TOAST Magazine

Daily Observations | Notes from The New Makers

In a somewhat new world with a new sense of time, the TOAST New Makers have been adapting and applying practical, creative solutions to their everyday lives. 

We catch up with each of our New Makers to see how they have been passing the time, whether it be vegetable production and home guitar lessons or the making of wallpaper designs.

Ali Hewson (2019 New Maker)

I am really grateful to have the distraction that my studio brings. With my freelance work now cancelled, I’ve been able to bring commissions forward and finish collections for stockists that I had been working on.

I’ve held a couple of online sample sales as part of the Artist Support Pledge, and it has been such a pleasure connecting with people and sending work out directly. Online platforms usually mean I spend far too much time on-screen, but through the lockdown I have really appreciated the sense of community and connection it has brought.

I have also been working on some longer-term projects for future exhibitions, based on my research into 17th century London delftware. This is a part of my work where I normally put much more pressure on myself; my usual excuses have fallen away over the last few weeks and I've had to get stuck in. Some discussions and ideas with House of Quinn (a fellow New Maker from 2019) for some collaborative work will bring together surface design and ceramics. It’s been great to have a few different conversations and projects at play - it is how I work best.

Pop & Jez (2020 New Maker)

Aware that this is likely to be a difficult year for us, we have been upping our veg production, extending the patch and have built a greenhouse out of old bits of glass we have been collecting over the years. 

It’s really exciting to see how fast everything is growing and to have sunshine on skin again and hands grounded in soil. In our make-shift studio at home, we’ve also had our hands in clay, getting on with making teapots and are planning on doing some experimental slipware. We've been combining some of the qualities of the ancient pots we saw in Japan with traditional North Devon Slipware.

Blue Firth (2019 New Maker)

I feel incredibly fortunate that the last 7 weeks have been quite peaceful. I’m still lecturing, so that takes up half the week. But I've not had access to my studio, so I have had to connect with clay in other ways. I started a Clay Take-Away - a package where you get sent clay, a beeswax candle and a honey herbal infusion, all in the post, alongside video-tutorials to get your own clay practice going at home. It’s been such a pleasure to see what people have been making, creating a network of home potters. Clay is incredibly beneficial to mental health, meditatively taking you out of your mind and into your hands – allowing you to subtly explore and work through emotions. Plus, it's just good fun.

Alongside that, I’ve been making playlists as soundtracks to the days called Music to do Nothing To. I’ve asked my favourite record lovers to curate some of them so there’s a wonderful mix. And I can really recommend the film The Lion in Winter (1968) with Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins and The Films of Constance Beeston (1974).

Takahashi MgGil (2019 New Maker)

Just before lockdown, we received a really large order for some spoons and we were also going to be taking part in The Cheltenham Craft Festival. As the festival was cancelled, we began working on our order much earlier than planned. We moved our workshop to our little shed in the garden. Although our studio at Cockington Court Craft Centre only takes 10 minutes to get to by car, we felt safer to work from home.

The kids are off school and we have tried (and are still trying) home schooling. We have more time to do the things together that we aren't able to do usually. We cook together more, and have baked cakes for our daughter's lockdown birthday. We have been foraging for wild plants and found a lot of wild garlic which we made a nice pesto with. We have been playing with clay and we are all trying to learn the guitar!

Viv Lee (2020 New Maker)

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable ways I have been passing time during lockdown is going for daily walks around my local nature reserve, Dawsholm Park, which happens to be only minutes walk away from my home. Still relatively wild, there is such diversity of wildlife in the park and it’s been amazing to have the time to see life unfurl as the weather gets warmer and spring arrives. Listening out for the bullfinch’s call, spotting newly hatched ducklings and seeing the forest canopy turn a rich, verdant green has been so rewarding.

It’s a wonderful reminder of the regenerative powers of nature, which provide grounding comfort in these uncertain times. The abundance of nature in the park also gives me the opportunity to forage wild food ingredients such as nettles and wild garlic to indulge in my other interest: cooking. Taking the time to grow, prepare, present and enjoy home cooked food with loved ones is not just nourishing for the body but also for the soul. Whilst my making has slowed down, I appreciate the fortunate position I am to be well and to have this time to recharge, so that I can return to my practice and studio with renewed vigour and creativity.

Julius, House of Quinn (2019 New Maker)

It has been a time to take stock and look at what House of Quinn means, and where I want to take it in the future. My practice has been quite solitary and as I have met new makers and creative people over the last few years, it has inspired me to see how creative concepts can intertwine with other people's design practice.  

Ali Hewson and I have been discussing ideas. Looking at form, function and surface design to see where we might end up by bringing ceramics and textiles together. It is nice to have creative conversations at this time, keeping that community feeling and bringing ideas to life.

John Hollington (2020 New Maker)

I have been adopting a gentle, steady pace, driving much less than before. I take time to shop by bike and source food and daily luxuries like coffee from close by. It has been strange to experience my home town of York empty of tourists. I can have a quick change of scenery with short bike rides around nearby country lanes and walking around the communal landscaped gardens I am lucky enough to have in the 70s housing estate where I live.

I like seeing my tiny front garden grow in the spring sunshine. Inspired by a Piet Oudolf garden visit, it has sedums and different grasses which grow visibly by the day. The jungle style potted plants in the back yard are getting lush. Birds and their songs seem to be more apparent than before. Perhaps they are emboldened, or I have more time to notice. They scour the gardens beyond for food and come close to the house to drink in the shallow bird bath, hidden amongst the hostas, ferns and fatsias. I have seen chaffinches and long tailed tits here for the first time. Blue tits zip about in and out of their Nestbox to find food and nesting material.

I take moments of fine weather to make outdoors in the back yard, torching oak to create a blackened Shou Sugi Ban finish and laying out Corten steel plates to weather to a rusty patina as they are exposed to dew and rain. I have replaced old woodworking tools to let me keep on making and experimenting with new design ideas. I am always on the lookout to source materials from close by and have found a new sawmill in the North York Moors national park for locally grown, seasoned oak. I am self-sufficient and often solitary as a designer maker. Social distancing has been easy, though I am looking forward to future outings to galleries, gardens and coffee shops! 

Polly Yates (2020 New Maker)

As a drawing of mine has recently been made into a wallpaper design, I’ve been on a crash course teaching myself how to create patterns on Illustrator, and I’m hooked. Generally when it comes to colour, I’m in my comfort zone with a limited palette of whites and off-whites in my ceramic practice, and blacks and greys in my wardrobe. Sitting doing pattern making on my laptop has led me to realize that what I really love is an orangey red next to a pale turquoise next to a deep indigo… I’m obsessing about colour all the time now.

As a rule, my pots are taller than they are wide. Recently, I’ve been enjoying a new way of making which helps me to make low, wide vases, like big seed pods. They grow outwards quickly (theres always a panicky moment when they are on the brink of collapse and have to be saved) and have a small mouth at the top. Too big for table tops or mantlepieces, I imagine them in clusters on the floor.

At the moment, feeling a bit gloomy seems like a rational response to the state of things and I find myself getting into a funk on a regular basis. For me, doing a couple of headstands is a good way of hitting the reset button. I come back to an upright position feeling ready to go.

Thank you to all our New Makers for sharing their thoughts and activities. We would love to hear what you have been working on or making below.

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