No Rest in Paradise

The hot weather is here now and we are out in the garden early to get the jobs done before the heat sets in. We’ve had some 30 oC+ days recently. we pick cherries and the early peaches, and lucky that we did as a thunderstorm comes through in the afternoon. All dry thunder at first but then it breaks, and boy does it break. We are pelted with hail stones that pile up on the lawn and against fences and wall. the rain floods in over the verandah. We are safe inside the house, but there are some new leaks in our old 123 year old roof. I’ll have to get up there again tomorrow and see what I can do, but not now.


can see the leaves being shredded from the trees in the garden. I can only imagine what is happening to the tomatoes and other soft vegetables in the garden. The chooks will be OK. They will be hiding in their house, very scarred I’m sure, but physically OK. It’s a good thing that we harvested the two boxes of early peaches this morning!

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In the evening we sit and peel peaches for preserving, shelling dried peas and milling dried broad beans down into broad bean flour to make falafel. I also grind down some of last years sun-dried corn niblets into polenta flour. There is always something to do. I might even find some time to watch the idiot box if there were anything on, but there isn’t. So I don’t. The pressure is off on this new big kiln, as the work is well under way and back on schedule, as I have a new welder.

We have delivered all our work for the Xmas shows in the Sydney Galleries as our open studio weekends are over. The tea pot sets are taped up and ready for packing up for delivery. We exhibit our joint domestic wares as King and Co. This is to separate this work from my tea bowls that I show in my own name at Watters Gallery. The opening at Watters went well and I seem to have sold 4 out of the 8  ‘kintsugi’ gold repaired bowls that I took in for the show.

I have found time again to practice my Cello. Its been locked in its case for some time now. We also find some time each morning to work over the garden beds before it gets too hot. We get them planted out with new seeds for the summer. This should have been done a month or two ago, but we have only now just found the time. I haven’t had any spare time since I got busy in August, followed by my research trip to Korea and so on.

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We have harvested the garlic and onions to make room in some of the garden beds. The garlic is a bit disappointing this year, but the onions are fantastic. They have all done well, red, white and brown.

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They all need to be spread out and dried, before plaiting and hanging.
I stole this little piece of text below from one of Janine’s emails to one of our friends. Speaking of our chooks and the garden. I think that it sums up our time here just now.

Our ‘spice girls’ who we realise only come to us because there might be food for them. Otherwise they scour our block and so do we (looking for them) so cunning Mr Fox doesn’t have them for dinner.
Thankfully the days are a little cooler, for a little while. Summer is no longer my favourite season. But cherries and peaches are sweet, ripe and we eat our way through the ones we save from the birds – with all manner of nets, wires pegs and stalking.
There is no rest in paradise!

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It’s time to have some more different sorts of fun. Roll on summer!

Death in Furnace

All Good Things Come to an End.

I’ve been busy in the kiln factory during the week in-between our open studio weekends and then every day since. I have a big electric kiln ordered and although I have done a lot of prep on it, I was away in Korea for a while and then doing several weekend woodfiring workshops as soon as I got back, so now I have to start welding all the accumulated parts together.

I take a bit of pride in making all the parts here on site. I make all my own small fittings including door locks, handles and hinges, all made out of basic metal stock sections. Some of these parts need to be turned down on the lathe and machined to a pressed fit. This is an electric kiln, so it is all made out of aluminium, marine aluminium. This is because marine aluminium offers the best resistance to corrosion. Just the sort of chemical attack that electric kilns get from the fumes released during firing. I’ve been developing these designs for forty years, slowly improving them as I learn more from my experiences.
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Aluminium is best welded using a technique called TIG. TIG welding is a type of welding that is ideally suited to welding aluminium. In fact, you can weld almost any metal with a TIG welder. ‘TIG’ stands for Tungsten Inert Gas. It uses a very high temperature tungsten electrode to pass the current into the metal. This electrode is not consumed in the process, as it is in all other types of welding. This is different. The electrode is very thin and pointed, so that the electrical current can be focussed onto a very small specific area of the job at hand. This part of the job gets very hot and starts to melt. A thin filler rod is then pushed into the weld pool of molten metal with the other hand, a droplet of molten metal melts off the end of the filler rod and merges into the surface, filling the crevice between the two pieces of metal that are to be joined. This is repeated over and over to build up a small mound in that exact spot. The electrode is them moved a very small distance, a few millimetres, and the sequence is repeated. The finished weld looks like a series of droplets, all overlapping and lined up all in a row. It’s a very beautiful, but slow and precise way to weld. Aluminium is notoriously hard to weld with any other method.
TIG maybe slow, but the welds a really nice. I wouldn’t win any prizes for my welding. I don’t do enough of it to get really good at it. After-all, I am a potter. But I make sure to weld both sides of the joint to make sure that I have 100% perfect penetration. So far, I’ve never had a crack in any of my welds in the past 30 years.
The thing that I find amazing about metal work is that all the left-over off-cuts can be re-welded back together to make new long lengths of material and these are stronger than the original section. It really appeals to my sense of purpose in living a frugal life, as well a supporting my philosophy of re-cycling and throwing nothing away until it really is worn out or useless.
If you cut a piece of wood by mistake, that is too short, then you have two short pieces of wood that don’t fit any where. You have to wait for an opportunity to use them somewhere else as two short pieces. However with metal, you just weld them back together – and they are longer and stronger!
I also find the act of joining very symbolic and reassuring. In an age of dislocation and separation, revolt and conflict, civil war and displacement. This act of imagining things in a different way, choosing the path of joining and strengthening, reusing and conserving, creating things out of what other people might consider waste. These are immensely important and powerful acts. To see this potential, then to act on it. It builds instead of destroying, it re-purposes instead of just endlessly consuming.  It creates instead of wasting. This is the world that I want to live in, so I’m building my own world, in my own way. One weld at a time. One pot at a time. One garden bed at a time. One thought at a time.
Aluminium is a little bit tricky to weld. It’s slow work, as aluminium moves a lot with heat. You have to pre-heat it and be carefull to stop it warping out of shape. I put a bit of effort into it, to get good penetration, yet not too hot, so as to prevent warping. Working with aluminium involves a lot of setting-up, clamping and tacking, then some time-out, to allow the frame to cool down again before laying down more welds.
The cooling time allows me a short time in the garden for some quick weeding or watering. On the way back to the kiln shed, I feed any snails that I have collected to the chooks. They are omnivores and eat snails as well as green grass. The first thing that they do in the morning when I open the hen house door, is to rush out and start to eat green leaves of grass. But when one of them finds a snail hidden, in down next to a stone, or fence post. It’s off and running with the bounty. They all fight over it until one of them wins the prize it’s a highlight of their day.
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Meanwhile, back in the kiln shed, I discover to my horror that during the process of welding this kiln, my beautiful old welding power source is starting to loose its brains. Bit by bit, some of its capacities start to disappear.  It looses its ‘down-slope’ and ‘crater-fill’  functions first. I’m not mentally prepared to loose this old friend so suddenly. We’ve been working together for the past 20 years and I’m very fond of it. I know its character and how it likes to do things the best. To get the best result.
It was the absolute in cutting edge technology in its day, all solid state, power-tranistor based, AC/DC, inverter, pulse, TIG. I know that this last sentence will sound like a foreign language to most people – and it is. It’s techno-speak for welders. Just think of it as a description where every added word and each comma, costs an extra thousand dollars! This machine cost me as much as my car did back then. Effing expensive. But the car is long gone. I still have the welding plant.
As it slowly looses its functions, hour by hour, I’m left in the afternoon with something that isn’t what it used to be. It only just functions at a very basic level. Solid state alzheimers. I’m reminded of 2001, A Space Odesy, when Dave slowly unscrews HAL’s circuit boards, until it can only sing ‘Daisy, Daisy’.
My welder is reduced to this incontinent, dribbling, unrecognisable state of simplicity by the afternoon. So this is how old welders end up! I can only think of this being me in a few more years. I nurse it along as best I can. There is nothing in the instruction book of welders, or life, to help me out here. Just patience and gentle care, and I do care! I do what I can, but there isn’t really anything to be done. I take it easy on the poor old thing, resting it between welds, but the end comes.
Finally the light goes out.
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I am very sad to see it go. No more Join of Arc! Twenty years on, the new models do not create any better welds than this machine. They just come with a few extra bells and solid-state whistles. Thankfully these new ones are now only a fraction of the cost.
The new machines aren’t the same. They’re small, fast and noisy.
We’ll have to spend a bit of time together to work things out and get used to each other.
Best wishes

The Art of Embracing Damage

We live in an age of instant access to information and news, except that it’s all mostly bad. I’ve stopped watching the news. It’s all too depressing. I don’t want to be ‘connected’ to this. I want my interactions to be quiet, peaceful and positive. I want to choose a constructive, creative, engagement with my environment and the people around me.

I have spent my life developing a philosophy of minimal consumption and self-reliance. I believe in not buying anything that I don’t need and not throwing anything away that isn’t fully worn out. This has been part of an exploration of how it might be possible to live frugally and gently in a faster, noisier and bigger world of seemingly senseless and excessive consumerism.

My Partner Janine King and I work in isolation, making only what pleases us. This is not good business practice, but we don’t think of ourselves as being in business. We are trying to live an independent creative life, that is sensitive to our surroundings, gentle on the earth, low-carbon and low-impact on others around us. We are attempting to live this life of small monetary rewards, but high satisfaction and so far it seems to be working out OK for us.

I work with the raw materials that I can find around me in my immediate locality and then research and test them, to attempt to discover what interesting qualities they exhibit and then try to make original ‘location-specific’ works from them. I find this approach most fascinating and very rewarding. I have discovered a single-stone native porcelain, and developed a body from it that is very beautiful, especially when wood fired. I have also found and developed a single-stone, washed basalt gravel, blackware body that is gorgeous. These two special materials are the result of a lifetimes research. Not much to show for a life, but I continue to create these Senseless Acts of Beauty, because it pleases me. I am under no illusions. I know that I could not have lived this quality of life without Janine as my partner to help me achieve it, but most importantly, we have been very lucky to have lived this simple, artistic life in Australia, where there has been no civil unrest.

It has been my intension during my career to make simple, elegant, and hopefully beautiful bowls. These bowls have been significantly influenced by Japanese and Chinese aesthetics as well as the  Japanese culture of tea and Zen Buddhism  I’m not a Buddhist. But some of the thinking around Zen practice has influenced my quest to live a simple, non-consumerist, low-carbon life. When I was studying the origins of single-stone porcelain in Japan recently. I did a course in Kintsugi. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and pure gold. I have started to repair some of my more interesting failures using this technique.

Kintsugi embodies three Buddhist concepts and makes them tangible. The first is ‘wabi-sabi’. Realising that something that is flawed and imperfect can still be extraordinarily beautiful  The second is ‘mushin’, the concept of non-attachment and acceptance of change. Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts and nothing is ever finished. The last is ‘mono no aware’, a certain wistfulness at the impermanence of things. We are only here for such a short time together. Our transience is a reality of our life. Embrace the moment as it is.

I feel that when I repair a beautiful pot that is broken, damaged or otherwise ‘non-perfect’ in a Western, conservative sense, I make it all the more beautiful. Spending time recovering and enhancing something that is otherwise lost, is a sign of great respect for that object. It fits well with my philosophy of minimal-consumption, self-reliance and making things last as long as possible.

Because kintsugi has been called the art of embracing damage, it occurred to me that these, recovered bowls might be a suitable and beautiful metaphor for recovery from conflict. Hence my offering them for inclusion in this up-coming end-of-year show at Watters Gallery called ‘war’.

I have very few ambitions in life. When I was young I decided that I would live in the country and to grow my own food, to make a creative life of some sort, build my own house, and live a self-reliant life. I have more-or-less fulfilled all of these modest ambitions.  My lasting ambition is to make things that are meaningful, simple and modest. I go about this work of creating random acts of beauty without any regard to the effect that it may have on others. I am selfish, but not thoughtless.

Our indigenous peoples have a long tradition of respectful collecting, gathering and hunting. I feel that my small experiments interacting with the natural world, collecting stones to grind up to make my pots are compatible as a contemporary continuation/interpretation of this ancient practice. It respects place and biota. It’s 40 years since I moved to this small Village in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. I’m pretty self-contained here. I don’t want for a lot, so I have everything that I need and I am grateful for that.

My bowls are small, simple gestures. They appear to be empty, but are in fact full of good wishes and calm, thoughtful intent.

The exhibition ‘War’ at Watters Gallery opens on Wednesday 23rd of November.

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Open Studio Sale

I’m up at the crack of dawn. I told myself to wake up at the first sign of light at the window last night . I realise that I’m awake and look to the window and there is the light starting to show through the edges of the curtain. I’m up and showered, dressed and out in the car just on 6 am. I want  to get all the pottery open-day signs up at the village and along the road. I start on the main road, just opposite the level crossing into the village. I’m not attempting to snag any unsuspecting passing weekend travellers out here in the middle of no-where. People who are on a mission to somewhere else. No! That takes more signs than this and more warning time. If I were aiming to get the attention of random passing weekender traffic, I’d start the signs way back at the previous village, kilometres back, and put up several signs all along the way. Warning that there are only 5kms to go to the pottery, then 3 and 2 and 1. Then Finally, turn here for pottery at the crossing. But not today.
We are open as part of the Southern Highlands Arts Festival, Open Studios, Arts Trail. There has been plenty of advertising in all the usual forms. So today I am only aiming to direct the people who are looking for us using the excellent fold out map that has been widely distributed  both in hard copy and electronically. This is a case of courtesy directions. I still have a lot to do today. We are never really completely ready for these things. There is always so much to do, we could easily go on for weeks cleaning up. We live in a kind of organised chaos, where we plan lots of things and make lists. We even make lists of the lists. But then something happens and we have to change plans to fix the problem. Everything else slips off the list until this urgent thing, whatever it is, gets done. We kind of lurch from crisis to crisis in a semi-ordered fashion.
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We are still sorting the last few boxes of pots and final pricing when the first of the early visitors arrive. I still have a few pots that need to have their bases ground, a few more things to sort out. I flip a piece of filter cloth over the pile of boxes and welcome our guests. The weekend has started. We are busy all day with only a couple of short breaks when there is no one in the pottery. A time to try and snatch some lunch, but then another car arrives. We manage to get to eat our lunch in stages, taking turns. It’s pretty constantly busy. Last year was our best year ever on the Arts Trail. It was the tenth year. This 11th year is shaping up pretty well so far. I notice that the ‘kintsugi’ pots repaired with gold are pretty popular. Possibly because they are the same price and all the others, even though they sport a bit of bling. They are repaired ‘2nds’ after-all, Pots that have been repaired and upgraded or enhanced back to a 1st grade status through a lot of time, effort and skill. Plus the addition of real 24 carat gold! So it’s hard to charge more for them, even though they represent a lot of extra work.
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I’ve noticed over the years that my better pieces, which tend to be more expensive, don’t sell very well from here at the studio. This is how galleries earn their living. It’s their job to know people with fine taste and specific knowledge about certain works. Some of these aesthetes are also well healed, so can afford to have developed fine taste. Others go without food to pay for their art ‘habit’. It takes all kinds. So this pottery open studio sale is just that. A chance to get to look inside a working potters studio and see what we make and how we do it. I spend a bit of time throughout the day showing visitors around the workshop and kiln shed. Explaining the processes that we use and how it differs from the norm. I have a serried rank of rock crushers and grinders, culminating in a large ball mill and drying bed area. This is necessary, because all my exhibition work is made, not from clay, like all other potters, but from ground up stones, gravels and ashes that I collect locally and process on site here. Added to this that all our work is wood fired. It gives the work a particular look and feel.
What we make isn’t unique, but it does have a particular character.
After all, they are just bowls, cups and plates!