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. 

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