibition. 

Table centre-piece. Stoneware.

Table centre-pieces. Porcelain.  

 Stoneware clay bowl, having had lace rolled into it.

It should look similar to this original.

But while I spent so much time in the workshop last week, outside we saw the last beautiful, sunny days of autumn. So Rosie and I took ourselves off to the small, but glorious, Mill Garden that stands at the foot of the majestic Warwick Castle.


Me under the Ghost Tower. 

William the Conqueror ordered this castle to be built on the River Avon in 1068 so that it stood as a symbol of his power over the people of this new territory, the Midlands. Over the centuries many battles, executions and murders took place here. Hence the dungeons and ghost tower.

Happy Potting Folks.