Exactly one year ago, almost to the day, I can very clearly remember writing the blog entry about embarking on my year of creative development. The boys were just back at school and I was filled with a mixture of excitement and anxiety about embarking on my creative adventures, and all the unknown things that lay ahead. Today is the second day that both of the boys are back at school, and even the weather is exactly like it was on that day last year – a late summer tinged sunshine filled day, where it’s nice to feel the sun when you go outside, but its also good to be wearing woolly socks!
So, I’m going to write a review of the past 12 months, and there will probably be too many words and not enough pictures in this entry, so if you are not using this document as a useful item in relation to your own work, it might not be worth soldiering on with all the woffle…although of course you are more than welcome to if you feel like it!
Just before I start the review though, I have a little update on ‘Bovey Tracey’ – as my last entry was written just before going to this show, so I thought I’d put a picture up of my stand there:There is ‘Teresa’s Plate’ and ‘Crab Apple Blossom’ on the wall. Teresa herself had a stand right opposite mine (www.teresagreen.co.uk), and we shared a tent for the weekend, which was lovely! I don’t see her all that much now she has moved to Exeter, so it was a good chance to catch up with her. And ‘Teresa’s Plate’ got sold, so that was good.
So – the weekend went really well in terms of sales of new work, and this was the first time I had brought a decent amount of mounted and framed prints along, so I was interested to see how they sold compared to the ceramics. I was very glad that I had brought them, as I sold 10, and it was very good to find out that I am not painting into a void, so to speak.. I also sold quite a lot of the new ceramics, and lots of the dandelion and hoops range as always. I was also delighted to find that I had been given the show’s ‘best ceramics’ award! Unfortunately the certificate got totally mashed up on the way home, but it’s up in the studio.
And now here is my review of the past 12 months.
OVERVIEW: I think I can sum this period of time up in general by saying that my attitude to my work has changed enormously, and that this is really the major change. My approach is now much more serious and thoughtful compared to the pre-development days, and this really had to happen in order for me to develop creatively. Whereas before this time I was visited by flashes of inspiration on a quite random and ad hoc basis, now I have a much more focused approach to this fundamental aspect of my work. This has meant that I analyse what I am doing very carefully, and plan my next steps accordingly, which really helps with developing creatively and technically, in both ceramics and painting.
ART AND LITERATURE: Since my discovery of, and strong feeling of affinity towards the work of Robert Tavener, I have developed a wider interest in 2-d artists from the period of time that I am interested in aesthetically – very roughly the first 50 years of the 20th century – and have also been reading a lot of novels and other writing set in or written during this time, such as the biography of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis, ‘Mariana’ by Monica Dickens, ‘The Stranger’s Child’ by Alan Hollinghurst and books by Patrick Hamilton and Pawel Huelle. Reading these books has really set the 2d work I’ve been looking at in context – such as paintings by Eric Ravilious, Winifred Nicholson and John and Paul Nash; and it has in turn influenced me with the ‘tone’ of my work. So I am on the way to combining this sensibility with my pattern making instincts, and my fascination for the structures found in tree and plant life. The way in which some of these artists highlight the order and ‘design’ of nature in their work really appeals to me, and I feel that my work echoes that approach, and now I would really like to develop this further. This has been all rather unexpected, but I am very happy about it.
PRINTMAKING: I was planning to embark on a new direction into printmaking, specifically lino cuts, and this has proved rather a sticking point with me. I think that my hesitation stems from my feeling that I am right at the beginning of development as a 2d artist, and that I need to sort out issues and problems that I’ve come across with elements such as composition making before committing lots of time to making lino cuts (which is a very time consuming process), plus my unfamiliarity with the processes and techniques of printmaking mean that I have a lot to learn technically, which I feel will hold me up somewhat in terms of developing creatively. I would really need to spend a solid 2-3 months on lino cuts if I am to get anywhere with them. So this plan is on hold until I am happier with the watercolours and drawings that I’ve been making, and when I have found my way there a bit more, I will block out a good few weeks to devote solely to printmaking.
CERAMICS: My ceramics have developed in a significant way, and these changes had been waiting to happen for a long time. I had already been thinking about making work on a larger scale and introducing more complex and detailed decoration for some time before the funded period started, so I was more than ready to start to make this new body of work. A very significant event happened in the early spring of 2010, when our family had a little holiday in the sherwood forest Centre Parcs. Staying there in amongst the forest, I felt as if I was noticing the changes in the trees from one season to the next, for the very first time – it was so exciting! I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the tiny, tightly closed buds on the bare branches, the bareness revealing the perfect structure of the trees, the raindrops clinging to the branches, and everything so hushed and quietly expectant, ready for the changes that spring would bring – and all of this was taking place in a very pearly, gentle light – the way it is on overcast late February days. I was so enchanted by this discovery, and made lots of little sketches and wrote notes describing everything. This experience in particular informed my new ceramic decoration – attempting to describe the perfection and delicacy of branches, leaves and buds, highlighting the symmetry and geometry of tree structures in particular. Here is a photo of one of my most recent plates, called ‘Late Summer Tree’, to illustrate:So I have moved towards a more illustrative approach to my ceramic decoration, but elements of pattern making are still vitally important, and are always included, such as in the border details. These borders are also a reference to the decorative art and design of the artists that I’ve mentioned above, and which are also echoed in the work of other contemporary artists such as Mark Hearld and Angie Lewin. Who are both, you will not be at all surprised to hear, idols of mine! I have also introduced animals such as deer to the new decorations, to keep the Scandinavian feel of my work that is very important to me, and as a variation on the ‘woodland’ theme. I am glad to discover that there is a dialogue developing between my investigations into 2 dimensions and my work with ceramics, the one informing the other – which I think will continue to develop. I plan to continue making ceramics decorated in a similar way, to develop these themes further and to keep looking for inspiration in the natural world. I am making one off pieces now as much as batches of the same thing, which really helps me to remain interested and excited about making.
DAILY ROUTINE: The nature of my day to day routine has also changed a great deal, to enable me to put my creative development at the centre of my work. So now I don’t have anyone helping me, and I work alone. This can be quite isolating, and has had a big impact on my production capacity, but it has also meant that I can focus completely on whatever I’m doing and I don’t feel at all a ‘slave’ to production that I once did in the days of batch production. Whereas before I spent 90% of my time making batches of tableware for trade orders, now I just make work for exhibitions, retail shows and direct customer sales. I don’t take part in many group shows any more, for exhibitions of a general nature, but instead I make work for special themed shows or one or two person exhibitions. This means that I feel that I am making fresh work for every show, and am at liberty to make what I like so can pursue new ideas and themes each time. For example, I have an exhibition coming up at the Castle Gallery (www.castlegallery.co.uk) in Inverness in March 2013, for both ceramics and painting – so I can use this as a chance to produce a set of new paintings, which will help to develop my 2d work and hopefully iron out some of the technical issues there.
STAYING ON TRACK: There was a feature written about me in the August edition of Country Living magazine, and this generated an awful lot of enquiries about the tableware that I’d been making before the development period (there was a nice big picture of me standing in front of shelves full of tableware in my studio) – and since I have made it a rule to say yes to all direct customer orders, I am feeling a bit pulled back into batch production again. This made me think about how I need to remain in control of what I am doing and how I plan my time, as I could very easily end up in exactly the same situation that led me to applying for the funding in the first place. So next time I have a publicity opportunity like this, I will be much more aware of the possible results!
Time for a picture break:That is my most recent watercolour, incorporating three of my favourite things – patterned fabric, structural plants and handmade or vintage tableware. The fabric has been fabricated to some extent, and I forgot all about perspective when I was painting it, which is why it looks a little bit oddly vertical! But I am mainly pleased with it. I do like blue and green together.
Right – back to the report!
CHANGES TO THE ORIGINAL PLAN: Looking back on the original plan for the funded acitivity, I can see that I have veered off from it in a few unforseen ways. I had rather naively given myself only a total of three to four weeks of actual creative development time, ie, sitting down and painting, drawing or designing – which has turned out to be very far short of the time that I actually need in order to progress. I hadn’t been expecting to get so consumed by my new direction into 2d work, which now feels as vital to my creative development as making ceramics, and so my plan for the future now is to spend half of my time producing ceramics, and the other half on painting or other 2d work. And this feels like a life time decision, since I think the challenges that painting and printmaking present will continue for the rest of my life. As I mentioned earlier, my attitude to my creative work is very different to how it was previously, and as the plan was made before all the changes took place, I hadn’t bargained on the realisation that creative development is a continual thing, and that there isn’t an end point, or destination at all – so to allocate a finite time such as four weeks to this, is no longer right.
DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURE PLANS: In the original plan, half of the year was to be taken up with creative development, and the other half with research into working with a manufacturer to produce tableware and other items such as stationery from my designs. This no longer feels quite right, after my experiences of the last year. For one thing, I had vastly underestimated the time that I needed for creative development (I extended the period from one to two years about six months ago, when this became apparent, and now I know that it is an ongoing process), and for another, since the nature of development is unguessable in terms of the final results, I couldn’t forsee that I would be so totally taken up with the creative development that I can’t really see how I can make any time for design for manufacture now. The original plan was to spend next year on research into manufacturers and possible retail partners for a new collection of tableware and other homewares. I would still really like to do this, but I would have to put all of the work I have been doing this year on hold in order to give it the attention that it would require, and it feels at the moment that this would not be the right thing to do. So I am hoping that I’ll get an opportunity to work with a manufacturer or retailer at some point, but that this will arise from joining organisations such as Design Nation, who exist to bring designers and manufacturers together, rather than that becoming my full time occupation. After a few tentative forays in this direction, I also know that I am very inexperienced at spotting potential pitfalls that arise from working in this way, and that I could really do with some expert help in this area. So I will look out for this rather than trying to tackle it from scratch myself. So I suppose, if it happens that I get an opportunity, that would be fantastic, but in the meantime I am quite happy to continue working in the same way that I have been for the last 12 months. I have been discussing a publishing arrangement for my greetings cards and prints with a fine art publisher, which could set me on the right path if anything comes of it, as they have contacts with big retailers such as John Lewis – but as yet nothing is definite, and I’m feeling quite relaxed about the situation. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to continue on my creative development, which feels more than enough to deal with in many ways.
There – that’s it for now. Thanks for listening! Just to finish, here is one more picture, taken on my birthday at Holkham Bay in North Norfolk. Just my kind of place – pine trees right up to the edge of a huge, wide, sandy beach, fringed with salt marshes where little low growing succulent plants had prduced millions of tiny purple flowers. And massive skies of August blue…here is my oldest, Ewan, in a rare moment of contemplating nature…