photo of shadow in pool

Escape from Boredom

fresco at Pallazzo Schifanoia


How has August been for you? Have the August weeks seemed long and interminable? Are you dreading the end of Summer or are you just looking forward to everybody getting back to work and school so that you can get on with things? We all want to avoid boredom – sky diving, snorkelling, eating ice cream, going abroad, or building a palazzo with allegorical frescoes as Duke Borso d’Este did in 1465.

exterior of Palazzo Schifanioa

exterior of the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara

belatrova was in Ferrara and paid the Palazzo Schifanoia a visit. The name “Schifanoia” is originates from “schivar la noia” meaning literally to “escape from boredom” which describes accurately the original intention of the Duke when he had the palazzo built.

Schifanoia fresco March

the March fresco

The highlights of its decorations are the allegorical frescoes lining the Salone dei Mesi (Room of the Months). The Allegory of August (top image) mainly depicts the triumph of Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest, but there are other little everyday details too.



One of the reasons for the visit was the book by Ali Smith called How to Be Both, which has two interconnected stories, one centred on a teenage girl called George whose mother has just died and the other on the Italian renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa, responsible for most of the frescoes in the Palazzo. It is an intriguing story and an unusual book, and it led us to the almost empty palazzo on a very hot day this month. A lot of the fresco is damaged beyond repair but what remains is surprisingly bright despite the deliberate gloom of the interior of the hall.

photo of shadow in pool

belatrova selfie

The Duomo Venice

The Duomo in Venice

Part of the Italian genius seems to be based on their ability to take you unawares. So many apparently small and modest churches may spring a Giotto on you, a rectangular blur on a distant hill turns out to be medieval Assisi, you go to Venice and all you remember is the best Dry Martini ever, they drive fast on the road but they drive well, a memorable dish of meat and sage is, of course, called Saltimbocca (Jumps in the Mouth), the waiter who forgets to serve anybody because he wants you to tell him everything about Tate Modern, the Roman taxi driver who pines for Manchester.

belatrova planter

belatrova planter with hint of fresco

A surprise around every corner then, something available to suit any mood. Do you see where I am going?

Grand Canal Venice

Grand Canal

By now you must know of belatrova’s great love of the sublime playing of Thelonius Monk and his piano (see July’s blog), of his ability to hit the right “wrong” note at an unexpected moment yet leave you wanting more – a saltimbocca note.

designer pot

Thelonius pot “Saltimbocca”

And so from Italian culture to jazz to ceramics: belatrova’s Thelonius series of one-off pots which we introduced to you recently continues to develop, and we are open throughout hArt for you to come and see it. We will also be selling our ceramic and oak birdbaths, our ceramic lamps, our three legged bowls and large undulating fruit bowls.

San Marco in Venice

San Marco, Venice

Thelonius pot with attitude

Thelonius pot with attitude

h.Art Week 2016 will take place from 10th to 18th September and we will be open 10 – 5.30 daily. Come and visit us at work in the studio. There will be some great bargains to be had at our belatrova studio clearance.

oak plinth with ceramic birdbath

towering belatrova plinths

There is a surprise for everybody at belatrova, the Schifanoia of the ceramic world.


Assisi toast

Toasting Assisi (in the distance)

thelonius monk

elephant on the keyboard

thelonius monk

the great Thelonius Monk

With an Open Summer Weekend (Sat 2nd and Sun 3rd July) just around the corner, something happened at the Bankside Studio recently. The ghost of Thelonius Monk made itself known and whispered strange and wonderful things into the ears of belatrova as we were making a batch of three legged bowls. Perhaps “Ruby my Dear” was playing on the cd player, whatever it was it made our hands dance and the unintended clay shapes seemed to be spot on. “What about the three legged bowls?” we hear concerned belatrovians ask. Well, we did make them, though a few days later, after we had returned from Monkland.

ceramic pot
ceramic pot
ceramic pot

belatrova team

Thelonius Pugmill and two friends

Taking a brief trip to Monkland is highly recommended: you will come back refreshed and brimming with more ideas than usual. It is liberating to make pieces without worrying about the end result, and if one piece turns out to be a failure then the next one will be stronger for it. In this we were aided and abetted by our hard working pug mill who, as some of you may remember, is called “Thelonius” and who is by far the hardest working member of the team.

For a ceramicist, going to Monkland means that you accept one condition only – that there is no wrong way to make ceramics. This is how you have to approach the lump of clay, just as Thelonius Monk approached his piano. As he saw it, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” and this explains his unique jazz style, which includes percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds, and a surprising use of silences and hesitations. Click here to listen to “Don’t blame me” where there is a fine example of his style.
ceramic potceramic pot
He also had the habit during performances that while the other musicians in the band continued playing he would stop, stand up from the keyboard, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. It was in this spirit that one of our team tried to show his fellow potters how to dance a jig while violently flattening clay with a rolling pin and, at the same time, sipping tea from a mug.
blue ceramic piece
ceramic piece by belatrova
large ceramic pot

A debate followed as to whether this performance was a fine example of syncopation made flesh, since in music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected, thus making a tune or piece of music off-beat – “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm”. We agreed this was the case, and that it would be incorporated into a piece, which in turn would be entitled: “Thelonius made me do it“, subsequently the title for the whole series.

ceramic blue jug
ceramic piece by belatrova
blue ceramic jug

Many of you will want to see this growing collection of freewheeling pottery, and we would like to show it to you, so make an entry in your diaries for Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd of July (10 – 5pm) when we will be opening the workshop for our Summer Weekend.

Philip Larkin


elephant on the keyboard


And we will also be showing our bowls, lamps, tables and birdbaths, as well as our new range of wave bowls and scoop bowls, because not everybody loves Thelonius as much as we do. Philip Larkin, a much better poet than jazz critic, considered Thelonius Monk nothing more than “the elephant on the keyboard”, but Monk is the second most recorded Jazz composer of all time, right after Duke Ellington. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Philip – and just to rub it in, here is a link to a short video of the Thelonius pots spinning to “‘Round Midnight” arranged for saxophone quartet by Quartetto di Sassofoni Accademia, with no piano or elephant.
Thelonius Monk

PS  belatrova will be under the Ledbury Market House this Saturday and every Saturday in June – if you are in the area drop by and say hello.

PPS. We would like to thank “Botloes” for giving us such a great review on Houzz – we wonder if this mystery personality might reveal herself or himself?

Hasta luego.

another close-up of mural


complete head-on view of mural

Adaptable as ever, belatrova, as well as designing and making handmade ceramic birdbaths, lamps, bowls and tables, has developed another skill that uses clay to great effect – we also make ceramic murals. A mural, from the Latin murus meaning wall, is any piece of artwork applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface.
view of ceramic mural lo<a href=

This particular mural uses the idea of “juggling” as its departure point; the house in Spain for which it was commissioned is named after an area of southern India, and it is a word that in Spanish is associated with jugglers and juggling. A happy convergence of imagery to get the ball rolling, and which can be seen in the final design with the still central figure at the bottom from which two circular movements flow, one counter clockwise, the other clockwise, co
ntaining the various elements and shapes which are being “juggled” – all presided over by the sun at the very top. Some of the shapes are purely abstract to accentuate the flowing lines, other more recognizable things are there because they are right (even if ultimately inexplicable to most people- cacti, skulls, vases and jugs, ashtrays?).

another close-up of mural


ceramic cactus

The rectangle of space within which the piece was designed measures 2300mm x 3126mm, and each piece is made from grogged stoneware, a clay that contains tiny fragments of molochite to strengthen the material when it has to be shaped and cut, slab rolled and then biscuited to 1000°, after which, as a lot of you may remember from previous blogs, the surfaces are painted with oxides and stains, dipped in a transparent glaze and then fired to 1275° in the belatrova kiln.

view of ceramic mural from ground floor
The challenge was always to produce shapes that stayed flat and did not crack, and there were five “skulls” made before the sixth and final one that you see in the images. Here is a picture of skull No 4, already biscuited, with a fine crack going from eye to jaw. It makes quite a good cheese board, specially when you need to hurry guests away from the table.

close-up of cracked ceramic piece

ceramic skull as cheese board

We were very pleased with the way the two flying legs turned out, considering their awkward shape and length. The belatrova team member who modeled for them wishes to remain anonymous, but we think he has a future with Tommy Hilfiger or Adidas.

ceramic legs in mural

The other challenge facing belatrova was the height of the scaffolding, about three metres off the ground, but, thankfully, any vertigo was kept at bay by our perfect hosts who supplied belatrova with a steady source of cold Spanish beer sothat in the end any lingering acrophobia was gently dispelled.


The first step upon arrival was to measure out the rectangle above the doorway in the hall and then to stick templates of the ceramic pieces (which had previously been cut out in card) onto the wall. When, after a great deal of tweaking, the templates were all blue-tacked in their place, a pencil mark was drawn around the contours and the card templates removed to allow the actual ceramic shapes to be bonded to the wall in their correct positions.

carboard templates of ceramic shapes for mural

Murals do vary from simple tiled works to huge installations by contemporary ceramic artists; depending on context, they can enhance large or small spaces, but belatrova thinks ceramic murals are the perfect solution for those who enjoy sculpture but have no space, or for those who have a large space that needs to resonate more with its surroundings. Murals fulfill the same function as a picture while often being much more dynamic and three-dimensional.

stylized ceramic skull

The technique of slab-rolling and shaping, which was used for this mural, is one also applied to most of belatrova’s production, and if any of you have not already seen our video showing how it is done, please click here.

Lastly, please remember that we have two pre-Christmas Open Weekends: 28 and 29 November, and 6 and 7 December, when we will be open from 10am to 5pm. Do drop in.

belatrova’s Tales of the Alhambra

view of Granada from Sacromonte hill

Granada and the Alhambra from the Sacromonte

belatrova has often been drawn to Granada (blog August 2014) in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and specially to the Alhambra, the great sprawling hilltop fortress encompassing royal palaces from the Nasrid dynasty, as well as the fountains and orchards of the Generalife gardens.

looking down from the Alcazar

view of the city from the fortress

It first became a palace in the 14th century under Yusuf 1, Sultan of Granada, in the years when southern Spain was in the hands of various Moorish dynasties. It is a spellbinding place, all ceramic tiles, wood and plaster – Islamic art at its peak.

view of Granada through Alhambra Palace window

cool inside, hot out

It stands on its hill overlooking the city and from the cool darkened interiors you can see Granada below, through ornate lattice windows, sweltering in the white light of day. It is an indoor coolness reinforced by the tile work along its walls, the lightness of the intricate plaster ceilings, the presence of water in the courtyards and the calm the architecture seems to bestow on its surroundings.

slender pillars of Alhambra


Part of its magic is the way you are constantly made aware of nature, specifically of light and water, no matter where you are standing within the palace; either because you are catching glimpses of the exterior, the patios, the views, the distant trees, the reflecting pools, or because your eyes are absorbing the gentle reflections from the chest-high ceramic surround and the extraordinary organic plasterwork of the domed ceilings and the tree-like colonnades of random columns (they are not, of course, they artfully appear to be scattered).


plasterwork of dome ceiling at the Alhambra

intricate and sublime



more plasterwork in the Alhambra

delicate and voluptious


The adjacent Generalife gardens also manage to maintain this fine balance of nature and architecture; no matter that you are outdoors, trees and hedges enclose you, lines of slender pillars appear and lead you into the welcoming shade of a domed space filled with mosaics. Birdsong and the sound of trickling water are all around you, and from certain vantage points, distant views of the Sierra Nevada, still snow capped, remind you of Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra and the story of how muleteers used to bring ice down to the city in great blocks.


view of Sierra Nevada

distant snow-capped Sierra Nevada



pool in Generalife gardens

toe-dipping allure of the Generalife


Water is an essential ingredient in this manmade landscape, an important factor in the life of a culture shaped in the desserts of North Africa and so its presence is everywhere, even flowing in the stone balustrade that leads down a flight of steps to the gardens, and which allows a descending courtier or Sultan to dip his fingers in it.


stone balustrade with water running down the middle

finger-dipping stone balustrade



ceramic toiles and plasterwork on wall of the Alhambra

ceramic and plaster



intricate plasterwork

laberynthine plasterwork



tiles on wall at the Alhambra

tiled wall


Granada itself is a wonderful blend of medieval streets winding up to the Albaicín, gothic and baroque churches, a commanding cathedral, noisy squares filled with cafes and restaurants, fabulous ice cream parlours, incredibly helpful taxi drivers, shops brimming with blue and white ceramics, and one bar in particular that serves ice cold beer in freezing earthenware vessels (an idea germinating in belatrova’s collective mind – could this be applied to a Dry Martini?).


cold beer in earthenware mug

ice cold in Granada



close-up of magnolia flower in Generalife




sandalled foot resting on table

belatrova resting


The visit coincided with Granada’s Corpus Christi festival – a five day period of celebrations and religious processions. In the Plaza Bib Rambla families roamed around the square sipping drinks and watching a puppet show with their children, their young daughters dressed head to toe in their flamenco outfits.


fountain of the courtyard of the lions

the courtyard of the lions



passion flower

passion flower in the Albaicín


It was an inspirational visit, and made us want to get back to our ceramics, our birdbaths, but mostly to our tiled tables which we will be launching as part of the Bankside Studios Summer Open Weekend on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July. Please pay us a visit, and you will also get to see the work of six other makers. Hasta la vista.

open studio

the art of commissioning

house spider with christmas hat

Ziggy the Christmas spider

painting of Pope Julius II by Raphael

Julius II by Raphael

photo of Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison

detail from Sistine Chapel

God & Adam







A commission in art was at one time only the privilege of the rich and powerful. Rulers and governments commissioned artists to design pieces that often glorified the kingdom or state. During the Renaissance, the Church became a regular patron of the arts commissioning such great works as The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, and of course, the most celebrated art commission of all time, the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II, a man who centuries later, as older belatrovians will remember, would be played by Rex Harrison in “The Agony and the Ecstasy“.

ceiling of Sistine Chapel

top commission

Commissions are all very well when it comes to painting and sculpture, we hear you say; what about ceramic commissions? Well, how about the ‘Frog Service’, a 50-person set intended for dinner and dessert made by Wedgewood in 1773 for Catherine the Great who bought it for her Gothic summer palace built in a frog marsh some miles outside St Petersburg, “Kekerekeksinky“*, would you believe – hence the inclusion of the frog motif.

The service was painted with 1222 views of British landscapes,antiquities and gardens. It cost £2,290 and was intended for occasional use, not for display alone. When the service was nearing completion, the bulk of it was put on display at Portland House in London, so as to show it to the English public before it was dispatched to Russia. At the present time the Hermitage collection includes some 770 items from this famous commission.

ceramic Wedgewood

part of the Frog Commission

As an aside, belatrova went to visit the Wedgewood Museum and returned as enthralled as ever by Josiah, a man of energy and creativity who along with others transformed society and kick-started the Industrial Revolution. He was born into a family of potters in 1730, at Burslem, Staffordshire, and his father’s death in 1739 led him to an early start working as a ‘thrower’ in the pottery of his eldest brother, Thomas, to whom he was later apprenticed. An attack of smallpox seriously weakened him and in 1768 he had to have his right leg amputated. This meant he was forced to abandon throwing, but he gained a wider insight into the potter’s craft, which led to experimentation. If you would like further insight into this world, belatrova warmly recommends a book by Jenny Uglow, “The Lunar Men”.

portrait of Josia Wedgewood by Reynolds

mezzotint of Josiah based on Reynolds painting. copyright National Gallery

Why are we telling you all this? Oh, yes… The Wedgewood Museum Trust. It became liable for the £134m pensions debt of its insolvent parent company and after a long battle to prevent the break up and sale of the collection, the Art Fund was given the chance to save the collection for £15.75 million. £2.74 million is still required by November to save the collection from being dispersed: 250 years of history, 80,000 objects – a unique visual archive.

belatrova lamps being made

belatrova commissions


Back to commissions. We would like to say that nowadays commissions are much more commonplace and accessible, and that vast fortunes need no longer be spent. Nobody need be a Medici to commission a belatrova birdbath, or table lamp, or platter. In fact, we have been busy fulfilling commissions as a result of so many visits during h.Art (Herefordshire Art week), so we thought we would remind you that with three months to go before Christmas belatrova is the place for that unique gift.

Just give us a ring at the workshop on +44 (0) 1531 634082 or send us an email ( or visit our website: http// – we are happy to talk to you about any idea you may have.

So long as it does not involve spiders.

There is one arachnophobe amongst us who finds it hard to deal with the creatures as they start to come indoors with the nights getting cooler –“all I want is a room somewhere / Far away from the cold night air…” they sing. It is impossible to determine in which direction they will scuttle and so they strike fear in the heart of this particular person, who will remain nameless.

Meanwhile, with a little bit of bloomin’ luck, we hope to see you when we open up the workshop over the weekends of November 29th and of December 6th.

* Kekerekeksinky was mistakenly thought to mean “frog” in Finnish, though if you try to pronounce it in a deep voice you will sound a little like one. 

belatrova in Iberia

Gibraltar on the horizon

A piece of Britain on the horizon

belatrova, musing by a pool in the heat of Sotogrande, with a distant view of the Rock of Gibraltar, discovered that Andalusia has some of the hottest areas in Europe, sometimes averaging above 36 C in summer, with daytime highs of over 40 C. This explains the landscape of Holly and Cork Oak and the Pinsapo Fir trees that do well here, as do the olive trees that are grown all over the area.

Andalusia certainly knows its olives: Manzanilla, Arbequina, Empeltre, Sevillano, Picual, Hojiblanca, Picolimon, Verdial are just some of the estimated 260 different varieties of olive in Spain, which, as we all know, always look their best when offered to guests in a belatrova bowl.

olives in belatrova bowl

the only way to eat olives

But we digress. After being controlled by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals and Visigoths, for half a millennium “Al-Andalus” was part of a Muslim caliphate, from the moment in 711 a Berber called Tariq ibn Ziyad landed his troops on the coast at a place that would become “Jabel alTariq” (the mountain of Tariq), now pronounced “Gibraltar”. Then came the Catholic Kings, and so on, until Spain became a member of the European Community. How about that for a quick outline of Spanish history?

drawing of Malaga port

Malaga port

Before arriving in Sotogrande belatrova had spent a short time in Malaga, port city of misty mornings and birthplace of the greatest artists of the 20th Century*, and paid a visit to the Museo Picasso de Malaga to have a peek at the great man’s ceramics and paintings on display. A small but fine collection that will satisfy anyone interested in art and ceramics.

Porcelain figure by Picasso

Insect – ceramic figure at Museo Picasso en Malaga



After 90 minutes of leaving Malaga and driving south belatrova suddenly saw the strange presence of the large rock that is part of Britain. It is surprising that there is this tiny enclave with red telephone boxes, bobbies and pubs in the southernmost tip of Spain. But we stayed in Sotogrande and enjoyed the calm of this beautiful location.

belatrova bowl by pool

belatrova by the pool in Sotogrande


bowl with landscape in background

…on the veranda

bowl by Buhdda bust









Next stop was a few days near Ronda in a small town called Arriate. Early in the mornings, before the sun clears the horizon and bakes everything in its path, a quick walk into Arriate will reward you with a breakfast of “Churros con chocolate” before returning and finding a shady area in the house or by the pool. belatrovians have already met Thelonius the Pugmill (blog November 2013).

image of pugmill

Thelonius Pugmill in action


Though it may upset Thelonius, the churro-making machine is basically the same idea. Stuff goes in one end and is squeezed out the other, though in the former’s case it cannot be eaten with chocolate:

churro machine

churro-making machine

churro mix extruded by machine

churro extruded

ring of cooked churro

churro ready


churro with hot chocolate

churros con chocolate




brick pottery chimney

abandoned pottery in Arriate with stork’s nest on the top, seen when wandering into the village for breakfast












As for Ronda, it is a buzzing and welcoming town whose most well-known feature is the gorge that divides it and the bridge that crosses it, both made famous by the series of brilliant oil paintings David Bomberg made when he lived there in the 1930s.

bridge at Ronda



painting of Ronda bridge by Bomberg

Bomberg’s Ronda












Next stop was Granada, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, home of the poet Federico García Lorca and of the Alhambra, Moorish citadel and palace, and the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic legacy. Any lover of mosaic and tiles would love its interior, but frankly anybody with an ounce of romance and fantasy would fall for it.

view of Alhambra

The Alhambra in Granada


the courtyard of the lions, Alhambra

inside the Alhambra

Saturation of visual sensation means you will end up agreeing with the poet Franciscio de Icaza who wrote “Give him alms, woman, for there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada.” (“Dale limosna mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.”)


Walking along the narrow streets of the Albaicín district is also enthralling. Lots of shops selling pots and ceramics of all kind.

ceramic street sign

street sign in Granada


Even the street names are made of ceramic.


A visit to the Moorish Baths was a cool break from the sun and heat outside: looking up at the ceiling from the gloomy depths of the 11th Century building, the shapes cut out originally to allow steam to escape let in the daylight and shine like stars.

ceiling of old Moorish baths in Granada

11th Century baths in Granada

All a distant memory. Now back at the workshop at No 9, belatrova is busy preparing for h.Art events which will be from 6th – 14th September and to which you are all most welcome. We will be open from 10.00 to 17.30. Remember to follow the bright red h.Art signs.

picture of the Studio Gallery launch

tHe Studio Gallery opening in Ross on Wye


And if you are near Ross-on-Wye, please drop in at the Studio Gallery which had a very successful launch some days ago and has an excellent display of belatrova ceramics.





* any belatrovian agreeing or disagreeing with this statement is invited to leave a comment. Comments will be awarded points, and points mean prizes … and, much as we would like to give the winner a Picasso bowl, you could win yourself a belatrova Valencia three legged ceramic instead.

Languid June

image of two feet resting on a table

belatrova feet up

The newly refurbished workshop space has come into its own, specially when the days have been hot and sultry and the cooler corners away from the kiln became more inviting. June highlights have been many and varied, both within the workshop and away.

close-up of bird bath

cool for birds

Non-belatrova activities include Stuart’s exhibition at Nantgarw, a museum on the site of an old porcelain works. Entitled “White Gold” (Aur Gwyn) it includes fifteen different potters using porcelain, and can be visited until 17th August. Stuart (Mr Dynamo) is also showing at Abbey Dore  from 20 – 26 July along with other artists as part of a mini Arts Festival there. It is open daily from 9.30 to 6.15 and admission is free.


terracota figures of the Apostles by sculptor Nick Pope

Nick Pope’s Apostles

And we all went down to Salisbury to the opening of Nick Pope’s wonderful sculptures of the Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps in the Cathedral; a grouping of 33 terracotta figures, each one identified by his personal character and attributes. Exhibited some years ago at the Tate, they have “come home” in this new setting, and look as if they had been there from the beginning. Still, rather than talk about it, belatrova urges anyone to pay them a visit when they are in the area, and to be there when the lamps are lit.

image of two legs on a magic carpet

magic carpet at the R.A.

Those of you who are interested can also drop into the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy to see “Flying Carpet“, painted by Peter and selected by the panel – there is also some engaging ceramic artwork to be seen.




Back at the workshop we had fun making a batch of birdbaths and a couple of new coffee tables to match the Valencia and Manhattan ranges. As a result, in-house spray varnishing is now being mastered and the protective gear and mask required induce a great deal of sweating and panting which can only be assuaged by a cold drink, usually water but often something a little more interesting if it is towards the end of the day. We have discovered a new Friday evening cocktail: the Negroni.

ceramic birdbath

birdbath just made


manhattan range coffee table

manhattan table

Oh, and one of the junior belatrovas made a memorable cake for her father, using a belatrova platter to serve it in, of course.

strawberry cheesecake on platter

Dad’s birthday cake



So much to do, so little time. Roll on July

here’s to christmas, to winter, and to tapetum lucidum,

plant pot in belatrova cobalt ceramic slab pot

the belatrova Christmas tree

Winter is drawing in and the days are getting shorter, Christmas is around the corner, and belatrova is already thinking about 2014 and what it will bring. New colours, newer shapes and sizes of tables and bowls, and who knows what else, though one element will always be a constant at No9, and that is the oxide that produces the colour we most associate with intelligence and trust, serenity, logic, reflection and calm.

Which colour do we think of when winter is upon us? Which is the one that will calm the mind and bring serenity? It is the colour of clear communication, the colour of the mind, essentially soothing, the one we most commonly associate with harmony, faithfulness, and confidence.

the colour blue


It is the world’s favourite colour. But it was not always so: in Europe the colour blue grew in prestige and popularity only because of the veneration of the Virgin Mary and a change in the colours used to depict her clothing. Earlier, her robes had usually been painted in blacks and greys but after the 12th century they began to be painted a rich blue, usually made with a new pigment imported from Asia; ultramarine. So that is how blue became associated with holiness and virtue.

And long before belatrova came into existence, Chinese artisans, in about the 9th century, abandoned the traditional recipes they had been using and began to use cobalt blue, made with cobalt salts of alumina, to manufacture fine blue and white porcelain.

These ceramics were shaped, dried, the paint applied with a brush, covered with a clear glaze, then fired at a high temperature. Centuries later, this was exported in large quantities to Europe where it inspired a whole style of art, called Chinoiserie, though European artisans only succeeded in emulating their Chinese counterparts in the 18th century after a missionary brought the secret back from China.

scooped bowl by belatrova

belatrova scooped bowl made with cobalt and other oxides

For all the associations those in Europe attach to blue, in other cultures it can have other associations. In Mexico, Iran and Korea it is the colour of mourning, in the Middle East it is associated with protection, and in the East it is generally linked to immortality, life and femininity.

And just think how artists have used it down the centuries. Look at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888) and see how the colour is used to create a mood. That cobalt blue sky and sea, and the touches of yellow/orange (cobalt’s opposite), are what create everything depicted – an immersion in blue.

painting by Vincent Van Gogh of night panorama over the Rhone river

Starry night over the Rhone by Vincent Van G

So all this is a roundabout way of saying to all of you: “see you next year, enjoy the winter, have a happy Christmas.” We will raise our Dry Martinis to you and dream up new things for your delectation – belatrova knows that even arctic reindeers’ eyes change colour over the course of the seasons (from amber to blue), so we may surprise you in 2014, though cobalt blue will always be there in some guise or another.

pug mill with Santa Claus hat

Thelonius says “Happy Christmas”

the great Paul Klee’s never ending reach

a line of hand painted belatrova tables

belatrova conga at the Open Day

So many of you came to our Open Days on Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December, that we ran out of coffee, white wine and mince pies.  Although Unit 9 Bankside is a workshop, please feel free to drop by at any time, though a ‘phone call beforehand is a good idea, just in case.

two lines of belatrova coffee tables

belatrova squad

Those of you who came were able to see the exhibition of table  paintings which we set up just for the two days, and this proved very popular. These tabletops are all hand painted, each one a painting in acrylic and then varnished over with a heat resistant lacquer.

With a big space dedicated to the tables only, most viewers took their own time to look at each individual piece and enjoyed the experience of a gallery-like atmosphere and the pleasure of looking down at paintings and walking around them. Try it at home, it’s so much more comfortable than looking up at paintings on walls. And you can put hot mugs of tea on them too.

One or two of you, having been to the Paul Klee exhibition at the Tate Modern, noted a connection between his painting and some of the tables. Well spotted. Klee is a particular hero of belatrova’s and every now and again surfaces in our work. Here are some Klee-like examples:

belatrova paul klee table painting

paul klee table

klee reference on belatrova table

a bit more klee

The Klee exhibition is one of the best to be held anywhere, and even if you are not familiar with his work, belatrova recommends a visit (we’ve been twice already); he was innovative and always trying out new ways to make marks on a surface, and, seventy three years after his death, you can see how much he has influenced artists.

belatrova is not sure that Klee ever made any ceramics, but had he done so the results would have been as engaging as Picasso’s, though gentler. Here are two we made earlier with P.K. in mind:

two pots in the Klee style

two Klee pots by belatrova