Six months on – Annabelle’s apprenticeship with Seasalt and Leach

Annabelle is half a year in to her apprenticeship with the Leach Pottery, sponsored by the Seasalt Bursary. We headed down to the studio to catch up with Annabelle and see how she’s enjoying herself so far.

“I have had six months at the Leach, and so much has happened since my last blog post. With spring in the air, it’s safe to say that while we have enjoyed the snow down here, the team are looking forward to brighter and warmer times!

My practice and skills are developing as both an individual and as part of an amazing team of skilled craftspeople. Last time we caught up, I was trying my hand at throwing mugs. I had started to understand the importance of movement within throwing – the ability to throw with accuracy is key to what we as studio potters aim for, yet to keep things easy and natural is an important part of what makes handmade pots so special.

I have recently been working on throwing and glazing some bowls – a new challenge, and one that I have been enjoying. I often throw in sets of around 8-10 at a time, which gives me some flexibility in case something goes wrong! After throwing, the bowls are slowly dried in the outdoor clay shed, which prevents cracking. After around 3-4 days the clay should be ‘leather hard’ and will be ready for the bowl’s foot to be trimmed. This involves putting it back on the wheel upside down, where I use special trimming tools to cut away the excess clay on the bottom of the pot.

It has been difficult finding the right proportions on the foot of the bowls in relation to the size and shape of a pot. I often find myself in the studio after hours, trying to hone these finer details and as with every part of my apprenticeship, I enjoy the challenge, whilst being thankful for the talented team around me that help guide and support my practice whenever I’m in need.

After the pots are trimmed, I sometimes apply slip to create textures. This is where a Japanese Hakeme brush comes into play, with any number of movements helping to give the final piece a unique pattern. The bowls are then placed into the kiln and bisque fired at a low temperature. This hardens the bowl, yet still leaves the clay porous enough to absorb the final glaze. Glazing is one of my favourite parts because it’s like applying paint on a primed canvas. There are endless possibilities for different colours and effects depending on the raw materials combined. Here is an example of a slipped bowl, finished with an ash glaze. I love the effect that ash gives as when it is fired, the ash dissolves to an amazing array of colour – a process that gives different results every time. The tree that the ash comes from is partly responsible for this and I find nature is a constant source of inspiration within my work.

To round off March, I have been lending my hand and eye to helping curate the current exhibition to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the re-opening of The Leach Pottery, celebrating the work of potters past and present. My work is featured in the show alongside some of the other beneficiaries of the Seasalt bursary. This was a proud moment for me, having my work included in an exhibition that featured so many inspiring craftspeople from past and present. I especially love the work of Janet Leach which is featured in the exhibition. It celebrates the Bizen style of pottery, a Japanese town that uses an Anagama, a special type of kiln that is wood fired over several days. As more ash enters the kiln over this period, the fluctuations of both temperature and minerals form the ash leads to unpredictable yet amazing effects.

It has been a fantastic, frantic first six months at the Leach Pottery and I can’t wait to see where it’ll take me next.”