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Oct/Nov 2021. The value of a mentor……..

As part of the SAW Pair-up scheme, which gave Mud and Thread a small grant towards the collaboration, Gill and Joy have access to 3 x 1hr sessions with Zoe Li from SAW.  During the second of these sessions this month they were able to examine where they felt the work was going and what they were learning from the partnership.  Zoe was instrumental in curating the ‘Somerset-Reacquainted’ exhibitions, two of which Mud  and Thread had shown work in, so she was familiar with how the collaborative work was developing.

‘Creativeboom’ has information that is useful in thinking about the mentor/mentee relationship.  A mentor should be someone the artist trusts and whose expertise they respect. A mentor can do a valuable job of holding the artist accountable and  giving honest and constructive criticism.  ‘Crucially, with a mentor, you get a different perspective on your work, from someone who knows from personal experience what you’re trying to achieve.’  (  

In talking with Zoe, Joy and Gill were able to unpack their own conclusions about how far they have come, what they have learnt from exhibiting, and thoughts about future aims.  Joy particularly has felt that the collaboration needs to start producing larger work than the table-top experiments – this would enable a direction of working towards a solo show with work that is more substantial and has greater impact. Both artists agreed that it is important to have another day of working together – possibly working with drawing and exploring a to-and-fro approach, getting to know more deeply each other’s way of responding to stimuli. 

Questions Zoe raised: 

  1.     What is ‘being successful’ in your terms? 
  2.     How might the collaboration use other people’s input? 
  3.     Who is our audience – who is our possible audience? Had we considered exhibiting in unconventional places?   
  4.    What is the value of the work? 

While the questions can be taken as provocations or action points to work on, one of the areas that is coming up at this point is how to be more effective at disseminating the work to an audience.  Gill and Joy have talked about making a book when the collaboration has finished – this would be a great idea to go with a final solo show.    Zoe suggested that for the moment having a consistent presence on AN would be a good way of gaining exposure.  Although an AN blog has been started, this has not been consistently updated because it is another thing to take on in terms of administrative tasks. A way of solving this may be to find a shorter form which would not need so much formatting –  perhaps an image and a couple of sentences,with a link to the main website blog. 

It had been a valuable hour spent with Zoe.  Gill and Joy appreciated her input in   challenging them further and her enthusiasm for their creative work.  

Engagement 8:  For this month, rather than looking for a new inspirational activity, both artists wanted to spend more time consolidating the pieces they had already been exploring, in order to extend and unpack ideas more fully.   For Joy this was working with forms based on water bottles and also finding ways to employ ceramic fragments.   Gill continued to find ways of bringing ceramic elements and textile elements together in combination pots or stacks.  

Joy:  As part of this journey with Mud and Thread I have relished the opportunity to trigger responses that push my own practice further. For my part at this stage, I have had to reassess the processes and materials I have used to give myself boundaries, consolidating new techniques and translating them into more considered outcomes.  As one of our criteria is to use locally gathered materials and keep our footprint to an absolute minimum I am limiting myself to used teabags, foraged wool fleece and fabrics and threads from my existing stash.

I have enjoyed the challenge of reutilising used tea bags and how I can transform them into a different form of vessel.  Cutting, twisting and stitching in the form of a cord and understanding the qualities of this twine has been my recent focus. I’m developing a coiling method to form larger shapes based on water bottles and I love the connection between this process and ceramics.  Gill’s moon flasks and vases initially inspired me to look at water containers, costrels and medieval water bottles for shape and now I am focussed on perfecting the technique to produce larger scale containers.

I appreciate the tactile quality of them and their pliability and how they can be manipulated in a similar way to soft clay.  ‘Emerge’ and ‘erupt’ have been 2 of our key words.  Through the construction process I have these words at the back of my mind and I am looking to see how textile and ceramics  can interact with openings and fissures in some of these vessels. Playing with existing pieces based on plant forms starts to indicate the potential of this approach.

Gill :  There is something about making lots of individual elements and  putting them together in compositions that I am finding exciting and satisfying. It means that seeking out possible combinations and finding new relationships between the colours, textures and forms becomes a second creative process – prolonging the sense of exploration and discovery.  ( It occurs to me that I am doing the same thing quite often when playing with my grandson and building with an assortment of coloured bricks or concentric rings.)  I have been giving the little clay bowls, plinths and stems more individual expression by impressing them with natural forms from my garden.  I think this works in unison with the wild clay, dug from my garden, to give a ‘local’ identity to the clay forms.         

While I am able to pile up ceramic elements easily, working with both clay and textiles is more complicated  – particularly raising problems around how the textiles might carry the weight of the clay when stacked together.  I have tried working with a product that will stiften the textiles, but this changes the special qualities of softness and pliability; the contrasts between clay and textiles then disappear which I think is too much of a loss.  So I need to formulate other means of stacking, possibly putting a rod through all elements, using glue to secure them or building the textiles around each ceramic stack. Once I have found a workable solution I can make larger, more substantial stacks or totems. I like the stacks when they look bendy and wobbly which seems to suggest growth and movement.  I think the ceramic elements are a little too stiff and reserved at the moment and I will try working on more organic, lively and expressive forms.  


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