Friday, 14 July 2017

Be creative, who knows where it may take you!

Tracy Nicholls is our current Artist in Residence. Here she tells us about her role and how she got into working with glass. 

Glass piece from 'Fragile Lace' series
Fragile Lace Series III

No one understands what your job is

Black and white portrait of Tracy smiling
I originally trained in childcare and worked as a nanny, which was much easier to explain! But as Artist in Residence, I get to use the Art School as my studio to work on my own practice. It garners the interest of the students and I get a lot of questions. I talk with them about the machines and techniques I use that they may not have come across before. It has put me back into a creative environment rather than working on my own, getting feedback and engaging with others.

Adult education is addictive

I attended many classes here to start with – interior design and painting and decorating amongst others before I discovered glass on an evening course, and I haven’t looked back. The tutors at Richmond Art School cajoled me to enrol onto an HNC course which I was reluctant to do. Jera (Head of the Art School) came into the class every week and stood by the machine I was working on until I finally gave in! I ended up doing an HNC, HND and then an MA at Farnham. I feel the solid teaching I received at RACC helped me achieve this and my further success. 

You’d never believe how expensive glass equipment is

Erosion #3
Some of the blades in glass equipment and machinery are lined with diamonds, so they are not the kind of thing you can easily have at home! Another reason it’s great to use the facilities at your local arts education establishment.

The opportunities for makers in London are amazing

There are lots of competitions and exhibitions in London that can really help to get your work seen as a new maker. I exhibited at New Designers which was brilliant, and came runner up in the Worshipful Company of Glass Student Award. Being selected for Collect 17 was amazing and daunting in equal amounts. It’s such a large and highly regarded show at the Saatchi Gallery, and I wanted everything to be as good as I could make it. My work can now be found in museums as well as private collections and publications – I would have never imagined it!

It’s never too late to try something new

To anyone wanting to try something new – go for it. You never know where it may take you, and you can always keep trying different things. Don’t be intimidated by others who may have been doing something longer than you, everyone was a beginner once and in your position. Even Grayson Perry first got into ceramics through an adult evening class!

Fragile glass piece
Ethereality 523

You can come and see Tracy's work in our current exhibition in our atrium, or see one of her pieces on show at Vessel Gallery this summer. You can also find out more through her website. Fancy trying glass yourself? Check out our upcoming courses.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

To my amazement, I'm now an established ceramicist, creating objects that I love

Vicky is currently in her final year of an HNC here at Richmond Art School, specialising in ceramics. Here she talks about her unconventional route to the kiln… 

I was diagnosed seven years ago with Pulmonary Sarcoidosis, a chronic auto-immune condition. I had to reduce from a full time active role at the council to a part-time, desk-based position as a Housing Allocations Officer. The idea of being a ceramicist, an artist, or of engaging in any artistic activity, was the furthest thing from my mind.  

But after three years of chronic fatigue, aches and pains and a cocktail of drugs every day, I was encouraged to take ill health retirement, which I reluctantly agreed to.

Finding a new direction

I knew that in order to be happy, I needed to recreate myself, keep busy and find a new interest. So, with RACC just down the road, I decided to try my hand at pottery; a hobby that involved a lot of sitting, which I was good at, and not much physical exertion (or so I thought!). I explained that I wasn’t very good in the mornings, or evenings for that matter, that finances were a bit of an issue, and also that I hadn’t touched any clay since I was a child. On their advice I enrolled on the BTEC Level 1 in Ceramics at the old Clifden Centre in Twickenham which took place once a week in the middle of the day. 

Four small pinch pots in various coloursI was totally starting from scratch. But by the end of my first lesson I was hooked! I went home and began to read books, research potters, and I set up a Pinterest account to gather inspiration. For the first time in years, I was excited to be learning a new skill. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on clay again the following week. 

After six months, I’d learnt how to make pinch pots (how useful this was!), how to do soft slabbing, hard slabbing, coiling and I attempted (and failed) to throw pots. My most successful pieces were my end of year collection of little pinch pots, a theme I would return to again and again, with remarkable success.

Developing my skills

At the end of the summer term, having passed the BTEC with a Distinction, I was determined to carry on with ceramics. I spent the following 12 months attending a Handbuilding and Throwing class taught by Delyth Jones, where I continued to develop my ceramic techniques (although regretfully, not improving my throwing much!). 

Towards the end of the summer term, at the suggestion of our very supportive technician Sally, I decided to apply for the HNC in 3D Design Ceramics the following September. The fees were a real obstacle to me, as I was living on a very small pension following my retirement, but thanks to financial (and moral) support from Richmond Parish Land Charities, I was able to afford the course. I’m now at the end of my two years and approaching my final end of term exhibition. 

Vicky's ceramic horses mounted on a wooden board at the V&A 'Inspired By' exhibition

Discovering amazing opportunities

It has been an incredible two years of hard work, fun, laughter, new friends and amazing opportunities and experiences. I was lucky enough to be chosen to exhibit in the V&A’s annual ‘Inspired By...’ competition, along with five other HNC students. My piece ‘Gor Sig Fria’ meaning ‘Make Themselves Free’ in Swedish, was inspired by the little wooden Swedish Dala Horse.     
I also entered a competition last year by the clothing company TOAST called ‘Works of the Heart’, for the chance to display in one of their shop windows during February. I entered a mixed media piece called ‘Toadstool Blossom’ and I was one of 11 chosen from over 900 applicants! I had the thrill of installing my work in their first store in LLandeilo in Wales.

Vicky's Toadstool blossom installation in Toast shop window
It was a daunting task to install my work in a venue that I'd never seen until the day, but I was well prepared for all eventualities, and was provided with copious cups of tea during the nearly four hours it took to install the piece. 
In the summer of 2016 our theme for the term was inspired by the word ‘Enclosure.’ I used the word literally with the idea of re-enclosing eroded rocks and minerals found on the coast back into clay, to create a series of planters. This project really tied in with my love of gardening, and I used plants that are happy in confined spaces and crevices.   
These planters were very popular, and I sold two after the exhibition and was encouraged to take the others to a retail outlet. I decided to try my luck at the fantastic Petersham Nurseries in Richmond. Initially they weren’t sure, as they are admittedly, an unusual shape! However they asked if I could make half a dozen more without the holes to be used as vases.

Large unusually shaped planters with plants inside
They were also very enthusiastic about my little pinch pots, and asked me to make a couple of dozen more for their shop. Ever since then, they’ve requested a regular supply, and they tell me they are a continual best seller. They are opening a restaurant and shop in Covent Garden this summer, so I'm going to be kept very busy! To my amazement, I am an established professional ceramicist with a regular income, creating objects that I love.

Lots of small pinch pots

And now, in my final few weeks of the course, I’m so excited about the future and my continued journey. My next ambition is to have my own studio with a kiln. 

Without RACC’s amazing tutors, technicians and the incredible facilities on offer in the art school, I would not have achieved any of this, and all I can say is thank you! 

You can visit Vicky’s end of year exhibition from Friday 7th July. Interested in trying a ceramics course? We have lots starting over summer and in September.