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  • janenewaudby

Finding the ceramic artist

In the time it's taken the whole world to adapt (or not) to a raging pandemic, this potter has been transformed. Against the huge backdrop of uncertainty, I have somehow managed to fledge - or at least that is how it feels. It is not something that I expected, but it feels pretty incredible. I am not sure I can even explain the difference between "before" and "after", but perhaps the work speaks for itself. I definitely feel more confident, and I no longer smokefire just because I just like the finish - now I am expressing something about how I feel about water and landscape and the space in between, and sharing that.

In a season of firsts, at the same time as my first exhibition - at the Birch Tree Gallery in Edinburgh - I headed down to Scone Palace in Perth for my first ceramics fair. For three days I met the public, other potters and sold work - and won a small prize for the competition piece. Coming back up here I have just tried to keep up with demand - at three times my usual rate. The reaction to the work all the way along has been incredible - and I honestly feel blessed that I am doing something I love so much and have found a language to communicate that.

The stones were an important part of this story - although at one point I thought they might break me - I had to make so many! One of the features of Potfest is the competition piece, which artists are invited to submit around a theme. This year's theme was "Time and Reflection". I created my "stones" to form a cairn (like the cairns on a mountain), representing how each potter's work is the result of huge numbers of hours of time, reflection and repetition. Much like the journey along a footpath, there is no shortcut and the wandering potter may even lose the path for a while. Eventually, we all have breakthrough moments where the questions we have been asking ourselves, sometimes for years, come together - as it did with my smoke firing this year. I had been trying random methods of firing my work to achieve different finishes and finding dead ends - until earlier this year. Suddenly everything fell into place - I found the language I needed. I had been watching and listening to the fire to understand its language for ten years - and at last we had a dialogue to create something unique.

There were two stand out moments at Potfest: The first came about because a wonderful artist on Skye (she makes beautiful copper pebbles) had persuaded me to sell her some of the stones before Potfest. The stones would be a birthday present for her mum. While at Potfest, a lady approached to buy a stone for her daughter because they would look lovely alongside her copper pebbles..... The language of the stones had been understood - separately - by a mother and daughter..... In the second instance I was explaining the work to a lady who had been a professional singer, but who is now confined to a wheelchair with MND and unable to speak. I explained my role as a smoke firing potter is much like a conductor, but that it is the fire that is the orchestra that makes the music. The lady wrote on her pad "which means each pot is like a song". Remembering that moment still makes me cry.

I am looking forward to things getting quieter in a few weeks - so I can reflect on where I am. But I am already planning the work for next year and will be trying to get ahead of myself to create a volume of stock. I am mindful that I am riding a wave, and that at some point it will stop - and I will lose my way again. In the meantime, I will be enjoying speaking my new language.

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