Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Alarm bells!!!

Crafts will be dropped from the UK's creative industries
Read the article here

If we artist/craftspeople weren't already being squeezed til the air is all gone...

Apparently we aren't considered to be creative and are just more about manufacturing. Well if that is the case manufacturing in Australia got the kybosh ages ago or we are what is keeping the country afloat.
Sooner or later someone is going to wonder where all the can do people have gone.

Bird Brain Pt 1

Try this little experiment some time by yourself or with a child.
Take a pair of these

And some of this

And make one of these

New found respect huh?
Check out the sequence here

If you ever doubt your ability just add a dose of dogged persistence. It is what turns an ability into a  specialisation.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Here is Another of one of those When I Was A Kid articles...groan

I grew up as a Catholic in a very narrow minded time in Melbourne history in a street where Catholics were well outnumbered so it has some bearing on the person I have become.

Every morning my mother would see us off at the front door and we would say a little prayer with her which Catholics of a certain age would know

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this day,
be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.

(Still under construction and cogitation)
Talk about turning the optimism of a brand new day, full of adventure, into a scene from “Look Both Ways”! 
Were the bears in the pavement cracks going to break my mother’s back,? Was I in danger of being hit by a random train that had detoured a couple of kilometres  off track? Were there kidnappers waiting behind every tree with free lollies? Maybe the adrenalin rush that accompanied that fearful reminder of a world under siege kept me safely on my toes to scrape through the day.
At night when we were tucked into bed we repeated the mantra that reminded us that crocodiles could escape from under our beds and eat us so silently that no one could save us. Luckily I also prayed to Astroboy and Superman whose technicolour exploits were much greater evidence of real miracles in my little mind! (TV was the modern equivalent of Google’s authority on everything)
Anyhow I did the same to my kids for a while and even when you shake the vestiges of a certain way of understanding the world ,some things are still stuck in the DNA. Maybe it’s the Irish genes with centuries of leprechauns and other superstitious beliefs that prime my brain for such vulnerabilities but now angels seem to shake loose from my psyche every so often and form themselves into clay.
This one is based on a mis interpretation by one of my children and is called Cardigan Angel. She sat forlornly in Linden Postcards exhibition this year and then returned home.

These ones were in response to our horrific bushfires a few years back some of which were blamed on electrical pylons and wiring which span our countryside.
It was sold at the Lord Mayors Bushfire relief auction. Are they pylons melting or angels  tentatively rising from the ashes?
This next one inhabits my veggie garden and is a good place to hide a bit of snail killer when her magical spells are not always at their peak. She has had a special job to nurse my tamarillo through the oven hot summer and I think she occasionally gives refuge to a frog or two under her sheltering skirt.
This one looks to the sky and keeps an eye out for anything suspicious that might arrive unbidden from behind that veil of sky that hides the universe.
She was especially lucky for me in gaining me an award at the Warranwood Steiner Art Show in March. But like the princess at the ball she didn't go home with anyone and has come back here to keep an eye out for aliens and stray asteroids. I hope she knows what to do when they come!
This week I need to invoke the angels of the sea because Jacques Cousteau my first born has decided that 30 years of age is a good time to tempt the gods and is spending a week in Fiji part of which is swimming with and hand feeding sharks!
I am astounded by his courage and his trust in the sea. He hand feeds a giant wrass which has become his friend and knows a world that is bigger than any I will ever know because I am so fearful of it. He brings back wonderful images so that I don't have to go there. He promised me a long time ago that he would take care and worrying will serve no purpose so every time the fear erupts it's back to the mantra....Oh angel of God

Friday, 26 April 2013

Grandma's Vase

When I was a small child growing up with 7 of us in a 2 bedroom house in a large garden allotment, our belongings were few and therefore valuable. My mother followed advice from all good 60’s women’s magazines and made our home as stylish as she could under the circumstances. Her main decorator item was garden flowers which she put in the front hallway, where they were illuminated by light of the sunset through the raindrop dimpled glass front door. It was a picture of tranquillity to greet my father  on returning home from work and before facing the grim reality of a household of children, tucked away in the back part of the house at that time of evening.

Her arrangements were usually artful and fragrant and sometimes held pieces purloined from other people’s gardens. Her wedding presents had included Stuart crystal , Carltonware and Coalport china and they were treated with reverence in the daily task of arranging flowers on the simulated mahogany  corner table that fitted snugly into the hallway.

Occasionally she would pick up a bargain piece at Victoria Market from a second hand dealer and had quite a good eye for quality pieces that could show off her flower arranging skills or complete a little vignette. I guess it was the only escape she had each day in which to escape to an artful life .

But among my favourite pieces, was a coloured vase that she had inherited from her mother and which had apparently been bought in Smith St Collingwood in the second decade of my grandmother’s wedded life c1920. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world with its anemone flower paintings on it and gorgeous pinks and purples.

 About this time in my life both of my grandparents died within a few years of each other and conversation often turned to childish curiosity about death and what happens after. For some reason my mother brushed over the gruesome details and always distracted me with the details about sharing out the dead person’s belongings ,which is why we came to have Grandma’s vase.
Apart from a large and probably valuable turkey serving charger which I apparently broke, the only thing I coveted and desperately wanted to claim early was this beautiful HK Tunstall vase. It was quite an unhealthy obsession for most of my younger years and my mother found it amusing because she constantly reminded me that it really wasn’t very valuable as Grandma couldn’t possibly afford much with 8 children and only a modest income. However I think she was secretly delighted to have something that stimulated conversation about her past and her love of her mother and fostered an interest in her little hobby of collecting.
Some years ago she handed me a shoe box and sobbed something at me about how she didn’t mean to. I was baffled but when I opened the box there was Grandma’s vase in many pieces. Mum had kept every piece, bar one crumb, hidden in the shoe box under her bed ashamed to let me know about the accident. She felt sure that I could do some magic with it and so the burden I had put on her to keep it for me, became my burden to make it better for her.


I diligently spent several days piecing it together and then just in case it was still too fragile I drew it over and over to somehow know its beauty and commit it to memory. I also researched the history of it, using the wonders of the internet, which eluded Mum.
In the early years designer Harold Growcotts’ work was scathingly referred to as the poor man’s Moorcroft  but in a bleak little suburban heart it ignited a passion.

I compare this story to a recent discovery in New York of a 1000 year old Song dynasty bowl which was uncovered at a garage sale for $3 and then sold at Sotheby’s for $2.2million.
I read about it on Digg.(still haven't worked out all these controls!)
I guess somewhere in its early history that someone really loved it and thought it was important enough to keep passing it on with its story so far away from its original home.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Support group

At certain times of the year for ceramicists, in fact most artists there is an air of industry and extra striving. Competitions and exhibitions are a time to excel and push yourself to prove something. We get caught up in the pressure and the constant disastrous failures and completely lose focus on what it is we are trying to prove and to whom.

Normally every kiln firing has a few disappointments but if there is no deadline, we just put that down to a learning experience, pull ourselves up and have another go or put the idea in the cranial incubator for a while to see if any solution gels there. 

 Sometimes the problems seem insurmountable!

During competition time, it feels like a dog eat dog world. The kiln is against you, time is against you, and the family seems to need you more or seems to be more critical of your need to escape to the studio.  Your brain takes a holiday and suddenly you are incapable of doing any of the things you have managed to do at every other time with the computer, the camera, the kiln program...blah, blah, blah.  You feel like the only failure in the world.
Just when you are treading that fine line between total capitulation to failure and glorious victory in completion it’s nice to take time out and get a bit of perspective.
  I love my circle of clay mates! To meet up with them and share our war stories and then laugh like drains is one of the most nurturing experiences.  You see that you want success for all of them because that makes them an even stronger support group.  You feel happy to go out of your way to help out with something, to get them over the hump because happiness and success are contagious.  An interesting study that came out of Framingham Mass. Heart study this week was that the health and happiness of your friend’s friends impacts on your own health.
So it made my morning to see this on my messages on my phone this morning
<<You May Steal This
So I didn't!
And look! It wasn't the end of the world.
Thanks for the support ! Hope your project is going well too.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Eye of God

The Helix nebula a remote galaxy is sometimes referred to as the Eye of God galaxy.
Plenty of astronomical discoveries have been made by chance and by complete amateurs although methodical computer sky tracking follows mathematical hunches.

Source lost in the way back machine. Sorry!

This photo was entirely something I chanced upon as I was driving down a multi storey carpark. I noticed a glimmering pool of oil and it had no wheel marks in it so was pretty fresh. It was a slow moving day so I stopped the car and took a photo. Voila!

<<You may steal this
Maybe I am the only one who ever saw it in its native state but now you can be a witness too. The world is still so full of discoveries.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


If you have ever tried to create an abstract image it is extremely difficult to avoid creating a horizon, or creating an organic form which represents a living entity.  The human mind just reads geo references into any images and fills in the gaps because it is trying to make sense to categorise the image. Shortly after that, we form an attachment to the image because it has special resonance for us.
Our minds are constantly seeking patterns ,which is probably why we can constantly observe cloud formations or find faces in linoleum patterns. A fun site that is dedicated to this phenomenon is  http://facesinplaces.blogspot.com.au. On a separate note I think the rise of Asperger’s and spectrum disorder minds may be a boon in future as our world becomes more complex and we seek minds that can find patterns and order out of chaos.

I like this little trio of objects together at the moment.

L . Jo Quirk horizon platter   C. Cathie Phoeda painting acquired at Linden Postcards exhibition   R Kath Wratten vessel

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Hold Clay the Poet said

My senses are still buzzing after seeing Heather Ellyard’s  “Continuum 2: to remember or to forget “exhibition at Fehily Gallery in Collingwood yesterday.

A list maker, a collector of words and symbols , poetry snippets and ancient texts, piecing together  meaning of home , culture and identity in a world where people are constantly being torn from their roots.

Generally my pulse races when I am confronted by luscious colour, pens and brushes, even though I am a ceramicist. But my other secret fetish is words and lists and snippets of guiding poetry. And grids. To be confronted by walls of coloured and ordered lists of profound meaning on blocks of sensitively balanced grids , I was swept away by the rhythms of the keening and weeping  and praying that flowed through the work. The pieces are like the fragments that swept New York as the Twin Towers fell, to be grabbed and clutched in hope that more of the owner’s identity will be revealed. From their solitary existence we know the hopelessness of people who have just a fragment to remember  a whole life and culture.

When my son was 4 we lived in China for a few months in a place so foreign to our world of playgroup and sandpits under gum trees, that his teddy bear was his only source of solace. One day it mysteriously disappeared, presumably with our washing and was never seen again. He drew a picture of his teddy to provide evidence to the hotel staff who spoke practically no English and his simple drawing  in all its earnestness broke my heart. We managed to find a replica ribbon like Teddy had around his neck and convince our little man it belonged to Teddy. That little fragment of nylon sustained him through some of our toughest days before we left.

Our lives are not reduced and condensed to objects but layer upon layer of meaning accreted over time as objects help us to remember and make sense. Cultural songs and prayers fulfill the same purpose but anchor our souls to a moving tide so that we know we still exist.

My reaction to art has always been to look at the work and see if it stands on its own because the artist’s statement will not always follow it through its life. Ellyard spoke of beauty being a bonus to a work of passion. The quiet outside appearance of the work was beautiful and serenely ordered.

The artist was joined in a follow up talk by Helen Sykes founder of Future Leaders and Rebecca  Forgasz director of the Jewish Museum and lead me to a new poet to research (Yehuda Amichai) and a new word to fall in love with-dithyramb. Google that.

 Helen Sykes counter balanced the artist’s anxiety about the future wobbling world , by professing her faith in the talents of our young who will one day lead us. She has seen firsthand, their remarkable talents and works tirelessly to give them a voice. Rebecca Forgasz was there to make the connection between Heather Ellyard and the Blake religious art prize which is now staged at the Jewish Museum.

 Museums are the repository of memory and knowledge for future generations but I wonder if we can keep accumulating files in a modern world that records every human movement and gives real estate to the bodies of those who have had their turn on this earth at the expense of all those to come.

 The question was raised about whether art matters in this modern world. My experience of the afternoon will resonate with me for a very long time and form roots for further exploration. The extra bonus scenes revealed by the artist were wonderful and a privilege to be a part of but her work definitely stands on its own and has intrinsic beauty. 

We preceded our visit to Fehily gallery by spending 10 minutes down the path at Workspace gallery an artist run space that was in its final day. The premises have been sold and so another era ends. There we met Piers Bateman whose images of the aftermath of the fires at Kinglake and St Andrews still pick at the mighty wound to the land and souls of those who were broken and displaced by unimaginable terror.

We see brokenness everywhere now. The language of churches is often hollow especially when it is where the brokenness occurred but we need a common language to share and heal and talk about a way to help each other forward. Art is one way.

The exhibition runs until Saturday 20April at Fehily Gallery 3a Glasshouse Road Collingwood.

If you are uncomfortable in visiting galleries because of their forbidding and austere atmospheres then try Fehily. Lisa Fehily is a warm and enthusiastic patron and the gallery embodies the concept of art as an introduction to a conversation.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Caring for Our Dirt

So far this blog has been a bit of a scatter gun approach to things that I am passionate about and you may ask when is she is ever going on focus on ceramics?

Well the truth is I have a female brain, so I don’t focus on just one thing at a time. (Actually my brain is more like an electronic toy left in damp conditions and just annoyingly firing randomly and constantly :P ) My work with clay brings me into deep meditation with the actual clay and its history and biology while also focussing on its future life and impact. It is beholden on me to be responsible to create the safest, earth nurturing practices and while playing and experimenting, to not produce more junk in the universe.

Therefore my practice has to be holistic.

I have to be mindful of where my refuse goes. Refuse in this case can be anything from clay mixed with water at the end of the day to dry glaze materials made of combinations of dry minerals and metals, as well as bisque clay (fired to hard but still porous), fully fired failures, off gassing, and carbon output from firing as well as transport. Not to mention plastic bags and plastic containers which seem to grow like topsy in the studio.

My first rule is that whatever can be reclaimed is. So breakages get smashed up and buried in pots as drainage or broken up for mosaic projects (more about that another time).

Super soil  as found in South America has developed over centuries as healthy microbes have built up on the surface of discarded, broken Mayan pottery shards. The miniature crevices in the low fired clay provide just the right conditions for successful proliferation of the microbes so I use that as one my guiding criteria and feel comfortable in burying smashed up shards in deepish holes around the garden. The worms and critters seem to love it.
Water and clay slurry at the end of the day is left to evaporate and is reincorporated into new mixes of clay. None of it goes down the drain! I cannot afford the plumbing.

In my sink I have a large plastic sink bucket. Everything is washed inside this and the following morning when the levels have settled the top water is poured off into the garden via a filtering system .
This is a 1.2m deep plastic lined pit of layered broken pottery, building rubble, scoria, sheep’s wool, sand, more scoria ,more sand and topped with decorative pebble. It is purpose built, based around a building oversight when the slab was poured for our house. It was a lot of work to rectify in one day but I believe it works brilliantly.  It is also a pretty courtyard.

There is a small drainage pipe at the bottom which then leads the filtered water into the first part of my garden through irises and native grasses and tree ferns which are all renowned for different filtering capabilities. Beyond that line most of the plants that follow are edible and so I am constantly aware of not poisoning myself or the environment. The happy sound of frogs in my garden assures me that it is pretty healthy out there.

Glaze materials which can include copper, manganese, nickel ,cobalt, iron and various encapsulated colourants are all treated with due care. They also mix with clay sludge and because of their weight fall to the bottom of the sink bucket. After the lighter water is poured off, the really dull sludge is poured into a settling bucket to dry out. So far I only have half a bucket of this sludge after 18 months. If this is later mixed with clay it can be fired into paving stones or just lumps and will no longer be able to leach into the soil.

Water is collected from our roof in a 10,000litre rainwater tank and flushes our toilets, and waters all the gardens as well as feeding our air cooling system in a closed cycle. Electricity comes from a roof full of solar panels offsetting any electricity from firings. I also use a gas kiln for large sculptural pieces and it is only fired when it is full which may take months. The off gassing from the kilns is kept as safe as possible with minimal use of heavy metals, endeavouring to fire when air is moving in a northerly direction towards the enormous park opposite, for the trees to filter the air first. My bedroom lies in direct line between the kiln and the park so I am also keen to not poison myself. From what I have read about the materials released every time a cigarette is lit, my rigour is chickenfeed but it helps me sleep at night. And all those plastic bags and plastic containers can have several more years of use before they eventually get fed back into the recycling stream washed free of clay residue.

When you buy ceramics from 3rd world countries, just remember that the waste products are much worse, the working conditions are horrific, safety practices are non existent, effects on the environment are cumulative and destructive because of lack of education and that the true cost of manufacture and shipping does not reflect in a fair price for workers and destruction of habitat. Think global buy local.
I found this trailer for a movie I am keen to watch http://www.thedirtmovie.org/. The stuff we are working with every day is going to be harder and harder to come by in the future if we don’t keep recycling our organic waste and nurturing our soil. It’s just dirt but we can’t live without it.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Souvenir Beer

This blogger thing has been fun so far and I am really grateful to my offsprings and their accomplices for their support in working out how to drive it all. Mr D my Brewstar has even celebrated my blog launch with a bottle of his brew with my very own label!

Sorry it won’t be commercially available as I may contravene State liquor laws but it’s a bit of a hoot. His Rip Van Winkle cider also has a few stories behind it but this is neither the time nor place!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Pooh Change

Where I come from this stuff is called Pooh change. It is virtually useless as actual currency. If you go into a shop with a handful of it to pay for something, shop assistants don’t get paid enough to count it. There is virtually nothing left that you can buy with one of these coins. But there are millions of them in circulation weighing down pockets and purses all over Australia and no doubt adding to the carbon load as they are trucked around. They do not represent the carbon and energy that is embedded in them and yet they are beautiful crafted objects designed by Stuart Devlin that combined could do a lot of good.
I like to play a bit of mischief with Pooh change. It’s not so much mischief as maybe bringing about a Pooh change. Pooh as in Winnie has a centre of gravity problem which with a little bending he could possibly improve. Pooh also likes to philosophise on lovely days while ambling around with his friends.  I like to go for walks on lovely days too and take a handful of accumulated Pooh change and sprinkle it in places of interest to little growing minds.

I like to create little moral dilemmas for children who may happen upon several little coins together. One coin is happenstance but how come there are several or even several groups of several? Is it ok to keep it, is it spilt by fairies, robbers, bad people, should I tell Mum, should I tell everyone (after I have found most of it)? Does it make children more generous or sneaky and greedy? Or do they too look at it and just say Eww Pooh change?
By sprinkling it around in local playground areas, on walking tracks I hope that it engages children in exploring a little more.  I hope they find the acorns which are smooth and longing to be fondled and symbolically are just as valuable as 5c pieces as seeds of bigger things. I hope that it gives them fantastic dreams of finding enormous treasure and I hope it encourages them or any passing adult to bend down.  I hope maybe it also tickles the altruist gene in children, that they can know generosity and put it in the poor box.
According to Wikipedia there are 80million x5c pieces produced every year. That by my calculation is $4 million of Pooh change produced from 75%copper and 25% nickel  at a cost far in excess of $4million.  Apparently the face value is 2.7cents.  What charity or hospital couldn’t do with that $4million (or the real cost).  And they are not the only ones in circulation.  They have been minted around the world (not just Australia) and probably not from Australian sources since 1966. Then shipped by the ton from all over the world and by creating whacking great holes in our planet for what...Pooh change? Sounds like a plan by a bear of little brain. Maybe my little exercise is a valuable way to put in my 5 cents worth toward education.
Be the change you want to see in the world.

Postscript: A Melbourne based group called YGap running out of St Kilda have a campaign to raise 5c pieces for charity. Check it out at www.fivecent.com.au

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Inexpert Craftsmanship

I rescued this guy from the rubbish bin several years ago. He was made by my son the Anarchist. A great deal of inexpert passion went into his creation but clearly the outcome was not to his liking or didn’t meet the vision he had planned. It was going to be a marionette, hence the floppy arms. At some point in abandoning a task a new breath can be breathed into the creation. Dressing him up in old doll’s clothes that my mother made from left overs  more than 50 years ago did the magic for me. It is a happy marriage of 2 inexpert passions 50 years apart and now it is a treasure that I cannot throw away.
 I never know whether to put all my effort into an experiment in the hope that something lucky will come from it or to practise on something meaningless as an exercise to develop a skill. I like happy accidents and I like evidence of passionate work. Maria Montessori used to talk about allowing the child to play and work uninterrupted in order to acquire the passion and skills that gave them knowledge. When we treat our work as play, an inner dialogue occurs where we know when what we are doing is achieving a learning. The audience is forgotten and the muscles , visual cortex and sensory organs record success.
When we get stuck with creativity or mastery, play is often the best cure. The Anarchist is a delight because of his huge appreciation of the absurd and his ability to carry on play beyond its most absurd. He is however a harsh critic when he wakes up with a vision that he cannot yet fulfil and that is when I like to pick up the remains of his experiments .  I would love to collaborate with people  all passing  on half baked ideas and seeing  them grow into something entirely new.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Flinders Teapot Festival

Sharyn Masson prickly pot
It looks as if the rest of the week is going to continue with fine weather so if you have time a perfect day out is a trip to Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula. The new Peninsula Link will get you there seamlessly though I can't guarantee that for the return trip!
StudioatFlinders is an artist run gallery and for several years has been mounting the Teapot Festival. It runs for one week more (til 14 April) and as well as the teapots there is a boggling array of arts and crafts displayed in this double shop front. Flinders has defintely developed from the lazy old backwater I knew as a child and is a very genteel hamlet with eateries, wineries and galleries to fill the day.

Marlize Myburgh's honorably mentioned decal pot and Jo Quirk
tiny pot


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Treasure Haunts


My favourite fossicking place on the planet is going!  Proprietor Eli has been running Coastal Trader on the Geelong  Rd at Portarlington and it has been the haunt of artists, hipsters and home decorators  for many years and a mainstay of business on the Bellarine peninsula. Its rambling junkyard was full of promise and potential  but is now sadly all cleaned up. The main shop area is a  dimly lit shed and used to be chock full of nostalgic treasures of mid 20th century design but is reduced to about 25% of its former stock. The treasures in there have always had that special something that appeals to me –the mark of craftsmanship,beauty, good design and possibility for reuse or resurrection. I don’t recall ever seeing plastic stuff, though I could be mistaken.  The recycled clothing was lush and beautiful  and I am sure I saw some of it on some ABC programs. Every other item evoked some sort of emotional response including the special aroma of shed dust and linseed oil that just reassured you that you were in your grandpa’s shed where good things were taken care of.

Now stocks are depleting rapidly in a count down to eviction in June. There are still some beautiful items to be found and I really don’t know what can ever replace this treasure trove if new premises cannot be found. Sigh!

Do you have any treasure haunts?
It was a great photo shoot site for my grafitti stuff.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Enough of that chocolate!

Okay we have all been waiting for this Melbourne weather to cool down so that we can get out and really address some exercise issues. Put down that Easter chocolate and no more excuses.