Studio Story - How I Got Here

After my degree I immediately began the process of setting up as a potter. I built a down-draught wood-fired kiln, sourced a mountain of waste wood from a skip company, and began converting an out-building into a studio, in Gloucestershire. Then, before I could begin making pots, the universe intervened and I needed to move.

Down-draught wood-fired kiln built with engineering bricks, Huntley, Gloucestershire.

After a huge search I moved to Bideford and began again. I built a bigger and better gas-fired down-draught kiln, and began converting a double garage into a studio.
At this time I also applied to the Crafts Council for the “Setting Up” grant award, and, success! They told me they “loved my pots and my photography, and that they had assumed my work was by two different potters and that I had been accepted for the full award”. However I was then told that they would only help me to set-up, once I had already set-up and started making pots! With my need for funding to do precisely that, I was unable to fulfil this impossible stipulation, and the award never materialised.

Down-draught gas-fired kiln, which I built twice. Once in Bideford and once in Shropshire, and never got a chance to fire it before selling it to a finalist from the Great Pottery Throw Down.

I carried on with my plans regardless, by making as much of my own equipment as possible (including teaching myself to weld so that I could build a spray booth and other equipment). Then, when my kiln was finished and the new studio was finally almost ready, life and the universe intervened and once again I needed to relocate.

And so I started again, this time in an isolated old farmhouse in Shropshire. It took over a year to convert an old cow shed (with large gaps in the floor and at least 100 years of accumulated debris) into a new studio, (doing all work, including mixing several tons of concrete, myself). But it was a large space with a 3-phase electricity supply and huge potential. I rebuilt my kiln and was once again close to launching.
However by then I had a young family, and I realised that I could not reliably support them as a potter at that time. I therefore made an extremely difficult decision to pack everything away until a dreamed of future date.
I spent the next 17 years manufacturing and selling silk screen printing equipment, juggling equipment, and candle moulds etc.. Which allowed me to improve my skills with tools, production techniques, and photography etc., but importantly, also allowed me to raise my young family. Whilst all the time I was planning my return to my ceramics studio.

One of my earliest loving cups. Degree work. Earthenware with lead glaze and metal oxides. Wheel thrown, extruded, turned, press-moulded and hand-modelled.
Gas-fired downdraught kiln, I built with Sue Hendy at Cheltenham.

By 2019 my children had grown up, and so I began again. I sold my hand-built gas kiln and bought a large electric front-loading kiln (which weighs over 700kg). It travelled over 200 miles and arrived attached to a broken pallet stacked dangerously on top of another pallet. It was an ‘adventure’ getting it off the lorry (it very nearly fell over on top of me). But the last 4m of the 200 miles were the hardest. Circumstances meant I did it alone using car jacks, angle iron and a pallet truck.
I also completely re-built my studio during the COVID lockdown, much better than ever before, with the addition of a large hand-built central worktable and other vital machines and tools.

Cromartie front-loading electric kiln. She fires beautifully.

I finally launched the “Sweeney Pottery” in 2020… without the slightest fanfare or announcement, (though I really felt there should have at least been a brass band).

My ceramics journey in many ways feels like it has really only just begun. Everything still feels like an experiment. I have so many ideas, so many tools to make, so many designs and glazes to perfect. There are so many pots inside me that must come out.

If you like my site, then I warmly invite you to get in touch, maybe buy a pot, or even sign up for a pottery class. You’ll be helping to keep clay in my kiln and hopefully will feel that you got something worthwhile in return.

Paul Bohanna