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Lancashire Times
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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
2:18 PM 14th July 2020

Artistry Of Lancashire: Jane Fox At Fired 4U

Fired 4U is a pottery and craft studio based in Walton le Dale, Preston and is now reopen after fifteen weeks of lockdown to welcome guests, young and old, to try their hand at some clay sculpting and pottery painting activities.

Opened in July 2006, Fired 4U was established by Jane Fox – tired of a career in hotel management she had discovered pottery painting initially though a magazine advert and after classes and training with Yorkshire based artist Rachel Byass; the drive and inspiration lead her to set up Fired 4U.

Pottery and sculpting is a very tactile process – both soothing and frustrating, but with a wide appeal. Jane caters for all age groups: from pre-school children to team-building events for local businesses, even hen parties – she is proud to have converted many of those who declare “I’m not arty” over the years.

There have had to be big changes to the classes and activities she can provide in this post-lockdown era of social distancing: but she is working to provide innovative alternatives. Her sessions for pre-school kids will now take place with the children remaining seated at their socially-distanced tables, rather than having a group play sessions and sing-a-longs. And the adult twice-monthly clay workshops and pottery painting classes will also resume, albeit catering to smaller class sizes.

Some activities cannot yet resume, such as copper enamelling, decoupage and foam clay, and they cannot yet resume birthday parties or large group activities which historically have formed a large part of the revenue. But with an adopted marketing strategy, Jane hopes to reinstate her business and her art step by step. The allure of clay sculpting and pottery has for many been the opportunity to try something new and unique amongst likeminded people. It allows for creative experimentation in a non-competitive and non-judgemental atmosphere – perhaps why it is such a good option for business owners and creative HR Managers hoping to increase the team ‘spirit’ and cooperation among their employees.

Jane personally has found the lockdown period a suppressant on her creativity. She has felt bombarded and restricted, with her creative energy almost buried by the enforced restrictions of this time. She has worked around this – taking commissions, providing weekly art challenges for customers and providing takeaway kits for customers to click-and-collect to then paint at home. However, she has missed the personal interaction – even Zoom sessions to Jane feel detached. She feels that art can help to sustain balanced mental health for people if they embrace it, and through this time she has been pleased that some people have been able to access art through digital channels. Jane now feels a great sense of relief as lockdown restrictions have eased. She feels that once again she can be herself and she has embraced a new project to help an organisation create a big mosaic from tiles.

During lockdown Jane won a commission from Something’s Brewing: a proactive collaboration grown and inspired by the creative community of Preston to develop a twelve-year cultural strategy for the city. Do visit the website to discover more about what is brewing https://somethingsbrewing.org.uk/ and learn about the creative hub that is Preston. The objective, as outlined by organisers and participating groups such as UCLan and Curious Minds, is to improve and take forward Preston’s place in the wider arts world.

Jane responded to a call-out from the initiative for artists based in and around Preston who had been affected directly by the pandemic: general loss of work and revenue, or like Jane, with a venue that had had to close.

They offered “micro-commissions” for artists to respond with a piece that took two days to complete and that that could help explain the future of art in Preston, according to the individual artists. Jane responded through the medium of clay. A sculpted lump of clay to represent the artistic future of the city might sound a strange notion to you and I, and even Jane says it is possibly the most unusual creation she has made – you can find out more here: https://somethingsbrewing.org.uk/prestoning/jane-fox-prestoning-12-year-plan/

One joy of clay and pottery is that it can be applied to such a variety of activities. Jane has provided activity sessions for schools that have ranged from creating “mosaic memories” through painting portraits onto tiles, to the creation of vessels and Viking clay jewellery, and exploring the connection between art and the science of ceramics. Jane can provide customers with creations on commission: from bespoke painted wine glasses to house name plates. She personally draws inspiration from nature, but often a customer will often request a unique set of tiles, for example, painted to a specific theme. Her most interesting commission was to recreate a bowl and vase that was featured in a painting owned by the customer. The customer wanted a real-life replica which proved to be a delightful challenge for Jane.

Alas, however, like all art, it is never straightforward. No matter how careful your sculpting and crafting, sometimes the pottery can simply crack during the firing process within the kiln. The firing process will always shrink a sculpture, but if you are really unlucky, a piece can twist or break full stop. It can sometimes, however, result in a happy accident: pieces can emerge from the kiln having had the colours change slightly, or a structure move subtly – great results you might never have set out to achieve.

This new period will bring some new challenges to Jane but she hopes that Lancashire artists will rally together in support, working with the local councils and county councils to pool resources, providing art to the wider community. Jane has seen fabulous energy in the initial planning sessions for the Something’s Brewing project with all sorts of arts represented: from painters to photographers, from digital artists to dancers. The Brewtime Collective (https://somethingsbrewing.org.uk/brewtime/) specifically encompasses a strategy for Preston’s cultural scene to come together across all communities, all ethnic mixes, and all abilities to work together with artists over the next 12 years. In the past she feels there was an underlying friction between various factions of the art scene, with little collaboration and almost a conflict between “digital” and “traditional” art forms. But there is now more cooperation, but with work still to be done, at least at this point there is some progress. Lancashire, as we know, is home to a huge range of artistic talent, much unfortunately that has remained hidden, however she hopes for a future network in which this talent can really be showcased to the whole country and beyond.

Jane does a lot of work with children, but she firmly believes that there is an artist in everyone, although this creative energy perhaps dissipates as people grow older. Jane is motivated to unlock the adult reluctance to embrace creativity. Her studio contains many inspiring pieces, with a huge range of decorating tools so that people can see they don’t have to be able to draw in order to enjoy creative activity. Her motto is “there is no such thing as a mistake in art; everything is just a unique creation” – one should focus on the joy of creating your own unique piece and not focus on the end result. And people should value the time they have enjoyed together in the making process – something she helps people to discover through her classes.

To find out more about the activities you can enjoy with Jane at Fired 4U please visit their website: http://fired4u.co.uk/home, follow them on Facebook: facebook.com/fired4u or on Twitter: @Fired4u