I am often asked why my work is quite expensive, and I hope to shed some light onto the making process here to try and explain the prices I charge:
I make one-off hand built ceramic pieces. This means that each piece starts as a volume of clay and I build it in 3-5cm high layers from the bottom up. It takes about a week to build one piece, because the clay has to rest during the making process…otherwise I would not be able to work to my preferred scale and it would collapse.
Once the shape has been built, I start working on the surface: I add clay, remove clay, engrave it, carve it, cut it, paint it: all sorts of mark making. The piece dries completely over a couple of weeks and then it is bisque fired to 1000 degrees Celsius. After this I continue with the surface treatment, adding oxide washes, under-glazes and glazes, and using various techniques like s-graffito or a very painterly approach, before firing it again at a higher temperature. Each firing takes about 48 hours. One piece can be fired several times to get to the desired end result. From start to finish the average piece develops with me in the studio for 4-6 weeks.
Before the very last firing I sign the piece and number it on the bottom. I also make a detailed drawing of it with notes on the tools, glazes and techniques I used. I have notebooks of these drawings and item numbers going all the way back to 1989. When I am quite satisfied that the piece is completed, I photograph it with the item number and height of the piece and only then do I make it available for sale on my website.
While it is always a wonderful surprise to open the kiln after the final firing, I consider it vitally important to be very familiar with the colours, glazes and surface treatments that I use. For this reason I do a lot of experimentation with these elements before using them in my work.
I work on several pieces at the same time, so while some are drying, others are being painted/glazed. In this way I can make about 60 pieces per year. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up to one new work every 6 days. (And given the fact that 40% of my working time is devoted to teaching and 60% to my own production, I am actually producing this at a rate of one new work every 3.6 days, weekends and holidays included… Yowzer! I am amazing!)
My background is in drawing, photography and graphic design. I do not have a formal ceramic qualification, but have been in working in the field for about 20 years. I regard the work that I do as a continuous internal dialogue and each new piece follows on from what came before it…sort of like new chapters in a book. My inspiration comes from various sources: stuff I read, typography, repetition in the built and natural environment, percussion, jazz, travel, human connection and the infinitely subtle nuances thereof, meditation, nature bathing, the sea and mountains that surround me…so many different things! Because of this basis of intellectual and practical experience, the shape, mark-making and surface treatment have substance and integrity. Each gesture and mark, although sometimes appearing to be quite random, is very deliberate and intentional. Every time I work on something, I am consciously engaging with the work and fully present in the moment. I believe that it is quite evident if this is not the case: be it in design, art production, cooking, writing, music making or any other creative process.
While all of this is going on in my head, I hope to make lovely objects/art pieces that will give joy to the end user for many years to come. I prefer not to explain the thoughts behind the making of a piece and do not title my work in any way other than the production number, because I want the person who looks at the work to engage with it on a purely emotional/subconscious level. Once the work is released for sale my intellectual motivation and making experience is no longer of any consequence.
So… pricing (or the value of the work) is a subtle blend of compensation for time, experience, intellect, intention, physical stamina, studio space, equipment and materials. In order to take the drama out of it, I price according to the height or size of my work, rather than trying to calculate the time I spent making individual pieces.
And there you have it: original thought, handmade work and objects of beauty and joy to add value to your daily life for many years to come.