Blog

Hey Clay!

Hey-Clay-Banner

The Crafts Council’s Hey Clay! returns from 7-9 April, as part of the Get Creative campaign with the BBC. Hey Clay! offers people free opportunities to celebrate everything clay, have some fun, and unleash their inner potter!

We are a Hey Clay! venue and will be running events on 7 and 9 April. We’ve also joined forces with Chirpy on 8 April and treats across all our events are going to be provided by Wildflower Bakery.

As the Great Pottery Throw Down comes to an end, the Crafts Council’s Hey Clay! weekend gives people the opportunity to get creative with clay at free pottery workshops. Hey Clay! is part of the Get Creative campaign with the BBC which runs from Friday 7 – Sunday 9 April 2017.

Here at Sunken Studio we think national events like Hey Clay raise the profile of venues and makers and provide us with an opportunity to showcase and share skills. Stories are an essential aspect of making and connecting with objects. I think it’s probably the one thing that connects use all to a place, spaces, objects, materials and each other – so any opportunity to share stories is a fulfilling and affirming experience.

It’s a challenge to try and synthesize a story and even harder to communicate it to someone else – for me on of the most informative approach is to become part of the process and connect with both material and maker. It’s so difficult to find words that adequately explain what you are doing when making and demonstrating. The hand, eye and mind are responding simultaneously to feedback from material characteristics, form, surface, movement. The senses and muscles are communicating so rapidly it is difficult to translate into words what the body knows. I guess it’s why making is so therapeutic – it involves utilising a world known to us all but difficult to articulate in any other way.

Hey-Clay_Poster

The Crafts Council has witnessed a surge of interest in the popularity of making and crafts across the UK due to TV shows such as The Great Pottery Throw Down and The Great British Sewing Bee. In December 2015, Hey Clay! saw venues across the UK including the studios of Great Pottery Throw Down judges Keith Brymer-Jones and Kate Malone, attracting over 4,000 visitors. Hey Clay! venues reported that their events were fully booked, and they had waiting lists for ceramic courses throughout the year.

However, although the interest in craft is on the rise there is worrying concern for craft education. The Crafts Council’s Studying Craft report shows that students studying craft related GCSEs has fallen by 25 per cent since 2007/8.

This concern is shared across the board by the arts. The Creative Industries Federation recently published a paper illustrating how the current focus on the EBacc – which includes no creative subjects – is limiting the options of the next generation.

We’ve been thinking about the decline of craft education too. Take a look at our post Forget the Kiln: a few thoughts on clay in schools. 

Brand Identity

 

Sunken Studio’s brand identity is a combination of geological area ornaments and verbs. I wanted to reflect the material and scientific aspect of ceramics as well as the physical action of making. The geological area ornaments are also geometric – I like a bit of reasoning.

I also think most of the studio kit and custom tools are a key part of Sunken Studio identity.

 

Colour wise I’m trying to limit the pallet to black and white, navy and royal blue and flashes of plum. Materials I commonly use are grey clay, denim, calico, scrim and birch ply. This list now seems really long – at some point it may need streamlining further.

Forget the Kiln

Recently I was commissioned to work with early years Foundation students (3-5 year olds). The school and I both appreciate that manual dexterity is learnt through experiencing a range of interactions with things and materials and they wanted to develop this further through their work with clay. A really refreshing mindset as there are quite a few challenges that would halt many plans to introduce three-dimensional making into the curriculum. Making is notoriously awkward and there are more barriers to working three-dimensionally than in two-dimensions.

  • Works are often cumbersome to store.
  • Things fall apart – gravity, fixings and material characteristics vye for your continual attention.
  • It can be risky – it’s often greasy, dusty, sharp, abrasive, hot, elemental…
  • Materials are resistant or plastic – either way you need tools and equipment, specialist skills and technical understanding and a lot of space. Materials can also be expensive and perishable.
  • Making takes ages – you have to plan ahead and wait for things to set or dry and weeks can go by before you see anything close to resembling what you intended.

Obviously I am bias, but I recognise that there’s more to lose if we don’t make space for material awareness, practical skills and three-dimensional problem-solving. To counter these barriers, I would argue:

  • Make things that don’t need storing. Introduce sustainable practices and emphasize research and experimentation. Letting go could encouraging reflection. And perhaps the lifecycle of materials could be discussed.
  • Failing is a necessary experience. How do you learn how to reflect if everything works? What might be gained by learning that time and effort isn’t always rewarded by something physical or tangible?
  • Assessing risk is a skill – what happens if? It’s good to question – let’s not deny access to something amazing because of fear. Plan.
  • You don’t need to spend lots of money or have access to specialist kit to encourage lateral thinking. How can you use the resources you have in a different way? Creativity isn’t just about making beautiful things it’s a mindset.
  • Making involves sequencing, resilience and patience – it helps develop your time-management, evaluation and planning skills. The more you do the better you get – there are no quick fixes.

Ceramics-in-schools-texture

With ceramics there’s the specific, and at times ominous, complexity of firing work. It’s common not to have access to a kiln and many makers transport work to and from venues to help facilitate ceramics in schools. I recoiled at the prospect of transporting unfired and fired work – it’s costly (time and money) and a logistical nightmare. More importantly, I wanted to provide the school with a methodology that was sustainable and secured a future for clay, and making, in schools. Firing, along with all the rules and good practice that accompany it, wasn’t something they would be able to continue with. So that left me with one major question: how do you introduce ceramics when you don’t have a kiln?

Forget firing and forget ceramics. Clay is not ceramic – high temperatures turn clay into ceramics. Don’t let ceramics prevent the use of clay in the curriculum. Yes, firing work means it will last forever but let’s not lose lasting memories, material understanding and manual dexterity because of the absence of a kiln. Focus on using the resources available – tape, glue, clay, lolly sticks, matchsticks, thread, plant pots, wire, fabric, soil, pencils, found materials.

Once liberated from the kiln you are also liberated from technical and functional problems: air, alien objects, moisture and joining technique all become less relevant. Instead, focus shifts onto how clay can be manipulated and handled, how we can observe and respond to it in different states – slurry, plastic and dry – and to questioning its materiality through risk-taking and problem based tasks.

After my first day with the children it became apparent that it was going to be hard to move them away from ownership. It’s making me think differently and already I have thought of a few ways to tempt them into recycling their works and using the clay again and again – each time doing something different.

The ability to adapt and improvise helps us become more resourceful and less reliant. I’m willing to try to reduce the emphasis on finished pieces in favour of developing manual and mental dexterity. We will make some things to keep – already the children have made some tools – but the plan is to approach outcomes obliquely.

March Meet the Maker

I’ve been saving this picture from the shoot with Joanne Crawford for the website and a blog post. Jo was great. She put me at ease and I’ll definitely be booking a slot again in the near future. I’m so pleased I decided to enlist some help – there’s no way I could have achieved these shots on my own. I had a strong idea of what I wanted and Jo got it spot on. It’s really important to know your limitations and being photographed and photography is something I struggle with. I’m a majorly awkward subject.

Rebecca-Catterall-Sunken-Studio_Director

We both thought my summer shirt was on brand – it just needed a little iron as it hasn’t been short sleeves weather for a few months. I do like a geometric print… well geometry is a bit of a thing across all studio output – order and constraints are always a good starting point.

Rebecca-Catterall-Ceramics-Sunken-Studio

It’s also the shirt I bought when I handed in my notice at work and the same shirt I wore on my last day. That was exactly 6 months ago which means it’s Sunken Studio’s half birthday today. I’ve learnt so much – especially about social media.

Sunken-Studio-Roulettes

In February I also began to meet a few more people in person – I welcomed several visitors to the studio and started to get out and about. I’ve been planning a few workshops with Chirpy: Design Store and will be working with Foundation Years at Carr Manor Primary School. 

Recently I caught-up with North Leeds Culture Club and they have published a feature on their blog. I also have a couple of interesting projects coming-up but I’ll save them for separate posts. Although if you’d like to speculate about one of those visit Beyond Measure.

Rebecca-Catterall-Director-Sunken-Studio
March looks set to be another exciting month – workshop bookings are coming through and there are still lots of jobs to get through.

Sketchbook

A few pages from my own sketchbooks – quick explorations into geometric pattern. Shapes are limited but I’ve varied the weight of line and explored different approaches to tessellating them. It’s early days but the plan is to translate them into three-dimensional structures. Print is such a joy – it’s quick and the contrast between black and white makes it much easier to respond to the spaces left between.