My studio is located just east of Sedgefield, a village in the garden route of the southern Cape outside of Cape Town, South Africa. A veritable paradise of forests, beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, and fynbos, which is a unique flora famous to the Cape, with the most sympathetic climate imaginable. My teaching and handbuilding studio is a converted four-car garage. Adjacent to the garage, I have an L-shaped fireplace manufacturing workshop (a business I started with my ex-husband 20 years ago and I now run alone called Hot Art), which is open on both ends and roughly the same size as the studio. The workshop leads to our outdoor display of fireplaces, the raku kiln, and the sawdust pit.
I fire in a raku kiln which is my preferred method, as I am a lover of reduction, the obvious transformation by fire, and a touch of the unexpected. I love the way the blue bricking of the carbonized clay body and the silvery sheens from the iron’s heavy reduction contrasts with crackle and color. I like to achieve textures reminiscent of metal and leather. The kiln is a stainless-steel, top-hat drum, insulated with three layers of ceramic fiber. It is about three feet high, two feet in diameter, and is on a pulley system. This kiln hangs alongside a sawdust pit, used to achieve crackle effects and carbonization of the unglazed body, resulting in multiple shades of black. I also have a dormant Olsen fast-fire wood kiln outside, where I once fired functional domestic ware. On the other side of house and studio (they are adjoined), are the clay prep sheds, where I keep my raw materials, a dough mixer, blunger, baths, drying bats, and a pug mill. Below that I have a packing shed for boxes for transportation, as well as storage for accessories for fireplace installations—pipes, stands, screens etc.
My space is very conducive for making all of my pots and those for the business too—peaceful and wind free. The weather is mostly sunny and mild and I have undulating forested hills flowing to the horizon. I am truly blessed.
My favorite thing about the studio is its location and that I don’t have to use keys. My house is always unlocked, and yet very secure. I do have two beautiful Australian Cattle dogs who are my security and I don’t choose to live in fear.
My least favorite thing is having to rely on so much plastic; although it’s convenient, I still don’t like it. I also wish the electricity was free. That would be lovely.
I love the sparse Japanese style studio, but it doesn’t fit my working habits. Two of my older brothers have always had beautiful studios that inspire me. My studio space falls short of their standards, however I have an amazing location to make up for it. I’m also inspired by the many potteries I have visited especially those at La Borne in France.
Energy conservation is very important to me. I catch rainwater, which is very clean, so deep in the country. I recycle and I also have an earthworm farm that supports my vegetable gardens and fruit trees. I fire my raku kiln with propane instead of natural gas, which allows me to get almost double the number of firings for the same size of tank fuel.
The fireplace production studio, my teaching and handbuilding studio, and office, are shared with two employees. Because the studios are adjoined, my employees can work on the press-molded fireplaces right there and I can check up on production while I am decorating, glazing, and firing. The same kilns are used for bisque firing studio pots and fireplaces.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I manufacture the ceramic fireplaces by press molding a clay body that is designed to have 0% thermal expansion, which took two years to get right. I have manufactured 5300 to date and I decorate about 50% of them. Business hours are between 8:30 am and 4 pm, and this is when the Hot Art office is open and my employees are in the fireplace production studio.
Because I have always worked at home, my studio is open 24/7. I teach pottery classes in three-hour sessions every week in my handbuilding studio. I have recently cut down from three classes a week to just one, so that I can spend more time on my own studio pots, as it’s very distracting running a business at the same time.
I took a big step back in terms of time spent in the studio after my divorce in 1998, as I was running Hot Art alone. When I got sick twelve years ago with being underweight, extreme sciatica, and a sinister breast-lump diagnosis, I channelled all my energy into alternative healing methods and am very happy to say I’m alive and still very much with us (no medical treatment). I call it cancel.
At the moment I’m waiting for my next good book. The last was Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, which completely absorbed me! I listen to a huge range of music saved on playlists on my computer—old favorites from the flower children revolution, classical music, as well as all the music we listened to as teenagers, and beyond. My present favorite listening pleasure is Mattafix.
I am primarily influenced by nature and I try to be in the right frame of mind for inspiration. I know that I just need to get started and do what I know I can do if I’m feeling blocked, such as start to wedge some clay and make a few pots, not to plan or worry how they come out, rather do my best in the moment and watch to see what comes about.
Those mental roadblocks are what it’s all about for me, teaching me to stop thinking my way out and start feeling my way out—to get out of my own head! Inspiration hits when I am relaxed and receptive and not when I’m wracking my brain. It’s important for me to just keep my hands busy; to be an obedient servant to the process of creativity, which is an expression of life.
My approach to pots—I personalize pots that are already vessels with feet, bellies, shoulders, mouths, lips, ears, and attitude! I do not plan, so as the mood takes me, I start to dig into the clay bin and when it feels right, I start to wedge and I start to pinch the clay. Then, I rely on the fact that my body does the math and physics, so I try not to think. I just wait for the picture of the finished piece to flash across my mind as I work. Through experience, I know the idea for the final form comes from the process. Essentially trial by fire in the raku kiln completes the vessel and imparts unexpected gifts, more than anything the mind can dream up.
Up until now I have exhibited at local galleries and the annual regional and national exhibitions of the South African Ceramics Association. I haven’t tried marketing online, but we do have a Hot Art website, and I am in the process of reconstructing it to better represent my personal vision. Word of mouth for the fireplaces is our best advertising, and it feels good to get appreciation from people who ordinarily might have no special interest in ceramics, but because of their interest in the fireplace, are using a work of art that functions. There is a Facebook page for Hot Art where you can see a video of me and my studio, and hear my philosophy.
My immediate plans are to get my work abroad. South Africa has such a small population and during the Apartheid era, due to the boycott on the country, no-one was interested in work made by a white woman from South Africa! And thus we developed pretty much in isolation.
Don’t over plan your work and have no expectations.