My conflict between perfection and the not so perfect.

As I continue to learn how to throw pots on the wheel I have come to realise there’s conflict going on in my head.

I’m sure anyone who throws pots will, like me, be striving for perfection. I am loving this challenge and the journey will take me for ever.

However there is a conflict going on in my head and I know it’s been going on for a long time, not just since I got my wheel. I love clean lines and contemporary design but I also love rustic too. I love hand building and wonky pots, the urge to pick them up and connect with them is so very strong. So there you have my conflict.

I guess I will continue to love both, I will continue to strive for perfection in my thrown pieces and continue making wabi and sabi hand built pieces, I  have strong urges to ‘alter’ my thrown pieces so maybe the two styles will meet somewhere, who knows. It’s enough to have fun just making.

Here’s a couple of pieces that came out of the kiln this morning, a salad bowl and a berry bowl.

The salad bowl is thrown, it has a couple of issues I need to address, it has warped a bit and the glaze has some minute pinholes, so I will strive to perfect these issues at my next attempt to make the perfect bowl.

Ceramic bowl
The berry bowl is hand built, while making this I imagined it sitting on the kitchen table at Cragside  and maybe a kitchen maid stealing one of the berries. It’s really quite wonky in shape but I like that in hand built ceramics, I just want to pick it up and steal a strawberry myself.

Berry bowlI quite like the idea of not really knowing where my journey is going, who knows I may end up somewhere in the middle, only time will tell.


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Scafell Pike via the easy route

I thought you might like to take a walk with me up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, but I warn you this is a picture heavy blog post.

The weather was perfect during the week for a walk up Scafell Pike. I have been planning to do this for so long but I think I had something of a mental blockage about going up Scafell. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I hear so many stories on the local news about people getting in trouble and calling out the Mountain Rescue.

This wasn’t the most demanding, or dangerous walk I’ve done but it certainly is challenging, and in bad weather it could be very dangerous indeed, it’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

We chose the easy route setting off early in the morning from the car park at Wasdale Head heading up Lingmell Beck.


That’s Scafell Pike in the middle, although that isn’t the summit. P1430799

Luckily there hasn’t been much rain recently, you have to find a way across the beck and this could be tricky after heavy rain.P1430802

The path follows the beck,  the sunshine and the sound of the water felt sublime.

P1430811I got a little concerned when I heard a lot of mooing going on but thankfully the cattle, including a very large bull were on the other side of the beck, and there was a fence to keep them in. I instantly thought of that moment in the film Withnail and I.

P1430806The paths are very well maintained on the whole, and soon we had climbed enough to catch a  view of Wastwater, the sea beyond and the Isle of Man.

P1430819It was very hot in the sun, and hard work especially on the steeper slopes. Thankfully I brought a few bottles of water. It wasn’t long before the route up Mickledore was in view. This route entails some rock climbing so we decided to go the longer but easier way round. My walking companion had done the Mickledore route before but thought it wasn’t for me.

20170712_101150Such amazing scenery.




Some of the paths are quite easy…….P1430836

…….but not all the way. There is a cliff edge off to the right in the picture below; the cairns were hard to see on a good day so in misty, or wet weather this stretch could be treacherous.P1430859aAs we climbed the view started to open up, this is Great Gable on the left.



You can just see Derwentwater, with Styhead Tarn in the middle distance. P1430864

Grasmoor is the elongated fell in the distance, on the right .P1430865

And finally the summit was in sight, but there is still some way to go across the boulder field.P1430867

As you would expect, standing on the rooftop of England the views are rather special.


The cloud started coming in, so I quickly got my photos.P1430875




P1430880As you would probably expect there was a crowd on the summit, but I couldn’t get over the number of people that we passed on our way down, there was even a queue to go up Mickledore. Also I have to say there were a lot of ill equipped people on the mountain, it may have been a beautiful day but the weather can change in a few minutes and people do get caught out.


On the way down we had a chat with a few people including an amazing group of lads doing the 3 Peaks Challenge, they had already done Ben Nevis. I’ve been thinking about them today and whether the got up Snowdon within the 24 hours timescale, I hope they did, and I hope they have some muscle rub because my legs are sore doing just one mountain.P1430892

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The Last Days of a WW1 Soldier

The Last Days of a World War 1 Soldier

Today; the 14th July 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the death of my Great Grandfather Lance Corporal Charles Robert Nicholson. I am marking the day with this post, and  documenting his story is my way of remembering him for my Gran, his daughter Lizzie.

Sadly this is the last page of entries in Charles’ diary. His entries became less frequent towards this point, maybe the war was too intense , or maybe he knew he had little space to write, he was using the back of the older diary to write his notes.

C R Nicolson ww1 diary 012

1st July –1917
1st July Germans came over & all killed. 1 officer taken prisoner
2nd July 2 German aeroplanes brought down one in our camp. Officer killed Lt Hoffman. 1 officer killed aeroplane collided & down at Heudicourt. Buried by Capt Appleton 19th chaplain Gateshead.
3rd July Left camp 3 Heudicourt for making light railway at St Emilie.
6th July Left St Emilie

The last written entry was on 6th of July, on 13th Charles was wounded and he sadly passed away on the 14th July.

From the Historical Records N. Fusiliers

3.7.17 W X & Y engaged on preparing railway track destroyed by enemy, deviations made round large craters. Heavy hostile fire, several casualties.
7.7.17 W X & Y moved to new bivouac sites near Ephy at 9pm. Weather fine until 2.30am then a thunderstorm broke and troops were soaked before bivouacs complete.

8.7.17 W on CT from Bird Post to Bird Lane
9.717 – 18.7.17 W on Bird Cage
12.7.17 W Company- Enemy opened concentrated bombardment along Bird Walk and Bird Cage. W moved up to reinforce the garrison holding the post. Enemy attempted a determined raid but withdrew under fire. The bombardment was renewed and lasted until 1.15am. No. 2 platoon remained with the garrison until it was reorganised and assured the attack would not resume. The following casualties occurred in the Pioneers.
Killed 6 O.R.
Wounded 23 O.R.
Wounded at duty 11 O.R.
6 O. R. died later in hospital.
W were later complimented on parade for their work.
Bird Cage Trench
birdgage trenches

This is the letter that no wife would ever want to receive, how cold and matter of fact.

I noticed when folded a corner of the letter is full of stab holes, and I imagined the widowed Lily sitting at her sewing table when the letter arrived, staring into the distance and unconciously stabbing away at the letter whilst trying to make sence of it all.

C R Nicholson 8 001

This is the notification of where Charles was buried.

C R Nicholson 7 001His leather dog tag, which must have been with him when he died.

C R Nicholson 4 001aI suppose these cards were a way of marking a soldier’s death, maybe they were sent by the  family, or it may have come from the War Office.

C R Nicholson 5 001a

C R Nicholson 4 001 vHe was buried at Tincourt , this is how it looks today. From a cemetary plan I was able to find his grave on Google Earth. Oh how I wish my Gran could have seen his grave on the internet. Sadly she never got to vist it.

tincourt grave

This was the temporary monument that marked the grave, I don’t know if this photo was sent to the widow from the War Office, or whether his father took it when he visted the cemetary.

C R Nicholson 001a

The ‘Death Penny’, the memorial plaque given to the next of kin of all those who died in World War 1.


I have one thing left to do to bring this story to a close.I must visit the grave for my Gran  who never got to to see her father’s grave.

I visited Middlham, his place of birth ( and where the War Memorial bears his name) to gather some earth to take with me to scatter on his grave so a small piece of France is for ever Yorkshire.


I should also add, whilst documenting these events, and their devastating effect on my family I have also thought they were not alone, there were thousands who lost someone just like them. I wondered was there a German lady somewhere doing exactly what I have been doing these past few weeks, if so I’m sending you a huge hug.

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My journey into Raku firing begins.

When I lived in Wiltshire I signed up for a raku course which was cut short after only one week. This sparked (sorry about the pun) my desire to make raku pottery and I treasure the bowls I glazed and fired that evening.

I have procrastinated for a long time about making a raku kiln, and decided against it but when I walked into Aldi and saw garden incinerator bins I seemed to slip one into my trolley : )

Caroline Dewison has a great article on the Art Elements blog  about building a raku kiln. Thank you Caroline 🙂

Armed with ceramic buttons, fibre blanket, nichrome wire and the incinerator we set to making a raku kiln. After some cutting and drilling this is what we ended up with.

I got the gas burner as a birthday present, isn’t that what every woman wants for her birthday? ☺

I had some pots already glazed, this is how the firing process went.

I could fit in 2 small pots
P1430681We lit the burner, but the flame kept going out when we put the lid on, what you don’t want is to turn your kiln into a potential bomb so it’s really important to make sure it’s lit. We called a halt to the process and put a few holes through the fibre blanked at the base so oxygen could get in and tried again. This time it worked,  I waited patiently, and kept checking to see how it was going, it took about 45 minutes to get to orange but I think it should have gone hotter so I will have to invest in a pyrometer.

P1430682The burner was turned off, wearing all the safety gear and looking like a spaceman the pots were carefully lifted out with long tongs and put in a metal bucket containing combustibles, (sorry no photos). After it had burned for a few minutes a lid was put onto the bucket, once cool enough the pots were transferred to another empty bucket with a lid to cool some more before going into the water bucket to finish cooling and then they were scrubbed up to reveal the colours.

The pot on the left should be turquoise and copper but I don’t think it got hot enough. I love the dark blue glaze, there is some copper there but also some lovely purples too.
P1430684I fired up again for the green pot, but just as the kiln was coming up to temperature my gas bottle ran out so it went into the bucket thinking it wouldn’t come out very well. It turned out not too bad at all.P1430685

2 pots have found a place around my home. I love the wabi sabi look of raku pots, this one does have a crack unfortunately, but it’s very tactile, not bad for a first attempt flying solo.Raku pot CollageThe green pot has found a home too, it has a tiny bit of copper in the bottom, but what I like most about this pot is it bears evidence of it’s birth, there are black speckles are were the sawdust touched the glaze, and the orange markings are probably where the newspaper was.Raku pots CollageI have learned a few things along the way, and I need to trim off some of the excess fibre blanket and when I get some more gas, a pyrometer and some fine weather  I’ll be ready for another go at raku firing.

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A Day Out – Barter Books and Cragside House

I’ve had a few days break in Northumberland, staying in Alnwick, which is probably most famous now for the gardens and castle; also Barter Books which is a huge secondhand bookshop housed in the old railway station. There is a cafe in the old buffet serving the best bacon buttie I’ve tasted in a long time. Unfortunately the craft section didn’t have any books on throwing pottery or making ceramics so I came out empty handed, but everyone else found something to please.


20170702_101758We spent the day at Cragside which is owned by the National Trust. It was built by Lord Armstrong, who was a Victorian inventor, and I think possibly a genious.P1430526He was trained in law but his real passion was engineering. The house, including the kitchen had lots of mechanical ‘mod cons’ such as a spit powered water, and a dish washer.


P1430530The house has a lot of ingenious inventions for it’s time, such as a lift, fire alarm buttons, telephones and a turkish baths. It was the first in the world to have electric lights powered by hydro electricity.



Much of the house is Arts and Crafts style, I loved these fairly small stained glass windows by Morris and Co. They are situated at each side of a fireplace in a room with lots of wood panelling and low light. The windows really glow from the backlighting they really stand out in the room.P1430533


A lot of the rooms seemed quite masculine.P1430536

And they you come across the ladies parlour which is so pretty and feminine.P1430542

This must have been alittle girl’s bedroom.P1430546

The gardens are very dramatic being built in a crag , over 7 million trees,  lakes and waterfalls, and one of the largest rock gardens in Europe.
And now and then the house reveals itself from the woodland; doesn’t it looks splendid?


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A busy June

I’m not sure where the month of June has gone, we did have a week away, and I had commission work to catch up on when I returned, but looking back I think I have actually achieved an awful lot this month.

I made some dichroic jewellery for a customer so I made a few more pieces for my shop

dichroic glass pendants

Ceramic jewellery components, I have a lot more pieces waiting to be glazed.

ceramic earring components

I did a couple of saggar firings, and loved the results

saggar fired ceramic pots

And I got round to glazing some ikebana bowls that will eventually find their way into my shop.

The bowl in the centre is made from a heavily grogged clay that didn’t half exfoliate my hands. It’s a bit rough and ready but I do love the layered glazes . Pity I didn’t write them down but I will probably never use this clay again so it doesn’t matter too much. Glazes don’t come out the same colour on different clay bodies.
ikebana bowls

Remember the pot that I painted with underglazes? It finally got fired, without glaze, it’s more shiny than I wanted, and some colours are darker, and some lighter than I had hoped for. This was my first attempt with underglazes. I think it can be enhanced with some overglazes and it will make a nice pencil pot for my desk.P1430519Every time I go into the studio I want to throw pots, these are some made this week for raku work so watch this space.P1430521

I hand built a wonky sea/ beach inspired lamp, I do still love hand building. This is the grogged clay that I used for the bowl above, I’ve added all sorts of stuff to give texture. It’s very wonky, even the hole is off centre but that was what I wanted, I like the uniqueness of wonky pots. I don’t know how it will turn out but it’s just a bit of clay at the end of the day.


My pots have grown in size, which feels like a major breakthrough, the cylinder is 15 cm tall, and the vases are more iteresting shapes. I can see I’ve improved, it’s only 3 months since I threw my first tiny pot.

Ceramic BowlsHere’s my largest bowls to date, it’s 23cm in diameter, so all in all it’s been a very good month with progress being made, I can’t ask for more.

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Some watercolour paintings

I came across some paintings during my clear out last week, they were destined for the bin, but I had some L’s lying around so I thought I’d see what they looked like with a mount. L’s are just a mount cut in two to make L’s , they are used to try out different crops to see  which part of the painting works and what doesn’t. Negative space is important as it can really improve a painting.
All of these paintings were done a good many years ago. I think it’s good to go back and look at your own work after a long time, you have lost the emotional attachment and you can be more honest and critical.

This picture was on a much larger piece of paper, the flowers were lost
This painting just doesn’t work for me, I think it’s too fussy, the eye doesn’t know where to go, and there is too much distracting background
Out came the L’s

P1290379I decided to try a few crops, I think they improve things but I’m still not that happy with the painting.
This little painting was done very quickly to try techniques for a larger painting, I think I kept it because the large painting never got done. Putting a mount around it made me really look,  this would be a great study for a textile picture. Maybe I will find the time soon.

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Postcards from World War 1 – Arras

The WW1 Diary of Charles Robert Nicholson

Charles’ diary states that on the 13th, 14th and 15th of October 1916 his Company were cleaning the streets of Arras and parading, he must have bought these postcards there

The photos show such devastation after the shelling, there are also photos of how it looked before the destruction.
Arras 1

Arras 2Arras 3

Arras 14

Arras 15

Arras 6

Arras 7This inkwell must have been another ‘souvinier’ from Arras, it is made from a piece of wood which I was told came from the cathederal. The shell has been made into an ink well, inscribed with ‘Somme 1916’, and what I presume is the makers name ‘Albert 19th N. Fus’.

P1410976I suppose the maker was glad of something to take his mind off the war, and maybe make a few shillings to send home to his family.

I’m finding all this terrible distruction quite upsetting, in some ways it will be a relief to publish my last post on the 14th July.

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Wells Next The Sea – Now And Then

Wells Next The Sea – Now And Then

I discovered an old book that has my Great Grandmother’s name in it, the book is a Jarrolds Illustrated Guide to Wells and the surrounding area. It’s probably from about 1900, though I suspect the photos are earlier. I thought it would be interesting to take it on holiday and compare Wells now and how it was then.

old wells book 001

Clara YarhamThis is Clara, my Great Grandmother who owned the guide book. She was born in Wighton in 1883, and when she and Sidney married in 1903 they moved up north. That’s why I think the guide was from around this time, although some of the photos look older as there are no cars, only horse and carts in some of the photos.








This is one of my photos of Wells last week, looking towards the granary which is now luxury flats. I remember large Dutch boats being filled with grain down a hopper from the end of the building, I can smell and taste the dust now.

Wells quay

Here is the harbour from the guide book, the granary was built in 1903 so this photo must be earlier.

old wells

The  Boathouse in Jarrold’s Guide

oldwells2 001How it looks today. My grandparents used to like to sit here and watch the boats go by eating their fish and chips.  I sampled both French’s and Platten’s last week and both were very good, I still remember Mr French chatting with my family, there aren’t many Norfolk accents about now.


The trees are a lot bigger on the Buttlands today, the houses still look much the same.

oldwells3 001

I didn’t take a photo of the Buttlands this year, this one is from the ’60’s, I worked out from the entrance it’s outside The Globe Inn on the Buttlands.a drink outside The Globe

Other places featured in Jarrod’s guide include Burnham Overy Staithe.
Burnham Overy Staithe

oldwells4 00z

BlakeneyBlakeney hotel


Blakeney has changed quite a lot.oldblakeney 001

So has the marsh around Cley Mill.

Cley windmill

It’s full of reeds now but then it had to be navigable.oldcley 001I had to include this old picture of cockle pickers. We picked our own cockles every year and samphire from the marshes, these were cooked and served with bread and butter and vinegar for supper, they did taste good.

oldwells4 001This is me and my Grandpa, Clara’s son, outside Reggie and Noel’s ( Grandpa’s cousins) cottages where we stayed every summer.

me and grandpa at Reggie and NoelsThis is how it looks now, the cottages have been modernised and there is a concrete path instead of the cockle shell path that crunched to let you know someone was there. That in itself brings back a memory of the noise made by the door when it opened, the bottom used to catch and it made the letterbox rattle.Reggie and Noels

I have very fond memories long summer days in Wells in the mid 60’s and 70’s, and Uncle Reggie and Noel waving us off from the top of the steps when we left for home. I still give them a nod when I pass by, even though they are no longer with us.

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Saggar fired raku pots

There is nothing more rewarding than venturing into unknown territory, and then having an end result way beyond what you imagined.

That’s what happened yesterday with my saggar fired raku pots.

My pots were poured with ferric chloride solution which was left over from my copper etching attempts. Then wrapped in aluminium foil to make a saggar. This pot had some copper wire, grass seeds, salt and a fir cone inside, I think I can see some cardamoms in there too.


I put some china paint on this one, no salt or wire. I forgot to photograph the third pot but it had, copper wire, salt, cloves and cut up pieces of metal pan scrub.P1430264The garden incinerator was used to fire the pots, they had already been bisque fired in my electric kiln. P1430266Ready to go.
P1430268Once the charcoal was alight it was time to put on the lid. We watched it the whole time and had buckets of water and a hose pipe ready should they be needed.
P1430273When the charcoal had just about burnt out the pots were lifted out, I thought the colours were a bit pale but at least the pots were in one piece.
P1430277As the pots cooled the colours developed, it was fascinating to watch the browns appear on the pots as they cooled, this pot is unwaxed just as it came out the bin.

The wax enhanced the colours even more, I actually did a little woo hoo at this point. P1430294These are the waxed pots, the china paint went black probably because of the ash sticking to the flux in the enamel but it still looks quite interesting. I’m unsure why there is a light line running down the pot, all I can think is it’s where the edge of the foil was.
raku vaseThe fir cone left some marks inside the pot.
raku potThis is my favourite pot, I love the brown wiggly lines from the pan scrubber, and the black lines from the copper wire, and the lovely texture inside from the salt. So much to look at, and so tactile.
raku bowlAnd here is my little group with pride of place on my sideboard.P1430313I can’t wait to fire some more today. 🙂

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