Thursday, January 22, 2009


I am back from the ANU residential school in Canberra and had such a blast. Technically I wasn't participating as a student in the actual workshops (mentioned in a recent posting) by Trudy Golley (Canada) on slab built vase forms in paperclay and Anne Linneman (Denmark) on throwing and altered forms, but I got to be present for as much as I could. I was floating around as an Interim Work Proposal (IWP) Student and learning of the requirements and implications. The work I presented for assessment was for a previous unit on Image and Text on Clay taught by Professor Suzanne Wolfe of Hawaii

I was embarassed to have to show work on which the clay surface had flaked spectacularly from the clay surface, due to a process I'd squeezed in at the last minute, untested. To quote Homer - 'Duh!' Not the Greek Homer! :>D I'd wanted to create whiter surfaces with an engobe on my paperclay box forms to make my coloured glazes, imagery and text to be appear brighter. I'd taken a risk and it didn't work.

In fact, and typically of the staff in the Ceramics Department of ANU, they glossed over my 'learning experience', (I'm usually so into my testing and line blends etc.), and they latched onto the fragmented appearance that'd been formed instead. The surfaces had become like layers of wallpapers on a very old wall - or, as I described it to a friend, Colefax and Fowler wallpaper meets Mortar Bomb Attack.

So I don't hate the failed work, it will hang in my studio as a jumping off point for one of my next projects, I got some great results and learned a valuable lesson again, test, test, test!

Additionally, I met all the old pals (well not so much old as long standing) and many new ones, including Shannon Garson whose work (these delicious Magnolia vessels) and blog I'd long admired as well as Jackie Gasson of The Clay Shed on the Sunshine Coast

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Here is a little poem I came across in my research for my bird box projects...some poetry is so 'airy fairy' it makes me feel annoyed. This one has a great sense of perspective and peacefulness which is what I seek in poetry.

~ee cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Another one I love is Emily Dickinson's 'Hope is a bird' - Google it and feel good.
"Alis volat propiis" (She flies by her own wings) - A tattoo I spotted in Fremantle recently.

I have finished my ANU Image and Text on Clay project. YeeHaw! I ended up switching from doing the planned 'fifties housewife feminist barb plates' because I was becoming an angry feminist/mother/wife (I have three sons who could help more).

In true 'me' style, I found my way back to an idea that'
d been bubbling in the back of my consciousness for a while. I made a series of slab built box forms, to hang on the wall, which are all about birds. I LOVE birds - I get such joy from their presence, beauty and sounds. Several feathered characters visit my garden regularly including a very young Kookaburra who sits on a hanging basket frame, practising it's sounds. At first I was sure I had a magpie lark outside my studio window carolling away but when I peeped out there was young Kooka. Some thuggish magpies sat nearby in a tree, flapping and fluffing up as if to hassle the young fella off their territory, they can be very aggressive when they are minding their own young. I marched out and eyeballed them till they scooted. They were well miffed! I had a 'honeyeater' hiding in the same tree the other afternoon but loudly cackling away like someone singing blithly in the shower. Imagine if Bird Flu annihalated all birds on earth OOH I shudder to think.
So the boxes went into the kiln looking pretty good to me, having spent a couple of hours applying decals and 'playing'. The mantra 'Less is More' failed me, not surprisingly - being a natural embellisher, but I really tried. I hoped to compensate for the fact the earthenware glazes had flaked off almost all the surface, and china paint decals need glaze to adhere and fuse to. With the glaze went the lovely japanese tissue transferred patterns I'd used to cover the surface. Wince! One of the tissue transfers was a white raised surface, like thick slip but in a printed pattern which looked COOL under glaze. I also got my ingredients mixed up (all black powders look the same) and made onglaze decals from stain instead of china paint, that explains the bitty reticulated appearance above right, not entirely horrible actually! I cursed loudly, then, got on with it. I'd say the flaking was caused by the layer of commercial white engobe I'd slathered on the paperclay boxes to whiten the background for my decals and allow my coloured earthenware glazes to show better.


5 January 09 What a nice start to the year, my friend Andrea Vinkovic, omnicapable Editor of PYRE (the newsletter of the Ceramic Arts Association of Western Australia CAAWA) asked me to be the Potter in Profile for the February edition. Proof it pays to party! She hit me with a list of questions drawing forth secrets about myself re. Gin and ladies of the night in Dublin. Crikey! What would I reveal under interrogation? Andrea presses me to 'write' as it comes easy to me, (not to claim I am any good at it), which is partly why this blog was born, sharing writing about ceramics, two of my loves. See Andrea's beautiful clay work on Funny though, in describing my current work for the PYRE interview I had insights about what else I could have done, and may encompass in the next phase of that series of work. Yes, a penny has dropped, working in a series makes a lot of sense, even to eclectic me. I popped in snaps of work for my ANU Image and Text on Clay project, which had just gone into the kiln. Two green 'boxes' with laser decals of birds, prior to firing the text and lines look black, as they are just out of a laser printer, but fired, they turn dark reddish brown or Sepia which can be a very nostalgic look. These boxes were duds, ie. the glaze did not apply well, I blush to admit, the colour is dull and the box walls - stoneware paper clay warped having dried in the ambient 37 degree C heat of this West Australian Summer. I'm so glad I held off with the hammer though, I like them a lot more now.

Another friend, Janice, visited for tea and, on hearing what I'd been making, assumed I'd used the interior spaces of the box forms and not the exterior ones. Janice paints and like me, says what she thinks, but her Scottish accent makes it sound kind - I put a lot of store in her views. Once she saw a huge old paper plaster mould of a dome in my studio and rhapsodised about it's form and texture - I saw it with new eyes after that.

Interior space, box, bird box .... endless possibilities.


It often seems to me that artists with blogs appear to flit off on planes to shows and conferences and give interviews or have spreads in magazines. Well this Friday is my flit off to Canberra time to attend the Residential School for the Distance Diploma in Ceramics, headed by Janet DeBoos (yes, she of the glaze books and some of the coolest porcelain work on the planet).

Soon I will have an array of photos of works of friends whom I know from studying at ANU. It will be Print on Clay work from our Professor Suzanne Wolfe project last June and LARGE thrown vessels and Glaze on Glaze work from the Greg Daly project -

Bowl by Greg Daly

To share the sense of excitement with you - I've had flurries of emails and SMSs with my roommates and co-students across Australia and the globe. I hope many of the Distance Students who usually attend via Red Deer College in Canada will be coming this time too. Having lived in Dublin and London I find Canberra to be a very quiet place, but, last January there were lively lot of about five students from Canada attending, and a bunch of us did Dinner and a dance show called Matthina in the Canberra Theatre, plus a gallery, market crawl - all on top of a week full of classes, talks, slide shows, demos. Honestly - it is pure BLISS for me. One student, Joan, last heard from on a beach in Thailand with sunburn and bugbites, will have just arrived from a long session in China - and several adventures - where she was immersed in ceramics and culture. Between residential schools every six months, students and staff stay in touch via ANU's WebCT - a kind of closed internet setup.

This time the lecturers are Trudy Golley of Red Deer Campus, Canada, her work is seen on the left and on and, Anne Linneman of Denmark

Fortunately for me, both are intending to visit Fleur Schell's place SODA - early this year for a while in Fremantle, Western Australia, just over the bridge from my place.
Fleur is a remarkably innovative artist - see for yourself

Bowl by Fleur Schell