Getting Started by Bev Bell-
Well here I am forty years on, husband, four children, one budgie, and one manic six month old border collie who throws pots in the air for fun and breaks them.
I am still doing what I love best, getting dirty with clay and making creations in clay.
For me, clay making is for my well being first, and second, for people to enjoy.
I have always done other jobs to support my habit. Teaching in schools, artists’ in residencies, usually in primary education. I love to see the faces of the little ones, when they are allowed to get dirty, and the clay changes colour and goes hard, it is like magic.
I have done cleaning jobs before and after school, when our children were small, also adult evening classes, youth clubs and special needs.
Up to this year, for the last twenty years I have been a story teller of ghost stories in the medieval walled town of historic Conwy, which is full of ghosts.
I used to love scaring the tourists.
The theatrical side of me coming out, my dad was a stand up comedian and compare (evening and weekend job).
When I was at secondary school the only subject that I enjoyed was art and craft.
I failed most subjects at school because of not being able to see the blackboard, and gave up asking for help.
The only thing I wanted to do from the age of twelve was to go to art school to be an artist.
This I achieved, although my dad was reluctant about it, as an officer in the MET police (day job ).
I did a two year foundation course at Sutton and Cheam School of Art 1965 -
I was so glad that it was a two year course and not only one, as it gave you more time to make a decision as to what art form you were going to study as a degree.
This art school was small and brick built, corridors and lots of stairs. There was an art school secretary called Miss Whitney who rang a large school bell every morning.
She ruled the roost with a fist of iron and lots of love for those teenage rebels of the sixties; against the status quo.
Bare feet, paint spattered jeans, smoking french cigs to be
cool, Gitane and Discbleu. Drinks in the park, and swimming in the lunch break in the pool next door.
An old pool surrounded by wooden huts.
Both the swimming pool and the art school have long since gone, and many students either went to Epsom to study or the new Sutton College of Liberal Arts (S.C.O.L.A.)
The foundation course at Sutton did not do ceramics. I found out by chance, being nosey, a room with adults in, making pots.
This was only available to part time students, not us on the foundation course.
I wanted to do this, I managed to persuade the head of the art school, Mr Bulley, to let me swop from doing Calligraphy, which is definitely not me, to doing ceramics.
And so the passion got me -
I was taught by Brian Starkey and also Walter Keeler. Both taught at Sutton Art School.
Walter Keeler suggested that I should try Farnham and Harrow as places to go and study ceramics.
I got offered a place at both, and decided to choose Harrow, as it was more hands on and vocational. It was only a two year course as well.
This course was run by Michael Casson and Victor Margri. The emphasis was on being able to set up your own studio pottery.
There were many visiting potters as well as the regular teachers then at Harrow.
Mo Jupp, Colin Pearson, Helen Pincombe, John Solly and John Chalke to name just a few.
At this time I made honey glazed slipware with finger wipe decoration, also a small amount of hand built pots, relating to natural forms.
My final paper / thesis, was written on the relationship between natural forms and clay.
While at Harrow I met and married a fellow student, Terry
Harrow Art School also got pulled down, and students moved to Northwick Park, and it became part of Westminster University, now also gone. Very sad.
As a child I was brought up in Ashtead and Oxshott, Surrey.
I knew Rosemary and Denise Wren well and showed art work with them at the local art group.
They offered me a studio in their garden when I left Harrow, and they ended up getting me and Terry.
There was no Craft Centre then and no grants available.
My dad paid for our first kiln £100, kilns and furnaces, which is still going, but a bit rusty now.
In 1969 I won 3rd prize in a competition run by the C.P.A. which was sculptural ceramics, a tree construction using flattened coils, a making process I still use today.
I got into the C.P.A. in 1971 and also The British Craft Centre, Earlham Street, Covent Garden
At this time I sold work in many small galleries, sometimes selling nothing in an exhibition.
Alicat, Richmond, Briglin Pottery London, many now closed. Terry and myself also tried to sell on Bayswater Road with many other artists on a Sunday. Lots of interesting characters, and good fun.
We transported the pots by bus and train then, we had no car.
Terry and myself shared the garden studio till 1978, when we moved to North Wales, Terry's homeland.
Rosemary and Peter, and Denise were moving elsewhere, so we were loosing our studio.
For me moving to Wales was a chance to change, from a potter who had made mainly thrown pots, to making only hand built pots, relating to the environment where I live.
The estuary of the river Conwy, the mountains of Snowdonia and the open sea of Llandudno.
My work relates mainly to the sea and the tidal system, marks and patterns left in the sand by the receding tide.
Barnicles, rocks, shells, driftwood, bones, and seaweed and more, an ever changing process of erosion and growth. The work has changed since 1990 from being pot related to being more sculptural and thinner, and more delicate in feel.
I work instinctively into the clay, no preconceived ideas, no drawings to work from.
I work in total silence, no music, in natural light. I choose not to have any electric lights.
I loose myself completely in the making process, the making of work and the pinching of clay.
It is like a meditative experience, mind, body and spirit in concentration. If that concentration is broken by somebody shouting or banging on the door, it takes a while to get back to the right state of mind again.
My work is made using flattened coils of clay, into which other clay and sands are added to give surface texture.
The tactile quality of clay and the pinching of it to make it is what I enjoy the most. I want people to desire to touch and hold the work, and get across the quality of clay being a tactile material.
I work using my hands and the sense of touch first, and my
The work is bisque fired to 980 degrees and glaze, reduce fired in a small gas kiln 1300 degrees centigrade.
I put washes of under glaze colours and various oxides on in the bisque state, onto which a barium glaze is added.
All the work has to be supported to stop it collapsing .
Terry helps me with the kiln firings, and wishes I made easy to pack pots, instead of the ones I make which are a juggling act and stretches the mind to despair.
As a potter who worked in Conwy Festival every year, I was asked if the potters who I knew in North Wales Potters would like to put their work in an empty shop front in Conwy, and then, after running for a year, paying a small rent
I initiated and helped to set up a small co-
The Potters' Gallery, 1 High St., Conwy, LL32 8DB.
www.thepottersgallery.co.uk 01492 593590
My work can be seen in Craft in the Bay, Cardiff, St Davids Hall, Cardiff, also Ruthin Craft Centre, Ruthin and Spectrum, Machynlleth,Mid Wales and the C.P.A.