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.)

Shuush! We’ve found a McDonalds! 2 of 2

So to continue from yesterday’s post… So if I realise the doing of a craft makes the difference how come here in Portugal I’m not doing any crafting?

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(The street names are tiles)

Most people I know who love to create sometimes stop creating. For no good reason and lots of good reasons: They’re too busy. They’re too tired. They don’t know what they want to create. They don’t realise they have stopped. Whatever the reason the longer they stop the harder it seems to get started again. But starting again has it’s own momentum. Once you’ve started again some kind of creative magic energy kicks in and it’s like you never stopped.

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(Ceiling of corridor at convent)

A bit like when I meet my friend, Helena. I have known Helena a long time, we went to the same school and were best friends from the age of twelve. She lived in the country and had to take the bus home so we would say goodbye after school and not be able to see or talk to each other until nine the next day. There were no mobile phones, the one phone in the house was in the hall so everyone could hear what we were saying… so we invented an early version of Facebook and used to write letters to each other each day. (Ok so it was nothing like Facebook, maybe it was like iMessage or.. never mind I’m just trying to say it was hard back then!)

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(Clock on…)

I think that’s why I love to write, writing was a way to communicate my best and worst times without judgement, with encouragement. In school writing essays was very difficult for me, so much so my mother used to write them for me! I always had trouble with spelling and stopping to consider the correct way to spell something would mess with my flow and make the whole thing so frustrating. but in those letters I would write my best guess at a spelling and write (spelling!) after my attempt and Helena always seemed to recognise the words. Each morning we’d pass each other our letters and head into our first class reading.

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(…Clock tower)

Anyway, time passed, I got married she was one of my bridesmaids and then she went to Australia. She met a lovely man, Henry and had four children. We wrote infrequently. It’s a long way to Australia, I’ve never been but Helena comes home regularly. There’s a lot of people in her Irish family so we don’t always get a chance to meet but we met last year.

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(Tiles on the outside of a house)

On a cold and wet July Monday in the Horse and Jockey Hotel we hugged and squealed our “oh my God you look so good”s. Henry found something to do and we set to chat. And it was like we had never been apart, so comfortable and warm. So easy and familiar. How did we ever stop the writing? When Henry arrived back after an hour Helena sent him off again, after the second hour he just sat down nearby and read a newspaper.

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(And more tiles)

I know why I stopped writing to Helena. I had started to think it had to be a big production. A long and perfectly structured letter with news about everything and details about the things that had happened. A letter that would take hours to write and never be quite perfect enough…. Doesn’t that sound like what starting a new project feels like? It does to me. Now I email Helena whenever I see something that reminds me of her or when I’m doing something I think she will enjoy. The emails are short, they usually take about two minutes but if I find myself rambling on I don’’t worry because I know Helena won’t mind my imperfect email. She never stopped being encouraging and non-judgemental.

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(My small imperfect start…)

So if there’s something you’ve loved doing (creative or not) and you’ve stopped, can we encourage each other to make a little start? It doesn’t have to be a big project. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to take a long time. It could be as quick as it takes to write a two-line email and if we start to ramble that’ll be fine too. There’s no judgement, only encouragement.

Just like Helena, Mairead.

And so the work begins….


(The tunnel of tress)

Last evening we went for a walk. There’s a farm lane at then end of our road and we followed it the first evening we arrived but there were signs and as we couldn’t read them (!) we turned back, rather than suffer the consequences of trespass! But our host tells us the signs only refer to hunters, so we’re welcome. We went off again last evening and found a lovely tunnel of trees. The tunnel led past a house where a man was carving a huge tree trunk into a deer with a bench. We waved our Bonjour and carried on to a lake. The lake was surrounded by other carvings by the same man. The path continued onto a paved road and eventual onto the main road where we were able to complete a circuit home. Considering how few houses we passed there are lots of paths.


(One wood carving was in the middle of the lake, might be  a seal?)

It’s the same with the roads we’ve been driving on. There are multiple roads leading to the local town and our sat nav seems to bring us on a different one or variations of different ones each time. It does mean you can get lost very easily but it also means you are never without an option. I like options but sometimes they’re not useful to me. They make it difficult for me to start or when started they distract me from continuing. This morning I started.


(That our nearest town in the distance)

One of the things I’ll be doing while I’m here in France is preparing for a course I intend to run back in Greystones. It doesn’t have a name yet (too many options…) but it’s about setting aside time for creativity. Lots of people think they’re not creative and the other people who know they’re creative often think their creations are not good enough. So, while the idea of spending time creating might be appealing, the mass of judgement heaped on any creative output can be painful and paralysing…. or at least that’s how it can be for me.


(Cattle over the hedge)

Usually, I take the time to get everything out of the cupboard and set up the perfect space and enthusiastically begin. But very quickly I can see that the beautiful idea in my head is not what’s appearing on paper. So I stop, I shove everything back in the cupboard and I firmly resolve to forget the whole creating thing! Funnily, I’m always drawn back.


(Not a great picture, the real thing is so amazing – stars in the middle of the country)

But there is another way. I am practicing that other way here. I started this morning, in the garden. Our host, Mara (from Australia…. where they speak English…) when she realised what I was up to, pointed me in the direction of her shed where a trestle table awaited. So, Denis and I took the table out and I set about doing creative time in a different way.


(The tools)

I have formulated a little routine. First I lay everything out around me – the paint, paper, brushes, books, magazines and whatever else I think I’ll need. Then I find a nice sitting place and sit there. I ask myself some questions about what I want to reveal to myself today and then I start being kind to myself. Only then do I begin the creative stuff. Very soon, no matter how I was feeling when I started I begin to feel relaxed, calm and settled. Eventually I hear myself let out a long sigh and I remember why I love making time to create.

This is the work I’ll be doing here, Mairead.