Art House Blog

 

KURIOUS CITY EPISODE 13: LOCKDOWN SPECIAL ft. Tara Brown

Tara our Wellbeing Manager Tara features on Episode 13  of Kurious City’s podcast, discussing all things Art House, Wellbeing and The Big Art Lock In, you can listen here on SPOTIFY or HERE for free.

 


TOM JAMES REFLECTING ON HIS EXPERIENCE ON THE GREAT POTTERY THROW DOWN

“What have I got myself into?”

That was my second thought (after initial jubilation) on hearing that I had won a place on 2020’s Great Pottery Throw Down.

The road to the programme had been a long one – after filling out a lengthy application form in the late spring of 2019, I felt I would be pleased to get a phone interview. Well, the phone interview happened – a mix of finding out all about me (lots of very personal questions, but had a good laugh with the lovely young lady from Love Productions – don’t think I managed to shock her too much), and technical questions about pottery. I was nervous but talked her into submission in an hour and twenty minutes (standard interview was about 50 minutes!).

Then came an invite to a regional interview – already the numbers had been whittled down, from the many hundreds that applied to the people who had made great pots, or who would make great TV. Not sure which I was. Anyway, I went to Manchester, clutching my best thrown pot, and a plague doctor sculpture I had made in Krishna’s Art House sculpture class.

 

I was interviewed by the producer and an expert (was too stressed to remember his name), and then I did a piece to camera about myself, during which I talked far to fast and laughed too loud.

The call came a few weeks later, inviting me to auditions with 60 others in London. We had two timed making challenges on camera (no spoilers!) one was easy, the other one was impossible. I sweated buckets – it was the hottest day of the year – worked on the floor instead of the bench provided (it was too small), cut my hand with a metal tool, bled all over my work and went to have a good cry in the car when the hour was up.

Finding out a few weeks later by phone that I had been selected, one of the final 12 out of so many excellent potters, was both exhilarating and terrifying. I spent the summer in a state of anxious waiting, but when I met the other contestants on the first night before filming, all the anxiety went away. They were, without exception, the most interesting, lovely, varied group of people I’ve ever met. We were all in this together and couldn’t wait for the next day’s filming.

I’ve been asked not to divulge too much about what happens on set, so as not to spoil the magic of the programme. I will say, though that it involves lots of waiting around, followed by bursts of activity when filming the making, followed by numerous retakes of cut-scenes, followed by a lovely story producer asking you on camera how you feel about everything that is happening / has happened / is about to happen.

The days were 12-hours long, but the contestants buoyed each other up to get through it. I went for it in the first episode with a super-ambitious design for a breakfast set, and although I came 2nd in the egg-cup-throwing challenge, I was sad to leave the show after just one episode.

The potters remain in touch, and the whole experience has boosted my confidence, so that I am now starting to teach at the Art House, while still developing my technical skills. Every pot I make teaches me something, and I don’t think I would be thinking in quite the same way about my art were it not for the Great Pottery Throw Down.

Until the Art House came into my life nearly 4 years ago, my whole life was about music. I’m a composer, horn player, music teacher, pianist but now I am also a pottery fanatic!

I started wheel classes at the Art House after a debilitating back injury, and found it so relaxing and inspiring that I continued both throwing and handbuilding and started practising every hour in the day I could find. I’ve been in the building almost every day for 3 years…

As a dare to myself, I applied for the 2020 Great Pottery Throw Down, and after several nerve-wracking auditions, won a place on the show! It was a fantastic experience, and has completely changed how I view my own work. I have more confidence in my abilities and realise that pottery should become a branch of my career.

I am starting to tutor classes when the Art House reopens, and hope to run classes on my current obsession – making unusual and functional flutes and ocarinas!

Instagram: @tomjamesmusicandpottery


DISCOVERING EVERYDAY MAGIC THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY 
DON MURRAY

Everyone is a photographer these days. Most of us carry pretty sophisticated cameras around with us, in our pockets, nearly every day of our lives. There have probably been more photographs taken in the last five years than in the whole of the previous century and a half. Billions of them. And what are most of these photographs about? Ourselves of course. We take pictures of ourselves, our lives, our likes and dislikes, our food, our families our holidays. Want a picture of the Eiffel Tower? Just make sure you are in the foreground. And here’s another one of Edinburgh Castle and yep, there you are, right in front of it.

It’s all the fault of social media of course and our insatiable need to feed images of ourselves to the online beast. I don’t want to sound churlish about this, because, obviously, a lot of the photographs people post on the likes of Instagram are actually pretty good, maybe a bit repetitive and clichéd sometimes, but not bad. People want to create nice images and photography is a great way, a genuinely democratic way, to get creative. It’s just a shame that they let their “selves” get in the way so much of the time.

I designed this course, The Art of Mindful Photography, with another photographer and mindfulness teacher, Heather Greenbank, about two years ago. Neither of us consider ourselves to be great photographers. We know enough about the craft of photography to be able to advise and guide people through the technicalities, but that isn’t what the course is about. We want to invite people to use this wonderful ability to make images as a way of seeing the world in a fresh, exciting way. It’s all very simple. Essentially, we don’t pay attention to the world about us nearly as much as we could. We miss so much of it in our daily busy-ness and preoccupations. This is why mindfulness has become so popular; people want to find a way to step out of all that craziness and be a bit more present. Meditation is good, but there are other things we can do as well; everyday things, creative things. We can draw or paint (great mindful activities), throw a pot or write a poem. What matters is that we do it wholeheartedly and are completely present with the activity. Heather and I like to make photographs and we do it in the same spirit, with complete attention and, crucially, without knowing or caring what is going to happen next. Mindful photography allows us to be taken by surprise every minute of every day by the jaw dropping, mind boggling, heart stopping beauty of the ordinary world we live in. We call it “discovering everyday magic”.

To help us discover the everyday magic, we need to do some work and drop a few unhelpful habits. First of all, we need to drop the idea that the photograph always has to be about us. Then we need to be able to relax and pause long enough to see what the world has to offer moment by moment. This is why we teach a little bit of meditation in our classes. It’s nothing scary or intense but it just gives us way to settle the mind, relax and (somewhat paradoxically) sharpen our senses. We might go out onto the streets of the city with our cameras and explore. There will generally be some kind of assignment to fulfil. And then we go home with an assignment for the week; it could be exploring colour, or texture, or light and shadow or space. We look at each other’s photographs the following week in an atmosphere that is supportive and reflective, never critical. Over time we find that our images become more abstract but also more creative and interesting.

The course is designed in two six-week modules. In the first we explore the very basic elements of the visual world and get familiar with what we call “the flash of perception” – that’s a bit much to explain here but it’s the key to mindful photography. Part two is much more concerned with the world of things and we explore themes such as “accidental art”, “visual haiku”, “ordinary personal world, “flowers and weeds” and so on. Once you’ve done the course you won’t see the world in quite the same way again, I guarantee it, and your photographs will certainly reflect that.

You will also get the chance to exhibit your work in the Art House. Free! Coronavirus has rather put paid to the exhibition we had planned for this Spring, but you can still see it online on YouTube by clicking the link here.

Follow us on Instagram @themindfulphotographer for Heather and @grimwayfarer for me. Heather is also on Facebook.

Image credit: Puddles by Pete Butler