The Ceramists of Silves

(The studio)

As I was walking up to the castle in Silves I passed a door with a sign saying… Cerimeca. Ceramics! Of course I had to go in.

(Aren’t they gorgeous?)

Inside the dark interior there was a lady painting tiles. I nodded, Bom Dia and went to look at some buttons. They had buttons!After I had chosen and was paying a voice from the back said, you have chosen my work, I made those. Deeper inside the shadows there was a man, a very happy man, working on glazing some more of his work. I asked for a photo. He was happy to oblige.

(Happy man)

He was not happy with my photo though, so I took another. The second one was better. This man knew what he liked, he also knew what he loved. It showed on his face and in the way he spoke, he loved making ceramics and fortunately he loved explaining his work to me.

(His glaze collection)

He reminded me of a story I once heard. Once upon a time there was a shoemaker living in a small village. Every day he created shoes from his own designs. And every day the people of the village brought their old shoes to him for mending. No one liked his shoes.

(Beads after first fire, before glaze)

After years of this he was completely discouraged. Now, there was a wise woman living in the village and one day she visited him. She said, People may not like what you make, it doesn’t matter if no one likes it but if you like it you have to make it. The shoemaker didn’t really like what he heard but he liked the wise woman so he continued to work away on his shoes.

(After glazing)

Then one day, a stranger came to town. The stranger had a hole in her shoe and she asked around the village for the way to the shoemaker. She was in pain when she arrived and she sat outside his shop to take her shoe off and to rub at the pain in her sole. That’s when she heard the shoemaker whistling. It cheered her up instantly and she rose up to go into his shop. That’s when she saw all the shoes in his window. The most unusual shoes she had ever seen. The colours. The mix of fabric and leather. The buttons (of course he used buttons.) The laces. The variety alone was mesmerizing.

(More work cooling in the kiln)

From inside the shop the shoemaker could hear the young stranger’s gasps and sighs and wows! He stopped working to find out what was wrong.

Wrong? Nothing’s wrong! These are the most beautiful shoes in the kingdom! Please say you have my size!

(His wife is also a ceramicist)

A teeny tiny smile played on the shoemaker’s lips, you like my shoes? She gawped at him. You made these? The smile spread across his face, yes I did would you like to try them on?

(Work in progress – the hopeful fish)

For the rest of the afternoon the shoemaker and the stranger talked shoes. She tried on all his shoes and had many questions which he answered happily, delighted to talk about his work. The stranger stayed for dinner and that night moved in with the wise woman (she had an AirBnB). Every day for a year they worked on building a website to find other people who loved the shoemaker’s shoes. Of course you know the ending… everyone lived happily ever after…. except for that time when the website crashed because it was so popular and the other time when they couldn’t sleep with the stress but mostly they were happy.

(The process)

If you like something that someone else has created you might be the only person in the whole world who likes it. So don’t miss the opportunity to tell them.

Go on be that person, tell them. Mairead.

(Silves: €6 per night, parking, WiFi and water. Hot shower, 50 cent. No toilets. Supermarket 5 minutes walk, castle 20 minutes walk. Park with cafe, toilets, swimming pool, playground, tourist office 10 minutes walk. Loads of restaurants and cafes in the town.)

There’s a champion of button makers in Merrion Square


(This is where my champion lives… the sign is ceramic… a sign?)

We went to Dublin on Saturday and parked in Merrion Square which is beautiful at this time of year and on a Saturday there’s usually a few parking spaces.  Last Saturday there were loads of parking places when we arrived. They have new parking meters that only work with credit cards and in fact don’t work very well. There was a queue of people trying, unsuccessfully to purchase tickets so we joined the queue. Surprisingly the queue was very upbeat, probably a bit of a siege mentality, everyone working together against the common enemy. We were all throwing in our tuppence worth of advice and slowly the queue shortened.


(Detailed drawings…. kinda)

While I was waiting I noticed the meter was right outside the offices of the Craft Council of Ireland. Their website says they are “the main champion of the craft industry in Ireland, fostering its growth and commercial strength, communicating its unique identity and stimulating quality design, innovation and competitiveness.” Well, I thought, wasn’t that synchronicity, here’s me working away on my bag of clay and here’s the offices of my champion. The right place at the right time. I think I’m okay for a champion at the moment but if I do need one…


(Potential Bunting)

So to keep you up to date with that bag of clay, it’s slow, but it’s best if we don’t dwell on that part. The best part is working with the clay. As I was saying I started with a few buttons. There’s a few days work in any endeavour with clay no matter how little I produce. First the clay needs to be in workable form and I’m finding it too wet to work with when it comes out of the bag so on day 1 I rolled out a handful between two sheets of cling film and watched it dry… On day 2 it probably needed to dry some more but I wanted to start so I used my square cutter and cut some potential buttons… yum!


(Buttons with maximum added holes. Slip is like glue for clay, thanks Dei for the recipe!)

On day 3 I was too busy 😦 to do anything so covered the clay with the cling film and a damp cloth. One of the absolutely amazing things about clay is it will wait for you… I mean it will stop drying. Ok not necessarily always or at every point in the damp to dry continuum but enough for me to be excited. And the reason I need it to stop drying is that there will be a point where it is too dry to work with 😦 and in order to make a potential button into an actual button I have to add some holes. Adding holes to a dry square of clay causes the potential button to loose it’s potential and turn into a broken mess. The perfect point of dryness that I’m waiting for is called leather-hard. So now we’re up to day 4 but I forgot to take off the cling film… so…


(Cute little apron)

At this point, to cut a very long and detailed story short, I have some buttons, some bunting triangles and the cutest little apron. All these are experiments as I wonder where to go next, but something unexpected has happened. You might remember I don’t like this stage where I don’t know where I’m going next? Well, yesterday as I was rushing out to an appointment, leaving my clay behind I realised that if I was lucky enough to be able to do stuff with clay everyday for the rest of my life that would be as perfect a life as I could imagine.

Of course I forgot later when I was rushing back to make dinner but I remember again now, Mairead.

Jellies in the Clay


(Even more pictures from Powerscourt)

I ordered some clay last week. I want to start making ceramics again. Not sure what yet, but I am sure I want to use porcelain. So I went to the most popular website and looked up porcelain paper clay. It has paper in with the clay and I really liked the result I got with it. There were a few different porcelain clays so I took a guess and picked one. The delivery details said it would take two days to arrive. I waited patiently. Actually, I waited impatiently.


(One green leaf among the brown)

It arrived on Tuesday, while I was walking in the leaves at Powerscourt. A big box was sitting on the kitchen table when I returned, it was waiting patiently for me. Our big scissors is in the small cutlery drawer in the kitchen and it would have been the best to use but this was a special moment – my first bag of clay. I have a favourite small black crafting scissors so I used that instead. The box was very securely fastened but eventually my scissors and I found a way inside. My clay had been laid on a bed of shredded cardboard and beside it lay a tiny bag of jellies.


(Nice shadows)

I took out the bag of clay and enjoyed remembering how very heavy clay is. Then I slowly undid the metal closure and peeped inside. If I had picked the right clay, the clay I wanted to work with, it would be cream coloured. It was. I’m still not completely sure what I want to make so I started with my old friends – buttons. I took out my tin of tools and promptly stuck my thumb with the point of my knife. It might take some time to remember all I’ve forgotten, the feel of the tools, the smell of the clay, the many ways to manipulate this ancient material.


(I had a great title for this until Pam told me it was a rook, not a crow. Rooks feet?)

So now what? This is the stage of creating that I don’t usually like, where I don’t know what comes next. I’ve been here before and it all worked out fine so I need to trust that it will this time too. I’m going to go slow and take baby steps to the next stage.

In the meantime, I’ll play with the clay and eat the jellies, Mairead.