International Ceramics Festival 2017, Aberystwyth June 30 – July 2

A fabulous weekend set in and around the university’s impressive Arts Centre (a building funded by the European Union and serving as a community centre for the people of Aberystwyth, according to my B&B hosts).  Even the weather was perfect.

I’d only been in the Arts Centre five minutes before I made my first purchase – a nice sized mug by Jacky John’s Carmel Pottery in LLanelli. As well as all the usually cards and bric-a-brac, the Shop has pottery for sale by well known and not-so-well know ceramicists, a couple of examples:


On to the Cup Sale to find one for David.  The cups have been donated by demonstrators and delegates for ICF funds:

Cup Sale IFC 2017
Cup Sale


The cup I bought is far right section, bottom row, 3rd from left.  The cup Micaela donated is on the shelf above, 2nd from left. David likes a tiny mug – he’ll still leave some tea! I was pleased to find one with a proper handle and not too girlie, donated by Terry Griggs of Worcestershire.  Thanks Terry.

The first brew in our new cups when I got back on Sunday night. My mug isn’t really dirty brown – it’s a reduction fired claret flecked with turquoise. Nice! Now to look at some the things I saw ‘twixt cup and lip. Quite a lot of ‘slip’, as it happens….

In the Arts Centre there was a full programme of demonstrations/talks in the Great Hall, Theatre and Cinema, and a well-patronised exhibition of demonstrators’ works. In the lower foyer were the student demonstrations and the University’s Ceramic Gallery. The Students Union housed two exhibitions, ‘Emerging Artists’ and the ‘North and South Wales Potters Associations’. Outside were the kiln firings, Demonstrator tents and spaces. Trade tents, and a Throwing Surgery. Something for everyone.

Demonstrators’ Exhibition

We were introduced to the weekend’s Demonstrators at the opening event on Friday evening.  Each gave a short talk about their work, with accompanying slide show. Before the talks was the presentation of the awards, and Rob received Potclay’s first ICS Kecskemet Hungary Residency Award:

Rob Parr Receiving His award

Well done Rob! It’s good to know there’s something for the more mature ceramicist.

Ingrid Murphy’s 360 camera

Sales at the exhibition must have been brisk, because the exhibited items kept changing. It was difficult to take photos because of the crush, so apologies to any demonstrators I’ve missed.

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Demonstrator Talks and Demos

I went to a few, but three stand out:

Anabeli Diaz

I went to both of her demos.  I’ve already written at length about her work in my last post and below, so enough said already.


Ostinelli and Priest

Stand-up is obviously Paul’s other job. His humour permeates his work, imbuing his creations with quirky character. I admire his observational skills and his ability to find the essence of the form.  Like Annie Peaker at Earth and Fire, he is providing us with our perception of a bull, not a breed-accurate bull. His bubble wrap armatures are so well made he can slap on clay, and the form is there. And adding eyelashes! They make such a difference to the character. His bull in the Demonstators’s Exhibition was fabulous – unlike poor Stephen of the demo.

Sabine Classen

I was too far away to take photos, so another piece of her work:

Sabine Classen
Sabine Classen: showing a wire template

Sabine provided us with strips, orange one side, white the other, to practice making her knotted forms and help us understand her interest in inside/outside, shapes that open to a circle and those that don’t, and dividing the space. She also passed round small forms to handle.  She says that the potter and sculptor are united by emptiness. Historically, sculpture was material with a picture imposed on it, but contemporary sculpture works with empty space and movement.  The sphere is important to her – the form that can be held in the two palms and manipulated.  The sphere, altered to create a family of forms that relate to each other. Some of what she was saying was lost in translation, I think (I should have checked with Micaela), but it seems that the Celtic Knot is important to her not only because of it’s connection with eternity, but also because of the relationships between lines and planes found in Kandinsky and Klee’s works. The Celtic Knot provides the lines, and she creates the planes, as far as I understood it.

I’ve written reflectively about her work already in my last post. So I’ll just describe her method. Small forms are solid, but may be hollowed to lighten them. Larger forms are hollow built, made from slabs and templates (which in turn are made taken from maquettes). Each form has the opposite form, based on the same template shape. Using the Celtic Knot, she creates planes, altering concave and convex areas within the form to make a unique piece.

Sabine Classen and me

Sabine inspecting her firing (me standing immediately to the left of it)

Demonstrator Spaces

It was a privilege to witness so much skill and creativity in the demonstrator work spaces. To be able to discuss their process, pick up tips, and simply watch them work was very special.

I spent some time watching Anabeli Diaz work on her large figure, which I’ve already discussed in my last post.  She kindly made me one of her traditional corn cob tools (see below), which I can’t wait to try. Many thanks, Anabeli, I love it. I also spent some time with Gaynor Ostinelli and Paul Priest, who were very generous with their advice.

Anabeli Diaz’s Demonstrator Space

Sabine Classen didn’t make any work on site as she was busy with the kiln firing, but her demonstrator space was a veritable haptic experience, with black boxes for blind-handling of small forms, and sculptures of various sizes to touch. Lovely!

Sabine Classen
Katie gets to grips with a Sabine Classen sculpture

Katie and I both loved Sabine’s work and spoke to her about it. She suggested we get her over to give a class. However, she’s booked up 18 months in advance.

Student Demonstrators

Kim Colebrook has recently completed a BA in Contemporary Design Crafts and Hereford School of Arts, and has just learnt she got a First – well done Kim!

Kim Colebrook at ICF
Kim Colebrook demo

She very ably demonstrated her porcelain and oxides technique, dealing with customers very well.

Kim Colebrook Student Demonstrator ICF
Kim Colebrook demonstration

The pot I bought is second from the left. An early work with stains as well as oxides.

Alice Mcllroy is a student on the MA at Farnham, which finishes in August:

Alice Mcllroy Student Demonstrator ICF
Alice Mcllroy demonstrates her bird sculptures

For her final piece she is making a phoenix, which will rise from the ashes of a minigama (hopefully), the spectacle being videoed for her MA Show. What inspired her? Minigama and Raku Kiln Firing by Dave Binns:

Good luck, Alice!

The Ceramic Gallery

There’s so much to blog about I wasn’t going to bother with this, except for the mention of birds.  I can’t a resist Martin Brothers Wally Bird, which is part of the University’s permanent collection:

Martin Brothers
Martin Brothers: Wally Bird

I even know what a salt glaze is now!  Should mention Meri Wells too, as many of our group visited her studio over the weekend:

Meri Wells
Meri Wells: Walking, Waiting, Crossing, Queuing

The commissioned piece was made in response to Adam Buick’s Crossings: the Legend of Tresaith, based on the story of seven Irish princesses sent across the sea to land at Tresaith and marry Welshmen. He set 7 moon jars adrift from Ireland and tracked/filmed them as they progressed towards Wales.

Adam Buick Crossings
Adam Buick: one of the moon jars reconstructed

I recommend Micaela’s blog for a report on her visit to Meri’s studio.

Trade Tents

Wheels, kilns, 3D ceramic printers, tools, glazes, more tools. Temptation aplenty. What am I going to do with the double ended bamboo hole maker? Or the right angled pointed stick? Some things I do have a use for – crescent metal Mudtools recommended by Demonstrator Jason Walker, and the Baby Bump.

Schools of Art were also promoting their courses.  Nice to chat with Connor Wilson from the Bath MA.  I thought his stand could have been better as it wasn’t obvious what he was selling. Some pictures of ceramics and students and some actual student ceramics might have helped. Something for people to engage with and discuss. Maybe a slideshow of the studio, workshops and kiln rooms, as I believe they have excellent facilities. It must have been boring sitting there armed only with a brochure.

Throwing Surgery

With David Small’s expert tuition, Cheryl made huge improvements in her throwing technique over the weekend. Joe Finch joined Cheryl and I in the restaurant at lunchtime, and explained that the Throwing Surgery was new this Festival, so they hadn’t known what to expect.  Happily for them it had proved extremely popular.

Speaking of lunch, we also shared our table (well, his table, to be accurate) with John Higgins. He had good advice for start-up ceramicists: he thinks joining the Potters Associations is important for support, exhibitions, sharing and promoting skills.  He also advises sharing studios with other makers to exchange ideas and support. Thanks, John.


Emerging Artists Exhibition

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An exhibition of incumbent, Lanty, and the four candidates for this year’s award, which was won by Emily Waugh.  I hope Emily appreciated the lovely bowl Lanty made for her.

Emily Waugh
Emily Waugh


North and South Wales Potters Associations Exhibition

A selection from the NWPA and SWPA exhibition


Spooky Disappearing Pot

Louise Shrempft
I raise my phone to take Louise Shrempft’s display – it’s there
Louise Shrempft
I lower my phone, it’s gone. What????
ICF 2017
Mystery solved

There was a vast variety of styles in the exhibition – I’ve missed photographing some of the most interesting, unfortunately. It included the work of some ceramicists I hadn’t seen ‘in the flesh’, and some I hadn’t seen at all. There was a lot of figurative work too.

It’s interesting how much better Margaret Frith’s work looks when it’s not overshadowed by her husband’s. Did I mention they won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening ceremony?

Kiln Firings

Alexandra Engelfriet, Fred Olsen aided by Dave Binns

Dave spent most of the weekend helping Fred Olsen build a kiln around Alexandra Engelfriet’s large clay sculpture. She uses tons of clay, shaping it with her body to create monumental installations:

Alexandra Engelfriet and Fred Olsen
Building the kiln around Alexandra Engelfriet’s sculpture


Lighting and opening

I wasn’t around after dark – although I believe Pam and Patricia were, partying to the music – so I’ve borrowed a video:

Alexandra Englefriet
Almost cool


Carla Pownell and Jeff Lomas – Raku Firing

IMG_20170701_115518 (2)

Why is there such a delay on my phone camera? This was going to be a nice photo of the chap in the blue headwear cleaning his pot – where did grey cardi come from?

The two North Wales Potters kept the kiln firing for the two full days. Some really nice results, too.

Sabine Classen

I watched them trying to light the kiln on Saturday evening – nothing exciting, then missed them opening it on Sunday. All the good stuff happened after dark, so I’ve borrowed a video again:

Sabine Classen
Pam inspects Sabine Classen’s kiln fired piece

The result was amazing, still warm and highly tactile. There were only a couple of very tiny cracks as far as I could see.  Impressive!

Chisato Kuroki Paper Kiln

An interesting kiln consisting of a double ring of damp newspaper set on top of a brick support. Wire mesh layer over bricks, layer of hay, layer of coals (charcoal and coke), layer of pots, layer of coals, topped by kiln board.

Chisato Kuroki
Positioning the zebra print hair dryers, used as bellows

Time for a drink while we watch the firing. Thanks for the half a bitter, Matthew.

Unpacking the kiln the following morning

I think she said the temperature would reach 1180 in 3 hours, but the kiln had evidently reached well over that temperature in areas.  The wire mesh in the kiln had melted. Many of the pots were warped and cracked, and the clay had melted. The spectacle was better than the outcome.

All work and no play?

Not a bit of it.  Micaela, Katie, Cheryl, Kate and Jane invited me to have a meal with them in their flat on Friday evening:

Many thanks all.  Delicious Spag Bol, Cheryl. I hear the evening stretched into the early hours of the morning! One G&T and an early night for me, though. A 15 minute drive back to my Welsh rural idyll:


2 thoughts on “International Ceramics Festival 2017, Aberystwyth June 30 – July 2

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