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.


29 August, 2014

I have a special liking for slightly deserted landscapes with that abandoned dilapidated look going on. Dungeness on the Kent coast has to be my favourite place to experience this kind of atmosphere.                  Elaine_Bolt_Dungeness_rail

It’s a massive coastal ‘desert’ where fishing boats lie stranded on the vast stretch of shingle, slowly rusting and weathering away.   Elaine_Bolt_IMG_0556   There are plenty of people living here though, in all kinds of houses. Some old, some very smart and new. There’s also the nuclear power station of course (!), just to add to the sense of post-apocolyptic landscape. Derek Jarman created a beautiful, magical garden space in this strange landscape. There’s also a miniature railway taking day-trippers backwards and forwards. But if you walk away from that, towards the sea, there’s just the shingle and lichen and rust and fishing nets. This is my second visit in a couple of years but I still took hundreds of photos. It’s so inspirational I just want to keep going back.

I was careful not to change the scene – I want others to enjoy it as much as I do. But I did collect a very small bag of washed up flotsam from the shoreline – nothing that would take away from the landscape and nothing that too many other people would want, just newly fetched up little things that are replenished every day with every tide. But I’ll hopefully be making use of the some of these things – little bundles of fishing wire and beautifully weathered tiny sticks, if it’s only just to wonder at their beauty. Photos of my small collected flotsam to follow, hopefully soon.


Oatmeal and plums for tea

10 August, 2014

Some test pieces from my latest firing

My latest firing included a mix of pieces heading for galleries and forthcoming shows. It also included some tests to try out different clay body mixes and surface treatments.

Some of the new test pieces explore a different look to the light celadons and dark pieces that I make. I’m hoping that some of the new avenues of colours and tones I’m looking into will eventually sit happily alongside the existing ranges.

'green' teabowl, 'milk' bottle and small dish

‘green’ teabowl, black iron ‘milk’ bottle and new small ‘plum’ dish

Speckled stoneware and terracotta mix pieces

I mixed up different proportions of a speckled stoneware and terracotta and tried some different combinations of clays, slips and glazes. I was pleased to find that they all survived the firing, though some were more interesting than others!


before and after shots

Of these, my favourite mix produced a dark oatmeal when glazed with a milky glaze, and a dark brown, slightly plum, coloured clay body when unglazed.




Plum colour clay body mix in reduction

None of the samples I mixed up produced a clay body quite as dark as I would have liked. So I may do some more tests on this. Another test used iron oxide underneath the milky glaze. I tested black iron oxide and red iron oxide, I also tested terracotta slip under the glaze. All had very similar results – the brush marks showed through the glaze quite strongly. This works better on some forms than it does on others – I thought it had a bit of a ‘retro’ look to it.


Red iron oxide under milky white glaze – test

I also tested some ‘agate ware’ style pieces – roughly mixing the two different clays. I’m not sure about these, but here are the results.


‘agate ware’ tests – glazed and unglazed

I won’t take all these ideas forward; I need to select a few key new ideas and keep a range of work that looks coherent and works well together. But I like variety and I like trying out new things; so we’ll see. I’d love to know what others think!


17 July, 2014

I’ve been experimenting again. In fact I think I’m always experimenting a bit. I always want to try out things and ideas that are new to me, so I rarely spend a day in the workshop without trying out a variation on a shape, a new glaze recipe, or a new clay body.

clay body mixes

bisqued clay body mixes with varying quantities of red clay

Recently I’ve been looking at mixing clay bodies to try to get the best performance and colour from the clay.

Because I push the terracotta that I use way beyond its guide temperature, I sometimes have problems with it. I relish the random bloating that often appears on the surface as it adds character and texture. But it really struggles when I start trying to add some glazing. I want to go beyond the bare clay body and explore using glazes over the dark background that the reduction firing gives me. Some tests I’ve done so far have had some lovely results but also some extreme and very disappointing failures.

glazed terracotta pot

glazed terracotta pot

This large pot is one of two that came out with cracks through the body of the piece . I did plenty of tests of this glaze on smaller pieces, which came out fine. But when scaling up to larger pieces, it just didn’t cope. I like the look achieved on this pot and it now sits in my lounge looking like there’s nothing wrong, but I know it’s fatally flawed.

You can buy black stoneware, but where would be the fun in that? But seriously I much prefer the subtle tones you get from the reduction fired terracotta I use. So I’ve been mixing the red clay with other clays to make a more robust body whilst retaining the iron content. I’ve also tried a few tests with an ‘agate-ware’ look by leaving the clays only roughly mixed to get a sort of marbling effect (hopefully).

agate-ware test

agate-ware test

I’ve also been testing red clay slip over a stoneware body as well as using pure red iron oxide over a stoneware body. When I do a glaze firing in a couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see how my glaze will come out on these tests, and see if they all survive!

iron oxide test

red iron oxide test

I’m sure what I’m trying here is nothing new and there may be others out there who can tell me about their trials in this area. But there’s nothing like learning by doing, even if sometimes the lessons are painful ones.

Last week I visited Kim Bagley‘s solo show ‘Africa and the West’ at the James Hockey gallery in Farnham. Kim has been working towards a PhD in Ceramics at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham and this is her major exhibition. Kim started her PhD studies at the same time as I started studying for my MA in Ceramics. We shared workshop spaces at UCA for two years which undoubtedly had a great influence on me and my work. I learned a lot form her use of clay bodies, paperclay, reduction firing; but her enthusiastic approach to experimenting with clay and with ideas, was also infectious.

Kim Bagley - Africa and the West

Kim Bagley – Africa and the West

The show is described as “an exploration of the artist’s own African and South African identities” where the artist uses her ceramic pieces as “a metaphor and a starting point for examining questions of identity and representation”. You can read a little more about the underlying themes on the UCA website.

The main exhibition area is filled with ‘tents’ (each around two feet high) made from porcelain and terracotta paperclay. The forms represent extermination tents – tarpaulins used in South Africa to cover entire houses for fumigation against wood boring insects. The pieces here are in places marked with text, sometimes obscured, playing with the wording used on the tarpaulins themselves, but also with the theme of identity, labelling, tagging.

Several of these large pieces are grouped on the gallery floor, whilst others are suspended from the ceiling and appear to float upwards and away. To me they appeared like a swarm, both on the ground and in the air, captured whilst in movement. Other observers imagined they were placed as if on some distant hills. However, I couldn’t escape the sense that the fumigation tents had themselves been transformed into moving creatures.

Kim Bagley

The pieces suspended above the ground made fascinating reflections on the floor in different lights. Light also played a part with traces of text and markings showing through the ‘skin’ of porcelain. The pieces on the ground hinted at animal forms in other ways, not least through their rib-like structures. For these pieces, the tents enveloped a scaffolding – a skeleton that made its presence known through the fabric of the clay and at the base. Some of them even looked like they might scuttle away at any moment on their many legs. Perhaps I’m anthropomorphising too much here, but animal themed undertones infuse the work and the scale of the pieces invite the viewer to relate to them.

Kim Bagley Kim Bagley

There are three main elements of the exhibition and beyond the ‘tents’ there are other significant pieces on show. There are two hanging pieces which are formed from hundreds of paperclay pieces strung together with silk thread. Each element is in the shape of ear tags commonly used to identify cattle. The pieces, when viewed from a distance take on the appearance of a curtain, but with the hint of a cow hide.

Kim Bagley


Kim Bagley

The centre piece in the gallery entrance uses the same palate of raw, unglazed clay colours, mixing porcelain, terracotta, stoneware. This piece represents a herd of cattle, each five or six centimetres high but, like the tags, forming a whole piece when grouped together. There is a sense of awe felt when looking down on them, as if from a hot air balloon perhaps, and the placing of the piece close to the ground forces this perspective. But the feeling changes when you get right up close to them and on their level. The notion alters to wondering if they might stampede. I’m the lucky owner of a couple of these animals. They’re beautiful in their own right, but there’s great power in the herd.

Kim Bagley

Kim Bagley





28 June, 2014

Thames River Bank

Thames River Bank

Last week I went on a very exciting trip to London to go ‘Mudlarking’ on the banks of the River Thames. Beach combing, to seek out unusual ‘found objects’, is one of my favourite activities, but I’d never had the opportunity, or courage, to go foraging for finds in London before. My friend and fellow potter Fay de Winter planned the adventure as an unusual treat!

There are some rules and regulations about what you are allowed to do and pick up there. You can’t dig or even ‘scrape’ the surface for example without a permit, and there are certain areas that are out of bounds. But if you time the tides right, there is a large area, right in the city where you can walk along and find all sorts of things ‘by eye’ on the bank, with new finds refreshed with every tide.

Garnets found whilst Mudlarking

Tiny garnets

My intrepid friend and I descended down steps to the somewhat unpromising looking river banks at low tide and found an assortment of unlikely looking people already down there. I’m not sure we quite fitted into the scene but the people we chatted to, doing the same as us, were all as friendly as you could ask. There were one or two with metal detectors, looking for treasure, but most were like us, looking for the kind of treasure that isn’t worth anything to anyone else.

The kinds of things that caught our eyes, perhaps because we’re both potters, were things like pottery sherds (the most colourful items shining out of the mud) and clay pipes, pieces of which carpeted some areas of the bank. I also have a particular, somewhat crazy, attraction to hand made rusty boat nails and there were plenty of those there too. With the help of more experienced mudlarker ‘Dave’ who we got chatting to, we also found things we’d never have spotted otherwise; including tiny hand made pins and, most surprisingly to me, unpolished garnets.

I don’t know enough to date any of these finds or even really know what some of them were, before they became lost and then found again. Maybe I can do some digging around on the internet to find out more.

Of course they had to be organised and grouped into tidy categories of my own. Putting them in a row and photographing them, as if they were important archeological finds, affords them a status they probably don’t deserve. But it gives me joy anyway. All of these kinds of things have an influence on my creative work. I don’t know what kind of influence these objects will have – they may even find their way into a mixed media piece I make in the future. I just know there will be an impact, somewhere.

Various pottery sherds

Crafts Council Hothouse logo

My adventure on the Crafts Council’s Hothouse 2014 programme has almost finished. Thirty-eight emerging makers, including myself, were selected to take part in an intensive programme of business and craft development. We’ve participated in a series of workshops and events designed to bring on our craft businesses and help us formulate the beginnings of a career in the sector.

It’s been a lot of hard work, including trying to get to grips with tax and finances (there have been a lot of spreadsheets) as well as working on our presentation skills (some drama and roll play did occur!).


Hanne Mannheimer

Alongside the workshops we were each assigned a ‘buddy’ and a ‘mentor’ – professionals already working in our field of practice, to help and guide us along the way. My ‘buddy’ is Hanne Mannheimer who makes beautiful vessels as well as site specific work. My ‘mentor’ is Katharine Morling who creates fascinating objects in porcelain forming ‘three dimensional drawings’. Both have been extremely helpful and supportive.


Katharine Morling



Aspects of the programme have acted as a kind of continuation of university studies in a way – supplying a feeling similar to having that collective experience and group of peers around you.

As a kind of finale to the programme, a selected number of Hothouse participants are now showing their work at the New Ashgate gallery in Farnham. The work on show illustrates just a small amount of the fantastic range of crafts in the programme, but the pieces on show also compliment each other really well. The show is on to the end of July, but I hope to continue existing friendships and supportive networks as well as establishing new ones to help carry on the dialogue.

Here are some images from the New Ashgate Gallery show.

New Ashgate Selects

12 June, 2014

Hothouse 4: New Ashgate Selects

21 June to 2 August 2014

Elaine Bolt ceramic & mixed media object detail

Elaine Bolt mixed media object

The New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham, Surrey, has invited 12 makers from this year’s Crafts Council Hothouse programme to exhibit in this year’s summer show.

The makers selected for the exhibition are: Jenny Ayrton, myself (Elaine Bolt !), Sarah Brown, Sue Brown, Marie Canning, Adam Collins, Katharina Eisenkoeck, Elaine Jenkins, Alex McCarthy, Imogen Noble, Paula Ortega and Stephanie Tudor.

The show runs from the 21 June to 2 August 2014. The private view will be on the 20 June, 6-8pm, I’ll be there and all are welcome.

Gallery Director Dr Outi Remes has said that this event will be a little different to their usual private views as it will also be a ‘soiree’,  celebrating the Gallery’s success over the last two years. The event will be joined by the MP Jeremy Hunt… and by internationally recognised ceramic artist Gareth Mason who will be saying a few words. Gareth Mason usually speaks energetically and from the heart about ceramics, the making process and the challenges of the craft, so he’s certainly always worth hearing from!

New Ashgate Gallery logo

Crafts Council Hothouse logo




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


I’m currently working away in my studio getting ready to being part of The Contemporary Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey from 6 June to 8 June 2014.

The festival is the largest craft fair in the South West and one of the finest in the UK. The show features over 190 selected makers selling directly to the public.

I’m hoping to be showcasing some new work and new ideas (some of which are still a little bit under wraps!) so it will be exciting to share them with the visiting public. If you’re planning on going, do pop by my stand, it will be great to chat.

I will be taking my work there for the first time, as part of their Crafts Council Hothouse marquee. I will be exhibiting alongside other top emerging makers in a variety of craft disciplines including Alex McCarthy, Anna Brimley, Anna Gravelle, Angie Parker, Brittany Delaney, Cristina Zani, Hilary Mayo, Jenny Ayrton, Julia Jowett, Marie Canning, Radiance Furniture Design, Stephanie Tudor, Theo Wright and Katy Luxton.

Hothouse is a programme of support from the Crafts Council for emerging makers. Click on the logos below to find out more about the programme, the exhibitors and the rest of the festival at Bovey Tracey.

Contemporary Craft Festival logo