Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This week I have been mostly making….like an odd job man.

The Inglenook fireplace in our new house with its massive oak lintel and wood stove not to mention a pan of chicken stock to go in my dinner tonight.

Its just over 2 months since we moved house and the time has disappeared in a blur of DIY. When you move into a new house, unless it is newly built, there are usually a number of things you want to change. We knew we wanted to make some pretty major alterations and updates when we bought it and also knew there would be some maintenance jobs which needed doing, however when you take possession of an empty house you get a better chance to evaluate what might need to be done than you had when you were house hunting. I think our house hunting glasses must have been very, very strongly tinted with rose. A lot of things went unnoticed.  Everything I look at now needs some sort of attention. From the external paintwork which I estimate hasn’t been done for 15 years – think ‘rotten windowsills’ , ‘peeling weatherboard’ and ‘self destructing wattle and daub’ – to the kitchen which has practically no lighting – just two 40 watt, candle bulb, wall lights on the opposite side of the kitchen to the work surfaces – or the upstairs bedroom window in which the glass was put in without putty or mastic and lets a gale blow through the cracks.

Not only are there ‘remedial’ tasks to be addressed but our last, modern house and this new house have rather different basic facilities. The last house had lots of built in storage – wardrobes, bookcases/shelving, a larder, bathroom cupboards and a separate airing cupboard. The new place had just one small airing cupboard. Needless to say, putting up shelving has been a major theme of late not to mention buying bedroom furniture. Another difference is in the electrical wiring. This house has no ceiling lights and very few wall lights. Nearly all their lights were plug-in lamps, and the lighting circuits were especially tailored to support this. The switches by the door don’t control lights as such, they control special sockets into which you plug your lamps. These sockets have round pins rather than the square ones usually found on mains electrical appliances. So although we had quite a few lamps from our previous house they had the wrong sort of plugs and couldn’t be operated from the light switches by the doors. We hadn’t come across this sort of wiring before and I had never noticed round pin plugs for sale in DIY shops. Some frantic phoning around confirmed that most places don’t sell them, but we did manage to find some and I spent a merry day changing the plugs on all our lamps.

The iron stud bearing a letter B embedded in the fireplace lintel. The studs maximum dimension is about 1cm

Needless to say, not much progress towards the salt glaze dream, but its never far from my thoughts and this house has some wonderful features as well as its short term drawbacks. Above right is the fireplace and wood burning stove and embedded in the massive lintel above the stove is a metal stud bearing a capital letter B – possibly from a printing press (see left). Given that we are located in the village of Bishopstone this is probably not a coincidence, but its a feature I intend to take advantage of. An impression taken in clay and biscuit fired will make a stamp with which I can sign all the pots I make here. Poetic!

Posted November 21, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

This week I have been mostly making…. tough decisions and hardcore

Its a while since I posted on here, largely because my life as a potter is pretty much on hold as we prepare to move house. Its three months since I threw anything on the wheel and one since I glazed anything. Its a frustrating time, only made bearable by the knowledge that in a couple of weeks I can start the process of becoming a wood firing salt glazer.

The concept here is that pots are containers for something precious. They should therefore be physically equipped to guard and protect. In this instance with rather organic looking weaponry inspired by plants or beetles.

One of the tasks I have been undertaking has been emotionally draining. For the first 20 years in our current house my potting activities were largely confined to weekends and holidays as my time was taken up with my full time job as a biologist, the family and the garden. The rate at which I had new ideas and new inspirations about what to make far exceeded my capacity to actually and physically realise their creation. Almost every making session I would be making something I hadn’t made before and almost every glazing session I would make a new glaze or two and try different combinations of glazes and decoration methods. Every firing was effectively a ‘test’ firing.  Many ideas never got made, although I still have notebooks with sketches and concepts and descriptions of the practical aspects of how things could be made. Many ideas did start to be made but for one reason or another didn’t get finished (see left). These part made pots tended to hang around on my shelves as reminders of the ‘concept’ which spawned them, and some of them have been hanging around for fully 20 years. Somehow I haven’t been able to convince myself  that the concept can be abandoned. However, now that everything we own must be put in boxes and moved, and there was a limit to how many firings I could do in the time available, I have had to ‘bite the bullet’ and get rid of stuff.

One of several boxes of broken biscuit ware which ended up at the recycling centre in the ‘hardcore’ skip

Throwing stuff away goes against the grain with me. I’m a bit of a hoarder at heart, although not obsessive…. I usually find that the things I keep do eventually come in useful. I also don’t like to abandon a job half done. I hate wasted effort and wasted resources which is what has made the time since we agreed our house sale and move so difficult. There have been many, many things in the house, garden and pottery that we needed to get rid of. Anything I consider to be of the slightest worth I have been trying to freecycle ( mostly with success. However half made pots are not much use to anyone so a lot of these have been turned into hardcore and taken to the dump. Deciding which ones to dump and which ones could go in the last firing or two was hard, but just had to be done.

This clear-out does have its plus side. These half made pots constituted a lot of jobs half done. Since the age of 18 when I left home and went to University there haven’t been enough hours in the day or days in the year to do everything I would like to do. Things get prioritised which means some things get delayed or abandoned. Each unfinished pot represented a job which needed finishing and constituted a small increment in the weight of expectation I felt I was shouldering. I am no longer carrying this weight and there is a great feeling of release. I have started ‘moving on’ and am looking forward to the next chapter in my life and my ceramics.

Posted August 16, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

This week I have been mostly making….a momentous purchase

Interior view of The Stonehouse, Herefordshire

For at least 15 years I have wanted to make wood fired, salt (or soda) glazed pottery. That long ago I acquired the domain name and still own it. The position of our house and garden in relation to the rest of the village and the prevailing wind have made this type of firing impossible…95 days out of 100 the wind would blow the smoke and fumes from the kiln into our house, the neighbours and the rest of the village.  Jobs, family and schooling issues have mitigated against moving house. However last September our son departed for university and a few months prior to that I finished a 9 year contract which provided a handsome payout as a leaving present. Since then we have been looking for a new home.

There was a long ‘wish list’ for the new property.  My items on the list centred around the pottery facilities. My wife’s centred on the property having options for keeping animals and poultry, having a large vegetable patch and running a Bed and Breakfast establishment. The joint items on the list included being located somewhere with hills, valleys, rivers and woodland and lots of nice walks, the house being old and having lots of character but not too much work to do on it, and not in the middle of nowhere or right next to a busy road and having broadband and a mobile phone signal.

Our target area was vast. From Devon and Dorset in the South northwards through Somerset, Wiltshire,  Avon, 

The Stonehouse viewed from the rear garden

Gloucestershire and  Herefordshire to Shropshire in the North. We had holidayed or lived in all of these areas and considered, at least parts of all of them, suitable. The property we have found is in Herefordshire, close to the England /Wales border and about 7 miles from the county town (city) of Hereford.

As a pottery facility it has all the potential required but nothing immediately usable. There is enough land to build as big a studio as I can imagine wanting together with a kiln shed and a wood store where I can let large quantities of wood dry out for a couple of years. The prevailing wind blows away from the house and the rest of the village.  In the short term there is a huge garage/workshop and a summerhouse where my equipment and materials can be stored.  My short term task is to get a studio built and have suitable electricity, water and heating installed.

The other items on the wish list have been met and our current house is sold. So, barring problems with the buying/selling chain we will be moving house in August.

Saltglaze here I come!!!

This week I have been mostly making…. tracks

I have just had a week off from pottery and spent a few days walking in and around Dorset.

The weather was very kind to us. We could see the rain pouring down in the distance every day except today, and we were walking in sunshine or sitting in the pub. Today we walked in a very gentle drizzle through the New Forest. In some ways it was my favourite walk. The rain made all the the colours of the dead leaves, mosses,  grasses and tree trunks much more  intense, highlighting the more subtle beauty of  the woodlands.

I can recommend

Stourhead Garden

The South Dorset Coast









The New Forest








The artwork of Fiona Gordon-Abbey. We were given a sneak preview of her latest work, produced during her, fortunately victorious, battle with cancer. Some of the works clearly reflect aspects of her emotional state during an obviously stressful  episode of her life and are very powerful.

Posted April 14, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

This week I have been mostly making ….. bowls (again)

8cm x 18cm bowl freshly thrown

Spring is on its way. Only five weeks since the maximum temperature during the day was -1C and we had a 21C day last week. Having recently made a batch or two of my usual breakfast/desert bowls I felt it was time for something new. That’s what Spring does for you. I have never quite settled on a Soup or General Purpose bowl shape and as I was in a bowls groove I thought it was time to explore the possibilities. My desert bowls are small, quite delicate and have a turned foot, which requires them to be put on the wheel twice. This requires quite an expenditure of time and effort, which I don’t begrudge as I think the end result is worth it. I felt the Soup Bowl should be larger, more robust and  more stable which meant I should probably dispense with a turned foot.

I started with Simon Leach’s GP bowl, clay weight (450g) and dimensions (15cm x 8cm). They turned out to be quite sturdy little fellas, considerably smaller than I had in mind  and a little more heavily potted ( ie thicker walls) than suits my taste. Also, the rolled rim just isn’t me. They all went in the clay reclaim bucket. I increased the diameter to 16cm, dispensed with the rolled rim and put a slight change of gradient in the wall. When I threw them I was happy with their shape, but when I came to look at them the next day I felt they were too narrow in relation to their height. They were also a bit on the small and sturdy side. I increased the diameter to 17cm. Again, when I threw them I was happy with their shape, but when I came to look at them the next day I felt they were too narrow in relation to their height. The clay recycling bin was filling up rapidly. Was it just me and my perceptions or were these bowls changing shape overnight?. Every potter knows that thrown items shrink as they dry out, but it seemed as if my bowls were changing proportions as they dried out. This is something I haven’t  considered, noticed or heard of before. So I made a couple of 18 x 8cm bowls and measured them very carefully just after throwing and when dried out and took some photos.

The same bowl when almost completely dry

Sure enough they were changing proportions as they dried out. The diameter decreased by 1.6cm (= 100 x 1.6/18)  ie.  8.9% whereas the height only decreased by .5cm (=100 * 0.5/8) ie. 6.25%. Its amazing how this slight change in proportions affected my liking for the shape, and if there is one principle I stick to its that I must only keep items whose form I am happy with. No matter what I do afterwards by way of decoration and glazing I won’t be happy with the final product. “You can’t polish a turd”.

I have yet to fire these bowls. They will shrink, that’s for sure, but will they change proportions again?  I don’t know. Developing a new product is always more involved than I expect it to be. Its one of the challenges in a potters life which keeps it interesting and, ultimately, rewarding when you finally overcome the problems.

Posted April 7, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

This week I have been mostly making …. sure.   Leave a comment

Just like peas in a pod

Quality Control Cat

All craft practitioners must apply their own standards of quality control. But its also important to seek outside references and advice. To me it has always seemed that cats have a certain degree of Zen-like serenity and wisdom, so one of my quality control references is Suzi. Suzi is the mother of 5 offspring, so knows about families. She is my final arbiter when it comes to the uniformity of products. She believes items of the same type should look like a family. To ensure that us small family, ‘weed-eaters’ understand, she suggests that we should adopt the view that things should be as alike as peas in a pod. Apparently, the Zen masters say “How can you have a favourite if all the options are identical?”. Having favourite things enriches our lives. I have a favourite bowl for soup, a favourite mug for redbush tea, a different favourite mug for liquorice tea and a still different favourite  mug for ordinary tea. I could go on, but you’ve no doubt got my drift by now. Here is a picture of Suzi doing a spot check to make sure my bowls are not too alike. Sufficiently similar in shape to stack properly in the cupboard, sufficiently different to be able to choose a favourite.

Posted March 23, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

Tagged with

This week I have been mostly making…..bowls

Bowls, or at least a bowl, was what got me interested in ceramics. I remember the day I bought it quite clearly. Prior to that I’d had no real interest in ceramics and at school had turned down the chance to do the pottery option in my art lessons. This bowl was the first ceramic item I bought because I thought it was beautiful. Any other pots I owned I had because I needed them and, being an impoverished biology student, had been scrounged from my parents or bought from jumble sales or from the hardware shop along the road from my flat. As long as they did their job that was fine.

"The first bowl"

The bowl that changed me came from Neal Street in Covent Garden (London). My latest girlfriend and I had been wandering around the back streets in the area,  which was much more down-market and bohemian than now, and discovered a shop which imported all manner of Oriental domestic artefacts. Today there are plenty of places which stock this type of thing but at the time, around 1980, it was a revelation.  We had never seen chopstick stands, steamers, sushi mats, woks and their attendant cooking utensils, ceramic spoons and chinese rice bowls, calligraphic scrolls and chinese brushes and ink stones. The prices were very low and we spent an age in there deciding what to get with our meagre funds. I was particularly struck by the elegant shapes of many of the ceramics, the bowls in particular. They were unlike anything Europe had to offer. I left with two bowls, one, blue and white, essentially hemispherical on quite a tall foot, which I thought would make a good cereal bowl and one like an inverted cone or parabola also on a distinct foot. It had a quiet green glaze with iron speckles and a design of a spray of grasses on one side, upside down!. (see left and right). I wasn’t sure what I would use it for but found it too attractive to leave behind. At the time, being almost totally ignorant of pottery and its manufacture, I thought it was hand made. It had strong ridges on the external surface and the grass design seemed very free. With hindsight and over 30 years of pottery making behind me its so obvious it was made in a factory but with features designed to make it look handmade. It was those features, together with its shape, which drew me to it. A year later I enrolled for a pottery evening class. Miraculously, it is still intact and I still have a certain amount of affection for it despite its duplicitous character.

Posted March 13, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

This week I have been mostly making …. corrections.

Photographic setup in the corner of the spare bedroom

This website lark is not quite as straightforward as I thought it would be. Or should that read  “as I think it should be”. I seem to have spent an awful lot of time making minor modifications to get the pages to look as I want them. I’m not sure if its a limitation of WordPress, the ‘theme’ I’m using or just my knowledge, but to get the layout of the ‘Galleries’ page to look good I’ve had to seek the advice of a website expert, namely my better half, and get my hands dirty with raw HTML code. But mixing hand crafted code with the automatic formatting tendencies of WordPress has proved time consuming. Things you put into a page often get stripped out when it is saved. At last however I am happy with the look of the Galleries page and know what needs doing to add further galleries.

I’ve also spent a lot of time fiddling with photos. Although they look fine on the camera’s view screen, when transferred to my computer everything seems to have a pink tinge. At first I thought this was just poor colour reproduction on my laptop screen but looking at the photos in an editing utility clearly shows that the white of the background is not actually white. The pink tinge detracts fairly severely from the appearance of my chun glaze when used over red clay. In real life this has a nice bluish tinge, but this is lost in the as taken photos. I’ve therefore edited the colours on each photo. This is easy to do using the picnik tool in Google’s web gallery Picasa. You just place the cursor over an area on your photo that should be white and Hey Presto! it alters all the colours in the photo to what they should be. A bit time consuming, but most of the photos needed cropping, so I was editing them anyway. Clearly it would be better to get the right colours first time. Although I am illuminating with tungsten lights and have chosen the tungsten white balance setting on the camera its obviously not quite right. Time to investigate the mysteries of the custom white balance setting procedure!

Posted March 6, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

Today I have been mostly making….webpages


Flat shallow bowl with 4 glaze dips over iron spiral

Welcome to my life as a potter. This is my first blog post so they can only get better. I haven’t done much potting this week as I’ve been creating this website. I decided to do it myself for reasons of economy and autonomy, its also fun to learn new things. I’m using wordpress, which for those not familiar with such things is a great free system for blogging and creating and hosting websites. I think I’ve got the hang of most of the essentials now after using it for a couple of hours a day for the last fortnight or so. I’ve also been taking lots of photos. This is challenging and a skill I need to develop further.

These two activities have been quite a welcome diversion from the pottery this week as it is so cold out there. The temperature in the garden yesterday didn’t reach 1c.  Although I can quickly heat up my studio in the morning, it is too poorly constructed and insulated to contemplate keeping it anything other than frost-free overnight. Consequently the clay and glazes get very cold indeed, which is hard on the fingers as its difficult if not impossible to make pottery while wearing gloves. My best tip for cold weather potting is to use hot water for rinsing sponges and when throwing on the wheel which does help a little.

Posted February 9, 2012 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,