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Earth & Fire International Ceramic Fair 2018: exhibiting

So, today is the day after Earth & Fire International Ceramics Fair in Welbeck. What are my impressions, memories, etc. after having spent one day setting up and three days on the stand showing my ceramics along with my seven other MA ceramics pals?

Out stand on the first day
Our first day view from behind the stand

Mixed feelings really. Initially I’m feeling totally exhausted. It was a really great experience and I’m so glad that I did it. On the other side, I cannot deny a sense of disappointment at not having sold any of my work with the exception to one of my co-students from the year below (Thanks Johanna, that was really nice of you!). I know that we were told not to hold any high hopes for sales as this was about showing our work for the first time at such a prestigious outing. It was more to learn about the overall experience of doing such a show and to get some general feedback on our work from the public. But a bit of recognition in form of a sale or two of the smaller work would have done me the world of good.

So, to concentrate on the positive:

What have I learnt?

I need to ensure that people don’t mistake my decorations as transfers or decals. I need make an explicit statement that all my ceramics are entirely hand decorated. This will then highlight the skill and time that is involved in making them which in turn explains my relative high price points. Adele must have had similar issues as I saw a sign on her stand saying that her pieces were all hand made and not printed digitally.

Positioned centre front of display

People like to touch my pieces, especially the black clay figurative pieces. So, they need to be within easy reach. This was the case on the first day where two of my larger black figures sat in the middle front of the stand. Displayed that way they got quite a lot of interest and touches.

Working on my decorations on the table next to the stand did get me involved with the public but it did not convert directly into sales. Many people seemed to be more interested in the product I used than what I was producing. I could have probably made a killing selling design liners if I’d had any there.

Because of the decorative qualities of my pieces I think ‘pottery people’ didn’t take them serious. Thus, E&F may not be the right place for me to show and get the right sort of recognition. My pieces on show are about the surface of the material and not the materiality of the clay itself nor about the glazes. This loses me with quite a few serious pottery buffs. Whereas somebody such as Amberlea McNaught, whose pots also rely heavily on the use of patterns, has a lot of interest as her pots are carved and undecorated. This really seems to appeal to clay purist.

Somebody came up and commented on Natasha's work as being one of the few with a political statement. It is great that this got noticed as it really lifts her work to another level. What it highlighted to me was how difficult it was to understand and grasp the concept of my work. I had a long chat with a blacksmith explaining to him my work and he got it. But only when I explained it to him did the complexity become clear to him. It is not easily accessible. So, I need to think how to make it more easily understandable if I don't want to be just regarded as a being a decorative ceramicist without deeper meaning or intent.

To appeal to ‘pottery lovers’ I should add some more traditionally shaped vessel-shaped ceramics. These would possibly appeal to the buyers who would recognise them as potentially functional ceramics which link to a long tradition of utilitarian pottery.

The ceramics I was showing could be grouped into three different looks: densely design liner decorated wares, the black unglazed clay with the water-etched decorations and the smoke-fired terra sigillata pieces. They would have looked best separated out into the individual groupings.

The little pinch pots in the wine gift cases were positioned well and freed up some valuable space on the table. However, I should have not had so many on display but left less confusing choice and more space for each piece to breathe. My mistake entirely!

Wall display

I also think that it makes a lot of difference what other ceramics they sit along side. They needed to be separated from Tasha’s pots, which also have design-liner decorations. Even though our ceramics are quite different people couldn’t always distinguish them that easily on the stand. After rearranging our work on the second day to group each potter’s work together mine were sitting on the opposite side furthest away from Natasha’s. This meant that they were now next to Celia’s ceramics. This wasn’t ideal either as her lace-imprinted platters were visually also to similar to my black water-etched platters. But you can’t win them all and that is all part of sharing a stand with other people.

First day arrangement

Second and third day arrangement

sight lines of visiting public

Another issue is where the pots sits on the table in relation to how the public approach them. Natasha's were the first ones to be seen and mine, occupying the opposite corner of the table were most visible on the way back. However, people don't look

Should I decide to try E&F next year and be accepted I’d not have to worry how my work sits next to other people’s work. I’d just have to think about how to display mine as effective as possible. And try to remember the old saying “Less is more” – something very true but difficult to do.

But all told being part of the E&F experience was great and sharing this with my fellow MA students (past and present) made this long weekend very special. I really enjoyed our time both on the stand and later at the campground. I just wished I had taken more time to go around and interact with the other exhibitors. The ones I did talk to were a really nice and friendly lot and very generous with their interest, tips and general sharing of knowledge. Maybe next year I'll catch up on all that I missed this time …. I’ve got until November to decide whether I want to apply for 2019 or go back as a visitor.

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