Monday, March 31, 2014

Ruth Charlton's Ceramics

Wall hanging by Ruth Charlton. Collection the author.

Ruth Charlton is an extraordinary artist. Little figures and faces are a great love of mine, and her versions affect me like winds blowing from the middle ages, heaving up memories I can't possibly have had (unless I'm remembering snippets of past lives).

No matter. What is important is the quality and the spirit of the works--always expressive and unique. 
I study them constantly and wanted to know more about them and their creator. 
Happily, Ruth graciously agreed to an interview. Her works, down-to-earth responses, and wisdom are a treat! (Links to her works and shop follow.)

Me: What, if any, formal training did you have that prepared you for the work you do?

Ruth: A foundation course followed by a 3 year degree course in ceramics at Bath Academy of Art

Work habits:
Me: How integral is sketching to your creative life? You drew before ceramics, do you keep drawing sketchbooks now?

Ruth: Sketching is not such an integral part of my creative life as it used to be.  I tend to sketch people when I am at craft fairs or away from home visiting museums.  I have always been more of a one for observational drawings rather than drawing from my imagination.

Me: Is art-making your job, or do you also relax with it? I guess I’m asking if it suffuses your entire life with enjoyment, or would you rather have a break from it (ie. gardening or hiking, etc.) on your free time?

Ruth: Making art is my job but it is such a rewarding and pleasurable thing to spend your time doing that it never feels like a job.

Me: Have you found social media useful for more than marketing and promotion? If so, can you elaborate?

Ruth: Living with my family in a fairly remote area of the UK, I have found social media invaluable and I love the direct feedback you get from customers and people who like your work.  Before the internet, people would buy my work from galleries or exhibitions and, unless you had a good relationship with the gallery owner, it felt quite impersonal. It is good to be more in control of the relationship you have, as an artist, with the public.

Me: Which social media do you prefer: Facebook, blogs, Pinterest, etc.?

Ruth: I know that I should be trying out different types of social media but I have only used Facebook so far.  I have thought about doing a blog but, to be honest, my day-to-day life is not really that interesting! I enjoy looking at things other people put on Pinterest.

Me: Do you teach classes/workshops? If so, could you describe your favorite types of workshops to teach?

Ruth: I run a weekly pottery class in a centre for adults with learning difficulties which is fun and not too stressful and they have a kiln on site.  I am always in two minds whether to run pottery workshops because, unlike other subjects, on top of the preparation they involve a lot of work outside of the teaching - lifting and carrying clay/finishing off the work/firing it at home and getting it back to people - which is a shame because I do enjoy seeing other people benefit from taking time out from their busy lives to work with their hands and create something.

Me: What are your favourite types of workshops?
Ruth: Working with children.

Your art works:
Me: Most fascinating to me--your wonderful pieces seem to breathe with an other-worldly spirit. Is there a conscious effort to infuse this, or does the spirit they contain emerge spontaneously as you create them?

Ruth: The latter, I would say.

 Me: What pressures, if any, (from within and without) do you feel most when it comes to art-making?

Ruth: My main problem, in the past, has been fighting back negative thoughts. I have always worried that I should be doing something more socially useful and not so self indulgent. Once you overcome that hurdle, there is always the feeling that the work you make has to sell, or appeal to someone other than yourself, otherwise why are you making it? I overcome this one by making a range of work that has more popular appeal like the climbers, brooches and tealight holders (which I still enjoy making) and developing my one-of-a-kind pieces for my own satisfaction and if they sell that is a bonus.

Garden Sculptures drying

A finished Garden Sculpture

Me: Which artists and/or artworks from the past and present are you most drawn to and/or inspired by?

Ruth: In the past -  Edward Burne-Jones. Giacometti, Durer, Hogarth, Rodin, Heath Robinson, Mad magazine, Marvel comics, Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ (I am ashamed not to have any women’s names in amongst this lot)
Present - Ron Mueck, Claire Curneen, Grayson Pery, Viola Frey, Aggie Zed, Sophie Favre and Jacqueline Hurlbert.


Me: Tough (maybe stupid) question, but what’s the single, most important well you draw from that stimulates your imagination--the thing you’d choose if you had to do away with everything else?

Ruth: That is a toughie and I am not sure I can get to the bottom of that one. I don’t know if I can say that the clay is my inspiration because of the way it moves under my hands.  I usually have some sort of idea of what I am going to make when I start but things just develop along the way.  It’s a bit similar to an author saying that the characters just evolve as they write and then they are surprised by the result. 

Me: Any words of wisdom you'd share?

Ruth: I think you’ve come to the wrong place for that!

Me: Haha--okay!  Ruth, have you had or do you have a day-job that supports your art? There seems to be a rather new, sort of pushy trend toward getting people to “quit the day job” especially on sites like Etsy, etc. What’s your take on this?

Ruth: Well, I have always had a bit of an alternative lifestyle.  I had jobs going through school and college but when I graduated there was a recession here in the UK and not too many full-time jobs for a graduating ceramics student. I lived in London for seven years working on a mural painting scheme and volunteering at an arts centre. I moved up to the Lake District with my partner in the ‘80s and was a stay-at-home mum bringing up our four children in a barn we have converted ourselves over the years as and when we could afford to work on it. While the kids were young, we made our income from selling climbers made from plaster. I made the originals, Kevin made rubber moulds and poured the plaster and I painted them. Since the youngest started at school, I have been making ceramics again and, with a bit of teaching and my husband’s pension, we manage to get by on very little which would not suit most people. 

Apart from it being fairly unrealistic to expect to earn a good living from selling art, especially at the beginning, I am not sure the lifestyle would suit everyone.  If you live miles from anywhere like us, you can get very isolated. I guess the ideal is to work part-time so that you have something to fall back on in the lean times and see have more contact with other people. It seems to me that the only people who can afford to give up the day job are people who have worked and built up a good pension or young people with a lot of energy and financial support from their families.

Me: Any advice for people considering a career in the ceramic arts?

Ruth: I am not sure if this is advice, but if you can afford the materials and the firing costs, the ceramic arts offer a diverse range of applications and art forms to explore.  After all these years of making ceramics, it is still exciting to open the kiln and see what comes out.  One thing it does teach you is patience - it takes a long time to develop your own style and be happy with the results.

Thanks Ruth, for taking the time to do the interview and allowing me to post this feature!

See more of Ruth Charlton's intriguing works at:

Check out her art for sale at:

All works shown are copyright Ruth Charlton.

Thanks for reading--I hope you enjoyed seeing Ruth's art and taking a peek into the mind of a master!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

William Heath Robinson: Some Rare Images
Illustration detail from a battle scene by W. Heath Robinson. 
From The Monarchs of Merry England, by Roland Carse, 1907.

Among my many influences, Heath Robinson's works have always been among the top three. 
The above detail shows not only his great skill as a draftsman and painter, 
but is as fresh and luminous as many contemporary digital illustrations. 

Now, I'm not one of those curmudgeonly critics who thinks good 
illustration ended with the Golden Age. I love it but 
am also fascinated by the amazing new works out there. 
Those will be for future posts. 

In the meantime, Heath Robinson's 
works deserve all the re-visiting they can get.  

Over the years, I've managed to collect some rare books that 
contain many of Robinson's lesser-known works. Seems a good idea to share a few;
therefore all of the pieces in this post are his.

Robinson's art is extremely eclectic, yet always retaining the stamp of 
his unique style and humor. Since I worry often about the variation in my own artwork, 
it's a comfort to see that Robinson's amazing talent and successful career 
was not damaged by his wide range of picture-making skills and interests.

Haystacks in the Snow
Since I've never seen this anywhere but in an old art catalog, not sure if it was a 
full color watercolor or originally done in black and white, but the piece is 
gorgeous nonetheless--worthy of Jean-Francois Millet.

This goofy little bird-man is from The Works of Rabelais 
which Robinson illustrated for Grant Richards in 1904.

I've always examined and learned from Robinson's full-color plates, 
but his pen and ink work is paragon, and his spot illustrations 
of goofy people burst with life and character.

This is a border decoration from 
the aforementioned Monarchs of Merry England... is this jumping Medieval Scotsman.

This little piper kills me. He marches along on a 
sheet music illustration--the whole thing shown below:

This is a beauty--a stunning pen work full of tiny elves 
peeping out of the trees and faery folk cavorting in the air.

A Hag from Witches and Fairies

Collapsible Bishop's Hat, from The Bystander, 1920

A Very Tremendous decoration 
from The Water Babies, 1915

Also from The Water Babies

From The Bystander, lampooning a proposed 
tunnel under the English Channel, 1919

And last, another brilliantly lit watercolor...
The Black Prince, After Crecy, from The Monarchs of Merry England.

For more on William Heath Robinson visit

Stay tuned for some future posts on some exciting contemporary illustrators.
And thanks for the visit!

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