I inhabit a space exactly half way between cool entitlement and imposter syndrome, called excitement and pride.

I’ve just been elected a full member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. I’ve been an Associate Member for the minimum required three years, and in the last year I’ve worked hard to produce six pieces of work to represent my practice and fill up the longest wall in the gallery! (Six pieces are required, the large bit is my fault). Then my fellow candidates and I have to wait for the membership to vote. The successful candidate needs 50% +1. I am very pleased to say I got that… maybe a few more. I managed to do the work, and not piss off too many people in the intervening three years that they were kind enough to vote for me… more importantly, they voted for the work. The feedback I’ve received about the work has been fantastic. I think I’m onto something… haha!!

Any artist run society has all the usual issues when you get to know them from the inside. Differences of opinion, a bit of squabbling, sarcasm, gossip… and death by committee. It’s also quite difficult to get a balance of different kinds of people when the inclination is to nominate and elect people who are just like you.

So that’s the negative view… the positive view is that this society has been running for nearly 200 years, with I’m sure the same issues, so I’m sure it’s got another 200 in it! But it is truly an honour to be part of it. It’s one of those things that stays when I am gone.

I think it is changing gradually too. It is exciting to see the membership change… there are younger artists wanting to join. These artists have varying, broader practices, and they come from a wider field of backgrounds too. I have the feeling that while I am a member it will come to genuinely reflect the art and artists of Birmingham more than it does currently. (These things change slowly, which is a blessing and a curse, but slow movement can be its strength too) It’s going to be quite difficult in the coming years for the gallery to show six pieces of work from some of them… it’s no longer going to be a matter of screwing six frames to a wall, or standing something on a plinth. This is very exciting. In the last three years I’ve met some really lovely people, seen some really great art, and had some conversations that have moved and inspired me.

So I’ve shifted my diary around to make sure I can attend the presentation evening, when I will shake hands with dignitaries and my fellow artist members, have my photo taken with a huge cheesy grin on my face. Now is not the time for cool detachment, now is the time for gratitude and taking pride and pleasure in achievement.

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I signed up for a ceramics course at Mac Birmingham. Now I am not a ceramics person. Not really. I like playing with the clay, I have taught it at a very basic level to teachers, and to children. I have a go myself every ten years or so! Last year when I was in Jamestown NY for my Full Circle exhibition I spent some time at the Pearl City Clay House with Debra Eck, delivering and taking workshops, and I threw my first pot for about 45 years. Anyway… having had a bit of a refresher, I decided to sign up with a friend, just to play, learn some new techniques, and most of all to enable me to be creative without stressing about results and outcomes etc. What I have found interesting, just three weeks in, is that despite me saying to myself this was a fresh thing, my own thoughts about my existing practice sneaks in regardless!

The first coil pot we made, Moira said to me “It looks like one of your drawings, the same lines!” And she is right. I suppose my hands just naturally move in a certain way, whether I’m just moulding the clay with my fingers, or using tools, the same forms appear. Interesting. That pot has now been fired and I find myself thinking how to glaze it so that those lines are emphasised.

While listening to the lecturer, I found myself “doodling’ with a small piece of clay while she spoke, and suddenly I have a collection of small thumb pots, connected like lichen cups. I cannot escape them! Last week I rolled out a piece of clay in order to try some sgraffito this week. I had no ideas in mind particularly, but having been talking to Bill and Helen about fish, what I ended up with was a freeform flat plaque with fish on it. I let my mind wander wherever it wants, try to give it completely free reign, and dammit it barely leaves the back yard!

I had thought that the ceramics might be a bit of a creative holiday, which it is, but I find myself just using the new materials to think through the same old knotty problems from a different angle!

I’m still making the textile “pots”… but find myself working out in 3D how to arrange them using the clay… Like a drawing! It will be interesting to see how this works out when I get these pieces into the studio next to the work I’m doing there to see if they inform my ongoing thoughts…


Following on from a previous post (A Timely Reminder, March 27th) I find myself feeling grateful for those who surround me, who are generous with their time and talent. I have a couple of days ago, booked my flights to have a few days in Sweden with Stuart Mayes, in June. We have been working towards this probably for the last couple of years, in talking about our work, and how there are links between what we make, how we make it, and how we regard the work, and how we think. And then one of us said we could make an interesting joint show. So, with a view to making this happen, we will get together, in Uppsala, and do some research into venues, talk to people, look at some art, and probably talk each others ears off.

One part of my head is saying “Hurray! I’m off on holiday to Sweden to see my mate Stuart!” And then another part of my head is calling this a research trip with a potential collaborator. Of course, I am sure there will be elements of both, but the reason for the trip is mostly work related. We will do some work together while we are together, and probably give it a title. In this way, it ensures that we take this seriously, and also that other people do. Because after all, if we don’t, no one will! I certainly want to enjoy the process, but I also want to come back after 5 days, thinking we are a step further on, and that the future collaboration has some meat on the bones.

The textile work I have been doing at the moment is both playful and experimental. They might end up just as individual purposeful crafted objects, which is fine… but in addition to this, the more I make, the more I can see them becoming something else, more that one something else in fact. I might use them with Helen Garbett, and with Stuart, and on my own, in a variety of situations, each one offering different layers of meaning. This family of vessels I am making holds many possibilities… together and apart…