Kara Leigh Ford Ceramics

Handmade pottery from Somerset

Two Years earning a living as a Full Time Potter...

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I can hardly believe two years have passed since I started my potting adventure. This is officially now the second longest job in my life (the longest was 9 years) -  I have a bit of a way to go before it's the longest but I will get there - this is it now; I'm thrilled to say my career path is sorted. Period. I keep saying to my husband "I'm not going to retire, I am going to continue to make pots until my body literally no longer lets me, you may well find me slumped over my wheel, aged 99 with lots of cats around me".

I spent the last few days in a tent by the sea, with my love. It was only when we realised the date that I remembered: on the 27th April, it was 2 years since I gave up the 'proper job' and became a potter. It was a really nice opportunity to reminisce over a pint of cider about my time as a self- employed maker.  I decided to document a few things in this blog mostly as a reminder to myself of how far I have come, the lessons I have learnt and also because they might offer a lighthearted example for others who are on their own journey...

1) Shipping...don't EVER estimate how much shipping is going to be. International shipping is expensive, especially heavy things which need a lot of padding like ceramics. Remember the time you paid £50 to get £90 worth of mugs to the US but only charged the customer £10! That was your profit you just gave to the post office. Slow clap.

2) DONT SAY YES TO EVERYTHING. I know you're excited about someone being interested in your work and it is very flattering when someone asks you to make them something. But think about it first. Tell them you'll do some sums and get back to them. Don't just say yes, you may end up regretting it. The point of this whole thing is to enjoy what you do - don't ever make yourself wish you hadn't agreed to something. Yes, it is right to keep learning and stretching yourself but you are only one small potter, you cant accept every commission on every budget. Make sure you can actually achieve what is required, in the timescale and that it fits with your (in order of importance) style, creative interest, skill set, time, space and what the customer is willing to pay. If one of those things isn't on-point then politely decline the commission; you'll thank yourself later.

3) Don't forget people. You know, 'people'. You used to work alongside a lot of people, you even really liked some of them. Don't forget you enjoy the company of people. It's very easy to mistake radio 6 for social interaction. The cats don't count!

4) Self care - brush your teeth before you go out to your shed in the morning. Do yoga. Don't drink too much coffee. Clean your studio more than you do - it helps focus your mind and the dust is not good for you. 

5) Take time to enjoy yourself. It's easy to jump from one task to the next without stopping to enjoy the bits you love. This is why you did this- right? To enjoy your job - don't forget that.

6) Be grateful - everyday. You are very lucky. 

7) Trust - in yourself, the decisions you've made so far not just in your business but in your life. Trust in the universe - it will provide the answers and lessons, and know that where ever life takes you; it's exactly where you are supposed to be at this time. 

8) In the words of Baz Lerman - 'Don't congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself too much either'- you're still learning. 

 

 

 

Thank you

Kara FordComment

When this email landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, I actually felt myself blush a little. I always enjoy it when someone takes the time out of their day to write to me but to be described as 'inspiring' is a little overwhelming. 

This lady was me three years ago. When I was a hobby potter I got constant inspiration from other 'full-time creatives' blogs, Facebook pages etc... back then it seemed so abstract to me to be making a living from creating things (they don't actually teach you how to do that at university - well, they didn't when I went!). At that point I felt like being self-employed was what other people did - entrepreneurs, business people, trades people - people with guts! Not me - I was hooked on the concept of a constant wage, a pension, colleagues (all in the same boat as me - with dreams just out of reach) let alone being self employed as a POTTER!

However, here I am in my second year as a full-time maker, with my first tax return under my belt (an experience I am glad only comes around once a year;-) To be able to offer a little inspiration to other budding creatives is a dream come true. I didn't think it was possible but here I am. Whatever it is, you can do it. As long as you are doing something you love, your passion is infectious and others will want you to succeed and support will follow. It works both ways; this lady's email is just that kind of support and gives me the strength to keep going when I've had a plate crack in the kiln, a bad glaze batch or a week of slow sales, this gave me the energy boost to carry on. I hope this blog can offer a little of that energy to you to keep going. 

I am not a natural writer so her encouragement with my blog means a lot too. Inspiration for blog posts don't come to me that often, so I have to act on it when it does. So I asked this lady if I could share her email with you. Respecting her privacy, I have blacked-out her name and will call her 'C'. Most sincerely, thank you 'C'.  

Keep dreaming, keep planning, there is enough room for everyone to be doing what they love. If I can do this - anyone can - that means you! 

x

Frosty Blue Green Mug

Exciting times ahead...

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So a few weeks ago I mentioned on Instagram that I was planning ways of taking my little business forward. I can now share with you one of those changes.
Since I began back in 2015 (can't actually believe I am well in to my 2nd year as a full time potter!) I have mostly been making pottery 'made to order'. With limited stock storage space in my little shed this allowed me to test out what you guys wanted most from a broad collection of designs. This has been great and has worked better than I ever imagined but after 18 months of being a maker I feel I have a better grasp of what you guys like. 
From now on I will be working on a 'drop ship' basis. Basically, this means I will now be making stock in small batches and updating my Etsy, Folksy and website shops every few weeks with live stock which is ready to ship straight away. This is great in two ways; for you it means you can get your hands on pretty pots much quicker - once you see it, buy it - it will be with you in two shakes of a postman's satchel! You won't have to wait 3-4 weeks for me to make it. For me it means my making will be more much efficient; rather than making one or two of lots and lots of different things at the same time, I'll be working methodically (a kiln full of mugs, a kiln full of jugs etc).
I'll never be a production potter, I will still be celebrating the individual characteristic of each piece as it emerges from the mud but it means my making can be a bit more streamlined - firings will be more economical and more focused. It is a bit scary as I'm kind of in limbo at the moment, I won't be restocking my shop for another couple of weeks until I have built up enough pots, which means I'm not actually selling anything AT ALL at the moment - eeek! (it will be beans on toast for us for a couple of weeks). But I hope once I am in a rhythm it will work really well in the long run. I hope this hasn't made you fall asleep, but it is an exciting change for me and I wanted to share with you my progress as a #potter and a #girlboss ;-) 

Thank you so much for your support and patience whilst I restock my shop over the next few weeks.

Christmas 2016 Last Order Dates...

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Sorry to bring it up but....

Sorry to bring it up but....

I know the Christmas ads have only just started, I haven't even seen the John Lewis' one yet! but I need to let you know that I will be closing my order books for 'Made to Order' & Bespoke items for Christmas delivery very soon. So if you are very organised and would like to guaranty your items for Crimbo then please get in touch by Friday 11th November. But if you're anything like me and don't start buying until the panic really sets in then fear not pot lovers I will be doing shop updates at the beginning of December with 'Ready to Ship' items *Hoorah* (so you should still be able to get your loved ones that mug, spoon rest, salt pig etc...x)

Folksy 'Meet the Maker' Interview

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Back in the spring I had the privilege to be interviewed by Camilla Westerngaard Content Editor of Folksty.com -  I thought I'd share it here too.

Me at my wheel.

Me at my wheel.

British potter Kara Leigh Ford started making ceramics at evening classes while she paid off her student debts doing a ‘proper job’. After 10 years in marketing, she finally felt confident enough to leave her day job and become a full-time maker – although she still finds it hard to believe she now actually does what she loves for a living. We talk to Kara to find out more about her oh so beautiful handmade ceramics and discover that she very nearly starred in our favourite show of last year, The Great Pottery Thrown Down

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hi, I’m Kara Leigh Ford and I’m a potter. I design and hand make decorative, functional ceramics. It still feels amazing to be able to say that!

Have you always been a maker?
I’ve been creative my whole life. It was the only thing at school I excelled at – I have dyslexia and struggled with a lot of other subjects but I always found that making things felt natural and fun. I studied fine art and drama at university but after graduating I got an office job, mainly because I was up to my eyeballs in debt and, like many graduates, I didn’t really know how to use my degree to make a living. I did pottery at evening classes as an ‘aside’ – I had to do something with my hands to keep sane.

I worked in branding and visual merchandising for 10 years before I decided to take the plunge and become a full-time maker. The time I spent working was actually really useful, though, as it gave me so many important marketing skills, like understanding the importance of branding, photography, social media, copywriting and no doubt plenty of others, which I didn’t have when I was fresh out of uni.

Ceramic Teaspoons

What was the first thing you made in clay?
My first experience of clay was at a pottery workshop at a summer school when I was 10. I made a little cat. It must have been ok as I remember another kid stole it and pretended it was theirs!

What draws you towards functional ceramics?
I love the idea that pottery is used and is part of everyday life, handed down from generation to generation. For me, the essence of a piece of ceramics is its function. The look is obviously also very important as that initially draws you to it, but it needs to be pleasurable to use.

Creamy Speckle Teapot

How would you describe your aesthetic and how did you develop your style?
I would describe my work as modern rustic with distinct organic undertones. Every piece I make has its own unique character. My style is developing all the time. Being mostly self-taught, I spend a lot of time experimenting with new glazes, seeing how far I can push the materials and enjoying any resulting ‘happy accidents’. Trying to reproduce them, that’s the challenge.

Stormy Seas Stoneware Dinner Plate

Where does your inspiration come from?
I love the sea and growing up by the coast in Devon has had a massive influence on my work. I’m drawn to the colours and textures that I remember from my favourite South Devon beaches, Bantham and Bigbury, where I whiled away weekends as a child. From a stormy winter sky to a turquoise rock pool on a summer’s day – the changing moods of the ocean feature heavily in my work.

Who are your design heroes?
One of my favourite potters is Norman Yap. I enjoy the fact he raw-glazes his pots, which means he only fires his work once, putting the glazes on before they are fired. I find that really daring. Katrin Moye’s surface patterns are stunning too – I love her colour combinations. I also have an affinity to Japanese Wabi Sabi style – simple forms heavily influenced by nature and perfection found in imperfection.

Teapot in progress

How long does it take to make a piece and what’s involved? 
The majority of time is spent in developing a piece: getting the aesthetic right, making sure it’s balanced and beautiful but more importantly making sure it’s fit for purpose and that it can be replicated. There are lots of different stages involved in pottery: initial making, drying, fettling, drying again, firing, glazing and firing again. Depending on what I am making it can take 3-4 weeks in total to make one piece. It’s really important not to rush things in ceramics, that’s when mistakes happen. I’ve learnt this the hard way, so now I always give myself plenty of time.

Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what is in it?
I work from my shed in my garden. The shed was one of the main reasons we bought our house! When I gave up my job and started working in there full time, my husband gave it a beach-hut paint job. The shed is small but that makes it easy to heat and forces me to keep organised, and I absolutely love it. In it is my circa 1970s potter’s wheel (which looks a lot like a baby’s bath), my kiln ‘Ronda’, all my tools, clay, glazes and drying shelves. I have a separate clean shed for my stock and packaging materials.

Is there anything in your shed that you couldn’t live without?
I have a pair of bamboo chopsticks that are about 15 years old. I use them for so many things – detailed work like attaching handles and spouts, as a depth gauge when rolling out clay, smoothing clay, the list goes on…

What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
I would be making things anyway, even if I didn’t sell anything – it’s just something I have to do. But to do it for a living really is a dream come true. I still have to pinch myself. The freedom of being my own boss is so empowering. I probably work more hours now than I ever did in full-time employment as I often do admin in the evenings and I’ll work at least one day nearly every weekend, but it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it so much.

How does it feel to be part of the UK craft scene?
The UK craft scene is amazing. It’s such a supportive community. I’ve met some lovely people via social media, at craft fairs and as customers. Everyone has been so generous with advice and support – it really is mind-blowing. I am so, so thankful to the all the other crafts people and the lovely team at Folksy who have given me advice and their time.

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
I completely understand how hard it is to put your work ‘out there’. It took me so long to muster the courage to do it. I was afraid of people judging it – it’s like sending your precious children out into the big scary world, but when you’ve made that first leap of faith it gets easier and the rewards far outweigh the fear. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

My shed/ studio

What does craft mean to you?
For me craft is skill, an understanding of your materials and passion. Craft is everyman’s art. Anyone, no matter what their social status, education or wealth, can learn to create or own a masterpiece. I feel like it is as much a reflection of the buyer as the seller. It is the antithesis of a throw-away culture: craft items are made to last and be treasured, and every piece has a story behind it.

Mid throw...

It’s just been announced that there’s going to be a new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down. Were you a fan of the first series? Would you ever apply?
Ha! Funny you should ask. I actually applied to the first series of The Great Pottery Throw Down and to my absolute shock I got down to the final 20. Despite some obvious initial disappointment, it was actually a bit of a relief when I didn’t get through, as I was so overcome with nerves in front of the cameras I don’t think I would have enjoyed it. It was a great experience, though. I met some lovely people and it gave me the final burst of confidence I needed to leave my job and be a full-time potter. I thought it was a great show, bringing British ceramics into the public consciousness can only be a good thing.

You can also read the interview here: http://blog.folksy.com/2016/03/29/kara-leigh-ford-ceramics

Doing it for the girls...

LifeKara FordComment
Handmade Ceramic Spoons

Handmade Ceramic Spoons

During this International Women's Day, whilst spending my day adding pretty new things to my website, I quietly reflected on the last 11 months. Time has flown and my work (and confidence) has progressed more than I could have imagined. Still so much to learn - about business, about making a profit, about myself but I've never felt more empowered. I feel so very privileged to be running my own business. Working all the hours god sends but for myself, no one else. My gratitude level is through the roof, mainly because I live in a country which allows women to be masters of their own destiny (most of the time) and to be able to make things for a living is flipping ace. *Tiny little woop* 

This post was originally written on Instagram for 8th March International Women's Day and added to my blog later. Pop on over to Instagram @karaleighceramics and follow along. 

Throwing a Spoon Rest on the Wheel

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Making of a spoon rest. Once learnt, the actual throwing is the quickest part of the whole process. What takes the time is preparing the clay, drying, fettling, firing, glazing, firing again, not to mention the hours and hours of practice to master a form. Obviously this footage has been sped up so it takes a little longer than this in reality ;-)

Happy New Year!.... ...and 'a letter to fear'

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Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! I hope you all had fun, ate and drank tons and spent time with people you love.  I did :-) My favourite gifts this year were books. I got a couple of books by two of my favourite authors Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed, plus one from an author I haven't yet read, The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (he's a potter too).

 

Gilbert and Strayed are inspirational women. Both have faced very different challenges and emerged triumphant, and with fascinating stories to boot. If you haven't read their books, I highly recommend you do.  Although I don't profess to know much about literature, I do know that whenever I read their work I am inspired and given renewed strength.  The below is an ode to Gilbert's 'conversations with fear' in her book Big Magic.  Whilst I can only hope that as new challenges roll in along with 2016 I am open enough and brave enough to allow fear to come along for the ride, what I know for sure is that I will never let him drive ;-)

 

'Dear Fear, 

A few times over this past 7 months I have wanted to stay under the covers, "I am not coming out today,  or tomorrow, or in fact ever again..." At times it all felt too scary and seemed easier not to face the world, especially a world where (forgive me for sounding over dramatic) I have risked pretty much everything to start my own business *as a potter!*. Perhaps, I thought (often!) it would be so much easier to just pack it all in and find a nice 'regular job' where I am paid on time (/at all!); where there is no risk of silicosis (Potter's Lung), or back ache; where I'd have lovely painted finger nails and soft hands. But then again, I reminded myself that's not my dream.

I owe a lot to you Fear. You threw countless threats my way: 'it's dangerous to follow your dreams; you may open your kiln to an explosion, or something will be stuck to the shelf; you won't make that deadline on that jug; isn't that teapot a bit small?; what if those pots arrive at the customer's home shattered to pieces; what if NO ONE likes your work?' 

But Fear, you didn't count on me reminding myself that these are small threats compared to what you throw at some people everyday. So I want to say thanks Fear, thanks for those small fears, ones that only made me more determined, that showed me what I needed to overcome, taught me lessons I'll remember for years. I am sure we will meet many times in the months and years to come, but I plan to interpret your threats as mere twists and turns designed to make this journey all the more thrilling, terrifying, exciting beyond belief and... totally worth it.

Yours forever grateful

Kara Leigh x'

I also want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all my lovely customers, friends and family who have supported me this past year. I really am grateful beyond words for all of your orders (big and small), comments and likes; without you I would probably still make pots (I just cant help it ) but getting to share them with you makes it a billion times better. 

PS. I'd also like to extend a special thank you to my editors in chief Verity Teagle and Thomas Corneill for helping me write my blogs, I am not the worlds most gifted writer ;-)

I may sound like a ranting potter on a soap box but...

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A few weeks ago I received an email explaining that with regret a customer had to cancel their order. They had worked out that with making and postage time the plate they’d ordered for a gift wouldn’t arrive in Denmark in time. Sad times for all.

Luckily, even though I normally allow 2-3 weeks for making, it so happened that this particular plate had just come out of the kiln and was ready to ship the very same day. ‘Hurrah!’ The email reply exclaimed.

My Danish customer went on to explain that they had been invited to a dinner party to celebrate the birthday of a good friend. The only thing her friend wanted the guests to bring was a handmade plate, which would be left with her, as a special reminder of her friends. What a wonderful idea! And what an honour that a plate – made by me! – was chosen to be her gift.

I loved this concept so much I wanted to tell all of you about it. "Giving handmade is truly the essence of gift-giving. When you give a friend or loved one a gift, you are really saying "I care about you." A handmade gift conveys so much more than something from Amazon or Ikea. Of course there are the obvious economic benefits of supporting independent makers and artists, but buying and giving handmade is, at it's heart, a loving act."*  When buying handmade there is also always a story which goes alongside the item; where you discovered the maker, how the item was made, the story of the artist themselves, why the gift reminds you of the recipient...etc...etc... A handmade gift will also invariably last A LOT longer, partially because it's likely to be treasured more but mostly because it will be fantastic quality and will have been made with love.

So maybe for your next dinner party, birthday and especially this Christmas , instead of buying bottles of wine or chocolate from Tesco why not give local wine or handmade chocolates?  You can find amazing handmade items at your local craft fair or farmers market. Etsy.co.uk and Folksy.com are fabulous online market places for handmade loveliness- I promise you it doesn't have to cost any more than a few extra moments of your time and maybe a little patience when your gift is being lovingly made especially for you.  Imagine how much more special it will feel. For the same price as your substandard bottle of wine you could take a little token that can be kept and treasured as a memory of you - forever. My little limited addition Christmas porcelain birds  would be perfect ;-) you can find them in my Folksy shop here https://goo.gl/8aUMUF

Do me a favour, give your nearest and dearest ONE handmade present this year or even better ask for handmade in return!

This super little egg cup, perfect for a dippy egg, would make a lovely stocking filler.

*Quote sourced from Cassie of Clementine Jewellery via http://poppytalks101reasonstobuyhandmade.blogspot.co.uk/ 

Why *not* getting on a TV show was the best thing that ever happened to me….

LifeKara Ford2 Comments
‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ is set to be the next Bake Off (! do love a bit of Bake Off! -yay for Nadiya!!) it’s the newest and hottest craft show about to hit our TV this autumn. I for one will be watching.

‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ is set to be the next Bake Off (! do love a bit of Bake Off! -yay for Nadiya!!) it’s the newest and hottest craft show about to hit our TV this autumn. I for one will be watching.

If you read my first blog post you’ll already know about the ‘signs’ from the universe instructing me to spend my days as a potter! At least that’s what it felt like.

It all started back in 2014- I saw an advert for this pottery show. ‘Are you Britain’s Best Potter?’ it read. ‘No’, I thought but what the hell- ‘what have I got to loose?’ Things at work weren’t floating my boat. I was commuting over 2 hours per day (sometimes 3- if I was stuck behind a tractor, a common occurrence in my part of the world!) and getting home way after my husband, too exhausted to speak let alone make any pottery or do anything creative.

At that time, we had just buried one of our closest friends, Alex.  Alex 32, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour 2 years prior. The tragedy was on a level I had never experienced before and profoundly brought home the reality that we only get one chance. ONE. Thinking ‘this could this be it’ I gathered all my strength and filled in the application, chose the best picture of me I could find (taken at a friend’s wedding that summer, fake tan and false eyelashes included;-) – attached some pictures of my best pots and emailed it through to the address. To my total shock- the production company called me the next day. I went through 3 rounds of auditions, 2 in London.

One of the pictures I sent.

One of the pictures I sent.

‘Sugar lumps!’ (or similar) I exclaimed to Mr T, my hubby ‘I might just get on this thing!’ As excited as I was at the prospect of having an amazing life experience and spending time doing something I loved, I had a nagging at the back of my mind. Yes, I would learn a shed-load and it would be so nice to be surrounded by other potters (we are rare beasts you know) but the fear of doing it on TV in front of thousands of people made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. The closer I got to the final audition phase, the stronger this feeling became - ‘what if I actually get on the show?’

The stress of the final audition was intense- a camera in my face, whilst trying to throw on the wheel, being watched by two of the best potters in the country, asking questions about glazing techniques- it all felt so unnatural. I even had a little cry on the train on my way home. When the email arrived a few weeks later explaining that they hadn’t chosen me this time, I was relieved.

Not getting on the show was the best thing that ever happened to me. Just being chosen for the audition gave me a newfound confidence: I was chosen out of hundreds of potters, I got to the final audition. I’d asked all the other people on my audition round what they did for a living and each one looked at me perplexed before answering ‘I’m a potter’ Everyone at the final stage was making (some level of) living from creating things out of clay. Except me. So I wasn’t chosen, but the journey took me to the life-changing question: if all of these people can make a living from pottery, then why can’t I?

If I am honest with myself, as a potter, I wasn’t ready to be on the show but what I was ready for was giving myself the chance to truly become a potter and earn my living doing something I love. Six months later, here I am. Not quite earning a living (yet) but I am giving myself the opportunity to try and you never know, I might reapply for the show next year…!

 

One Precious Life....

Kara FordComment

Six months ago I gave up my stable, established career in marketing and visual merchandising to become a potter...

'You're crazy!' 'In a recession?' 'You'll be poor!' 'But what if you want to do such and such...' 

These are all the things I expected people to say. However, I drastically underestimated my parents, husband, friends, colleagues. No one said these things, although they might have thought them and they're probably true. The reason, I think, is because they could see how unhappy I was in the corporate world.

'Good for you' 'Amazing!' 'Go for it' 'We'll support you all the way' were just some of the supportive things the people around me said. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed aspects of my job; I liked travelling, I loved my colleagues, I enjoyed climbing the ladder and you cant beat a monthly pay check - but it wasn't enough. I yearned to be creative. With every inch of my soul I wanted to make things. Not powerpoint presentations or spreadsheets (although I still have to sometimes!) I wanted to make tangible things that you can touch, feel, keep, give or be given, and maybe even treasure.  Even though I believe you make your own fate I still maintain there were big fat 'signs' and many forks in a long road which lead me to this decision. Many, many budgeting spreadsheets were created to check and double check we could afford our mortgage but most of all long chats with my husband, friends and parents were had which convinced me this might just be doable.

Six months on I have learned a lot, an awful lot! I knew it wasn't going to be easy and it hasn't been. I have spent more money than I have earned, mostly on setting up my business; this website, materials, failed kiln batches, dodgy glazes...etc, etc... I have drank a lot of tea, procrastinated more than I can bear to think about and I miss the camaraderie of an office environment but I am loving every second. Would I make the same decision again? In a heartbeat.

A wise potter (cant remember who) once said - when asked - how long does it take you to make a pot?- '15 minutes and 30 years' I have been potting as a hobby for 10 years on and off so I am still 20 years off that.  There are 1000's of detailed aspects to pottery,  of which I am hoping to master just some- and I know it's going to take a lot of failed firings, smashed pots and ruined glazes but I have my whole career ahead of me which I am enormously excited about. 

Your next teapot...

Your next teapot...

This blog is going to diarise my pottery exploits, wherever they take me. I am going to be as honest as I can be and hope that it might entertain you whilst you're waiting for a bus and you might even think about buying  your next teapot from me. I also hope that it might help others who feel unsatisfied with their current situation and give them another little sign that whatever 'it' is, it is possible. If I can do it, anyone can.

I'd like to thank all of my friends, family and my darling, *patient* husband Thomas for their unwavering support.

I dedicate this blog to my dear friend Alex McClean. His life was far too short. He inspired me to 'just bloody do it'.