Monday, 15 August 2011

Working with Clare Gage: Day One

Clare Gage graduated from Cumbria Institute of Arts with a degree in Contemporary Crafts in 2007 and was in the same year awarded the 2007 Design Directions: Ceramic Futures Award, providing her with funding from the Arts Council to set up her very own studio in my hometown Chesterfield. I have been lucky enough to be allowed to help out over the next few weeks and have already gained a good sneak peek into the unknown world of ceramics!!

During her course, she had the opportunity to study electives in constructed textiles (weaving, knitting etc), printed textiles, embroidery and ceramics as well as choosing to study silversmithing as an evening class. She specialised in Ceramics and Constructed textiles as she felt these would allow her to make full use of the equipment the University was providing her. Good value for money and I suspect these were the areas she was the best at :)

 Her work is mainly porcelain and she knits and weaves these cute little cup, bowl, vase shapes with buttons and the lacy bits in textile which are then used the create casts (by a company in Stoke) which she can then used to pour porcelain slip into. (slip is runny clay but with a chemical added to make the clay more dense when it drys out)

Her are some photos of her products and a link to her website:


Panel cup - each of the little stitches are added on by hand after the cups have been cast.

This one is my favourite :)


First things first she shows me how to slip cast. The slip is already gloopy but needs to be mixed through so is mixed in a kind of food processor for clay. Clare sticks her hands straight in there...ewww...its then tapped out into her jug. She has a casting table with about 12 cast blocks on..each is made up of three sections..two sides and a base. She's even got one of her originals that she made at university..all bobbly and uneven and crusty but authentic. Clare times herself for efficiency and apparently she can pour a cast every 30seconds. Pretty efficient :) The slip absorbs slightly into the edges of the cast so after about six minutes claire pours the excess back into the blender leaving about a centimeter of clay in the cast and hence a hollow cup shape pops out the next day with the textures she's made on the outside :)

10minutes and she's cast 12 cups!

Clare also shows me the kiln which gets up to 1060 degrees. Everything is fired twice..I can't quite remember but I think the first fire is called bisque firing and hardens the clay so its much less fragile..her glazes are then added and the the pots are put in for a final fire. She shows me three of the same product at each the stages and after each fire, the piece gets smaller and smaller. Apparently clay shrinks but porcelain clay even more so. The rest of the mornignwe spend cleaning the studio because the dust from the clay gradually builds up and up and its not so great for the lungs :)

The afternoon brings exciting jobs and I'm let loose on creating her porcelain christmas decorations :) Clare says she is just getting into the busier months now because businesses generally have much less money to spend in the summer but also spend these months  seeing what the demand in the market is so come christmas they know exactly what and how many they want. Her orders will generally all come at once come September and November so August is really where she needs to get her product numbers up.

Feedback she has recieved is that her products are too expensive. Both Clare and I think that the prices she sells for are reasonable because all her work is handmade but she points out that only about 5% of the mass market actually appreciate this fact. The other 95% don't really care.

She explains that she has three avenues of buyers..wholesale buyers..which will boost her exposure in the market by taking her work to the shows (free) and giving her customer feedback. She does however compromise the amount of money she makes because there are many more people who take a cut from her work before the public can buy it. I think it was something like a £30 cup would only make her £6 if sold through the wholesaler. (Shrewty)
Then there are retail buyers so she acts as the wholesaler..only the shop takes a cut before the customer can buy a cup so she would make £16 instead of £30. Much better for her but exposure is more limited to areas local to the shop she stocks.
And then she has public buyers which are who she wants to attract the most. These are the customers who buy straight from her- the maker. They can buy online through her website or through the Created gallery which her family own and she would then recieve the full £30 for one of her cups. The only drawback is that customers have to travel all the way to Chesterfield and it takes a long time for her to recieve enough exposure for her name to be searched for online by enough people.

The porcelain I use needs to be kneaded first to get rid of air bubbles and then I roll it out between two wooden rules which act as tracks so the thickness of the clay doesnt get any thinner then about 1cm. I then have to peel the clay up and transfer it onto a textured casting block without cracking the clay. Its frustratingly difficult when you start reusing the excess clay. I push the clay down a bit with my hand and then give it a few rolls to add the texture. Peel back and then use cooking cutters to create hearts and stars and all manner of cute shapes. Simple and fun and with a red ribbon looped though they look very beautiful :)

End up covered in clay dust by the end of the day but it was very good fun. Got to wait a whole week to learn more.

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