Spring Rotation 2016

As part of our Spring Rotation, we are continuing our series and looking at the routes artists took as they first began working with clay.

Programs such as The Great Pottery Throwdown ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06nwm7b0 ) have presented an insight into different making processes.  This is following a number of years when  many ceramics courses have closed or face closure across the U.K. With this in mind we have asked each maker to tell us about what first inspired them.

Each journey is different and whether through formal education, mid-career change in direction or by starting at a young age, these stories illustrate perseverance, strength in creativity and personal vision.  Hopefully they are stories to inspire others.

The artists featured for the next few months in the gallery for our Spring Rotation are; Julie Ayton, Daniel Boyle, Linda Chew, Roger Cockram, Jennifer Hall, Jill Shaddock, Hannah McAndrew, and Clare Wakefield.

Blue and white vessels by Linda Chew
The selection showcases a varied collection of work from porcelain tea-bowls and highly decorated slip-ware to delicate sculpture inspired by a love of the sea.

We are profiling each maker in turn and look out for our upcoming blog posts for insights into these artists' working methods and the routes they have taken into a career in ceramics.

Julie Ayton

'To be free to make my own work and teach everyone from tinies to octogenarians, untrammeled by bureaucracy, is a quality of life decision I never regretted.'

Julie Ayton in her studio
I didn't grow up among artists, but my parents were practical and skillful; my mother had a very good eye. I took for granted that she made clothes beautifully, from well chosen fabrics. Against the polyester tide of the times she selected wool, linen, silk and cotton for their distinct qualities.

At school, my own interest in that direction was quickly thwarted by a joyless teacher. As a girl, I wasn't permitted into the wood and metal workshops, which dimmed my initial curiosity in those areas. But I was allocated to a class based in the art room - the pottery studio, common in schools back then. Although I vexed my patient teacher through my dreaminess, it was the room in which I was most at home, a refuge.

Julie Ayton - Teapot and Jug
At home and school I was pressured to take an academic degree, but by then the BBC had shown The Craft of the Potter. Compulsive viewing, it showed me that this was a serious pursuit, that thoughtful, practical people with a supreme understanding of materials and tools could make beautiful things with integrity and fluency. A visiting textiles teacher suggested I apply directly to Farnham College of Art. It would suit me, she said.

Although concerns over funding decline were already in the air, opportunities still abounded for degree courses in the arts. I was given a grant. Later, teaching on courses that directed students to higher education, the choices were narrowing all the time - it seemed I had slipped through while doors inexorably closed.

Julie Ayton - Inscribed Deep Dish

At Farnham the irascible Henry Hammond squinted at work on shelves with minimal comment - more telling than an hour's crit - Sebastian Blackie taught us about kilns, and Nigel Wood forced an understanding of glazes into our sometimes unscientific heads.

Visiting tutors included Takeshi Yasuda, Agnete Hoy, John Maltby. Paul Barron took a handful of us to meet Lucie Rie at her home and studio. There was rigor and inspiration; a respect for fundamentals. Drawing was compulsory and sustained; we went to Stoke to get our limited skills into perspective. A summer job became a year in a pottery in Northampton and put a harsh economic reality into my own future plans. Back at college, my final year tutor was Siddig Nigoumi, whose gentle demeanor and reflective, rhythmic approach to decoration has stayed with me.

Julie Ayton - Teapot
Post graduation I took a teaching course, and spent a few years in a school running a pottery similar to my own school studio. Time in a Further Education college followed, again well-equipped, with teenagers and adult students eager to learn skills which were already losing footholds in Higher Education. For a decade I used state funded facilities to keep my own practice going, but the institutional backdrop was stifling. I was aching for a studio of my own, for autonomy and creative space.

It was an ex-student who put me in touch with Salisbury Arts Centre, who were looking for a potter in residence. The Arts Centre's very existence was the work of a group of enlightened and dedicated people who wanted to broaden the cultural landscape of their city. It was a ground-up venture already struggling financially but with a firm grip on principles.

Julie Ayton - Small Bowl

I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity, in spite of a frightening and irrecoverable plummet of income. To be free to make my own work and teach everyone from tinies to octogenarians, untrammeled by bureaucracy, is a quality of life decision I never regretted. Teaching remains important to me. For scores of aspiring and recreational potters who want to explore the discipline seriously, Art Centres and potters' own workshops are the only resource available.

School facilities have declined as degree courses have closed, and today someone like my childhood self has few avenues open to them, and those at a cost which don't bear scrutiny. I am fortunate to work from a studio of my own now, rented from a very generous retired engineer. Ironically, when I first stepped into the building, the smell of the lathes, drills, oil and metal took me straight back to those school workshops to which I was denied entrance.

Daniel Boyle 

'...still following my idealistic dream of being a maker that I had when I first discovered ceramics, a job for life. '

Daniel Boyle

Like many children I first touched clay at primary school but my memory of this only remains in the form of a couple of penguins that still sit on my parents shelf. At secondary school there was a kiln and we were able to work a little with clay - a few coil and pinch pots still remain from those days. I was first really drawn to the world of ceramics when I was attending a PQC in Art and Design at Newbury College at the age of seventeen (1987). It was a two-year full time ‘A’ level art course, it seemed experimental and focused, a complete submersion in art. The college had a large ceramics room with a couple of wheels and kilns that seemed little used by most of the students on my course and were used more for evening classes. I was drawn in by the hypnotic qualities of throwing, and idealist thoughts of becoming a potter - maybe it was one of many crafts that could have captured me at that time but the pottery room was there and I was soon filling the shelves full of pots on the quest of learning to throw.

Daniel Boyle - Mugs

I had some direction from the course leader, a former graduate from the Central School of Art ceramics course - he told me the best course to apply to was the Harrow Studio Pottery HND which is now sadly closed - they would teach me to throw and to build kilns - it was very a practical course. I didn’t even look at another course - I knew this was the one for me. At this time maintenance grants were available and no attendance fees payable - a time when the financial constraints of attending university were less considered, allowing students to develop their interests without the concerns of the financial rewards ahead.

Daniel Boyle - Lidded Vessel
The Harrow course was all that it promised, a close knit group including many international and mature students, throwing into the evenings and learning about all the technical complexities that challenge a potter and the study of the perfection and imperfection. The kiln site was an eye opener; all the different firings to explore just drew me in deeper, my love of a good bonfire and fascination with fire as a child emerging into a love for kilns and firings of all kinds.
Daniel Boyle - Vessel
 Some of my peers have stayed working with ceramics, others have become teachers or taken their creative aptitude into other work places. I have worked solely as a potter since graduating, in a workshop in London then on to Wales where I have been for the last twenty years honing my techniques, making salt glazed functional wares with my John Seymore ‘Self Sufficiency’ book and ‘The Self Reliant Potter’ by Andrew Holden. I have forged a cohesive life of making and selling using ceramics as a vessel to develop friendships and travel while connecting me to the past and the future, still following my idealistic dream of being a maker that I had when I first discovered ceramics, a job for life.
Daniel Boyle


Linda Chew

One of my first memories was when I was three, sitting on our garden path with a trowel and a tin dish mixing up earth with water to make mud pies - a sign of things to come. In primary school there was a dustbin under the sink with modelling clay - I can still recall the wonderful smell of that damp and rather stiff grey clay and loved it, especially as we were only allowed to play with it if we had been very good.

Art lessons at secondary school were the highlight of my week. There was a pottery where we produced thick coil pots decorated with slip and glazed in honey and chocolate brown glazes. Some of those pieces still sit on my shelf in my studio.

 I was fortunate to have parents who supported my dreams to go to Art college – quite a risky choice in the wild 1960s. So, I ended up studying sculpture at Cheltenham College of Art where in the second year I had the good fortune to explore clay as a medium in the ceramics department with James Campbell - an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher who encouraged me to experiment and form my ideas for my final degree show.

Then came an opportunity to work as an apprentice with the potter Beth Blik who encouraged me to do a post graduate year at the Institute of Education at London University to gain an Art Teacher's Certificate where William Newland was a great mentor in the ceramics department.

We were fortunate in those days to have such good facilities and small classes where we had room to work with a free hand, supported by talented professional makers.

I went on to teach in a secondary school in Winchester while I set up my own studio at home, making domestic wear to sell to a variety of galleries in London and around Britain.

My style of work changed when I left teaching to raise a family and I began to produce one off decorative pieces which were hand built rather than thrown.

When my two children reached their teens I returned to teaching . I have really enjoyed sharing my passion for all aspects of art with young people, especially ceramics and passing on to them skills and enthusiasm for pursuing a creative life no matter what path or career they choose to follow.

A discipline of drawing everyday and printing using lino has recently led me to begin a new body of work. I have returned to throwing with porcelain, decorating with inlaid line and underglaze colours to enhance and describe the small forms – just the right size to fit into the palm and be touched and explored. They remind me of ancient fertility goddesses with their round bellies and smooth tactile surface. They are fired in an electric kiln to 1230 c

Portrait Linda Chew - image Dee Honeybun
Linda Chew Vessels - images Linda Chew

Roger Cockram

Roger throwing porcelain in the studio 2015
Originally born in North Devon, I left for education and career. I first worked as a marine scientist and then lecturer, before a hobby, which involved building a kiln from storage heater bricks in my back garden in Ealing – just took over and I was lucky to be the last person the great Mick Casson accepted on the Harrow Studio Pottery course in 1973. There I was taught by the excellent Wally Keeler and Colin Pearson among others.

After Harrow I returned to deepest Devon, where I got married, had some gorgeous kids, bought some sheep and bees and built a 100cuft woodfiring kiln in which I used to fire breadbins, bottles and hundreds of tankards and mugs for the next 10 years. 
Teabowl porcelain

However, my original love of the sea and water gradually overtook me and I eventually moved up the road to the beautiful ancient village of Chittlehampton, where I changed direction again - to take on the making of decorative individual pieces in stoneware, which were strongly figurative, and were based on the observation of various animals in their watery world.

This sustained me for some years and I sold well – including through annual exhibition/auctions in Bonhams – which gave me access to an international audience and some further success. 
Then a few years ago, my interest in the sea itself finally took over and I now use it as the starting point for my latest work, this time in porcelain. 
The movement, rhythms, colours etc of the medium, all interest me and form the inspiration for my work – this time all abstract in nature (definitely non-figurative). 

Vessel spiral
At present all the work is thrown, sometimes then altered and made in porcelain, then once fired in reduction to cone 11.

My work is found in several private and public collections in the UK and around the world, especially mainland Europe and the USA. All images courtesy the artist.

Jennifer Hall

'The thing in common with now and then is my passion for pottery, for the domestic and for the wheel.'

Jennifer Hall
Back in 1994 I graduated from Cardiff Institute of Higher Education, this seems a world away now, in terms of the availability of free educational opportunities and in terms of the courses on offer.
The thing in common with now and then is my passion for pottery, for the domestic and for the wheel. As well as having Geoff Swindell and Peter Starkey to hand at Cardiff, I treasured the weekly visit from Mick Casson who more than anyone made us question what we were doing and why, with regards to our making processes.
Jennifer Hall Mugs

Recently the sad news of the death of Morgan Hall took me back to my degree days, when Morgan was one of a few guest makers we had come and spend a day with us. She was a real inspiration for me, in an environment which doubted the viability of a life as a studio potter. Morgan was a shining example of somebody out there in the real grown up world, who not only made pots day to day, but achieved a career in pottery making innovative domestic ware, with a success which meant she had a waiting list for her seconds!! It was marvellous to meet her at that most impressionable time in my journey.
Jennifer Hall Bowls
College was an excellent opportunity for me to explore ideas, materials and techniques. Back in the day of free education along with my eligibility for a maintenance grant, I left college without debt to embark on a career with relatively meagre earnings. An occupation I doubt I would be able to consider today, with the inevitable debt I would have acquired through completing a degree.

After the freedom of college, I moved west from Cardiff to Carmarthen for an 18 month stint working for an established studio pottery. In contrast to the experimental, searching nature of college, this was a valuable lesson in production. Pru Green of Gwili Pottery taught me how to structure my days and weeks, how to deal with customers both private and wholesale and most importantly my time there taught me that I wanted to make my own work in my own workshop.
Jennifer Hall Jugs
 After setting up my first pottery in Buckinghamshire, my then boyfriend and I got the opportunity to return to Wales. My now husband and I live and work in Powys, where I pot in the workshop in the garden with the company of a slightly unhinged Jack Russell, whilst our two children are in school.
I continue to make wheel thrown slip decorated domestic ware, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now without that treasured experience of my time in Cardiff that shone a light on the path ahead. 

Images: Ayton West Joe Purches

Jill Shaddock 

Developing ideas through experimentation

Jill in her studio after University                                 photo by Edward Chadwick

I set up my ceramic studio in 2011 after graduating from Manchester School of Art with a degree in Three Dimensional Design. The course gave me the opportunity to investigate and experiment with designing and making using various different mediums including; glass, wood, metal and ceramics, before I specialised in ceramics in the second year. 
Slash cut vases

I feel extremely lucky to have benefited from having access to this range of workshops, and am unfortunately probably one of the last to have access to workshops on such a scale. Gaining a basic knowledge of working across different mediums definitely had a positive impact on my approach to ceramics.

Low row vessels
My creativity was encouraged from an early age, and I have fond memories of Saturday art classes at my local art gallery as a child. A passion for ceramics started here with one of these classes. I was never one to miss out on an opportunity to get particularly messy; working with clay certainly achieved this.

After gaining A-levels in Art, Design and photography I then completed a foundation diploma in Art and Design at Leeds College of Art. This was an intensive year, which really helped me define the way I work. I again had the opportunity to work with ceramics during this year. It was clear that I enjoyed developing ideas through practical experimentation with materials and the following degree allowed me to continue to do this.
With my degree course covering a range of disciplines, there was only a limited amount technical information taught to us. To an extent this suited my way of working, as it allowed me to experiment and learn through trial and error. Adapting processes to achieve the results I wanted; something which I have continued to do since leaving University and setting up my ceramic studio.

Jug detail 

All images by Jill Shaddock unless otherwise stated.

Hannah McAndrew

A life of making and finding her niche

Hannah McAndrew
I have always made things for as long as long as I can remember. As a child there was always a ready supply of paper and pencils, scissors, glue, wool and fabric, plasticine and pipe cleaners. My mum encouraged us to make and draw and hand knitted cardigans and handmade clothes were nothing unusual to us.

At school I studied art and an A level in textiles which I loved but arriving on my foundation course in Manchester I really thought I would like to work in metal. As a result I applied to the Three Dimensional Design course at Manchester Metropolitan University. The reality was that metal and me just didn't get on, I couldn't get to grips with the cold hardness of it, it didn't grab me at all. That, and the noise in the metal workshops drove me round the twist and I left with a head ache every day.

Hannah McAndrew with jug
At the other end of the corridor in the Three Dimensional Design Department were the ceramics studios, by contrast the large airy space was quiet and the material immediately held more appeal for me. The head of ceramics at the time was Alex McErlain and his enthusiasm and passion for pots was contagious. Before long, I was hooked and as soon as Alex began to teach us to throw I knew what I wanted to do. I spent the rest of the course in the ceramics department trying to learn as much as I could.
Hannah McAndrew holding a cup
When I graduated in 2000 I wrote letters and more letters trying to find a pottery where I could go to work as an apprentice. I knew that I wanted to make pots but I also knew that I didn't yet have half the skills necessary to be able to run my own pottery with any sort of success. I received many polite replies with the inevitable, sorry we don't have the space or it's not something we do. Eventually I visited my parents who had since moved north to Galloway and while out and about with them we visited a small exhibition of art and craft in a village locally. Chatting to the gentleman manning the show led us to be sent on to visit a potter, Jason Shackleton, who lived just a mile or two away. Jason had worked with Mary Wondrausch and Alan Caiger-Smith and his work is highly decorated wood fired majolica and slipware. At that visit Jason offered me the chance to go to work with him, so I went back home to Lancashire that weekend, handed in my notice at work, gave notice on my flat and moved to Scotland.

 With Jason I felt that I had really found my niche, I discovered that I love to decorate pots. It wasn't something that I'd ever really done but when I got my first taste of slip trailing I was hooked. Ever since then, slipware has been my thing, and I am as fascinated and excited by the process now as I was that day. 
All images Shannon Tofts

Clare Wakefield 

Clare Wakefield in her studio

Clare Wakefield works on the Kent coast and her environment and love of the sea is clearly reflected in her ceramics. To inspire her for the day ahead, whatever season, she often has an early morning sea swim.

Clare delves into a combination of themes from nature and our world. She is drawn to water and exploring coastlines, and has to be in or on the water wherever she visits. One of her most memorable travels was to the dramatic coastlines of New Zealand. Flowing lines evoke thoughts of ever moving oceans. Further elements remind us of the creatures that call the seas their home. Birth, regeneration and the bond between mother and child are recurring themes.
Clare Wakefield Dish

Clare Wakefield Globe
 Another conspicuous aspect of Clare’s work is in the challenging engineering and the desire to push the clay to its limits. Many pieces are pierced to such a degree that the body is barely there. The piercings themselves play with the piece to induce the idea of movement and growth. Her use of blue, green and white glazes on a porcelain body also draw feelings of the underwater world that inspires her.

Clare Wakefield Pods
Clare’s love of ceramics started at school. She was encouraged by an enthusiastic teacher and spent free periods and other lessons she could miss in the school pottery taking her first steps exploring the medium. After school she did a foundation year, then a BTEC course at Kent Institute of Art and Design followed by a degree at Cardiff, during which time she also studied in Limoges. Through tutorials and various course projects, with tutors including Mick Casson, Alan Barrett Danes, Peter Beard and Geoff Swindell, Clare's work began to find a natural path of progression. It was at Cardiff that she felt she could really push the boundaries and explore and develop the shapes, and methods of presentation. Sea Pods were hung from high, placed in boxes, balanced on pebbles, placed inside one another.

Text and images; Clare Wakefield


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