CR meets: The Great Pottery Throw Down’s Jim Ranson

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In the second of a special series of CR blogs, we meet Great Pottery Throw Down finalist Jim Ranson, who tells us about his newly-realised style, influences and highs and lows from the show

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When did you first work with ceramics?
My initial taste of clay came in the 1970s at Southend-on-Sea Technical College, where I was given the option of taking a Pottery
O-level whilst doing my art foundation course. I may have dabbled with clay while at school but have more recollection of drawing and painting there.

Where do you work – and what materials do you use?
I have a workshop (large shed) at the back of my garden which I built almost entirely of reclaimed materials from a demolition site. I use a buff stoneware, crank for some gardenware and for raku, and smooth red earthenware, white earthenware and, more recently, porcelain for throwing. Since the Throw Down I’ve gained a new interest in exploring the qualities of porcelain (particularly in terms of glaze colours and effects).

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Work by Jim Ranson

Work by Jim Ranson

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What does pottery offer you?
Ceramics presents the greatest creative challenges, and most of the skills gained are hard won with a mass of practice and trial and error. It also offers an endless well of experimentation which constantly surprises and disappoints (possibly in equal measure!) I recently described ceramics as yin or yang to my louder side as a musician. I think rock ‘n’ roll and ceramics make good partners.

What are you inspired by as a maker?
I derive inspiration from a great many sources. I have a collection of cream jugs and other small pieces from well-known makers and amateurs, and factory-made items too. Boot sale items and top professional pieces, side by side! Ceramics speak to you in different ways. They can show different surfaces and approaches to making; even poorly-made pots can hold real charm (my wife made a number of rather dodgy-looking garden gnomes when we first met; they are dotted around our garden and I love them!) If I have any particular leaning, it would be towards figurative and playful ceramics like the late Victorian Martin Brothers wares.

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Sculpture by Jim Ranson

Sculpture by Jim Ranson

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‘When I first spoke to the team at Love Productions I told them that I had no particular style to my ceramics. However, working alongside the other contestants it soon became clear that I have an illustrative/figurative  approach to making; adding a splash of humour for good measure.’

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What was it like watching back your time on the Throw Down?
Watching the show back was hilarious; there were a number of moments that left me rolling around the sofa laughing with tears in my eyes. The competitive aspect and close scrutiny was a little uncomfortable for us all but it was lovely to hear the comments and to observe the expressions of my fellow contestants. In the thick of it all you only have a peripheral view of everyone else, and you are unaware of comment and dialogue outside of the making room. Watching the playback filled in all the empty spaces!

What are your highlights from the show?
Selecting a personal highlight for the show is tricky in that it could be one of two things. Being named ‘top potter’ in episode two with my turtle sink was a buzz — I was truly delighted to see the result emerge from the kiln. Getting Keith and Kate emotional over my decorating work in the final also comes pretty close.

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Jim tea set

Jim’s tea set, BBC/Love Productions

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And your lowest point?!
My lowest point of the show was the end of the semi-final. Having won the ‘throw down’ and the ‘spot test’ – and having produced what I believed a reasonable chandelier – I thought I’d earned the position of ‘top potter’ for the week. Additionally, with my lack of preparation for the final main task (a couple of small sketches and an hour or two’s practice at the wheel at home) I realised I would have to pull out a whole lot of stops in order to stand a chance of winning!

What have you been up to since the show ended?
I’ve been very busy in the workshop making (Christmas gifts for customers mostly), and I’ve also been taking bookings for my workshop experience which has proved quite popular with groups, coming from as far as Scotland and Yorkshire. I have several events lined up for 2016 and my creative juices are flowing.

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Vase by Jim Ranson

Vase by Jim Ranson

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Tell us one thing you’ll take from the experience of being on GPTD?
The Throw Down experience will resonate for some time methinks. My pot-making had been somewhat ‘down in the dumps’ for a while and I feel that the show has given me a much-needed kick in the behind. I just wish there were 20 days in a week!

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Jim Ranson is a musician and designer-maker based in Bognor Regis. Discover more about his work at jameserinceramics.com. Meet Jim at The Contemporary Craft Festival in Bovey Tracey this June, where you can enjoy a special ‘Pottery Showdown’.

Find all of CRs Throw Down blogs at ceramicreview.com/cr-blog

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