close-up of ceramic planter surface

Slabby McSlabface

close-up of ceramic planter surface

Spring ceramic

At belatrova we make things because we like them, and think that you might too. We even make things before we know exactly what to call them. We have been slab rolling and glazing pieces for the outdoors and indoors, and though, strictly speaking, they are “slab pots” we think there is a better name for these ceramic containers, or planters, or plant pot holders, or umbrella stands, or whatever.

They are so flexible, you see, that they can be used in many ways.

However, belatrova will not fall into the mistake made by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council who asked people on the internet to name its newest research ship. The internet returned with the magnificent, if inappropriate, RRS Boaty McBoatface. So we are not guaranteeing that we will adopt any name suggested by majority response.


It is May, and many will be turning their thoughts to the garden. If you are dreaming of salvia, foxgloves, Sweet William, wallflowers, poppies, nasturtium and scabious, now is the time to sow. You can grow your favourite flowers and vegetables anywhere by planting them in beautiful containers that enhance the setting. “Container gardening” in planters or plant pot-holders allows your imagination to wander all over your garden.

Unlike many planters and holders belatrova’s are colourful and bold, and when placed strategically in the garden or patio, they can brighten the space around them as well as complement the plants inside. They work well in small to medium spaces, or in clusters and groups.

ceramic sweet display

a bonboniere, but you can call it “Fred”

On the other hand, you can use them in entirely different ways indoors – as slab pots, ceramic umbrella stands, bonbonieres (great word) or just plant holders. With indoors in mind, these do not drain because they have no holes at the base, but we can easily make them with drainage holes if commissioned to do so. If you are looking for a bold statement then imagine it as a centrepiece of a side table or counter, or on the floor next to the fireplace, filled with dried sunflowers. The colours really stand out and brighten any space.

We are very aware that most of you do not live in stately homes or manor houses, but just in case one or two of you do, a fine umbrella, whip, or walking stick stand for any hallway or lobby is surely a “must”.

ceramic planter

brushstroke blues for buddha

Try serving a punch or mulled wine out of one. We have previously given you the recipe for deliciously dark and cool Black Velvet (November 2014 blog) – imagine serving that out to your guests with a ladle from this unique tureen (do you see our problem? What can we call this adaptable ceramic?).

We hand make our planters out of four large, rolled ‘slabs’ of clay and it takes two of us to put the larger pieces together. They are glaze fired at 1275 degrees – this is when vitrification takes place, making the ceramic tough and resistant to weather extremes of heat and cold. They will not crack in a frost.

On occasions at the workshop we are overcome by the strange combined influence of our pugmill, Thelonius, and of our favourite jazz pianist, Thelonius Monk. This often happens on a Friday afternoon. We are slowly building a small collection of these inexplicable Thelopots, and we thought you would like a glimpse of one.

three ceramic planters

Thelonius made me do it” series

We are opening our workshop to the public for a Summer Weekend on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd July – please drop in, but if you’d like to come at any other time, just give us a ring – all details on our website:

You can also visit us on Home of Artisans

baby asleep in basket on coffee table

Spring Open (or a brief history of the coffee table)


T.A.M. and belatrova

A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of low table designed to be placed in front of a sofa, to support drinks, magazines, books, specially coffee table books, and other small items to be used while sitting, such as babies.

coffee table with soaf in background

knee-high vantage point

Tomás Aventín Martinez is a recently born resident of Barcelona, a small person of exquisite taste who prefers to take his naps at knee height to keep an eye on his parents sitting on the nearby sofa. He also appreciates the stability offered by the four tapering “Sputnik” legs of the belatrova coffee table, but above all else it is the unique quality of the paintwork on the tabletop that most appeals.

coffee table

good on wood

The idea of a table specifically used for serving hot drinks or putting down one’s cup between sips predates the coffee table in Europe by some time. In Britain in the mid 1800s tea drinking was at the height of fashion and there was increasing demand for tea tables. Other forms of tables in use at this time were called occasional tables, end tables, and centre tables.

painted tabletop

looking down on a belatrova coffee table

coffee table top

like going to a gallery










The Egyptians made use of small tables and elevated playing boards, the Chinese created tables in order to write and paint. The Greeks and Romans made more frequent use of tables, notably for eating. And the English?  Well, in England towards the end of the 19th century, when boredom set in after dinner, some upper class Victorians decided to turn their dining room tables into miniature versions of the lawn tennis court. Anything at hand was used: a line of books became the net and rackets were lids from empty cigar boxes. The ball would be either a ball of string or a champagne cork or rubber ball. This is how table tennis was born.

With the increasing availability of television sets from the 1950s onwards coffee tables came into their own since they are low enough, even with stacks of pizza boxes on them, not to obstruct the view of the television.

patio table with green tiles inlaid

robust and elegant

tiled table with bowl of strawberries

Spring – patio table with strawberries











belatrova’s coffee tables are robust enough to take anything, and they are beautiful to look at too. As for our tiled tables for the patio, they can withstand rain and rust, and can take a whole stack of baby baskets (with babies inside) without any bending under the weight.

Bring a baby and try it out this weekend. You will also be able see our new range of wave bowls and planters, as well as the new scooped bowls just out of the kiln.

We are open from 10 to 5 on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd April.

Tea, coffee, cake and feeding bottles available

Bankside Studios, Little Marcle Road, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 2DR

tel: 01531 634082



glass of Orange Blossom

all fingers and thumbs

glass of Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom cheer

It was Sir Isaac Newton who stated that, in the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone convinced him of God’s existence. And belatrova, stoically recovering from an injured left thumb after an unfortunate encounter with a kiln door, could not help but think of the usefulness of those five appendages that grow out of each hand – our fingers, or, strictly, our digits, if we include the thumb.

It turns out that our fingertips possess a high concentration of receptors, which means that they are highly sensitive to moisture, pressure, texture and temperature. Fingers are capable of feeling the tiniest, almost invisible, wrinkles on what appears to be a smooth surface, an extraordinary level of sensitivity. Thus we use our fingers as sensory probes to find out about the objects we bump into or are puzzled by, and so they are prone to getting hurt – they get burnt, cut, scratched, squashed and scraped. In belatrova’s case it was an injury due not to sensory probing but to simply forgetting where his thumb was as the kiln lid was being closed.

When not getting them injured, we at belatrova tend to use our fingers to poke clay to see how moist it is, or to smooth down the surface of a bowl before biscuiting, or to trim and cut around a shape, or to test how hot a piece is in the kiln (even if the meter indicates 90 degrees), or to brush on an oxide colour or to sandpaper the oak plinth of a birdbath.

mandarins in bowl

mandarins look better on ceramic

What would we do without our fingers. Think of all the finger gestures we rely on: thumbs up, the OK sign, the V for victory sign, the middle finger sign. And pointing is so useful, and counting, and playing the piano. What about the index to your mouth for “silence”, and snapping your fingers, or just picking your nose? The list is endless.

“…Even now that sweet memory lingers
I was playing my guitar
Lying underneath the stars
Just thanking the Lord
For my fingers
For my fingers” Paul Simon

And you need your fingers to make cocktails. As is customary at Christmas, we like to offer our supporters and friends a new cocktail that has been tried and tested on volunteers at the belatrova workshop. We have shown you how to make the perfect Dry Martini, and a delicious Black Velvet, now we would like you to try an Orange Blossom.

Use a large snifter or brandy glass, or balloon glass.

Fill it with ice – perhaps three generous cubes

shake two drops of Orange Bitters into it (this you can buy online or at some shops now). Do not allow more than two drops – these things really matter.

A small splash of Elderflower Cordial

Fill two thirds of the way up with cold Prosecco (it must be cold)

Curl a thin sliver of orange peel onto the rim



ceramic costers

star coasters

We at belatrova wish you all the very best for 2016, and we hope you have a Happy Christmas. As some of you know, we are always in and out of our workshop at No 9, so if any of you want to pay us a visit it is a good idea to give us a call first on 01531 634082, otherwise you can always contact us via our website: or you can have a look at our ETSY site, or even our Pinterest boards.

Cheers! Salut! Salud! Santé! Prost! Salute!

pug mill

Thelonius says “Happy Christmas”











ceramic mural

weekend openings, many visitors

A big thank you to all our visitors who dropped by these last two weekends – it is always good to see new faces as well as the regular ones. Many of you took part in our “mini mural” competition which used an assortment of glazed ceramic pieces to very individual effect. And do they say something about the individual, we wonder?  And here are the best ones (as judged by Thelonius):

Hmmm. Very difficult to choose a winner. Turquoise (or anything with blues and greens) is a favourite of the judge’s (who is given to pondering about life), and he says it denotes  an ability to create emotional balance in your life, to express your hopes and dreams no matter how idealistic they may be and to make your own way in the world under your own terms, so he is awarding  a prize each to Alicia and to Lily.










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.

pathway in the woods

the belatrova look

pathway in the woods

the way to work

This is a photograph of one of the paths that lead us to work at No9 Bankside. As you can imagine, the colours and environment change considerably throughout the year, and even the birds sound different – hardly a tweet in January but a choir in May. The walk is soothing and helps focus ones thoughts, and amidst the usual deliberations (Is the universe finite or infinite? Are there female leprechauns? Why do old men have hairs in their nostrils? How much deeper would the oceans be without sponges?), what came into mind recently was “How to explain the belatrova look?”


Mid century modern? Vintage 50s? Contemporary retro? Retro contemporary? Not really. It’s just that the belatrova team like bright, bold colours and satisfying forms – it’s age and experience that allow any maker and designer to judge with confidence the fashions and periods she or he has lived through, and to come up with something that looks both familiar and refreshingly new. That’s belatrova.

medieval image of blacksmith

our neighbouring metal worker, on a good day

Add to this a contemporary rural community that provides know-how and support when dealing with different materials and processes – somehow our neighbours, a metal worker, a maker of Japanese screens, a textile artist and a ceramic sculptor, have some intangible influence on things – and if you add the fact that the three business partners are a potter, a painter and a pianist, you have a recipe for a unique creative business.

underside of coffee table


What we are saying is that belatrova combines an awareness of contemporary style with the influence from childhoods spent in the era of sputnik legs, Mondrian geometry, rounded shapes and coffee tables, in other words the late fifties and early sixties (yes, last century) – but also bringing a contemporary artist’s touch to domestic design and introducing both fun and fine art painting into the home.

And so, not that you need reminding, distinctive hand made, hand glazed ceramic coasters, lamps, bowls, and large standing pots, contemporary designer coffee tables, and ceramic birdbaths on beautiful oak plinths make up the range of stunning products from belatrova. Here are a few images to whet your appetites:

handpainted coffee tabletop




As most of you know, everything is made at our workshop in Ledbury, Herefordshire, which you are very welcome to visit; just give us a ring on 01531 634082 in case we are out delivering, or on an emergency expedition to buy olives for our Martinis. Warning: the picture below is not of a Martini, but an experiment involving apple juice and gin and other (secret) ingredients.

And by the way, a potter, a painter and a pianist deal respectively with mud, paint and ivory, so we thought at first we would find a name for our enterprise by making an attractive anagram of the three words. Luckily we went for “belatrova” – the only anagrams we came up with were “mad vino purity”, “via nudity romp” and “armpit undo ivy”.

belatrova sign

a bat lover

Toodle pip.



Michaelmas daisies


horse's tail

winter rushes in

There is a saying that “winter comes in on the tail of the last horse home in the St Leger”, one of the oldest classic horse races and held at Doncaster every September.

horse head in stone Parthenon

exhausted horse at the British Museum

On the other hand, we at belatrova would like to banish any winter blues by pointing out that the Romans believed the month of September was looked after by the god Vulcan, so they associated it with fires and volcanic eruptions.

Much as belatrova does, except that we associate the whole year with fire because of our kilns, and with volcanic eruptions because of certain people’s reactions on opening the kilns. Yes, Vulcan presides over No 9 Bankside, reminding us so only a few weeks ago when a large coiled bowl in the Brushstroke Blues style, destined for a BBC programme, exploded in kiln 2.

Michaelmas daisies

September’s flower

Oh, the rage! And then the stoical acceptance. And then the need to soothe the fevered brow. Where better than in a quiet garden at this time of year: cyclamen, daisies, apples and pears, and that flower of the month of September – the Aster, whose name means “star” in ancient Greek and includes the Michaelmas daisy which grows all over the county of Herefordshire. We thought you would like to see them, so here is a snap.

Calm is essential at the workshop, specially at this time of the year because September also means hArt – the Herefordshire Art Week from 12th to 20th, to which you are most welcome. Do come and see us, we are open from 10 to 5 everyday throughout. All three kilns are busy pumping out heat like small volcanoes in readiness for the first day (Saturday), and we shall be exhibiting new birdbaths, lamps and tables.

lounge of Feathers Hotel , Ledbury

inside the Feathers with belatrova

We suggest you make a day of it by visiting other venues open for the week; there are twelve in Ledbury alone, and a total of over ninety countywide. Among the places you could stop at for lunch or supper is the Feathers Hotel, where you could rest in one of their comfortable sofas by the light of a belatrova table lamp, commissioned by the hotel only recently.
ceramic scoop bowl

Come and see us.


eagle superimposed on belatrova birdbath

beat the heat

landscape of Andalusia

Driving through Andalusia’s spectacular landscape last week, belatrova’s workshop and its kilns came to mind. It was a heat so fierce that, when getting out of the air-conditioned car, it felt you were being hit by a freight train. However, previous visits show that it is possible to adapt and deal with the problem by drinking large amounts of cold water and beer, slowing the pace down, and not doing much between 3pm and 7pm.

feet up with landscape beyond

belatrovians will have noticed that our blogs are often about Spain; we keep going back and discovering new places unvisited before, and it is a big country. This time the trip concentrated on Sevilla and Cadiz, with a lot of places in between. And it was hot – 41 ° centrigrade is fine for lizards (of which there were many) but it is a challenge to pale pink people from Albion, specially in the decision-making department.

beach in Cadiz

It turns out that when the temperature is unusually hot (or cold) we use energy in the form of glucose to maintain a steady temperature in our body, so our internal thermostat allows us to shiver and sweat, correcting for excessive heat or cold. Keeping the body cool seems to require more energy than warming it up and so uses up the resource that would otherwise be used for mental processes.

In other words, we are less likely to make good or complex decisions if we are struggling in the heat. In fact we are likely to just take the easy option that requires no effort. Thus, why climb a hill to visit the village church and admire its ornate Baroque carvings when you are standing right next to a cool and shady terraced bar serving cold Cruzcampo, and why bother putting factor 10 sun block cream on after a swim on the beach at Cadiz when you know you are going back into the water in ten minutes. Result: beery headaches and sun burnt shoulders.

map of journey

Sevilla is a beautiful city on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Its pace is stately and entirely in keeping with the weather, its narrow streets dark and inviting, its monumental Gothic cathedral balanced by the sheer grace of the Giralda tower, its Maria Luisa Park a Moorish paradisical garden laid out for the Exhibition of 1929. But the highlight was the Alcazar built primarily in the 1300s – a wonderful Mudejar (post Moorish) palace that is a subtle intricacy of ceramic and wood. And belatrova really likes ceramic and wood, as you know from our Granada trip.

ceramic art in Alcazar in Seville

porch of Alcazar









image of underside of Alcazar dome

porch of Alcazar









The next stop was in the Grazalema range of hills and mountains to the south of Sevilla. In the Alcornocales area (it is a type of cork tree) the view was dramatic, the water from the lake down below changing colour from morning to night and the blue sky above visited by griffon vultures and Bonelli’s eagles for whom even a belatrova birdbath would be too small.

evening sun in cork forest

The wildlife seen included deer, woodpeckers, giant crickets, cobalt blue centipedes, scream-inducing hornets, gekkos, large moths and other unidentified creatures only briefly sighted as they scurried from under your bed or out of your shoes. Here are some pictures we took.

green cricket

praying mantis










image of eagle in Andalusia







We visited towns perched on hills and ravines (Arcos de la Frontera) or cradled in hot valleys (Ubrique) or with its own cooler microclimate where the rare Pinsapo pine tree thrives (Grazalema). We dropped in on Jerez de la Frontera and drank manzanilla from Sanlucar (the less well-known sherry rival). The founding Moors named the town Xeres, by the way, and so we inherited the pronunciation of “sherry” from them.

view from Grazalema road

And finally Cadiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in western Europe, founded by the Phoenicians, who called it Gadir, and birthplace of notables such as the composer Manuel de Falla, the guitarist Paco de Lucia and the poet Rafael Alberti.

cathedral in Cadiz, Spain

We coincided with the celebrations of the Virgen del Rosario, whose effigy stopped a tsunami from the Lisbon earthquake causing any destruction of that part of the city. Her very heavy statue and float are carried by twenty men along the streets of the neighbourhood for three hours before she is taken back to the church of Santo Domingo. Here is a short video of the procession. Click here to see it.

It was belatrova’s first visit to Cadiz, and we cannot recommend it too highly. If ever you go there get in touch and we will tell you where to have the best breakfast in Andalusia.

So, it is back to the heat of the kiln at No 9. We are making ceramics and tables to show visitors during hArt Open Studios from 12 – 20 September – put it in your diary, though we will send a reminder. eagle superimposed on belatrova birdbath













The Ashes, Wimbledon – and our Open Workshop Weekend!

IMGP5629If the spectacle of the Ashes is not for you, nor the thrills from Centre Court of Federer versus Djokovic and you are looking for something else to do this weekend, then you will be very welcome at our Open Workshop on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July from 10.00am to 5.00pm!

We can’t promise you a Joe Root cover drive or Federer cross-court backhand, but you never know, we may have something else that catches your eye from our collection or from those of our neighbouring makers at Bankside Studios – including Stuart Houghton, Fleen Doran, Wendy Houghton, JapanGarden, Dave Preston, and Nicky Arscott (Painter).

…and who wants cricket or tennis if you can have….noughts and crosses!

Advertising Works

manhattan Elle Decoration smallElle Decoration Logo

We decided to broaden our promotional activities by advertising our beautiful and practical Bird Baths (practical at least for the birds!) and Lamps in three prestigious Magazines over the past couple of months – Gardens Illustrated and Country Living in their May editions, and Elle Decoration in the current June edition.

While online promotion through our website, blog , and social media is important, we thought we would dip our toe in the more traditional water of Print Advertising – and monitor the results carefully. Watch this space!

And – while you’re watching – don’t forget our next Open Workshop weekend taking place on Sat 11th and Sunday 12th July from 10.00am to 5.00pm where you can see our latest products and those of Stuart Houghton, Fleen Doran, Wendy Houghton, JapanGarden, and Nicky Arscott (Painter).

We look forward to welcoming you.