What a hectic year 2015 was, but what’s new. The first part was taken up with working on BBC Two’s The Great Pottery Throwdown, whilst the whole of September I concentrated on workshops and demos from Edinburgh to Sussex, with a bit of Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent thrown in (excuse the pun!). So it was good to finally get back to the studio. There were pots to make for Waterperry Gallery in Oxfordshire and a couple of orders for Nando’s.

The international restaurant chain commissioned a small order for four large lampshades for a new restaurant in Burton-on-Trent and a rather larger order for its Manchester restaurant consisting of 25 large thrown shades and 25 wide dishes. They intended to mount the large shades, which were to be 600mm x 300mm in size, on the ceiling and the 600mm wide dishes on the walls.

Each and every one of the Nando’s commissions has an individual concept behind them, and most of the lights are complimentary to some larger theme. With this commission though it was to be slightly different with it being the main theme. Nando’s were keen that the pots would demonstrate rustic warmth and fuse with the origins and corporate identity of the restaurant chain, so to do this I created terracotta pots combined with the bright orange and yellow glazes with a rusting steel bar.

The time to make on most of these contracts are tight, more often than not as little as six weeks. The delivery date for this order was mid-December, which was cutting it fine, but as long as I got started straight away I would at least still have some decent weather for drying the pots outside.

As with most of these jobs it’s the logistics of the making process that are important, not making more pots than you can process comfortably, especially as the size of these pots means I can only fit three pots in my kiln at any one time.

How the pots are created
After preparing the clay I threw the first nine pots which only took about ten minutes each to do. With not having a great deal of storage space for drying I planned to allow nine to dry and be ready for firing and then I could make a further three and so on to prevent blocking up the studio. I then received an email informing me that the delivery date had been brought forward to mid-November, but two days later to my utter disbelief it was again changed to the 2nd of November. With only a month to make and process the entire order and with already being committed I had to just go for it. There was also the consideration of not letting Nando’s down as they are such a good customer, even though the problems were their making but most large company’s don’t understand the problems of the little man.

To achieve the size require I threw the pots in two stages using Valentines ES 20 (Smooth Textured). I like to throw to weight if possible, to me turning is enhancement and refinement, and not for the removal of weight. Each pot used 12.5 kg of clay with the main bowl part being thrown first, with it being over 600mm wide, as this forms the main part of the shade. They are then left for two days before being flipped over to allow for the clay stored at the base to be thrown. This ensure that it is still soft enough to be thrown enabling me to create the neck of the shade, so that what was once the base is now the top.The pot is then left to dry before brushing terracotta slip on the outside, with casting slip the deflocculation allows for a greater density of slip to be applied in one go,  preventing any slaking or cracking. Three coats of glaze are then applied to the inside, giving the bright yellow and orange colour specified by the customer when fired.The bowls are also thrown using 10kgs of ES 20 (Smooth Textured). Once they have been thrown they are then left for a couple of days until they are leather hard.  When they are dry enough they are flipped over and left to continue to dry to a point when the foot ring can be turned into them. Again, once completely dry they are then slipped and glazed the same as the shades.

Due to time implications once firing is the only option, so a long slow warm up is essential before firing to 1080°c. It also helps that the pots don’t have to be weatherproof as they are for indoor use only. During the firing process I lost one pot due to an element failure which meant it was a close shave. I only had enough spare pots to complete the order, meaning that the last pots came out of the kiln as I was packing the remaining pots in the van for deliver to Manchester!  I am sure this is very familiar to most potters.

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