Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bisque. Beginnings.

Whenever I feel homesick for England, it is of these Fells that I find myself dreaming. Barbon Fell, near Kirkby Londsdale.

I have just started another bisque firing in my electric kiln, the third since the 18th of this month. It has been a question of pulling warm pots out of the kiln and replacing them with another load straight away. I am trying to get ready for a glaze firing that I should be having in my wood fired kiln before the end of the month. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try to avoid it, the firings keep ending up being overnight. I have no fancy controller on my kiln, so have to keep an eye on things as it fires and make adjustments from time to time to keep the temperature going up at the right rate. If I'm lucky I can get away with checking last thing before going to bed, then another peep in 2-3 hours, and then another between 5 and 6 in the morning. I tell myself that it is like taking 4 hour watches on a boat. At least I don't have to put up with 30 foot waves. One day I would like to be competent enough and organized enough to manage glazing most of my pots without first bisque firing them, but I need a lot more practice.

A little look backwards!
Linda Starr, of Blue Starr Gallery, wrote about "The English Lakes" on her post of Friday, September 18, this was prompted by her rediscovery of a lovely old book that she had that bears that title. When I read her post, I couldn't help but get a bit nostalgic for the time when, as a 14 year old living in the North of England, I began to take myself off with a sketch book, and some watercolours on little expeditions on my bicycle in order to attempt to paint some of the beautiful countryside that was around where we lived. My heroes were Turner and Constable. I would look at reproductions of early work by them, and compare my own, and hope that, in time my work might also grow and mature as theirs had done!

The Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Londsdale. We lived for a few years at Kirkby Londsdale in the North West of England. I did this ink and spit wash sketch 11 years ago when Laura and I made a trip to the UK.

My parents were very tolerant of my dabbling with paints, and did not object to the growing number of paintings that grew like a run away skin disease all over their living room wall. In a sense the paintings were probably less of a problem than my passion for making things out of Plasticine. I used the dining room table for this, and we frequently ate with plates carefully arranged between such things as plasticine traction engines, or pirate ships, rockets, aeroplanes, villages, or even the odd knight in armour.

The Dead Center of Kirkby Londsdale! Yes, the church and its grave yard is in the middle of the town. There is actually something nice about that. Life and death is embraced as something natural, like compost!

When she wasn't practicing Beethoven on the piano, reading books, and doing English homework, my sister also used plasticine creatively, she made exquisite porcelain-like horses and other animals, mostly African. So, after she had been busy, the table resembled a big game park, or a huge flat land full of horses.

This is probably the earliest painting of my sister that still exists. I did this little quick acrylic sketch of her gardening back in 1979.

My father also painted when he could occasionally find the time. Dad began painting with his father's paints after his father died, and started off by doing a beautiful painting of a mountain, the JungFrau, from a post card.

Dad's painting of the JungFrau, I think it was his first oil painting.

Dad mostly used oil paints, and we went on a few expeditions together.

Dad and I got up early one morning and drove to this spot in the hills in time for sunrise. Dad did this nice oil painting. I probably attempted something that didn't turn out in watercolour.... happily that no longer exists!

In my last year at school, when I was still 15, I began to sell the occasional painting. A few days after I left school, I took some paintings to a local gallery that a young couple started at Silverdale, called Wolf House Gallery. They kindly took me under their wing, and framed my paintings and sold them, and even got me a commission after I had been selling at their gallery for a few months.

We have few of my early paintings. This one "Jenny Brown's Point" was painted when I was sweet 16 from sketches that I did as on the spot at Silverdale in the Morecambe Bay near where we lived in the North West of England. It was typical of the sort of painting I was selling at Wolf House Gallery. I "borrowed" the Collie dog in the foreground of this picture from a painting by Constable.

My paintings ranged from between 4.50 and 12 pounds in those days. That was back in 1975.

I went to Art School for a year at Lancaster College of Art and Design, and continued selling small paintings at the Wolf House Gallery. I really enjoyed the time at art school. The tuition in painting was probably not up to much, but I had to take O level English and English Literature, as I had not got those at school. In the "adult" environment of the art school I found I had a real love of story writing. I am still really, really thankful for the help and encouragement that I got from Julian Holt, our tutor for English and General Studies. He made learning a joy and gave me some confidence. (I was neither joyful, nor confident at school.) Julian also made me think and to question. Julian had long hair, wore a long coat, was about 6 foot 3, ambulated on platform heels that made him taller, played the saxophone, was passionate about real ale, had a great sense of fun, and was a communist. His General Studies classes did trend towards the political, and it was really good to look at what was happening in the world through other eyes.

Lancaster, from near where the art school was when I was there. All moved now of course... progress or something!

Shortly after my time at Art School, my parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand. At 17 I was judged to be too young to leave behind, and so, in January 1976, life underwent a big upheaval, and I went from one side of the world to the other. My sister, who was older stayed in the UK for a couple more years.

Something Entirely Different!
A big thank you to the new "followers" that have appeared on this site, and to the new people leaving comments. Lovely to hear from you all, new and old, and thank you for your support. I'll be putting a few more links to some of your sites shortly.

Bisque Firing...., what is it??
For those who may not know, lots of potters fire their pots twice. The first firing, a bisque firing, heats up the pot until the clay is turned into something reasonably strong and permanent, but leaves it quite porous and absorbent, so that it will take up the glaze well. This first firing is often to about 1000 degrees Centigrade, but this depends on what clay is being used, and how absorbent the potter wants that clay to be. As well as making the pot easy to glaze, the bisque firing also burns out various impurities from the clay. The second firing, the glaze firing, is usually to a much higher temperature. High enough to partially vitrify the clay that the pot is made of, and to mature the glaze. In particular circumstances the first firing might be to a higher temperature than the glaze firing, this is more common in factory production than in the case of an individual studio potter. Bisque firing really became common after mass production of pottery. Until the advent of mass production, traditional potters generally "once fired" their work.


Judy Shreve said...

It's great to read of your childhood adventures! And I didn't realize that you come from a family of artists -- these paintings are wonderful.

I too remember the great English professors of the early 70's -- they were truly different than anyone I had ever met & I think a few influenced my choices as an adult. It's interesting to know that happened in the UK as well as the states.

It must have been difficult as well as an amazing adventure to move from England to New Zealand as a teen.

Looking forward to photos of your wood fired pots.

Linda Starr said...

Wow Peter you are so talented. I love all your drawings of the English Lakes and hearing about your childhood excursions into the countryside. I never would have thought you had painted there just thinking you might have visited. I am unfamiliar with plastacine and am curious about that. I love the painting of your sister and Jenny Brown's Point. Your father's oils are beautiful as well. It is interesting to see watercolors and oils near one another to see the difference in the saturation of colors. How wonderful you have parents that encouraged your artistic pursuits from an early age. I got a real chuckle out of your description of the dining table. Ha! Thanks for a great post.

traceybroome@mindspring.com said...

I just love your drawings and paintings. You should have a studio for painting as well! Just lovely. My husband climbed the Jungfrau with a group of his climbing buddies several years ago. Stayed in one of the climbing huts there and had such a grand time! He still talks about it. I especially love the painting of your sister. If I saw that at an art fair or in a gallery, I would be wanting to buy it!!

Angie said...

What a great read.
Loved all your pen and ink drawings and your Dad's oils ...especially the first one. My favourite of all was your water colour ... 'Jenny Brown Point' ... loved the water.

rwhendrix said...

Hi Peter, thanks for the explaination on bisque firing. Didn't know what it was. Still learning. Im also learning how to regulate my wood firing temp. Never fired overnight yet.

Peter said...

Dear All,
Thank you for your comments it is lovely to hear from you. I have just had a technical hitch with my Followers gadget. All of you suddenly disappeared when I was changing the layout of the links to people's blog sites. No idea why this happened, but it is rather frustrating and sad! I think that all of you were Followers and I do apologize that your names are now absent from that part of my site. I don't know how to get you back again, or if it will happen all by itself. Anyway, if you would like to continue "following", and it doesn't seem to be working at your end, you may have to arrange to follow this site again. Very sorry for that, I am really baffled.

Hi Judy, I wasn't sure if I should reminisce about the "old days" on this site, but I am glad you enjoyed reading about them. I guess all of our family is creative in one way or another. There often seemed to be people playing music, or dabbling with paints around home. Lots of books about the place too!

If we are really lucky we come across a great teacher who opens up the joy of learning, of questioning things, and having opinions and causes. It sounds like you must have met up with people like that in the States, and I was so fortunate to have had that whilst at art school in Lancaster.

The move to NZ was rather unsettling for me and it still continues to be at times. even after all these years. Like many big changes, there are good and refreshing aspects, and there is some dust and demolition too! At some point one has to make the decision to build on the good things.

Hi Linda,
Glad you got a chuckle out of the dining table description! Plasticine was a special sort of modeling clay that never really hardened. It could be rolled really thin and was easy to join, according to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasticine " Plasticine was formulated by art teacher William Harbutt of Bathampton, in Bath, England, in 1897. He wanted a non-drying clay for use by his sculpture students. Although the exact composition is a secret, Plasticine is composed of calcium salts (principally calcium carbonate), petroleum jelly, and long-chain aliphatic acids (principally stearic acid). It is non-toxic, sterile, soft, malleable, and does not dry on exposure to air (unlike superficially similar products such as Play-Doh, which is based on flour, salt and water). It cannot be hardened by firing; it melts when exposed to heat, and is flammable at much higher temperatures." I got my first plasticine when I was about 3 years old, and kept on making things out of plasticine until we emigrated to New Zealand.

Hi Tracey, Thanks for your comments, It would be nice to do some more painting. Interesting that your husband climbed the Jungfrau. An achievement like that would leave many memories. The painting of my sister was just one of those quick little things which turned out for some reason (probably because it was quick and unselfconscious). I painted it fast as I was working from life, and I don't think she was posing for me, just weeding the garden.

Hi Angie, nice to hear from you. You probably can make out an old chimney in the Jenny Brown's Point painting. It was an old copper smelter as far as I can remember, and was right there near the long stretch of marsh and sand that led to the sea.

Hi Richard, glad the bisque explanation was helpful. I managed to put a link to your excellent blog site. Really interesting to see your brick making and your kilns in action. Very spectacular flame out of the chimney on your latest post!

Pat - Arkansas said...

I do love your sketches and your and your father's paintings. You have many talents. Thanks for sharing the story of your early artistic adventures. Your friends at Wolf Gallery recognized your ability, even if you were quite young at the time. What a lovely encouragement.

I read with interest your comments on bisque firings, etc. I'm sorry you have to be up so much at night tending your "fires." A potter's life is not an easy one, I see.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Wolf HOUSE Gallery, that is.

Peter said...

Hello Pat,
Wolf House Gallery probably does sound a rather unusual name for a gallery! If my memory serves me correctly, the gallery was so named, because the building that it was located was near the spot where the last wolf was killed in England. One of those sad but true facts. Ah ha.. I have just found it! The gallery has a web site now www.wolfhouse-gallery.co.uk
The gallery expanded over the years from how it was when I had work there, but we were really fortunate to catch up with the original owners when we visited 11 years ago. They retired shortly after that, so different people run it now.

Arkansas Patti said...

Really interesting to see all the different styles coming from the same family. How wonderful to be in a talented family and to be so encourages. Love your drawings.
You all should have at one time, all painted the same scene to really show the differences in styles and mediums.
The disappearing followerw was system wide. Glad we are all back.

Anonymous said...

AMAZing and such VIVID Pictures!

Peter said...

Hi Patti,

Nice to hear from you. One day I will have to put a little sample of work from all the family members, it is quite interesting to see it all together. Thanks for the information about the disappearing followers. I had initially thought that it was something I had done, as I had been changing my site around when it happened, but I had started to wonder if it was more wide spread. Very strange thing technology!

Thanks MTN Mama, lovely to hear from you.

Bonnie Bonsai said...

After learning that I'm going to New Zealand, a ladyblogger named Arkansas Patti sent me your website link. I came and found lots of wonderful surprises. You are indeed come from a family of artists and I thoroughly enjoy the history of your childhoold till your migration to New Zealand and the beautiful classical paintings. How lovely! I can only admire because I do not know even how to draw. Well, I did when I was in the primary school but I hid the horse in the box because I did not know how to draw the horse. You can imagine just how furious my teacher was. lol.

Anyway, speaking of pottery, am interested in buying a cooking clay pot with a lid. I'll try to visit your blog again so I'll be able to find your location and can make more inquiry.

Thanks for the educational information I gathered from this post. Have a nice day!

Michael Kline said...

What a beautiful sketchbook! I feel as though I am there!

Peter said...

Hello Bonnie,
Welcome to my site, really nice to hear from you. Ah, the wonderful Arkansas Patti has been at work I see, what a great person she is!

When are you planning on traveling to New Zealand? You are most welcome to visit us if you are in the South Island. Our contact details are easy to find if you hop over to our Waikouati Old Post Office Gallery site
(there is a link to it in the "Links to the Rest of Our Site section on the right hand side of the screen) I have a post on the Waikouaiti Old Post Office Gallery site that has our details as we have an open studio weekend coming up.

Hi Michael, thanks so much for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the sketch book. It is lovely to hear from you, I have been quietly visiting your site for some time now and really admire your work.

angela walford said...

hey pete, love your black and white works, trippy to look back at old journals eh??.......very cool

soubriquet said...

Great pictures.
I pass by Kirby Lonsdale often, love to stop, and take a breather on the Devil's Bridge.

Your pic with the churchyard put me in mind of Dent, in the Yorkshire dales, just the same, the churchyard in the heart of the village.

If you like a spot of northern england nostalgia, you might like a wander through some pictures, though they're mostly from the other side of the pennines, I'm a yorkie...

Bonnie Bonsai said...

Hi Peter, I have just come home from New Zealand! The beautiful New Zealand!

Alas, we were in Taupo in the Northern Island. And I didn't get much time coming to pay you a visit before going away.

I am going to keep your link to mine so I can keep track with your postings.

Oh, by the way, I sent Patti Arkansas a nice postcard from your country and she loves it! I don't see any reason, why not?

I still have to wait for my suitcase to be delivered so I can upload all the photos I took from there.

Meanwhile, am nursing a fever!

Peter said...

Hi Bonnie,

Sorry not to meet up with you when you came to NZ, but Taupo is a whole world away from where we are in the South and to get to us from there would be about the same cost as flying to Australia (no kidding!).

Sorry you are not well, hope you are much better soon.

Do keep in touch regarding cooking pots and so on, it is nice to hear from you.