A day in the life of a potter
Yay, it's time for the next 'Day in the life' feature and this month we're finding out what the average day is like for a full time potter. This particular potter is from my own county, beautiful Somerset and she creates the most beautiful work! So, without further ado, let's find out what a potter's day is like...
My name's Mim Archer (it's short for Miriam but nobody calls me that except my mother!) I'm 33 and I live in Cheddar, in Somerset, in a lovely little cottage on the north edge of the village. I live with my partner, two dogs and a little black cat.
I've been a potter for four years now. I took an evening class in pottery and loved it so much, I knew it had to be what I did from then on. I've always felt the urge to make things – I did up our previous house more or less myself – but I've never been sure what my 'calling' was. When I did pottery for the first time, I knew.
We moved into our cottage two and a half years ago, and converted our large garden shed into my studio. That's where I work; I have an electric wheel, a kiln, and loads of shelving for all my items. I mostly sell online, though I do some commission work too. I also supplied a café in Bristol for a while, and I take part in the Cheddar Arts open studios trail around the village, and the odd craft fair here and there.
I'm not an early morning person, so my day starts gradually. Top of the to do list are the dogs and the cat, who want good morning cuddles and breakfast. Then it's tea – I'm passionate about darjeeling. I do my admin in the mornings, as my body isn't awake enough for the physically demanding work of throwing on the wheel! I do a lot of my advertising through Instagram, so I spend a bit of time taking photos and chatting to people who comment on my feed, or on the feeds I follow. I also go through any conversations or orders that have come through my Etsy shop, and do any parcelling up of orders.
Monday mornings are a little different: my neighbour and friend Sara Parsons is also a ceramicist and artist, and she runs classes from her studio just down the road. I drop in for coffee and biscuits with her Monday morning ceramics class, to get some pottery chat and inspiration, and also for social time: I’ve discovered that when you work from home it’s important to build in activities with other people - especially if, like me, you get most of your motivation and energy from spending time with others!
In the late morning I head into my studio, where radio 4 keeps me company. I make functional pottery: I love the idea of creating something that someone will use on a daily basis; something that’s useful and can bring a bit of handmade joy and individuality to an everyday activity.
There are three main bits to making my pottery: throwing things (which means making them on a potters’ wheel), turning them (which means flipping the pot over to trim and shape the bottom) and then glazing them (which means adding their colour). They need firing before they're glazed, and then firing a second time once they've been glazed.
On the days that I'm throwing a lot, I need regular breaks, just to move around. Throwing is very physical, and I need to stretch regularly. I had to see a physio for a while, because my back was seizing up. Now I'm really careful to stretch often and I go to a pilates class once a week, so my back is much happier!
I have several types of clay that I use. My favourite at the moment is a really characterful black clay, but you'll also find a textured pale clay on my Etsy shop.
I break for lunch and to walk the dogs. I’m lucky enough to live just two minutes walk from open access AONB land, so I’ll take them up the lovely Mendip Hills, or around the top of Cheddar Gorge. When I get back, I usually do my turning (trimming and shaping the bottoms), or glazing in the afternoon. The pots have to dry slightly before I can turn them, and how long it takes depends on the weather. If it's really wet outside I'll often use a heat gun to dry the pots a little quicker.
While my pots are drying and waiting to be turned, most days I go to the post office in the village to post my latest orders, and I often take the younger of my dogs along too for a bit of people-seeing. He’s ridiculously happy to meet people out and about and I always feel it’s nice to give my middle-aged pooch a bit of a break from the boisterousness of the one-year-old pup!
Once they're turned, my pots have to dry for several days before I can fire them, ready for glazing. I have a lot of different glazes, which create different effects. Glaze is basically made from crushed rock mixed with water, which melts in the 1260 degree firing to create a glassy surface. I keep it in big buckets and have to stir it up every time I want to use it, to make sure the minerals don’t sink to the bottom. My most recent new colour is a lovely lilac, which comes out a cheery purple-pink on my pale clay and a muted soft grey-pink on my black clay.
I try to time the end of my working day for when my other half comes home at about 7pm. If I’ve taken any good photos that day, I’ll put one up on Instagram in the evening to help with advertising my work, and to try to keep people updated about what I’m getting up to.
I try not to work at the weekends, unless I've got an urgent order. We walk a lot at the weekends; as well as indulging in our other passions – DIY and cream teas! I've never lost the DIY bug; I'm usually doing something on the house at any given time. Over the last few weekends I've been repainting ALL of our skirting boards and doors.
I still love making pottery. I love how relaxing it is, and the joy of creating something that will give other people pleasure. I also like being my own boss, and being able to run my day in a rhythm that suits me. I do have to take care of myself physically, to avoid strains. I also have to make a conscious effort not to be working all the time; it's easy when your work is at the bottom of your garden to never stop. I'm really disciplined about evenings and weekends.
If I could change one thing it would be to get a bit more space soon. I'd like a larger studio to give tuition, so that other people can learn how wonderful pottery is too!
Thank you so much Mim! It's been truly wonderful hearing all about your pottery world, how you work and what you average day looks like. Keep up the beautiful work!
I hope you've all enjoyed the 'Day in the life of a potter' and are now heading off to Mim's Etsy shop to look at all her stunning creations and her Instagram feed to see more beautiful photos of her work. If you'd also like to read more 'Day in the life' features, head over hereto discover what a day in the life is like for these incredible people.
Photos by Mim Archer.