My name is Vanessa Bullick and I make sawdust fired, textured and patterned pots. I live in the countryside near Cupar, Fife in Scotland, and work from my studio at home.
There is something very special about a handmade pot that is hard to describe – the feel, the look – it cannot be achieved by any other production method. It has taken me many years to develop my techniques, and they have evolved over time from working with the clay. I am still finding new woods and techniques to experiment with. I love the making process.
I wheel throw my pots and then turn them to trim off excess clay. At this stage, I paint my blue pots with about five layers of a colored slip. Next, I burnish each one by hand using the back of a spoon and apply spikes with a very thick slip. After letting them dry, I fire the pots in an electric kiln. Striped and spotted pots are then patterned after the firing with a thinner slip. Finally, I bury the pots in a metal dustbin full of sawdust shavings and set it alight. After the sawdust firing, I remove the slip resist to reveal the pattern below.
Firings can take anywhere from 2 hours to 36 hours, depending on the wood and the weather. I use a wide variety of shavings that I get from a local wheelwright, including sycamore, pine and oak. Different woods result in different effects. To a certain degree, I know what the firing is going to achieve, but there is always an element of surprise when I lift the lid of the dustbin at the end.
My work is unusual, and every pot I make is completely unique. I used to work in a much larger scale, but have found the size of my pots has reduced to a size that can be held in the hand. The smaller size works well with the tactile nature of my pots. They look good individually but also can be grouped together well. I have people who collect my work and add to their collection over time, mixing the pieces.
I am influenced by natural form, specifically stones found on the beach. During holidays in the north of Scotland, I have come across beaches with amazing stones, some with beautiful stripes in subtle colors. The shapes are smoothed and polished by the Atlantic’s waves. It’s from collecting stones that I now make my own collection of pots.
Working here in rural Scotland, I had always only shown my work in galleries throughout the UK and exhibited in Open Studios and Potfest Scotland. Discovering Etsy and opening a shop enabled me to take control of sales myself, while still showing in galleries, and has allowed me to work from home around my young family. This gives me the flexibility to meet their needs, and to also develop my work and business.
All photographs by Vanessa Bullick.