A pottery studio in St Civran, France


Welcome to this blog about the quiet rural life in the Berry Province of France where I have tried to open a pottery studio to hobby potters.
Your comments will be appreciated.

15 November 2007

37. Functional pottery

The urge in making a pot, as far as I am concerned, is to produce a vessel I am going to use. The shape is ruled by the function, i.e. by the way I am going to use that pot. If it is a beaker, it has to have a spout that does not drip and a handle easy to grab. And, as far as I am concerned, 'functional is beautiful'.

Here's my home made functional jug...

Comments welcome!

The Berry Province in the central rural area of France has always been producing plain functional clay pots. The area is also known for its flat thick tiles called 'tommettes' used on the floors in most farms. Roofs are also covered with small clay tiles.

And while I'm at it, here's a short clip of Berry folk dances...

15 October 2007

36. POTTERS IN ASIA

Here are three articles of interest about potters in Asia that I found on the website called 'CERAMICS TODAY' :

- in China
From an article by Steve Brousseau, 'Throwing Classical Porcelain of Jingdezhen' :

"Jingdezhen classical porcelain is unlike any other clay. (...)

"Kaolin clay, gaolin, was discovered around 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty in the mountain village of Gaolin. This addition of white gaolin clay to the petunze gave a structure to the porcelain and made possible the throwing of large forms, both as complete pieces and in the sectional cylinders of the body-height vases. (...)

"Jingdezhen is the home of nine of the 26 Masters of Art and Craft of China, the highest national accolade. This title is generally reserved for the decorators. The unsung craftsmen throwers are hidden away in factories and one stumbles upon them to watch in awe at their tremendous skill and humbleness."

- in Korea
From an article by Ron du Bois, 'Ongi Potters' :

"Korean pottery today is still largely produced as it was in the past. (...)

"The complexity of the ceramic process is taken for granted, as is the necessity for a division of labor. Chopping wood, mixing and decanting clay, slicing, stacking and firing are assigned to specialists. The authorship of the pottery when it emerges from the kiln is diffuse, since it is the result of the coordinated effort of many hands." (...)

"But, for the present, at least, the Western potter is still able to observe the traditional skills of the Korean potter.

- in Cambodia
From an anonymous article :
"The National Center for Khmer Ceramics Revival is aimed at the revival of Cambodian ceramics. (...)

"Serge Rega established NCKCR in Siem Reap-Angkor, renowned for the Angkor temples. Tourists abound, creating substantial incomes, but paradoxically Siem Reap remains one of the poorer provinces of Cambodia. Siem Reap is emerging as a developed city, but geographically, poverty is displaced by about only 2 kilometers.
NCKCR is involved in Vocational training, which helps the poor rural population and will decrease poverty. Training is provided free of charge. Students are given an allowance to compensate for 'lost' time, which would otherwise be spent earning a living."

17 August 2007

35. Robert's story

Early last year I received an e-mail from a young woman saying her 70 year old father had had a keen interest in pottery all his life. She wanted to offer him a week in my pottery studio as a present. Was it alright with me? I said I would be delighted to show him what I knew about throwing a pot on the wheel.

He arrived with his handicapped wife and two old dogs at my gate one day in summer 2006. They were staying in their caravan at a camping site in the area. I remember taking them to the back of the studio where there's a patch of grass under an apricot tree and giving water to the dogs.

The next day after getting some clay balls ready we sat each at a potter's wheel and I started my demo. I usually rave about the cosmic experience it is to 'center' 700 grams of wet clay in the middle of the wheel. Yes, I state that throwing a pot is a spiritual happening... after all it is said somewhere in the bible that god is a potter, isn't it?

Anyway, it worked on Robert. He produced a number of great items within a week.


But the weather was very stormy and I didn't want to start my electric kiln in an electric storm. So he left with his stuff in green clay nicely packed. He promised he would come back to glaze and fire.

As things went, I could not have him in October when he could come. Some time later he could not come when I was ready to welcome him back. In January 2007 I received an e-mail with new year greetings. Later in March or so I sent an email to his daughter which was returned to me as 'unknown correspondent'.

Yes but... Robert hadn't waited 70 years to learn pottery and forget about it so soon. In July this year he turned up at my gate again saying he and his wife (and the dogs) were parked at the camping ground in Argenton-sur-Creuse. When could he glaze and fire his pots?

So we worked for about four days and then he got his stuff out of the kiln! Hoorey Robert! Bravo...



16 July 2007

34. TIPS AND HINTS



Clay used for ceramics is roughly of two kinds:

- stoneware (grès) of high density and non porous, fired at 1300° Celsius;
- earthenware (faïence) more tractable and porous, fired at 1000°.

This last one remains a little porous even with a good glazing. Certainly, the bottom of pots is glazed with great care, but, even then, an earthenware pot still oozes a bit when you fill it with water. Awkward. It leaves marks wherever you put it.

A remedy?

I heard that you had to fill the said pottery with milk and let it stand for a few days. The particles of 'curdle' slyly filter through the minute pores of your ceramic and make it waterproof.

True, it works!
If you don't believe me, try it!

06 July 2007

33. Marketing pots

I recently drove to Bourges as Fanny had told me about a pottery shop there that she likes visiting.

I was amazed. It looked like a million pots had been stuck on numerous shelves as if for storage. I didn't know where to look. Different artists. Various styles. Many colours. I really didn't know where to start looking. So I left.

At the potters market on Sunday it was the same kind of arrangement. Each stall looked like the potter had loaded his entire stock on the table.

Wondering how I could sell my pots at my own place, I thought I would rather put up a few things here and there to attract the attention. But I'm no specialist in pot marketing, or in marketing at all. So, if any one has advice for me, I'll take it!

24 June 2007

32. A POTTERS MARKET

Each year on a Sunday in June is held a potters market in the nearby town called Argenton-sur-Creuse. Here are a few photos of the event this year.







I have found that all potters were master craftsmen and women. All ceramics on the exhibition were beautiful and well made and reasonably priced. I didn't buy anything but I did fall for an onion pot with small holes and a lid priced at €48 that I would have loved to acquire!

16 June 2007

31. Try the potter's wheel

Many people are made to believe that throwing a pot on the potter's wheel is teeerribly difficult. It isn't. It isn't that hard. I may have the knack to pass my bit of knowledge on the subject but all my beginner students so far have been able to make a pot on the wheel after 4 or 5 days in my studio... I have photos to prove this!

This summer, at long last, I will be able to offer accommodation together with my pottery course. As from 14 July next, a loft in an old house will be available to my students. Basic but comfortable. With a big shower in a nice bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen corner. Just bring your own linen or sleeping bag. You will be able to buy food at a small supermarket in a nearby village.

The package for 6 hr pottery in the studio, together with accommodation in the loft, is €100.-(euros)per day per person, payable when you start. No booking fees.

To book or ask for more information, send an e-mail to berryhobby@gmail.com

02 June 2007

30. FINGER MARKS

In March I took a badly needed two week break and drove to Scotland to visit potters. I didn't visit potters really but I wrote a travel blog anyway.

Back in my studio in rural France with renewed inspiration and energy I'm now making a set of new pots that I expect to sell. I am getting inspired by a book called Country Pottery 'Traditional Earthenware of Britain' by Andrew McGarva, that I bought at the Museum in Stoke-on-Trent in England.

I'm also getting inspiration from other potters who put photos of their work on the net on a flick account in the Ceramics Group. This salad bowl in red clay has marks of my dirty fingers... I put my wet hands on some gritty sand and then placed them on the wet-from-the-wheel new pot. It stuck! Once it was a bit dryer I brushed some white slip on it . The next thing is bisque firing. After that, I don't know!

This is a view of a home made earthenware vase with home made flowers that I planted in my garden a couple of years ago. They are now in bloom and fit real nicely in my vase.

16 May 2007

29. In the month of May

At last the weather has warmed enough for me to start work in my pottery studio again. I will be able to use it until the end of October.

A young student in physics and chemistry contacted me recently and asked if she could come. At first I sent her off saying I wasn't giving beginners courses any more. But she said she had been trying to come for some time and she sounded like she meant it.

Like Jessica last year, she is actually staying with us in the house for a week or so and is using the studio for most of the day. I only showed her the tricks of the trade for the first day. She keeps trying and she's getting good. I hope she will come back regularly as I really enjoy sharing my studio.

While my assistant potter sweats on the wheel and my grand-daughter plays with earth, I break dried clay into bits with a big hammer. Put in buckets filled with water, this muck becomes workable clay again.

29 March 2007

28. RENT A POTTERY STUDIO IN FRANCE

Rent my pottery studio in St Civran!



fully equipped WITH 2 POTTERS WHEELS and AN ELECTRIC KILN

FOR 100 EUROS PER WEEK

over the 2007 season FROM MAY TO OCTOBER

See details of the area on the right column here

You can take a look at some of my flickr photos. You'll have to click on the set called 'BerryHobby Pottery Workshop' to view the studio and the set 'Province of Berry' to see the region.

If you wish to come and visit, try this Bed n' Breakfast in a nearby village.

19 February 2007

27. Winter 2007

My workshop is but an old barn turned pottery studio. There's no ceiling and the tile roof has only been vaguely insulated. In winter the temperature inside the studio can go down to a couple of degrees above 0 Celsius, i.e. near freezing point.

In the winter of 2002-2003 I had a wood stove and a gaz heater on all day. However the temperature used to come drastically down during the night. One bisque firing came out with a crack under each pot in the form of an S like a Zorro sign with a spelling mistake! From then on I decided not to fire bisques during the winter at all.

This year, apart from a snow storm in January, the winter is amazingly mild. Some days I can fiddle, if not work, in the studio with just a wood stove on.

I've decided to try a glaze kiln.

Here with a paint brush I am putting a layer of a product called XE356B (61356) MULCORIT on the kiln shelves. It prevents pots from sticking for ever on the shelves if by chance a drop of glaze has run.

At first I put the stuff on both sides of each shelf. A bad idea. After a while, it gets hard and flakes of it fall down on the nice glaze of a pot on the shelf below.

Now I use one side of a shelf without any product for bisk firing and the other side with the stuff for glaze firings only.

13 January 2007

26. FAST FORWARD

I started this blog to tell the story of St Civran Pottery from its beginning in 2002 till now in 2006-7. As it is taking much longer than I expected, I am jumping to the present, i.e. January 2007, to make an announcement.

I have decided to let my pottery studio with furnished house attached for this coming summer, as of 1st July.

An ad for it can be seen on the FrenchEntree website.


°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°° Pass the word! °°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

09 January 2007

25. A training project

Through the employment agency, in October 2002, a contract was signed between myself and my 'trainee' whereby I was to train him for 580 hours at no cost for me while he was getting paid by the agency. I was formerly promising to employ him at the end of his training.

I had to produce a formal document stating how I was going to train him during these 580 hours. Here's my translation from the French of my 'Proposition for a training project giving access to an enterprise':

This is a training program targeted to the employment of a young person wishing to learn the potters craft.

The process of making a ceramic is rather simple but its mastering requires a good experience which you can only acquire progressively.

Like for any manual profession you must first and foremost have a taste or a talent for manual work. As for pottery, the taste starts with a liking for 'shape'. The potter's job is to reproduce a given shape into clay, and then make it solid and durable.

TRAINING WITHIN THE ENTERPRISE

A. The idea of 'shape'(lasting 26 hrs):

Introduction to various shapes is done continuously throughout the training,

1) By reading books on the subject:
- "La poterie", J. Chavarria, Gründ edition 1994
- "Le modelage", D. Nour-Margeault
- "La poterie à la main", A. Riedinger
- any other book on the subject available at a public library

2) By visiting museums:
- the Argentomagus gallo-roman museum in Argenton-sur-Creuse
- Adrien Dubouche in Limoges
- the diocese museum in Limoges
- the Campana gallery at the Louvre museum in Paris
- the museum at the potters village in La Borne

3) By being aware of objects everywhere at all times:

Pottery being a traditional art, it is possible to be introduced to shapes by visiting antique dealers or even garage sales.

B. Reproduction into clay (lasting 300 hrs):

There are three techniques to shape an object from a ball of clay: throwing, handbuilding and casting. The training offered as 'A course of access to the St Civran Pottery studio' will mainly consist of throwing on the potter's wheel:

- kneading the clay
- how to center a ball of clay
- throwing a bowl, a plate, a cylinder
- throwing pots of various shapes
- the finish off

C. Firing in an electric kiln (lasting 54 hrs):

To make it solid and durable a given shape fashioned into clay must then be fired to a very high temperature in a special kiln.

The studio is equiped with an electric kiln, Ceradel C128, of a 128 liter volume and able to reach 1300 degrees Celsius. The trainee will learn to prepare and fire a kiln of earthenware pots,

- at first firing (bisque)
- and at second firing (glazing).

D. Glazes and enamels (lasting 100 hrs):

Glazes used at the St Civran Pottery studio are not made on the premises but are bought at a wholesaler's in Limoges. Learning to use these products to glaze the pots is a long process and requires a lot more knowledge than the throwing technique. Within the studio the following methods will be seen:


- glazing by dipping
- glazing by spraying
- glazing by painting

E. Computer skills (lasting 60 hrs):

The 'trainee' will have to be computer literate. Daily use of the computer will be recommended on the premises, using a HP Pavilion computer running a Microsoft XP system with free access to internet:

- learning how to use the keyboard with ten fingers
- read and answer e-mails from the pottery studio's customers
- regular visits to website related to the ceramic industry to keep in touch with new development.

TRAINING OUTSIDE THE ENTERPRISE

The 'trainee' will attend a course in Limoges (lasting 40 hrs) to be acquainted with the enamel on copper traditional techniques.