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 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.