by Fiona McBryde March 25, 2021 4 min read
Watching Tom Knowles Jackson open the door to the kiln and seeing row upon row of beautiful soap dishes counts as my first “wow” moment of year.
After teaming up last year to produce the first batch of soap dishes, I have been thrilled to work with Tom once more for this new collection. Time to catch up with the potter himself and take a deeper dive into his craft...
I’m a ‘Thrower’, meaning I use the potter’s wheel to make my pots. ‘Earthy’ my pots are glazed with locally harvested ingredients (wood ash, iron oxide, local clays) resulting in an organic palette. ‘Functional’, I enjoy making pots for use with my inspiration being the ceremony of eating and drinking.
They were great fun to make. Repetition throwing is something I taught myself to do years ago and it is a very good discipline for any thrower. The soap dishes went through one or two iterations to make them practical as well as attractive and the glazes have been developed especially for Soap Folk. One of the iterations was to change from 'throwing off the hump', (throwing several pieces continuously, from one lump of clay), to making each dish from its own lump of clay. Throwing off the hump is much more efficient but having made 100 dishes with ’s’-cracks in all of them so had to change my approach. So, yes, they were great fun to make…eventually!
Round 2 - the glaze has been applied and is ready for their second firing
Not a chance. I thought they were a brilliant bunch and the combination of the complexity of their challenges together with the paucity of time and other pressures… I was pleased not to be in the room this time round. I take my hat off to this year’s potters though, they all did such a good job and what a wonderful bunch of people. If anyone is interested they are looking for potters for series 5!
Minus beard, Tom made it all the way through to the final of Season 1, The Great Pottery Throw Down. copyright bbc
I’ll offer three. The first is: go slow! I throw on a McMeekin Wheel. This is a momentum wheel and a tool that is both beautiful to look at and use. The action of throwing on a momentum wheel makes you slow down. Too often I see beginners working on electric wheels that are spinning so quickly. At such speeds even the slightest move of a finger can throw a pot off centre.
The second is: prepare your clay. Anyone who has taken lessons should have had this drilled into them but it is essential to ensure you clay is prepared well; well mixed, not good hard or soft and free of air bubbles.
Finally, If you are not mentally centred you will not be able to centre the clay. Throwing pots requires total concentration, you need to be in your calm place before you start.
All three of Tom's tips are in evidence here as he makes this soap dish. PS look out for the secret swirl emerge at 1:25
The good news is that ceramics is making a strong come back following the demise of arts and ceramics colleges in particular. The resurgence is being led by a network of small, well-equipped ceramics maker spaces. I run one of these called The Clay Loft (adjacent to Soap Folk) near Stroud but there are lots of studios popping up all around the country. These spaces offer membership, classes, workshops and some even offer private tuition. If you can’t find a maker space then find a local potter and ask. Many will know where you can learn and some will even offer lessons themselves.
From the 12th April, if you are local you can pop round to see Tom's soap dishes, currently on display on the Soap Folk dresser, soak up the creative vibe from the Clay Loft studio, and possibly even catch a glimpse of Tom's pots drying in the sun. If you haven't already, do sign up for the newlsetter if you want to find out more about open studio events this year.
On the dresser: Ceramic Soap dishes, £20 available to purchase online or direct from the Soapery
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