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Garry Jones - Ceramics that make you smile!

by Angie Boyer

Published: July 2010

If ever there was a case of the heart ruling the head, of truly living your dreams – then this must be it: Garry Jones - ceramics that make you smile!
Three years ago, Garry made a life changing decision to leave the financial security of full time employment and go it alone – as a sculptor of highly original, quirky creatures in clay.
“The main kick start to my new career was seeing all the fantastic work at the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate,” he explains. But Garry wasn’t at BCTF as a visitor or exhibitor, he was there working for the company that provided exhibition services for the show. “During the set up I was going from one stand to another putting up the name boards,” he recalls. “I was totally amazed, here was the most fantastic hand crafted work I’d ever seen. I was bitten by the craft industry, I went home dreaming of an escape and a new career.”
Magical though it seemed, it was no easy journey that this self-taught ceramic artist had chosen.
“To begin with I was still employed and planned to do my sculpting part time. I applied for a stand in the Newcomers Gallery at BCTF the following year and was thrilled to be accepted,” he recalls. “But I soon realised that I was greener than green, I had no prices, my work was really basic and I didn’t do too well. The year after that wasn’t much better either, I tried really hard to get it right, producing small porcelain sheep, with boxes and prices to complete the presentation, but I didn’t take any orders. I left BCTF and tripped over my bottom lip on the way out!”
“So I carried on with my day job, standing at my work bench, turning out exhibition panels, bored with the monotony and dreaming of how things might be. I used to keep a note pad by my side so that I could scribble downs ideas and plays on words when they came into my head.”
It is these ‘plays on words’, familiar phrases or sayings, that provide Garry with the inspiration for his work, creating sculptures that are the epitome of humour and fun, each piece reflecting his fantastic imagination and impetuous fascination with words.
“Before long I was making sheep and hares in my lunch breaks, rather than playing football or taking a nap – which ensued a lot of ‘Garry Potter’ mickey taking from the lads at work!” he says. “Gradually I built up a collection of work that local galleries showed an interest in and decided it was time to try the trade shows once more. I applied again for BCTF and also Select British in Exeter.”
This time, with a different, more mature range of work and more experience under his belt, both events worked well for him.
“I was over the moon, the orders started to come in thick and fast. So much so, that I made the rash decision immediately after Select British to hand in my notice at work. A daft move I know, but I badly wanted the career and lifestyle change I’d been dreaming of.”
Thankfully Garry didn’t quite throw the baby out with the bath water, his employers were reluctant to let him go after thirty years in the exhibition and signage trade and persuaded him to compromise and work part-time for them whilst creating his sculptures in between times.
“I loved my new career, but it was tricky trying to balance the finances and I realise now that this arrangement certainly helped me to get on my feet,” he says.
“Looking back I think I was very lucky to still do part time work during the first year of running my own craft business. I’d advise anyone considering a major career change like this to build things up slowly until they have enough confidence and sufficient income to at least meet their basic bills.”
And on the subject of bills, Garry confides, “I hate paperwork!” So another recommendation is to try to afford to pay a book-keeper to handle all of that, albeit on a part-time basis. “I’ve found that the more the pressure builds up because I’m worrying about the mountain of paperwork that needs tackling, the less I’m able to focus on sculpting and I don’t work so well. And let’s face it, if you can’t keep on top of things at that level, when you’re starting out, you’ll never manage it when your business has grown.”
Three years into running his own business, Garry now exhibits at major trade and public events, with orders being delivered regularly to an enviable list of galleries all over the UK. “Galleries provide me with a shop window for my work, which certainly helps to get it noticed,” he says. “I’d advise anyone who thinks they’d like to to sell their work through galleries to really look at what’s already out there and come up with something that no-one else is doing; if it’s radically different, then galleries will want it and that will kick start things for them. You do have to select your galleries and build up a good rapport with them, though; I personally prefer to work with ones that are long standing and have good credentials.”
Garry says that he enjoys selling direct to the public at retail shows as well. “Regular feedback from people is vital, you soon find out if they don’t like your work, some of them can be brutally honest - I’ve developed quite a thick skin! And it’s important to try different shows to work out which ones suit your work – if you find that you’re not selling, then you need to either change your work or change the shows you exhibit at.”
“But it’s not only about selling my work,” he adds. “It’s great to meet other makers at the shows and be part of this unique craft world that we all inhabit, where everyone looks out for everyone else, I’ve found that there’s always someone to lend a hand and give support when it’s needed.”
We chat for a while about the people whose work Garry admires, those who have been an influence and inspiration to him on this creative journey that he has embarked upon.
“I love the work of Rodin,” he tells me. “Rodin’s sculptures have so much life in them, even though they are still, inanimate objects; his work is way beyond his time.
“For sheer scale of work I’d have to say Henry Moore as well. I never particularly liked his sculpture really, but since doing what I’m doing, I have come to understand and appreciate his work more. He built some of his sculptures out of massive pieces of polystyrene, which is quite similar to what I used to do in the exhibition trade.
“And coming into the present time, I love Christine Cummings’ work, she was one of the people who first inspired me at BCTF, everything about her stand there was just perfect, with working sketches incorporated into her display of ceramic animals.”
Garry is based in the West Midlands, having grown up in Wales, and has recently made another major decision – to move from his home-based studio into a new, much larger workshop.
“At first I worked in the garage at home and later obtained planning permission to build a specially designed shed in the garden to work in,” he says. “Then earlier this year, having outgrown that as well, I relocated to a disused needle factory in Astwood Bank, an intriguing building with a fascinating history, but in need of total refurbishment.
“The factory used to be a place where needles of all shapes and sizes were made, from sewing, knitting and crochet needles to much larger ones that were used in sail making. We think that the room where I now sculpt was probably the old furnace. Years ago, there would have been workbenches all around the factory, underneath the windows, where people would sit making needles.  If any were dropped, they would fall between the floor boards beyond reach - we literally found hundreds of thousands of them between the rafters when we started the renovation work.”
With three years of running his own business under his belt, Garry still has a head full of ideas, plans for things he wants to do in the future.
“I’m starting some tutorial classes now that I have more space,” he tells me, “and I want to hold a social clay night once a week, that should be fun.
“In terms of the building, now that the work of Phase I is almost complete I already have Phase II in my head – there’s lots more room upstairs that I’m not using at the moment, so I’d like to convert that into a creative leisure area, where people can come and have a coffee, use the clay, work out their ideas. I’d like to invite other artists to come in and host workshops and courses, too.”
Is there a Phase III to follow, I wonder? “Oh, yes, Phase III is to eventually have a bigger building to work in – and one that is my own, rather than a rented property.”
“My only real problem though, is that busy as I am with all that’s going on at the moment, I still want to have time to play with the clay and develop new ideas – I just need more days in the week really!”
Garry is always pleased to welcome visitors to his studio, but it’s probably a good idea to phone him first, just to check that he hasn’t actually found more days in the week than the rest of us have, and taken the extra time to fit in one more order delivery to a gallery!

Garry Jones, Ceramic Artist
2A Queen Street, Astwood Bank
Redditch B96 6BT
M: 07886 412987
E: studio@garry-jones.com
www.garry-jones.co.uk

There is a full list of stockists and shows on Garry’s website

 
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