This last week I received an email from a student asking me very politely if I would mind answering some questions for her as part of her course. I get this sort of request fairly regularly and I always try to do my best to give them time to answer them, generally though the questions aren’t very exciting. ‘Where do you get your inspiration’, ‘how many pots do you throw in a day’, ‘how many pots can you fit in your kiln’ etc. This one though was very different.
I am presently a mature student at Newcastle College studying in the third year of a Foundation Degree in Contemporary Ceramic Practice. As part of my work based learning, I am setting up my own workshop space in which I plan to develop my own range of decorative earthenware alongside school workshops
I firstbecame aware of your work through ‘The Platform Gallery’ in Clitheroe, Lancashire. I love the birdy design, and the way it makes me smile every time I look at it! Yours is the only ‘famous’ potters work I have purchased, and this was because of the mirth it produced and also to provide inspiration to get on and learn some of this craft I have been interested in since childhood, but never have been able to take further than night classes.
I would be grateful if you could briefly answer the following questions, to help me in my quest of becoming a professional potter.
Thank-you, Clare Cantwell.
My response was as follows:
Dear Clare, god bless you, ‘famous potter’! That’s made my day! I love it.
- What 3 things are the most important pieces of advice you could give to someone in my position?
Follow your heart, do what you are passionate about, don’t just follow a trend, if you do what you love then you will do that thing better than anything you think you can make a quick bit of cash from.
Be realistic, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to make a million pounds in the first year of business but I suppose you never know. Be realistic but have something to aim for all the time. Always know what your goal is and work towards it, things evolve in the mean time but it’s good to have the goal. (note to self, remember this)
Work hard, and then a bit harder and then a bit more but try to remember to look after yourself too, I am only just beginning to realise the value of looking after myself and the value of time away from what I love.
- Did you have a clear idea in your mind about how each piece will be decorated, or does it evolve during the making?
Unless it is a commission it will probably evolve during the making. I often work through a theme. I used to work very much in ranges of work, less so this last eighteen months or so. These days I am more likely to make a batch of pots and then deliberately try to decorate each one in a different way.
- Your wall mounted platters are very different from previous ranges, did you seek out this change or was the response to your travels unexpected inspiration?
The square wall plaques that I have been making are in response to the work of a photographer who I had been collaborating with. These are much looser than my work ever has been. The work that I have made since coming back from America last year has been bizarely more ‘English’ than it ever had been. I’m not sure what part of being away made me look more closely at the old English pottery that I love but something did. It wasn’t until I sat back and looked at what I had made some months down the line that I realised this either.
- Your information for ‘Open Studios’ was less formal and more personal than many other makers. Is this intentional?
Yes it is intentional. These are great questions by the way, I often get sent a list of very general questions where you know full well that the person asking hasn’t really done any reading about you. This is really interesting to complete, you are making me think hard.
Yes it is intentional. My statement which I would supply to a gallery would be far less personal but I think the point about open studios is in the name, people are being invited into my space to learn a bit about me and what I do. I want them to be made interested enough to want to come to visit me, hopefully as you say with the birds, what I say will make them smile or at least remember me rather than me saying the very true but somewhat dull ‘I am inspired by the nature around me’.
- Do you prefer gallery, web or face to face sales, and why?
I like them both for different reasons and I need both for different reasons.
I work from a workshop which is not open to the public, I am open by appointment and the people that seek me out are generally interested but they are also few and far between. At fairs and shows and the open studio that I do it is great to meet the people that I sell to. It’s great to get that first hand feedback from them, and to know where my work is going and hear the stories about the people that use a particular bowl every morning. Of course at direct selling events the entire value of the piece is coming straight to me too. They are very hard work though. The contrast of working on your own and then going to somewhere where not only your work but yourself is on show and having to talk to people and make sense all the time is quite marked. However I do get to meet up with fellow potters and catch up and chat about pots a lot which is never a bad thing.
Galleries are great because there your work can be selling and being seen by lots of different people and you don’t have to be with it. However getting your work in the right gallery can be hard, I have been working it out mainly by trial and error. If you can find ones that work well for you and that you can work well with then you can build a really good relationship and these are worth their weight in gold.
So thank you Clare, I look forward to seeing your work.