Talk and Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPictured – large jug 45cm tall, local clay and ash glaze.

The end of the summer marks the start of the pre-Christmas making cycle which is followed all too quickly by a run of weekly retail shows (see website for details) which takes me up to the first week in December. One disadvantage of a UK autumn is that pots dry slowly; I have a dehumidifier that can take a gallon or so of water out of the air in the workshop overnight but it is not enough to fully dry the pots.

If the pots are still a bit damp especially on the base they can be fired by doing a pre-fire the day before. Just pack as usuall but if you have some thick based pots raise them on pads of clay or small 5mm  props. Start the kiln (gas or electric) and raise the temperature by 15c per hour untill 45c is reached, then go 20c per hour to 100c followed by a soak for 20 minutes. Turn the kiln off and leave overnight with any vents open. If you want to peek in before firing the next day your pots will be still warm and bone dry.

If you have followed a previous blog you may have seen that I designed a sail for a floating art work. My design came from a machro image of some glaze detail – so potters unite and vote for my sail which is number 16 , follow this link.

Tip Potters use all sorts of ways to judge if their glazes are thick enough, at college it was stir it by hand and see if the hair on your arms is still visable – not very scientific! especially if you have no arm hair.

Try stirring well then pour glaze with a jug into a narrow necked bottle to the top. Weigh the glaze within a gram and record the weight. After firing if the results are good then continue with this weight, if too thick add water, if too thin remove water before stirring which can be done with a syphon tube or if a small amount use a turkey baster.

If you need any tips or have problems (ceramic ones that is) please contact me.

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Talk and Tips


Last week was my birthday (thanks to my Facebook friends for the good wishes). For the last few years my birthday coincides with Potfest in the pens which is organized by potters Geoff and Chris Cox. Every year there is a competition, this years theme was clocks; the main prize is the front cover to Craft and design magazine  then later in the evening there is a potters meal with prizes from potters from different countries. Potfest is truly international and each country donates a prize -usually alchohol from their country.

My clock was quite deep and meaningful for a mug and jug potter – the base has a life clock with 0-70 years + then a tower representing archaelogical time from fossils to present living animals. On top of the tower a thinker holds a clock contemplting time while two mirrors reflect back on each other to eternity.

For my efforts I won the Japanese prize from Fumihiro Fuyushiba who travels to England each year to take part in British shows. As every prize up to this point was booze I thought the prize  must be saki but instead it was shushi preserved and presented in a lovely box – by this time the 130 plus potters had consumed  a fair amount of the prizes and I got a raucos rendition of happy birthday – brilliant.

For those that follow my blog you may remember that I used one of my glaze detail pictures for a design a sail competition so this weekend at Whitstable regatta all the winners saw their designs as sails and banners – see the White horses web site

TIp just go in for anything – you never know where it may lead you and take a look at the Potfest websites as ther are some great pots on them.


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Talk and Tips

sail adYou might think what has sailing got to do with ceramics and because you are a potter  you may think whats the point of entering art competitions? When you register with your local council with their arts program as I have they send you all that’s going on. A lot may be of no interest but some times it’s good not to dismiss it out of hand. A point in question was when I received an email relating to designing a sail for for the White Horses project in conjunction with Whitstable sailing club, Kent. UK. Basically the idea is to have a floating artwork of sails designed by different artists.

I did dabble at painting a long time ago but now I concentrate on pots and glazes, some glazes look great when you photograph them on a machro lens so thinking outside of the box I entered a few close ups of pots and the result was my image has been accepted and will be on show on 11th August sailing around with the other art works. The image above was on a dish glazed in tenmoku(black glaze) golden brown and copper red applied then the pattern was waxed and an over glaze of turquoise was poured on which resisted where the wax is.

If you follow my blog I was just off to Scotland for Potfest at Scone palace which was very good with some fantastic work on show. At present I am glazing work for Potfest in Penrith which is held not in a palace but in a cattle market – my life is full of contrast. For potfest info go to White horses info is on Facebook and if you want to see more of my work see

Tip –  very simple- Think outside of the box.

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Talk and Tips


I havn’t blogged for a while as my life has been rather manic. My last blog was back at the start of April and I was just off to a craft trade show in Harrogate (UK), with all the doom and gloom about the economy a fair amount of shops and galleries turned up and placed orders. It’s always good when you get repeat orders from outlets that you have sold to in the past but even better when you pick up some new ones and even better still if it’s a gallery that you really wanted to get in to.

After returning from Harrogate it was straight into wedding mode – not mine!! but my youngest daughter. Being a man with a van means you are in demand for everything that doesn’t fit in a hatch back. The wedding was great and everyone had a good time.

A couple of weeks later and I was off to my first retail show over the early bank holiday, I do around 12 – 14 shows a year and they vary from small & large craft fairs  to potters fairs and as mentioned trade shows. This first show was what I call a mixed show, some craft, some tat and some entertainment. I won’t mention the show by name but it’s one that attracted too many blokes dressed in vests with a burger in one hand and a pint in the other. Luckily I knew it would be a bit like this so I had a spring clearout of seconds and discontinued stock which went down well.

Two days after this I was at another craft fair at Hatfield, Herts (UK) this was compleatly different with high quality crafts and fairly high visitor numbers, although I was told they usually get more. These are tough times and even if the punters have got money the merchants of doom have their influence. I sold fairly well and sold some of my new designs which is always a bonus.

A week after the craft fair as part of Craft and Design month I hosted a workshop demo at my place for the Kent Potters association. Most potters will sympathize with me that when you host an event in your workplace it takes one day to do the demo but three days to clean & tidy the workshop; added to this that my workshop is down the garden that also had to be sorted too. Hopefully they all had a good time and added to their ceramic journey.

Whilst all the above was going on I became a finalist in the Craft and Design awards. Just to get you in the picture Craft & Design magazine have a web site called selected which features around 1100 crafts people – see  Between January and March you get people to vote for you, those with the votes go forward to a judge in each catagory, one gets gold two get silver then there are three joint finalists. Phil Rogers, a very high profile potter won the gold. Take a look at the site and see what you think. I was happy to be in the running but next year I’m going for gold!!!


Perhaps the tip should be don’t spread yourself too thinly but some times opportunities come all at once and you have to grab them when they are there and make the most of them.

One tip – at a craft fair most people want to look at every stall before they buy, unless its a cheap item, so early on make sure you chat to everyone who shows the slightest interest the with a bit of luck they will remember you and come back – how do they find you at a large show? – give them a business card and write the position or marquee number you are in on the back.

David Melville

ps off to Potfest Scotland next

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Talk and tips


 I have been busy preparing for the British Craft Trade Show which is in Harrogate , Yorkshire UK. It starts on Sunday and runs for 3 days -7th-9th. The jar above is in a glaze that I have been developing for some time it’s a chun type glaze that comes up slightly purple and if you put copper on top it spreads and vapourises on the surface. If you go on my gallery page you will see a few more –  If you have never done a trade show it’s like doing a craft or potfair in reverse; you take samples of what you make and galleries and shops order the work and you go back and make it – that’s the scary bit. With absolute one offs like the jar above you just have to tell them it may be different but you are talking to gallery owners who usually have a good in depth knowlege of the vagaries of hand made products.


When you show at a trade event be totally organised, possibly do a practice and set your stand up in the workshop, take a pic when you have it right. Be sure to have information to hand out and if anyone looks half interested pounce on them – don’t allow anyone to look without at least saying  hello. Gallery owners are not shy but they are busy people they can skim past your stand in a few seconds, they often know what they are looking for – to suit their gallery image but don’t be put off they may change what they do at a later date. Never leave your stand, if nature calls get the next booth to keep an eye out. It’s all common sense but you will be surprised how many think it’s a social occasion and ignore people looking at their work. If someone shows interest try to get contact details from them then after the show give them a reminder of your meeting.

If you are in the UK and come to visit come and say hi -I’m on 327

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Talk and Tips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOscars for potters? You might think it unlikely but the Craft&Design magazine(uk) run  a website called selected and you can vote for a craftsman(including ceramics)on the site. You can vote several times for different crafts. The winners get a lot of coverage in the magazine and it helps to raise the profile of ceramics and other crafts.

The days of the anonymous potter being discovered are long gone so you have to shout about yourself at lot more now so be nice and vote for me  – thanks if you do

Tip This is my gas kiln which has done over 700 firings. To pack the back two stacks of shelves you have to remove one shelf at the front and stand in the flue(it’s downdraught) the front is then packed from outside. My last kiln was about 5 feet from flue to the roof and I’m around 9 inches taller so everytime I packed the kiln I got a neck ache. When I moved workshops and built this one I made it to measure so when I pack the back I have an inch of headroom.

The other consideration with self made kilns is the door, a lot of potters use loose bricks to make the door, my last kiln had this arrangement. One day while I was  bricking it up I timed myself and I worked it out that every year I spent 40 hours building it up and taking it down so with this kiln I made a hinged door -not too sure what I’ve done with my spare 40 hours probably made more pots!!

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Talk & tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a while since my last blog but I have been busy glazing and firing, I had several orders to make and a local start up restuarant wanted some samples made for a possible order. The lady bought along a wood fired lidded cooking pot that is used in the Phillipines which would have been used over a fire – it was really beautiful but with todays hygene mad society she needed it to be glazed inside but natural outside, almost reproducing the smoked look but in stoneware clay a sort of 21st century inside and 17th century outside. In the end I sprayed the outside with iron which gave it a toasty look with variation.
I have also been busy with some school work, some time ago I started going in to schools, I rarely make pots but mostly do clay modelling anything from a mural to a Roman soldier. This months topics at three schools was Romans, an obolisk depicting nature and a 60th celebration of the school – very diverse; if you want any advice re schools get in touch.
Most potters use some basic technology when firing kilns such as pyrometers and cones but when it comes to reduction fired gas kilns how do you know the whole chamber is reducing. A lot of potters remove a door bung and the flame dramatically shoots out. If you have a large kiln with a lower bung the flame needs to be coming out of the bottom spy at a good pressure, possibly with a tinge of green, the picture above is a loose brick at the base of my chimney which has the effect like a damper. When reducing it is removed and the damper above is adjusted untill I can see a decent amount of flame dancing around in the vent under the bottom shelves it is only when I see this that I know the whole chamber is reducing.
I fire some copper reds and they like it heavy to start so I start reduction at 980c and continue to 1280c – every hour I oxidize for 10 minutes and gradually lighten the reduction.

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