Sam McNeill

Sam had just left school at the time of the project. He brought a knowledge of using historical interpretation to involve the public to the project, as well as his own unique sense of style.


Hello, I am Sam McNeill. I am taking part in the quartz summer project to develop my skills in the art of pottery and to expand my ability to integrate as an artist the community. I hope to bring to the project a passionate drive for self-improvement, my desire to create beauty in myself and the world around me and last, though not by any mean least, my… Panache! I hope to be able to proceed onwards making great pottery, selling great pottery and showing others how to make great pottery (eventually).
My biggest concern at this point is that my pottery won’t be so great or that I might squander this opportunity that has been placed before me.

Arrived in Dumfries at around 11:30. Clarice, a friend of Simons who has done a pottery course in the past, was already hard at work preparing the clay by throwing it to remove air pockets and increase the malleability of the clay. It was she who sourced the clay that we were going to use from her pottery instructor. For the rest of that day we made coiled pots with Simon. I made a large cup, Clarice made a cup and Simon made a rimmed beaker. We continued to make lots of items (7 in total) until we finished for the day.
That evening me and Simon had a talk about the project and what we would be doing for the rest of the week. Both me and Simon are re-enactors recreating aspects of early medieval life. As the next part of the project we would be going, along with Jenny who is also doing the project, to Largs where there is a festival. We would be doing spiritual street art involving dressing as monks and constructing a labyrinth on the promenade. We would then invite passers-by to walk the labyrinth as a meditation or just talk to them. We would also each take an activity to do to talk about and encourage people to think about spirituality and the six sensings:
Otherness- the feeling that there is something beyond our physical bounds
Meaning- seeing patterns in the world around us.
Being at one with nature, oneself and others.
Values- the importance of things and what has gone into creating them
Mystery- a feeling of awe and wonder.
Challenge-being challenged to grow and expand by experiences

Talking about these got me thinking about my own ruminations on awe particularly how we might be view by the people we encountered. It reminded me of a time when I was sitting in a train station one time, and I saw a Buddhist monk walk by. He smiled at everyone and seeing him in his unusual robes made me feel happy that the world contains people who are happy to do their own thing. Now it was only later that I realised that he was a monk, but that didn’t matter at the time and so, despite us not being there as monks per say, I feel that we will have a spiritual meaning for at least some of the people we encounter.

Today I would like to do a slightly more challenging pot like  a pinched lower half and the use that as a base to build up a larger more complex pot and also work on developing my rim making skills. I meditated for a while before I started and asked Simon for advice on making rims. He said that for a long time he was finding a task almost impossible when he was younger but that he kept practicing until his hands learnt how to do it and now he can do it instinctively. At the time he was making a net for a church activity which gave me an idea for what I might do for my activity when we went to Largs.
Today went very well. I have made much more satisfactory rims and made my first cup with a neck! I also feel that I’m getting the hang of using the coils.

Today I would like to try making some moulded cups by rolling out a thin sheet of clay and pressing it to the shape of another vessel using Clingfilm to stop it from sticking. I also want to attempt to make a larger vase that was in one of my books. It is made by layering scales of clay interlocking them to form the walls of the vase.
I was perhaps a bit ambitious today while the mould making went fine I ran out of time to finish the scale vase since we go to Largs tomorrow morning. This has taught me to plan better, perhaps next time I should make the scales first and store them before trying to assemble the whole vase.

Today was our first day doing the street art and it went very well. Quite a few people were interested and I got talking to a few of them. I haven’t yet got to talk about my net with anyone because I was demonstrating the labyrinth, we discussed it later and I mentioned to Simon that it might be a good idea if we always had someone in the labyrinth as this seemed to be a good way of drawing people’s attention towards it and showed people what it was for.

Today went even better than yesterday! Lots of people were interested in the Labyrinth and we each got talking to lots of people. I particularly got talk to a very happy self-proclaimed cynic who said that he was not at all interested in what we were doing but was very happy that we were doing it anyway. When talking with Simon later we discussed how it could have been his appreciation of other people’s values and how they might want or need something that he does not. I thought this was interesting because it also linked back to what I had talked about earlier with us affecting the world around us just by being in it as he was encouraging just by his outlook on life. Finally I also got to talk about the net I was making now that I was into the swing of talking to the public and discussed with several groups and individuals the way I was using the net to demonstrate how we are all connected to other people and supported by them, just as each link in a net is connected to others and supported by them, so we as people are connected to others people we are aware of influencing us, people we aren’t aware who have influenced us and our influence on others giving meaning to each others existence and our own.

Met Clarice’s friend Susan who is a proper potter (as opposed to my humble attempts) who let us use her kiln to biscuit fire the pots. This will take some time and since I go back to Manchester today this will be the last time I see them un-fired. She has offered to assist us if we would like to try some raku firing and has lent me some books that I will read avidly until my return.

Arrived yesterday at midnight or something due to trains going crazy (not Thomas the tank engine way, trees on the lines and such) but in good spirits. Today I wanted to make some smaller and more sellable like small seals (the cute kind, not the officious kind) or Daleks (with which I shall take over the world) and also as me and Simon have resolved to attempt some pit firing, some rough and ready, but durable, vessels.
Today I made 1 dalek, which took longer than I expected, tomorrow I shall endeavour to reduce my dalek construction time and make more than 3 seals. I also made several vessels, 7 in total and one tiny figure of happiness:

This morning I have been writing up my journal and working out how much what I have made could be worth. Probably after lunch I will start to begin making awesome stuff. Today I shall concentrate on making seals (cute and cuddly) and Daleks (erm… cute and deadly?) and possibly make a dragon as I kinda feel the urge to make one.
Made 2 Daleks this time and 6 seals. Also made 3 moulded cups and a dragon sculpture. Simon also made a cup and a lamp. I feel glad to have fulfilled my targets for today and made the dragon sculpture. Tomorrow we will be attempting to biscuit fire these pieces in a home made kiln which will be interesting to try.

Today we will be the day we begin to experiment with bisque firing which is used to remove chemically combined water from the clay and means that it can be kept with less risk of breaking or crumbling.
Me and Simon are using a garden incinerator to make the kiln. We are going to fill it with kindling, wood and sawdust which we will ignite at the bottom so that the fire will rise up, increasing the heat of the kiln as more fuel is consumed. As the wood turns to charcoal it will then continue to heat the ceramics that are held in a shelf at the centre of the incinerator. To control the temperature we will cover the chimney at the top of the incinerator, which is like a bin with legs and a short chimney at the top of the lid.
During the firing I can hear several loud pops suggesting breakages and even some ceramic shrapnel came flying out of an air vent. This is not a good sign. It has occurred to me that we didn’t really establish any ways for me to effectively diminish the fierce heat of the burning fuel in the early stages to allow the heat to build up very gradually rather than quite suddenly as we did here. Simon suggested maybe using a collar to reduce airflow like on a Bunsen burner. An idea I thought of was to light a fire in the kiln to heat it up and then put it out so that the embers remain to heat the pots gently. We could then add fuel a little bit at a time to gently increase the temperature bit by bit.

The fire has gone out and we are going to leave the kiln overnight to cool to give the pots time to shrink as during the cooling process the clay undergoes a change in the crystalline structure causing the clay items to become smaller.

Slide show of Sams pottery making

Today I have been working out all the fiddly maths to write down what I’ve used and how much it and me cost. We also opened up the kiln and removed the pieces. Some pieces were intact particularly the seals and the daleks (minus a few appendages) as well as two of the moulded bowls while some pieces such as Simon’s cup, his lamp and my decorated-with-waves bowl survived with only minor damage. Some pieces, like my dragon and one seal, have been completely obliterated with only a head (the seal’s) and a few back spines (the dragon’s) remain.


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