Nicola Werner | The everyday made as pleasurable as possible
"I lead a charmed life making my living as a potter, helped by a natural tenacity and a huge love of particularly earthenware pottery, having grown up eating off old Faience ( Quimper and Malicorne particularly), and the inspirational amateur pots of an old cousin in Cumbria.
...in 1982 set off round southern England, armed with the Potters Book asking for a job with those I admired at the time.
I got sidetracked into Fine Art ( Painting) at Central School of Art but left early to travel and find my way back to pots, spending a memorable beautiful spring in the Dordogne at Peter & Julie Phillips’ pottery. I experimented with ash glazes with Simon Wyard in Kent, and then in 1982 set off round southern England, armed with the Potters Book asking for a job with those I admired at the time.
The most memorable were Michael Cardew, very old but venerable and charismatic, but Seth [Cardew] had just taken on someone else; then David Winkley, similar story but he gave me a good lunch and we remain firm friends.
I had been in touch with Alan Caiger-Smith for some time as I was very drawn to tin glaze. With luck, there was a space for me on the team at Aldermaston as the latest apprentice. These 3 years were invaluable and I learned everything I could, often making my own work in the evenings. He and Edgar Campden became my mentors and I gained a firm grounding in majolica and a devotion to a life in ceramics began in earnest.
|Nicola Werner Decorated Bowl|
In 1986, I set up my first workshop at my parents’ in rural Kent; the pots sold well. This was helped by being known by several galleries through Aldermaston, notably Primavera in Cambridge and The High Street Gallery in Lewes. I also chased fairs and sales and exhibitions wherever I could and had a government grant ( enterprise allowance) as a start-up for this first year.
I moved to Milverton in Somerset in 1987, buying a terraced house on 100% mortgage (those were the days!), working on the ground floor and living in kiln-heat above and was welcomed and supported there. 12 hour days for that first 5 years really paid off and I became established making pots for the V& A museum amongst others and always busy. Today, I am on my fourth workshop, larger each time and get help with glaze-mixing, a little throwing and lamp-fitting.
|Nicola Werner - Decorated Bowl|
Initially, I used Fremington clay from Barnstaple ( like Clive Bowen and many others before me) until they tragically went bust - how I miss that smooth pure terracotta. I now sometimes use Valentine’s Fine 100 which is heavy and iron-rich, tricky to throw but fires to a glorious sheen with the tin glaze - good for dinner plates, planters and teapots especially.
...the great discovery has been the real Majolica clay from the banks of the Tiber at San Sepolcro.
But thanks to Alan Caiger-Smith’s clever research, the great discovery has been the real Majolica clay from the banks of the Tiber at San Sepolcro. This green clay fires to a pale pink terracotta with lovely plasticity and throws generously - it is a joy to work with. I bisque the same as the glaze, to 1060c, much higher than the Italians and the result is a fine, strong, light and very useable pot. I am never happier than when throwing - it is a grounding and pure magic that I see first hand in my day courses for beginners now; these are proving terrific in every way.
|Nicola Werner - Jugs|
I paint mixtures of oxides on the dry powdery glaze of each dipped pot - swift strokes with sable brushes on a free-flowing whirler and no going back. It promotes pace and confidence and helps guard against overthinking. Each brushstroke counts, so I hold my breath and go for it!
My pots are practical and made for use- the everyday made as pleasurable as possible, in a very William Morris way. Jugs pour, teapots don’t dribble, mug rims kind on the lip, handles comfortingly safe, plates that support gravy, bowls that stack; but pleasing to the eye too.
I decorate in the faience/majolica tradition, deeply inspired by the natural world - leaves, flowers and birds mainly in a softened palette for our climate’s light - no pure cobalt or copper but a small addition of ilmenite and softened industrial tints.
My electric wheels are Alsager and kilns Cromartie - reliable and stalwart essentials easiest for the lone potter though I adored and appreciated the marvellous Aldermaston wood firings. One day…
|Nicola Werner - Jug|
I hold the view that losing oneself in the experience of ‘Doing’ and not focussing too much on the finished piece often has a successful outcome.
For me, potting has always been my job, something that continues to pay the bills: this is a great discipline and certainly drives hard work. I do not have time to mull over pots very much but constantly make, and designs grow organically - I am wary of pretension. Rather like painting and I dare say all Art forms, I hold the view that losing oneself in the experience of ‘Doing’ and not focussing too much on the finished piece often has a successful outcome. Tap into the creative flow and one is away.
My advice to anyone starting out is to visit potters, learn as much as you can from every museum and culture and just get some clay and preferably a wheel and get going ….then keep going! " Nicola Werner 2018