Monthly Archives: July 2014




More a case of dyes and pigments than pure colour, really, and far from a scientific treatise.  Victoria Finlay recounts her personal quests (there were quite a few of them) to find out more about the the major colouring agents the world knew and relied upon before coal tar and aniline dyes. My copy ended up stuffed with bookmarks to help me find my favourite bits again – always a very good sign – so I’ll indicate a few of them.

She is good at drawing out the social and historical contexts:  for example, the way the saffron industry has moved to Iran, where it apparently remains economic for 28 billion crocuses to be individually hand-stripped of their stigmas.

Then there is the magic behind the cold economics, for example a co-operative in Turkey re-introducing natural dyes to recreate genuine Turkish carpets:

Dr Boehmer explained the appeal. ‘Synthetic dyes just contain one colour. But in madder there is red, of course, but blue and yellow are in there as well. It makes it softer …’ I was reminded of a photograph I saw at the Winsor & Newton factory of a piece of madder that had been magnified 240 times. It was orange and blue and red, like a kingfisher’s wings …

She feels a strong personal involvement with colouring processes, imparting her experience with a throwaway casual air which amused me:

Some said he stained it [pernambucco for violin bows] with stale urine, though when I tried this – a process I cannot recommend – it made the wood more treacly than chocolatey …

In fact she will try pretty much anything, including dabbling in a bath of mercury, which I have always wanted the chance to do:

I submerged my arm and swirled this pool of pure mercury around:  it was a wonderful sensation.  When I went with it, it felt like water.  When I went against it, it was an almost unstoppable force.  An elephant of elements.

And then there are her own stories.  Finlay’s pilgrimage to the war zone of Afghanistan in order to acquire some ultramarine for Michelangelo, five hundred years too late, was superbly Quixotic, narrowly beaten into second place in my affections by the search for Indian Yellow, a shaggy dog story so perfect that it could be incorporated into Tristram Shandy and hardly show the joins.

Definitely a keeper until I find a very deserving person.

Eight labels




The red one should fire to black, and the black one to red.  The grey one is meant to turn green, and the cream/buff ones might variously change into blue, lavenders and grey.

There are doubts about this:  I’ve never tried any of these before.  What’s more, since I only have old kitchen scales for the ingredients*, the oxide components for a test batch are unmeasurably small.  4 grams, possibly, but half a gram?  One tenth of a gram?  You’re kidding, right?  I am still back in the realm of smidgens and pugils.

And I hope I got my labels right.

*£60 for scales which weigh in 0.1g increments, that’s why.

The convalescent potter


After so long away from the clay, a rapprochement with the workshop feels like  convalescence.  At first one can only achieve a few small tasks of daily life, usually the undemanding or mildly pleasurable.  This apparently means throwing colanders, and, surprisingly, wedging up recycled clay.  I’ve felt too ceramically languid to tackle glazing or even bisque firing.

The heat wave is still with us:

1 in the house

By early afternoon the garage is on the shady side of the house, which encouraged me to take on some more clay processes.  In the first instance this was a lot of washing up

2 washing up

tidying and binning.

3 tidy

I couldn’t bring myself to de-spider the library (ideas that might work one day, and, even more important, awful warnings I should never do again)

4 library

but I cleared and audited the ware shelves.  There is a surprising amount waiting.  This is because I can’t find a glaze and decoration I like for the white stoneware, but at least there are plenty of gash pots to try things out on.  The past presides over the future.

5 ware

Amnesia seems to be part of the potter’s complaint from which I have been suffering.  I had completely forgotten that years ago someone gave me these china paints, still treasured away in their little chest

6 paints

and when I got in among the mouse poos and cobwebs in the oxides and extras box, I found all sorts of things.  Ilmenite?  What on earth was I planning to do with ilmenite?

7 mouse poo

Better think of something quick.  Or then again, let’s not risk a relapse.



For Alen as he asked for an update 🙂

The Seramas seem to have got very matey very quickly with their new owners

chooks x 3

… though if I had one standing on my lap and wearing this expression I would expect it to peck my eyes out (too much Hitchcock too young)

lap chook

… and one of them has already got busy.

chook eggs

Ten-colander challenge – 3


Overheating is not usually a problem in an old north-facing conservatory, but the sun does get round in the summer.  I needed shade on my back to throw in comfort.  Since I don’t mind looking weird if I can be comfortable, the contraption is made from a family-size brolly, a mop, and the Christmas tree holder 🙂


Colander 3:  The one-handed colander (for those with one hand?) and to take up less space in the cupboard.

colander 3



A thunder storm marched in at bedtime, shedding flashes as it came, the bolts concealed in the forerunning rain.  It growled and cracked by and I followed from window to window around the house.

At length it moved decisively away to the north-east, three knots of energy discharging across a quadrant of the horizon, never more than four seconds between strokes and sometimes continuous lightning.  There were hundreds of flashes in the hour:  flashes too quick to see; sheets and billows of light sweeping in giant ripples across half the sky; sudden vertiginous cloudscapes, picked out for a bare instant.  Perhaps one in ten of the bolts was visible, as a sudden stab to ground or snaking from cloud to cloud, now and then inscribing an elaborate tracery at once  powerful and fantastic.

Gradually the storm set behind the downs, now silent for us but still flinging out flame in erratic profusion, bolts occasionally seeming to roll along the brow of the hills like electrical fluid.  The pale clouds in the east let a few chips of rising moon shine through as an appendix to the light show, and Cassiopeia stood in a rag of clear sky.

An hour later the next storm travelled over:  a few bangs and flashes, and inconceivable quantities of the Atlantic dumped onto the land.