There was a very good turn out to the demonstration by Jim Robison, in Dolgellau and thank you to all those who made the effort to get out of bed and drive all the way to Dolgellau, especially Jim, for he provided us with a day which we'll long remember. The advantage about demonstration days is you not only find out about how the pots are made, but all the thought that goes on behind the work. On hearing Jim talk about his work, I gained more of an understanding of his motivation and what he's trying to achieve.
As usual, we started the day with a slide show. We saw slides of Jim's work, starting from the most recent and going back to when he first started working with clay. We also saw before and after slides of his home and studio. As a potter who is only starting to set up, it is always encouraging to see where more established potters started from. I hope that in twenty five years I will come close to achieving all that Jim has. As well as seeing what inspires and surrounds the potter, the slide show gives time for discussions about the motivation behind the creations. I've always liked Jim's forms and now I have a deeper understanding of why.
It is not only a 'pot' that we are looking at, it is a conscious juxtaposition of light vs dark, organic vs geometric. There was also this recurring need to give structure to the natural and to soften the stuctural. The extruded rims and geometric shapes give a formal finish to the torn edges and ripped clay. With the large scale work for Holmfirth, Jim talked about the extruded edges being a symbol of the industrial nature of the town, the river as a symbol of nature, and the houses as the architectural geometry. He also talked about the patterns on his vase forms as a representational aerial view of the fields and walls around Yorkshire.
After the slides, Jim led us through a demonstration of how he makes his slabs, using an old mangle which he has adapted. He then added slip decoration and more layers of clay to create a surface pattern. In order to get the unpredictable rips in his slabs he lightly scores the slab. As he worked I noticed how much thought went into where he placed the slip markings. He was very controlled and then he would counteract his control by putting slabs against the direction of his first decorations and then he would score the slab in yet another direction. Organic vs geometric all the way. He then covered the prepared slab with paper and turned it face down on a board so the slip wouldn't get smudged when going through the mangle. Passing the slab through the mangle twice he then drew back the upper cloth to reveal a slab with magnificent edges and random tears throughout. He then placed the slab on a former, leaving it to stiffen.
With slabs he had prepared earlier, Jim finished building a complete form, telling us how to support large slabs when trying to put them together. If you lightly join a stick to the inside of the slab and keep the paper on the slipped side of the slab they work in unison to keep the shape of the clay as you join it to its other half. Jim scores and wets the clay before joining, but he doesn't use slip. He also doesn't put a coil on the inside of his pot to join the base, basically because he can't reach it, but he does join the base thoroughly from the outside. He also had a good tip about using a carved piece of wood or plastic as a former to give the join at the base and extruded formal look. Another tip as to use cling film to cover wet slip decorated pieces. You can then form the still soft clay and work with it all you like without destroying the decoration. He uses this process to make the feet for his bowl forms. The cling film also works well at creating nice joins between the feet and the slab formed bowl.
Near the end of the demonstration the tips started to come fast and furious and I'm sure I've forgotten some but here goes for various textures trying hanging around the artex department of B&Q and daringly buy one or two of the textured rollers. Or if you fancy yourself as a cook try anything like biscuit extruders, lattice pastry cutters, onion holders (great for scoring large surfaces). Talking about extruders we were all so enthralled with this biscuit maker thing that soon all NWP pots will be covered with these biscuit shapes. And I haven't even begun to talk about grogged clays and all the types you can get except that everyone has gone off Potclays for one reason or another and Jim is currently trying out Earthstone Crank (avoid the new clay Magma because it has tended to warp)
There's loads of things I haven't mentioned that happened during the day, loads of anecdotal stories that Jim told us that had us all laughing. We also heard tales of works being destroyed by firemen, and local kids; as well as works surviving bicycles being ridden over them. We played with digital cameras. We had a great time. And to top it all off when I got home I was able to put my feet up and watch Last of the Summer Wine. Oh, what a perfect day!
P.S. I'd just like to mention that Jim is looking for a book called "A Curious Place: the industrial history of Amlwch" by Byran D. Hope so if anyone has a copy available to lend to him, he'd be grateful.
North Wales Potters gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Visual Art and Craft Development Department of the Arts Council of Wales for this event.