I’m on the tellybox!
In a new series called, “Make It At Market,” on BBC One which starts on Tuesday 2nd January 2023, and is on at 4.30pm every week day for 3 weeks.
I’ll be on episode 3 on Wednesday 3rd January at 4.30pm, it will be available on iplayer as well.
“The Repair Shop’s Dom Chinea works with a team of business and craft experts to help a group of budding entrepreneurs make a living from their crafting hobby.”
How on earth did this happen?
I’ve been waiting so long to share the information about what happened to me last year! I saw an advert on the Northern Potters facebook page which – from memory…
A new series for people who wanted to turn their artist passion into a business, and there was the offer of having a mentor for the process.
This sounded just what I needed, so I applied. Little did I know that I would be accepted!
Of course I panicked, and there was a lot going on in my personal life and suddenly everything felt so overwhelming, especially after reading the advice about what may happen on social media with regards bullying, threats and general nastiness. I wondered whether I had made the right choice, even thought of backing out, but my dream to be the artist I always wanted as a kid fueled me to keep going. Heaven only knows I was going to need that passion for the next few months…
No, this isn’t me, it’s A BBC approved image from the show – Dom standing with a ceramic hare I made for the show and two ceramic joyful birds.
The Challenges Were Set
The production company set us 3 challenges – Speed Challenge, Favourite Piece and High-end Piece. Having only just decided I wanted to work with clay and become an artist less than 6 months before this process started, it was hard to know what to do, especially when they asked us to price our work – I didn’t have a clue! Which was why I needed help from a mentor in the first instance. I made up a figure and hoped for the best.
I’ve chosen palm-sized “birds of joy.” Colourful little birds with cute expressions that make people smile and want to hold them. They are simple for me to make by hand using the pinch-pot method and they behave well during firing. There’ll never be two the same as they’re each made by hand. Made to be held and enjoyed not just looked at.
Large head-studies of wildlife I’ve met and been inspired by. I give them soul and each one has a story to tell. I build them using the coil technique and find them a challenge but love being hands-on and seeing them come to life. Pieces can be indoor or outdoor (but ideally brought in if it’s going to freeze)
The same as my favourite pieces, but fired using the Raku kiln. Raku is more labour intensive, the glazes I use are higher cost, as is the propane for fuelling the kiln. There’s a much bigger risk of “failure” for this process as opposed to firing in the electric kiln, but the colour results are worth it I feel. Plus who doesn’t love playing with fire? 😉 The resulting pieces are for indoor only.
“Speed challenge” – joyful birds ready for glazing then firing
Best laid plans
Having rushed through the decision of what I would feature, I then had to make the pieces for the filming – in various stages so they could show the process. From a bag of clay through to the finished pieces. This was in April, the filming was due the first week in May. As you know, ceramics take time – not least to dry, so it was very much a rushed process to get everything done in time.
The piece I was making ended up a cm too tall to fit in the kiln, so as I gently sanded the ear tip, it fell off. I made another ear and replaced it, managed to bisque fire it before raku firing it. He ended up with a crack so the production company suggested I should use something else. So I made another hare, and two leverets to go with her and got her fired just in time.
So I loaded the car up and off down to Leicester I went for filming. As we were to be making we were told to wear what we were comfortable in, so I’d had my own t-shirts printed as we weren’t allowed to wear anything with a logo on.
The replacement hare family for a suggested high-end piece before their glaze firing
Wow, the location was stunning! A National Trust property in Leicester called, “Stoneywell – the home of a family who lived and loved the Arts and Crafts.”
The bluebells carpeted the woods and the gardens were in beautiful bloom. The filming was to be done in different areas within the gardens, and the main tent in the centre for catching up with our host Dom and our respective mentors about how we were progressing.
I – like many of the others there – had a massive dose of imposter syndrome. Wondering why on earth we had been chosen to take part when we were surrounded by all these talented crafters. I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude.
Filming felt intense, and very often we had to repeat the question before the answer which sounds surprisingly easy until you do it!
Once I was able to get my hands on the clay though I relaxed. We were in front of the woods and I felt much more like myself. I even managed some time between filming to walk in the woods and spotted a beautiful deer.
Derek Wilson was introduced to me, he was to be my mentor.
A tall Irish chap who was just as nervous about being on camera as the rest of us. His gentle manner put me at ease, and I was so relieved he was a nice chap and easy to talk to.
Little did I know that he was about to set me a BIG challenge. I knew a challenge was coming, and I was ready – or so I thought. Until the gauntlet was laid down for me to create another hare, at least 3 times as big as the one I’d just made (which incidentally only just fit in my kiln!)
The big challenge
Once I was back home, it was time to meet the challenges I was set. The biggest of course being the new hare. I had from the 5th May until the next filming on the 4th July. Or so I thought. In the meantime I was given the opportunity to have a stand at Handmade Oxford, so the deadline had moved to the 22nd June! Ok, I can do this, even though I had a few shows booked in too.
“Make it bigger” they said, “It’ll be fun” they said.
Goodness me, thankfully I was lucky enough to have my friend Sue who lives in the same village who was kind enough to let me have the space in her much bigger kiln to fire it. I know Sue through the Northern Potters Association, a thoroughly nice welcoming bunch.
Now I rushed into making because I knew of the deadline, and I didn’t get the dimensions as they should have been, so I ended up moving and shovelling around the hare I was making and in the process I’d managed to get some air trapped, and even though I’d dried her the best I possibly could, she ended up blowing her bottom during the bisque firing. I now think as well that the ramp was too high – ie she needed to be fired more slowly than she was to allow the moisture more time to escape. Lots of lessons when your choice of media is clay!
So she ended up sat in the naughty corner of the studio whilst I started work on a new one. YIKES. “I can do this.”
Just keep swimming
New hare made – Luna – she survived her bisque firing and her glaze firing! She was still hot when I collected her from Sue’s kiln the morning I was driving to Oxford for the fair. I was so relived she’d survived and thankful to Sue for all her help and kindness.
Strapped into the passenger seat, myself and Luna headed for Oxford. It was a relief to finally be set up and ready for the fair to start the next day.
The first day, sales were very small, but I did get chance to speak to a lot of people about wildlife and how we can help to support them. My pieces got nice feedback and were given some love by passers by.
I don’t know if it was exhaustion but when I got back to the hotel I did wonder if I could ever make this work. I’d done so much in such a short space of time – new branding, website, print, photos, new pieces, different materials, firing, glazing, building plinths, doing shows. What I needed was someone to remind me that it takes time, and I’m in it for the long-game. I was building the foundations that every artist or craftsperson needs, just with the pressure of going through the process for filming.
The next day and a wonderful couple bought Luna. I was sad to say goodbye – I even have a lump in my throat as I write this even now – but they sent me a photo of her in her new loving home, and gave me some confidence that maybe, just maybe I could make this work after all.
Luna at the Oxford fair
When life gives you lemons… glaze them
So now Luna had been adopted, I had to replace her for the filming in just over a week’s time. Suddenly, Belle was needed and released from her naughty corner. One last favour begged from Sue – who is an absolute superstar – and Belle had a shiny new coat. Thankfully nothing else fell off or blew up in her glaze firing, and off to Stoneywell we went again for our last filming.
Belle after getting her new coat showing her size compared to the previous hare!
Breaking the mould
So inbetween driving up and down the country and making things, I was also set the challenge to look into using moulds for speeding up the making process of the joyful bird pieces, as well as making new designs and moulding them too.
I was given Ed Bentley‘s details from my mentor Derek and I booked in a day for training. I’m so thankful to Northern Potters Association who helped me with a bursary for this training. It was very much appreciated especially given all the costs involved with getting this far through the process.
Ed was a great tutor, simplifying the process for me and I left knowing enough to have the confidence to give mould-making a go. Which is exactly what I did.
So I had a whole new process to learn, try, fail and practice. I tried porcelain slip, colouring it, test firing, earthenware and stoneware slip, making moulds for the different smaller pieces I had made. I had been asked for a quote from a national heritage charity so I was under pressure to get the costs down and the numbers up.
Having made and fired some successful samples, having held them in my hands, there was something missing from them, and in fact they didn’t even speed the process up in the end. So I’ve shelved the moulds and gone back to hand-building. But I do see how I could use moulds in future projects, just not for these little guys.
In fact, I’ve used the technique to create ceramic tootsies – the pawprints of both hedgehogs and badgers – which are being sold to make money for local wildlife rescues.
It’s a messy job…
The final filming
It was nice to be back at Stoneywell and catching up with everyone. There was a good feeling and I was still reeling from everything that had been going on.
Chatting to Dom and Derek in the big tent about how things had gone, I felt sad that the process was coming to an end.
To my surprise they told me about a business boost they had organised for me. It turns out that behind the scenes the team had been working hard to find and provide opportunities for each of us to help us in the journey!
Unfortunately, mine didn’t come to any conclusion, but part of the journey is discovering what does and doesn’t work, and as a massive believer in things happening for a reason I know it’s ok.
The producer asked me about it at the end of the filming. The best way I could think to sum it up was it had felt like 6 months of business development had been fit into 6 weeks.
I told him that I was so grateful that I had been given this amazing opportunity. That I, like many others, had been told as a child that our dreams of being artists was never going to make us a living and to do something sensible instead. The fact that all of these people had put their faith in me, worked so hard and helped me along my journey meant the world to me. I will be forever grateful and if I work hard enough, hopefully I’ll be in a position where I too can give back.
Since the final filming in July 2022, I have worked so hard and found my artists voice. My skills have improved and I’ve even been down to London to see my artwork in The British Art Prize.
What does the future hold? Some exciting events, lots of clay mess, shenanigans, new pieces and of course opportunities to help that which is closest to my heart – our British Wildlife.