Balnacra Arts & Pottery by Vicky Stonebridge

First Winter in the Pop Up Pottery.

Many local businesses close their doors during the winter months, the visitor numbers dramatically drop off mid way through October despite their being various school holidays still on. It’s a shame for people travelling through as it becomes difficult to find anywhere open to have a cup of tea, something to eat or something to do on a rainy day.  But of course it’s not worth staff or heating costs staying open for potentially half a dozen visitors in a week. I decided to keep the pottery going all year for a few reasons. I’d been so busy with classes and group sessions throughout the summer I hadn’t had time to keep up with production or to really knuckle down and develop my pottery range, to experiment with new techniques and glazes. So if i made tonnes of pots in the winter then i could focus more on passing trade, classes, visitors, markets and fairs in the summer, having everything ready before Easter when everything starts back up again. I also wanted to see what would happen with the old building throughout the colder, darker, wetter months, to spot the leaks, watch out for flooding issues or any hidden difficulties. Perhaps there might be locals who’d want to do classes too who were too busy in the summer?
So sure enough the regular Thursday classes carried on with 2 to 6 people coming along throughout the day until Christmas. I also did a free taster weekend to coincide with a national #HeyClay event, which was very busy. No Christmas sales in December though, November seemed to be the busy time for those.20151205_104038 20151205_110019Then I had a great opportunity to get some more materials and equipment, when another potter was clearing out the studio to retire. This gives me lots of new materials to experiment with, to work out what is in those old bags, many with labels worn away, so i was kept busy for a while- decanting it all into more manageable bags and labeling, then finding space to store it all.

Space? things are starting to get crowded in the studio, there is never enough room to store drying pots. I’m dreaming up shelving and display, but we’re on hold while we wait to find out if the Community Company that owns the building has been successful in getting a grant to upgrade the electricity supply, so i can install my newer bigger kiln and get decent lighting put in. Ideally we’d get any work done through the winter so it’s all good to go when visitors start arriving at the end of March. I applied for some funding in my own right to help me develop my art/craft, but didn’t get that because they deemed making a studio workable is a business expense not an arts one. go figure. Next time i’ll apply to go for a residency to use someone elses studio in the Caribbean to navel gaze for a month doing performance art sunbathing on a beach, as that seems to be the sort of project favored by arts funding ( i’m not bitter – much ). Anyhoo.
What I’m also waiting on is the community company to create a storage space so that the stuff that is all hidden behind those blue and green panels in my studio, can go elsewhere, it is things like marquees, chairs, tools. Any sort of storage space needs organising and funding too. A temporary solution is hopefully on it’s way.


But, I have been getting on and getting some work done, I hadn’t guessed just how much longer process time would be in the winter, with pots taking so much longer to be dry enough to fire, sometimes 4 weeks!  It means i have to stay and nurse the first kiln firing a lot longer too, slowly nudging the temperature up to dry out any residual moisture completely to avoid popping and exploding pots.  Here are some recent successful firings – all these are available for Sale by the way, postage at cost. #buymywares20160109_14461920160109_145432
Then there was the Christmas break, a couple of weeks busy with family and visiting , so not much work getting done. back to work on 4th January, working away on some community woodland projects, pulling together a programme of volunteering events and adult education classes, as well as being involved with lots of other development things. I get paid 6 hours a week during the winter to do some aspects of this, the rest is voluntary. It’s a bit scary as this is my only income at the moment. But hey, worrying about money never helped anything. #buymywaresplease

mid way through January it started to get colder, the day that both dogs came to visit it was 4C inside, after a few hours with the gas heater on and wood stove i get it up to 5 or 6C. Problem is any heat just disappears through many gaps, holes and the tin roof. The doggies keep warm by creating mayhem and mess. the combination of one deaf dottled clumsy old one and a hyper young pup is a chaotic one. So in future they can accompany me one at a time ! But who could get impatient with such lovely boys?
But despite doggie adventures I managed a few days of getting lots of pots made and a couple of firings done….. behold these fresh pristine pots waiting to dry……20160113_171525
then a hard frost came………

and this is what happened overnight to those pots. That artistic texture, is Ice and cracks,  geological erosion echoed in miniature.20160114_095833
here’s what it did to some wet clay slurry I was drying out to reclaim.20151213_12443420160114_095930
and the water left in the potters wheel.20160114_095917
Basically everything on the inside of the building was frozen, even things in the centre of the building, including clay in bags. Which isn’t so good when having a class start in ten minutes !
20160114_09585520160114_09590020160114_095944The other problem was that once the sunlight hit the roof ( scenic but i was too busy running around panicking to take nice pictures ), all the frozen condensation started to melt, making it basically rain on the inside of the studio. Which solves the mystery of why some mornings i find puddles of water in strange places. Challenging. So now as well as clearing the storage area of the building, getting an electric supply upgrade, it is apparent, that to make the building workable as a studio, i need insulation on the roof. So we’re on the case, investigating costs and materials. It’s all work in progress. Not easy working around these things while teaching, i can withstand bad conditions, up to a point, but I can’t expect students to do so! The other problem is the lighting, I can’t wait to get some better lighting in there, it is so gloomy by 4pm, but at least the nights are drawing out again, so that’s getting better.

20160114_172907 20160114_173050
Here are those frozen pots after i applied some heat and TLC, its not good drying things out fast and unevenly, but it’s better than them collapsing in a frozen mess. I’ve put them to bed under a blanket this snowy weekend to hopefully stay safe.20160114_173044

meanwhile it’s not all disasters. I finally had kiln space to glost/Glaze fire this plate, and it survived!  My small raku kiln isn’t very good at firing larger flat shapes, too much uncontrolled temperature variation and crash cooling. So pleased this one made it! ( available to a good home for £28 ) e-mail for more info.

Oh yes, and a pottery course starts next week. By which time the snow will have gone and it will all be lovely, with no frosty surprises. honestly. places still available.
(best wrap up warm, just in case).

So to summarize, Winter in a pop up pottery, in an old damp leaky stone building  is turning out to be challenging, improvements are on their way…sometime. But i’m keeping going- albeit wrapped up like some siberian babushka. Watch this space.

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2016 by in Blog, The Pottery Studio and tagged , , , , , .

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