Friday, 31 October 2008

New Toys! (and some waffle as usual!)

Here are my new toys! Firstly, the battery operated eraser, which I bought for myself last week.

I tried it out today and it worked really well! With only a few minutes practice I was able to erase a very thin line with it. I expect on Tuesday I will get to use it "for real" at my drawing and painting class, and then I'll have a better idea of how useful a tool it is or isn't. I thought it was quite inexpensive too - £1.99 (GBP) including 6 eraser tips from my local stationary and crafts shop.

And today Postman Pat brought me these!

How exciting! I shopped around a little for these as they were really expensive from our local shop, and I found a great price on a website called Great Art, whom I have bought from before. For only £20.50 I got 5 A4 pieces of lino and my cutting tools, and that price includes the P&P as well! My order came in less than a week, which I thought was pretty good considering (I think) it came from Germany. It took nearly as long for our local shop to get the things in for me to view, and it was only coming from the next town!

I'm hoping to have a little go this weekend, although I'm not sure when I will get to use the linocuts on clay - I'm hoping to be throwing at Monday's class, and I still have the base of my castle to make, not to mention the test tiles for the glazes we have at class. "Shouldn't your tutor make the test tiles?" I hear you ask. Well, maybe, but it's good practice for me and I kind of want to do it myself so that I can test as many colour combinations as I want. I know it will take up some class time, but this is going to be more than a "Monday evening hobby" for me, so I think it is time well spent. Some people just use the class to get out of the house for a while, try something new, and maybe make a few things for their home, and they're not really interested in the technical side of things. They're happy to just be told "dip it in this bucket if you want green" but that's not enough for me. I want need to know everything there is to know. Eventually I want to be able to spread my wings and work independently without the need of guidance from a tutor. Eventually I want my own kiln, my own wheel, my own glazes, my own studio. This is who I am now. Painting and drawing is a lovely hobby, but clay is who I am.

I will be eternally grateful to my dear friend Philippa for inspiring me and helping me remember that fact. Philippa, however excited I get about this journey, I never forget that it is all because of you. Thank you.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What a Mug!

Some people seem very confused by the whole 'ceramics' thing. I find myself having to explain to people: "You know, things made with clay". One evening someone asked me "What's the point of that then?" I hesitated before I answered: "Umm... well... you make things".

My Mum was absolutely hilarious tonight. She was bemoaning the loss of her favourite mug - the one that holds nearly a whole pint. "Don't worry Mum, I'll make you a new one" I said. "But will I be able to use it?" she asked. "Of course you will, what do you mean?" My sister started laughing: "Mum thinks you're just going to make it out of clay and give it to her like that!"

Hmm, cup of slip anyone? I can't help wondering if she thought it would be something like what we would have made when we were children - y'know, a coil built mug without the coils smoothed together, unfired and obviously unglazed. I like to think my skills have progressed since then!

"No, it will be a proper mug! You can have it any colour you want Mum"
"Can I have a purple one?"
"Except a purple one"
"Oh. Can I have a pink one?"
"And not a pink one. You can have any colour you want as long as it's one of the six colours we have at class" :)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Drawing and Painting - Class Five, and Confessions of an Addict

So... I'm sorry to say that I have nothing to show you from this week's class either! I did manage to get there this week, but I was so rushed that I couldn't even think about getting my pencils and paint together before I left. So why did I go? Well actually the tutor is none other than our lovely Anita, and I'm her transport! I decided to take my book along for a read, and during the journey I explained to Anita that I was really losing interest in drawing and painting now that I've started ceramics, but once I got there I actually wished I had brought my pencils and paint after all.

We have a week off from classes now, but when we return I plan to be a good student :) I must say though that I do find it a bit of a struggle to switch gears mentally from doing ceramics on a Monday night and then drawing and painting on a Tuesday, especially as I'm finding the ceramics course so exciting. There is so much to learn and I find it impossible to sleep on Monday nights after being to class earlier that evening, so come Tuesday I'm exhausted! Plus I just seem to find it so hard to stop thinking about clay when I'm supposed to be thinking about drawing! I want to experiment with so many techniques, my brain can hardly keep it all in! I've had to ban myself from looking at Peter Holland's website until I've mastered some other techniques because my brain is just becoming too overloaded with information! I really wish I could go to the ceramics class more often every day because I'm learning techniques faster than I can try them out.

I have ordered myself some lino and some tools to try using lino-cuts with clay in the way that Cynthia does (I hope you don't mind Cynthia). I don't plan on trying anything near as elaborate as what Cynthia produces, but I thought I would try a simple outline of a character or something. I don't expect to get it right first time, but we have to try if we want to learn.

I've also asked my tutor if I can make some test tiles for the glazes - I'm not happy with just dipping my pieces in a bucket of glaze and hoping for the best, I want to know exactly how each one will look! I've been looking into over-glaze pens on the internet, but they're not food safe. The under-glaze pens are ok if the piece is glazed afterwards, but we don't have a clear glaze in the class. Of course I could just stick to lino-cuts and sgraffito instead of getting carried away with glazes as well...

I emailed my tutor about adding feet to the castle by the way, but unfortunately it's too late - I didn't wrap the piece as I thought it was finished, and it was locked in a cupboard with the kilns on over night. Hubby came up with a fantastic idea though - he suggested that I make a little stand for it, so I shall do that when I return to class.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Ceramics - Class Four

After tonight's class I am exhausted! This is the first time I have really done anything since coming down with my heavy cold last week. Now hubby has it and he's completely wiped out with it too.

Unfortunately I didn't get to use the wheel tonight. The tutor decided to teach glazing instead as many students already had several fired pieces and the cupboard was getting rather overcrowded with pieces!

I got to class nearly an hour early. The tutor said previously that he is there very early to set up and that if we wanted to go in early we could, so I did! I'm glad I did because we only have two hours and by the time we have faffed around getting clay and tools out and then cleaning up at the end of class, there doesn't seem to be much time to actually work with the clay. Getting there an hour early probably meant I had around two full hours of clay time. I didn't do any glazing as only my little head from the first week had been fired - my pot from the second week was only finished last week, and my castle from the third week...

...well, I decided to scrap my castle from the third week and start again. I think I took the tube out too soon and I couldn't apply pressure to the surface to decorate it without it threatening to cave in. This time I kept the tube in until I had nearly finished it. And this is the finished result...

I decided to keep the texture of the hessian that I had rolled the clay out on to. Where the castle had "crumbled away" I also added some cracks. The other lines are supposed to be vines.

I cut some of the windows out and left some of them filled in. The opening that you see at the back is to slip in a tee light so that the whole castle lights up and shines through the cut out windows.

Some of the windows are wonky, but hey, it's a crumbling castle.

Now that I'm home I realise I forgot one very important thing - to put feet underneath it. I know, generally speaking castles don't have feet but if I put a tee light in this the bottom will get too hot for most surfaces. I shall have to email the tutor and ask if he can add some feet for me tomorrow because it will be too dry by the time I go back to class.

And now it is two whole weeks before my next ceramics class. How will I survive?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Oh My, Oh My, Oh My!

I can hardly sit still to write this post! I'm having a bit of a visual stimulation rush! Forget the sugar rush, this is something else!

I greatly believe that visualisation can improve performance. Like a kind of "visual practice" rather than actual practice (I used to practice driving in my head and I passed first time). Bearing this in mind and the fact that I have my first lesson on the potter's wheel on Monday, I decided to prepare myself mentally by looking up some basic tutorials on Youtube. It's both interesting and comforting to see how each potter uses a slightly different technique depending on what feels comfortable for him or her. Of course, I can't fully prepare myself for Monday because I have no idea what sort of pressure I will have to apply to stop that lump of clay from flying outwards! Only experience will tell me that!

After watching the following Youtube clip of Anne Webb, you could be forgiven for thinking that clay is as lightweight as marshmallow and that throwing a pot is as easy as making a cup of tea! She makes it look so easy!

So I'm glad I looked up the tutorials because it gives me a better idea of what sort of challenge to expect. Great choice of music by the way Anne!

And then today I received a comment on my last post by Peter Holland. "Who's he?" I hear you cry. I know, I said the same thing, and then I looked up his website. He only designs figurines for the likes of Royal Doulton, Royal Worcester, and Coalport that's all!! How on earth did he come across a beginner like me?!

Well, it was looking at his website that has made my mind go into stimulation overdrive! Tutorials, tutorials - I'm in heaven! It's all free, and better still, he makes you believe you can do it, with little more than the right mindset and determination. "Notice I didn't say anything about fabulous artistic ability or 'formal' training" he says.

Ok, deep breaths Linda, you're hyperventilating. I need to remind myself that I still have a throwing lesson coming up on Monday and I need to prepare my mind for that without becoming distracted. So much to learn, so few hours in a day...

Drawing and Painting - Class Four

Well, I have nothing to show you from Class Four of my Drawing and Painting class because unfortunately I wasn't well enough to go. I've had a really heavy cold this week that started on Monday evening after my ceramics class. I'm glad it started after my ceramics class and not before because that is one class I am not willing to miss! And I hope I feel better by Monday again!

Monday will be my first time on the potters wheel! I can't wait! Everyone has said how difficult it is at first and that it takes a while to get the hang of it - and I shall probably only have an hour because 3 wheels have to be shared between a whole class - but I don't care, I just can't wait to have that opportunity. There will be no "fail", only "experience". I've wanted to try pottery for as long as I can remember - certainly from when I started clay sculpting in school, but the school didn't have a potters wheel. In fact, I'm not sure which will be the most fulfilling - the trying or the accomplishing. I know it must be a wonderful feeling to produce your first pot on a potters wheel, but for anyone who loves clay surely the process is just as wonderful? That time spent with the soft, cold, wet clay between your fingers and the wonderful earthy smell as you work?

I wish every day was a Monday!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Ceramics - Class Three, and Heartbreaking Discovery

This was the sight that greeted me as I arrived for my ceramics class this evening:

My worst nightmare had come true. I dreamt that I took this piece out of the kiln and it crumbled away in my hands. I wouldn't be so disappointed if it wasn't for the fact that this was meant to be a gift. Apparently it was due to the way I had constructed it, building up the face in layers. I had made a face in relief form previously and it had survived the kiln, but that was over 20 years ago and for the life of me I can't remember how I made it. I know it wasn't by using a mould though, which is what the tutor suggested I should have done.

All is not lost though. Hopefully this piece can be rescued. I asked whether the top part can be "glued" on with glaze, and the tutor thought that might be a possibility. If the loose piece can be stuck on I personally think that any remaining visible crack will only enhance the meaning of the piece, which is personal to the person it is intended for. On another positive note, I love the colour that it has come out as.

Going back to my coil pot from last week, this evening I painted it with brown slip and tried sgraffito for the first time!

And after spending so long last week trying to smooth out the inside, I thought it would be a shame not to decorate the inside too!

I was surprised at the demonstration that the tutor did for the slab built pot - I thought we would be making square pots in the same way that Cynthia has shown in the past, but we were sticking to round pots. We made these by wrapping the rolled out clay around a paper covered tube. I decided to make mine into a crumbling old castle.

I thought maybe making something that is supposed to be old and falling apart would help me to steer away from trying to make everything perfect. There's not much to see yet, but hopefully if I get to class early next week I will have time to finish it off before we start...

...throwing!! I can't wait 'til next week!

In the drawing and painting class tomorrow we start drawing in colour!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Ceramics - Class Two, and Drawing and Painting - Class Three

Monday was my second clay class. There were less people this week, and the atmosphere was much more relaxed. That's not to say that it was more relaxed because there were less people, but it just was. The tutor seemed more friendly this time and we even had a bit of a laugh with him, pulling his leg about being so grumpy the week before and scaring all the students away!

Because I have used clay before, I expected too much of myself too soon last week and put myself under unnecessary pressure. I thought the course would just be a way of gaining access to a working area and a kiln. The tutor is flexible and offers tutorials to those who need it, but allows those who are confident enough to do their own thing. I have now decided that I will follow the 10 week course to give myself a foundation, and then move on to developing my own ideas when I re-enrol. This week we were making coil built pots. Amazingly, even with my prior experience with clay, I have never made a coil pot before!

I was a little obsessed with getting the surface as smooth as possible, which is probably why this one simple pot took me nearly a whole lesson, when the girl next to me made two!

I tried to smooth the inside as much as I could as well.

And then when I looked at my precious little pot from a distance I noticed how wonky it was! I have to keep reminding myself that it's my first pot ever. (Perfectionism is only a good thing if you can produce items which are perfect!)

Next week we will be slab building, and hopefully I will also have the time to decorate this pot with sgraffito! I can't wait! And the excitement kept me awake all night!

Tuesday was my third drawing class. This week we had to draw a glass of water but I was so tired from the lack of sleep the night before that I just couldn't concentrate. It took me half the lesson just to draw the outline! After that I decided to just go for it and tried to draw quickly to produce something more "sketchy". As you can see, I can't really do "sketchy", but it is a style I admire.

The tutor pointed out that the highlights on the water should have been more curved. I was using a pencil eraser to add some of the highlights, but I found it didn't really get the paper white enough. Also, because of the pressure that needs to be applied, I found there was a loss of control over which areas were erased. Hopefully I'll learn to use it more effectively in time, or I might invest in a battery operated eraser which spins very fast and works better apparently!

Mostly I am enjoying the journey I am on and I look forward to developing my skills, but sometimes, like tonight, I can't help dwelling on the 20 years that I have wasted, especially when it comes to ceramics. Twenty years is more than half of my life. Imagine how experienced I would be now if I didn't give up. But then, did I have a choice? When I think about it, I wouldn't have been able to go to college even if I had been accepted. I had already left home and would have had no way to support myself financially. I wish I had taken evening classes though. I really really wish I had taken evening classes.

On a more positive note, the woman in the background of the top photo is a very frail elderly woman! Isn't that fantastic? It just shows that we are never too old and it is never too late to learn anything. I need to remember that.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Drawing and Painting - Class Two, and other news

As promised (though later than expected) here is the drawing from my second drawing class, which was last Tuesday.

I really didn't want to draw that apple! So I left it 'til last and then unfortunately (ahem) I ran out of time. There was another bottle on the left which I had only drawn the outline of but decided to erase in an attempt to balance the composition as it was large and went off the side of the page.

We were supposed to either draw in charcoal or paint in black and white, but being the rebellious independent person that I am I decided to draw this with my 6B sketch stick! Oh, I think the tutor said that we were supposed to use A3 paper as well, but mine is A4! I'm not deliberately naughty, honest! But we have no easels and I only have little arms so if I had A3 paper I would never be able to stretch across the table to reach the top! There wouldn't be enough room either - I was virtually sitting on the lap of the lad next to me as it was!

Oh yes, about that. Sitting next to young men makes it much easier to concentrate because they don't talk!

In other news...
Anita and I took down our exhibition on Friday. We were able to let it run for a little longer than the two weeks, but the Arts Centre now has another exhibition starting on Monday.

I think we only received one comment each in our little comments books! But we were told that many people made verbal comments. The comment I received was:

Really liked "Leaf" and "Blue". Would enhance any wall. Unfortunately credit crunch prohibits purchase.
And the secretary at the box office expressed the same view. Oh well. They look pretty good on my own walls.

Tomorrow night is Ceramics Class number Two!