It’s a really busy, exciting time at Paula Armstrong Ceramics at the moment as I am finally the proud joint owner with my fabulous sister (who runs a great dance school!) of my new studio in Fenstanton, Cambs, UK! I am now working with the builders to make it into my dream studio space perfect for making and teaching.
My current studio has been great and there’s lots I will miss like the fabulous natural light but I feel like the business has outgrown it 😀 (which is something I’m still amazed that I can say!). The new studio will have a sink in the studio with a clay trap, a toilet inside the studio, a separate room for the kilns and drying shelves and more than enough electricity to fire all of my kilns – all things my current space doesn’t have.
As well as dealing with the studio move I’m exhibiting at Art Unequalled at the Maltings in Ely on 1st & 2nd June then at Wymondham Arts Centre as part of the Garden inspired exhibition 11th – 23rd June while still teaching classes and running workshops, so I apologise if I seem a bit distracted at the moment, I’m working on keeping better organised….
I’m living my dream and am so grateful to everyone who has made it possible – my Mum and sister for always believing and backing me, my wonderful family for supporting me and putting up with the odd hours and gallivanting for exhibitions, my amazing students who couldn’t be nicer or more supportive and many others that I’ve met along this journey… you have all inspired me (and continue to inspire me) and made this all possible, so THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart <3
This has been a challenging year for me. It has stretched me in ways I have struggled with and has made me seriously consider what is important to me and what I really want to do. Essentially I’ve been working hard to find my balance, in more ways than one!
I have had some health issues that have meant I’ve had to slow down and change the way I work. It has meant taking on help and paying attention to what my body needs rather than what needs doing. It has meant getting really good at prioritising and failing sometimes because I can’t find a way, but I think I’m getting there. I saw a post on facebook recently that has really resonated with me. It put forward the idea of thinking about our energy being a resource similar to money and that we should consider where we’re spending it and where we gather it, how we find balance for our energy.
So within my work, I was always intending to put more focus on developing my own pieces which I have managed to start doing and am really happy with where it’s going. However, having put more energy into my own work has meant my classes have been cut back to just my studio programme. So far, this seems to work well for me, it’s comfortable being in my own space and travel time is minimal. I do still passionately believe that anyone, especially children, who would like to try clay should have the chance so I continue to group workshops and save my energy for them when they come up.
I am learning to welcome opportunities but also recognising when I need to pass them on. I have found that I take great satisfaction from being able to do this and in the process support other makers. There’s a feeling of success for me in the fact that I have made it far enough to be able to support others; perhaps it’s the teacher in me! This satisfaction has had a balancing effect on the disappointment I’ve felt at having to slow down, but I think I will always have big ambitions so now it’s just a case of figuring out how to achieve them in a slightly different way to the original plan 🙂
As classes begin again for a new term with lots of new students I’ve been thinking about the ‘right’ way to do things. I am a firm believer that there are many ‘right’ ways to do things. While I am there to teach my students how to make things in clay I let them know early on that I am beginning by teaching them one way to work with the clay but there are many ways, all of which are ‘right’ (as long as they don’t blow up in the kiln or break) and that they will find their way of working which they find most comfortable. I teach the ways I have found to be safest, and by that I mean the most consistent for achieving great pieces with few problems, cracks or all out disasters. Of course they still happen but generally they are fewer than some other methods I have used over the years.
I teach these methods as the basics then as students progress they bring in more challenging ideas and stretch their skills (and mine sometimes!) to develop their own voice and style. The joy of the journey is to experiment and explore clay with all the myriad of possibilities it brings in both form and finish. It’s an endless journey for me as I’m continually learning and experimenting with new materials and methods. I’m continually being inspired by the cleverness of others and how they use clay to achieve a strong aesthetic with a unique voice.
I’m sure I’ve said it many times before, but I do love clay! All the mess, potential and longevity of the finish appeals greatly to me.
I’m excited! I’ve started work on some new pieces that build on the work I’ve been doing around the Intrinsic Extrinsic concept, particularly the idea of decorative interiors and turning functional into non-functional by decorating the functional space. You can clearly see a lot of my previous inspirations like seed pods and sea life but there also seems to be a definite femininity coming into these pieces that has surprised me. In the past I’ve thought about most of my work (particularly the figurative pieces) as masculine so I’m intrigued by this new direction and wonder whether it’s because I now have a daughter… I still don’t think it’s ‘pretty’ work but that’s never what I intend. I prefer to make something that inspires a reaction in the viewer whether it’s curiosity, wonder or dislike. I don’t mind what the reaction is as long as it’s memorable and maybe, just maybe, makes them wonder why such a piece makes them feel that way.
I’m trying out new ways of finishing the pieces (well, new for me anyway) as well as returning to an old favourite. I’m working with slips, printing onto the surface of a slab before building and layering with sgraffito. Layering up glazes and oxides then adding metal leaf to glazed pieces for a further depth to the finish. I’m playing with melting glass into pieces to add jewel-like surfaces into pieces and exploring the single firing method too. So many things to try and so little time! It’s fabulous fun to feel free to create!
There’s still a long way to go with these pieces. I’m going to look towards lighting and still need to consider the textiles and beads which I think could work really well with this idea but I’m loving the start of the journey and will have to continue to make sure I set time aside to develop and make new work for galleries.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post and things have been super busy. I’ve been teaching classes at my studio, as well as classes for Cambourne Village College and the Wellcome Trust social club; working with schools on mural commissions and curriculum inspired workshops where the children get to follow the process of clay from malleable beginning to the beautifully glossy, glazed finished piece; making a few small commission pieces; and making some of my own work.
You notice how making my own work is at the end of the list…well for 2017 my goal is to move it up the list a bit and to get my work back out into galleries and shows around the UK, and further afield if the opportunity arises. I’m going to set time aside to develop my current work and turn some of the ideas swimming around in head into test pieces to build and develop new pieces. I have so many ideas about hidden beauty, layering up and using lights more… I’m super excited to get started so I’m going to have to work super hard to make sure I don’t get caught up in the day to day work too much (two school murals, a beautiful greyhound commission and 7 classes a week starting January…). I do have two lovely studio assistants who have started helping me out so I should be able to find some time with their help 🙂 Look out 2017, here I come!
I can’t believe I’m saying that! I only moved into my beautiful, big, spacious studio in October 2014 but I really need more space. Not for my work so much as for the fabulous pieces my students are making and the hundreds of tiles that are currently in my studio at various stages of making for the Over school commission. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing but it has taken me by surprise. It’s great that I’m saying it as it means I’m very busy doing what I love too so I’m happy. I’ve gone from two regular weekly classes to running five as well as Saturday workshops, parties and face painting…I’ve reached the point of having to say no to opportunities and how hard is that!
I subscribe to the Design Trust newsletter and Patricia’s current question is ‘What does success look like?’ It has popped up on my screen at a very good time for me and what with being so busy and growing so much faster than I thought it would, it is a really good question!
I’ve always dreamed of making my living from my clay work. I want to sell my work through prestigious galleries and events as well as pass on my passion for clay to students. I would like to have an excellent reputation for making unusual pieces of high quality ceramic art. I also want to work in a way that fits with my family with a degree of flexibility. I would like to be recognised by my peers and wider industry for pushing boundaries and making unique pieces. So I guess for me, success would be making my living from a balance of selling my work in selected galleries and events and teaching while still having the time to spend with my family. It is also about being featured in industry magazines and doing demonstrations at shows and events.
I suppose all of that does also come with a need for a fabulous studio space kitted out with all the facilities needed so a sign of success would also be getting a bigger studio with separate glaze and kiln rooms!
Here is my first e-newsletter with details of lots of up-coming events and classes for Paula Armstrong Ceramics. If you’d like to be added to the subscribers list just let me know 🙂
Dates for classes, Saturday workshops and special events along with project news for the summer term.
** Welcome to the first e-newsletter from Paula Armstrong Ceramics.
The aim of the newsletters are to keep you informed of everything going on at the studio from term dates fro regular classes to details of Saturday and guest workshops and special project updates. There will be one main e-newsletter per term with the occasional news bulletins when something fantastic happens!
For this first newsletter I’ve included everyone who has given me their email since opening the studio in October 2014 so I hope you all enjoy it. However, if you do not wish to receive any future newsletters please let me know and I will remove you from the list, or click the Mailchimp remove subscription button at the end of this message.
Dates for your diary:
* Clay Play day – 31st March
* Start of next term’s regular classes – week beginning the 18th April
* Saturday workshops – 16th April, 21st May and 11th June
* Fused glass workshop – 7th May
* Open Studios – 9th & 10th, 23rd & 24th July
The course costs £130 including all materials and firing. Current students have priority but there remains spaces on each course although they are booking fast. To confirm your place please get in touch for the best way to make payment. I look forward to seeing everyone after a lovely Easter.
There is a series of monthly Saturday workshops for anyone who would enjoy a day of working with clay. They run 10am – 3pm with a 2 hour glazing session 2 or 3 weeks later to finish the pieces made during the workshop.
Each has a theme and the next one on 16th April is Dragons in honour of St George’s Day. After that the themes are 21st May – the Sea and 11th June – Animals.
The cost per person is £75 including materials and firing.
Clay Play Day
Thursday 31st March 10am – 12pm & 2-4pm
A workshop for all ages to have some fun with clay at the affordable price of £20 each. Great for individuals, families or groups just get in touch to book your place.
Crafty Clay Parties
A fabulous fun activity for parties. A chance for all your guests to make their own piece of ceramic which will then be fired and finished ready for everyone collection 2/3 weeks after the party. The activity can be inspired by your party theme. Suitable for all ages and abilities, parties cost £150 for up to 12 participants which includes materials and firing. Parties can be at the studio, your home or other suitable venue. Just get in touch for more information.
This is a fabulous afternoon offering the chance to make your own fused glass tile and pendant. You will learn how to cut glass, about the properties of glass for fusing and what you need to consider when creating a piece.
The cost is £35 including materials and firing. This workshop is limited to a maximum of 8 people so booking early is advised!
The Over Primary School commission is well under way now with all the in school workshops complete. Every child in school should have had the opportunity to make at least one piece for the tile mural. Now it’s down to getting everything fired and glazed as well as making the remaining tiles. The aim is to have the piece installed before the school breaks for summer holidays.
Open from 11am – 6pm each day many studios and galleries will be opening their doors each weekend in July for visitors to have a look at what they do, how and where fabulous work is created. For more information about the event and who will be opening their doors please visit their website at http://www.camopenstudios.co.uk
As we’re heading into the longer days and warmer months Paula Armstrong Ceramics and Crafty Parties will be attending more events, from community fetes to craft fairs and more. Come and say hi if you’re at any of the following in the next few months 🙂
* Mind, Body and Spirit Fayre, 2nd April at Over Community Centre https://www.facebook.com/events/1698843213686167/
* St George’s Day event, 23rd April at Longstanton recreation ground
* Spring Fling, 30th April at Hatton Primary School, Longstanton
* WSA Summer Fete, 21st June at Willingham Primary School
* Swavesey Festival, 25th June on the village green
* Over Carnival, 16th July on the village green
I’ve opened my first Etsy shop to sell my smaller pieces that can be posted, from cute dogs,cats and owls to ceramic jewellery and trinket boxes. Please have a look if you’re looking for something unique as a gift.
Wishing you a lovely Easter break. I look forward to seeing you again soon 🙂
With new classes starting last week I’ve been thinking about how I introduce people to clay. While it can be a technical and highly skilled pursuit I do believe it can be introduced in such a way that even those touching clay for the first time can make something that surprises them. I believe the best way to learn is to work with the clay so in the first session, in addition to introducing the basics of what clay is, I get students straight into making, starting with a refined pinch pot technique. From this they make something like an owl, dog or decorative sphere. Week two is a decorative box and weeks three and four are coiling a vase or bowl allowing students to quickly feel like they’ve made something beautiful and worthy of putting on display at home. All of this is helped by the right clay. I use Potterycrafts Raku clay and I love it! It’s a lightly grogged stoneware clay which makes it strong and, a nice forgiving clay for beginners. It has a wide firing range and fires to a buff colour making it great for exploring glazing and decorating techniques. I use it for all my own work so it is also a clay I am very familiar with so I have a very good idea of how far it can be pushed.
A very short blog but one that comes from the heart.
I love being busy and I love having lots of different things to be working on but this past week I have begun to understand that I’m losing myself in the busy. My to do list is getting longer and longer, especially with Christmas coming up and I have made a couple of mistakes that, with some clear thinking time I might have avoided, maybe… I am living my dream but reality is trying to invade from all sides and my time to make work for myself has become severely limited by the call on my time from other business tasks that must be completed. While I actually also enjoy most of these tasks, I have realised I have the balance wrong.
Work-Life balance is well known, and part of the reason I chose to follow this path, but I have come to realise I need balance within my work as well. I have a terrible habit of trying to fit more in than I realistically can (I’ve always been one to want everything!) but I have finally realised it’s not only bad for me but also bad for my art and business.
So my advice to myself, and anyone else who wishes to take it, is to pick what you want to do carefully and don’t get taken on too many tangents (whilst also being open to opportunities that arise). Plan and review the plan regularly. When you accept something new you need to consider what you will no longer do as a result and accept that, be it temporary or permanent and, most of all ‘breathe and relax’!
With a month away from teaching classes I’m going to be busy working on a fabulous commission for the Vine Inter-church Primary School, Cambourne. Born from the vision of their head teacher, Debbie Higham, as a way to celebrate the school’s 10th birthday, it’s a great project that brings together all the ways I love to work.
While I will have some serious time in the studio on my own with my head down creating in both ceramic and textile the bulk of this project has been about collaboration with the students, governors and teachers. It’s a small piece of public art that will be permanently sited in the main entrance of the school building. I put together a simple proposal with a drawing of my design which went to a panel of children who then shortlisted two proposals they wanted to hear more about. I was then invited to meet with some of the children along with a couple of governors and the head teacher for an interview that took my initial design to a new level by incorporating same great suggestions from the panel. This, I have been told, was why I was the successful artist for the project, I was happy and enthusiastic about their suggestions and included in the proposal more time for workshops to allow for more opportunities to contribute and influence the finished piece.
I love the idea of collaborative creativity and the fact that the finished piece will feel so much more special because of all the input from so many of the people and the community it’s celebrating. I still have the role of artist and have to keep the vision cohesive and the finished piece of a high quality but this is a challenge I love. So far, all the suggestions have added and built upon my original design so I look forward to seeing the finished piece!