I first discovered my love of ceramics whilst a teenager at school in London. Drawing came a few years later, when I enrolled at life drawing classes at The Ruskin School of Art, while studying for a degree in Experimental Psychology at St John’s College, Oxford. Having previously felt that I was more of a maker than an ‘ artist’, a 3- D person creatively, and somewhat fearful of drawing, the Ruskin introduced me to the joy and liberation of drawing from life using charcoal.
After two years working as an Academic Researcher in child psychology, I left Oxford and returned to London, where I worked in Advertising as a strategist. However the ‘need’ to make was overwhelming and, after a few years, I left my job to train in ceramics, firstly at Camden School of Art where I was lucky enough to be taught by the inspirational Sudanese Ceramicist Mo Abdallah and then at Harrow School of Art where I embarked on a Ceramics degree.
After Harrow I continued to made pots in Kentish Town with a wonderful and supportive community of potters. It was there that I learned the Naked Raku technique which continues to both infuriate me and excite me in equal parts.
Since 2017 I have been a member of the Rochester Square Community Studio where I continue my exploration of Raku and other techniques.
My earlier interest in Life Drawings was rekindled in more recent years at life classes at Hampstead School of Art and The Mary Ward centre. In particular my introduction to earth-coloured, soft chalk pastels and more recently to ink by my inspirational teacher Caroline Deane has opened up a whole new world to me beyond that of the black ,white and greys of using charcoal alone.
After years of struggling with seeing myself as an artist, when also a scientific and logical thinker , I have come to understand that this division is artificial and misguided, and starts with unhelpful and restrictive “labelling” at school. I firmly believe that learning to make and create is as important as learning to read and write and that many people are both artistic and scientific, indeed flourish by being so.
In my drawings, my principal aims are to portray the light, tonal differences and movement of a pose. Consequently, I favour shorter poses in which the model can hold more difficult and dynamic positions and where the time to capture the essence of the pose is deliberately limited. This creates pressure but I enjoy the challenge of not having time to think, but just to ‘ feel ‘ and express what is in front of me. I am working on trying to also capture this immediacy in longer poses. The deadline of the short pose makes the adrenaline pump and the race against time is quite thrilling.
When it comes to ceramics, my obsession has become form and finish. The way the pot feels is as important to me as the way it looks. Similarly, the aesthetics of what sort of neck, rim or opening the vessel should have, has always fascinated me. What is it that makes one form perfect and another slightly wrong?
I like the contrast of the classic, restrained, controlled form of my pots with the wild, untamed surface decoration, which is largely uncontrollable: the end result is up to the alchemy of the kiln. You have no idea what is going to come out of “the bin” after cooling (see detailed process below) and that creates huge excitement and inevitably a lot of disappointment as well.
Similarly with my drawings there is the duality of the freely applied tonal aspect of the drawings for which I usually use pastels and ink and the more controlled accurate line. These very different applications have to complement rather than repeat each other for a drawing to be successful.
About Naked Raku
After the pot is thrown and turned, I apply up to eight layers of very fine liquid clay (“terra sigillata”) to the surface of the pot. Each layer is left to dry and is burnished. The pot is then fired in a kiln for the first time (biscuit fired). Post firing a layer of “resist slip“ is then applied to the pot .The function of this layer is to stop the glaze that will subsequently be applied to the pot from adhering to the pot's surface, thus allowing it to be removed post second firing.
This second firing is then carried out, and when the kiln reaches around 1000 degrees the kiln door is opened and the pot taken out with tongs. The pot is placed in a metal bin and sawdust is thrown on top of it. The sawdust penetrates the glaze where it crazes and this creates the random black markings that characterise a raku firing.
The difference between a raku firing and a “naked” raku firing is that in the case of the latter ,once cooled, the glaze is removed and one is hopefully left with the smooth burnished matt layer below. As many pots fail as succeed but for each firing there is a renewed sense of anticipation and excitement.
Raku glazes with their characteristic crazing are fired at low temperature ( 1000 degrees ) as opposed to the normal stoneware firing temperature of 1260 degrees. Consequently, raku pots are porous and do not make good functional vessels. They exist just to be admired !