I have really enjoyed sharing my story with you, therefore I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A session for a future blog, so last month I asked for your input. Several questions have been asked so I have randomly picked five to answer in this blog, I will return to the rest in future blogs, so here goes!
Q What is your favourite type of clay medium?
A Oh this is a tough one. I have to say I do like porcelain for its plasticity, but it can be very temperamental to work with. Although I do like to glaze my pieces I think porcelain lends itself nicely to being left unglazed so that we can admire the purity and transparency of the clay. It’s a difficult one for me as I can get very frustrated with porcelain as it dries quickly when worked and it doesn’t help that I have warm hands which speeds up that drying process! I am currently trying a variety of sample clays to see which types and brands I prefer. Recently I have tried a textured black clay which I have yet to fire or glaze so looking forward to seeing results, it may become my new favourite.
Q Where does your inspiration come from?
A I am inspired by many things. The landscape close to where I live is an abundance of colours, shapes and textures to inspire me. I quite often use found objects like shells, twigs, feathers, leaves, pebbles from the beach or knarly rocks to create texture in my pieces. Texture fascinates me, its one of the things I like about using clay, it’s a very hands on experience, the slightest move or pressure with your fingers can create a totally different mood to your piece; clay is very responsive. When you wander into the Lake District there are so many things to see in one view, something to keep you interested, using many of your senses and that’s what I want to achieve with my work. With ceramics you can reach out and touch it. It would be very frowned upon if I was to reach out and touch an oil painting for example, so I think ceramics stimulates more of our senses both as a maker and as the viewer.
Q Pricing – it is the hardest thing for me to price, not so much functional work but one of a kind sculptures?
A Pricing can be a difficult subject, but it is vital to remember that our time is just as valuable as everyone else’s. When I price my work, I cover all my costs, including materials and overheads but it is important to recognise the time spent on making the item too, an area that can be unacknowledged. I have learnt not to undervalue my work, if you are running a business then run it as a business not a charity. I have found people to be fair and reasonable and expect to pay a little more for a unique handcrafted piece than a mass-produced item. To get the balance right I try to keep my finger on the ceramic pulse, so if adding up my costs I think people will not pay that amount then I review if I can simplify or quicken up my processes, make less intricate pieces, look to buy materials in greater bulk and look at ways to reduce overheads allowing me to reduce the price of the item but not its value.
Q It must have been a big leap from being employed to self-employed. What was the main thing that helped you decide to go for it?
A I found myself at a crossroads contemplating what I wanted out of my life and in the position of being able to take advantage of other opportunities open to me. Moving to self-employment was something new and exciting. I am now much happier, have greater control of my work life and have a lot more time for my private life. The big bonus is that my health has improved and I have time to pursue what I want to do; what I enjoy. At present I am project managing a renovation project so my time is split between my business and the building project. I have put together a business plan for the next 5 - 10 years to keep me on the right path. I have received a lot of help from the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and Business Growth Hub who mentor and help people move from employment to self-employment. Without their help it would have been a more difficult transition. What keeps me going is the end point, the prize at the end. Moving into my new home with my little ceramic studio, visualising walking down the stairs in the morning to mess about with mud in my own little sanctuary. No office politics, no commuting, no boss, no meetings, no bureaucracy. Still the long hours thou!! Although self-employment has many advantages I don't think it is for everyone and can be very difficult at times. You definitely need to be passionate about what you are doing so that you are able to carry on when things are not going well. It helps if you are persistent and determined and that you are the type of person who gets things done.
Q What are you currently working on?
A Following my visit to Potfest In The Park this summer I am looking to experiment with a new technique using volcanic glazes. I spoke to a few potters asking for advice on how they create this unusual finish. Using silicon carbide or barium sulphate, these ingredients create a bubbling effect under the glaze as the gas is released in the kiln, reminiscent to froth. As you can imagine it leaves a lovely textured finish to the piece. I understand it is difficult to recreate so I am looking forward to the challenge and the endless test tiles I need to create. I can see myself turning into this mad professor in a chemistry lab developing different recipes for success. Wish me luck!
Well that has been fun, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and to those of you who have taken the trouble to ask questions, thank you for doing so, it means a lot. I look forward to doing another Q&A very soon.