I began ceramics in 2008, needing to get away from the computer screen, and get back to being creative in a more physical way by making things. I quickly became enamoured with the material and processes. The fundamental earthiness and malleability of clay appealed at one level, and the technology of firing and glaze chemistry at another.
I started with Sally Bettridge at Peter Symonds College in Winchester, and then with Mirka Golden-Hann in Salisbury. I’ve also attended courses and master classes led by Akiko Hirai, Peter Callas, Richard Phethean, Shozo Michikawa, Seungho Yang and others.
Ceramics was taking up more of my time, and I got to the stage that I needed to set up my own studio, with the flexibility that gives. I also started wood fring with the Anagama kilns at Oxford, in addition to my electric kiln, and am now one of those that can organise and run a firing there, which I normally do twice a year.
In the summer of 2018 I was ready to start the transition from it being a hobby to developing a proper business. I started exhibiting at craft fairs and exhibitions, and built on that throughout 2019. Unfortunately that came to an end in 2020, and at present most of my pieces are sold through my website or Instagram.
I also realised that many potters do not have as strong a technical background or approach as me, and I saw an opportunity for teaching. The first two courses were developed in 2020, and are now being delivered online.
My making is loosely centered round ceramic vessels, with some pieces being functional whereas others move over towards decorative or are pieces of art.
I do not feel tied to any one material or method. I will use red earthenware or white stoneware, hand building or using the wheel, whatever is the best method to get the desired end result. My pieces tend to be loose and organic in form, with a surface that is both visually appealing, highly tactile, and rich and complex. They may be put into the Anagama kiln unglazed, to get their colour and texture from the play of heat and flames, and melting of ash from the wood fuel. Or they may be fired in a highly controlled manner using a carefully formulated glaze in the electric kiln, creating a complex, variegated glaze.
Evoking a sense of time and memory is important to me. It may be making the piece look timeless, as though it has aged over the centuries, and built up and been shaped by memories of all that it has seen. Or it may be using techniques that have largely been forgotten, to avoid their fading away and being lost, whether that is in wood firing, or researching and developing lost glazes such as the Chinese Song dynasty oil spot glazes, or the Uranium glazes developed between when Uranium was first discovered at the end of the 19th Century, and it being reappropriated for more destructive purposes some 50 years later.
Another thread, that comes out more in my more artistic pieces, is the tension of different views of something. There may be the official view, but that is frequently subverted by other, equally valid, realities, which causes an unresolveable tension.
My initial career was in designing sailing yachts, as I was a competitive sailor in boats from offshore yachts to 18′ Skiffs. My first job after university was with McGruer & Co on the Clyde, one of the last wooden boatbuilders in the UK. I then moved south to work with Rob Humphreys Yacht Design and Tony Castro, as well as in my own right.
During this time I was mostly working on the more technical aspects of design, pushing the design limits, introducing radical new materials like carbon fibre,and developing some of the earliest systems for logging, predicting and analysing boat performance.
The work was not all sitting behind a computer in the design office, though. Much time was spent with the boatbuilders, meshing their hands-on knowledge from making with my more analytical approach to come up with the best design solutions. I also built a number of sailing dinghies in my spare time, in both wood and fibreglass.
After working on how to best take advantage of the handicapping rules that assessed a boat’s performance, I moved over to work on developing the Channel Handicap System, now IRC, which became the largest and most successful yacht handicapping system worldwide.
A slump in the economy meant a downturn in the yacht racing market, so I took my computing skills over to IBM, where I was a Research Scientist for 7 years. Most of my work there was on applications of 3-d modelling and design, with projects ranging from yacht design visualisation to car body design.
The mainframe computer then got ovettaken by newer technologies, and as part of IBM’s slimming down I left, and set up my own business developing, supplying and installing computer systems for yachts. But it wasn’t just technology – as we dealt with large, high end ychts the computers were often designed in to the fabric and the furniture. On one yacht, which had a toad as its emblem, we worked with a wood carver to have a mouse in the form of a toad, that made a suitable noise when you pressed a mouse button.
As well as fun toys, we also were making technical innovations, and through this work got drawn into doing applied researh for the European Space Agency, Galileo and the EU, and this began to dominate our work. The main project, that we spent 8 years on, was improving the depth data on nautical charts by having volunteer ships and boats record data that we developed tools to process into charts automatically.
Unfortunately with the referendum result we found our contracts were not being renewed, so over time I laid off all the staff. Pottery was taking up ever more of my time, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and allow my career to follow a new direction…