For one week in February 2019 I had an art residency at Brison’s Veor, a solidly built house
as far west in Cornwall as is possible (well, maybe Lands End...). It is a dear house, unspoilt
and practical with two studios, and a view out of the window so exciting that I would defy
anybody to get used to it. I spent hours and hours gawping out at the waves rolling in, trying
to catch the copper green colour in my memory as the water folded over again and again. We
clambered all over the little peninsula of the Cape and beyond to West Penwith. I wanted to
absorb as much of the place as I could, and I am aware that I have only scratched the surface. I
was there for a week, but came away with enough ideas for a year!
Cape Cornwall is not actually the furthest
west point of this island, but they thought it
was when they named it, so the name stuck.
Cornish: ‘Enys Vordardh’: breaker island
French: ‘brisant’: reef, breaker
Known as ‘General de Gaulle in his bath’
This became an obsession. The Brisons rocks look so much like
General de Gaulle lying down with a big tummy sticking up,
that every time I glanced over at him, I expected him to get up
and wander over looking for a bath towell.
I did a few watercolours. I wished I had brought some oils
with me, the rocks are too meaty for subtle washes. I had been
collecting stones, so I had a go at making some pictures with
them. I even made an animation with them, but I couldn’t get
the camera in the right mode, and it jumped about too much
because I hadn’t secured it to anything.
In the end I thought I would wait until my return home to do
the animation, then I would have Mary to help me. She knows
all about the complicated camera and how to animate. I got
Jamie to lie down and filmed him pretending to be Charles de
Gaulle getting up and wandering over to look in the window.
The history of mining for tin and copper goes
back over 3000 years in this part of Cornwall,
with traders from the Mediterranean during
the bronze age calling Britain ‘Cassiterides’,
or the ‘Tin Islands’. In fact this area was the
centre of the world for copper mining a
couple of hundred years ago.
5 Cape Cornwall, 6 Carn Gloose 5 Botallack, 6 Botallack
These chimneys are dotted around the
landscape in what seems to be romantic
abandon. There is one almost wherever you
look. However, I expect the romance wasn’t
so great a hundred years ago, and the fumes
from the arsenic burners must have been
something. Each chimney is built with a
different design of granite and brickwork,
large granite blocks at the base topped off
with finer bricks. Each one is unique, like
fishermen’s jumpers. Some of these are
ventilation chimneys, some are chimneys to
vent steam and smoke from the engine houses
which were pumping water out of the shafts,
and some are smelting chimneys where they
burned the copper to get rid of the arsenic.
You can’t always tell which is which.
Here are some from around West Penwith.
5 Levant 6
5 Terracotta bottles 6 Chimney experiments. Black clay, terracotta and ‘Special Fleck’ stoneware clay,
vitreous black slip, white slip, all sorts of glazes, copper and platinum lustre, silver leaf.
Geevor is the most wonderful example of perseverance
and preservation set in the horror of Tory eighties’ mine
closures. The mine operation couldn’t be saved, but
thankfully it has been re-purposed to show us what we
have lost. And the importance of Geevor is massive! I
honestly think it’s the best museum I’ve ever been in. I
could (and did) spend days there.
What a massive operation it was, and how proud the men
who worked the ore out of the ground and processed it.
They were brilliant. The most emotional place is ‘the dry’,
where miners’ clothes are hung out on the hot pipes, and as
I went past the showers I could almost hear a Cornish song
starting up. It was spooky!
I loved the rock museum, I found out about Cassiterite
and Botallackite. But I didn’t find out enough! Why is
Cassiterite, or tin oxide (SnO2) black, but can also be a
white powder? Something to do with organic or inorganic?
I tested some of the black Cassiterite from Geevor in a
glaze and got an unimpressive black sludge. Compared
with the whitening opaqueness that my regular pot of
SnO2 produces, I didn’t feel too happy. I want more
information! I learned so much, and had to revisit to fill
in some gaps. I actually need to go back again, it feels
Saveall’s Lode. Killas to the left (slate) and granite to the right. The seam consists of quartz, tourmaline,
hematite (iron - that gives the red stain) and cassiterite (tin).
Cape Cornwall is formed of Mylor Slate (killas)
with veins of tourmaline and quartz.
Copper and tin is found in these veins, seams,
or lodes between killas and granite. Seams
run at a near vertical angle, and are up to 3ft
wide. At Priest’s Cove there is a seam that has
been mined called Saveall’s Lode. It has a rusty
locked gate beyond which there is a cold dark
I wanted to do something that showed the
contrast between the rough black jagged slate
killas and the smoothness and purity of tin.
I tore and squished some rough black clay
and pushed and swivelled a smooth round
pebble of killas into it to form small bowls. I
fired them and glazed the inside of the bowl,
then fired with lustres (copper and platinum).
I noticed that the angle of the quartz lodes
was always just off the vertical and I wanted
to get something of that into my work, so I
made some rough black pots with copper and
tin lustre lines up the outside and a glowing
copper or tin interior. I threw some Vulcan
black clay vessels, glazed them and then added
silver leaf to the outside. Leaf was fun to apply,
and I could put it onto parts of the pot that
hadn’t been glazed. I was a bit disappointed
that the clay fired to a dark brown and not a
good black like the other stuff.
Black clay with copper and tin lustre.
Vulcan black clay with glaze and silver leaf.
Quartz seam formed in cracks in the killas.
Stoneware vase with an off-the-vertical seam.
Black clay with tin lustre.
Black clay with copper lustre.
Then of course on the rocks are all these lichens.
Lichens are actually a symbiotic relationship
between fungi and algae. Maybe a bit like the happy
strengthening marriage between copper and tin to
make bronze. The relationship is mutially beneficial:
fungi protects and algae feeds. At Cape Cornwall
I saw plenty of small pale green bushy lichens
(fructicose, I think this may be ‘oak moss’), leafy
(foliose) and spreading (crustose) lichens in white,
green and orange. The colours are quite exciting, and
luminous at dusk!
To get something resembling lichen for my purposes
I needed a dark background, ie black clay, with
splodges of white, tan, green and orange. I thought
it would be a simple task, but soon realised that the
glazes I was using weren’t always coming out opaque,
and were possibly reacting unpredictably to the black
clay. the green one was firing to transparent red! Also
the kiln kept knocking off at the end of firing so I
wasn’t sure what temperature had been reached. Then
I realised I would be better off splodging with slip.
I will get there in the end. What a time consuming
game it is!
I had this idea to take some impressions
in stoneware clay from the rocks around
Priest’s Cove. In fact the rocks were
incredibly interesting and beautiful the
more I looked at them with cracks running
in all directions and the flat pancakes of
lichen. The clay impressions I took were
spoiled a bit by having been squashed
against some canvas beforehand, but I
managed to get a few good ones.
I bisque fired these tiles and then took
some impressions from them to get
positive relief tiles. I made the tiles square
and smaller, and lost quite a lot of detail,
especially when I glazed them.
The next time I made the tiles the same size
and shape as the originals, and out of black
clay. I also wanted to get the feel of the
original colours on the rock when I came
to use the glaze. I’m still working on this!
3 First impression tile in ‘Special Fleck’ stoneware
clay taken directly from rock.
5 First impression tile fired.
3 Second impression tile: ‘Special Fleck’ pressed
into first tile. With various glazes (‘South Pacific’ and
‘Seaweed’ and ‘Dromedary’)
At Priest’s Cove showing killas with granite boulders in forground.
Taking a second impression in black clay
Second impression with glazes ‘Dromedary’, ‘Sandstone’
and ‘Copper Patina’.
As well as taking impressions from rocks, I couldn’t resist sampling a few plants from the area. The first
impressions were pretty sharp, but the second tiles came out quite muted and muffled looking. The glaze
colour wasn’t what I wanted either. I wanted the copper/bronze/wave green. I joined the square rock and
plant tiles with some wire that ties bags of clay at the top, and made a hanging, which looks ok.
LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW
It was a fabulous view south towards Carn Gloose and
Land’s End! I did a bit of sketching and painting onto leather
hard clay. I moulded them into plates and glazed them
adventurously. They all went a bit wonky.
THE ELUSIVE GREEN
I had so much trouble finding this green. It was everywhere
at Cape Cornwall, but nowhere in my pottery. I had gone up
40ºc to stoneware temperature, and could get a nice blue, but
the green eluded me. I bought loads of glazes to try: ‘Seaweed’,
‘Vanadinite’, ‘Textured Turquoise’, ‘South Pacific’, ‘Texture Kiwi
Fruit’, ‘Texture Mossy’, ‘Bottle Green’, ‘Green Magnetite’, ‘Green
Turquoise Mottled’... I added copper to a green grey glaze,
which turned it black, tore my hair out a bit. All the glazes
failed: they were grey, orange, black... My old earthenware
lead glaze had produced a lovely green by adding chrome and
cobalt oxides, but I could not get it at this higher temperature.
I bought some more glazes. One called ‘Copper Patina’ looked
It’s not over, the quest goes on. I find something, and I lose it. I
do something spectacular, and next time it goes wrong. I have
the greatest idea, and it comes out differently. Some call it Wabi
Sabi, but when you think about it, it’s just life!
‘Copper Patina’ glaze