Author: Simon Bayliss
In 2019 artist Simon Bayliss was awarded the Leach Pottery Travel Bursary to attend a mini-apprenticeship at Clayworks in Dumfries, Scotland. Nearly two years on, Simon looks back at his experience in Scotland and explores how it has influenced his practice today.
Reflections on Scotland: 2019
Until October 2019, I made my ceramics in different public-access ceramics studios, including Brickworks in Penryn, Tresabenn Studio in Roseudgeon, and the ceramics department at Plymouth College of Art during a year-long artist residency. I wanted to undertake a period of training because I had reached the stage I needed to practice independently in my studio at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, yet felt there were still gaps in my knowledge to enable me to do this. As there are many processes involved in studio ceramics that can be overlooked when working in studios that have dedicated technicians, I wanted to make sure I understood all essential processes in a holistic way before taking this step. Also, I had been throwing pots for a couple of years, and had undertaken some throwing instruction, from Richard Phethean, among others, yet hadn’t been in a rigorous production environment, or had much critical feedback through which my skills could be developed.
Simon at Clayworks in Dumfries, slipping terracotta mugs
At Clayworks, I worked under Lauren and Chris Taylor, who both trained as production potters at Dartington Pottery. Their studio is used for throwing classes, producing commission-based work, and for making their own pots. My activities included reclaiming and wedging clay, mixing clay bodies, mixing glaze tests, throwing glaze-test pots, packing and unpacking kilns and throwing, turning and handling mugs. One of the most important skills I learned was wedging – I had previously used the spiral kneading method to reclaim and prepare clay. Chris taught me how to wedge as a much faster and more effective way to reclaim or mix clay, which has since streamlined my practice. Lauren and Chris also helped me develop my throwing skills – they observed that the weight and thickness of my pots were good, but that I needed to use less water and throw faster and more confidently, so as to avoid clay absorbing too much water and becoming flabby.
Chris Taylor pulling a ‘Bideford style’ handle at Clayworks
I spent two afternoons each week with Archie McCall, who makes precise Japanese-inspired pots decorated with a painterly glaze-on-glaze technique. During these sessions Archie showed me a range of throwing techniques using his very elastic white stoneware (this took getting used to). During this time I produced a few bowls and Yunomi cups, which Archie bisque-fired so that I could try his glazing technique. He uses a combination of classic glazes for reduction-firing, such as Tenmoku, Shino and Celadon, which he firstly uses for coating different areas of a pot, then for painting on patterns and motifs. Through this process I learned a painterly method of decorating post-bisque, and gave me insight into working within stoneware traditions. Archie was formerly head of ceramics at Glasgow School of Art, so we spent time talking critically about ceramic artists and potters and also how I wanted my work to develop.
Left: Archie McCall demonstrating his glaze-on-glaze painting technique. Right: Archie McCall’s studio in New Abbey, Dumfries. In the foreground are bowls and yunomi cups made by Simon using Archie’s methods
During a session with Archie we visited Hannah McAndrew and Dough Fitch, who showed us their studio, and collection of country pots. Hannah and Doug invited me back to spend a day making pots with them in the studio. When I returned, Doug showed me how to make jugs using his technique of throwing the belly first, blowtorching the lip, then adding a separate wheel-thrown coil, which is then thrown to form the neck. The process was more straightforward than I imagined, and by the end of the day I’d made the biggest pot I’d ever thrown.
Doug Fitch demonstrating how to make a jug in two stages
My trip to Scotland was hugely beneficial, helping to fill the gaps in my understanding of studio practice and enhancing my throwing skills as well as giving me the confidence in practicing independently.
Two Years On: 2021
2019 was a transitional year for me – a year of research opportunities and professional development. As well as the Leach Travel Bursary, I was also very fortunate to receive an Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice award for furthering my work as an artist within the realm of studio pottery. As part of my proposal, I visited pottery towns in Japan, including Mashiko and learned a huge amount about the Japanese approach to ceramics. In Autumn, I also moved into a bigger studio at Porthmeor Studios, in St Ives, and was able to install a top-loading electric kiln. I rescued a kick-wheel from Trewarveneth Studios in Newlyn, which (we think) was made by sculptor Denis Mitchell, which I have now lovingly restored.
While in Scotland, as part of my Leach Travel Bursary, Chris Taylor suggested that I needed to throw more confidently if I wanted my pots to carry a sense of their own making. Due to it’s limited speed, learning to throw on a kick wheel has helped me throw faster on a slower-turning pot. Leaving evidence of the throwing rings appeals to my growing appreciation of Japanese pottery, which typically values forms that reveal the energy and process involved. I remember discussing on the phone with Chris, before traveling to Dumfries, as to whether I’d be able to help with production work – I was shocked when he said that a jug would typically take 3 minutes or less to make. A year on, putting all the techniques I learned in Scotland into practice, I’ve been teaching myself to repeat throw and coming close to that target, although at this stage getting the form consistently right is more important to me than the time it takes.
Recent work by Simon: Teapot with pie crust handle (swiped orange, cream, Mary Wondrausch black), 2020. Image credits: Simon Bayliss
I’m also currently working on a ceramic installation to be permanently installed in St Austell town centre as part of The Whitegold Project. The commissioned work is a three-panelled slipware tile piece, and the design loosely refers to Leach’s checkerboard tile panels, and Hamada’s calligraphic mark-making, with a vivid colour pallet and abstract sensibility inspired by modernist painting from St Ives, such as Sandra Blow and Terry Frost. The piece, along with other ambitious ceramic commissions by various artists will be installed before the Whitegold festival on 19 June 2021.
About the Author
Simon Bayliss is an artist and music producer based in St Ives, Cornwall, UK. Trained as a painter and more recently as a potter, he works mainly in slipware ceramics, dance music and video, with occasional forays into poetry and performance. Bayliss makes music both as a solo artist and in collaboration with Susie Green, as Splash Addict, and has a bimonthly radio show Meet me in the Carpark on RTM.fm. Born in 1984, Wolverhampton, he was raised in Andros, Bahamas, then East Devon, UK and has been living in Cornwall most of his adult life.