28th October 2013

I have been cleaning my studio space and reviewing my last glaze test. My head is full of ideas and questions about what I will see and whom I will meet when I travel to the Archie Bray on Thursday night.

I have a few threads to my work appearing and I am hoping to find a way to merge these ideas. I am always looking for ways to re-introduce the figure and a form of narrative to my work. I am thinking my time in the Bray will inspire me to new directions, this fills me with excitement and nervous anticipation, a feeling I am becoming familiar with now after the residencies I have undertaken in the last 2 years.

I have been reviewing the Archie Bray website, to familiarise myself with the place and people there. There are some lovely images that I have seen that I am eager to see for myself and the surrounding country will be wonderful experience. When I get there I am sure it will become clear what I will focus on and want to develop.

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I am looking froward to my and up coming experience, all the sights of Helena Montana, the excellent facilities at the Achie Bray, the artists and people I will come into contact with. I will be keeping this blog here during my time there so you can share my experience in words and pictures. I have also started a facebook page so you can link and follow there too.

I am honoured to be awarded the Welsh Prize for Potclays Emerging Maker Award 2013, with a prize of Visiting Artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, Montana USA. Which begins on the 1st of November. If you click on the banner on the top of this blog page or the Archie Bray logo in the sponsors, you can find out about this amazing facility and its rich artistic reputation.

1st November

SETTLING IN

Left Cardiff on a rainy Halloween night, the fancy dress parties in full swing.
The journey was a quiet one and the aeroplanes got progressively smaller as the number of hours travelling got bigger, a 30hour journey in total, but no hitches and all the connections were smooth. I made the mistake of not having my camera to hand, as we descended into Salt Lake City I regretfully missed one of the most fabulous sunsets I have ever seen. From the airplane window the mountains and lakes were framed by a rainbow of orange, yellow and green to midnight blue as the sun disappeared and night fell, it was stunning.
After my third and final flight I arrived weary in Helena’s very small quiet airport but it was no time at all before the one of the artists, Sunshine Cobb, came to greet me. She was so lovely and took me for a late night shop for provisions and then a quick tour of the Archie Bray facility where 3 of the resident artist were still at work. I settled in to the house named “the chicken coop”. So I write this at midnight whilst listing out for the strange noises. The house has lots of lovely ceramics around to distract me, and they make me eager for the day light to come when I can really get my bearings and start exploring, gathering some photos and new inspirations.

2nd November

So I am settling into my studio space, which is humungous, compared to what I am use to. I washed and rooted around and have the smallest amount of clay compared to the shelves and space I have to fill. The walk here this morning was cold but full of visuals. I don’t have the correct adaptors, but thanks to Internet shopping it wont be long before I do.
So today is full of planning, I sit in my space thinking about the clay available and the objects I am surrounded by. There are sculptures in the fields and corners everywhere outside the studio. There is plenty of exploring to be done. I can hear my fellow artist working away in their spaces, the sun is shining and in this well heated studio the bright sunny day outside belies the cold, but I am keen to explore.

3rd November

Last night there was a fabulous Halloween party one of the staff had at their home. A wonderful and unconventional welcome from some of the artists in residence, staff and their friends who live in and around Helena.

work.....

I managed to get most of my clay prep done and I can beging to experiment tomorrow.

A productive end to a fabulously fun and full weekend.

11th November

This weekend I have been busy getting things underway creating organic sculptures reflecting my feelings related to this place. In the walls of these buildings of brick and metal surrounded by the decaying brick factory, a sense of the old structure being taken over and evolving, taking on new uses is strikingly evident. The artists who have been here since the sixties have moulded the fabric of the place as well as changing the way we view these old functional structures and waste artefacts which lie in abundance around the buildings. The clay brick piles standing side by side with fantastical sculptures.

Social....

There was an art walk on Friday where I was able to taste the delights of the local brewery and see the main street full to the brim with locals. The bookshop housed the Bray Exhibit and I also had the opportunity to meet Robert Harrison and his wife, he was signing his book 'Sustainable Ceramics". The ceramics world is a small one and we descovered that he knew my tutors from college.

On Saturday night it was good to relax and do normal things, I visited the home of one of the residence and we ate a lovely meal and watched a move. This was my first lone trip out in the car which went very well considering everything was left to right. Thanks to Sunshine a great host and cook.

WORK....

So today I have been continuing with my work being more playful and experimenting with the forms I hope to contiune in this way to gather as much information and ideas as I can. I will be firing my first pieces and hopefully evolving them into exciting new ways.

I have ideas to keep hold of for my return to UK and some I need to just do. You could say I need to get them out of my system, I work through forms I have in my mind which are often very different when you turn them into a reality.

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Yesterday I was able to speak to a lovely artist called Clara Hoag, she was finishing one of her large abstracted figurative forms which she had made during her summer Residency at the Bray. She was very happy to talk about her technique and what her work is about. She is unafraid to render the more difficult thoughts and feelings she has about things that trouble her in the world around her. She explained, the way she builds the piece is to reflect the way are built as individuals.

"I use the suggestion of structure — architectural and social — to address issues of the human condition......"
(from Clara's artist statement)

Click here to visit her website to see more of her wonderful figurative work.

7th November

Start the day well... skype, sort out some issue back home with the Electric company and crack on with some work. Take a break for some great apple pie or Animal crackers ooh choices choices.... now that definitely feels like America.

6th November

My weather up date is cold but sunny, with some snow showers, but here I am again in the warm of the studio at my computer to share with you my experiences of the last couple of days.

I have been looking, making and getting a feel for the place and people, I have to admit it is taking time to settle. I have spent time in the communal kitchen drinking coffee and eating lunches with the artist, which is a great opportunity to chat about their lives and work. I have spent time in their studios to get to know them and their journeys and see their work and processes, trying not to take up too much of their time as they are busy making work for a sale next week and their individual projects. There is a fine balance getting to know everyone the place to absorb this and produce some work. I have a sense of pressure to get something done but I know it will come in its time. It is important to me to meet new artists and they are happy to explain their process and understandings everyone so different but equally innovative.

I have been putting together little meet and greet profiles, which you can see and link to their websites from. It is a good way for me to record and remember information, there is so much to take in at these times it is worth doing it.

I am making plans and my mind is buzzing with ideas so I hope to have something to show in a day or two. The initial experiments are based on immediate experience and the need to just make and get a feel for working in a new environment.

So I think there is a bit of a theme emerging in the things I focus on it will be interesting to see how these things infulence my work or what the connection are.

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18th November

I spent some time one evening last week sitting with Lindsey Carol, Steve Lee’s assistant artist, it was really interesting talking to her about her career and how she is in a transition time at the moment with her personal work. She is working with Steve Lee on a series of carved tea bowls which represent the colours of the American flag and she helps to carve the designs which she had developed with Steve. I asked her how it feels to have such input to someone else’s work, the answer was obvious really, she explained that she loved making and especially the carving and to do it and get paid was totally fine, she is happy to be working with clay. As she explained, she is undergoing a period of reflection about her own work and it is good to still be making whilst this is happening. I have come to see so many artists having to do work so unconnected from the creative process; I myself work in other fields for regular money. So it is good to see Lindsey have opportunity to do what she does well for a great project.

Steve Lee website www.stevenyounglee.com

Play….

It has been a weekend of work and play too. Getting to know the residence, hanging out in their workspaces talking about all kinds of things work, life, TV and other random stuff. We all went to see a gig on Friday night it was great country music and some people dancing country style, a nice taste of Helena nightlife. On Saturday we had food at one of the residence houses it was fun and we played games and made a fire in the garden, (ceramist just can’t help making fire).

Work….

It has been a time of discovery in my making, the new clays causing me to try different ways of building. I have had to suffer some big set backs with forms I am really excited about but that are not surviving my usual making techniques so this is a time of massive learning and adapting. If it wasn’t a challenge I probably would not like it as much… but I could do without loosing a whole days work before I get to photograph the forms, lesson here is to take more photos as you go.

So I begin today with determination, I have a good week of making then I will have to start winding down, the ceramic process always making you consider timings; making, drying and firing. This thought process making me think about the finish, something I don’t like to think about when I am only in the middle of my month here. I have become philosophical about my time and the work I am doing here, I have been working in a quite frantic way at times wanting to make some resolved pieces but I find that sometimes it is the doing that you need to enjoy and learn from the pieces don’t come straight away. So I take my notes, sketches and photos and know from experience that the appropriate work will come when it is ready, the trick is to just keep making and trying out new things. I will reflect and process this month’s work in the quiet of my studio back in Cardiff.

Lets see if I can leave the old chicken head behind and get a new frame of mind for the third week.

21st November

So we had a little get together last night around the fire in the summer studio it was good and the fire was gorgeous and necessary, the temperature dropped to -19 degree celsius last night. The gathering was to say farwell to one of the residence Steve Godfrey who leaves today. Everyone makes their final placement of work in the gallery today for the opening tonight.

I will unload my kiln and then prepare for a trip this weekend to Spokane, I get to see some of this wonderful country, a big adventure.

20th November

-10 degrees Celsius
My first proper Montana snow this morning. It has been an exciting day.

Work….

Took some photos of my work before it went in for the bisque firing, then loaded my kiln and taking advice from another superstitious ceramist, gave a little offering to the kiln god which will look over my firing, fingers crossed things will go well. Now is time to reflect and make notes and drawings for ideas for future work. I have plans to use up the rest of the small amount of clay that I have left.

Play….

I walked around the centre in the snow so beautiful check out the photos. My hands froze. A stark difference from yesterday when I walked around the lake and is was warm and sunny, I even took off my coat for bit, Montana weather they say, ‘just wait 10 minutes and it will change’. So now I wait and chat to everyone as they install the main gallery for the Christmas show, their work fresh from the kiln and still singing, in Steve Lee's case. The opening on Thursday night. It should be a good night photos will come.....

28th November

So its been a while since my last entry, but I have just been too busy having so much fun….

The show was excellent the work is fantastic, lovely food and drink and a brilliant turn out. It was wonderful to see everyone’s work in the gallery, and for everyone to relax and have a social evening dressed in our best clothes.

I headed off the next day in a lovely hire car to see a friend and get a feel for this beautiful country. The area from Helena to Spokane where I was going to stay skirts around a stunning national park called Glacier, which I was able to sense in brief glimpses through the mountains. It was a beautiful drive and the weather was excellent, my confidence driving in America growing by the mile. I felt a big thrill driving west in Montana. All the experiences of working here and the people of the Bray now become enriched by the travel. I was really seeing the country, meeting people from very different lives, chatting with them in the small cafes and bars along the route. It would have been a big mistake to just stay in the centre for the whole time and not see this amazing country. I had time with my old friends in Spokane and enjoyed a different kind of city. Where singing on bars gets your name on a dollar bill on the wall of the local Irish pub.

On my return I was treated to a little tour of the north of Helena and the beautiful Hauser Lake fed by the Missouri River at sunset. Sorry no photos my camera was dead, a memory you never forget though
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Work….

I returned to the studio on Monday to glaze and make my last firings, a long day sanding and deciding on my glazes and what I wanted to try out.

On the Tuesday everthing in the kiln, I was able to relax and enjoy a much more social time. I chatted with Joanna Powell one of the residence, a breath of fresh air, we chatted about all kinds of things like our work, and issues we deal with on concept and the way we have adjusted to our practice outside of University. Joanna’s work has a really sensitive naïve quality but the objects have an opulence about them that to use one of her bowls or ‘challises’ is to have a special experience, both humble and sublime. Check out her web site http://joannapowellstudio.com

Wednesday was spent cleaning up taking photos of the work, which I felt good about. Some of the experiments had been successful and I felt happy to have a good starting point for my work when I return to Wales.
The influences come in different ways on a placement like this, your immediate responses to the environment, the art and the work the artist are doing in the centre. When you sit and chat with an artist who is carving the most skilled and lovely designs onto beautifully crafted pots for instance, it is inevitable I was going to think about these techniques and the possibilities for them in my own work. My printmaking was in the front of my mind and so it gave me interesting new ideas. Direction sometimes comes in unexpected ways and you don’t always know what will influence you but the magic is that you will always be inspired. Travel opens up a lot of different emotions in my brain and I think the combination of my coping mechanisms, keenness to learn and my curious exploring nature when travelling, creates the perfect catalyst to invention and inspiration.

29th November

Day after the hearwarming experience of Punkin Chunkin, and American football on TV oh yes and Thanksgiving Day, Thanks to Daniela Abel for a wonderful Thanksgiving party with all the Bray artist friends and families, a really wonderfull day.

Packed and ready to go home. I wait for the last evening when I will meet up with the few friends I have made here who are not away on vacations. We will eat some Scouse ( stew ) and say farewell.