Was it liberating to be filming this series?
Filming this series gave me the chance to try lots of different things that I had never done and would not have ever considered doing before. That freedom to explore has opened up new ways of working for me.
What age or time in your life did you start pottery and who inspired you?
As a child, I used to ‘play with clay’ with my grandma, who was a potter. She gave me a love of clay and her work continues to inspire me now. During my later teenage and early adult years, I was heavily influenced by what my friends thought of me and didn’t see clay as a very cool thing to be working with. In my late 30s, I was encouraged by a friend to attend a pottery course run by Joy Gibbs-Price. I thoroughly loved the sessions, using them as a chance to forget about the pressures of teaching. Joy’s work has also inspired me and it
was with her encouragement that I set up my own studio at home and received a kiln for my 40th birthday.
What was the best piece of pottery you have ever made?
It is incredibly difficult to identify one piece of pottery that is ‘my best piece’. There are many pieces of which I’m proud – some of those are my ‘firsts’, such as the first piece I made on the wheel having returned to pottery; others are pieces which I have created to satisfy a curiosity to see whether I could do a certain technique. The shape that I always return to making is the doughnut vase though. These are my favourite shapes to make.
One particular doughnut vase was created using an incredibly groggy clay which I had been told that I would not be able to throw with if I valued my hands. Being advised not to do something made me want to try it even more and so as soon as my bag of clay arrived, I set about throwing a doughnut from it on the wheel. I then carved this doughnut to give an ammonite effect because the texture and colour of the clay give it a stone-like appearance once fired. The piece reminds me of family trips to Filey where many happy hours were spent fossil hunting on the beach.
Where do you make your pottery, do you have a shed or a workshop that you share?
When we extended our house, my husband built me a workshop in our yard for me to use.
What is your favoured build technique?
I much prefer throwing to handbuilding. It’s a more immediate process where you can quickly achieve the shape that you are aiming for. I like the uniformity of thrown work. Having said that, being on the show allowed me to explore handbuilding techniques and has opened my eyes to other ways of working, which I intend to explore in the future.
Pottery is usually a relaxing hobby and a lengthy process, so what was it like to be working under quite strict time constraints that first week?
This question made me giggle because it’s so true – I’ve always used pottery as a way of escaping and a way of calming myself, particularly during the lockdown periods of the pandemic when I found myself feeling high levels of anxiety. To suddenly have strict time limits and pressure of mystery tasks certainly introduced some getting used to, but I think I dealt with it well. As an ex-teacher, I’m very used to planning things meticulously so this definitely helped when working with tight time constraints. I had numbered steps for the task in week one and I stuck rigidly to that list. I also found that as soon as the making time began, I relaxed because I was doing something that I’m very familiar with doing, albeit in a very different environment.
What is your favourite piece of pottery that you make for friends and family, and do you get any special requests around Christmas or birthdays?
The pieces that I make more frequently than anything else are my teaspoon and teabag pots. They came about because I was approached by a lady who lives locally to me and asked if I could make a pot that teaspoons could be put in attached to a small bowl that would hold used teabags. Now most of my family and friends have one and I regularly get requests from people who’ve seen them at a friend’s house and want one for themselves. Heading towards Christmas time, you’ll find me making a forest of Christmas trees, which are pierced and used as tealight holders.
How did you find filming walking in on the first day?
All of the way through the application process, I had managed my nerves by telling myself that I could walk away at any point. Finding myself standing on the steps, about to enter the pottery for the very first challenge, I suddenly couldn’t do that anymore and I wondered what on earth I had been thinking! It all felt very surreal and my stomach was doing somersaults. As soon as Ellie said ‘Potters, get potting’ and I got the clay out of the bag, I relaxed though as I was in my comfort zone with a throwing task.
Which judge did you want to impress the most and why?
I was desperate to impress Keith – the ultimate goal for me was for one of my pots to make Keith cry! Keith is so incredibly passionate about pottery and I really wanted to see whether he thought my pots were any good! So many of my friends encouraged me to apply because they said my pots were good but having that recognition from Keith was my ultimate aim.
What do you feel that you will take away from your experience on The Great Pottery Throw Down?
First and foremost, friendships. We were thrown together as a group of 12, chosen partly because of our pottery but also because the production team thought that we would all gel and get on. They did a fabulous job because we immediately came together as a friendship group. There was no competitiveness, only true support. I learned so much from my fellow potters and am truly grateful to have met them.
I will also take away a confidence in my work that I did not have before. A belief in myself that I can do it and that I am pretty OK at potting! Having suffered from anxiety in the past, I also have pride in the fact that I put myself in a situation like that and managed it, not just managed it but absolutely completely and utterly loved it!
Finally, I take away new skills; new ideas in my head for work that I want to complete; new ways of working and a desire to push the boundaries more. At the end of the day, if it goes wrong, it’s just a lump of mud that can be reclaimed ready to start again.
Did you enjoy being in the midst of pottery country in Stoke, and filming at the Gladstone Pottery Museum – did it inspire you?
I loved being at Gladstone!
How hard was it to keep a secret?
A nightmare! As a full-time mum, to suddenly be disappearing from home for several days at a time certainly raised a few eyebrows and brought a few questions from concerned friends about if everything was ok. Some people believed that I was working on a large art project whilst others thought I was on a pottery course somewhere in the south.
Do you think your pottery friends or work friends were surprised to see you on television?
I think that people who know me well were amazed to see me on television because it is so far removed from the kind of thing that I would normally do. I would never normally put myself in a position where I could be judged in front of others – many years of teaching and Ofsted inspections gave me a hatred and anxiety of being scrutinised.
What was your best and worst moment overall in the series, and why?
The best moment for me had to be winning potter of the week in week 6 for my Acid Doughnuts and Discs design. I was particularly proud of this because it was a challenge making the kind of pieces that I love to make and having the recognition from the judges and the feedback that I received was just amazing.
The worst moment, other than me leaving, was the week that Miles went home. I’d had a bit of a disaster with the raku – glaze shivering off the pieces and not achieving the glaze effect that I’d really hoped for. Miles was such a positive influence in the pottery and in the green room. He was really calming and always had the right words to say. I’d thought that I stood a pretty high chance of leaving that week but then when his name was called I was so upset. Each time a potter went home, it had a noticeable effect on the group and it was always a challenge to pick yourself back up ready for the next day, which was always the start of a new challenge.
What’s next for you in the pottery world and what are your hopes and ambitions after The Great Pottery Throw Down?
I’ve already bought some bricks to build my own sawdust kiln because the effects that we achieved in that firing were spectacular and I’d love to recreate it at home. I am really interested in starting to attend some of the big pottery shows and hope that those kinds of events can be a place where we can have reunions! One thing that I’m very keen to get involved in is offering something back and doing something to help people in need. I’ve already had some conversations with a local team that offers different art experiences for people with mental health issues including PTSD. There’s a lot of research that shows that working with clay can really help people suffering from PTSD and if I can do something to help, then that would be brilliant.
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