Saturday, 30 January 2010


Tonight the curtain goes down on the pantomime for the last time and life will go back to normal. It's been good fun - a lot of hard work, but a really good giggle and I shall miss the evenings rehearsing across the road at the Methodist Chapel - not to mention the ciders afterwards - well I guess there's no reason why that tradition can't continue.

In the picture, Mrs Semolina Sinbad and in the background, the hero, Sinbad the Sailor her/himself.

Here are a few pictures from yesterday. This is the stunning little Nuthatch that comes to the workshop birdtable daily.

Three jugs, handled and sprigged

Tankards freshly slipped

Well that was a brief post, I'm off now to get my lippy and smock on, ready for our grand finale. Happy weekend all.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Just three jugs

Well nothing much to show today, just three five pound jugs that I made on Mr Cardew's wheel.

I've still some soft reclaim clay to use, so I'm making all my tapered pots first. Bellied pots are better for a bit more 'tooth' in the clay - the texture provided with the addition of coarse brick clay. For these tapered pots however, the clay works better, smoother, so the far less gritty reclaim mix is ideal. I haven't felt confident enough yet on the big wheel to make the bellied stuff - it's a bit like learning to drive somebody else's car.

The wheel is a fantastic piece of equipment and I'm so, so pleased that I have it. It has a hugely long strike on the kick pedal and that provides plenty of momentum, making centering the clay, really straighforward and fairly effortless. It's taken a bit of getting used to because my posture is completely different on this wheel from on any other, but I can't help but feel that Michael Cardew would have designed it for maximum efficiency when using it in the correct manner, so I figure my posture is the thing that needs to change.

Peter commented a couple of days ago about how it must have been a special moment, getting red mud on this old kickwheel - and he's aboslutely right. When I'm using it, I think of the master potters who went through Wenford Bridge over the decades and wonder whether the likes of Svend Bayer, Clive Bowen or Mark Hewitt ever made pots on it?

More pots tomorrow and pantomime performance in the evening.

Bye for now.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wintry Wednesday

It was another icy one this morning. The ice and snow have wrecked the track that leads to the Hollyford.

This is the wintry sky yesterday evening. The light was most peculiar, everything had a lilac tinge to it as the sun went down.

The hedgerows are fairly dormant at the moment - it'll be a while yet before they burst into life, that's something to look forward to. These ferns are common in the lanes of the Westcountry.

Charley Chaffinch was boss of the birdtable today and wasn't prepared to share the spoils at all, as he hassled the other birds away. As ever, the birds are my company and distract me from my labours all day long.

The racks that I built the other day drove me mad and much as I tried to ignore the fact that they were running downhill, I could stand looking at them no longer. Yesterday I took a trip to the scaffold company and bought a load more scrap boards. Last night, Marky Mark and I replaced the squiffy shelves with this much sturdier structure, two shelves for the storage of press moulds, with a bench section below. I have quite a few of these moulds that I rescued from Mr Cardew's pottery. Underneath is full of bags of clay at present, but in time it'll be sorted out with drawers and cupboards. Those boards are fantastic - this dresser cost £15 to build - bargain.

More of those big earthy tankards completed today, with applied decoration. I've four more to finish in the morning. It'll be another disrupted day as I've to take Joey to have his braces adjusted at the orthodentist poor lad.

So I've made a start and it's good to see new pots on the shelves for the first time in ages. It stresses me out when the shelves are empty. I'm so behind at the moment, having lost all that time during the snow, so I can foresee long days ahead in order to get the kiln filled ready to fire in early March.

Well that's all for tonight, I've been out at pantomime rehearsal again this evening and I'm worn out, so off to bed. I saw my first little lambs of the year today, so I'll leave you with this picture - awwwwwwwwwwwww.

PS Thank you Tim for the newspaper cutting - I brought it home and have put it, with your letter, somewhere 'safe' in my chaotic house, so a blog post to come about that as soon as I find it. Cheers!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Muddy Monday

Saturday's panto was much better, things went much more smoothly and a full-house audience, who were up for joining in the fun, got things going with a swing. A rehearsal on Wednesday night to brush up on any mistakes, then two more nights at the weekend. It's a lot of work for a play that runs for four nights only, but it's worth it.

I got back into potting today, with the first proper run of pots of the year. The workshop's almost finished inside now - certainly enough to start making pots again without falling over things. So I jumped on Mr Cardew's wheel and made a dozen big, softly thrown, olde English tankards. The clay was really soft and works well for making a shape like this - a fuller bellied form would just collapse.

I like the idea of working very simply and directly into soft clay and I think these are going to be quite interesting when covered in a thin slip. Whether I'm deluded or not remains to be seen!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

I am the Grand Wazir and I lived to tell the tale

Well that was a baptism of fire! I was handed a whole new section of script to read ten minutes before curtain up and if that wasn't scary enough, when the music started for our opening number, it was the wrong song, leaving us standing there like lemons. Fortunately I had my two slave girls Coca and Cola (Molly and Tanith) to keep me company midst the chaos.

It's funny, all the little kiddies in the chorus line call me Grand Wazir as if it's my real name bless 'em.

Here's Deano, the pantomime dame, he makes such an attractive lady don't you think?

and Crunchbones the Witchdoctor and Sinistro the wicked sorcerer, modelling my goblets. They're bad, bad, men, very, very bad.

I really enjoyed it tonight and can't wait to do some more, they're a great bunch of people. I think there wa a general feeling that it could have gone better, but it was the opening night and there were always going to be a few teething problems. We enjoyed a glass or two of cider in the Half Moon after the show of course.

Tomorrow night we run the show again, to a sell out audience. In fact I think it's all sold out next weekend too. Those tickets will be exchanging hands for a fortune on ebay no doubt!

Goodnight all from the Grand Wazir

Friday, 22 January 2010

Tonight's the night

Well opening night tonight - eeek! It's been a very hectic few days, with rehearsals most evenings.

My chalices came out of the kiln successfully earlier in the week and have survived the sword fighting scene during recent evenings' practices. I'll try and take a photograph of them in action on the stage.

I'm not sure if there is a tradition of Pantomime in the USA, so to enlighten you, Wikipedia offers the following description:-

'Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild innuendo.'

That will explain why dear Andy in this photograph, is dressed in such a fashion - he's a baddy, you always have evil baddies in pantomime - Crunchbones the Witchdoctor no less.

You always have a goody too, which is a male part, played by a woman. There's also always an old dame, that is played by a man - confused? Well there you go, see what you're missing over there across the pond?

I get wear a rather splendid tunic and Turkish fez on my head(of course Turks all wear Fezzes and we Brits all wear bowler hats don't you know) - I had to get my summer cut to make it fit properly, so now I feel a bit under dressed in the hair department for the current season - I do like to be hairy for the winter.

If you'd like to read more about the tradition, click here.

I'll try and get some pictures later, but these days it's become(absurdly) unacceptable to take photographs in places where there are children. Just five years ago, when I used to go to Joe's primary school productions, I was able to shoot video and take photographs at will and I have some lovely pictures of both my boys in their various productions, with their school chums. Now it seems we're all branded as paedophiles - ridiculous, this country drives me mad sometimes - ever wondered why I like to hide away in a shed in the middle of nowhere?

So to pottery.....

It's been another disrupted week with not a lot of pottery making going on, but the workshop's completely revolutionised. Yesterday I took Joey to have his braces fitted to his teeth, so he'll now not inherit his parents' lovely 'English smile'. He's been very good about it, braces seem to be much more common these days than when I was a nipper.

To prove I have been doing something however, here's a close up of a small sgrafitto jug that's been keeping me busy. I prefer not to put orders on here until the person who orders them has seen them first, hence the close up. I'll post the completed jug once it's found it's new owner.

The pot is to be taken to New Zealand to be given as a gift to an ex-pat, who misses the primroses and robins of England. The jug has a robin on the other side, some oak leaves and acorns, dog roses and snowdrops - an English season depicted on each panel.

Over the next few months, I'm going to make a series of four jugs, each inspired by the individual seasons in the Devon countryside - I'm looking forward to that.

Well, the smell of grease paint, the lights, the stage, the excited anticipation of the audience await me, so I must now away, to the romantic city of Constantinople, where Sinbad the Sailor is to defeat the wicked Crunchbones and the Great and Good Caliph is to marry the Princess Pearl - Oh, and I'm to make a right plonker of myself in front of the whole village - HELP!!!!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Life has been very, very busy of late - panto, reorganising the workshop and trying to assemble all my paperwork for my bookkeeper who has the challenge of getting everything in order for my tax return that's due in at the end of the month.

Inside the workshop is almost ready for production. It'll never be completely tidy - I'm just not that kinda guy,

but for the first time ever, because of the extra space in the new extensions, there's a proper system. I've been determined not to start making in quantity until such time as everything is organised. Mr Cardew's wheel in the middle, dwarfs my other two wheels.

Outside is still a mess and now that the weather's improved I'm going to crack on getting it tidied up, with a new woodshed and an undercover area to cut and stack wood. The wood in the foreground is some trimmings that I had delivered recently from a local saw mill. It's what is know by my firing team at Hollyford as 'party wood' because of the excited manner with which it combusts when stoked into a hot firebox.

The snow set me back a week which has been truly frustrating - it got me quite stressed and depressed because I was slipping further and further behind. Thankfully it's all but gone now, with just a few traces left on high ground.

This is a picture taken a couple of weeks ago by Alex who lives at Hollyford - my poor little car well and truly stuck.

Apologies to anyone who tried to ring me last week, I've been so anxious about the workshop not being sorted and the resulting lack of production, that I've had the phone unplugged. It allowed me to concentrate on getting the place organised without interruption. I'll be back in touch with the world this week.

It's good to see the green fields out of the window again instead of snow.

I've been struggling to get excited about making, but now that the place has some kind of order to it, I'm beginning to look forward to getting stuck in. It seems like ages since my shelves were laden with wet pots. I'm going to get my hand back in making mugs and bowls this week. My next wood firing is going to be in mid March, so lots and lots of pots to make.

The pantomime has been taking a lot of time as it draws towards opening night(Friday), with rehearsals this afternoon and on three nights in the forthcoming week. I'm loving it. It's been great to get to know a bunch of new people and I'm hoping it will all help with confidence when having to demo in public. I'm still faltering over some of my lines though, so more practice required. We all got our costumes today. As the Grand Wazir, I have a rather tasty green and gold tunic, a lovely bit of fabric.

I was supposed to be helping Malcolm the Producer, make props yesterday, but as it turned out I had so much to do and had to go to work and continue clearing up the workshop instead. My chum Clarkey came by and kept me company while I worked and we listened to the match on Radio Devon - the splendid Exeter City F C, drubbing Leeds United, 2-0, hurrah! I enjoy listening to City playing footy on a Saturday afternoon in the workshop, so the footy, many cups of tea, warmth from the new burner and good company from my old mate Clarkey, made weekend working very pleasant.

I worked on into the evening and blended loads of clay ready to knead up tomorrow for the week's making. That was a job I'd been putting off - I have a lot of tough clay which I mixed with a lot of soft clay. I also put sgrafitto hearts onto the Shrine of Love chalices - my pots look very odd with hearts on. I'll get them fired just in time for the dressed rehearsal on Wednesday evening - I'll try and get some pictures of them in action.

Well that's enough rambling, time for bed. Have a good week all, bye for now.

Clever Heather

A while ago, my friend Filthy Phil asked whether I might be able to make a commemorative trophy for the village cricket club. The trophy is a memorial to a former player who tragically passed away, while still a young man.

Of course, I gladly made the pot, which I then passed on to Phil's wife Heather, to decorate - Heather is an extremely talented artist.

This evening, Hil, Heather and I popped up to the workshop and took the finished piece out of my small electric kiln. It had worked a treat.

Heather's going to get a local wood tuner to turn a trophy style plinth to stand it on.

The Andrew Pottle Memorial Cup.

I hope it is enjoyed by Andrew Pottle's family and friends and that it will see many seasons pass at Cheriton Fitzpaine Cricket Club.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, Heather is a very talented artist. This is a painting she did of her dog, Poppy.

Here's Filthy Phil himself, back in his hairier days.

Heather includes a lot of my pots in her still life paintings

I recommend you click the link to see Heather Cutler's site with lots more of her lovely work.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Wednesday waffle

I got some more racking made today. A while ago I was fortunate enough to inherit the racks from Wenford Bridge Pottery. They're the ones with holes and pegs. There were loads more pegs than holes, so when I found these two lengths of timber at the tip the other day, I knew just what I could use them for. Of course what I forgot is that my floor slopes, so they're at a curious angle - oh well, I may adjust them - but I'll probably just live with them like it.

The snow's all gone at home, but up at the workshop there's still loads. This is the view from the window beside my wheel. I watched from this window today as the Barn Owl flew through the valley looking for food. I think the birds are all hungry at the moment poor things, so they're having to hunt harder and for longer for their food. I've kept the bird table stocked with fat balls and peanuts - it's been busy on there.

As the day went on, it thawed,then turned to slush - very slippery slush. After having got my car home yesterday, I managed to get it stuck again today in the slushy, muddy puddles outside the workshop - doh!

So it's back on my feet again in the morning. I'm looking forward to it, not least because my new camera arrived today and I'm hoping to get a few shots of things in the winter countryside that are going to end up in my next batch of pots.

Seems crazy that such a small amount of snow can bring things to a standstill.

Today I added the extra chimney to the burner and it worked a treat. It's the first time I've had a decent fire in there since last Spring - ah warmth. The chimney was so unsafe though, that I took it down again this evening - I need to fix it up better tomorrow.

Ages ago, Blogger Clay Perry agreed a swap of one of his beautifully carved walking canes for a mug, so I made this one, with his face on it. Unfortunately I immediately chipped it, so didn't send it. The pot next to it is a replacement which I'm going to decorate with a sgrafitto version of Mr Perry.

I've been enjoying using the cane on my walks through the snow, but also as part of my costume in the Pantomime, where it has been much admired.

These are the goblets that I've made for the panto. They're to be used at 'The Shrine of Love, in the Emerald Valley', no less. In between the 'jewels', (which will be glazed green), there are going to be sgraffito hearts. They're very English, for a play that's supposed to be set in Turkey!

The panto opens a week on Friday, so we're rehearsing nearly every night this week, and on Sunday afternoon and most nights next week too. I nearly know all my lines now, but I'm just a little(a lot) worried about the song that I have to sing - it demands a rather different style from the raucous 'singing' I'm accustomed to emitting as backing vocals with the Love Daddies - doubtless it'll be just as tuneless though.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Snow good for business

Hello all and thank you for your kind comments on my last post. Of course I'm really chuffed about it, it's a great thrill to know I have a pot in a museum - for ever and ever - hey I can give up now.

Nothing much has been going on here. The boys finally went back to school on Monday, the first time since a week before Christmas as their school was closed because of the weather. Hil had been off too as her school was closed as well. We'd all started to suffer from cabin fever, it's been frustrating and demotivating, going to bed too late and then getting up too late.

I got the car home from the workshop today for the first time in a week - it's been stuck there in the snow. The council at last gritted the lanes out that way today - until now it's been ice with compacted snow on top, only accessible by 4x4 or tractor. Hil's car was out of action for a few days too as the diesel had frozen - thankfully it's running again now.

In the workshop, the bucket of brickclay that I left soaking down a few days ago has frozen solid, so I made pots from smooth clay today - I found it so much easier to use than the coarse and gritty body I usually use and I enjoyed its silky smooth qualities - I think I'll make some smaller stuff from smooth clay in future.

The frost's never got so far into the workshop - all my waterbowls in the wheeltrays are solid ice, it's not good. I lit the burner briefly, but it filled the place full of smoke until the flue heated up, so I had to have the doors and window open - hmm. The flue needs to be longer - I have another section outside somewhere, but I can't find it because everything's covered in snow and I can't remember where I put it - doh!

There's more snow tonight, but I think it's going to turn to rain later - hopefully that's the end of it. Devon's on the national news as I type - poor folk still stuck in their cars on the outskirts of Exeter.

It has been beautiful walking to work the past couple of days and I've seen stuff that's going to end up on the next batch of pots - I'm going to be doing a lot more walking in the forthcoming weeks, it keeps my old body and mind fit and exposes me to the wonderful world of nature that is so intrinsic in my work. It's a while away yet, but I'm going to enjoy watching much of the Spring on foot this year.

I'm really behind with work now though, I'd hoped to have the workshop all sorted last week and to have started making pots on Monday. As it turns out, I've still a lot of sorting to do, but it'll have to fit in around making pots. I got a lot of racking fitted today and I'll get some more up tomorrow - enough to hold a good batch of pots so that I can get making.

I did get a couple of pots thrown today - a little jug for an order and some goblets for use in the pantomime that I'm performing in. It opens a week on Friday, so some force drying will be necessary. Some learning of my lines needed too! Another benefit of the recent walks is that I've been able to stand in the deserted orchard and practice my part, performing to miles of empty, white countryside out to Dartmoor in the distance. Had anybody have seen me they would have sent for the men in white coats I think, but the advantage of the countryside being covered in snow, is you can see there's nobody about for miles.

My camera finally bit the dust this week - I'm expecting a new one in the post tomorrow, weather permitting.

So tonight I'm putting on some great pictures that were taken by a professional photographer called Dave Green, who I met just before Christmas at the Burton Art Gallery bottle kiln firing in Bideford, where he documented the event. I love this picture, it's so atmospheric.

A bit of stoking


Matt and me and the glued together pots

If you follow this link, you can see more pictures from the firing .

If you click the link, you can also get to see so beautiful photography on Dave's blog.

Well that's it for now, hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with fresh pictures, of freshly made pots, from a freshly bought camera.

Bye for now

Thursday, 7 January 2010

York Museum have bought my pot!

I had a very exciting email today from Helen Walsh, who is Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts for York Museums Trust.

Helen mailed to let me know that the Trust has agreed the purchase of this large baluster jug, from the excellent on-line gallery, Oakwood Ceramics and that it is to be added to the Museum permanent collection.

The Museum boasts the biggest and most important collection of studio ceramics in Britain, so of course I'm thrilled to bits have a piece in the collection, which contains work by many of the great potters who have influenced my life and work.

The museum also houses a spectacular collection of medieval jugs, pictures of which I've had posted on the walls of my workshop for some time now and are very significant pots for me.

Here's an excerpt from Helen's email

Everyone here is really pleased about the purchase as it will sit very well amidst our collections, both archaeological and studio pottery. The money for the purchase has come from the WA Ismay collection and as Bill Ismay loved the medieval jugs in York's collection, I am sure he would approve! We are looking forward to working with you later this year on the country pottery exhibition instigated by Alex McErlain and hope you will be able to come up to York at some point to see the collection.

More about the country pottery exhibition at a later date, in the meantime, thank you to Helen, to the Trustees and to Alex who has done much to make this happen.