Thanks to everyone who made it down to our Easter Sale yesterday. Hope you are enjoying the rest of the bank holiday. It was another record-breaking sale for us, and together we raised over £1000 (and counting) for the charity Help Refugees as a result of you all buying work donated by Turning Earth potters.
We had food-art bento boxes from Shiso Delicious and music from The Turbans, ahead of their big crowdfund launch today.
Here's a couple of snaps. We'll upload some more next week when we've had a bit more rest. You can see them on our past events gallery.
The Summer Sale is June 18th and 19th (which is also Father's day, so bring your dad): https://www.facebook.com/events/189869021395968/
Photos by Turning Earth's Artur Rummel.
There's always been a special atmosphere at our events, right from the crowdfund launch at Turning Earth's beginning, and so I am looking forward to this weekend's immensely. When I look at what we've achieved together, and what the studio means to people, I feel as if I could burst with happiness. I really do have the dream job; even the dream life. I am lucky enough to work every day with an older brother who I adore, in an environment that I find inspiring. And what's more, I'm surrounded by some of the most talented ceramic artists I've met. I sincerely think that the work that is made in Turning Earth is some of the most beautiful in the world. I feel very, very lucky to be part of it.
This week I have been reminded that my life hasn't always been this way. In a training session on leadership we were asked to describe how we might have been shaped by our childhoods, and so I explained that my father had died when I was 4, and that I'd been in foster care at 15. After the session, one of the other people in the group grabbed me to tell me that my account of my life had surprised her: from my way of expressing myself she had seen me as someone born to privilege, with a good education and a close family and the world at my feet. She hadn't suspected that I'd been through trauma, and she felt closer to me when she became aware of it. But I have to admit I was embarrassed by the situation - I have never known how to talk about the events of my childhood without sounding dramatic or attention seeking, and it feels wrong at the same time to downplay the impact of it. So I felt awkward and I scuttled away.
Suffering is a funny thing. Once it's no longer on the table, it kind of disappears from view. It's much easier to ignore it and carry on. I think this is something we do collectively - it's all sort of embarrassing and no one quite knows what to say about it, and so we seem to have agreed not to focus on it. And that's pretty emotionally crippling when disaster strikes - we have no way to know what to do to help ourselves or each other. I think it's important that we are able to engage with these things, even when it's uncomfortable, although it's pretty hard to know how to handle them.
It happens that the experience of loss has been pretty present for me lately. A few days ago, I went to a conference and met someone who'd worked at the same paper as my father, before he died. It was almost like my dad had come in to see me at work. After I left the conference, I found myself crying in the street, yet again trying to visualise him, and failing. Childhood loss never leaves you. You lose in childhood, and then you lose over and over again in adulthood as you meet each milestone. Even the milestone of succeeding at the thing you hold dear has tears in it, simply because the person that loved you will never see it. But I am one of the lucky ones; I have had the support I needed to recover. I have received a huge amount of help.
People have told me I am like my father when it comes to my approach to work: he was passionate about his job as a financial journalist, and was writing about the city even on his deathbed, because he loved it so much. He lived and breathed his work, as I do. And I suspect I share that with him also because I lost him: it's been an attempt to fill the gap he left - as capable and determined as he was - that made me so very driven to succeed. His loss is part of the fabric I was formed from.
And this is my point really. If the loss of my father could be so defining, if the events of my childhood a lifetime ago were really that life-altering, then how can I wrap my mind around the fact that right now there are people shivering in a refugee camp a few hundred miles away, without adequate support? While I plan a lovely day to buy and sell pots, flush with the temporary victory of having created something beautiful and worthwhile, there are people who have lost everything, living in the mud and the cold, worrying about their family members. These people are having a far worse experience than I encountered, and I've had a lot of help to cope. Somehow it still seems far away, so much of the time. I don't know the refugees in Calais or see them in the flesh, and so I'm not immediately affected; I don't feel their pain in the way I feel the experience of the people that I care about. But the problem is still there, to reverberate forever if it's left unaddressed. People don't heal on their own. Nor do political situations. It takes other people getting involved.
Lisa, one of Turning Earth's member mentors, has been spending time in Calais, helping refugee families. When she came back, she asked that we make a collection for Help Refugees, a charity working on the ground there, during the sale. It feels like an important opportunity to direct some of the community energy that has grown around Turning Earth, so that it can have an impact where it is most needed. I hope to see our small revolution to make life more beautiful, here, now, somehow help those people on the other side of the water living without the luxuries we are currently fortunate enough to trade. Turning Earth was always, to me, about more than just the making. In its name is the seed of the desire to do things differently, to make things better.
So, this weekend during our sale we are raising money from our seconds table to donate to Help Refugees. We are also collecting warm blankets and sleeping bags to take to the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. Because right now, over there, a child's life is being torn apart. I know from experience that when your family falls apart it is the kindness of strangers that makes it possible to get back on your feet.
If you have blankets and sleeping bags to donate to people living in the cold in temporary shelters, then please bring them with you to the sale tomorrow. We will get them to the people that need them. You can also make a donation at our charity table, or buy some of the specially donated pots from our artists.
See you there. There'll also be delicious food, mulled cider and homemade hot cross buns. :)
Collaboration. I've always found it a difficult concept. I once had a colleague laugh out loud at me when I told her that I believed in 'collaboration without compromise' (otherwise known as being controlling). We both found it funny, but I stick to the catchphrase, believing that somehow it is possible, and that one day I will know how to do it. And I know that collaboration is a sticky area for many other people in the co-working studio environment too. How do you work together on a commission, for example? How do you decide who takes the reins? Who gets the credit? How do you share a workshop and protect your intellectual property? I think the feeling of vulnerability that comes when you are in a creative process with nothing concrete to show for yourself, no way of knowing that what you are envisioning will work and won't fail dramatically, and nothing that is solidly yours, is something we are each wrestling with in our individual way.
I used to think that all I had to do (like a classic hermit artist) was to shut myself up somewhere and have good ideas. Other people were all a bit too complicated. I thought if I kept private, put my head down and wished hard enough, somehow the universe would move in to support me - and it has often seemed to do so. But lately, after struggling with some pretty intractable problems (finding the right space for our next location, for example), it became apparent to me that actually, I need help. And I need help from my peers.
So, a month ago I swallowed my pride and called in at Building BloQs, the great big makerspace for all disciplines (wood, metal, plastics and textiles etc) up in Enfield, which has just been given a ginormous building to expand into, and funding to the tune of a whopping £2.8 million. After growing more slowly than Turning Earth, causing me to fret about them quite a bit over the last couple of years (all the way up there near the Angel Road IKEA and worryingly much off the beaten track), suddenly it appeared that the folks up there knew something I didn't.
Building BloQs was founded at very much the same time as us, by a very old friend of mine, Arnaud Nichols, and several of his buddies. Arnaud is part of a small group of friends I had as a twenty odd year old who were all committed to a vision of radical change in society. We'd spent several summers together working in a nude sauna and cafe, 'Lost Horizon', that some of our friends set up, and which is still going strong in the Green Fields at Glastonbury Festival, among other places. Arnaud and I had also put on our own festival, one equinox, in a field in the Chilterns. We'd always shared a common vision, dreaming even then about creating an alternative economic system, which is something we are both now practically engaged in. It kind of feels as if we were born under the same star.
About three years ago, I'd just moved back from America, and Arnaud and I were both running fledgling makerspaces. His, a big empty space with very few people in it, and mine, only a Facebook following and an incomplete lease negotiation. I went to meet him one evening in his freezing cold and echoing warehouse and he made the first iteration of the logo for Turning Earth. His guys were struggling with a name for what they were doing, and he showed me the 3D model they'd made for the space, a bunch of wooden blocks, representing bloqs where people would build in different materials. "Easy", I said. "It's here already: Building Blocks." And so there you have it: Building BloQs. We are deeply in each other's debt.
Walking back into Building BloQs - now the largest and one of the best equipped maker spaces in London, with massive funding and huge support - I was reminded of that collaboration. And I realised that Arnaud's collaborative skills (he is one of a group of four equal co-founders, and has always worked with a large democratic team) have paid dividends. Doing things the collaborative way, through a series of committees, can be slow at first, but it builds a foundation of community and diverse skills that create both resilience in hard times and opportunities to create better times. And it shows. The place is beautiful now. And the new place they build will be more of the same - a great light space for creative innovation, filled with people who are passionate about their shared vision, emblematised in the building itself. Building BloQs. Like Turning Earth, it's not really a brand, it's a movement. And it's the same movement.
Al Parra, Arnaud's right hand man and another Building BloQs co-founder, sat down with me, and as is always the case with the BloQs team, very generously shared his insight into forging relationships with our local council, among other tips on networking. I shared some perspectives on marketing and how to build on social media, which we are doing very successfully at Turning Earth. We both left the meeting inspired about what to do next.
Which brings me to what this blog is really about. The thing that Al was most keen to introduce me to while he had me in the BloQs Cafe, (did I tell you they have a cafe there, where they serve delicious and affordable food?) was Open Workshops London (OWL), an initiative he has been part of since its inception, and which launched officially, along with a website (openworkshopnetwork.com) in April last year. Liz Corbin, one of its co-founders, happened to be sitting in the BloQs cafe, along with some guy from the local Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of other useful people I should really probably know. It turned out she had been sending me emails for a year, which I had not been receiving. She'd been running under the radar of Turning Earth, although we were very much on hers.
Liz and her team have created something amazing. They have created the first incarnation of an infrastructure that I believe will eventually join the forty odd maker-spaces in London together. Recognising that we are operating as part of an emergent movement, they have been holding monthly meet ups for the founders and managers of these makerspaces, so that we can get together and do more of what Arnaud and Al and I have naturally been doing since we started: supporting each other. The network has created strong supportive relationships between spaces that might previously have seen each other as competition. Through participation in the networking meetings, the managers at Building Bloqs and the nearby Blackhorse Workshops, for example, have seen that they serve a common purpose by meeting the needs of slightly different people. They now refer users to each other.
There are very obvious benefits that come from people working in the same field getting together, cooperating and sharing ideas. And it appears that this is what the makerspace movement does, in its essence. Yes, in a co-work studio it can feel risky, because all of your designs and visual ideas are exposed at a vulnerable stage to a wider community. It involves a lot of trust. But the benefits are immense: in a co-work ceramics studio you have access to cheaper rates, more glazes and clay bodies, and a lot of help and support from other makers. Your own ideas are stimulated. And what's more, you have the friendship of other people that you see every day who share the same interests, and concerns, and the same common problems. You very naturally move to support one another. For a sole-trader craftsman, which can often be a bit of a lonely deal, this kind of company is special. People vie to participate in symposiums for just these benefits.
What Open Workshops London (OWL) will do is going to deepen and add to this, in a way that I am only just beginning to wrap my head around. What Liz has started is to bring founders of the various co-work studios across London together to form a series of working groups that will create strategies for collaboration between the studios, and perhaps more importantly, to create a framework for collaboration between the makers that use the studios. One of the first ideas being explored is to design a common currency that we can use. This would eventually make it possible for a ceramicist at Turning Earth to make, for example, tiles, in exchange for credits at Building BloQs, which they can then use to pay a woodworker there to fabricate them a work table. The woodworker may then be able to use these credits at another open studio in London to buy - say - a piece of glass art to go in the back of a chair he's making. The possibilities are endless. And London is just the starting point. After OWL is established in London, the Open Workshop Network plans to grow to cover all the open-access workshops in the country.
For now, you can use the Open Workshops Network map to find open workshops that might help you when you are doing a mixed media project. We are also planning a meet up in the Autumn, which will allow users of makerspaces across the capital to come together and share their ideas and concerns.
And what will we get from this? A community of makers that reaches out far beyond the walls of Turning Earth, to all the other makerspaces in the city. One day perhaps a common currency. A collective voice that will enable us to get more powerful representation when negotiating contracts with our councils and other stakeholders. All the benefits of collectivisation and collaboration. For years I have found the concept of collaboration as challenging as I thought it could be rewarding. Now I can see that something important is developing in this sphere. The human species has been competing for resources for too long. The makerspace movement can start seeding social change by demonstrating the possibilities that emerge when we put our most courageous face forward, and look for our common interests. When we learn to trust the people who we might naturally see as competitors then something new can emerge, that can benefit us all.
Collaboration. It's the future. Watch this space:
People often ask about the story behind Turning Earth. It happened again today so I thought that this time I'd share my answer with you.
I grew up around ceramics. My mother is a self-taught potter, a jack-of-all-trades kind of an artist who dabbles in everything. We had a wheel in our sitting room and a kiln in our conservatory. However, I wasn't all that interested. I associated clay with 'pottery class', the course my mum taught for children using the studio in the local comprehensive on a Saturday morning, which meant I had to get out of bed early at the weekend and so felt like drudgery.
Then, after working hard at university thinking I wanted to be a poet, and then an academic, I found myself in the corporate world as a sustainability consultant. I was bored out of my mind and disillusioned. I decided to take a course in pottery at Hackney Community College, because I wanted to do something more directly creative. I picked up the clay and got on the wheel and I had one of those memorable, life-changing moments of clarity. I felt like I'd been alive for a thousand years, as if I had been throwing pots for lifetime after lifetime. It was the first of many visionary experiences I've had in a ceramics studio.
Soon after, I quit the job and moved to California and briefly married an unknown novelist who couldn't get published. We had a romantic summer while he was retraining in journalism at Stanford University. They had an open-access pottery studio for all their students - and it wasn't even used by the art department. People who were studying as engineers, who have since been snapped up by Google, mathematicians, very mentally creative people, all used the studio as a way to create balance in their lives. Their level of skill was amazing - in my opinion, it wasn't paralleled by people coming out of masters courses in the UK. And this was just a hobby.
Part of me wanted to be a potter, but I had another big part of my personality that wanted to do something organisational. I didn't want to have to choose. I felt angry that the UK seemed to offer only two choices - either do evening classes and dabble but don't really get into it, or quit your job and do a three-year degree. It seemed to me (and still does) that I didn't want to either be an artist or not be one. I didn't want to choose; I wanted to do both. I wanted a hobby studio that was good enough that I could turn pro if I wanted to.
One day, on the Stanford Campus, throwing a set of plates on the shores of a dried up lake, under the California sun and surrounded by agapanthus and hummingbirds, I had the idea for Turning Earth. It came out of my own moment of perfect happiness.
I then went on a tour of the US, working as a theatre manager, and was able to try out ten different studios in five different States. I studied each of them and stored up the best elements for Turning Earth. One in particular, Mudfire in Atlanta, Georgia, gave us the membership model that makes everything work.
Long story short, the novelist became a New York Times bestseller, and I - inspired - moved back to the UK and started looking for a place to set up. It took about a year. I started reaching out to other people who wanted the place to exist as much as I did and built a community around it. We crowdfunded the studio and sold places in advance. And now there are hundreds of people that use the studio every week, many of whom graduate to becoming full-time professionals without having to take the college route. Many others just use the place for therapy.
Since we opened, the vision of what is possible at Turning Earth has continued to grow. It feels as if we are still at the beginning.
Issue 278 March/April 2016
It was one busy week. So busy in fact that it took us a week to recover and report back. We've taken a selection of pictures from it, so you can take a look for yourselves. Over Saturday and Sunday the 5th and the 6th December we had the most jam-packed Winter Sale ever, and sold over 1000 pots. The proceeds all go to support early-career ceramicists in establishing their businesses. In addition, we raised over £1700 for medical emergency supplies for one of our students, nurse Hannah Goodwin, to take to Calais to help refugees set up a medical centre.
We were also part of Hey Clay, the initiative by the Craft Council and the BBC's Get Creative to get more people getting their hands in clay. We ran free taster sessions with our resident artist Ben Sutton throughout Friday the 4th.
Tallie spent Friday 4th at the Treasury meeting George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other small business owners, as Turning Earth has been chosen as one of the Small Business 100 - a group of businesses that represent the diversity and innovation in the sector. She learned that small business makes up 60% of the UK private economy. This means that a well-organised small business and co-work movement should be able to influence policy to support more sustainable, decentralised industry, which is what Turning Earth is all about. Together, small businesses dwarf the multinational corporations that the likes of Osborne meet every day and we hope to see them gaining more influence. Organising under the banner of Small Business Saturday seems like a good first step.
For now, we will wish you a Happy Christmas, take a breather, and come back refreshed in the New Year. Our next studio sale will be held on Easter Saturday, 26th March 2016.
So it went out with a bang, or more accurately, like a polite British farewell after a village summer fete. There was something very reassuring and reasonable about the final episode of The Great Pottery Throw Down. Arguably, the best man won; no fireworks, no lap of glory no more tears even. Just no cracks in the handles or bottoms.
It was the last montage of where they are now which was most relevant to us in the end, as the life changing (sort of) drama unfolded from week to week, we saw how it shaped and changed the contestants, how they improved and developed and then we were given the snippets of the impact it had had on them after it was over. Somehow that last part brought something home to us too. How we had changed as a collective, as a studio. It wasn’t so much the excitement from copying the challenges or learning new things. But how we’d grown physically and inexorably, the studio membership and interest in it has soared and peaked as the show progressed, generating a growing waiting list. We’ve had to find creative ways to accommodate and schedule courses without starting riots. It’s not bragging, it’s the nation waking up to possibilities and Turning Earth, currently, is right in the frontline: BBC’s Throwdown it seems, has changed our lives too.
New pressures on established systems due to maximum capacity membership have forced us to adapt to new ways of running a studio. It used to be an irritation when a kiln mis-fired, now it’s an emergency. We’ve had to arrange extra shelving, a new kiln, more wheels, more hands on deck. That frantic energy to win challenges in the show has segued its way into our work life. The difference is, we don’t get to switch off.
So, well-potted Matthew, a close tie with Tom perhaps but quality shone through. We’ve enjoyed the ride, learned a few things here and there. We’re just wondering how soon it will be till you’re on our screens again, and what the hell will become of us when you are.
Saturday 5th December is Small Business Saturday, a day established to encourage consumers to shop in local, brick and mortar businesses during the holiday period. Turning Earth is proud to have been chosen as one of the 'Small Business 100', a group of 'unsung heroes that showcase the diversity of the sector.' (This is Money.)
Last year, sales at small businesses increased by £36 million for Small Business Saturday.
Turning Earth is holding our Winter Ceramics Sale to coincide with this year's Small Business Saturday, and we couldn't be happier to be associated with the movement it represents. We firmly believe that in the future, people will make many more things locally, with enjoyment, and that we'll all buy locally from small entrepreneurs as well.
We want to see a world without unnecessary and unsustainable freight, without sweat shops, and without Londoners working long hours at jobs they don't enjoy. What could support this more than enabling designer-makers, such as our potters, to get to a place where they can sustain a career doing what they love?
Turning Earth was recommended to participate in Small Business Saturday by Transport for London, our landlords in the railway arches in Hoxton. Many start-up businesses have recently been taking root and growing within the newly refurbished arches across the London transport network, and particularly within our local area, the Kingsland Viaduct. We do yoga down the arches in Tripspace, buy our coffee from Fabrique, and then have a drink in the evening at Beagle. As TfL invests in renovation, the railway arches are becoming less and less places for dark and dingy businesses such as oily car mechanics, and more and more consumer facing. They are important veins running through London that can house innovation and new creative businesses. Following the success of Turning Earth in the arches in Hoxton, we are now working with TfL on options for our West London location.
As London's transport network improves, by investing in the arches, TfL is also investing in the infrastructure that supports small enterprise. Recognising this, they have teamed up with Small Business Saturday to give new businesses like ours a bit of a boost. We're really pleased to see that TfL has identified the impact it can have and has decided to champion small businesses like ours. We think it's a sign of the times that such a large organisation sees the value that creative innovation is bringing to areas like Hackney.
So, we're looking forward to meeting a whole lot of Small Business Saturday shoppers this weekend at the sale.
And, just to remind you, there's a free glass of mulled wine for anyone that comes along and buys one of our cups.
Another serious episode of the Throw Down, more crying and sweating (no blood thank goodness) and happily, a slight reduction in sexual innuendo. Someone had to go of course, and Sandra, we salute you too, a bit of a gamble using Tellytubbies as inspiration for garden sculpture, but I liked it. Not quite sure how Matthew managed to win however, maybe my finger is slightly off the pulse of contemporary aesthetics, but hell’s bells, I guess that’s the beauty of modern creative freedom.
I’m so happy that the Throw Down is bringing pottery back into the public consciousness, or is it that it was already reemerging and so they felt the need to make the show about it? Either way, the only problem is that it is also comes with a vaguely pernicious sense of urgency and an anxious threat of failure. And I’m not sure that’s how you should exist in any situation, especially when swimming in the juices of your own creative daemon, you’ll end up sinking, or even doggy paddling.
And it’s starting to creep in here, at our studio too. Because of the show - or the zeitgeist - we are now at capacity with a growing waiting list; it’s hard to get on our courses (I get angry calls from people who’ve failed multiple times to sign up) although we run as many classes as we possibly can. It brings that same nervousness and frustration. It was never meant to be like that. We need calm here, and temperance. Tessa agrees with me. ‘make three pieces’, she says ‘take all the time in the world, make them in a way you can enjoy making them, put some You in them. Don’t be furiously churning out fifty for a sale or a show or a judge; they’ll have no real value in them’. What wisdom!
Anyway, gripe over; next week it’s porcelain. Are they in for a treat?! What a challenge that can be at the best of times, our porcelain master and member Tom Kemp manages to make it look like a doddle as he calmly throws perfect 3-foot vases out of the stuff, but it isn’t, I know. It still gives me the runaround as it spins around, making itself into white mound of nothing again and again in my hands- and I’ve even done a Jo Davies masterclass.
Good luck team. Don’t sweat it.
Our Winter Sale is coming up on Saturday the 5th and Sunday 6th December. We will be selling pots from 50 ceramicists, as well as mulled wine and street food.
There will be a maker table with demonstrations of different techniques, including throwing, slab rolling, pinching and screen printing.
The sale coincides with Hey Clay weekend, a collaboration between the UK Craft Council and the BBC's Get Creative to get people to put their hands in clay. On the Friday before the sale we are running two taster sessions for Hey Clay, to give people a chance to see what we do. That weekend it's also Small Business Saturday - a day to encourage consumers to patronise small businesses in the UK. Turning Earth has been lucky enough to be chosen as one of the Small Business 100 so we are doing our best to be ambassadors for the cause. It's going to be a busy weekend for ceramics and for all of us at Turning Earth!
We made these beautiful postcards of work by our members as flyers/postcards to advertise the sale. Look out for them around London!
Photography: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro
Blimey the nerves! I don’t know how they hack it. It’s bad enough anyway, fretting over what will come out of the kiln after you have lovingly shaped caressed and poured your heart into a piece. Now one everyday slip up and it’s: ‘Chuck ‘em out the door!’
So we’re feeling for the contestants who remain on BBC2s The Great Pottery Throw Down. Judgment came and another brave soul is gone.
Oh no! Nigel come back, we loved your work! What does a crack matter in a basin anyway? I know I’ve been tempted, break something in the bisque firing: fix it with a bit of glaze in the second firing- if you have a BBC show to stay on, what the hell. Episode two gave us all a reminder of why we don’t attempt to make coiled sinks and bathroom ware every day. But now we will, we have to, we’re redoing the bathroom in the studio and have been inspired, again. So, a new project is born for one of our members: Make us a sink as beautiful as Matthew’s swirling green Aztec temple was, and it’s going in. Watch this space folks, I’ll post a picture of the winner.
I knew it would happen. Throwing blindfolded, what a torture. Please Tessa don’t make us do that one too. Good for TV viewing maybe, but I think we’ll skip that one here, not enough blindfolds anyway. What did almost slip past in a twinkling, was the vague nod to clay shrinkage rates which is always a real issue for sink makers and tile makers and in fact anything that requires exact measurements after artesanal work is fired. I was amazed at how many of them managed to slot that copper plug unit into the hole with precision first time of asking. High fives guys.
So, the competition in our own studio has taken place and the pieces inspired by the first episode have been put into the kiln -things here don’t tick over quite as fast they seem to on the telly- and we’re keen to see who’s won the first round; apparently the bowls do have to stack. Good luck guys!
Looking forward to next week’s episode, was that a raku kiln? Can’t wait for that one. Luckily we haven’t got one of those terrifying open-air, where’s-me-eyebrows fire pits yet or lord knows what Ms Barrett could be plotting for us. Also a daily smoke out of the whole of Hackney probably wouldn’t go down at all well with our neighbours.
Photographer Sabrina Dallot-Seguro and Andrea Roman (wearing her stylist cap) got together to work some magic to make 12 unique postcards to advertise our Winter Studio Sale on the 5th and 6th December. We can't wait to see how they look!
As much as we try to hide the fact that we’re all very excited that The Great Pottery Throw Down is now on our screens, it’s impossible to keep our curiosity in check and our focus away from the exploits of the 12 potters that are now going to be put to task every Tuesday night. There’s great interest here at Turning Earth and secretly we’re all fired up, itching to see if our own pottery skills match up to what is being created on the show each week.
Everyone here knows exactly how daunting it is to get clay to do exactly what you want it to do, let alone under the eye of a judge; on a tight schedule, and to throw five – yes five – stacking bowls in 2.5 hours! I know that a lot of people here would have relished the chance, but still, it’s lucky that at our studio we have more collaboration than competition. As one of our members, Lydia, noted on our members page on Facebook – “20 handles in five hours. Go!” – the added pressure is a bit much, and thankfully, a normal potter wouldn’t be subject to it… unless of course she’d failed to negotiate the deadlines of those commissions properly.
We have all been inspired by the activities outlined in the first episode. In fact, even though not much ‘throwing off the hump’ takes place at our studio, I’ve definitely overheard comments recently about the need to get hands on humps again (although I don’t think anyone has actually had a request for 20 egg cups to be produced in a mere heartbeat). But Tessa Barrett, our very own teacher and one of our most experienced potters, has buckled under the temptation the show presents, and will be challenging some of our members to reproduce some of the tasks given to the TV contestants every week. It’s just too tempting I guess, and she’ll even be competing herself – watch out folks, she’s a fiery virtuoso on the wheel – and the challenge this week will be to make three cups with handles and five bowls. Mercifully, they don’t have to stack. Thanks for that Tessa!
So, naturally we’ll be eagerly looking forward to the rest of the series. Paying attention to all the little tips and ideas that can be pinched, pilfered and put to good use, whilst absorbing all the science extras. Trying not to get too involved as people inevitably get voted-off despite being fiercely talented, or when an unwelcome crack appears in a rim or a base or the glaze slips or the slip runs, as such things are bound to do from time to time. Even if you are Britain’s best.
We've noticed that handmade wooden spoons look beautiful with the ceramics we make. So we thought we'd invite expert spoon makers, Yoav Elkyam and Adam Hawker, in for a day of whittling.
They taught two courses and twenty of us got to try the craft. It's incredibly relaxing: no kilns, no glaze... just you and a piece of wood. But - as we soon learned - the knives do have to be very sharp. You can't relax too much! Still, we were pleased with the results.
The spoon in the picture is my first ever try, and I absolutely loved making it. We're looking forward to hosting more of these kinds of workshops in the future.
Images: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro
This week we were excited to receive a visit from ITV's Giovanna Fletcher, who has been exploring activities that people do for their 'me time' for the Lorraine Breakfast show.
We felt quite smug at finding ourselves ahead of the curve, after learning that Lena Dunham has been tweeting about "the indie ceramics renaissance that's happening now" and that David Beckham has been trying a bit of 'paint your own pottery'. Apparently everyone's into ceramics these days. But to hear it described as 'cool' gave us something to think about - it isn't the first word that springs to mind when thinking of our daily life in the studio. Still, we will celebrate finding ourselves in the right place at the right time. Hopefully it will get a few more people into the craft, which we reckon is truly good for the soul. And perhaps it will also bring more people to our studio sales and help our artists make their hobbies self-sustaining. At the moment, that's the dream.
Giovanna gave it a go with a little (no, actually a lot) of help from Ben Sutton, one of our resident throwers. In spite of the to-be-expected Ghost references, he got away without doing a Patrick Swayze impression. I was a bit disappointed, to be honest.
To say that Turning Earth teacher Tessa Barrett was excited when she heard that Anita and Gleb from the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing would be coming to the studio would be a bit of an understatement. Tessa, who is also a dancer in her other life, is a real fan of the show, and she had a great time taking the two stars for a spin.
As Tessa pointed out on the day, dancing and throwing are quite similar skills. You have to stay centred, have good coordination, know how to be focused and relaxed at the same time, etc etc. As a professional dancer, Gleb, it turns out, was naturally good at it (though we have to say not quite as good as he looked on the show - television editing is a wonderful thing).
Although we too love to turn the studio into one big dance floor - we do it with enthusiasm when we hold our member parties - we have never seen Turning Earth looking quite so glamorous as it did with them in it.
I'm very pleased to announce that my brother Lewis is joining the team at Turning Earth. He's been hanging around the side lines since long before we opened - giving me advice over supper, making the canapes for our crowdfund launch, and generally marshalling the troops whenever I needed them marshalled.
And we're finally in the position where he can come on board full-time. First he will be learning the ropes, and then he will be bringing his considerable management skills into the studio to improve all of our processes. It's been a natural evolution and we are very lucky that we have the kind of relationship that enables us to work together on a shared vision.
I'm sure our members will see over the coming months that Lewis can take the helm of the ship and lead in his own right. He comes to us from Bupa Home Healthcare, where he was first a nurse and then a manager and clinical trainer. During his role there he used to administer chemotherapy and to care for people in their final hours. This background means he is adept at managing technical details at the highest level of responsibility while supporting people at a very human level. He is passionate about developing a warm and inclusive community culture at the studio while delivering a structured approach to management and compliance - and at 18 months old, that's exactly what Turning Earth needs.
Lewis will be working closely with our suppliers at Potclays in Stoke-on-Trent, and our team in the studio, to use their expertise to develop the facilities and the technical services that are offered at Turning Earth. The world of ceramics is fortunately as familiar to him as it was to me when we opened - growing up as we did in our mother's home studio, we were both pretty much gestated in a kiln.
Welcome to the team, Lewis!
Photo: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro
To celebrate its first anniversary, Turning Earth Members’ Ceramics Studio is holding its very first studio sale. Exhibitors include our established artists and studio members just beginning their professional journey in ceramics.
There will be throwing demonstrations, refreshments and pots from £1!
VOL will be onsite with a converted horse box, selling beautiful dishes from their Dutch Smokery.
Come and support Turning Earth members, learn more about the studio, and celebrate our first birthday with us!
When? 1pm until 6pm, Saturday 13th December 2014.
Where? Arches 361-362 Whiston Road, London E2 8BW – nearest stations Hoxton and Haggerston on the East London (ginger) Line.