Sarah Bradley & Charmian Nimmo: Teapots & More!

Friday, July 11, 2014 ― Friday, July 25, 2014

Charmian Nimmo (Mentor)
I began making pots in high school, and have never stopped. I have no formal training but have learned mostly by doing and taking many workshops over the years. After working with another production potter for 3 years, I started my own studio in 1980 and have been on my own ever since. I began teaching pottery in the community centres here in Vancouver and have been teaching for 20 years now, and continue to do so. I manage the West End Community Centre studio downtown. I have recently become obsessed with knitting and fibre art and am currently working out ways to combine this with my love of clay.
Sarah Bradley (Mentee)

Born in Montreal in 1967, raised in Vancouver since 1970, Sarah Bradley earns her living as a professional equestrian coach. An early childhood interest in clay developed into a hobby in her her early twenties when she took classes at the Minoru community center, and subsequently joined the Richmond Potters Guild. Clay was set aside for many years, while she built successful equestrian center in Surrey and developed athletes for the Canadian Equestrian Team. Interest was rekindled when her husband signed the pair of them up for a basic wheel throwing class at the Surrey Art Gallery in 2008. When Sarah and her family moved to Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, a reduction in work load resulted. This lead to enrollment in the Langara College Fine Arts diploma program. At the end of her second year ceramics studios, her instructor (Sarah Coote) suggested she apply for the Craft Council Mentorship program. And, the last year working with Charmian Nimmo is the result.

Charmian has been instrumental in encouraging Sarah to use Teapots as a tool for developing throwing skills, and also in engendering an attitude of willingness to fail. Meeting about once a month, at either Sarah’s Studio “Once Fired” or Charmian’s studio and sometimes working collaboratively, sometimes just talking out ideas. Paper Clay was the medium chosen, as Sarah was already working with it. it’s unique greenware strength and ability to withstand repeated cycles of wet/dry fit the timing Sarah has available in her studio.

A commitment to making the process as simply as possible lead Sarah to use a “once fired” process for many of her pieces. Clay is glazed while still at a ‘greenware” stage, and is fired in the kiln only once. All of the vases, plates, bowls and other semi sculptural work is produced this was. Teapots are a little more challenging, and only some of them are once fired. Looking ahead, paper clay will continue to be the medium Sarah works in, and a growing interest in more sculptural work and integration of ceramic and metal work is part of the current exploration. The lace bowls and wave bowls are also a current preoccupation.


When I began working with Sarah, we discussed what she would like to get out of this exercise. She said that she wanted to begin to make saleable pots, and improve her throwing skills. Also, she wanted to work with paper-clay. Being very busy people, this clay has advantages for someone who can’t always get to the studio when the clay demands.

I suggested that we focus on teapots, as they are vessels that require nearly all the skills a potter can utilize…..good form, proper function and visualizing proportion while adding handles, spouts and lids.

Sarah fires to cone 04 and we both started out working with paper-clay that fires to that temperature. Normally I fire to cone 6 (higher) so I also decided to make pieces from a higher firing paper-clay so that I could use my regular glazes.

We decided to work towards a show with both of us experimenting, and we met several times to discuss our pieces and to help Sarah improve her wheel skills.
Paper-clay is an interesting material….it is clay that contains a large amount of paper pulp which when fired, burns out leaving a strong matrix of clay particles. Unlike regular clay, paper-clay pieces can be joined at all stages of the process, giving the advantage of not having to be ruled by the clay’s agenda. In most cases, this requires finishing work at just the right dryness to ensure proper adherence of parts due to shrinkage and general fussiness of most clay bodies. With paper-clay, one can come back days or weeks later and add parts with seemingly little trouble.

In my explorations of this new material, I found that the join-ability is a great advantage. I did find it a somewhat challenging material to throw on the wheel and especially to trim, as the paper particles build up in the tools and require cleaning out the tools regularly. Attaching handles, spouts and knobs however, was very easy and I experimented with pushing its limits and letting the work get completely dry in some cases then attaching parts…no problem.
The biggest challenge for me was in the glazing and firing. It seems that my glazes did some strange things on the cone 6 clay…..the pulpiness of the clay showed through a lot and there was also a lot of pitting in the glazes. Also, I found that the cone 6 clay warps quite a bit in the kiln so my lids did not fit well after the firing and spouts twisted wildly. Sarah fires her pieces only once, glazing the pieces in the unfired state. I fire mine twice, first doing a bisque firing and then applying glaze and firing again.

If I had had more time to work with glazes, I’m sure I would be able to figure out the quirks of this clay. My lower fired pieces were much more successful, though sadly I didn’t make any of the teapots out of this clay.

Working with Sarah for the past year has opened me up to new possibilities with a new and interesting material and I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning and experimenting along with Sarah. In the end, I think this clay has some real advantages, particularly for sculptural work. I would like to try to develop some glazes that will work well with it and continue to explore.