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There’s something infinitely touchable about ceramics. You pick them up, feel the weight in your hand, admire the artwork – which is an unpredictable business when heat and kilns are involved. And in this case, there is also a sense of nostalgia in the work of Michelle Morton, who is a ceramic artist from Abernethy, in Perthshire.

Shapes from the past are evident in her work – milk bottles, cartons, large pitcher jugs – all everyday items a few decades ago, but not anymore. Michelle’s work is filled with contemporary patterns and colour combinations, but that nod to the past has been very successful for her.

It’s clear when you look at her work what inspires her. She lives on a large arable farm 900 acres she shares with her husband, and as a keen runner, she gets her inspiration when she runs around the farm early in the morning. Animals feature highly, rural scenes and quirky patterns and sayings – with some of them inspired by her Gran who is a big influence.

We meet in her studio, which is on the farm, with the sounds of a couple of peacocks in the background, a wedding gifts she tells me, shaking her head at the commotion they cause. She left her full time employment three years ago; she worked for SSE as an environmental manager on the wind farm team after completing an honours degree in Estate Management, but that involved driving all over the country, which she knew she didn’t want to do forever. Her art and ceramic work was always in the background, and she decided to take the plunge and go full time with it. She finished work in October three years ago, which gave her a chance to fulfil Christmas orders which went really well and she was off and running.

As well as her small scale ceramic items, Michelle is now consciously concentrating on the kitchen tile side of the business. Creating scenes on tiles for kitchens has been an interesting and developing side of her business for a while. It’s a bespoke service that she offers. Putting together scenes of animals, or of farms and landscapes, in fact, whatever the customer wants, she can come up with a design.

She shows me some of the tiles that are used, some being handmade. She goes out to see the customer, measures up, and talks through ideas of what the client desires. This has to be discussed in detail, as it is a big commitment for both sides. She has an open space on her studio floor and she lays the tiles out and gets down and starts sketching ideas. The ideas go back and forward to the client until they are happy, then she starts painting.

The tiles are then fired in her kiln which is in the corner of the studio and she takes them out to the client and has them put in place. The colours are so vibrant and it makes such a personal statement in a kitchen, she is really proud of the results she has been having.

Painting on ceramics is a skill in itself. The paints are specialised, an American brand “They can be quite challenging to use, they are chalky in consistency, and pretty expensive too. You layer up the colour and have to have a knowledge of how they will react to heat in the kiln as the colour will change.”

She also uses ceramic pencils, she shows me the detailed work on one of her pitcher jugs which is a hare. It gives her the option of putting in lots of detail, like hair and fur, and brings a different depth to her paintings.

Around the studio I can see displays of lots of different items, there are mugs, jugs, milk cartons, milk bottles, pitcher jugs, hearts, egg cups, espresso cups and mason jars. The pitcher jugs are proving to be very popular at the moment. “People love the pitcher jugs, but I’m pretty sure no one is using them for anything other than as an ornament. They are fully functional, but people buy them because they love the shape and the hand painting and just want to look at them.”

Michelle looks back at her teenage years and is thankful that she took a job in a ceramic studio in Dunkeld, as a 17-year-old. That’s where she learnt many skills. She bought her first kiln at 17 and is still using it to this day. Other than studying illustration and portfolio for one year at Dundee college she has no training, she has honed her skills over the years. She thinks she gets her creative side from her Gran Stewart, who is also pretty handy, making tweed stars and roses, garlands, and she does a lot of knitting. She is involved in the WRI and is always making something or other. Some of Michelle’s ceramics have little saying on them. One is of a pair of pants blowing in the wind on a washing line. Called Grannies Breeks, it is something that her gran often has on her own washing line and she is delighted to incorporate it into her work.

She made the decision not to make her own bisque, which is the basic white jug or mug that she paints on. She adds: “It would make everything much more expensive, and I want my work to be affordable. It would add so much more time to the workflow if I had to throw and fire everything before I started to paint them. So I prefer to buy them in and work on them."

Over the past three years, Michelle has been hosting a pretty exclusive Christmas fair 'Christmas @Cordon Farm' at her farm, with invited craft and food producers showing their work. This will be the fourth year and it has been growing quite significantly year on year. This year there will be a marquee to house the thousands of visitors who come over the two days. She opens the planning in June, to start thinking about who will be invited and getting organised. “This is not your usual village craft fair,” she says, “it is a high end production, and we are attracting some huge names in the art and craft world and would welcome new exhibitors should they wish to get in touch,” she says, quite rightly proud of the work she has put in.

Another side to the business that is just taking off is Cordon Farm Flowers. Michelle has started growing her own cut flowers in polytunnels (to supply to shops and to use for her wedding flower service). It’s small scale at the moment, but she realises it is just another element of her artistic side that is coming to fruition. She has been making wreaths since she was 10. “I have a customer who has bought a wreath from me every year since I was 10, and I’m now 30!”

I can’t help noticing some huge painted bowls on the window sill of the studio. They are stunning. They are recent commissions from clients who wanted large platters to be personalised. They have farm houses and the farm name painted on them, or their favourite bull. These ones in particular are for a farmer who offers B and B. She gets lots of requests like this from farmers, and they are just gorgeous.

She can personalise anything in her range, and is happy to take commissions. She sells a lot of her work through word of mouth, Perthsire Open studios and also fairs but recently has started supplying a couple of shops. She sells them through Perthshire Visitor Centre, with many pieces being sold to the tourist market, some have midgies and her Tae a Moose ones are popular there too. They do make perfect gifts. She also sells through Grewars Farm shop, in Dundee.

She does a lot of wedding gifts which are commissions, people ask for particular names and dates to be painted on. Also they make perfect christening and Christmas gifts.

Michelle has lots of future plans buzzing around in her head, and it seems like if she puts her mind to it then there is no stopping her. She loves helping around the farm with her little hens and dog following her around. And the peacocks, of course. The flexibility that working for herself offers has been terrific for her and her many projects.

She concludes: “I think that art, ceramics and design sum up my career really. Though there is lots more to come, I just don’t have enough hours in the day.”

Contact Michelle through her facebook page or her web page:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/michellemortondesigns/

Web: www.michellemorton.co.uk

Email: michellemortondesigns@gmail.com

Workshops

Michelle runs workshops throughout the year eg, Christmas wreaths, kids flowers in jam jar, themed painting sessions. She has hosted the YFs and the WRI, she adds it’s such a nice sociable occasion and she enjoys doing them. See the website for details.

Prices for photo captions: Hearts are £15, milk bottles are £45.

Cordon Farm Flowers also has a Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/CordonFarmAbernethy/