Back on one Wednesday morning in June this year, myself and my partner Pete headed over to Scotland on the ferry with his car full to the brim with my ceramics, my hand built display stand and as much of the other gubbins that I thought would be needed, such as a card reader, business cards, cash box, bin bags, wipes, hand sanitizer, my best (no holes in) clothes, rain coat and extra boots (just in case), a zillion lists and a huge amount of excitement and trepidation. We were heading over to Potfest Scotland and this was the first time I was taking part in an event longer than one day and outside the boundaries of Northern Ireland. I knew I needed to see what would come of such a venture and at that time there was nothing like it in Northern Ireland.
Potfest is a long established concept that has manifested itself into several weekend-long ceramics only markets throughout the summer in Scotland and England. The brainchild of Geoff and Christine Cox starting in Penrith Cattle Market as a venue in 1994, has since 2002 been in the very capable hands of their son Matt. To find out all the details check out https://potfest.co.uk/
I was quite nervous overall, what with the pandemic, Brexit, and the constantly surfacing self-doubt of an artist unsure of their validity and with the role of salesperson (not a role I relish). I brought absolutely everything I could with me, not sure of what would sell. There were pots, pots for plants, wall pieces like the green men, mixed media pieces, heads, figures, dollfaces and jewellery.
The stand I built was made to be dismantled so it could lie as flat as possible in transit and painted white thinking a neutral background would keep focus of the work and just maybe disguise the wobbly, not so straight bits – I am a ceramicist first of all, not a carpenter, though my small knowledge garnered from working in theatre many years probably helped…kinda…
*BREXIT* - I sought any information and advice I could regarding the whole Northern Ireland protocol and what it meant for me going over to Scotland and back with my work. That which I received I got quite early on in the year when I don’t think anyone really knew what was actually going on in this respect. I ended up – with following the advice I did receive - faffing about with online forms and endless phone calls with folk who were meant to know what I should do but clearly didn’t and as it turned out was all completely unnecessary and, on that note, I will stop this subject lest I begin to swear!
Anyway, the trip was uneventful, ferry left from Belfast, so we hadn’t far to go first thing. The crossing was calm and brought back memories of my student days. The subsequent and final part of the journey across towards Perth was fairly uneventful also apart from stopping for a bite to eat and slowing down in bad traffic outside Glasgow.
*At this point I just want to say a big thank you to my young man, Pete, who ended up driving all weekend - legend! *
As it was our first adventure out of Northern Ireland for longer than Covid tbh, I had chosen accommodation that was perhaps not the cheapest option nor the closest to Potfest (half hour drive). We had our own wee self-catering chalet in a place called Dunning and a 10 minute walk to a lovely wee pub that served great food. Was spot on.
Thursday afternoon and into the evening was all about getting to Scone Palace and setting up for 10 am Friday when it all began. As we were setting up, I got to chatting with some of the other exhibitors and obviously see all the high quality ceramic work to be on display. I was delighted to see I wasn't the only ceramicist from Northern Ireland there too.
Alison Hanvey https://www.instagram.com/alisonhanveyceramics
Trevor Woods https://www.mountidapottery.co.uk/
Rory and Helen Shearer http://www.shearerceramics.moonfruit.com/
There was a bit of concern about the wind picking up as it was already quite blustery, so some pieces didn’t get placed up high to be safe – especially after hearing some crashes in the distance, no real damage done apparently.
On our way back to our digs, I felt hugely overwhelmed and tearful. I had seen the quality of work there and began to feel that mine was not good enough and I couldn’t help but think what am I doing here? Then after a trip to the pub some lovely food and a couple of pints and a bit of craic with the locals I managed to leave my doubts to one side.
The next morning, we were a bit later than we had planned to be, so were still putting up the hanging pieces when the visitors began to arrive. Within 10 minutes I had my first lovely chat with a member of the public and subsequently my first sale. It was then I began to notice people wandering about the stalls with shopping bags, prepared to buy ceramics, others were taking notes and photographs with the intention to have a good look round the whole site then come back to their favourite to buy.
A few more chats with the public and sales too, I realised how amazing this weekend was going to be. People were there at Scone Palace not because they happened to be passing, but because they had bought tickets to spend the day looking at, talking about, and (hopefully for us) buying ceramics.
My first sale was a lovely man who had flown up from London for the day!
There were people from all over the country Scotland (obvs), Wales and England. Many were saying how much they loved Potfest, and how much they had missed it the previous year because of the pandemic but were elated to see the event back.
Again, I began to feel overwhelmed but this time it was joyous!
The whole weekend was brilliant. I met some amazing people, some artists, some ceramic lovers, some new to the whole thing – and met a couple of the artists I’ve been stalking on Instagram for years – and I was like all OMG like!
I have been inspired enormously by those people and by the work I was able to see up close and personal. Equally importantly, I found a new faith in my work, and I have come to terms that in order to flourish and grow, you need to go further beyond your comfort zone and, especially for me, Northern Ireland.
I learnt so much from that one trip, it set me up rightly and continues to do so. I hope to return to Potfest Scotland next year and plan to get myself to more of these kinds of events that take place in UK, Ireland and maybe – dare I think it – Europe.