Renewing my relationship with clay.
What is Agateware?
Agateware is pottery that is made from a prepared mixture of coloured clays and resembles the variegated appearance of agate stone. Different techniques can be used with the coloured clays to create coloured patterns. Patterns can be linear, circular and marbled. Random or intricately structured.
My agateware is handbuilt and tactile. It has its own rugged personality and should not be compared with the smooth, thin and regular finish of wheel work.
My life with clay!
Many years ago when a very young student at a 6th form college I had my first introduction to clay. What a momentous moment it was when I discovered I liked getting my hands dirty! It was but a fleeting relationship, but one which I was to renew many years later when I had 4 children and was much, much older.
My first pot made in 1970. (Ref no: 85.01))
Early in 1980 I was awarded a MSC grant to attend Doncaster Art College to study ceramics which led me to set up my own studio. The twists and turns of fate resulted in not being able to continue so my pottery adventure was put on hold for the next 30 years.
Now that I have retired I have been able to return to my love of pottery and as they say ‘Once you learn to ride a bike….’ So I guess I am an old new potter!
Well times have certainly changed since when I first started working with clay. The world has certainly become a smaller place and communication achieved through a click of the button.
In 2015 I began creating my studio – a safe place where I could experiment with different styles and techniques and I have lost my heart to agate.
I use 3 colours of clay – red, white and black and I think the red terracotta resonates with me as it reminds me of my childhood spent in North Africa. The vibrant red of the soil which turns to near black when wet. The white heat of the sun that is life giving but also can be destructive. To my work I have added flashes of blue and green to signify water and the sky.
Light and Shade. (Ref no: 17.83)
Nature also plays a big part in influencing and inspiring my agate patterns. Striated rocks, variegated leaves, wood grain, the swirling sea and the changing sky with its cloud structures and colours are the main influences at work. I try to capture the linear lines and swirls as best I can and clay is a very sympathetic medium.
Though I am a well organised and a structured person my agate patterns do have an element of randomness and surprise. I like the designs to be free flowing, like nature, and though I have a clear idea of my design I am never quite sure what is going to be exposed when I scrape my pot to reveal what lies beneath. It could be the circles of wood grain; the strata’s of ancient rock or the layers of cloud formation before a storm. This is my wild side coming out.
The shapes of my pots are also influenced by my African experience – the full bellied shape is reminiscent of water containers. But the biggest influence has to be nature. I love collecting stones on the beach and my favourite shapes, at the moment, are rounded pebbles – eroded to smoothness over the years, the influence of earth and sand. Their shapes have been transferred to my pots which I call, not surprisingly – ‘Pebble Pots’.
A Pebble Pot – ‘Memories of the Sea’. (16.13)
My work can be split between decorative and functional agateware.
I do not glaze all of my work. I only glaze if it enhances the colours or there is a need for glazing for functional purposes (e.g. a fruit bowl). I like the different unglazed agate clay colours to harmonise together and ‘do the talking’. The feel of an unglazed pot can be a very tactile and earthy experience.
2017 has seen me dipping my toe into exhibiting and selling my agate work. I was delighted to sell work at Holmefirth Art Week in July. I also entered the NPA (Northern Potters Association) competition and came second in the amateur functional category.
Agate bowl ‘Zebra’ – NPA competition. (Ref no: 17.52)
2018 is a year where I am focusing on promoting myself and I was delighted when 2 articles about my work were published in ClayCraft (issues 13 and 21). A big boost to my confidence.
I was also selected to have 3 of my pots exhibited at the Cooper Gallery to celebrate the last 100 years of the achievements of women. (See section entitled ‘ Commissioned Work’ for more detail).
It was also a time when I began to think ‘outside the box’ and my work began to take on a more organic and abstract feel. Nature still paid a big part and my love for the sea began to be replicated in my work. I was entering my ‘Wave’ period.
Abstract form entitled ‘Surfing’. (Ref no: 18.101)
2019 has been a year for returning to my roots and as many people have noted the influence of the African influence I decided to explore and ‘let free’ my inner spirit and this is reflected in my ‘Pebble Vases’. The white agate inlay heightens the shape of the pot.
‘Spirals’ (Ref no: 19.25)
This year has also seem my work being influenced by Dorothy Feibleman – an expert in Nerikomi (a Japanese version of agate). Her clean lines and patterns, through the use of an extruder, will be my goal and one I am looking forward to mastering.
A strange year for us all with the Coronavirus shutting down our social lives. Before our lives changed I was fortunate to be accepted for 3 mayor Ceramic Festivals: ‘Earth & Fire’ International Ceramic Fair’; Hepworth Wakefield Contemporary Ceramic Fair and Sheffield Ceramic Festival, but all 3 festivals have been cancelled or postponed. C’est la vie!
I was very fortunate to have my studio just across the yard so I have spent my ‘lockdown’ experimenting with refining my skills. An interesting and oftentimes frustrating experience with lots of high and lows! Making Agate/Nerikomi patterns is not a straight forward process as so many variables come into play, such as different shrinking rates of the coloured clays so causing separation of the clay bodies; smearing of the patterns because the clay is still a little bit too moist or has been overwedges! So a lot of gritting of teeth but eager/nervous anticipation when the kiln door opens! But it has been fun creating different patterns such as the Nerikomi patterned plate below.
‘Black and White’ (Ref no: 19.137)
My pottery journey continues and it seems now that my market stall is now on- line and who know if the ceramic fairs and festivals will return. I do hope so.
Life goes on and my pottery studio has become my retreat where I experiment with different shapes that can still compliment the agate patterns. I have moved away from curves and embraced the angular and what fun it has been. I am focusing more and more on spontaneous agate patterns that counterpoint the sharpness of the form. Adding a spiral neck is another playful nod to that process.
‘Flowing’ (Ref no: 20.110)
One piece of good luck this year was that one of my pots was featured, along with other potters, in the ‘House and Garden’ Magazine. February 2021. This brought in a fair amount of interest and the sale of pots which was very rewarding.
‘Vortices’ Ref no: 21.110
There are not enough words to thank my partner, Bill, who is there with me every step of the way and who works tirelessly in helping me to develop and grow. His help with developing my website has been nothing short of heroic Thank you Bill.