Sunday, November 29, 2015


Last year I attended an estate sale in my town. It belonged to an early member of the Deep River Potters Guild who was a member in the 60's and early 70's. I bought several of his early pieces to give ti our Guild for the "Former Members Gallery". They were bright orange and yellow.- a testament to when lead glazes were popular. However what attracted me was his collection of pottery books - including "Ceramics Design" by John B. Kenny published in 1963. Although dated in terms of design, it is nevertheless inspiring with lots of great ideas.

In the forward about what is design he writes - ." a ceramist, design means more than that (arrangement of detail) - much more. It means order out of chaos; form out of shapeless mass...... It is something for which he must search, and when he finds it, his work is satisfying and good. His quest is never ended - he must go on searching as long as he lives and works."  Great words to live by!

However the best part of the book for me was the chapter titled "Draw!" Very few pottery books go into any detail on how to go about practicing your drawing for pottery - he devotes 9 pages to it and outlines various exercises that one can do to practice drawing.
1.Keep a sketch book and use it frequently.
2. If you are not used to drawing he suggests you start by making quick sketches of things you see - don't worry about being accurate.
3. Look at an object for a few minutes and then draw it with your eyes closed
4. Make a drawing of a familiar object without looking at it.
5. Warm-up exercise - stretch out your arms and draw in the air - write your name and write it backwards.
6. Make memory drawings of people doing things - playing an instrument, kicking a ball etc.
7. Do large quick drawing on a blackboard - bold sweeping continuous lines. Seeing white lines on a black lets you see drawings as negatives and you get a different perspective.
8.Try drawing with different things - pen, pencil, bushes.
9. Try using newspaper for brushwork - practice with brushstrokes to show expression, images with just one continuous brush stroke.
To help with ceramic form and decoration -
1. Draw outlines of various ceramic forms - symmetrical, asymmetrical.
2. Draw your form - circle for a plate and draw various vertical and horizontal lines, wavy and straight, thick and thin .
3. On square plates try out patterns of rectangles, overlapping different colours, some with designs within them.
4. Try out stencils with dabbing on colour with a sponge. Overlap different sponges.
5. Use dots, wandering lines.
6. Use a "design finder" - cut out a 3" square hole in a piece of paper and and move it over your designs to find the best  section.
And his final advice - take good care of your sketch book - it will provide a rich source of inspiration for years to come. I still have my sketch books from the 60's and 70's and it's really interesting to see what how my interests and styles have changed.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

For 2015 - Wishing Everyone that Creative High - The Joy of Making

I often think about what the attraction is to pottery for many people - apart from the wish to make pots magically on the wheel. I belong to the Deep River Potters' Guild which has a fully equipped ceramic studio. These past few years have been particularly rewarding as we have had several really keen new members who have introduced the rest of us to lots of new styles and work and who are not afraid to take on new challenges in terms of the kind of work that they make. Many of them have mentioned that there are so many different aspects to clay - something for everyone - that you can never get bored. They mention how it allows them to be creative and that the creative process often gives them a "high" and how they can get lost in the process. I know the feeling well!

How do you get into that creative high? John Cleese has given several talks on the topic:                               ( )
Several of his tips really resonate with me. First you need to have uninterrupted time and lots of it - at least an hour and a half because it takes about 1/2 an hour to get really into it and then you need time for those unconscious ideas to percolate. Secondly you should delay making decisions about a project until the last minute. We feel a bit stressed if we have not made a decision but by delaying it as much as possible it gives our unconscious minds even more time to come up with more creative ideas. So leave unfinished work around - you will eventually come up with a more brilliant plan on how to finish it.  However once you have come up with a decision, then you need to focus and get the project done.

That need for uninterrupted time is something that has started to worry me. I have just finished reading a book - "A Deadly Wandering - A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention" by Matt Richtel. It is the true story of a teenager who killed two people while texting and driving.  The story is interspersed with chapters on past and present research on what technology is doing to our brains and especially to young children whose brains have not fully developed. To be creative we need uninterrupted time - and when I look around everyone is texting/talking/checking emails -so it is getting harder and harder to do! The book explains how each interruption brings a squirt of dopamine in the brain - so these interruptions can become addictive. Then when you need to focus to get your project done - the interruptions again affect your brain's ability - the part that works with the focus and reasoning part - as the research mentioned in the book indicates.

Another tip from John is to work in a group. I find that I love to look at other people's work as I not only learn from it but can also be inspired by it whether it is a beginner or expert!. Although I work mostly at home I do all my glazing and firings at the Guild. All our firings end up as communal so we get lots of members work in each firing - whether it is in the electric or gas kilns. So kiln openings can get rather exciting as we exchange comments and discuss the results! Lots of opinions and that is what gets the creative juices flowing and what makes belonging to the Guild so rewarding.

So here is to finding time, lots of uninterrupted time and making  lots of great new work in 2015!