Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A day in the life of The Marches Pottery

Hello again! I thought for this blog post I would share with you a typical day for me at the pottery. I have been with Andrew as his apprentice for a little over two years now, and, although every day is different, there is always some sense of rhythm and strategy to what we do.

The kiln at the pottery is relatively large, with about 9 cubic ft of packing space. It takes 250-300 pots (including small ones) to fill, and usually 2-3 months is needed to create the volume and variety of pots required for a glaze firing. A variety of shapes and sizes is important, both to get a ‘good pack’ that will force the flames to work their way around the kiln, and to ensure we have a good selection of pots to put in the shop in the end. 

I am responsible for making the smaller items; espresso cups, mugs, bowls, little vases, etc. Andrew was keen that I learn all parts of the process, so I throw, turn, bisque fire and glaze all of the work I do. Any work I make for the pottery gets marked with the pottery stamp, Andrew’s work is marked with his own and I have a stamp my personal work too.

The day usually begins for me at 9am, and usually ends around 6 or 7pm.  There is coffee at 11am, lunch at 1:30, tea at 4pm - cake, always.  On this day, I began with turning some espresso-cup saucers. We don’t usually make these but somebody had asked especially for them, and it became a good opportunity for me to learn a new trick or two.

Pictured below is one of the saucers in a shallow inverse chuck (support) that enabled me to turn away the foot rings quickly and without damaging the rim. Andrew had suggested that I also make a regular chuck for cutting away the cup indent. I forgot to do this but managed to use the first chuck again successfully, with just a little soft clay to support it. Andrew saw this and said nothing - which usually means he doesn’t entirely approve, but is willing to let me go ahead, and if I mess it up I wont forget the lesson. Learning from your own mistakes is very important!

 Foot ring ready to turn in the chuck

 Finished foot ring

Cutting away the cup seat in the same chuck

After coffee and before lunch there was time to make a quick dash to see Mark Griffiths who has a pottery a few miles away in Culmington. He was firing his new wood kiln and had invited us over to see it in action. I had never seen a wood firing and was very impressed and intrigued, I would really like to fire with wood in the future and have been reading up about it recently.

Mark's wood kiln

After lunch, it was glazing time. I left the saucers to dry in the shade (of which there is plenty in the beautiful garden), and headed to the kiln shed to make up some of my first ever glaze tests. I have focused on making, and learning about form and throwing until now, and have only really just felt ready to start looking at coming up with my own direction for colour and glazes. It was a very timid start, but a start at least!
Saucers and vases drying in the shade.

My first glaze test at The Marches Pottery

Tea was had at 4, and then I set about the final task for the day; making sense of the great number of bisque fired pots that were waiting to be glazed. I needed to sort out which of my pots needed to take which of the 10 or so glazes we use, and make sure each of those glazes were made up and of the right consistency to use.  

Bisque fired pots, ready to be sorted and glazed.

With that job completed, I had just enough energy left to climb out of my overalls, and another day was done :).

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A good firing at The Marches Pottery.

Hello! My name is Isatu, I am this year’s apprentice for the Adopt a Potter scheme. I have been apprenticed to Andrew Crouch at The Marches Pottery for almost 2 years now, and am very grateful to have the opportunity to get stuck in to my 3rd year full-time, thanks to AAP support.

On the 11th March we did our first firing of the year. It usually takes about 2-3 months to make and glaze enough pots to fill the kiln here, and we’d been in no great hurry after a busy Christmas.

The kiln at The Marches Pottery was built by Andrew and his brother, Keith, when they first set up the pottery in the early 80s. It is oil-fired and is only used for gloss firing, which we always reduce to get Andrew’s subtle range of celadons, tenmokus and rusts. It has taken me a long time to get used to the kiln, because it is big and noisy and ferocious.  For a long time I just watched Andrew tend it (‘tether it’ as one friend described it), but over time I have built my confidence and understanding of it, and am now able to comment, occasionally intelligently, on its progress, and take part in some of the tasks involved in seeing it through its 16-18 hour cycle.

This firing was particularly good. It felt like it was the first sunny day of the year, and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The whole schedule ran very smoothly; the day was calm and a little quieter than usual, thanks partly to the well-behaviour right burner that Andrew had managed to successfully adjust after some spluttering and buffeting in previous firings. Andrew and I both refrained from saying anything, eager not jinx it, and just enjoyed the day, knowing full well that actually it could very well be going terribly wrong inside.

Luckily it didn’t. It was a very even firing with no patches of oxidization or under or over-firing. The celadons were crisp, the tenmoku black, and the white was gleaming and unctuous (a favoured word at the pottery). I had put through the usual pieces of standard ware that I make for the shop; espresso cups, mugs, jugs and bowls, and also some of my own work. I was particularly pleased with my mugs, as I had managed to achieve a successful proportion and rim, and my handles really are ALMOST there. Andrew was very pleased with my glazing, and said so, which was nice (yes, that is a gross understatement of my emotions).

It is April now and we are only a week away from another firing. I hope this one goes as well as the last, and I hope, as always, that my pots are better this time. 

Packing the kiln

Bricking up the door

Clamming up the door


Oil-burner in action

Checking the reduction - looking at the flame

Checking the cones for even heat absorption 

Burners off

Breaking down the door after a two-day cool down


Some of my standard ware for Andrew

Some of Andrews work

Some of my own work

Until next time Xx

Sunday, 6 March 2016


February 2016

I haven't posted in a long time, as my apprenticeship finished in June 2015.
I decided to let people know what I have been up to since then.

I continued to work full time at the Leach Pottery as part of the production team.
This was a great opportunity for me to continue learning. Lots of different things happened
during my extra time there. We gained a new SeaSalt Apprentice, Matt Foster, as well as another volunteer apprentice from Canada, Jordan Scott. Matt has no previous pottery experience and Jordan studied ceramics at University in Canada.

We had a resident artist from Japan, Shinichi Miyagawa. He is from a long line of potters and will soon take over the family business. His plan was to visit the Leach to gain inspiration and to decide what direction to take his work in.

Whilst Shinichi was with us he performed a tea
ceremony in the studio and gave us traditional
Japanese sweets. The were all served using
pots that he made at the Leach Pottery
during his stay.

I decided to leave St Ives and move to Kent,
where I can set up my own studio and begin to offer lessons to people wanting to learn
throwing skills. This decision was made just before Christmas, with a view to leave in
February. This gave me time to make plans and source equipment etc. I also spent a lot of time making my own work, so that I would have enough to leave some at the Leach to sell in the shop, as well as taking some with me to Kent to sell in the shop in Rochester that belongs to the Nucleus Arts Centre. These were some of my favourite pieces.

I am now in Kent, I am in the process of setting up a studio at Nucleus Arts Centre in Chatham.
This is the website:

The studios seem pretty active, we will be organising open studios soon, as well as exhibitions
in the on site gallery space. There is a cafe for members of the public to come and relax.
This has all been made possible by the training I recieved as a result of my Adopt a Potter funding.
The Leach Pottery held a fundraising day for me, to help me raise the money to buy the equipment needed to set up. Lots of people have contributed to my new venture, so thank you to all of them!
I will be putting everything in to making it a success. Here are a couple of images of the studio.

This is the courtyard outside the studios, where
the cafe is. On sunny days, it will be a nice place to sit out and have a coffee! But in the winter, the inside is very cosy.

And here's my studio! I hav got another big
wheel coming soon, they just need new drive
belts, but I am in the process of sorting that.

Here's all the shelving! I just need glaze ingredients, I have bought the shleving to put them on, figuring out what to order and how much to order will be a big task!

So it's all exciting at the moment. I have got a few shows booked this year, so I already have something to aim for. And soon I shall put together adverts for throwing lessons. Fingers crossed it will all go well.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Niklas Preukschat - November

November started with a week which I would, without a flicker of a doubt, call the busiest and most wearing of the year. As a warm-up (literally), we lit the fire in Nic’s kiln on Saturday 1st. It was the first time since March that we’ve done so in the big kiln. 

To begin with we were pretty much behind schedule but with three big, green dishes surrounded by varietys of jugs and jars in the front, it wasn’t in anybody’s interest to mess it up... Although it eventually happened that we did. But once you’ve heard it banging inside, there’s not a lot you can do about it. So we carried on and due to an absolutely splendid firing crew we didn’t let us drag down of that event and soon were back on track with our schedule. 

By Tuesday then, our last day of firing, I was ready to get my kiln packed. I probably could have rushed a little bit more and worked a bit longer, but I rather wanted to be properly prepared with everything and have an early start with my firing than to kick it off somewhere at midday. 
Me in the Tube

So, at Wednesday afternoon I was ready, the next morning could come. And it welcomed me with rain. I did get the fire started with an oil burner and switched over to wood as soon as the pots were dyed red by the flame. I mainly did it of necessity due to a lack of our precious wood and time but it was also a quite exciting experiment. The oil-wood mix worked out pretty well but I worked against a high-pressure deadline with Sabine’s’ firing the next day. So eventually, after a nonstop 17-hour shift, I closed the kiln up in the evening, knowing, that there would be some underfired pots coming out of it the next week…
ready to take off

everything got blurry after 17 hours

Having then done Sabine’s’ night shift I was ready for a day off watching the latest James Bond in cinema! And after a few more days of patience we finally took down the brickwork to see what mighty treasure was hiding behind it. Ohohohno! There were some absolute beauties in all of our kilns. But, as always with wood firing, we had to sacrifice a lot for it. Me even more with the under fired back of the kiln…
training the next generation

The days after that great meltdown we spent cleaning pots and documenting every chosen one on photograph and video. With only 4 days to go until the start of our online exhibition it was just another rush…And suddenly it was all over, Sabine set up the website and everything was going on line. What a strange feeling that was. All those hassle over the last weeks only to spent a quiet evening by the fire with the TV going and a look there and then into the e-mail account, waiting for the sales coming in. Hmmmmh and they came! In the end I think we were all quite pleased with the outcome of that project.
bracken ash on porcelain

Bovey Silver

But once more, there was no time to rest, our annual Christmas sale was lying only three weeks ahead. So back we went into the workshop for a whole week of throwing mugs, beaker, lidded jars, jugs, candlestick holders and oil lamps to have a good stock of pots. The week after we glazed everything, packed the kiln and fired it for the last time of the year. Oh dear!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Niklas Preukschat - October

Puh… I have to apologize for such a delayed update about Octobers’ time at our pottery but I needed a while to get my head around this.

With the online exhibition lurking around in my head, a little person in there turned on an emergency switch labeled as “fast and furious working mode” and suddenly I couldn’t potter around with my ideas as I did before. So, to get that kiln filled, Nic and Sabine allowed me to have an extra throwing day and with working weekends and evenings, I slapped out pots as mad. At this point, I want to apologize to Nic and Sabine and everybody else who had to deal with that grumpy Me during this time. 
music against grumpiness? hmmm... no.
Once a week I also was making pots for our annual Christmas sale in December for which we will have an extra firing after the online exhibition. And because everybody else was making pots as well, the workshop soon spilled over of pots! Then, towards the end of the month, autumn became more and more visual with trees changing their dresses or even standing around completely naked (uah!). So we had to hurry with Nics’ leaf decoration as long as they were of any use for us. 

Our latest apprentice: Elsa

Then Nic taught me a lesson in how to throw tall with coils and although I didn’t get up to his sizes it was a damn great experience! In these weeks of making we all had to think a lot about how to promote our work on the internet, which was tricky because we wanted to get on with things and stopping the wheel here and then to take photos or videos was quite a disturbance sometimes. But of course not only! When we all motivated each other, it was good fun and a great chance to try out new ways of recording (a time lapse app on the tablet was a nice little toy!) 


The last week then passed by even more speedy, Nic got prepared to pack his kiln with me to help and glaze my pots possibly at the same time. And then all of a sudden, one of our kiln chimneys was looking for a posher place to move so we gave it a few helping hands by moving its bricks over to Nics kiln. 

I was quite glad that our firing crew arrived a couple of days before kicking off Nics firing to help with all that, otherwise I would have ended up tearing myself apart to get everything done. Yeah! Generally, I would say it was an incredible time of making but also extremely stressful and demanding. But that wasn’t the end of the trip, oh no! The first week of November was still to come, with three firings and two kilns to pack. Haha! It becomes funny, looking back at it. But I save that story for the next post.

Hmmm! A treat to keep us going

Monday, 12 October 2015

Niklas Preukschat - September

After having spent Augusts’ splendid bank holiday hiking through Devon, September showed up at the pottery saying ‘Hello’ and decided to stay with us for a while. The first few days with it were very nice and quiet. There was a little bit of clay mixing here, some chutney making there and then the people from our firing course came back for saying ‘Hello’ and – of course – the opening of the kiln! The expectations were flying high after all those pretty things that came out of Sabines’ firing and they said, “Let there be light in the kiln”; and the kiln opened up and there was light. Then they said, “Let there be only most beautiful pots and no single photo be taken by the apprentice”; and most beautiful pots came out, none of them captured on the apprentices camera and they saw it was good. Then it was time for everybody to cut their own path and to say ‘Good bye’ - not so for September, which decided to stay longer. But here, at the pottery, everybody has to bring in their share wherefore we elaborated a working plan for September and for October and November as well which already announced to call in later that year.
The schedule is as follows:

  • An online exhibition of Nic, Sabine and me in mid-November with three firings needed before. One for Nic, one for Sabine and one for – tada - ME! Yes! My own firing! All those will happen around the end of October/ first week of November
  • Until then: Wood! Where is wood!? We have to get more, split more, stack more, can’t get enough. 
  • Pots. Loads of them for myself and slab work for Nic
  • Kiln improvements and decorating and glazing and all these bits’n’bobs around

At first we got some wood split. Then a local farmer offered us his stack of hedge wood, which we still pick up in bits in-between. At that time I was thinking of my upcoming firing. Because we’re a bit low on wood I want to use oil for getting it kicked off and I want to throw ash in later. But what sort of ash? Bracken! Of course! It’s growing everywhere on the moor in vast amounts and encourages, according to Nic, Chun blue… Burning it was a pain in the ar… the lungs but in view of the amount definitely worth it! 

wod, our holyness

For a while now Nic has had this crazy idea of firing a few big dishes upright in his head. The idea in his head, dishes in the kiln. Why not doing it in the next firing? Yes! The three forms of timber and sand and bricks were built in no-time and not long after, three pretty triplets where born into them. And with bringing some 100 pounds each on the scale I can’t say it was a very gentle delivery. My wrists are still feeling pretty f***** after all that kneading and beating.
May I introduce? Tick, Trick (back left and right) and Track
Right, Septembers stay is coming towards the end... I wonder whether that’s why it cheered up over the last days?

Anyway, I’ll see you next year!

bye, bye

Hello, October!