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!

 

 

 

 

 

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…

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

 

Buoys and Vessels

12 October, 2014

Elaine Bolt 'Buoys' detailI’ve been developing an idea based on buoys (the kind that are often used by boats, or on fishing nets) and particularly the broken and tangled versions I sometimes found washed up on the beach. I wanted to make something that took elements of the buoy and the open shape of a vessel. I also wanted to combine the made object with found objects – principally the curls and tangles of fishing wire and rope that I find on Newhaven beach and often end up taking home.

Elaine_Bolt_IMG_0808I made the body of the shapes by throwing a vessel,  then turning the base and adding a ‘handle’ (the results shown in my last post). The dark terracotta adds a distinctive look to the fired piece.

I then added the found bundles of fishing wire and intertwined some ceramic beads and other fired pieces into the bundle, blurring the lines between objects tangled in the wire and objects deliberately placed there.

Two of the finished pieces are now heading off to an exhibition entitled ‘Vessels’ being held at Making Space in Havant. The pieces seem quite fitting for a show that celebrates the different meaning of the term vessel.

Elaine Bolt 'Buoys'

The ‘Vessels’ exhibition runs for just a week: 27 October to 31 October 2014. You can find out more on the Making Space website.

As I was going to St Ives

On the theme of buoys, I recently went to St Ives and visited an exhibition there by American installation artist Mark Dion. I’ve seen some of his work on the ‘Thames Dig’ at Tate Britain in the past and loved his sense of making collections and forming museum-like displays from found (and often discarded or everyday) objects. The St Ives exhibition ‘The Maritime Artist’ is at the Porthmeor Studios which is an intriguing mix of artist’s spaces and working (and disused) fishing cellars. The installation featured a vast array of buoys and other fishing equipment hung up in a disused pilchard cellar. The result was a quite convincing display that belied its intentional construction. It blurred the lines between what was installation and what was real, but it blended in so well with its surroundings, it could almost have been overlooked as a piece of art. That was perhaps its intention.

Mark Dion installation

Mark Dion installation

The Maritime Artist

The Maritime Artist

Whilst in St Ives I also (of course) visited The Leach Pottery and the Barbara Hepworth museum. Both offer a chance to see their works, but also to glimpse the artists’ workshops, as if they’d just left them to pop out for some shopping. I love feeling this sense of connection with a maker, even when they’re no longer around. I think I like seeing this kind of display of tools and workshops almost more than the finished works, although Barbara Hepworth’s garden with its monumental sculpture is possibly the most magical and lovely place I’ve been to in a long time. I’ve been twice now, but could just go again and again.

Bernard Leach's workshop and tools

Bernard Leach’s workshop

Barbara Hepworth's workshop and tools

Barbara Hepworth’s workshop and tools

Barbara Hepworth's garden

Barbara Hepworth’s garden

Green and Black

15 September, 2014

Elaine Bolt, porcelain with green glaze

Elaine Bolt, porcelain with green glaze

My latest firing included porcelain pieces glazed in the new green colours that I’ve been focusing on, along with the dark, almost black clay vessels that I make.

The glaze has a small amount of iron oxide added to give it the green tint. A larger amount of iron is added to the same glaze for the inside, which is a slightly darker, grassier green.

The glaze could possibly be improved by going a little darker with the green. It looks lovely where it pools around the rim but on the smoother body it’s really quite subtle.

The pieces in the images below appear to have very dark interiors, but this is due to the shape of the vessels – the glaze is not as dark as it looks here. I’d like to try going much darker with the glaze for the insides, to add extra contrast to the vessels where the inside is quite open.

20140915 green and black pots2

In the same firing were some of my dark matt terracotta vessels which are unglazed. The charcoal/black colour comes from the iron in the clay body reacting to the reduction firing. These pieces contrast really nicely with the green porcelain where they are displayed together.

20140915 green and black pots4

I also created some pieces inspired by buoys or floats – the kind that are attached to boats. We often find broken ones washed up on the beach at nearby Newhaven, but the ones I’ve made are open at one end, so they also have a bell-like appearance. I quite like this slight ambiguity in the form. I will attach string or rope through the holes and I may possibly also string them together, if I can make it work.

Elaine Bolt terracotta 'Buoys'

Unfortunately the mottled white glazed one in the picture cracked in the firing. Glazing the terracotta and taking them to 1280c in reduction puts too much strain on this clay. I’ll try this glaze on other clay recipes and mixes to see if I can make something similar work.

In the tea garden

18 August, 2014

Over the last few months, along with other things, I’ve been working on developing a new range of teabowls which will feature various complementary glazes.

There’s something very special about the teabowl, with it’s handle-less form, that seems to make you engage with the vessel, and its contents, more intensely. It’s a simple concept but can be created and recreated in so many ways, shapes and sizes.

Elaine Bolt - teabowls

The teabowl has, of course, a very long tradition and association with Japanese ceramics. However, I decided to develop my teabowl shape as an extension of the rounded vessels that I already produce. Using this as a starting point, I then extend the base into a gently sloping but pronounced foot. It’s not the most ‘traditional’ shape for a teabowl perhaps, but it represents and evolution from my existing designs towards a specifically ‘functional’ form.

Elaine Bolt - Green crackle teabowl

I have produced examples in a variety of glazes and clays, including green crackle and pale speckled white glazes on porcelain, produced in a reduction firing. I’ve added the iron oxide details on the sides that I use on other forms to provide subtle decoration and highlight line marks scored in the soft clay.

Elaine Bolt - White speckle & green glaze teabowls

Unglazed dark terracotta versions of the same shape also provide a strong contrast to the milky white porcelain.

Elaine Bolt - Dark terracotta teabowls

Alongside the teabowls, I also made a range of bottles which subtly complement them. Influenced more by the ceremony of the British cuppa than anything else; the bottle shapes I’ve made take their cue from the rather stout form of old-fashioned glass milk bottles. But the form also aims to reflect the shape of the teabowls I make; with the mouth of the bottles mirroring the profile of the foot of the cups.

Elaine Bolt 'milk' bottles

These stoneware versions I made illustrate the connection of the two forms quite strongly.

Elaine Bolt stoneware cup and bottle

Despite not often seeking out functional forms in my work, I’ve found a strange delight in making these clearly functional-inspired pieces. Though they may, or may not, be used as such by any future owners. It is this exploration of an idea of a form that lies behind the work of so many ceramicists.

So I’m hugely excited about the forthcoming Oxford Ceramics Gallery ‘Teabowl’ exhibition in October. I feel even more honoured that I will have teabowls of my own in this exhibition. My pieces will be amongst many, including some very exalted names in the world of Ceramics, in what will prove to be a very varied and fascinating mix of styles based on one simple idea.

I can’t wait.

Oxford Ceramics Teabowl exhibition

Oxford Ceramics Teabowl exhibition

The Little Things

31 May, 2014

Right now I’m in the process of selecting work to show at the Contemporary Crafts Festival at Bovey Tracey in Devon which takes place next weekend. Some new pieces that are heading for the festival are all about the details and the little things. Teaspoons, thimbles, tiny bottles and surface decoration.

 

Elaine Bolt teaspoon - porcelain

Come and visit my stand at the show from the 6 to 8 June 2014 to see the little things, and the bigger ones too.

Contemporary Craft Festival logo