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Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in Manchester

Looking ahead to the future in which I'm planning to continue with ceramics I need to go and visit more fairs where I could potentially show my ceramics in future. As Manchester is within easy reach it was a must to go and check it out. Once I managed to find the entrance to the building (along with about twelve other people who were searching too) I had a quick whizz around to get a general overview of the place. There were over 150 different artists and designer-makers from different fields such as ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, print, mixed media and many jewellery makers. I decided to concentrate on the stands by ceramic makers as these are my primary interest.

GNCCF entrance

I couldn't help also stopping by the stand for the UCLan MAs in Art & Design. Sorry, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it. Surely across the different disciplines there are more good examples of work that could have been displayed on the stand. The stand just didn't pack a punch and scream exciting, innovative craft and design to me.

A bit in the same vain, I saw that there was no representation of UCLan students on the Great Northern Graduates stand. Why was that? Is it just that UCLan don't run any undergraduate courses and MA don't qualify to be on this stand? Or was a representation by invitation only? That would mean that students from our uni are just not on the radar of the relevant people. Surely, across all our courses, there are is work of quality that would be good enough to be included. Hm, not impressed.

Okay, enough whingeing.

So, I made a real effort to go and speak to people on their stands and find out a bit about them and their work. This is not something that comes natural to me but it is a skill that also needs to be learnt and practiced. Networking is essential. To ease myself in I firstly approached Anne Haworth, who graduated from our MA a few years back. It was great to see her there and see what her experiences are as she was once where I am now.

It was good to see Anne's new work and interesting that her flower displays on blue boards on the wall caught the attention of buyers, who wanted to buy them as one piece. The boards were intended to just show off the white flowers and fill some empty wall space. But they seemed to be a success as complete work of art. Interesting. I know Anne hadn't foreseen that.

Printed photographic images on clay aren't usually my sort of thing but I did like work by Kit Anderson: Foto Ceramica. I think she uses a gum Bichromate photographic technique to create her images. I like the softness of image and depending on how much she washes them during the process they can look quite painterly. There is a lot of potential here to make ceramics with strong narratives.

I had come across Julie Fewster's Inner Finn Ceramics online and was interested to see how they looked in real life. I was mostly interested in her nesting double walled sculptures/bowls. They had a beautiful tactile quality. All of her work on display, with the exception of the rake fired pieces, are slip-cast porcelain. I guess, that makes commercial sense but I personally would have liked them to be hand-built but then they'd been much more expensive. That is a problem in general. Do people appreciate the time of hand-built ceramics to pay a decent price?

Meeting Rebecca Brown and seeing her whimsical ceramics was really fun. She seems really new to this and has not got a ceramics background but there is an honesty and playfulness about her work which is really charming. I'm hoping with more ceramic knowledge she will hold on to this quality. I enjoyed the little drawings she added to the exhibition stands walls which seemed to interact and led the visitor's eyes to her pots.

A very different young maker is Rhian Malin, who won the Best New Business Award here at the GNCCF. Her work is very controlled and is reflected by her classy and very professional looking display. Her pots are so well made that I suggested that she should add a notice of some form indicating that they weren't slip cast but hand-thrown. I do not know how she gets to draw such perfect lines on her pots.

So, would I consider exhibiting here in future? Well, I'm not sure about this. It is close enough for me to be able to go home and not to have to pay for accommodation. However, the stands cost nearly £500 and that means quite a few sales to break even. What sort of customers do you attract here? I would say, obviously people who are interested in crafts. But I suspect it does not draw in moneyed people on the lookout for groundbreaking edgy innovative crafts. They are much more likely to be found in London. I would say this offers more of an upmarket gift opportunity. On the other hand, there are probably some galleries looking about for new talent here. It all depends on how and where my own developments take me in the next few months whether I'll feel this sort of fair is right for me.​

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