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PigElf Ceramics does Potfest 2019

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

The first big make.....trials and tribulations.....the big kiln comes online.....

semi-frantic glazing....

the first big show.............................................................................................

Potfest in the Pens is an annual pilgrimage for many UK potters and ceramics enthusiasts,

160 exhibitors descend on the Penrith Auction Mart for a weekend long pottery market. It is conveniently local to PigElf HQ and in November 2018 we crossed our fingers and applied for our first pitch....

Places are allocated by lottery and although we were unsuccessful in the first draw, we were lucky enough to get a place on the reserve list and then come January, hurrah! We had our stall confirmed.

There is nothing quite like having a deadline to work towards. I am prone to extensive procrastination, which I maintain is an important part of the creative process, however there comes a point where a little time pressure is definitely a good thing.

The six month run up to Potfest was a huge and important step up for me, bridging the gap from enthusiastic hobbyist to beginning as a production potter. My throwing increased in markedly both in confidence and speed as I got into making larger batches. Repetition builds muscle memory, which in turns allows increased repetition, the pots soon began to pile up. I didn't really know how many to make, or hope to sell, however I figured that more stock couldn't hurt and kept on making.

From January through to April there were a couple of limiting factors that had to be eliminated. We were still only running a single 70 litre kiln, I had been well aware of the need to increase our firing capacity and had bought a larger 190 litre kiln second hand at the end of October. It required some remedial brickwork, rewiring from three phase to single phase and a dedicated cable from house to workshop. I had hoped to have it operational by the start of 2019, as it was, the first firing wasn't until the end of April.

The other concern that spring, was that our main base glaze, one that I had been developing for over a year, looked good, however it did not yet fit. Glaze fit is something that a handful of geeks care about, few people would ever notice but actually makes quite a difference to the quality of a functional pot. Basically, during firing, the clay body and the glaze layer need to expand and contract at much the same rate. If they don't the finished article may look just fine but it will not be nearly as strong or durable as it could be. The way to tell is that a stoneware bowl with a well fitting glaze will ring with a sustained note when flicked with a finger nail, if the expansion coefficients are off you'll get a dead 'thunk' sound. From March through to beginning of May I spent 70-80% of my time testing and pondering how i could reduced the expansion coefficient of this glaze enough to fit without losing the look that i wanted. The glaze was developed from a shino style recipe (mostly feldspar and clay). Traditional Shino's are not expected to fit, in 17th century Japan aesthetic was king and there were no dishwahers. However, i had set myself a challenge and by dammit I would find a way! I had an ever growing stock of bisque ware, a quickly approaching deadline and week after week, test after test it was nearly there but not quite....calculation, experimentation, frustration and exasperation finally yielded the desired result in the second week of May. A huge sigh of relief was breathed!

Through June and July, I fired our two kilns in tandem, almost continually. Matthew descended to finish and glaze his collection of deranging imaginings, some of which had waited almost two years for their last touches. It was exhilarating to wake every day and hurl myself back into the fray and to finally see the selves begin to empty and the boxes of stock start to fill.

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