Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review - The Great Pottery Throw Down

The first series of The Great Pottery Throw Down had me fixating on the potter's wheel and raku firing. I ended up taking a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum and writing this post - The Ceramics Gallery at the V&A. Mainly because I'd never before realised the scope, breadth and depth of the V&A collection.

The rest of the country conspired to make pottery now the most over-subscribed evening class in the UK!  Although I suspect that for many people being unable to have a kiln at home also probably contributes to that....
    I've again been a regular watcher of the Second Series which I've been greatly enjoying yet again.

    The semi-final is on BBC2 at 8pm tonight (and apparently we're all going to be wowed by Johnny Vegas throwing a teapot very fast - he used to study pottery at Middlesex University where he was taught by Kate Malone).

    Then there's the final next week - I've no idea who's going to win - and after that nothing, except evening classes.

    Or that's what I thought until Pavilion Books sent me 'the book of the series' to review - so this is that review.

    PS If you think this blog has been a bit besotted with art on television of late you have the programmers to thank. It all seems to go up a gear as we go into the New Year!

    The Great Pottery Throw Down - the Book

    Those who have enjoyed the series will definitely enjoy this book - and learn from it.

    What's the book about?

    It's intended as a companion book to the series - but it's not a "how to" book.

    That's not to say it doesn't explain techniques - because it does and it does illustrate stages.

    However, it is emphatically NOT a step by step type book for those who want to try every pottery technique known to man since the beginning of time

    I think it's very probably aimed at those who like to stay in their armchair rather than venture out to an evening class - and yet at the same time provide enough content to stimulate those who loved the series to have a go for themselves.

    I found it very educational in a very easy read way. I don't mean that it uses simple concepts and words but rather than the information is presented in a well thought through way. It has enough information to enable learning and not so much that you want to switch off!

    I now know a lot more about:

    • the history of ceramics - and why it survives when so much else has disappeared
    • the different kinds of pottery 
    • what makes pottery different - in technical terms
    • how different approaches were developed over time
    • descriptions of how the different approaches work - with illustrations
    • methods of creating ceramics which don't involve the wheel
    • the importance of drying and trimming
    • the different kinds of kilns and ways of firing - and stacking
    • the different types of firing - from bisque to final firing via reduction, salt glaze, pit and raku (at which point I went off for a while to discover what Bernard Leach had been getting up to in St.Ives
    • painting and slipware as methods of decoration
    • colours - and how these are created using glazes and oxides
    • textures and patterns 

    The double page spread on piercing

    I finished the book aware that the world of ceramics is so much complex than I thought - and yet the explanations were all ones which enabled me to grasp the processes that occur.

    The technical aspects that it covers made me realise that it's an art form which will appeal to those with something of a scientific bent given the necessity for weighing, measuring, calculating and mixing ingredients to create the whole. In fact not that different from "bake off"!

    The book then goes on to consider the various purposes of different types of ceramics and how design had changed over time - from tiles and tiling, to bake and cooking wares in the kitchen and on the table and for use with tea and coffee (eg Cornishware, Emma Bridgewater Spongeware) all the way to ceramics being used as pure art forms.

    The book finishes with a section on Ceramic Art and covers a range of artists who have worked with clay and created ceramics of one form or another - including William de Morgan (1832-1917) Bernard Leach (1887-1979), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Clarice Cliff (1899 -1972), Suzie Cooper (1902-95),  Lucie Rie (1902-95), Russell Wright (1904-76), Kaj Franck (1911-89), Stig Lindberg (1916-82),  Grayson Perry (b.1960) and Edmund de Waal (b.1964).

    Russel Wright (American, 1904-1976).
    Tableware, American Modern Pattern, Designed 1937; manufactured 1939-1959.
    Glazed earthenware, 1 15/16 x 1 3/4 in. (4.9 x 4.4 cm).
    Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Paul F. Walter, 83.108.43

    For me, the book works much better having seen the series and seen some of the processes in use by the potters. It also mades me reflect on how much they managed to pack in to what is a relatively short series!

    Unlike some other "book about the series" that I've come across this one also works well as a standalone book given that it doesn't feature anything to do with the contestants, the experts or the presenter. It's a very much "on topic" and no contestants or celebs until you get to the sections on celebrated potters!

    Fantastic ducks on 6-inch tile with lustre highlights,
    Fulham period,
    William De Morgan, England 

    Who are the authors?

    The authors are Liz Wilhide and Susie Hodge - neither of whom seem to be either a potter or a ceramics artist. Instead they seem to have written rather a lot of books.
    • Susie seems to be an expert in making art more accessible by taking art topics and approaching them from the perspective of the consumer
    • Liz seems to focus on design as it relates to interiors.
    As an author myself I'm very familiar with the notion that being an expert in the field doesn't always mean you make a great author and some authors of good books about art are not always the best artists.

    My bottom line is always "Is it a good book?". This one is.


    Imprint: Pavilion
    ISBN: 9781911216421
    Publication Date: 12 Jan 2017
    Format: Hardback
    Dimensions: 190 x 225
    Page Extent: 208 pages
    Illustrations: 150 photographs

    This is a link to Amazon UK The Great Pottery Throw Down

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