Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life

Peter White – Great Pottery Throw Down Finalist: Part 1 of 2

March 28, 2021 Peter White Episode 13
Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life
Peter White – Great Pottery Throw Down Finalist: Part 1 of 2
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Peter White had a successful and busy engineering business, perhaps too
busy. After falling ill he decided to make a big change in his life, taking himself
away from the business and considering what to do next.
Since then he has studied for a BA then an MA in ceramics, trained and
worked as an art and design teacher, started his own pottery studio and
become a much-loved and very successful contestant on Channel 4's
The Great Pottery Throw Down.
In this episode he chats with me about all aspects of his return to creativity.

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Woburn Sands Clay at creativityfound.co.uk
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Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Photo: Ella Pallet

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Speaker 1:

My guest for this episode is a member of the Creativity Found Collective, a promotional and networking membership for artists and crafters who share their creative skills with grown-ups through workshops, online courses, products and kits. There's a link to their page at creativityfoundcouk and if you, too, would like to join us, visit creativityfoundcouk. Slash, join us.

Speaker 2:

Do you know what? I'm not going to do this anymore. I can get myself out of this situation and get my head off that. I'm going to make a life change. Irresponsible people call me. Collective is one of those things where the creativity evolves because it changes On men. Of course, the great pottery throwdown happened On men. They're all changed. Anybody that's self-motivated can do it.

Speaker 1:

Hi, I'm Claire, founder of Open Stage Arts Drama and Singing classes for adults. Lots of the adults who come to our classes and online events are looking for a creativity that has been put on the back burner during their sensible grown-up years. I have found this to be true among other creatives, too, so I've decided to find out more about the painters, photographers, writers, printmakers, actors, crafters, teachers, musicians and more that have found or re-found their creativity later in life. Today, I'm speaking with Peter White, who began studying for a BA in ceramics in his late 40s and, in 2021, was a finalist on TV's the Great Pottery Throwdown. He has had an interesting and emotional journey in life and on the show, and is passionate about inspiring others to tap into their own creativity, no matter what their age. Hi, peter.

Speaker 2:

Hello Claire, lovely to meet you again.

Speaker 1:

And you. Lots of people know you as a potter through your studio Wobe and Sans Clay and, of course, from the television show the Great Pottery Throwdown. But it wasn't until you were in your late 40s that you were able to follow this creative path. We'll talk about what you were doing before ceramics became your thing, but before that, tell me about your childhood and whether you had an arty upbringing.

Speaker 2:

Right, ok, claire. So I had quite an unusual upbringing. I had three sisters. My father was an engineer, my mother was a midwife and my father he worked for the space industry intermittently, and so it involved him moving around the world. So probably when I was eight or nine, we jumped aboard ship and we traveled around the world. We ended up in Australia where we stayed in Australia for about four years, maybe a little bit longer. My father worked in Womera.

Speaker 2:

I was always very interested. I was always painting and making. I was the child that took everything apart and put it back together, or mainly so, I think my sisters realised that I was quite arty. I went through school. I was OK at school. I wasn't an A1 student, but I was OK.

Speaker 2:

I had an art teacher called Mrs Brown who clearly thought that I had something to offer, and when I was doing my O levels and A levels at the time, I did the work for that. What happened was Mrs Brown did a small exhibition for me and from that I was offered a place, an art school and a small bursary. I went home and said hey, dad, look, you know, this is what's happened. I'm going to art school. And he said no, you're not. And you have to remember that back in the 60s and 70s your parents had a great influence and my father being an ex-military, being an engineer, my grandfather being an engineer, I was a little bit controlled, I suppose, by my parents and I can remember my father saying no long-air students in my house, no arty people. I don't know what I'm missing about you. You're going to be an engineer, like me, and I've arranged some interviews for you. And I went, do you know what? Fine, ok, and I wanted to tell Mrs Brown, you know, clearly she went. Well, you know that's a shame, but you know.

Speaker 2:

And so I went into engineering and I became an engineer, I did an engineering apprenticeship, I worked in the drawing office and I moved around and I did it wholeheartedly and with pleasure. But I still dabbled with art. I still, you know, made things, did a bit of painting. So that was always there and it was always a little bit strange, because to be an engineer and to be an artist, that's that's quite a conflict of areas. And within my work, within my artwork, there was a lot of accuracy. Within my engineering work there was a little bit of flamboyance, so which used to get me in a little bit of trouble.

Speaker 2:

I worked for several different design companies and eventually I started my own business and purely off the hoof, somebody came in. The company was in Luton, in Bedfordshire, and we're quite near the motorway. And this chap came off the motorway and he just, he just stopped to the engineering company, for whatever reason, and asked us to do a small job. That was my link to children's toys. He introduced himself and it was a company that were linked to Fisher Price and one or two other companies and we started making prototypes. I was in my element then, so we had the model shop and I ran that particular part of it. So I never sort of avoided the engineering side and I never avoided the creative side.

Speaker 1:

Since you're working with toys, did you have some creativity within that job?

Speaker 2:

Well, that's an interesting one, because it's the nature of the beast, isn't it? I don't know if it's the nature of the beast, it's the nature of me, where I would look at drawings and I would interpret the drawings, not necessarily how the toy designer would envisage it. But you also have to remember we didn't have computers. Everything was done with paper, cellophane, fax machines. So I suppose for me it was great because I could deviate from the origin and when I made the models and everything I could add, I could change colours to primary colours and I would look at the target age group and then go oh no, that's not quite right. Quite often I got away with it, which was quite good, because it became a situation where people began to rely on my knowledge and the fact that I did used to go a little bit off-peace, not always, but a lot of the time. We worked very well.

Speaker 1:

So you mentioned that you were dabbling with your own creativity at home as well. During this time, what were you doing?

Speaker 2:

Right. So I love illustration. So I did a lot of watercolor work. I did an illustration and I did one or two plants, the moulds and plants, the models, basically for the engineering side of it and also for the fact that I could creatively change mould and adapt things as I progressed when it caused, anything I drew or anything I painted went down into the family. And that still hasn't stopped. You know, it still goes really quickly. But it's about having value and I've never seen a great value in my work. I suppose my belief has always been to share it. I mean, I can't keep all this work, so it's great to go out to friends and family.

Speaker 1:

I know that at that time you made your own wheel. Tell me about the wheel that you made.

Speaker 2:

Well, that's a really interesting one, because what happened was I had this engineering company, I had a nice house, I had a little workshop at the end of it and I sort of got this interest in pottery. I thought, you know, I'm going to have a go at this, you see. So remember, there was no internet, there weren't a lot of books about that explained it. And so I thought, well, I'm an engineer, what I'll do is I'll design and we'll make a potter's wheel and I'll call the potter's wheel in my workshop and I'll throw pottery. Now, I've never touched a bit of clay before in my life and what I did was I made the wheel, I installed it, I bought a cheap kiln and off I went. So, you know, there are a few mistakes, of course, but I was producing work, I was making pots quite successfully, and a friend who was part of the engineering company that I had, he'd been a pottery teacher long time ago and he came out and he was looking at my pots and he said oh, that is fantastic, you know.

Speaker 2:

And he came one day I was on the potter's wheel and he said what are you doing? What do you mean? What are we doing? And he said well, the wheel's going the wrong way. And he said the average potter's wheel does about 250 rpm. And he said what's that one doing? I said 600. And he said it's like watching things in fast forward. And so we had this little chuck, and so then we changed everything. He stayed with me and he showed me the proper way to do it and then off I went. Then it was fine, you know.

Speaker 1:

How different is it to throw in the other direction? If you'd been got used to throwing in one direction, then the wheel goes in the other direction.

Speaker 2:

You know, that's like really strange because see, what happens is I'm right-handed, so my left hand goes into the pot, okay, and my right hand sits out, and then you marry like your two hands mirror each other, so you would pinch the clay. You pinch the clay and draw the clay up toward the centre, but when it's going the other way, of course your right hand is in the pot and your left hand is outside. So you suddenly become ambidextrous, but by default. But I got used to it and of course, it being so fast, I was putting my hand in. But what it meant was that when things went wrong, it went wrong really, really badly, because at 600 plus RPM, if that went a bit floppy, you know all the walls had a bit. I had a bit. You know I was eating it, you know I was wearing it, but it was crazy, it was good fun.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant. So you were 20 years or so working in engineering, but how did dabbling with clay turn into studying ceramics at BA and MA level, and do you think you faced particular struggles at university because you were slightly older than the other students?

Speaker 2:

Well, do you know what age, once again, is nothing to do with this. I've always been a character where I've always got on well with young people. My grandchildren, you know my children think I'm worse than their grandchildren. I'm totally responsible. I love a lot of and I think for me I had a change in my life. The business was doing really, really well. We were growing, the company was growing. I was spending all my time at work, out of work, 24 seven. It was nothing to do with earning money. It's something in our psyche about moving forward, about being successful. And of course that resulted in the inevitable heart attack on Christmas Eve, which was good fun for the family. So that sort of slowed me down. But fortunately I didn't need surgery, that they sorted it all out and I was lying in hospital and I was analyzing.

Speaker 2:

You can only do this in like an unknown situation, like hospitalization, where you have a lot of time and a lot of thought. And I thought you know what? I don't even like this bloke. And I thought you know you're building this business. You're sort of driving like a speed rope through the water. You know you're hurting people, you're just. You know it's all about ambition. And I thought do you know what? I'm not gonna do this anymore. If I can get myself out of this situation, this honest situation, and get my head off the bag, I'm gonna make a life change. And I didn't make a life change and I still got the business and I sort of virtually gave it away at you. I didn't make hardly any money on it, but we were secure enough to carry on and I sort of I suppose the term I bummed about for a while, about six months. You know nobody's going. Oh, what are you gonna do? I'll come down to my mother. You know. When I said, oh, got rid of the business, and she went oh, okay, what are you gonna do? I don't know. She goes oh, my, what, you know what her mother's doing? She put her palms card down and so I thought do you know what? It was my younger sister, angela, who said look, you know you're very passionate about art. Why don't you do something to go into art? Go that way. And I thought do you know what I'm making pots? What I could do with it is looking at it a bit more in depth, Sign it up at Middlesex University, and that's where I did my BA with Honours and then went on and did an MA in connection with Tableware, and that's how it all came about, really.

Speaker 2:

And then, but I joined university and I joined with a group of very young people but they weren't all young and I sort of decided at that time that I'm quite okay with young people, I'm not down in the groove or anything like that, but I, you know, I sort of I think I've got an empathy. So it was okay. I mean, I supported them, I cherished their young ideas, I challenged some of the non-conventional ideas and said do you know, do you realize? You know? But I tried and tried at all times to avoid being a mother hen. So that worked quite well. And then, of course, when I wanted to do the MA, it was a more mature based MA, so it was a lot of written work and yeah. So that's how it all came about. And then I left university and then bummed about it.

Speaker 1:

So you didn't know what you wanted to do once the studies were finished.

Speaker 2:

No, irresponsible people call me, but it's not that, it's you know what. I still don't know what I want to do in my life. I really, really don't. I'm still. I'm really happy in developing my skills, developing my creative side. But somebody said, you know, my mother was alive. She said, you know, please, what are you doing? I go, I don't know, mum. You know, I'm just riding on, riding life, as it were, you know, with my children and my family. So yeah, so that's it really.

Speaker 1:

But you did start teaching. How did that come about?

Speaker 2:

The teaching thing. How lovely was that. So, okay, so I got some friends who were teachers and they said oh, could you bring your wheel into school and do a couple of days teaching? And so they did all the checks and everything. I went into these schools and I did more than a couple of days.

Speaker 2:

There was there two or three weeks at one school and the head was involved in a couple of these lessons as well, just for a bit of fun. And then he said to me he said you know, you have to talk about becoming a teacher and I don't need loads of all work. And he said, no, it's really easy, it's really straight forward, you'll be very good. So, well, there's not lots of work you've got no, no, no, no, no, no. Oh, I kind of killed it. Well, of course, it's very difficult. You know, to become a teacher is quite hard. You're running essays about Piaget and you know, on ethics and all this, you think how did I get a voltimus? Once that was all over when I got into the classroom, then it all clicked again. That was something I found I also loved. So then I had the ability to teach arm design, I taught a bit of maths, I taught product design and then I taught engineering, so I hadn't looked like a gambit, that sort of ran, you know, with all the links.

Speaker 2:

You know I got involved with this school in a big way. I then changed schools. I joined a school in Middleton Keynes massive school at a cohort at the time of nearly 3000. It was the largest school in Europe, had a lovely, lovely ethos where the children came in their own clothes. They called you by your first name, which was a little unusual, but it worked. It worked very, very well. It had art college status. I was head of visual arts, we had a gallery, it was wonderful and it was fantastic. And I'm still teaching now. I only do two days now but I do product design on a bit of art. It's a beautiful school and you know I love it. I love the school and you know the students are lovely.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant, you know. So, as well as teaching every week, there is also, of course, wobensan's clay, which is very much a family affair. How did you move from, as you said earlier, making pots for friends to starting a pottery business? And, if I may ask, how do you work together with your family without falling out?

Speaker 2:

I'll answer that one last. Okay, so just before I went onto the show I built a studio and it's only three and a half meters by three and a half meters. It's a wooden studio, but I backed it onto the front of our garage, so it's a modern house. It's only been built 10 years, so it's like a cardboard box and they put these garages up where you can get a motorbike in, but you can't get a car in, where you can get it out. You can get it in, but you can't get out. Yeah, so we got the studio going.

Speaker 2:

I then started making pottery. I was making pottery, it was prolific and I think you know I was turning up to people's houses and they were going oh okay, hasn't got any pottery luck. No, I'm sure they both. But that's kind of how I felt and it sort of progressed from there. So so what happened was my daughter, hannah, said look, you know, we need to be selling some of this stuff. That was the discussion on. Then, of course, the great pottery throwdown happened and then that all changed, you know.

Speaker 1:

So presumably that's been good for business.

Speaker 2:

It has. Yes, as a finalist in the great pottery throwdown, it's been good. I think people make an association that they like your work with your name on it and it's like. It's like the commissions that I'm doing. People are more interested in getting the name, your name and the date. Of course they want beautiful pieces of work. It's like a combination of the both but, but what it has done is, I mean through through media and the television, I'm a face now and it's and it's bizarre because I'm recognized in in all food shops.

Speaker 2:

I was when I'm shopping. Yeah, the one thing was like shopping, saying, oh, I'm in Tesco. And bizarrely, the other day a couple pulled up in a car and they were asking for a street that's quite local to us and I said, oh, yeah, I explained where it is and then, right out of the blue, even you're Peter, off the telly. Oh, goodness me, it's Peter. Oh, hello, we had this chat I'm trying to get out, like they blocked the driveway. I know we're going to get all the information out. They could well. That was absolutely lovely.

Speaker 2:

But then the other day I went to fill up a gas cylinder because I need propane gas for my kiln, because I have a record and all of a sudden, this, this, this lady at the Katie her name is, she's lovely and she was chatting away and she was smiling and you could see that she was going. I'm trying to know. And one of the lads from the yard came up and said no, that is don't you. And she went. We went Peter, peter, peter the potter, and I said you know, she's got a piece of ruffetel here. I went yes, yeah, I know, it's lovely, it's absolutely adorable, you know.

Speaker 2:

So you're avoiding the question about working with family, then oh, yes, I knew I was going to go back to that. It's like working with family. Okay, so I have a fantastic family. We're a big family about 10 grandchildren. But my daughter, who you've spoken to, hannah, she does all the social media. She does all the website. She's absolutely fabulous. She does all that Gell does, my wife does I like all the packaging does all the organisation. She runs a very busy house. She looks after the grandchildren, she looks after everybody. She has a massive job. She's head of a design faculty at school.

Speaker 2:

When I work, of course we have our. You know, I have my methods. Not everybody's the same, so that was a little bit of friction, but on the main it's pretty good and we can always sort of discuss it as families discuss things, if you could imagine. I mean, I know I always lose, but you know it's been very good. I've been amazed by how lovely it is. We have a photographer and family. So he comes in and he does the photography, takes her up, edits it. What's your bet, hannah? She does all the the. You know the final editing we've put on the website. That's brilliant and I just got to produce. So what I have is I've got a friend called Bob who when I was at school, when I was head of visual arts, I met him and he used to service our kylons at school.

Speaker 2:

When I started the studio I contacted Bob and said you know, if you hear of any kylons going, can you let me know? And the way schools are about being creative, we're in a situation where schools try to get rid of that kind of stuff. So I managed to buy two second-hand kylons, big electric kylons that went into the garage, so they don't I'm not quite an extra actor and they don't interfere at all with the production area, with the wheels and my teaching area. Then we decided to look at doing recoup work. Just experimenting with recoup. I got a galvanised dustbin and I fibled it and I made all the burners and everything and I made a recoup kylon and that's you know, and it's good fun. Oh, my goodness, you smell like a bonfire. It's not very romantic, you know.

Speaker 1:

Did you do that before the show?

Speaker 2:

The recoup. No, that came afterwards, yeah yeah, because we didn't make it recoup on one of the episodes and we thought, oh, this is like good fun, you know.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, brilliant, Awesome, thank you. You are 70 years old and I know you are busier than ever. What keeps you going?

Speaker 2:

You know, claire, I'm not 70 in my head, you know, my body is 70, and I get up some mornings and go oh what could this be what's happening? But when I get going I'm fine. I'm a great believer in progress. Ages only a number. I keep that motivation going. It's like I was saying earlier that I don't know what I want to do. I still don't know what I should be doing in my life. So I continually progress, you know, and I make unusual lights, I skip dive, and so I make and create anything that I can.

Speaker 2:

It's only the fact that the body is a little bit rusty now, but the engine, the engine's got 100,000 miles on it and that's what I believe. We should all be wherever we possibly can. We've all got something in it, suddenly, something more than you know. I'm retiring now. I rest up. No, you don't Get out there, get walking, look at the world, you know, stop mowing in there for a go, you know, and you can up, go really cheap. But, you know, buy a 2B pencil and a drawing pad, go for a walk and draw what you see. Nobody there to judge you or any. You, you know, just a good time. Anybody that's self-motivated can do it, get out and have a go.

Speaker 1:

Perfect. I know that you still like to experiment with your clays and your glazes. I also know that you have commissions and you have work to do for the website. How do you figure it all into your time that you can do the stuff that needs to be done and you can still have your creative experiment? Are you a super duper time management person or do you go with the flow?

Speaker 2:

I have very good time management. I tend to plan a couple of days ahead. Things like commissions, commissions, are really, really important. They're important to me, very, very important to the person that I should have done the commission. So it has to take priority the people that you're working for personally. It has to take priority and you just sort of fit everything else in around it, and that's why I'm considering retiring from school and giving the full seven days to work on.

Speaker 1:

But you can still balance the enjoyment and the creativity and the passion for the craft.

Speaker 2:

You have to have a passion for the craft. Colleging is one of those things where the creativity evolves, because it changes and you can develop that creativity as you're moulding it. So you may start out with one idea but then, as you're going, oh, I can try that, and it moves along. And the great thing about ceramics and clay is the combination. It's experimenting with the science of clay, experimenting with the science of glazes on lustres and the koo glazes. That's all exciting, it's all moving along, but it all has to be fitted in. So you sort of have to give yourself a sort of a mini time check. I have whiteboards in the studio and in the office where I sort of do a plan, and then, of course, my life gel and my daughter Hannah they pop things in. We're going to do this and you need to have that done by then. And, by the way, we're going to do a TikTok this afternoon. More cameras. I hate cameras, but yeah.

Speaker 1:

So how do you feel when you create something new and you show it, whether to your family or the wider public, by which I mean have you found confidence, or are you nervous about sharing what you've made?

Speaker 2:

You know that that's quite interesting. It's a really interesting question and it works a bit like this. I think prior to being on a throwdown, I Didn't quite have that confidence. I'm not a very confident person, anyway, really, about the things that I do and I think that, but anybody will tell you I haven't yet found anything I really, really like. I'm really super critical, like you know, friends of family going you're kidding, it's actually beautiful, I love, that's fantastic, but I'm always striving for the next thing and I don't. I don't know if that next thing actually exists.

Speaker 2:

I'm doing this really, really big commission for some friends of ours their anniversary, and had a couple of attempts because I had one blow up in the queue and so I did the second one yesterday and that was satisfying. It's nearly 700 millimeters high and I thrown it on the wheel in two parts and I sort of looked at that and Joe came in last night, hannah and they were looking at you know it's not quite the shape she's asked for, so I thought, no, but I'm modify it. So well, it's on me, sort this morning I'm modified it, I've got it all back. I thought, yeah, you know I've got to get it through to farings. But you know, yeah, so I'm getting more comfortable, definitely, and my throwing skills are developing as well, which is good.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant, so you're back home now. Throw down is over, back to some kind of normality possibly. What are your plans for the future?

Speaker 2:

My plans for the future are, apart from going on holiday Crazy times, my plans for the future is to continue developing the business. I want to open the studio up to People coming in want to learn a new skill. I'm gonna offer drawing workshops, painting workshops, mainly pottery workshops. So the workshop will take two people and I suppose I'm not looking for people to join me that have Great pottery knowledge and I just look if you're a work workshop to use. I'm looking for those people that want to be inspired, young or old. Like I say, we've got disabilities in the family and that's great to work with them. You know, let them make. So you know I want to carry on with that. I'm also I want to develop my portfolio. I want to.

Speaker 2:

You know, there is a very, very serious side to me and I would like to Get my work into some galleries. I Mean my work is. This is reasonably priced. I think it's very important for everybody to share you know I'm not looking for fame or anything like that, worth, I suppose and to share that idea and to share that creativity. To share that. You know, madness, it's me. You know I watched this thing last night about Geo-Kometi and I thought, yeah, it's very much like they. You know both a couple of lunatics, but in a nice way, you know.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant Peter. How can people connect with you?

Speaker 2:

Okay, well, there's a couple of ways of getting in touch with me. Go to the website, which is all brand new, it's all fantastic wwwwoabonsansclaycom. You can see all my work by putting everything up there and you can contact me through. There's a contact page, and please do. Or Instagram at woven underscore, sans underscore clay. And then Facebook of woven sans clay, please, you know any information writing, or Insta in, or whatever it is, or Facebook in I'm an open book, oh.

Speaker 1:

That's fantastic. Thank you ever so much, peter.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, claire, I love your time, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Listening to the next episode to hear all about Peter's experiences on the great pottery throwdown. Thanks so much for listening to creativity found. If your podcast app has the facility, please leave a rating and review. To help other people find us on Instagram and Facebook, follow act creativity found podcast and on Pinterest, look for act creativity found. And Finally, don't forget to check out creativity found dot. Co dot UK, the website connecting adults who want to find a creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them tap into their creativity.

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