Creativity Found

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

March 28, 2021 Peter White Season 1 Episode 13
Creativity Found
Peter White – Great Pottery Throw Down Finalist: Part 1 of 2
Show Notes Transcript

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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Music: Day Trips by Ketsa https://ketsa.uk/under Creative Commons License
https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ketsa/Raising_Frequecy/Day_Trips

Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk

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Claire Waite Brown:

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 TVs 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. Hello, Claire, lovely to meet you again. And you. Lots of people know you as a potter through your studio woven 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.

Unknown:

Right. Okay, 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 evolved him moving around the world. So probably when I was eight or nine, we jumped aboard ship and we travelled 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 woomera. I was always very interested. I was always painting and making. I was a child. I took everything apart and put it back together. Oh, mainly. So I think my sisters realised that I was quite arty. I went through school, I was okay at school. I wasn't an Avon student, but I was okay. And had an art teacher called Mrs. Brown, who clearly thought that has something to offer. And when I was doing my own levels and a levels at the time, I did the work for that. And what happened was Mrs. Brown did a small exhibition for me from that I was offered a place or an art school on a small bursary. And I went home and said, Hey, Dad, look, you know, this, 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. My father being an ex military, being an engineer, my grandfather, being an engineer, I was, I was a little bit controlled, I suppose by my parents. And I can remember my father saying no longer students in my house. No, RT people don't want to miss it. But you're going to be an engineer like me. And I've arranged some interviews for you. Do you know what? Fine. Okay, I want to tell Mrs. Brown which, you know, clearly should have been? Well, you know, that's a shame. But you know, 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 dabble with our arts that was still, you know, main things did a bit of painting. So that was always there. And it was always a little bit strange because to be an engineer 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. That was a little bit flamboyant. So which used to get me in a little bit of trouble. I worked for several different design companies. And eventually I started my own business. And purely off the hose. Somebody came in. The company was in Luton, 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 on 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 made started making prototypes. And I was in my element then. So we had the model shop and I randomly at that particular part of it, so I never sort of avoided the engineering side, and I never avoided the creative side.

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

Well, that's an interesting one, because it's the nature of the beast, isn't it? I don't know, the nature of the basis, 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, telephone fax machines. So I suppose for me, it was great, because I could I could deviate from the origin. And when I made the models, and everything I could add, could change, because the primary colours, and I would look at the target age group, and then go on No, that's not quite right. And quite often, I got away with that, which was quite good, because it became a situation where people began to rely on my knowledge. And the fact that I did choose to go a little bit of peace, if you like. Not always, but a lot of the time we work very well.

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

Right, so I love illustration. So I did a lot of watercolour work, I did illustration. And I did, I did one or two plants, the moulds and plaster models, basically, for the engineering side of it, and also for the fact that I could creatively change, mould and adapt things as I progress. And of course, 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, you know, to share it. I mean, I can't keep all this work. So it's great to go out to the friends and family. And

Claire Waite Brown:

I know that at that time, you made your own wheeled, tell me about the wheel that you made.

Unknown:

Well, that's really interesting. Because what happened was, I had this engineering company called nice house, I had a little workshop at the end of it. And I sort of got this interest in, in poultry. I thought you know, I'm gonna have a go at this, you see. So remember, there's no internet, there weren't a lot of books about that. They 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 put the potter's wheel in my workshop and I'll throw pottery. Now, I've never touched with clay before in my life apart from what I did with Mrs. Brown with a kick wheel and make the will we instal it, I've never bought a cheap key on and off I went. So you know, there, 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 that I had. He'd been a pottery teacher long time ago, and that he currently is looking more closely because he's like, fantastic. And he came on by on the potter's wheel and he said, What are you doing? What do you mean, what am I doing? He said, what the wheel is going the wrong way. And he said the average process was about 250 50 rpm. We said put someone doing this at 600. He said, He said it's like watching things you fast forward. Have you thought of Chuck Um, so then we changed everything. He stayed with me and he showed me the proper way to do it. And that's and then off I went, then it was fine. But

Claire Waite Brown:

how different is it to throw in the other direction if you'd been got used to throwing in one direction and the wheel goes in the other direction.

Unknown:

Show that's that's like really strange because see what happens is I'm right handed. So my left hand goes into the pot. Okay, my right hand sits outside and then you've married like your two hands, we mirror each other. So you would pinch the player pinch the clay and draw the clay out 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, by default, but I got used to it. And of course it being so far, so it's putting a hand in. But what it meant was that when things went wrong, it went really, really badly. Because at 600 plus RPM, if that went a bit floppy, you know, all the balls had a bit, I had a bit, you know, I was eating it, you know, I was wearing it. But crazy halcyon days it was it was it was good, fun.

Claire Waite Brown:

Brilliant. So you were 20 years or so working in engineering? And 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?

Unknown:

Well, kind of judo age, once again, is nothing to do with as 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 his grandchildren, will totally irresponsible. I love a laugh. And I think for me, I have 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, was nothing to do with earning money is something in 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, uh, you know, they sorted it all out. And I was lying in hospital, and I was analysing. And you can only do this in, like an unknown situation, like hospitalisation 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 road through the water. You know, you're hurting people, you're just, you know, it's also all about ambition. And I thought, you know what, I'm not gonna do this anymore. If I can get myself out of this situation, this illness situation and get my health back, I'm gonna make a life change. I didn't like a life change. And I sold the business. And I sort of virtually gave it away. 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 bombed about for a while about six months, you know, nobody's gonna put what are you gonna do? I can remember my mother, you know, when I said, Oh, got rid of the business. And she went, Oh, okay. What do you think? I don't know. Oh, Mike, what? You know, how mothers do? Spare pounds car down. And so I thought Chyna was my younger sister Angela, who said, Look, you know, you're very passionate about are wanting to do something, to go into art Go Go that way. And I thought, you know, what, I'm making pots, what I could do with is looking at it bit more in depth. So on, you're up at Middlesex University, and I sort of 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. 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 you know, I sort of think I've got an empathy. So it was okay. I mean, I supported them, I cherish their young ideas, by challenge some of the non conventional ideas. I said, you know, do you realise you know, but I try tried at all times to avoid being a mother hen. So that worked quite well. And then of course what I wanted to do the EMI there was a more mature based EMI sounds a lot from Britain work, and yeah, so and that's, that's how it all came about. And then I left University and then bummed about

Claire Waite Brown:

so you didn't you didn't know what you wanted to do once the studies were finished. irresponsible paper call

Unknown:

me. But, but it's not that it's, you know what I'm, I still don't know what to do in my life. already very done. I'm still already happy and developing my skills, developing my creative side. But somebody said, you know, my mother was alive. She said, you know, piece of what are you doing? I've got auto loan. You know, I'm just riding on riding life as it were, you know what children were family? And so, so that's it really.

Claire Waite Brown:

But you did start teaching.

Unknown:

How did that come about? The teaching thing? How lovely was that? So okay, so I got some friends who were teachers. And they said, well, could you bring your wave into school and do a couple of days teaching. And so they did all the all the checks and everything on off, I went into the schools. And I never get more than a couple of days out, those were two or three weeks at one school. And the head was involved in a couple of these lessons as well, just a bit of fun. And then he said to me, he said, You have thought about becoming a teacher? I don't, I don't need loads more work. And he said, No, it's really easy. It's really straightforward. You'll be very good. So when there's not lots of work about it, no, no, no, that kind of killed it. But of course, it's very difficult, you know, to become a teacher is quite hard. You're writing essays about Piaget, and, you know, on ethics, and you know, and all this, you think, how did I get involved in this? Once that was all over? When I got into the classroom, then it all clicked again. That was something I found that I also loved. So then I had the ability to teach arm design. I taught a bit of maths. I taught product design on them taught engineering. So having like a Gambit that sort of ran out, you know, with all the links, you know, I got involved with the school and big way. I then changed schools. I joined the school in Milton Keynes massive school, at a cohort at the time, of nearly 3000, it was the largest school in Europe, had a lovely lobby 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 our college status. I was had a visual arts, we had a gallery, and it was wonderful. And it was fantastic. And I'm still teaching now. I only do two days now, but I do product design, a little 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.

Claire Waite Brown:

Brilliant. So as well as teaching every week, there is also of course, woven sans 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

Unknown:

out? Lots of that one last. Okay, so just before I went on to the show, I've built a studio. And it's only three and a half metres by three and a half metres. It's a wooden studio, but I backed it onto the front of our garriage. So it's a modern house that had been built 10 years. So it's like a cardboard box. And they put these carriages that way you can get a motorbike in but you can't get a car in where you can get out and get it in, but you can't get out. Yeah, so we got studio going, I then started making pottery, I was making pottery is prolific. And I think you know, you're standing up to people's houses. And again, oh, it hasn't got any pottery luck shortly. 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 them. Of course, the great pottery throwdown happened, and then that will change. You know,

Claire Waite Brown:

so presumably, that's been good for business.

Unknown:

Has Yes, it's a finalist in the great pottery, Australia. 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 Commission's that I'm doing. People are more interested in getting the name, your name and the date. Of course, they want beautiful piece of work. It's like a combination of the both. But what has done is, I mean, through through media on the television, I'm a face now. And it's it's bizarre, because I'm recognised in, in local food shops. I was when I'm shopping. You know, there was things that he was shopping for in Tesco. 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 he went up to off the telly. Oh my goodness me is Peter a little bit. Oh, hello. We had this chat. A lot going on trying to get out like like blocks to drive right. I know. We got to get all the information out there could well that was absolutely lovely. But then the other day, I went to fill up a gas and because because I need propane gas for Like, I because I have a record company See, and all of a sudden this this this lady kcna message, she's lovely. And she was chatting away, and she was smiling. And you could see that she was gonna enjoy. And one of the lads from the yard came up and said earlier patriots, pizza, pizza The next thing you know she's got a piece of wood here. And it was lovely, essentially adorable, you know?

Claire Waite Brown:

So you're avoiding the question about working with family then.

Unknown:

Oh, did I yes. I knew I was gonna get back to working with family. Okay, so I have a fantastic family. We're a big family. Well, 10 grandchildren. But my daughter Priya spoken to Hannah. She does all the social media. She does all the website. She's absolutely fabulous. She does all that. Job does. My wife does a lot all the packaging does all your organisation. She runs a very busy house. She looks after the grandchildren. She looks after everybody. She has a massive job. She's She's head of a design faculty at the school where I work. Of course, we have our you know, I have my methods. Not everybody's the same. There was also a bit of friction, but it's pretty good. You know, and we can always sort of discuss it. As families discuss things if you could imagine. I always lose. But, you know, it's been very good. I've been amazed by how love is. We have a photographer in the family. So he comes in, and he does the photography. Self edit. Was it better Hannah? She does all the the phone editing was brilliant. I just got produce.

Claire Waite Brown:

Oh, brilliant. I love sharing my guests stories with you. But podcasting isn't cheap. There are hosting fees and software it

Unknown:

costs

Claire Waite Brown:

tech to buy and time to invest in planning and editing. To make sure the guests sound great, and listeners hear the best content. If you'd like to financially support creativity found, please visit kayo hyphen, f i.com slash creativity found podcast. Now back to the show. And I wanted to find out more about Peters kilns.

Unknown:

So what I have is, I've got a friend of Bob, who went when I was at school when I was head of visual arts, I met him and he used to service our kills. At school. When I started the studio, I contacted Bob and said, You know if you hear of any kilns going, you 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 secondary kills big electric kilns that went into the garriage. So they don't on a permanent structure 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 recruit work because just experimenting with recruit. I've got a galvanised that's been an i five behind it. And I've made all the burners and everything. And I might have a curriculum. And let's you know, and it's good. Oh my goodness, we smell like a bonfire. It's not very romantic. You know?

Claire Waite Brown:

Did you do that before

Unknown:

the show? The recording? No, that that came afterwards? Yeah. Because we didn't like it record one of the episodes of football. This is like good fun.

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

You know, clear. I'm not 70 in my head. You know, my body is 70 and I got some more what could be what's happening? But when I get going I'm fine. I'm a great believer in progress. Ages only a number keep that motivation going. It's like as 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 or skip dive and so I make and create anything that I can certainly that the fact that the body's a little bit rusty now but the engine the engines that are 100,000 miles on it. And unless that so I believe you know we should all be wherever we possibly can. We've all got something in 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 moaning. And you can go really cheap, but you know, to be pencil on a drawing pad, go for a walk and draw what you see might be there to judge you on a, you know, this is a good time. Anybody that's that self motivated, can do it, get out and let it go. Perfect.

Claire Waite Brown:

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,

Unknown:

I'm very good at time management, I tend to plan a couple of days ahead. Things like Commission's Commission's are really, really important. They're important to me, very, very important person that that are shipped to the commission. So there has to take priority people you're working for personally, there 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 that will give me the full seven days to work on, you know,

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

Do you have to have a passion for craft, I mean, clay 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 to try it out, you know, it moves along. And the great thing about, you know, ceramics and clay is the combination is experimenting with the science of clay, experimenting with the science of glazes on lusters and the cool glazes. You know, that's all exciting. It's all moving along. But all has to be fitted in. So you sort of have to give yourself a sort of a bit of a mini time check. I have whiteboards in my studio, and in the office where I sort of do a plan. And then of course, my wife, Jill, or my daughter, Hannah, they pop things in, you know, we're going to do this and you need to have that done by then. And, you know, by the way, you know, we're going to do with Tick Tock this afternoon. More camera time like cameras, you know? Yeah. So

Claire Waite Brown:

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 a confidence? Or are you nervous about sharing what you've made?

Unknown:

sure that that's quite interesting. So really interesting question. It works 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. I think that anybody will tell you, I haven't yet found anything that I really, really like. I'm really super critical. Like, you know, friends or family, Kevin exceptionally beautiful. 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. I'm don't think it's really, really big commission for some friends of ours for their anniversary. I've had a couple of attempts because I had one blow up in the kill. So I did the second one yesterday. And that was satisfying. It's nearly 700 millimetres high, thrown on the wheel in two parts. And I sort of looked at that. And Joel came in last night, Hannah and I were looking at who, you know, it's not quite the shape she's asked for. So no bra modify it. So by the time they saw it this morning, I've modified it and I've got it all back. Well, I thought yeah, that's cool. That, you know, I've got to get it through to fairings, but you know, yeah. So I'm getting more confident. Definitely. And like my throwing skills are developing as well, which is good. Brilliant.

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

My plans for the future are apart from going on holiday. Crazy time. Our plans for the future is to continue developing the business. I want to open the studio up to people coming in that want to learn a new skill. I'm going to 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 are just looking for work workshop to us are looking for those people that want to be inspired, young or old. Like I say, we've got disabilities in the family, and it's great to work with them, you know, let them make. So, you know, I want to carry on with that. And also I want to develop my portfolio I want to, you know, there is a very, very serious side to me on I would like to get my work in some galleries. I mean, my work is reasonably priced. I think it's very important for everybody to share that, you know, I'm not looking for fame or anything like that. Just worth that suppose to share that idea. But to share that creativity to share that in a madness that hits me, you know, I watch this thing last night about cheer committee and it's very much like the, you know, perfect couple of lunatics. But I didn't know I swear, you know, brilliant.

Claire Waite Brown:

Peter, how can people connect with you?

Unknown:

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. www dot woven sense. clay.com. You can see all my work but everything up there. And you can contact me through the contact page on Facebook, or Instagram at bowburn underscore sounds underscore clay. And then Facebook or Boban sounds quite close, you know, me information, writing, or Instagram or whatever it is, or Facebook in an open book.

Claire Waite Brown:

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

Unknown:

Thank you, Claire. That was my bedtime. Thank you.

Claire Waite Brown:

Listen in to the next episode to hear all about Peter's experiences on The Great Pottery Throw Down.