Saturday, 22 October 2016

The birth of a mug

I thought I would share the process of making a mug from start to finish. It will be interesting to some, maybe not to others. I will inject some humour into it so that might help. There are pretty photos though so even if you don't want to read about the intricacies, you can just have a look.

If anything, it gives a picture of all the time, steps and processes involved in making an everyday object that most of us depend on to wake up or get through the day once it's filled with hot caffeinated liquid.


Day 1: Throwing
The first step to any pottery is throwing. This is where you turn a lump of clay into a vessel, be it a cylinder, bowl, vase or bottle. Here are two cylinders I threw to make into mugs. The clay shrinks a lot so you have to make them much bigger than you want them at this stage. I tend to leave a decent amount of excess clay at the base so it's easier to lift off the wheel and the shape doesn't get distorted. 

Day 2: Turning

All that excess clay needs to go and the bottom needs to be tidied up. This is done by turning/trimming the pot upside down. Using a sharp tool, you trim away the clay while the wheel is spinning. I was taught that it should be spinning at top speed so you are maintaining the profile. But this is dangerous as your pot could go flying. It happened to two of these but it's just one of life's hazards when you are potter (we'll cover more as the days go by). 

Day 3: Assembling
This can be done on the same day as turning if your pot and handle both have the same moisture content. The handles I've made for these mugs are extruded. An extruder works just like that Play-doh hair cut toy but the holes are at the bottom. It's kind of fun to use and makes really consistent handles but just like the toy version, it's no fun to clean up. 

To attach the handles - or a spout or anything else - you need to score both pieces and attach them using slip. Slip is made by adding water to dried powdered clay. It is somewhere between a liquid and a solid and it is basically glue made of clay.  Then you have to smooth is all out so there are not cracks or air holes and generally so you don't have a messy join on an otherwise smooth mug. Sometimes with all the care in the world, the handles still crack off if they dry the wrong way (another hazard).

Day 4: Drying
You cannot fire a pot if there is even a drop of moisture still in it. If you do, it could explode in the kiln. This would suck for you but it could also destroy other people's work and in a community studio, that's kind of frowned upon (and another hazard). So here they are with the handles attached taking up nearly all of my meagre shelf space with other pots helping me stack them up vertically.  

Day 5: Glazing
Once the mug has been through the first firing, it's known as bisque or biscuit fired. They both make it sound appetizing but it's just dry, hard porous clay. For things like plant pots, you might want to stop at this stage because porosity is good for plants. But this little mug isn't stopping here.

The first stage involves glazing it all over with transparent. Then the base needs to be cleaned off or else the pot will stick to the kiln shelf (hazard alert). At this stage I also brush a layer of iron oxide all around the rim. The aim is for this to melt into the glaze and run down both the inside and outside of the mug. 

After that's all dry, it is then dipped into a second glaze of my own secret mix. It is only dipped to halfway down the bottom of the handle. This means you will get a little band of white clay (with transparent glaze) right at the base. Because of the minerals glaze is made with, the raw colour has absolutely nothing to do with how it will look once it's fired. These are a dull pink now but they will be a glossy pale green when they emerge.  

Even if you've used the same glaze 400 times, there is still no guarantee it will come out the way you expect. Where it sits in the kiln can affect it. What it's sitting next to can affect it. Even dust that collected on it while it was waiting to go into the kiln can affect it (yet another hazard). 

Day 6: The finished mug (finally)
Once the kiln reaches 1235º C, the glaze will mature. This takes a long time. Then it has to cool back down to 40º C before you can even open the kiln. This also takes a long time. Is it clear yet how long it takes to make a mug? Don't worry, I'll say it again before the end of this post. Here you can see that the oxide behaved, running down and melting like I wanted it to. Sometimes things do work out.

So, many days of work go into making a mug by hand. Most commercially produced mugs are cast and no hand ever touches clay. The rest of the steps are probably done by a machine as well. So please think about how much thought, skill and labour go into hand made pottery and don't just think, 'but I could get mugs from Ikea for £1 each'. And if you do think that, please don't tell any potter. It's too upsetting. 

We definitely understand that not everyone can afford hand made pots (most of us can't either) but that's not the same thing as assuming they should be as cheap as mass produced stuff. Fortunately for me, a nice woman commissioned me to make these mugs for her so I never have to convince anyone what I think they are worth.

Salvage Collective zine

I've written and made art about the misogyny and abuse that is rife on the left a couple of times before, like here (4th image down) and here. I've experienced gendered abuse directly and seen it happen to people I love. Most of the time fighting against it in isolation leads to burn out or disengaging entirely from the activist world. 

So I was incredibly excited when the Salvage Collective put out a call for interviews from survivors of gendered violence in activist communities for their research project. I was also super flattered that they used an image from my mini-zine in their callout and immediately offered to provide any more artwork they needed for the project. They asked me to design and illustrate the cover of their amazing report.


The images I created are based on the hope represented when spaces and structures that have been neglected are reclaimed. With nature, this is an inevitable process. Unfortunately with people, it is a battle where those who are fighting against neglect and violence encounter an absolute shit ton of opposition and further abuse. People are pretty invested in not conceding their power, unlike abandoned buildings.

If you are under the illusion that this doesn't happen amongst people who claim to care about liberation and social justice, then you really need to read this zine. It's 70 pages of mostly first hand accounts from survivors - and that's edited down from hundreds of pages of interviews. Not only does gendered violence happen with depressing frequency on the left but the responses from people who should be setting an example when it does is most often piss poor. We need pockets of resistance to demonstrate that it's possible to do better; human examples of nature winning back space from an ever expanding and destructive industrial capitalism.

This project - and this zine - is part of the process of redressing that imbalance. It is ongoing, hard work, often done by the very same people who are directly affected by gendered violence. It's time for more people to step up and support those who are working to salvage what's been ignored and left to rot.

Buy the zine in my shop or from the Salvage Collective for a mere £2 - an absolute bargain. Keep up to date with what @Project_Salvage are doing, attend one of their workshops or support them to deliver workshops where you are.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Ferrous Collection


Ever since I started foraging for sand and rocks to use in my pottery, I've become interested in the chemistry of when and how metal melts. If I'd realised earlier that this would be relevant to my interests in life, I probably would have approached high school science in a different way. But it's never too late to learn.


My particular interest right now is iron. Iron has been used for thousands of years by potters. Traditional celadon glazes, used throughout East Asia, are made using a small amount of iron oxide which turns green when fired in a reduction atmosphere. Pottery studios in cities tend to have electric kilns, which produce more uniform glazes, often in bold colours. This means that urban potters who prefer the look of glazes fired in gas or wood burning kilns have to develop little tweaks to make things a bit more interesting.

My first step was mixing my own glazes from the basic stock at my studio. Although I didn't pay attention in science class, I did pay attention in all my art classes so I know how to achieve different colours. Unlike with paint though, this is purely theoretical when working with raw glaze as the colour when it is unfired doesn't look anything like it does when it's fired. 


I managed to get the greens and blues I was looking for after some trial and error. But it seemed like I was still missing something. So I returned to the idea of the foraged materials and thought about how I could achieve something similar that didn't result in a rough texture, particularly on the rim. 



I tested a pot with a light brushing of iron oxide on the rim to see what would happen. I loved the way it melted down into the glaze, adding an extra dimension that took it one step further from the flat, uniform finish that the electric kiln so often produces.


The Ferrous Collection is a range of hand thrown table and kitchenware that incorporates iron in its various forms. Iron rich rock from La Gomera in the Canary Islands is ground down and added as red dust to the clay before throwing. This results in unpredictable iron blooms that only appear when the pot reaches glaze temperature.


For the pots that have iron oxide brushed on the rim, I apply this between glaze dips so it gets really incorporated into the finish rather than just sitting on top. Some other pots have rust I've collected around my studio added when the clay is still wet. My studio is based in an old railway arch and the actual metal arch is constantly shedding rust so I don't have to travel far to do my foraging.


All my work is for sale at my shop. Get in touch if you want to find out the story behind the particular pot you are interested in.  

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Man Called Uncle Tim #4 - Don

The fourth and final issue of The Man Called Uncle Tim has arrived back from the printer. This series has been an ongoing investigation into the life of my enigmatic uncle who lived in a queer, polyamorous household in rural Ohio and who died in 1995. The final issue features conversations with Don, one of only two surviving members from the J. Hartzelbuck household.

Aunt Judy, featured in issue #3, facilitated my introduction to Don and I've been talking to him by email since 2013 when I started this project. He still lives in Raven Rocks so when I went to scatter my grandma's ashes in the woods near my grandpa's ashes and Uncle Tim's grave, I was able to talk to him in real life.  

At the beginning of this project, I assumed I would be making five, six or more issues of the zine. When I started pulling together all the conversations Don and I had over the years though, it really felt like a conclusion to this story. He was able to provide so much insight into a portion of Uncle Tim's life that had remained largely hidden from the rest of my family. I also felt seriously relieved when this became clear. I'm ready to move onto new projects.

No doubt, there are many more potential perspectives to and opinions about his story. In fact, one of the things that has made me really happy about this project is the number of new conversations about Uncle Tim that have occurred in my family as a result. The impetus for starting this was to ensure that Uncle Tim's story doesn't get lost once the generation who knew him directly are not around anymore.

The fact that it became something so many people were interested in was a surprise to many of my family members who I collaborated with. But it is a fascinating story about alternative ways of living, risk taking and the unwavering conviction to be true to your own desires and values. So I'm not so surprised people have been able to find meaning in it even when they don't know the characters personally. 

Issue #4 is now available to buy in my shop. You can also buy the full set for yourself or as a gift and save some money.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Swords into Plowshares: Laura



Staying in hostels, sofa surfing or providing cat sitting services were a few of the ways Laura found places to stay in London. Throw in some stressful Visa issues and you have a potent mix that would make anyone feel unsettled. 

Laura adapted to this situation by carrying around loads of stuff at all times - always with at least one knitting project in tow. I suspect knitting provided Laura with a little bit of domesticity that didn't require an actual home, just a comfortable seat, often next to some friends who were also knitting or crafting. 

When I asked Laura to share a story for this project, it was agreed on the condition that I make a nostepinne instead of a dibber. A nostepinne is a Scandinavian tool for winding wool into centre-pull balls and the name literally translates to "nest-stick". It's very fitting because when I picture Laura settled, it would definitely be in a cozy nest made of wool.

Anyway, imagine being homeless for a while and when you finally find a long-term place to live you end up with an absolutely shocking letting agent. The kind of letting agent who has no respect for either privacy or private property (but not in a good anti-capitalist way). You've got to listen to Laura's story to believe it. 



This is the second story featured in the Swords into Plowshares series, where I exchange hand crafted things made from the posts that once held estate agent signs for stories. If you have a story of estate/letting agent woes - maybe they stole your fees, or your deposit, or just engineered you out of your home because someone else was willing to pay more rent than you - share it in exchange for a dibber or nostepinne. Write a comment below or contact me. And make sure you listen to the first one.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Swords into Plowshares: Charlie

Many people who rent in London (and beyond) would love the opportunity to grow their own vegetables, fruit, herbs or just some flowers. For most of them though, that feels impossible because of the insecurity they experience in their rented homes. The people at fault for this are not tenants, it is landlords and their parasitic estate agents who are in the business of raising rents as much as they can, as often as they can.

Swords into Plowshares is a project that began in 2015 as part of an exhibition about housing in East London. After learning how to use a lathe, I decided I wanted to make dibbers out of the posts that hold estate agent signs. I saw the abundance of these as a symbol of how quickly my neighbourhood was changing and the anxiety/instability this creates that prevents people from putting down roots. Think of it as an oral history of estate agent fuckery.

Charlie used to be my neighbour. She had a pretty awful buy-to-let landlord when she lived down the road from me. But the story she chose to tell in exchange for her dibber was from before I knew her and is far more uplifting. I think it's a great introduction to this project. Have a listen.



Do you have a story of estate/letting agent woes? Maybe they stole your fees, or your deposit, or just engineered you out of your home because someone else was willing to pay more rent than you. Get in touch if you have a story to share in exchange for a little extra encouragement to grow something - even if you understandably decide to keep it in a pot. Write a comment below or contact me.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Final Shape and Situate poster: Caroline Leneghan

This is my poster for the very last issue of Shape and Situate: Posters of Inspirational Women in Europe, the fantastic zine curated by Melanie Maddison for many years. I'm going to miss this zine. Ever since I started contributing, I've read books about radical history and thought about women in my community a little bit differently - basically with 'maybe that would make a good S&S poster' permanently in the back of my mind. So I thought I should end it all with a bang.

As a result of personal experiences, I've been thinking a lot about abusive men on the left for a while now, specifically how piss poorly the left deals with these men. At the same time, there has been an increasing backlash against marginalised people speaking out and challenging historical and current abuses of power. 

Caroline Leneghan's situation isn't unusual in the sense that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. But her abuser is a high-profile leader in one of the most powerful trade unions in the UK - a bastion of militant and radical workplace activism. Apparently what unites small, horizontally organised groups of activists and big, hierarchical trade unions who ascribe to very different ideologies is their shared failure to listen to, believe or support those who experience abuse in their ranks*.

But this is nothing new and everyone who speaks out knows very well that it could happen to them if they do. Choosing to do it anyway is my personal definition of inspirational and why I've profiled Caroline for my last poster. It is also a gigantic middle finger aimed at not only abusers but at those so-called lefties who cover up abuse, make excuses for abusers or stay silent by claiming it's 'none of their business'.

Read Caroline's story in her own words (content warning: images of the effects of physical abuse) and get yourself a copy of the last ever Shape and Situate

*There are some good examples from the left, like the stance Clapton Ultras took against Steve Hedley/in support of Caroline last year.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Foraging for pottery

Set of two nesting bowls with sand from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands wedged into the clay.
Lately I've been trying to find ways to combine the things I enjoy doing. Maybe it's related to getting older. On the one hand, it's facing up to the reality that there isn't an infinite amount of time left. On the other, it's about making quality time the priority over the time spent on things that 'need' to be done. Either way, I've successfully combined three things I love into these pots.

The first and most obvious is pottery. The decision to take it more seriously required getting to the point where I believe that I'm good enough and that it's worth the effort. This becomes more difficult with as more time passes. It's also difficult without any formal education or training and before anything in the way of sales. Nevertheless, in September I took a job at my pottery studio, allowing me to work at my 'day job' one less day a week and focus more on working with my hands. I also started selling my work more regularly.

Vase with stripes made of clay foraged in Whitstable. Known as London Clay, this was traditionally used for brick making.
The second is foraging. I love searching for edible and medicinal plants when I'm out in the countryside. I've been faithfully looking for edible mushrooms I can confidently identify for years. Over the last year, I found and ate two delicious porcinis and one giant puffball, although chanterelles still elude me. It was only after a trip to Iceland a few years ago, where I picked up some beautiful black sand from a secluded beach near Húsavík when I figured out that I could also forage for materials to use in my pottery.

Bottle with sand from Húsavík in the north of Iceland wedged into the clay. 
So the third thing that is incorporated into these pots is traveling. I've started collecting sand, rocks and even clay everywhere I go. Whether it's on a day trip to Whitstable or an extended road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, I bring home weird looking baggies of unidentifiable stuff.  I'm sure being a white woman with an American passport is the only reason I'm able to get these odd things across borders without any fuss.

Bottle with large sand particles from Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula glazed transparent.

The rocks and sand around Lake Crescent are high in basalt from ancient volcanic eruptions in the Olympic Mountains.
I've developed a particular interest in places with unique geography, especially volcanic and formally volcanic sites. The sand and rocks from these places do particularly interesting things in a 1200ºC kiln. They not only melt but spread out in beautiful patterns and react in unpredictable ways with the glazes.

Jade green glazed bottle with a trail of volcanic sand from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands.
There is a lot of experimentation involved and often the results are not great. With the initial excitement of seeing how the Icelandic sand looked, I wedged it into the clay so it was incorporated evenly throughout entire pots. I've moved away from that and started to use these foraged elements as more subtle details to enhance the shape of the pots.  All pottery for sale can be viewed in my shop.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Riso prints galore

For the last couple of years, I've been involved with the wonderful Riso Print on Friday at Common House. It's given me an opportunity to play around with a risograph, work collaboratively with others and focus on art as part of my activism. Here's what I've been making.

"Work is the cause of/solution to your problems"

"Working harder, getting nowhere - start jamming!" This is the squirrel that the risograph displays when it's working.

"Let's Kick Misogyny out of the Left" Although this is self-explanatory, there is little background for this one.


"All Cats are Beautiful" Obviously!

"A little less passive consumption, a little more active participation"

"Hands off our city!"

"Don't I deserve a good home?"

From the successful campaign against the Public Space Protection Order in Hackney.
"Messy hearts made of thunder" from Mountains Made of Steam by Silver Mt. Zion

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Updated shop with pottery and wood

In addition to paper based arts, I've been working with clay for many years and have just started working with wood. I finally got around to updating my shop to include some of my hand thrown pottery. I'm making new pots on a regular basis and continually adding them to the shop.

  I've also started a new wood turning project called Swords in Plowshares where I turn the posts holding estate agent signs into useful things like dibbers and nostepinnes on the lathe. These are not for sale but will be available to trade with anyone who is willing to share a story of being messed around by an estate or letting agent.
 
At the moment, I'm only shipping the pottery within the UK because international shipping is prohibitively expensive and I want my work to be both functional and affordable. Have a look around and see if there is anything for you. If you live in London or are planning a visit, you can save yourself shipping costs and come pick it up from my pottery studio in Hackney, East London. 


All my zines are available in the shop and I can easily ship those anywhere in the world.