Decisions … decisions … in the studio

29 February 2013


Okay…time to admit I’ve somehow got myself into a little mess.  Not in a bad way, but with making so many tests, I can’t keep up with my manic creations!  It’s one thing to create your ideas and think yes, I have a possible body of work, its totally another to work out which process, glaze for the clay, high fire or low fire, can I do stains on top of glazes, can I have some work bisque and others glaze in my final work (as Jacob says ‘that’s a loaded question’!), and so on.

I’m half way through my residency and feel anxious, as I need to make some decisions and trust what I create may or may not be the final work. I may go home to Canberra, use Southern Ice Clay as part of the work and test the stains/glazes created in Denmark to see how they compare to the Danish clay/low/high firings. What clay do I take home and do I take it as a bag or break it down to save on freight? How will I make my yellow tiles as I only made one mould? (generally you use one mould for white clay and another mould for coloured clay). See.  Are you confused now?  Its not easy being an artist 😉

But all is good…I’ve made progress and its all been a learning curve.  So, what have I done?

Mould making with Ryan

Between him and Lee – these are the mould making gurus – they do it for a living as well as there artistic practice and know what they are doing.  While Ryan is in the plaster room he watches (rather grimaces politely) at the way I’m setting up my blocks for the plaster making.  He kindly offers to help me and I literally jump down his throat.  Yes! Yes! Damsel in distress!! Actually, I promise him a couple of beers and we make a deal pretty quickly.

So here are a few photos of the mould making taking place.  Basically I need to make a model in clay and then pour the plaster in to make the opposite – my tile. This sounds easy but took ½ a day and a lot of agonizing on my part.

Experimenting with glaze

I was very lucky to have two intensive glaze classes at university with Gail Nichols – ( ) – who is highly regarded for her approach to soda firing. She advised us how to record making glazes and while I did this diligently in the classroom…I’m all over the place here in Denmark when it comes to grams/weight.  Did I measure 0.1 or 1, did I add 0.1 + 0.1? It’s critical to know what you are doing and I regret I didn’t bring Gail’s template she gave us to record correctly.  However, I’m determined to keep trying. I got some results on Saturday and while happy with the majority, I will admit there was one colour that was not very nice.  Just imagine yellow/brown and nappies – I don’t need to go any further!

Glaze-tests (don't look too closely at my records....arrrgh!)
Glaze-tests (don’t look too closely at my records)

Decal tests

This has been a slow process, as I have to do three firings.  I hope to finish the test firing this Friday.  Lee and I are sharing a kiln and again…another beer in exchange for advice…gotta love it! Post-note: the decal tests came out Sunday and I’m happy with the results.  While some minor blistering…overall the effect is fine.  Its interesting but there has been debate here about using still, mineral water or tap water when placing decals in water to then place on the ceramic.  Apparently, different places have different levels of certain chemicals – chlorine, calcium and so on.


In between all of this I am on a secret mission.  I’m quietly doing a little project on the side.  It’s a little something ceramic, for each of the artists/technicians, as a reminder of their time at Guldagergaard. Cross fingers please, as I navigate my way through Danish websites, sourcing white silk cord, tie-pins/brooch clasp and glass beads.  Oooh! Are you curious?  It may be the beginning of a new line of work so watch my website for updates.

Finally, Kym from Louisiana, USA and I made the group dinner last night. We braced ourselves and wore three layers of clothing to walk through a snow blizzard to get to Netto (the local supermarket). We made margherita, vegetable, zucchini & mushroom pizzas and salad with celery, apple, pistachios and lemon/dill mayonnaise.  All made from scratch and with love!  Another great meal at the G and moi (the manic woman behind the camera!) forgot to take photos!  We were too busy serving up and rewarding ourselves with red wine!! So here are some photos from another dinner…


Ørslev Church and a bus trip to remember

Anna Kukielka and I are traveling buddies and this time we went on a local bus trip to Ørslev Church located @ 20 minutes out of Skælskør.  It has murals that date back to 1300 and was probably the loveliest church I’ve seen in Europe (and I’ve seen a few…).  Anna took professional photos as inspiration for her current work as 1 of 12 project network members here at Guldagergaard. It was a nice escape from the studio and a chance to enjoy sun and blue skies.  We have all been busy making. It was nice to take some time out of the studios and check out the local landscape and experience an amusing bumpy bus ride with our lady bus driver.

Anna and I also caught up with one of Denmark’s well known ceramicists – Nina Hole.  We had tea/lint pastries (special pastries eaten during lent) and saw her amazing studio.  Nina and Larry designed twin studios under ground to maximize insulation but also obtain amazing views from a lower perspective. Their home is very old – @ 300 years and they managed to preserve part of the building with minor changes.  But anyone over 6ft would not cope with the low ceilings.

So, here is a gallery of photos from a day to remember. Thanks Anna for your skillful organising of bus routes, catching up with Nina and of course your company.

My work

Friday 17 February

It’s been 2 weeks now and I feel ready to show the progress of my work.  This project commenced February 2012 in terms of an idea but I had no actual idea as to where it would lead me.

While working on another body of work I uncovered a series of drawings by American architect Marion Mahony Griffin prepared for hers and American architect Walter Burley Griffin winning entry in the Australian Federal Capital Design Competition in 1912.   What occurred to me about one of these renderings was how white the buildings were envisaged in this new city (Canberra) and how the landscape seemed to hover ever so gently in, and around, the delicate lined streets of suburbia. Neither Walter or Marion had been to Australia, “…In 1912, idealized images of the native landscape-known colloquially as the bush-and its requisite eucalyptus and gum trees were gaining iconic status as symbols of national identity…” Debora Wood, Marion Mahony Griffin: Drawing the Form of Nature (Illinois: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art Northwestern University Press, 2005), 11.

4185438_0001 copy 2View from the Summit of Mount Ainslie, 1911. Credit: National Archives of Australia

Australia is often associated with sun, white beaches, rain forests and desert.  Canberra is like a garden city – surrounded by bush and our winters are cold, windy and with the occasional snow dumps.  We have soft blue skies and when the light hits the silver birches and gum trees it highlights how serene Canberra is.


However, as the past three weeks has shown, Canberra and the rest of Australia have been experiencing perhaps one of the worst heat waves in history. Scorching temperatures, sweating firefighters and city/country people bracing themselves day in day out as rising temperatures refuse to budge. But more on that later and back to Marion’s rendering.

I tucked this rendering away for a while as a possible future project.  A few months later I had the opportunity to apply for an artist in residence at Guldagergaard, the drawing re-surfaced and unbeknown to me Marion became my shadow.  She followed me everywhere as I read about her, watched a documentary, visited the National Archives of Australia to view the original works with conservator Ian Batterham, and discuss the finer points of the material, the water colours, and Marion’s relationship with her husband.  I figured there must be some way I can include her in my original proposal – celebrating Canberra’s centenary in 2013 and creating a body of work that places my association with growing up in a city surrounded by bush.

Without going into the finer points of researching and initial testing ideas – this was a 7-10 month process – I’ll try to narrow down elements which are crucial to the final outcome of potential exhibition work.


Surface decorations

Sanam Emami
Sanam Emami

Sanam Emami is a creator of markings through surface decorations; stamping and application of silkscreen transfers on her vases/teapots. I particularly like her markings beneath the transfer and how the two techniques blend seamlessly and provide the viewer with an additional experience to the decorative.

I experimented with a range of objects (old and new) and narrowed it down to a old Canberra tourist spoon, a new vinyl placemat from the National Museum of Australia shop (acknowledging local indigenous people who can trace their occupancy of this space, for many thousands of years), an Australian window shade blind with a simple weave (Marion used ‘window shade holland’ as her surface to create her renderings), and a cake tool (acknowledging my part time retail job to support my practice).

Screen-printing and decals


Marion used a range of techniques in three mediums – textiles, paper and painting.  I did not necessarily want to use the same techniques but acknowledge that any work I created would be made mostly by hand – as she did.  The only processes which required modern equipment was the digital machinery to produce the decals and (I think) the light process to expose images of Marion and the ghost gum tree on to the silk screens.


How I came to choosing black silhouettes of Marion was based on a little known fact “…at the end of her life, she altered the credit lines on a number of drawings in her possession to read ‘Marion Mahony Griffin, designing architect’…”. In the documentary City of Dreams one of the social historians explains, she also blacked out the credit lines but this was done with sensitivity as her and Walter had an incredible artistic collaboration. I thought this was very telling of that period and how complex her relationship must have been personally and professionally. Hence, my need to tell her story and parallel it with mine.

What I really enjoyed about the preparation for screen-printing was hand drawing each of the images and trying to work out how to create positive/negative areas, which would enhance the portraiture/landscape.  I was fortunate one of the teachers (Denise Ferris) at the Canberra School of Art (my other part-time job) liked the way Marion was captured – in time, the period, her Mary Jane shoes, long dress and reflective stance.  She suggested I look up Kara Walker, an artist who creates cut black paper portraits and adheres them to paper, canvas and walls. Her silhouettes are delightful, thought provoking and some with a modern twist.

Walker_Whitehot @ Hammer Museum
Walker_Whitehot @ Hammer Museum

I had this idea I would have Marion looking forward with her vision of this new city and me reflecting on being the person she envisaged living the life. So, my friend Trish photographed me sitting on a contemporary chair, in a short-medium length dress, high heels and looking very relaxed.  See, Marion was always on my mind and I was constantly wondering what would she think…

Marking Place

Just before I left Australia, I had the chance to attend a talk by Curator Peter Haynes on a group exhibition by three prominent Canberra artists – G.W. Bot, Anita McIntyre, Wendy Teakel.  Marking Place provided me with the confidence I needed to be able to pull my many ideas together and focus on cohesion, subject matter, and simplicity.  In particular, Ceramicist Anita McIntyre’s fish memories (2012) resonated with my goal to keep the form clean and relevant to the subject matter so the decorative narrative could surface.  G.W. Bot’s Paddock, glyphs and moon, 2011 also provide a pivotal turning point in my work last week and as I looked at her ‘limited palette – black, red and ochre‘ I could see another layout crystallizing before me.

As previously mentioned, Australia has been experiencing heat waves and bushfires in and around cities and rural towns.  I looked at my Danish clay – yellow brick and realized how this symbolized the dry heat – haze and smoke the firefighters experience; then my red screen print of me – initially a bold statement about my own independence as a woman – but how this could mean fire. The sky was pitch red I recall driving home in 2003 not knowing it would be a catastrophic event for Canberra; the black is in reference to burnt trees that dot the country at any given time.  I think I now have two possible works – one serene (old) and one in the present day (new).  Thanks Marion.


Thanks also must be mentioned to Joanne Searle for our speed dating session on screen-printing in my garage and Sasha Kukoc for her patience in creating the silk screens.

© Anne Masters Ceramics

Skælskør – photos for a change…

13 January 2013


I thought a change from words would be good and I’d take you on a virtual 2hr walk through the town of Skælskør. Imagine it snowing lightly, crunching beneath your feet, seeing Christmas wreaths on graves at a cemetery (with the best views of the water), avoiding dog poop on the pavement and bitterly cold finger tips from taking way too many photos!  Enjoy! Hint: if you click on the photo, it will take you to another page, then click on that photo to get the full size 6 x 4 photo.  I’m still figuring out a better way to display photos but limited by software…




My new home, amazing studio space, cool friends and dinners to die for

Friday 11 January 2013

Well it’s the end of my first week (of 6 weeks) at Guldagergaard, International Ceramic Research Center located in Skælskør.  Don’t even ask how to pronounce the names as we have all attempted and only the Danes say it the best!

This is my studio space overlooking part of the Sculpture Park, which surrounds the center and suburbia houses surround the park. I was lucky to meet Priscilla, one of the founding members on Monday and say how we have nothing like this back at home.  I have since found out that this Center is very unique and how lucky we are to have such a beautiful house to live in and high quality studios to work in.

I arrived @6pm Wednesday night (3 January) and was entertained by a local madmen in the dark as he sang and said weird stuff.  Then suddenly these loud bangs went off and I’m like terrified he’s got a shotgun.  I remained calm and thankfully Rachel turns up on her cute bicycle all dressed up in her winter woollies.  As we went up the streets the ‘bangs’ turned out to be firecrackers!  What a dill!  I was shown my room (#5) and told to come down for dinner when I was ready.  I put my gear down as keen to meet the others.  I met Paige, Lee and Ryan – all from the USA – and we got on well.  I really liked Paige and thought she seems so cool and my instinct was right – she’s funny, cool and down to earth.  The others started to arrive and slowly I try to remember names.  It is a great night and I feel like I’ve settled in well.  We are told to have the next day to ourselves and Rachel and I meet @ 11am as she takes me on a separate orientation tour of the house, the library, washing facilities, the clay room (the biggest I’ve ever seen), the Apple Orchard Gallery and then finally the beast of them all – the massive stables which have now been converted into studios.

There is a plaster room, a kiln room in between 2 large studio spaces, a proper glaze room – all the materials (and it takes me back to Australian National University School of Art’s ceramic workshop – which I miss) and a back room with ware boards & stuff. There is an upstairs area but that is still undergoing renovations.

I go grocery shopping with a few of the artists and I’m so glad I bought my Danish phrase book as it helps me (and the others) to figure out what we are buying.  Everything looks expensive as I can’t remember the conversion and I limit my purchases. As it turns out a weeks worth of lunch and breakfast is ½ the price it cost me for a Starbucks coffee/small sandwich/takeaway lidded thermos at the Copenhagen Airport!

From Friday through to today I work at the studios as conscious about how many firings I need to do in such a short time. Six weeks isn’t long enough and I wish I had 8 weeks.  I am working with 2 low fired clays – Yellow brick and Black – as this is new and totally the opposite to porcelain.  I’ve also chosen 3 high-fired clays – Cerama White 444, Royal Copenhagen and Limoges (the latter 2 are crème de la crème and also expensive – but Adam is paying for it as he says I may never work with them again).

So far, I’ve been happy with my test tiles, screen printing and stamping.  I’ve worked out one possible exhibition layout and have another one in mind.  But again, time is of the essence so I must keep it simple.

Finally, the group dinners need to be seen to believe just how amazing they are.  Everyone is rostered on once a week and pair up to cook anywhere from 14 to 19 residents. Rachel and Egla raised the bar with their welcoming meal and everyone has been leaping to match the good food.  I hardly eat anything during the day so I can save up for dinner and we usually all have seconds!

I’ve managed to do some shopping and contribute thoughtfully to the economy of Skælskør (any excuse to explain how much I’ve spent so far ;).  But seriously, I do feel its great to be able to come to a small town who can’t rely on tourism solely and still be able to provide small businesses along the quaint cobbled stone main street Algade.  I’ve purchased rain boots, raincoat, jumper, ceramic brooch and a few other little trinkets and feel glad that I’ve been able to support locally.  The best thing is there are no shopping malls in sight!  Gotta love that!

Well I’ll sign off as I did have some extra photos to put in this story but it could have helped if I had put the memory card in the camera!  I totally forgot, as I was eager beaver to download photos.  Ah well! shall try again tomorrow and hope for the same beautiful sunset I saw at 4pm this afternoon. The next posting will be about my ceramic work and its progress.

Freiburg – land of no snow but the next best thing – firecrackers!


1 January 2013 – Well, I’m on the train to Frankfurt after a whirlwind trip to Freiburg. Thankfully, Nicole stayed with me to ensure I got on the right carriage/seat after my earlier debacle.  Yes, moi thought she had it all figured out as to where to stand on the platform in line with the carriage number. As I boarded the train and tried to find my seat I was confused as the numbers went down from 75 and I was 85.  I walked (rather fought my way through bags) as people huffed and puffed at me.  Carriage after carriage, I couldn’t find my seat and asked someone who said, “You have the right seat number but you are in Carriage 1, you have to go back to Carriage 4”.  OMG! I could have cried. I was sweating, tired and had to back track with 20kg bags in hand. By the time I found my seat I was shaking so much I couldn’t lift my bag on to the luggage rack.  Luckily a teenage boy helps me out. I settled into my seat and down the aspro to calm my nerves.

After a while, I note its very quiet, no one is talking and I realise this is a quiet zone.  An older couple leave and replaced by an older couple that could speak English.  I had been chatting to the woman near me as she spoke English and then we all started to talk.  It was great as the teenage boy wanted to practice his English, the woman wanted to ask about Australia and before I knew it, it was on for young and old to turn the quiet zone into a friendly exchange of talk.  I was excited, as up to this point, I hadn’t really had a proper conversation and was missing it.

I farewelled Katherine and we exchanged cards to keep in contact. We got on well as she told me how hard it was to get a job in the museums, as her degree was art/history.  She said it was tea-lady wages, starting at the bottom and with no possibilities of promotion.  Katherine moved to a town outside of Frankfurt to improve her work opportunities and now works for the council organising art festivals. She loves the job but the only downside…not many men to date!  Like me she was @ the same age and said it was mainly retirement people.  I said she could always date an older man – just wipe the dribble every now and then off his face!

The teenage boy was at technical school and starts an apprenticeship with Bosch in 2013.  I asked if it was the music group and he said no, it was engineering parts for cars, ovens etc.  I told him about a company with the same name which make entertainment systems, noise-reducing headphones etc.  Katherine and the older woman had to translate and everyone had a laugh as they teased him saying that’s what he’d rather do!


Okay, onto my adventure – Stefan and Nicole collect me from the station and we drive to Emmendingen (south of Germany).  Its dark, I have no idea what the country-side is like and as we get closer the trees are decorated with fairy lights, its starting to feel a lot like Christmas/New Years Eve.  We arrive and friends of Nicole and Marion welcome me.  It instantly feels like home and I settle in with a quick glass of white wine before we head to the restaurant for dinner.  It’s a typical German country style restaurant with lace curtains and Christmas decorations adorning every spare corner. Luckily Stefan helps me with the menu and we decide on deer with mushrooms – little Bambi as Nicole rubs it in!

As the night goes on I get tired and it dawns on me the jet lag is settling in.  By the time we arrive at the chalet my words slur and its clear I need to go to bed. I bid farewell and hit the pillow pretty quick.  Unfortunately, I wake up the ungodly hour of 4am.  The bright light shines through the glass door and while I try to sleep, eventually I spy the most stunning sunrise, and photograph the oranges/pink skies.

By 9am, I get ready so I’m not late for breakfast.  No one surfaces till after 10am as they all have dark rooms and it is then that I discover there are outdoor roller blinds that which block the daylight!

I meet people one by one and think how on earth will I remember names and its quite funny as I try to repeat in my head – Stefan, Lily, Katerina, Ben, Kyle and so on. We sit down to a German style breakfast – cold meats, cheeses, bread, butter, jams and freshly made coffee/peppermint tea.  Conversations flow in German and English and I enjoy the banter.  There are 8 adults and 5 children. Everyone knows each other through work or being neighbours and its funny because they chose Freiburg to have a snowy New Years Eve.  As it is, there is no snow and the 6-foot; orange/black snow markers look forlorn against the lush green grass.

I ‘m given the option to go to the supermarket and help Marion buy food for the party or go for a walk in the Black Forest.  I opt for the latter and we head on foot into the cold and I’m thankful for my thermal underwear. We head off through masses of fallen leaves, head down the valley and search for the tallest tree in Germany. We eventually find the tree and it’s a bit of a disappointment. Even worse, we realise we have to now walk back up the mountain!  But who cares! I enjoy the fresh air and thankful it’s not freezing.

Inside, while resting I realise it’s New Years Eve in Australia and Nicole decides we need champagne to celebrate! By 3pm, we decide to nap and re-group later.  However, jet lag prevents me from doing so and instead I write my first (this) blog for 2013.  At 6pm, I put on my party clothes and head downstairs where everyone is busy making food and drinking.  We watch a black and white film, “One for dinner”, which is a German tradition every NY.  It is a comedy skit, which keeps the children (and adults) laughing at the absurdity of the story. Katarina teaches Marion and I to make lotus flower napkin holders for the dips.  We have fun as we tackle origami and drink at the same time.  We sit down to a yummy indoor barbecue and fondue dinner.

We have a few hours to go till midnight and I check my emails/face book as its 11am in Australia.  I get carried away and again hotfoot it down to see everyone has paper stuck to his or her foreheads!  They are playing a game; I get allocated a name, stick it to my head with honey and think my new friends are pulling my leg!  We laugh and carry on as we try to guess.  Mine is not a character, is female, is well known, short and I sing “I should be so lucky” and everyone cracks up!  Ya, Kylie Minogue.

Suddenly, coats and scarves are being donned and before I know it we are singing Happy Birthday to one of the friends and wishing birthday and NY wishes.  It is perfect.  Nicole summons us outside to get the firecrackers happening.  It hits me how cold it is and the wind whips through my jeans.  But, the town of Freiburg provides us a glorious show as firecrackers go off across the skyline.  It is panoramic and a fairy-tale ending to my trip to Germany and being looked after so dearly by my friends Marion, Nicole and Julius and of course their wonderful friends and children.

I fly to Copenhagen in the morning and this is where reality will set in. Like most people, I will be heading to work and madly creating ceramics for 6 weeks.