Talk and Tips

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After a busy run of shows to Christmas I started the new year with a holiday to Thailand, coming back ready to launch into some orders and prepare for the British Craft trade show (BCTF). Thinking that things were quiet and relaxed it was if the pot buying public had woken up and I received several orders from local buyers and from some galleries I supply.

My first show is a trade show in Harrogate UK. If you have never done a trade show it works like a retail show but in reverse. You exhibit your work the buyers order pots and you go back and make them. The main buyers at BCTF are small independent shops and galleries so instead of going to them they come to you. The only problem of course is they have a lot to choose from as there are around 500 exhibitors. I hope to get a few new galleries ordering work, the last time I did it I picked up a museum shop that have constantly placed decent orders throughout the year.

Several potters are using a black stoneware clay which I am interested in but I dislike having more then one clay body in the workshop so I have been experimenting with a black slip over my light stoneware body which I am contrasting with various glazes. Other new work coming through are some small sculptures. I love the work of John Maltby he was a potter turned sculptor and his work has depth and humour which I have tried to emulate without copying his style or content.

My diary page on my website is now up to date and when I have fired the kiln with some new pots I will get them put on the site too. During the summer I have a couple of Potfest events and the Wardlow Mires festival, then as Christmas approaches a run of mixed craft shows.

Voting is still taking place on the Craft and Design awards until March 31st, please follow the link below and vote for me, it all helps to raise the awareness of crafts and you can vote for more than one person.

Tip   Potters approach glazes in different ways, some buy in ready made others buy or find raw materials and mix their own recipes up. My daughter is a technician at UCA and I get the odd text for advice when she is doing ceramic work with the students. I tried to explain in simple terms what a glaze is because knowing what the different parts do leads to a life time of exploration and interest.

So here goes – Glaze is a glass, imagine molten glass, if this was on a pot it would run off so we add clay to make it more viscous. The glass is mostly silica eg. sand, flint, quartz but this won’t melt on it’s own so we need a flux such as feldspar or borax (in lower temperature glazes) so basically we need feldspar , quartz and some clay.

There you have the starting point. For a stoneware glaze try 70 feldspar, 20 quartz and 10 ball clay and see what happens on a test tile, just mix a 100 gram amount, remove some water until it’s slightly creamy. If it works add tin or zirconium for a white and oxides to colour.

Vote for Dave  www.craftmaker.co.uk/davidmelville

website  www.potteryman.co.uk   you can follow the link on my website for Potfest events

 

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Talk and Tips

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2015 was a good year, I celebrated 35 years of making by donating 100 mugs to raise funds for Mary’s Meals, I started selling them in March and by August they were all sold raising £1419. I took part in two Potfest shows, Scotland and Cumbria with good sales at the both and won a competition for tableware at the Cumbrian show whilst one of my ex students won the front cover prize given by Craft and design Magazine. Later in the year I did a run of mixed craft shows from October to December and an exhibition in Canterbury’s Beaney gallery with the Kent Potters Association. Nearly all of the shows in 2015 had improved sales wise on 2014 so hopefully showing that finally the economy is picking up.

I decided to slow down on teaching( I have only ever done a couple of days a week) and not advertise it but I had a few schools ask me to come in. One project was a large mural for the entrance hall. I rolled the clay out in sections which were joined together to make a mural 1.5 x 2.5 metres, the children modelled a scene of the playground depicting children doing all the activities that they do in the school. Once cheese hard  it was cut up like a jigsaw, fired and then mounted on a board. The children then painted it. When they come into school they like to mention what bit they did.

At the end of the year pottery went large with the Great Pottery Throw Down, despite a few negative comments it was a great success and raised awareness of the trials and tribulations of a potters life. It also boosted classes and lots of the public at the shows I did talked about it. Maybe with a few more similar programs universities will think twice about closing courses.

Also spreading the word is a new online magazine called Emerging Potters Online Magazine produced in conjunction with Ayelsford (Priory) Pottery in Kent. The pottery was set up by David Leach and Colin Pearson with a view to the monks producing wares. It is now run by Alan Parish and Billy Biles – Billy is the holder of the Guinness book of records for throwing the most pots in an hour. He made 150 I came third with 75 – well he is 20 years younger than me!!

Now in 2016 I have just started back to making and  will be using this quieter time of year to make new work, rebuild stock and get the website up to date in time for a trade show. I have applied for several shows and wait for replies, so far confirmed are two Potfest shows. I start the year at The British Craft Trade Show in April which is held in Harrogate, Yorkshire, while I am there I will visit the refurbished York Art Galleries COCA gallery for their collection of studio pottery, probably the best collection in the UK.

Every year I take part in the Craft and Design Magazines awards, you can vote for me and any other selected member on the address below.

Vote for David on http://www.craftmaker.co.uk/davidmelville/

Tip

A lot of potters use wood ash in their glazes, I collect ash from a wood burner in my workshop. When I have filled a large dustbin  it’s time to start processing it. Some potters use it unwashed if you do there is a good chance that the glaze mixture will change in time as soluble fluxes evaporate. The ash will also need to pass through a sieve so as to take the large particles out as these will not be taken into the melt.

First as the ash is taken from the grate it is passed through a garden riddle sieve which has holes around 7mm, this takes out the un-burnt matter. I then fill the bin with water and stir it, more un-burnt matter will float to the surface. The mix in the bin is now passed through a 40 mesh sieve, at the end of each sieve full I run a hose over the remains to help it through. I use a lot of water in this process so it helps to clean it as I go. The bin is left to settle, the water removed and then refilled. The process begins again through an 80 mesh sieve. After this remove the water top up with fresh and stir. It’s now a case of letting it settle, remove all the water and dry the ash.

A recipe I use can be applied with a brush is  50 local clay, 30 ash, 20 whiting.

Ash can be caustic so wear rubber gloves and while processing dry ash wear a mask.

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Talk and Tips

dipping bowl

This year I have made my living as a potter for 35 years, to celebrate this I have made and donated 100 limited edition mugs to sell on behalf of Mary’s Meals, a charity that feeds children in poverty stricken countries. I had them all made by March and fully expected to be selling them throughout the year. I promoted them through Craft and Design, Ceramic review, Facebook and my website and email contacts. I then had them for sale on my stand at two Potfest events. Much to my surprise by the time I finished Potfest in the Pens in early August I had sold the lot raising a total of £1419.

Much of my 35 potting years has been making tableware along with garden pots and one offs, my aim is to make work that most people can afford and not add an “art value” on top of the craftsman made piece. In the eighties I had a tableware range of over 50 items in three glazes but the demand dropped slowly until I was selling more one off pots. Coming forward I redesigned the range, made it smaller and in one glaze which sold steadily through the recession but now there seems to be a surge in sales so i have to ask “Is tableware the new rock and roll”? Probably not but people will always like a pot they can use over one that collects dust, it’s called added value.

At Potfest in August there was a focus on tableware as we were asked to design a set of bowls (pictured above) suitable for dipping bread into oil. I was pleased to have won a huge hamper from the sponsor and the opportunity of making bowls for their company.

Tip

All potters work and sell in different ways, I have several galleries(posh shops) that I sell to, the odd customer from the internet but most of my work is sold through craft and potters fairs. I do odd shows through the year but at Christmas I have around six within a month and a half  so there is little time to get down the workshop to replace stock. It’s now August and i am busy making for the Christmas trade but the question is, “What should I make”?

I have a list of every item I make, I have a rough idea of how much money I will take at each show. I have a list of all the pots I make on the PC and I print one off for each show, it’s then a matter of entering an amount to make in one column and the value in another, obviously you will have pots that are popular so you need to make more of them. Once your list is complete add up the total. I aim to make 40% more than I think I will sell so that the table isn’t empty on the last day. The great thing about pottery is that is doesn’t go off and has no sell by date so better to come home with stock than run out.

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Talk & Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a long time since my last post as I have been frantically busy. I do a run of mixed craft shows from October to mid December and last year I made a promise to myself to start making for them in August which I did. Earlier in the year I did a trade show which was okay but not fantastic and I get some gallery orders to start the year with then fast forward to August, almost all at once while I think my pre – Christmas planning is going well I had a lot of trade orders and a huge dinner service order which I had to put in front of making stock. I’m not complaining better to be busy than slack but there was a few times that the pots were still warm as I boxed them up and it would be nice to feel less rushed.

I make a wide range of work which is on the Potteryman site. Most of the shows have been in the South of UK and they range from an open house weekend  to large events like Wisley gardens which lasted 6 days. I am now doing a local festival in Rochester UK which celebrates Charles Dickens, I have just about got enough stock to do it.

I have noticed this year that people are starting to spend a bit more and along with my one off’s I have had increased sales of tableware. It’s nice owning a one off pot that adorns your house but if you can use it that’s what I call added value.

It’s also this time of year to plan for 2015, for the summer shows I first try for all ceramic shows or the more up market art shows; these you have to be selected for and often pay a fee for the pleasure. The problem is getting in, often they are over subscibed and often they only change a small amount of exhibitors each year and you get the idea that if you are well known then you are in. I guess when organizing an event you need some names to get the public through the gate -so no sour grapes!!!     I have applied for 7 or so shows with the thought that I will be lucky to get 1 or 2 – maybe my next blog will be oh I’m so busy I have 7 ceramic shows to make for – help. My mantra is, ” if you don’t apply you don’t get in”.

For all that read my blog have a great Christmas and if you don’t celebrate Christmas then just have a great time relaxing, chilling or what ever floats you boat.

Tips

You may have noticed over time how some glazes change in their application, for instance my tenmoku recipe hasn’t changed for the last 3 years but instead of the raw surface after application drying slowly it dries faster and the finished surface is very dusty which makes handling and decorating difficult. This can be cured by mixing Epsom salts (about 10 grams) in a little hot water and add this to the bucket. The glaze will appear thicker while the weight per pint will remain the same. This will only work if the glaze contains clay so if the recipe has none a small amount of bentonite (1%) should do the trick without altering the appearance of the finished glaze. If you use the brush on glazes this tip may also help because when you brush on glazes they need to be a thicker consistency to dipped glazes. To be on the safe side add the Epsom salts a bit at a time in case it goes too thick. I think Epsom salts are used if you have constipation so get ready for some comments from the chemist!!!

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Talk & Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext week I am off to my first show which is the British craft trade show in Harrogate UK, it’s a unique show as everyone is a hand maker, other trade shows may be more designer led with the work being mass produced and not by the artist.

The basic way trade shows function are that you show your work, galleries visit and place orders then you go back and make the orders, it’s a bit like a retail show in reverse. There are of course some galleries that want to take your work on sale or return.

The thing I have always found strange is that any other industry would buy goods, sell them for a profit and maybe buy more whilst with galleries a lot will only take your work on sale or return which although it allows them to take a chance on an artist there is no risk if there judgement is poor. In the meantime the artist has taken all the risk in producing the work.

Next year I will have been potting for 35 years (eeek), in that time I have made thousands of pots, most of which have been sold directly to the public in one way or another. The ways of selling have changed over the years and now there are more ceramic and art shows but the competition to get into them is fierce and as much as I would like to think that entry is solely on how good your work is it seems to me that it’s a  lot to do with if your name is known. I am probably among a handful of potters who sold their wares at Pottery parties ( bit like tupperware) for about the first 15 years, it was a very good way of selling with low overheads but in the wider world it did nothing to increase my reputation apart from hundreds of satisfied customers.

I do take part in the odd exhibition and next year I hope to mark the 35 years of making with a couple of exhibitions but when you look at my cv the list of gallery exhibitions I have taken part in is very low and I can see prospective galleries saying David Who?

Tip 

You have got to put bread on the table but be more diverse in the way you sell, spend some time each week promoting yourself even if you are busy and if you only sell directly and it’s successful make yourself take part in the odd gallery exhibition even if it’s only once a year.

If you read this before midnight 31/3/14 you can vote for me on http://www.craftmaker.co.uk/davidmelville

My website has just been updated ready for the trade show  www.potteryman.co.uk

Trade show http://www.bctf.co.uk

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Talk and tips -Teaching

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If the skills you have as a potter are not passed on then all that you have worked for will fade.

Most of the potters I know at some time in their career have diversified into teaching, demonstrating or some other occupation that gets them over a lean time. I first touched clay at an evening class, got enthused, moved on to college and then became a potter but I never forgot the enthusiasm I received from my night school tutor. When I left college I set up my workshop making tableware and garden pots but 2 days a week I taught at adult classes which I did for over 30 years. Many of my students went on to further education which if you like completed the circle.

Now I’m a bit more chilled with my children grown and flown and no mortgage so I started doing the odd day in schools, it may not be for you but this is how I go about it.

In my local area there are around 70 primary schools which I have on email or I post fliers. I will usually only go in for a day and I will do any theme they like. If you know my work it is mainly thrown but I rarely take a wheel in; so for instance a class may be studying Greek history and I go in and make some clay masks for comedy and tragedy, another school are studying Incas so I make some Inca warriors with them.

Some schools use self hardening clay but it’s difficult to use with all the nylon fibres  so I take in good quality clay and at the end of the day take it back to the workshop fire it and return it for the children to paint with school paints. The picture above is a mural I did with a rolling group of five children at a time. I let the whole school submit designs, the Head chose two and I amalgamated them into one. The mural is around a metre high so I went in with a sheet of clay on a board we made the mural then cut it up and it was returned stuck to a board  ready for painting.

You will need tools for 30 children but this doesn’t have to be expensive, I made rolling pins out of drainpipes and have a chest of tools with old dinner knives and some modelling tools but I find the most useful tool is a pencil for joining bits and incising. I would think my whole tool set cost around £50.

Last week I assisted some GCSE students on a project before that it was primary children making Anglo Saxons – just do them from the waist up as it saves having wobbly legs! A while back I assisted on a maths week, after scratching my head for a while I came up with a chess like game with a system of scoring that they had to add up and take away.

Often I will go back to a school a year later and the children will come up to me full of enthusiasm saying how they enjoyed the clay work they did. There is also talk in parliament about increasing the school day with the extra activities that they can’t fit in during the day.

If you need any further tips on this – get in touch.

In the meantime don’t forget to vote for me on the selected awards at http://www.craftmaker.co.uk/davidmelville 

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Talk & Tips

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Its been a long time since I posted as the end of the year is my busiest time. Starting in September I make then around late October I start selling. The shows I do on the Christmas run are usually mixed craft shows, some are strictly hand made items but others can be a mix of bought in goods and hand makers; this doesn’t bother me as long as I know in advance what I’m letting myself in for.

For those who would like a quick run through ( all UK shows) I started with Newmarket which is a good show craft wise but on the decline with visitor numbers due I think to the date forever changing. The next week was my annual Open weekend which was brilliant, I invited over 300 then hoped they wouldn’t all turn up at once. You always need to invite more as only a small percentage turn up, I sell off lots of pots that I call Dave’s experiments plus of course lots of good ones and I also got several orders. Then it was off to Blenheim Palace with a cast of thousands turning up in coaches and cars. Numbers don’t always mean you will sell a lot, sometimes too many will just make the people happy to have walked from one end to the other but I was pleased with what I sold. Following from this Hatfield House, this venue has the well known Art in clay show but this show is a bit of an elevated market with 85% bought in stuff some of which was complete tat! I have done it before so I knew what to expect and I did well enough. Then I was at a Country Living show at Harrogate this I thought would be good, the show was expensive and a hassle to unload etc. thousands of well heeled ladies turned up and some guys as well. The saying ” All fur coat and no knickers” springs to mind as sales were poor compared to how much the show cost. Talking to other stall holders most found it the same. My last show of the year was a cheapie / goodie a local show in Rochester, Kent to celebrate Charles Dickens. Thousands descend on the town, it’s not mega money but considering the lower table fees and the fact that there is no travelling involved I love it.

Tips If you want any advice on mixed or ceramic shows just ask but here are a few tips that may help:

Book electricity for lighting if available.

Always plan out your space before going, don’t have a committee meeting at the venue, agree on how to set up a week before.

Listen to other craft workers they will always give honest reports on other shows.

Keep your money safe on you not in a biscuit tin and if possible take visa which can be done with a smart phone now.

Vote for me Each year I take part in the Craft & Design selected site which you can browse, I made it into the final 6 last year help me to get a gold gong by voting at  http://www.craftmaker.co.uk/davidmelville

Thank you if you do vote

 

 

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