Articles in Category: Helen's Blog

Ceramic History

A Saggar Makers Bottom Knocker!!

Since going back to college, I have found myself having to re-explore techniques that although I might have used them in the past I either no longer use or have not developed them any further.

College Days

Feeling like a child again!

Heading towards the art block of Llandrillo College on their open day last June I felt like an old woman trying to be a spring lamb! I had even had problems with the revolving door of the main entrance, in typical Miranda Heart style! But after assuring the man who helped me with the door, that I really was quite capable and intelligent enough of following directions to the art block and really did not need the assistance of a pierced, spiky haired boy, I set of with my sensible sandals, fake designer sunglasses & clutching the details of the ceramic course I was seeking.


The ROAR inside me!


Although I have always loved hand building, for its slow pace and tranquil feel I have never really tried my hand at sculpting.

I concluded years ago that I wasn’t any good at it, after one or two half hearted attempts.  But they were half hearted.  However for quite sometime I have had the thought of dragons flying around in my head, in fact even put some ideas to paper in the form of drawings. I have also discussed my thoughts with others who have said that they are fun ideas that I should put into practice.  But as usual I drew back into my “but I can’t sculpt” head and bang went that idea again.

Woodfest 2012

Mud Mud Mud!!

Woodfest thankfully this year got off to a good start for us.  There was some sunshine on the Saturday and no 70mph winds so that was good. 

Our 'shed' proved to be a great idea and placed at the entrance was even better!!  The only down side was the fun fair was also at the entrance and that music is still going around and around in our heads!!



Let it Snow!!

I’m all finished now till after Christmas!  The last kiln firing produced some lovely bowls, sadly one had a slight crack, but as I have had my eye on these new pouring mixing bowls, it now sits proudly in my kitchen!!  I always reach this time of year with a mix of sadness and pleasure.  On one hand I’m truly exhausted and really looking forward to all the festivities without the pressure of work and some real me and family time to enjoy.  However sadly as my workshop is a shed in the garden the cold weather affects the clay, the kiln and me and generally stops any production in its tracks!  This I find really hard to deal with when I want to start work again, the longer I stop for, the harder it is to motivate myself for some reason.  Right now I cannot imagine not wanting to go down to the bottom of the garden and create, but alas year after year it’s the same scenario! all those people who have read my blogs I wish you a lovely festive Christmas roll in the snow and let us all snuggle down with a good book, a glass of wine and a mince pie in front of a log fire!! Well that’s my plan for a long few winter months ahead. you really think I will be leaving my design book un-touched? It’s all part of the pleasure!

God Bless...X

Back to School

Production in Progress

My son started school for the first time on Monday, I know mothers are supposed to cry (I did!) and feel sad (I’m not!) but I cannot help skipping just a bit on the way to the studio to start on the Christmas production.

However I have had to use the last few days trying to sort out the H&S nightmare that is my workshop.  All the manic making over the summer to keep up with the fairs left little time for being tidy or clean.

I would like to take this time to thank Veira, my Slovakian apprentice, who came to stay during part of August, for her help and more importantly her enthusiasm.  She helped me to remember that sometimes it’s good to go a bit slower and take the time to perfect.  And the long conversations over tea/wine and lots of food were great, especially the pottery talk, so lovely to bounce ideas off of one another! PARADA!!!

Items that evolved this summer to look out for in the shop will be:

Pinch Jugs
Pouring Bowls
Olive Dishes
Fondue Sets
Newly designed Goblets
Shabby Chic Hanging Hearts


So roll on Christmas but don’t sing ‘Let it Snow’ just yet!!

'Peggs' Progress

One of This Years Studio Pieces

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog about ‘design inspiration’ and my peg design.

A few weeks later, during a conversation with my brother Alan over a glass of wine, I decided to start making a yearly piece, which took time and passion to make.  So often during this time of year I’m mowed down with the summer fairs and festivals, trying to generate stock for the stall etc that I get caught up in the fast moving production flow and before I know it September is knocking on the door and the Christmas fairs start looming. 

So, June was going to be my time, when the first rush of production is underway and steadily ongoing, for me to create this ‘Gallery’ piece.  And so it began. 

I’m coiling (by hand not by extruder) simply because it makes me slow down, I listen to the birds in the garden, coiling away in, my workshop letting my mind wander, it’s almost like meditation.

So many people comment to me at fairs how relaxing and theraputic it must be to be a potter!!! Not true!! When it’s a bad throwing day, it just doesn’t work and your pile of weighed clay balls turns into a pile of wet clay now needing re-cycling (which in itself takes time) If I’m sensible on these days I quit the wheel and concentrate on something different, but that isn’t always great, as I might be working on an order which needs compleating and it all becomes very frustrating, then the kiln might have a mind of it’s own as well!!  Then you start to rush things and make mistakes or take chances with the glaze that goes wrong……..ARGH……pause….breath….

So….it’s not always theraputic!! But I love it!!!

Anyway…Peggs, as this years creation has now been named, is coming on really well, its still in the early stages, coiling began earlier in the week (after a huge calamity in the production line regarding a mix up of clay from my supplier..another story) and is now at the neck point.  All being well, I might find a bit of time later today to finish the neck.

The great thing about making something like this, is that I do not need any motivation at all about getting down to the workshop (to be honest, I never really do, except in the snow!!) or should I say, I need no excuse!!  If it’s a choice between hoovering and coiling…I’m off to the workshop! So my house is a mess, we keep losing things in the chaos of our home… but Peggs is looking lovely!!!

Windy Woodfest

Woodfest Wales 2011

This event is now over for another year, and as last years event was remembered for the scorching hot weather, this year will be remembered for the 60mph winds that hit us on Friday night, blew many stands away along with porta loos!! 

In fact the wind remained a factor to consider, especially when selling pottery!!, throughout the weekend and only subsided on Monday, when it rained instead!  BUT the rain was a blessing for us, pottery doesn't mind the rain, it just doesn't hold up well when blown from the stand!

We however had, as usual, an excellent time!  I know we are there to work, but it just doesn't feel like work when you are having such a great time, chatting to happy people, enjoying their day, all out to have a good time. 

As usual the event was very well organised, albeit that the shower generator didn't get put on on Sunday morning and we had cold showers, well I didn't...for me it was a bucket of warm water, in a warm tent!  I washed my hair outside which was novel in the wind!!  True camping! Our tent was behind our stall, which made it so much easier to pop in and out of when we had a few minutes to eat and drink coffee!!

Lots of you wanted to make pots with us and have very kindly given us permission to take photos to decorate our next festival stall with, showing happy, smiling faces, with eyes looking downwards keeping a deep concentration on where the clay was flying!

Do you know, parents out there, that your child making a pot will literally give you 10 minutes of peace and quiet?  Something happens to their tongues when their hands touch clay, it stops!!

Anyway, onwards and upwards, the next event is in the Osprey project in Tremadoc.

Hope to see you there!!!



Fairs & Festivals

Beware of the CRAFT FAIR headings!!

One of the biggest bug bares of craft workers is when a craft fair is advertised promoting the hand made goods inside when the reality is that half of the stalls 'buy in' there items from overseas. 

You tend to find these fairs listed as 'craft & gift fairs' which is fine as long as the visitor understands that this means that the items for sale may not always be individually handcrafted by the stall holder and therefore may not be regarded as locally made. 

Until I started selling pottery at craft fairs I always assumed that the things I found in such fairs were hand made locally.  Of course I now realize that this is not always the case, and generally the price tag will indicate this!

Having goods bought in from overseas not only has a detrimental effect on the prices of the 'real' handmade articles but is also continuing to condone the slave labour in other countries never mind what may well be child labour!

In my experience many craft workers are very aware of what would be regarded as a 'reasonable price' for their goods and try to remain in-keeping with what customers would be prepared to spend.  After all we want to sell our craft and not have the same things hanging around our stalls indefinitely!

Ok, I will now step down from my 'hand made' orange box!! But just one more tale!

I was approached a few years ago at a fair and asked if I sold any of my pottery at wholesale prices.  I said I did but as I try to keep my prices as low as possible, with very little 'mark up' the prices would not be reduced that much.  The enquirer explained that they ran a fair trade policy in their shop and felt that although they would love to stock my mugs unless I could reduce the price to what would have been less than I could make them for they would not be able to justify their 300% mark up!!!
Needless to say we didn't do any business!  I appreciate that shops have high overheads and have to apply good sized percentages but if you deal in fair trade goods, surely you are being insulting asking a craftworker to tear out their own pocket linings to line yours with??




Fresh Kitchen Ideas

Chocolate heaven!!

Having spent quite a few evenings recently entertaining dinner party friends, needless to say I have been rumaging through cookery magazines for some inspirational meal ideas! Consequently I have been inspired by photo's of ceramics layden with delicious goodies and decided to put my thinking hat on and come up with some new 'functional pottery' ideas.

I must be going through a 'sweet' phase, unusual for me as I normally focus on savoury meals and forget the puddings!  But chocolate has come between me and the never ending diet and brought to mind the craze of the 80's of fondue dipping parties! I think nowdays the chocolate fountain has taken over and now you are able to buy these quite cheaply, it seems every car boot table has a discarded present still in it's box!  So I got to thinking about the lazy summer evenings out on the terrace, balcony or patio, BBQ cooling in the late sunshine, tea lights being lit to deter the midges, how about a tea light fuelled chocolate fondue?  Not sure the tea light will be hot enough to keep the chocolate liquid but it will be my utmost PLEASURE to test run this idea!!Cool

Going along with our filigree cut out design it will no doubt be along the lines of one of our deep oil burners, but compleate with a large dish to enable fruit and mashmellows to be served around the warming pot!

Emmm... maybe a supersized tea light would be required...ooh better get on the net and check out the availibility of such tea lights for the likes of those of us who live in the back end of the mountains!!

Design Inspiration!

A Trip Back

I was sorting out my pottery books to lend to a friend and I came across the first book I bought published in 1987 it's called Creative Pottery by Peter Cosentino. This is an excellent book, really good photo's and a simplistic way of explaining the intricacies of making pottery.  Ok, so nowadays some of the designs are a bit dated, but at the end of the day, the design is up to the individual to decide on.  With the decision made recently to improve my 2D artwork I read through his design projects list and opted for "Explore the shape patterns apparent in a pile of clothes pegs".  So I set about my task with enthusiasm!  Half an hour later looking at my dismal attempt I turned the page and started again, once again I turned the page a little later, on this third attempt I started to really look at what I was seeing, forgetting about portraying a pile of pegs which I was doing very badly and doing what I was told to do "explore the shape patterns!" how easily we only see what is in front of us and not the full picture, woods for the trees and all that!  So, I started to see the 'gaps' not the pegs and the patterns fell out!  I have now come up with quite an interesting almost 'alien' pattern that I cannot wait to use on something this year!!

This was such a good excercise for me as I often skip the designing stage in my fever to get onto making the pottery, and yet I constantly tell my students to plan ahead so they have a picture in their minds of the compleated piece and go with the flow during the process. 


I can't do it!!

Feeling incredibly frustrated at being so hopeless at taking a photo.  I'm trying to take photographs of my pottery to put into the shop on this site and find that the photo's really do not do the pots themselves any justice!!

Ive played around with my camera, zoom, flash, etc it's all so irritating. 

Guess i'm going to have to invest in something that I can just point and press and the camera does it all for there such a camera for a pathetic photographer like me???

Oh well at least the shop isn't up and running at the moment so I have time to practice a bit, as long as the descriptions are there, the photo can follow once we start selling. the clay someone!!!!

Woodfest Wales

Dates & Info

Our application has now been sent off to have a stand at this event this year.  We haven't had a stall here for two-three years!!

This year for the first time at Woodfest, we will be taking our potters wheel with us for visitors to have a go at making their own pot.  We gurentee that you take home a pot in a box!!

I also plan to make a few studio pieces for this festival.

This festival is really good fun for all the family, lots to do and see.  Checkout the Woodfest Wales website for more details.  The dates are 28th-30th May.

The great thing is you don't have to visit just for one day, camping is availible so it's a great time to have a weekend away!!

I'm so excited about this festival, we love going here.  In the past it's been me  on the stall and Amlyn pushing our little boy in his pram around all day!!  But now it will be both of us on the stall hopefully creating a fun place for families to have a laugh and be creative!

Roll on May!!

Another Frosty Day!

Whats happening?

Mid February, the land is resting with just a few hints of spring on the way.  This is also the case for this chilly potter!!  My workshop in the garden is frozen solid, it's resting!!  But I potter on (excuse the pun!) booking fairs, festivals and summer events, thinking up new ideas, and trying to improve my drawing skills so that I have a better interpretation of what is in my head on paper!! All good signs that spring is on the way!!!