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.

 

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‘.

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

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

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

 

nag_hothouse4

 


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