Task for the day? Pick up students’ nicely dried sculptures from the studios at Phoenix Brighton and get them to the pottery. Ah – need to empty the car out first. The boot is still full of armatures and clay from teaching. As still waiting to move into new studios I pile the armatures on my living room floor. They join the books, the plinths, the sculptures, the photography gear. The clay can stay in the boot as I need some ballast. Down to the studios. The loading bay is free. The sculptures have been drying out for several months in a cupboard at the other end of the studios. They are nice and dry and a bit lighter than they were, but still heavy. With some help, we get them in a supermarket trolley. We get some odd looks but this gets them to the top of the stairs near the loading bay. I carry them one by one to the car and place the three of them in a row in the boot. They are still on their armatures, so I place the ballast (bags of clay) on top of the base-boards, front and back. I then wedge them in so they can’t tip or slide in any direction. Finally, the test. This is basically me pushing the back of the car up and down to see if anything moves. Perfect.
Now to drive over to the South Heighton Pottery. What a glorious day. The drive is lovely. There is so much sky and the colours of the downs are evocative of the coming of spring. Once I get to the Pottery, the snowdrops and crocuses in its gorgeous grounds reaffirm that it’s spring. The potter, Chris Lewis, helps get the sculptures out of the boot. He is a fabulous sculptor and potter and incredibly knowledgeable about all things clay-related. He has been here since 1976. My first sculpture tutor, Sylvia Macrae Brown, introduced us to Chris and I have been firing sculptures here ever since. Chris understands the way that sculptors work, and takes a great deal of care to fire the work safely. Trying to fire the clay too quickly, could lead to disaster. Firing the clay before it is fully dried out, could lead to disaster. For this reason, I leave it to the expert. It takes around a day to get the kiln up to temperature, a day to fire, and a day for it cool down. There are no shortcuts.
I regularly pick his brains – or the brains of his co-potter, Chris Ford. Today I ask about whether, when hollowing-out a sculpture, you should prick the inside all over with a cocktail stick. I don’t, but there are a couple of sculptors I know that do. We also discuss how thin to hollow-out a sculpture – interestingly he said that 2-3 inches thick should be fine as long as it is well and truly dried out before the firing. We also chatted about what type of clay to use. I use clay with grog or sand in it, because I like the texture. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it’s a good idea to use clay with grog or sand in it, so that the clay doesn’t shrink too rapidly. Such rapid shrinking can lead to cracking when firing.
So – the sculptures can be picked up by end of next week. Then need to get them back to their rightful owners.