The Fabric of things

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017In the first week of February, the Making Ground project spent an intense week in residence at the Fabrica Gallery in Brighton.

Fabrica is a former church building in the centre of Brighton and now a prominent cultural and creative venue for the arts. The vast internal space made available to us echoed the sense of space we used at the Foundry in Lewes in the Autumn and the scale allowed us to expand our ideas and ways of working.

Making Ground at Fabrica - work by Rachel Henson at Fabrica - Photography By Jo Crowther

In the space we set up a row of tables for working and making, surrounded by raised scaffolding boards for placing work we had made during the residency. In other areas of the space collaborative artist Rachel Henson and Neil Manuell set up projections, kinetic moving images, mutoscopes and experimental working; exploring both digital and analogue perspectives on the project.

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017 - Annemarie O'Sullivan working during the residency - photography by Jo Crowther

During the residency we made, played and moved. Working with clay dug from the ground and willow cut from the osier beds and brought to Brighton from the project site in Horam. We also brought other materials and found objects from the site to work with. We worked instinctively together and separately, playing with the materials; unrestricted by any need to make complete or ‘finished’ work, but just absorb ourselves in the process.

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017 - Elaine Bolt working during the residency - photography by Jo Crowther

Annemarie O’Sullivan and Elaine Bolt were also joined Tom McWalter for the week and on individual days we were joined by volunteers, fellow artists and makers from parallel disciplines, including Helen Carnac and Alice Kettle. The presence of other makers injected a new dynamism to the making, allowing ideas to bounce between us around the table and sparking new conversations about the collaborative journey. Helen Carnac introduced tools and processes normally associated with metal work into the pieces she made – at times hammering rusted found objects; at other times creating delicate ephemeral pieces with the very tips of the willow. Alice Kettle brought an impressive new dimension to the space, making fishing rod type pieces suspended from the high balconies above and descending down to the ground. Her pieces expanded the fine lines of sewn thread into a large scale and connected the materials and the space in exiting ways.

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017 - Alice Kettle and Helen Carnac working during the residency - photography by Jo Crowther

Pieces were made individually and collectively and when they were finished with, were catalogued, labelled, and placed on boards around the room. The progress of the line of objects during the week showed the developing input from ourselves and the from the visiting artists.

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017 - pieces made during the residency

On the Thursday evening we gave a talk to an audience of around sixty people, talking about the project, the residency and the process. Project mentor Frances Lord directed the ‘in converstion’ style talk. On the Friday we had an open day allowing the public to view the work and talk to us informally about the experience.

From the week we created an energetic and inventive set of objects which were largely ephemeral, but will continue to inspire us as the project closes and ideas are consolidated into our individual practices.

During the week were were very lucky to have expert photographers capture some of the process and the pieces being made. Below are a selection of further images taken by Alun Callender and by Jo Crowther.

As a project, our final events include a talk at Making Space in Havent followed by an exhibition at Studio Fusion in London.  Please join us there.

Making Ground at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton February 2017 - pieces made during the residency - photography by Jo Crowther

Mutoscopes and Loopascopes

A blog entry from Rachel Henson


It was great to be involved in the live space Elaine and Annemarie created at the Foundry for Making Lewes. I was able to assemble all the forms of paper film that have emerged so far from the process: a series of flick books revealing the intricate choreographies of working in the site, a mutoscope housed in an old brick mould, and the loopascope, a new form that I had been longing to realise.


I arrived with the a loop of fabric and 149 printed images, a sequence of Annemarie’s willow animated by wind. During exhibition hours I glued each image onto the cloth in sequence, until I had a long snaking form, reminiscent of plumage or scales that also echoed the textures of Elaine’s layered tiles. When I mounted it on a thin rod, viewers could tug the loop over the rod to animate the film. Watch the film here.


The simplicity of the mechanism and the physical movement it requires is somehow extremely satisfying. Subsequently I’ve been working out the properties of this form, how it moves, how it is animated and the kind of structures it can be mounted on. I’ve been dreaming big and imagining in situ installation on street architecture, railings and found objects. I hope to take some of these ideas into our development week at Fabrica in February.



Last show at the Foundry


In September we had a show of work in progress at the Foundry Gallery in Lewes.
Our time at the Foundry was a treat… for more reasons than one.

It was a real pleasure to be inside this building which is earmarked for demolition in spite of a huge community effort to preserve it. This huge industrial space was an amazing canvas for our work. Although it was slightly daunting to begin with, it didn’t take us long to inhabit it with our ideas.



This space allowed us to explore our work in a completely different way, to engage in a new process and to communicate our ideas to an avid audience. A Venn diagram of sorts emerged, with boundaries which weren’t stricly adhered to. I don’t know how John Venn would feel if he saw our illogical relations and sets which swam across the mat grey floor.



Over the project we have been challenged by the differing processes and timescales involved in making ceramic or willow objects. While the turnaround time for a ceramic vessel might be 6 weeks, a willow basket might have a turnaround time of 1 week. We threw caution to the wind and found our selves creating with dried and freshly cut willow and raw clay. I gave up on weaving baskets and decided to play with this material I love. We drew lines, arranged and rearranged our materials, seeking relationship. We enjoyed the blurred edges and the difficulty in making sense. And then finally it all made sense.



The materials stood up for themselves and demonstrated what beautiful synergy they have together. Elaine’s devotion to elevating her found objects into stark masterpieces won the hearts of many visitors . Her simple curation of found and made objects collected together was a delight.



What I realised is that I love the process, whatever it might be. Using a vice and a drill I constructed two hundred or so little willow things, maybe I’ll call them tongs. The pleasure I got from just repeating and repeating till there were enough of them to draw with was heavenly. Likewise responding to the clay tiles with white willow drawings on black was so liberating. And this drawing is definitely something I’d like to develop.



Another show is to follow at Studio Fusion Gallery, London in March.

Thanks to all the Making Lewes team… Oliver,  Matilda, William, Lisa, Caroline, George, Isis, Beth, Zoe, Jennie, Neil McW, Raphaela, Frances, David, Penny, Neil T, to all the Bristol students who kindly invigilated, the CraftNet and Crafts Council teams and to all our visitors. Wasn’t it fun?


Kiln Firing and the Open Day at Sacred Earth

We’ve been so busy it’s been hard to keep up with news of what’s been happening with the project. It seems so long ago now and the seasons have changed around us, but on 11th September, we showed the project’s progress at a fabulous open day at the Sacred Earth site.  A week later we had the first firing of the Willow Kiln.

The Open Day


There was an amazing turn out for the event and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The Making Ground project works were shown alongside the Willow Kiln and there was a lot of interest in the work we’ve been doing.



There was an opportunity to get stuck into the clay from the site and children particularly enjoyed having a go.


Rachel Henson showed her ‘paper film’ flickbooks and mutoscope which feature images she has captured of Annemarie and Elaine at the project site.

Here a visitor is seen working the mutoscope which has been built using a former brick mould, found on the site, as a frame.


Thank you to Sacred Earth for an amazing day and thanks to all who came along to the event and who made it really special.

Firing the Willow Kiln

So it’s almost a month ago now that we fired the Willow Kiln, built as part of the Making Ground Project. We had a fantastic team of helpers assembled on September 19th to fire the kiln and the firing itself went very well – we reached approximately 950c after about 9 hours of firing.

Helpers and experts on hand included Abi and Ava (both students from the University of Brighton),  Rachel Henson, Penny Jones, Tom McWalter, John Warren (AKA Jon the Potter), Helen Warren, Lucy Williams amongst others.

The kiln itself held up well, despite some large cracks developing in the clay body. Extra clay was added to the structure during the firing to help keep the heat in where cracks opened up.


Here the kiln is in full swing with flames leaping out of the spy hole at the back of the kiln.


Willow Kiln firing in progress

During the day we took turns to load logs into the kiln and, with many of us on hand, there was also time for some work with the locally dug clay. Here Elaine Bolt and Tom McWalter use the concrete road as a base for wedging the clay. The surface was quite dry and absorbent, providing a surprisingly good surface for wedging. ‘Road Wedging’ is now an established technique in our repertoire of skills!


Here Tom McWalter uses an original brick mould to form bricks using clay from the site.


John the Potter’s extensive firing experience was a great asset on the day, helping to guide us through the process and playing a huge part in keeping the firing on track.


John’s wife Helen drew a charming image of the kiln site on firing day.


A week later we unpacked the kiln and checked how it had held up to the firing process.

The kiln structure itself has slumped and cracked in places, but the clay walls themselves have also partially fired, so that should help keep it in place for any future firings.

making ground willow kiln post firing

The main contents of the kiln were small tiles we had made using the local clay. They were inspired by the many tiles we have found on the site which were once made there, when it was a functioning brickworks. Our tiles are much smaller and are rolled and cut by hand giving them an organic feel. The tiles had been stacked on their sides to allow the flames to move around them and leave marks from the wood firing process.

unpacking the willow kilnThe interior of the kiln itself was transformed; the firing process revealing much more clearly the marks and indents left behind from the willow structure.making ground willow kiln interior

The tiles that were fired in the kiln have retained some of the unique markings from the path of the flame in the wood firing, giving many of them them a lovely variation in tone, depending on where they were placed in the kiln.

The tiles were then used in our Making Ground exhibition at the Foundry Gallery in Lewes that was held at the end of September. The next blog post from us will focus on the exhibition held at the Foundry and the work we displayed there.

making ground wood fired tile


Making Ground Open Day 11 September

Elaine_Bolt_IMG_5892Come and see us on the land this weekend for our Making Ground open day.

We are delighted that the event will be part of an open day for the Sacred Earth Land site were the project is situated. So there will be lots of activities to get involved in.

We’ll will there to show the clay digging site, the willow beds and the willow kiln. There will also be opportunities to get stuck in with clay workshops in the morning and afternoon. There will be a display of the work we’ve made so far and information about the project. Artist Rachel Henson will also be showing her moving image sequences and flick books inspired by the Making Ground project.

The wider Sacred Earth open day will include walks, workshops and activities or you can just relax with a cup of tea by the lake. Check out the details here. And do get in touch to let us know if you can come, then we know how many cakes we need to bake!


Willow Kiln Update

As part of the project an experimental kiln has been built on site, using willow for its frame and making a mixture of local clay and sand for building the kiln walls.

After finishing building the main body of the kiln, the latest development has involved patching and securing areas where the clay walls had developed cracks and burning away the willow frame. This will allow the clay walls to dry and shrink further.

The burning of the willow was quite dramatic with the the willow popping and hissing as it burned. The kiln also smoked quite a bit where small cracks had formed. These will be filled with the same mixture of clay and sand used to build the structure.

Though it was sad to see the willow frame go, this was a crucial stage in the building process. The kiln is now ready for its first firing.

You can view a short video of the burning :

Making Ground kiln – initial willow burnout from Elaine Bolt on Vimeo.


Next stop Bovey Tracey

This week we’re off to Bovey Tracey for the Contemporary Craft Festival which runs from 10-12 June. Come visit us in the Demonstrator area on stands 27/28. It will be great to show what we’ve done so far as well as doing some more making.

We’ve been working hard on our kiln, with a lovely troop of volunteers, building clay walls around a willow structure which will burn away during the firing. It’s hard work extracting the clay and mixing it with sand, but so exciting watching the walls build up. It has been lovely working in a team, like a well oiled machine ready to supply the builders. We’re looking forward to firing our works when the kiln has been completed and has dried enough to withstand the firing.

Our workshops have all been completed, the last of which was part of our kick-starter campaign. Check out our  little film ‘Wattle and Daub’ here.


A huge thanks to Nora, Til, Ava, Abi, Topsy, Miriam, Sue, Kim, Clare and Alison for all your help with building the kiln. And a massive thank you to R&A collaborations for making our little film ‘Wattle and Daub’.


Workshop wonders

We had a  beautiful few days last week setting up our experimental kiln and running our  workshops for Making Ground.

Neither Elaine or I had any experience of building a kiln like this, but were taken with the idea of making a kiln with willow and daubing it with a mixture of clay and sand. We based the design on a fairly primitive kiln, dipping in and out of great books like ‘Alternative Kilns’ and taking a look at inspiring projects like the Oxford Anagama Kiln. Ours is a quite a humble test ground, exploring another way that these beautiful materials, namely clay and willow, can meet each other.


Alongside the kiln building, we worked on traditional basketmaking, and our fantastic students from Brighton University learnt to make a traditional round basket. They all have plenty of experience making and designing and immediately got to grips with the process.

Abi told me show great it was ‘to work with something so raw..and because we actually helped cut the willow the whole process is so brilliant’. They had completed the willow harvest early last month so were so excited to see the process through to the final product, the basket.


Later when their baskets were completed they moved on to working on the kiln, building on the weaving that had already been done by Til and Lucy. Then came the hard work, digging up clay and mixing it with the sand to make the daub for the kiln. It proved quite hard work to begin with, working out the best system and getting the mix just right. Cedar was in her element getting muddy and barely noticed when the rain came down. Check out our little 1 minute film of the build here.


Over the coming weeks, Elaine and I are looking forward slowly building up the daub on the kiln and watching it dry. When it’s ready to go we’ll give it an initial burn to remove the willow from the inside. Then we’ll load it up to fire our tiles. Who knows how it will go, and fortunately our livelihoods aren’t depending on it.

A huge thanks to students Abi, Til, Nora and Ava from Brighton University’s 3D Design and Craft course.  We’re looking forward to seeing how basketmaking might creep into your work at Uni. Thanks to Cedar, Lucy, Miriam, Rachel Entwistle, Ella and as ever to Rachel Henson for your amazing support for our project.

Finished baskets shadow

1 quick shower of rain
13 hours of sunshine
10 bundles of willow
3 wheelbarrows of clay
17 bags of building sand
28 cups of tea
11 cups of coffee
6 packets of biscuits
10 pairs of hands
10 piglets (not strictly part of the workshop but we downed tools and helped moved them mid basketmaking)




Collecting clay

Willow at Sacred Earth, image by Rachel Henson

Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the land, observing the terrain, collecting clay samples and investigating what the site, has to tell us. There are wooded areas with tall straight trees; there is a large almost inaccessible lake overgrown with brambles and low branches; there is a stream running through the land with mossy banks and fallen tree trunks used to slow the flow of the water.

Broken corners of clay tiles and misshapen bricks can be found throughout the site, piled high in places, forming mounds with tree roots growing around the rubble. These angular terracotta sherds covered in moss and soil are a reminder of the site’s industrial past.

Spending time on the site has revealed the the clay appears to vary quite a bit even in a short distance. We collected samples from different places on the site, making small pinch pots along the way to assess its qualities. The pinch pots were left on site to return to the earth, but clay tiles were created from each of the samples gathered. These samples help to show some of the differences in colour, texture and suitability for use. Some samples were strong smelling and crumbly in texture; others full of organic matter or stones, making them hard to use. Some samples reacted to the air once extracted from the ground – changing from a blue-grey to a yellowish buff.

A selection of the samples we collected have now been bisque fired (taken to 1000c) in an electric kiln giving the tiles a distinctive light orange terracotta colour. The differences between the clays are now much more subtle. Some of the test tiles will be also be re-fired to higher temperatures to observe the outcomes.

Following the tests, we spent a day digging clay from two of the source locations and making over 80 small tiles out on the land. We plan to fire these in a test kiln we will build on site as part of the project.

The above three images and the image at the top of the post were taken by Rachel Henson who has been following our journey so far and capturing parts of the process. Some of the moving images she’s captured will be available to view online soon.

Beating the Bounds

We’ve begun our research with several days exploring the woods, beating the bounds, extracting clay from various locations as well as some quiet time, just taking this beautiful place in.

Yesterday the sun shone on us as we explored the north and east boundaries armed with green boughs, birch and willow, trowels and notebooks. We came away with a bucket full of little clay samples wrapped in cling film and a collection of misfired bricks which we’ve found in the undergrowth. I couldn’t help but start to figure out what I can do with these beautiful bricks. So I began to cleave some skeins of willow to wrap them up.



The willow is almost completely cut and bundled. Thanks to all our harvesters Ellen, Lucy,Tom, Cedar and Tallula. And thanks to Matilda, Clare, Nora, Ava, Abi and Till who joined us from Brighton University. We’ve had the sun on our backs everyday we’ve been out. Long may it last.