Subtle Changes

11 March, 2016

Little iron jugs, Elaine Bolt

My firings use a gas kiln, in reduction, and such firings can always be a little unpredictable. I’ve become used to the subtle changes that occur from firing to firing and from shelf to shelf depending on the glaze mix, the temperature differences, the amount of reduction, the weather and even the whims of the kiln goddess. My latest firings have brought this to my attention a little more than usual with a set of unexpected outcomes.

My pale green glaze (seen below left), often clear with very little crackle is now a crackle glaze that appears softer and more muted this time (below right). I like it but it’s different. To achieve this finish I applied the glaze a little more thickly and fired it a little lower down in the kiln. Only two seconds longer in the glaze and 10 degrees of temperature difference appears to be all that was needed produce this slightly altered surface.

With some of my pieces I dip the rim in an iron rich glaze underneath a frosty white glaze. The two jug rims above have had the same glazes applied, the one on left from a previous firing. This time the pieces had a couple of seconds longer dip in the iron glaze tub, which is what, I think, changed the lichen green rim (left) to a coffee brown with frosting (right). Again, I love the result, but it’s just so different. The frosty white glaze, by the way, turns a shiny celadon if I move it just one shelf up. So I have to consider the effects of positioning in the kiln as well as the thickness of the glaze.

Positioning in a gas kiln is a subtle art. In the same firing, the dark mat bottles above left were next to each other at the back of the kiln, but one has come out with a blush on the side. There must have been a patch in the kiln just there, where there was a weaker reduction. Happily it appeared just where my potter’s mark was placed. It looks almost intentional, but I couldn’t have made it do that if I tried. One of my jugs, however, was too close to the gas flame from the burner, creating a, not so subtle, flash of unreduced clay body at the side. Interestingly the glaze on the rim of the piece, just above it seems unaffected. Re-firing might not save this one, so it may just end up in my own motley collection of pots for the kitchen.

Other subtle changes that have been taking place lately have occurred on the Making Ground project that I’m working on with basket maker Annemarie O’Sullivan. We’ve been collecting samples of local clay at a former brickworks in East Sussex. Some of the clay appears blue/grey when initially dug up, but appears to turn a buff/yellow colour when exposed to the air. I don’t know much about this phenomenon but assume its something to do with the iron in the clay reacting with the air. The samples we’ve tested all seem quite different ranging from firm to smooth to crumbly and dark brown to light yellow. But firing at bisque temperature has evened out some of the differences. Now you must study them closely to appreciate their variations. Find out more about the project on the Making Ground blog.

 

Space and Place

18 January, 2016

New landscapes

I’m currently working towards two spring shows that will focus on place and the local landscape. Some of my work draws heavily on the Sussex countryside and the coastline for reference. For a couple of years I’ve been making some pieces that have elements influenced by buoys or ship’s floats that I often find on the beach at Newhaven and Dungeness.

Elaine Bolt, ceramic buoys

Ceramic ‘Buoys’ by Elaine Bolt

But I might find my influences shifting as my daily routine begins to focus on the urban environment of the city of Brighton and Hove. There’s still the coast there, but it’s a very different kind of seaside. It’s not just the surroundings of the pier and nightclubs and shops; the sea actually looks different somehow. No doubt, the Sussex countryside and seascape will still be a huge part of my work. But it will be interesting to see if this change begins to be reflected in small ways in my work, as I go through the year.

A new studio space

In November 2015 I moved from my workshop at home to a new ceramics studio in Brighton. I’m now based at Atelier 51 in Brighton along with fellow ceramicist Silvia K, artists Sarah Young and Rhoda K Baker. It’s also the new HQ for craft event organisers Tutton and Young.

New studio space at Atelier 51

Early days at the new studio

Moving studios was a big change for me. I’ve been working on my own at home for several years and the move has positive and negative sides to it. The downsides are I now have to journey to my workshop, so I can no longer check the kiln in my pyjamas last thing at night, or chat to the cat while I’m throwing on the wheel.  I have also lost some peace and quiet – as there are always sounds around me from the other craft workshops, even if it’s just the radio. It’s also freezing! There’s no central heating. I’m aware that most potters have freezing workshops in the winter, so I’ve been lucky these last few years to have a warm space to work in. I’m now wrapped in thermals and a wooly hat most days.

But the positives are really great and I’m hoping it will be a valuable change for me. The great upside and the reason I made the change is being part of a community of makers and artists. Having others in a similar field to chat to over a cuppa or to moan with about the trials and tribulations of the latest firing, or the tax return is a great thing. The companionship and the subtle daily support of having fellow makers around me is something I missed after leaving college and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

Open studio

Another amazing upside is being part of Brighton’s well established Artists Open Houses events which happens each year over four weeks in May and again in December. We opened our studios, and the gallery/shop space that is being developed on the site, this December and it was a great success. At it we showed our own work alongside that of over 20 other invited makers which filled our studios with delightful things. We’ll be doing it again in May and we aim to have our work on display throughout the year.

Atelier 51 open studio 2015

My studio became a gallery for four weeks

Making

Because of the open studio events, it took me a while to get making in the new studio, so I had an agonising gap when I was ‘between studios’. But I’m back in full swing now, settling into the new space, whilst still trying to work out the best way to organise everything. I’m hoping that ‘going to work’ at the workshop will make me more productive without the distractions of home to lure me away from the wheel. Well we’ll see.

Weighing out clay

Terracotta, not large chocolate truffles!

 

 

 

 

 

Making Ground

29 November, 2015

Making Ground

Making Ground project

Fantastic basket maker and willow artist Annemarie O’Sullivan and I have been working for the last year on the development of a collaborative project and an Arts Council funding bid to help support it. The project ‘Making Ground‘ will be based at a disused brickworks near Horam, in East Sussex, where Annemarie grows her willow. The project will run over the course of a calendar year in 2016. We aim to source our materials – both willow and clay from this site.

I’m delighted to say that the funding has been awarded!

Read on to find out more or visit our Kickstarter project page to get involved.
[please note: our Kickstarter funding was successful and has now ended 01/2016]

Evolving ideas

On several occasions over the year I’ve visited the site, with Annemarie, for preliminary research; digging up clay samples and firing them; bringing home willow to play with and test; trying out basket weaving and exploring ideas. The land and the project has already started to take a hold on me and influence my work.

Elaine_Bolt_IMG_3070

Shortly before we found out the grant had been awarded, we filmed ourselves on the land talking about our plans and the landscape we’ll be working in. We recorded ourselves talking about the project and made a video to help us raise essential funds, and to key people into what we want to do. The bits of the video with me in the frame make me feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t often like to be in front of the camera, but it’s the second time in a year, so I guess I’m starting to get used to it!

The clay

The clay, by the way, fires beautifully. It’s been lovely to see how the clay dug straight from the ground looks after biscuit firing and when fired to high temperature (1280 C) in reduction. I did minimal work to process the clay, merely removing the worms and some bigger roots (!) but it’s very promising. I’ll post some pics when I’ve got something more to show.

The Project

As well as producing collaborative work we’ll be inviting the public, friends, early career makers, craft collectors and artists to join us through walks, picnics, and workshops on the land. We want to share our experience far and wide.

Willow bed at Sacred Earth, Horam

Getting involved

We are looking to raise £2000 to add to our successful Arts Council grant of £15,000. We have set up a Kickstarter page which offers some fantastic and exclusive opportunities to get involved with the project, the site and our work. Visit the Kickstarter Making Ground project page to find out more about workshops, walks, artworks and events you can get involved in. You’ll need to be quick to get in on the activities, the project will start in early January! [please note: our Kickstarter funding was successful and has now ended 01/2016]

Annemarie O'Sullivan basket making

The plan

The project will run over the course of a calendar year and will involve various stages of research, development, collaboration, making, working with others and exhibiting the final outcomes.

Annemarie and I will also be working with Rachel Henson – an artist working in the field of film and photography.

Our key partners include:
Fabrica – Brighton based arts organisation
The University of Brighton – involving arts students
Sacred Earth – who manage the land at the old Horam Brickworks
Making Lewes – promoting the exchange of knowledge in the fields of Making, Architecture, Design & Sustainability

At the former brickworks in Horam

Arts Council England

You can find out more about the work of Annemarie and myself by watching films, made about us by the fantastic R&A Collaborations.

Pursuit of Intrigue

Bundles of Willow

 

On the move

15 November, 2015

These last couple of months have been hectic to say the least. I can’t quite believe how busy its been. So here’s a bit of an update – A lightning speed run around what I’ve been making, seeing, winning, writing… plus a picture of a strange creature from York.

Elaine Bolt Woodland Utensils

I made a lot of new pieces which I showed at Brighton Art Fair and at Made London, I made and delivered work to several galleries, I contributed to an Arts Council grant application for a collaborative project ‘Making Ground’ and, as of today, moved my workshop ‘Atelier 51’. Now I must get ready for our four weekends of Open Studios starting next weekend!

I also went to see lots of amazing exhibitions, including visiting the Potteries Museum at Stoke on Trent, the new Centre for Ceramic Art in York, the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy, the Potteries Friday Late at the V&A, a symposium on ‘What is Luxury’ also at the V&A, and a symposium on Memory and Objects at the Wellcome Collection. I’ve barely stopped and didn’t get to write it all down for my blog as I went along. But I have been featured in lovely online magazine UK Handmade magazine in their Winter 2015 edition. I’m also hoping to have a feature on my work in the beautiful Oh Comely magazine‘s Christmas edition.

Brighton Art Fair and Made London

The shows were amazing, I met so many lovely people and had some great sales too!  I was so chuffed to receive the ‘Best in Show’ award at Brighton Art Fair, awarded by Oh Comely magazine. Look out for the next edition of the magazine which will hopefully include a bit on me!

Brighton Art Fair, best in show rosette

Making Ground

I’ve been working with amazing basket maker and willow artist Annemarie O’Sullivan on an Arts Council funding application for a new collaborative project called ‘Making Ground‘.  We’re also working on great ideas for crowd funding. If we’re successful, I’ll have lots more news on this soon. So keep your fingers crossed for us.

Making Ground project

Atelier 51

Today I finally moved to my new studio in Brighton. It’s called Atelier 51, and is on Providence Place. It’s very exciting and a bit overwhelming at the moment but I can’t wait to get making there. Atelier 51 is the new HQ for Tutton and Young Ltd, and fellow artists and makers at the workshops are: Sarah Young, Silvia K Ceramics and Rhoda K Baker.

This coming weekend we go straight into having open studios for four weekends. See my events page for more info and dates.

New workshop at Atelier 51

CoCA

The Centre of Ceramic Art in York absolutely blew me away. The curation is really interesting and the pieces on display are amazing. This guy, pictured below, is by Kerry Jameson. I also loved watching the video with Anthony Shaw talking about his collection, amidst the very pieces he collected.

Centre of Ceramic Art at York Museum

I think I could have written a blog post on each of these bits of news. But this will do for now!

Elaine Bolt Woodland Utensils

Objects Can Tell Stories

11 September, 2015

Objects, stories and lost spoons

‘Objects can tell stories’ is a tag line that I use for my work and its an idea I find I keep coming back to. Objects both found and made can speak to us in so many ways, evoking a real memory or suggesting something completely imaginary. It’s a thread running through my work, and in particular though the mixed media objects and wall pieces I make.

Out to Sea (detail) by Elaine Bolt

Composing

When I work with ‘found objects’ and mixed media, I often put groupings together to form framed compositions. The process of selecting, designing and assembling the compositions takes me a good long time to do. I use objects and fragments of things that have been lost or discarded; pieces I’ve collected in different places over time. Some of these pieces I’ve had, and mulled over, for a very long time. I combine these with ceramic pieces that I’ve made, to create new forms and groupings of ambiguous objects.

These photographs illustrate some of the composition process. This particular grouping has changed several times before finally finding its form. This piece is called ‘Out to Sea’ and includes pieces of copper, aluminium, wood, thread, lichen and rope as well as porcelain and terracotta. What’s the idea behind it? Should I say or just let it speak for itself?

Utensils

My groupings of ‘curious utensils’ often include somewhat fragile looking ceramic spoons and brushes along with other, perhaps more ambiguous, unspecified pieces. Here groups of ‘woodland’ themed utensils are gathered and framed. They reflect some of the look of an elaborate table setting perhaps, mixed with a hint of a museum display?

Shows

In a couple of weeks time I will be showing my work at Brighton Art Fair for the first time. This is a slightly different environment than I’m used to as I’ve previously shown at more firmly craft-focused events. At this fair I’ll be featuring my mixed media wall pieces and will have only a few pots on show. It should be a great event and an interesting experience for me.

I’m also focusing on my mixed media pieces for the upcoming ‘Language of Objects’ show at Unit Twelve Gallery. I’m very excited about this show as it features a fantastic range of contemporary makers combining unusual materials in their practice.

There’s more info about both these shows on my events page along with my usual updates on twitter and instagram.

Every One is Different

25 July, 2015

Warm Chocolate

I’ve been working on some new clay and glaze combinations lately, inspired by woodland walks (my previous post has more on this). My latest firing included pieces using these tones, one of which is a rather chocolatey colour clay combined with a milky speckled glaze. This combination seems to work particularly well. I took a quick photo of some of the pieces, using my phone on the top of my kiln, still warm from the firing. I had lots of positive reactions on twitter and instagram, which was lovely and really encouraging.

Elaine_Bolt_Chocolate_Clay_group_1

Sadly the firing wasn’t all good news, lots of porcelain pieces in my green glaze came out looking muddy and the glaze had crawled in places. Something had gone rather wrong and I’ll have to find out what, though I probably won’t get to the bottom of it in time for my Autumn shows. So the work on my stand might look a little different from previous shows, but it seems that’s quite me.

Variations on a Theme

One of the things I often worry about when I’m making work is that I tend to make lots of different things. I make spoons, teabowls, vases, jugs, bottles, brushes, mixed media compositions and even plates now. I don’t tend to stick to a particular range and make lots of them; it’s just not me. I find I can’t, and don’t want to, produce multiples of cups and rows of jugs all looking the same. I can happily produce small families of items in the same clay and glaze combo, or make similar shapes in different clay and glaze finishes. But I often find myself moving on from these to try other variations and new ideas.

Elaine_Bolt_Teabowls

So every piece I make is unique. When I sell work, I can’t say I have 10 of these or 15 of those. Occasionally I might have three or four that are similar. But no two are the same. It’s more work for me, but I like it that way.

I worry that this looks inconsistent, or that it doesn’t give me a recognisable style. I’ve worried about this a lot. It’s pretty much my MO. But I’ve decided to try to stop worrying about it and celebrate the different things. I find something pleasing about grouping different but complementary objects together, so I’m going to carry on doing that. I hope that by using a varied but harmonious colour palette, the work I produce will still be coherent and still be recognisably mine.

Elaine_Bolt_Curious_Vessels_2

The pieces above are some more ideas I’m playing with, using the clay mixes I’ve developed. The forms were intended to reflect the aesthetic I try to have for my ‘curious utensils’ – a bit quirky, a bit wavy edged. I don’t think I’ve entirely done that, but they’re a start, and I’m enjoying working on the idea. Perhaps more on this next time…

Woodland Colours

20 May, 2015

The muted colours of Sussex in Winter and Spring must have been seeping into my thoughts and into my work over the past few months. Some new ideas and pieces have been emerging as a result.

Colour palette

I’ve spent some time looking at the colour palette I use and working on a range of colours, textures and tones that work well together as a group. The colours that I’ve been drawn to the most are frosty whites, mossy greens, dark browns and light fawn.

Elaine Bolt - Sussex dew pond

Sussex dew pond

I took this photo on a walk I take regularly near where I live. The colours of the dew pond change so much with the weather I end up taking a photo of it almost every time I stop there. On this day, it was so misty in places I could hardly see a few feet in front of me.

Elaine Bolt Ceramics, willow colours

Willow colours

One very wet and cold winter’s day I spent a few hours helping willow artist Annemarie O’Sullivan with some of her harvest and was lucky enough to take some bundles home with me. I also spent an amazing day with her and a small group in the Sussex countryside having a go at making a basket. The result was rather wonky, but I’m very fond of it!

Over the same period, I’ve been experimenting with clays, which has involved mixing clay bodies to create colour variations in the clay itself as well as with glazes. I’ve mixed various clays with porcelain in different quantities to obtain finishes ranging from light speckled grey to dark chocolate.

Elaine Bolt - clay test pieces

Elaine Bolt – clay test pieces

Elaine Bolt Ceramics Colour samples

Clay and glaze colour tests

I’m not sure how conscious a thought it was to focus on these organic, earthy types of colours, some of the connections are only now becoming clear as I review what I’ve been doing. Lining up some of the test pieces showed that a graduation in tone between the individual pieces worked really well.

Beyond the test pieces, a range of vessels and semi-functional ceramics are also emerging from this new palette.

Elaine Bolt Ceramics - 'Little Brown Jugs'

Elaine Bolt Ceramics – ‘Little Brown Jugs’

I’ve still got lots of work to do in creating a new collection, but I see my work as a pretty much constant state of experimentation, and trying new things with the materials. So though I’ll create lots of finished work over the coming months, I doubt if I’ll actually ever be ‘finished’.

Spoons

As an early indication of where this is going, I’ve found that my ceramic spoons work particularly well in this colour palette, especially when combined with organic materials such as twigs and lichen. So here’s a selection of spoons that have been on show recently, using the new clay mixes.

And some new framed groups of utensils pieces on a ‘woodland’ theme, both recently sold.

'Sussex Woodland Utensils' by Elaine Bolt

‘Sussex Woodland Utensils’ by Elaine Bolt

'Woodland Utensils' by Elaine Bolt

‘Woodland Utensils’ by Elaine Bolt

Pursuit of Intrigue

22 March, 2015

‘Pursuit of Intrigue’ is the title of a new short film made about my work.

The film offers a sensitive portrait of my current work; focusing in on my ceramic and mixed media objects; dipping into my thought processes, taking a peek at how I work with clay and incorporate found materials.

The film can be viewed online here.

Here’s the story of how the film was made.

This winter Richard and Arron of the amazing R&A Collaborations came to Sussex to make a film about my work and inspirations. They specialise in creating films about makers and their processes; exploring their work, their ideas and their making.

Elaine Bolt, Newhaven Beach

At Newhaven Beach

They spent a day filming and recording with me. Our first location was a visit to Newhaven beach, one of my favourite spaces, and a place that is a strong source of inspiration for me. I was filmed walking by the sea and investigating ‘found objects’ discovered on the beach.

We then spent time in the studio as they filmed me making new work and playing with compositions of found and made objects. They filmed me throwing on the wheel, turning and hand building.

Elaine Bolt, throwing with porcelain

Elaine Bolt, throwing with porcelain

My little workshop became quite a crowded space at times as I tried not to trip over power cables or get clay on the camera. They filmed finished pieces, but mostly focused in on the details; offering intriguing glimpses rather than giving away the whole story.

They then interviewed me; asking me about my ideas and inspirations, enquiring into what it is that draws me to make the things I make. I found it quite fascinating how some of the thoughts and ideas I have, to do with my work, seemed to coalesce as the interview took place. Some things that had only been a vague notion in my head became clearer through the process of being asked to name and describe them.

Richard and Arron - capturing images in the studio

Richard Foot, capturing images in the studio

After that intense day of filming and recording, they then worked away at bringing it all together to make a short film. So many different subjects and processes had been covered over the course of the day, that I think it must have been quite a challenge to create a strong story that offers a coherent flavour of my work. But I feel they’ve really created a lovely piece – the finished film offers an engaging portrait of me and my work right now, and I hope those watching it will enjoy the journey.

Elaine Bolt 'Buoys' detail

Elaine Bolt – ceramic buoy with mixed media detail

R&A Collaborations have also made many beautiful films of other crafts people and makers. My personal favourites from their collection feature the work of ceramicist Silvia K in ‘Harvest‘, willow artist Annemarie O’Sullivan in ‘Bundles of Willow‘ and mixed media maker Samantha Bryan in ‘Desire to Fly‘.

Photoshoot

15 March, 2015

Last week I had some of my work photographed by the expert craft photographer Yeshen Venema. The experience was both enlightening and enjoyable. I got to witness the photographer’s process from behind the scenes – seeing how he manipulated the light to provide an even coverage; preventing unwanted reflections and shadows. A lot of the images were taken with a large white paper screen on a roll that allowed a seamless background. He also used a dark distressed-wood surface as a suitably complementary background to the ceramics.

While I was there, the atmosphere was kept upbeat as we listening to the French radio station that was playing in the background. FIP Radio offers pretty funky music with minimal interruption and, being in French, even the news sounded lyrical. I’m now a firm convert.

Photoshoot with Yeshen Venema photo 2

I’m delighted with the shots that have emerged. When making applications to shows, sending publicity shots to galleries etc. its the photographs that are key. They need to show the work off to its best. My own photographs are ok, but there’s nothing like having a professional touch. Yeshen has put a selection of the images on his site as a gallery, and I’ll be adding some to other pages on my site when I get a chance. But here’s a small selection for now.

Elaine Bolt Curious Utensils - Yeshen Venema Photography

Elaine Bolt Ceramics; Yeshen Venema PhotographyElaine Bolt Ceramics - Yeshen Venema Photography

 

Fence posts and bottle tops

24 January, 2015

I’m endlessly inspired by the sea and my visits to the beach, even if I don’t actually fancy a swim right now! But recently I’ve been enjoying the local hills and woods, whilst the trees are damp and the skies are gloomy.

wooden fence post - Elaine Bolt

On some walks through the Sussex downs I’ve been finding a lot of joy in the details of things and in the natural colours that pop out when you look closely. On a rainy day I discovered some beautiful subtle lichen that followed the contours of sawn wood on the top of a fence post. I probably looked like a crazy person, taking photos of a fence post. But what can you do.

I’ve also been exploring a very dark and damp woodland nearby and have been wandering through trees coated in lichen, finding derelict structures shrouded in moss and stumbling across branches with some pretty colourful fungi. I think I’m drawn to the idea of the tiny worlds within worlds that these natural forms offer. The closer you look, the more they appear like forests and landscapes in their own right.

Capturing and reflecting those natural tones in my own work is a bit of a challenge. Imitating nature is a tricky path to follow. But I love subtle blues, greens and browns, with the occasional pop of orange or yellow. So hopefully my work will continue to edge down this path. I’m also interested in how man-made things sit in the landscape and the way nature takes over, giving it a soft patina over time. I’m working towards a potential collaborative project with another maker that may explore some of these themes. It’s too early days to share details at the moment, but these inland explorations are (hopefully) heading somewhere too.

I haven’t forgotten the sea though. I’m still running around the trashy foreshore finding things that have fetched up on the pebbles.

East Wittering

It’s often the thing that looks like it’s not supposed to be there that catches my eye – bright colours are the biggest giveaway, though they’re usually just bottle tops. At the Witterings a large orange piece of plastic sat on the beach looking dramatic. At Newhaven a bicycle reflector shone out from a pile of seaweed. Sometimes I find plastic things that have mutated through their time in the sea and have come to mirror natural forms. My workshop is full of such objects and I have no idea what I will do with most of them.


On being a Womble – I do attempt to take away and safely dispose of some of the rubbish I find, what little I can, just to keep it out of the sea and away from the wildlife. But I can’t clean the whole beach, it’s just too messy there. And it’s a rather futile task as it keeps coming with every tide. And perhaps it’s really just moving it from one part of the world to another, from beach to landfill. But I do it to make myself feel better, if nothing else.

On camera – I snap away with my iPhone and post lots of images like this on Instagram, so if you just can’t get enough of photos of things found on the beach or close-up lichen shots, then head over there for more of that kind of thing. I’m also back in the studio and making things. So hopefully some images of work in a few weeks, with a bit of luck.