For seven days in April I have been lucky enough to work on Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats with artist Frances Priest as a ceramic intern in her sunny Edinburgh studio, a stone’s throw from the Royal Mile. Frances has created ceramic artworks inspired by the varied flora of the Isle of Raasay. Some of the intricately produced ceramic work will be installed at Raasay House to become part of the architectural features. She is also working with designer Andy McGregor to create a wonderfully illustrated map of walks across the island. The map will encourage visitors out into the habitats which have inspired the artwork. Following her visit to Raasay earlier in the year, guided by local botanist Stephen Bungard, Frances has drawn on the beauty and diversity of the Island to make a truly captivating collection of work. The map and ceramic artworks will both draw people to Raasay and enrich their experience of this thriving corner of the Scottish islands.
To go alongside the installed artwork there will also be 150 limited edition parian vases. Each vase is decorated with a beautiful, hand-finished transfer created from Frances’ hand drawn artwork. It was these vases that I was working on as part of my internship. The choice of Parian as a clay body is particularly lovely because it is semi-translucent and can be polished, using diamond pads, to achieve a perfectly smooth surface. As well as being wonderfully tactile, this even surface is important so that the ceramics can be decorated with such intricately detailed artwork. Each design is applied to the ceramic surface by hand, which is a pretty fiddly job and takes a lot of care and patience. I really enjoyed this process as you have to take great pride in each single vase. This was the largest number of vessels I have ever worked on in one go so I was keen to take on the challenge!
Frances was incredibly welcoming and open, sharing a lot of invaluable advice that I would never have been able to gain had I not been offered this opportunity. I picked up tips on everything from working out costings, sourcing residencies and kiln techniques, to finding your own style in the design industry, ways to get your work out there and an ever growing list of excellent music to keep your energy up in the studio! One key thing I valued from my time working with Frances was seeing how being engaged in your local artistic community can make for such an enjoyable working environment. The multiple facets of this project bring together crafts people from laser cutters and graphic designers to ceramicists, arts organisations and an expert botanist. It is this network of skills that has led to such a brilliantly realised work. I felt that this was a great example of an underlying ethos among artists that I find really heartening and is something positive that I will take away with me.
Frances’ studio is a hub of creative activity and on Thursday morning a group from Artlink were in the studio to work on a project which Frances is leading. I share Frances’ passion for bringing art workshops out into the community so it was great to see all of the work in progress. It has really affirmed to me that I’d like to make that part of my practice going forward.
So, after what feels like a very quick seven days, I came away with new technical skills, a clear sense of direction for my own work, and a wealth of advice and contacts to take my work forward. I feel genuinely privileged to have been able to contribute to such a fantastic project and I can’t wait to visit Raasay to see the artwork in place and to explore the Patterns of Flora for myself!”