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

 

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‘.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Round Robin

21 December, 2014

Elaine_Bolt_IMG_1819I was a tad busy this Autumn/Winter. If I try to put it all down I realise it looks a bit like a Christmas round robin letter – a lengthy listing of what I’ve been up to, regardless of the audience! So, no obligation – feel free to enjoy only the pictures and skip the rest! I won’t be offended.

exhibiting at Made London and Made Brighton –  I exhibited my work at two big shows this Autumn/Winter – Made London and Made Brighton. I spoke to so many lovely people and sold some of my favourite wall pieces and objects. It was a bit hard sometimes to see some of them go, but the people who bought them really seemed to connect with the ideas behind the work. Again it was great to meet up with some fantastic makers such as fellow ceramicists Carys Davies, Paul Wearing, Silvia K, Alice Walton, Hilary Mayo; plus Annemarie O’Sullivan (basket/willow artist), Emily Kidson (jewellery), and the members of the 2014 Hothouse alumni group amongst many others.

It was lovely to then take my work to Silvia K’s beautiful open house in Hove. She had curated a wonderful selection of work by talented artists and crafts people.

Silvia K's open house

visits to museums and other places

Uppark House –

I’m interested in how installations and ‘interventions’ by makers in craft disciplines respond to the themes and aesthetics of a particular place. In October, I visited Uppark House to see the work of several artists as part of the ‘Unravelled‘ installation. There were some fascinating responses to the house and its history by a number of makers in different materials. The regular displays in the house also offered an opportunity to consider how museum houses present the story of their domestic history. The kitchens and ‘below stairs’ spaces are, I often find, the most fascinating spaces. I particularly liked the silverware and kitchen utensils laid out in rows, as if mid-polish. The house also offered a thoughtful reflection on the fire that had destroyed much of the building in the 1980s.

Steven Follen - 'Trade' at Uppark HouseUppark House kitchen

Craft Interventions in Domestic Spaces –

Shortly after that visit, I attended a one day seminar event organised by the Crafts Council on ‘Craft Interventions in Domestic Spaces‘. It offered a useful insight into past projects and collaborations between museums, houses and makers. I came away still feeling intrigued about the directions my work might take, if presented with such opportunities. But it was also enlightening as to the challenges that can be faced.

Pitt Rivers Museum –

In November, I went to Oxford to go to one of my favourite museums the Pitt Rivers. I’ve been a few times and love the slightly gloomy setting and the seemingly endless exhibits crammed into countless cabinets. There’s always so much to see, both on display and in drawers you can pull out, that you’ll always see something new. It’s easy to see how many makers have been inspired by its collections.

Pitt Rivers museum - display

Institute of Making –

In December I went to a special event held at the Institute of Making. The day long session was organised by the Institute and R&A Collaborations. They brought together 38 makers from many craft disciplines for an opportunity to learn about the facilities and collection; to discover the materials held there; and to experiment with different making processes, materials and ideas. I loved trying out pewter casting, working with willow and creating objects with various plastics. These were all materials I hadn’t really ever worked with before and may well filter through into future ideas for my own work. It was also a great opportunity to properly meet some makers that I had only ever ‘met’ on Twitter and Instagram! Photos from R&A Collaborations can be seen on Facebook.

Elaine Bolt - Pewter casting at the Institute of Making

being captured on film – 

My final ceramics adventure for 2014 was to be filmed by the dynamic duo that is Richard and Arron of R&A Collaborations. I could say a lot about this challenging/amazing experience, but I’ll post more about it in the new year, when the film is ready.

Richard and Arron - capturing images in the studio

And finally… 

Thank you all for visiting my blog in 2014 It’s always worth it for me to put these things down in writing. I hope it’s sometimes worth the read! Merry Christmas and Best wishes for 2015!

Pitt Rivers Museum eskimo and polar bear

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

Wilderness

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.

 

Mudlarking

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

Pebble Beach

19 March, 2014

I take a lot of inspiration from the beach. Sometimes it’s oblique; things catch my eye and then filter through in unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s as direct as the things I find on the beach becoming part of a mixed-media work. The beaches I take inspiration from aren’t the idilic ones with golden sand, they’re the ones with pebbles and a line of seaweed and flotsam, or with concrete harbour walls and ferry ports. I often go to Newhaven and Seaford nearby. They’re not glamorous places, but they’re beautifully empty, with only the occasional dog walker or brave surfer to share the space with at this time of year.

On a recent trip to Norfolk I took some close-up photos of a concrete harbour wall. I loved the textures, colours and lines. The images are now floating around in my head, nagging me to do something about them. I’m not sure what will emerge yet; maybe nothing, but maybe something some way down the line.