Art Stop – Day Tripper!

This afternoon I’m taking my dolls & brooches for a day trip to the Art Stop. It’s a pop-up art centre in Stoke town centre, used as part of the London Road Festival. Art Stop has staged lots of interesting activities over the last month and it has a really friendly atmosphere …. with Doris serving tea to visitors in her chain cups. It will be  shame to see it close.

If you are local to Stoke today and you fancy popping in to saying “Hello!” please do. You could make yourself a little face brooch too, as I’m taking along some bits and bobs for a mini workshop. I’ll try my best to take some photos during our little day trip and post them up as soon as I can.

ImageWhere is Art Stop? Art Stop is a shop space located on Campbell Place, which is the same side of London Road as Sainbury’s but is further along the street towards the junction where Wetherspoons pub is … it’s near to the Wrights Pie shop and the Red Cross Shop.

How long is it open? Well !!!! Today is the last day unfortunately. So it’s your last chance for now to come in to the Art Stop, so pop along.

If you want to know anymore about the Art Stop project or the space, you need to chat with Chris Reader or check out various social media pages or . You can also check out London Road Festival website or twitter feed


Sunshine and Pottery


Hey folks, how you doing? Just thought that we would share a few photos from studio activity over the last few days.
Our little porcelain birds have been popular and we’ve got more ideas for new birds too – especially after we went to see a film about a local witch named Molly Leigh ! It was shown as part of the Stoke Your Fires Film Festival in Stoke on Trent , which is now in its 7th year. So look out for news on those darker birds soon. ( sound intriguing???)
Paul has been busy this week making a special commission for a friend which is quite detailed and has been an interesting project for us, to see it developing.
Anyway in a general note – the weather has brightened up over the last week … Hurrah! … and everyone seems that little bit chirpier, which is great. It’s brilliant what a little bit of sunshine can do. I spent a while watching two hawfinches in the garden this morning who were obviously feeling the benefit of Spring.

See, we just can’t get away from those birds can we! Catch up again soon x



Back in the BCB

I visited the British Ceramics Biennial last weekend at the Spode site in Stoke, and quite enjoyed it. To be honest, I guess I’ve been waiting two years for it to return with quite a high level of excitement.
I had great memories of the 2011 event because I was quite involved as I was part of B Arts at the time and we were running workshops and an outdoor performance called Harvest in the programme, plus in the 2009 BCB we also ran a performance event, called Clay.
This year I’ve not been directly involved, but I’ve still really been looking forward to it’s homecoming.
Well, there was some lovely work there, as would be expected, but I must say that I didn’t really feel the same sense of wonder as I did two years ago. In 2011 I must have visited the Spode site at least six times – to keep seeking out new bits and gaze at favourite bits again and again.
Maybe it’s because the first time I see anything or visit anywhere is always the most memorable and this year I didn’t get the ‘wow factor’ by seeing the actual empty, dusty, ghostly white building used in this way, because this time I knew what to expect…
This year as I strolled around I noticed that the workshop spaces seemed busy again, which is great and smiling faces were getting mucky with clay.
The new shop area was a good addition – giving people the chance to purchase wares during their visit.
The cafe was more reasonably priced this time to accommodate different folks pockets and staff were friendly, but ( don’t you just hate adding a ‘but’) the cafe hadn’t got enough hot food when we were there and it seemed there wouldn’t have been as much selection compared to the previous menu. This time it’s all pies and pastries, very tasty ones though. What I really missed though was that they didn’t have the beautiful Burleigh ware crockery and fabulous tea-chest chairs that they had last time, which made the cafe area look wonderful and feel special back in 2011.
Here are some of my favourite works from the 2013 site and I look forward to seeing what is on display at Potteries Museum and Art Gallery plus Airspace.
If you go, do make sure to have a good look around. I still need to go back, there were parts of the site I’m sure I didn’t see and I want to have another look at the wonderful Phoebe Cummings installation and the beautiful Russian story dolls by Lisa Marie Svensk – theses two artists were definite favourites for me this year.





























Rolling Clay with Keith


Sitting here in the home of the Potteries – this video was bound to strike a chord with me and made me smile. Love it!!! Excellent piece of marketing.

Good luck to all British potters out there, especially any Stoke on Trent based studio potters, designers, makers and ceramic industries. Maybe Keith’s pop video will get some businesses thinking about different ways to market their work and grab people’s attention.

I wonder what Adele makes of the video?

If you are wondering –  the plates and mugs in the video (with imprinted words) are the work of British ceramics designer Keith Brymer Jones – based in Whitstable I believe

He’s the star of the film too – good sport!

Burslem Boys Together Again.

The opening night of the Burslem Boys exhibition went really well. It was so busy, I need a second visit to really take things in and appreciate the work, the artefacts and read the letters that the three young men sent to each other during the war years!

It was lovely to chat with John Shelton’s wife –  it was purely by chance as we were admiring the work. And then it was also great to catch up with Helen, Norman Cope’s niece, and Mark Finney who made this all happen. I also spotted a few local artists in there too soaking up the atmosphere and watching the projections on the outside walls.

Arthur Berry, John Shelton and Norman Cope are back together again, and I’m sure they would be thrilled. Because it’s the first exhibition of Norman Cope’s work since his untimely death in 1943, it makes the whole experience even more special.

If you weren’t able to make it, the public showing is going on right now… from 20-27 October 2012 so there’s still plenty of time over half-term. The event is at Barewall, Burslem:


Denise’s Story

This busy woman is Denise O’Sullivan - a happy-go-lucky, Michael Jackson and Rockabilly loving Mum, with a passion for pottery, VW camper vans and all things retro.

In between juggling time for childcare, attending photo-shoots, packing up her pottery for a major Paris exposition and selling her vintage wares at a local summer events, I managed to grab a cuppa with Denise at her house. Whilst her little daughter Eva drew pictures for us, and her husband Mark Dunn prepared the VW campervan for the weekend we chatted about Denise’s own story.

Just like The Potteries fairytale, Denise’s own father and grandmother worked in the pot banks across the city. As a child Denise would visit her Dad at the pot bank where he worked as a dish maker. She would sit in the factory room filled with the distinct aniseed smells of the china paints and the fumes of the kilns, and play with bits of clay, whilst watching the women gild the beautiful dishes – sometimes they would let her have a try. She loved the atmosphere and trying to be a proper potter like her Nan, her Dad and all those people in the factory. With shoes dusted in white powder from the factory floors and the touch of the wet clay working in her tiny fingers – its no wonder that Denise went on to study ceramics. For Denise it’s no longer a fairytale, it’s her career.

At school Denise had work experience with Royal Doulton’s and was offered a job in the casting and assembling department. But she followed the advice of her Mum who said, “…If you are going to get into the ceramics industry, make sure you’re the designer”. On that advice, Denise decided to continue with her education, doing a GNVQ in Arts and Design at Newcastle under Lyme F.E College. Then she went to Wolverhampton University to receive a B.A in Ceramics and attended the renowned Frink School of Figurative Sculpture, in Stoke on Trent before it closed in 2005. Denise recently returned to education, after a short gap (well she has been rather busy just lately, developing her own business and having a baby daughter.) She is in the final stages of completing her Ceramics M.A at Staffordshire University.

Did Denise always know what she was doing? Did she always want a career in ceramics?  “At Wolverhampton I learnt so much, all about glazes and techniques, I learnt about the equipment and the materials, we built kilns, we went on trips to factories and museums, we met loads of interesting people. I was lucky to be on a course like that; those types of courses hardly exist anymore. I’ve met people who have spent three years at the Royal College of Art and can’t even turn on a kiln!”


“When I was at college I based a lot of my work on what surrounded me, just daily life, the processes of making things, like cake baking, domestic life, the everyday things in the house. The ornaments on my Nan’s mantle piece, the objects we collect around us, like shrines to memories, special events, gifts that pay homage people and heritage – they may seem kitsch and tacky to some people but the power of that attached memory bestows that item with more value than anything else on earth. I don’t think that I even knew what I was doing sometimes. I was working through so many ideas. The lecturers definitely didn’t get a grasp of what I was doing until those last few weeks at Wolverhampton. That’s when the penny dropped.”

“While I was studying and trying to figure out what it was I was trying to say through my work, I came across the American ceramicists of the 30’s-50’s period and the Funk Ceramics of the 70’s. People like Robert Arneson who had an autobiographical style to his work. I too was creating assemblages and installations; I was filling rooms with ceramic artefacts, like shrines. I was looking at things that aren’t appreciated, like mothers and grandmothers baking cakes for the family and how we pass on those skills, and I was interpreting the process of the mundane and everyday and displaying them as art. I guess that’s what I was trying to do.”

Robert Arneson created sculptures in ceramic, to be seen as an art form, rather than a traditional craft or functional piece. He would work with mundane, everyday objects that also included personal elements for him – this was a defining element of Funk Art. Denise explained more about how that influence developed her work.

“Wolverhampton University had links with this amazing place in New York called Alfred. The whole town seems to be dedicated to ceramics. That’s where people like Arneson, John and Andrea Gill were based. I was encouraged by Carol Windham, who had worked with Arneson, giving a talk about the figurative work she was doing. I started to notice in the Ceramic Review that all the American work looked so experimental, I felt more connected to that style than the traditional English approach, at that time.”

“I was helped by the lecturers to apply for a six-month placement at the New York State School of Clay-working and Ceramics at Alfred University. When someone like Val Cushing, a famous thrower from USA says to me ‘Come over and experience it here’ – it was amazing. I had such a brilliant time and was taught by John Gill, who I admire, it was a brilliant time to explore my creativity, develop my skills.”

Before all this current fashion for cupcakes and vintage tea parties, Denise was actually turning the baking into a ceramic art form.

“I made oversized, ceramic cupcakes with icing pumped from icing bags and decorated like cakes would be decorated, decorated in glittery icing sugar. I was fascinated with the surface decoration. That has played a big part in my style. When I was about to leave school I also toyed with the idea of becoming a make-up artist. Looking back I think it was all about the surface decoration, the gilding of the ceramics, the tattoos of Rockabilly, the lipstick, the glamour, the bright colours, the kitsch element, the applied decoration to cakes, the food colouring, the fancy details, the layers of decoration, the processes…it all comes together in my work.”

The brightly coloured oversized cakes worked, they got Denise noticed by people. It was a continuation of her work at University but it had something commercial about it for people to want it in galleries and museums, and in their living rooms. The timing was right. Also by having opportunities like the “Making Moves” West Midlands scheme and doing some world wide travel to expos in America and Europe, plus running community arts projects like doing ceramic murals and large-scale community projects with schools and community groups – this provided Denise with more experiences to know what she was good at and what she wanted to do. She developed her business too.

Around Stoke on Trent, lots of people know Denise for The Pop-Up Emporium market days that she organises to sell her own vintage wares, and also to support local makers and vintage sellers by having local events to develop their own businesses. Denise negotiates with local councils and printers and enlists all the stallholders to make these public events happen…. she’s one busy lady!

Denise sells her wares worldwide, not just locally. This export side of her business relies on having a good profile at events like the one she is preparing for as I write this – Maison et Objet, at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. A key location like this should be great for bringing in lots of buyers from different countries.

“I already sell my tea sets and coffee sets in Europe, and by doing events like Maison&Objet in Paris in the past has help me to make those connections. This will be my third time there. I’m so excited this year too because I’m launching a new range that incorporates some new materials and a new style.”

It’s a skill how Denise manages to mix the elements of her life together – like one big cake recipe, getting all the ingredients right to make sure it all comes together and everyone gets a slice. Denise appreciates the few close friends who help her with the business side of things and how family really help her and Mark to juggle time, so that they all still get a family life. Weekends at VW fairs selling their vintage wares and sharing interests all helps to get the balance right for Denise and Mark.

 “I start the day around 6am, adding transfers, so I can get a kiln firing done before everyone wakes up and I need to dash off to workshops, or using facilities at Staffordshire University. Most days I’m collecting the pots from local cottage industries, like the three specialist hand-painters who do the fine edge gilding for me. I’m filling and emptying the kiln all the time. From the initial biscuit firing, plus the layers of decoration and the glazing, each piece undergoes three or four firings before I can pack it and send it to the customer. There is a lot of attention to detail. Then at night I‘m still working by checking orders online, or hand-finishing more transfers.”

“Maybe people don’t realise the amount of background work that goes into my pieces before it is even made, right from the design stage. I spent a long time sourcing the exact shapes that I wanted to recreate for the tableware. I wanted to use the styles that were only ever used in grand country homes and by royalty. To the trained eye, the shape of the tableware that people use says so much about them. People can recognise class distinctions, for example the deep shaped teacups I use were only ever used in high society and even some of the designs were registered to HRH. “

“It’s all hand-worked decoration, nothing is added by machine. People who collect my work can probably notice that I also change my surface design slightly every six months. I catalogue all those design changes, so if you buy an English Rose and Skulls teacup or a Gold Skull teapot you know it’s a limited edition, because the design will change. Cataloguing helps me to categorise my work and see how the style develops.”

So with all this work on her plate, is Denise ready for Paris? And will there be anything new for people to see?

“Yes, the new range might surprise people who think that I’m just all chintz and china cups. There as always been the other side to my work – the kitsch element. It links to my love affair with America, the retro fashions, plastics, Tupperware, melamine, all the colour and glamour of the 1950′s, 60′s and 70′s.”

“This new idea has been bubbling away for a few years and I’ve worked really hard with engineers to get prototypes that work, practically and aesthetically, plus a new back stamp. I’m really excited to see people’s reactions and I’ll update my site with the new range and news from Paris too.”

Whilst Eva reads her storybook, we sat on the sofa and discussed Denise’s hopes for the future. After Paris, what is the next chapter?

“I’d love to go to America again with my work, for the shows in Chicago and San Francisco. Years ago I went to the Sofa expo, with glass artist Jacqueline Cooley, and I’d love to get my work there with more bespoke, one-off pieces – some new sculptural work. I don’t want ‘just’ to be categorised in the industry section of these big expos, I want to be recognised in the handmade too with my new ideas.”

Take a look at Denise’s latest news at and the Pop-Up Emporium news at

When I Grow Up…

This just made me smile.

A lovely animation from The Big Red Studio working with children in Alexandra Primary and Junior School and people at West End Village retirement complex for the “My Longton My Future” project, funded the Arts Council England and Staffordshire Housing Association.

It’s 17 minutes of animation ( so settle down…. and enjoy…)

If you know anything about Stoke on Trent it should make you smile, and if you’ve never been to Stoke on Trent, watch it anyway – it’s just lovely. Longton is one of the six towns that make up Stoke on Trent, which used to be filled with lots of very busy pottery firms, producing ceramics for all over the world. So with all the smashing of plates from the local pottery industry and Victorian parks, the tweeting birds and theatres  it’s so sweet ( and maybe it’s just because I’m enjoying all things circus at the moment too.)

It’s so lovely to see children’s reflections on history and their aspirations for the future too … and I’m glad to see a few potential artists of the future  in there.

Quote …. “When I grow up I want to be an artist.
What shall I draw today ….la…la…la?”

I wonder if Big Red Studio will catch up with the kids when they are 30 years old and ask them to do an update in animation. I hope they all fulfil their dreams.

“What’s green and eats porridge?

… Mouldylocks”

… It made me smile anyway!”