Mollie Makes catches up with Polly Macpherson to find out what it’s like judging celebrity’s crafting skills and working alongside Kirstie Allsopp…
Forget Homes Under The Hammer, our current new daytime TV treat is Kirstie’s Celebrity Craft Masters. The series, which sees two different celebs going head-to-head to master new craft skills with the help of experts, is filled with making inspiration and great (as well as slightly dodgy) makes!
Polly Macpherson, along with renowned designer Piyush Suri, are there to use their expertise to pick a winner, as well as delivering their verdict on whether they should keep crafting or stick to the glamorous day job.
We caught up with judge Polly, who is not only the Associate Professor of Design at the University of Plymouth but also craftsperson in her own right, to get all the behind the scenes gossip and the advice she gives to her students about how to create a crafting career…
Hi Polly! How did you fall in love with craft?
My love for making was ignited when I was introduced to clay at school in 6th form. I Went on to do an arts foundation diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and I now have over 25 years of studying, learning and teaching experience across several different institutions, in both the UK and aboard – India, China, Thailand and Singapore.
That must have been some ceramics class at school! How did you get involved with Kirstie’s Celebrity Craft Masters?
I was contacted in January to see if I would be interested in taking part as a judge. After saying yes there were a couple of telephone conversations, a Skype interview, a few more conversations and a screen test with my fellow Judge Piyush Suri. The filming happened about three weeks later, so it was quite quick.
How hard did you find it to judge the celebrities creations?
As we hadn’t been shown how the creations had been made, who the celebs had been paired with and their skill levels we only had the final outcomes to go by. This was both of benefit and at times a hindrance. I’m big on constructive criticism. No one wants to be told negative info about their work without also being given feedback on how to improve – and celebs are no different to rest of us! Once a baseline is established the judging was easy however, I can report that my fellow judge and I did not always agree and frequent negation had to happen!
Which celebrities showed a genuine talent for craft?
Most of them had some ‘craftiness’ within them, which could have been developed especially Anneka Rice, Susan Calman and Jo Wood.
… and which should stick to the day job?
Which was your favourite task they had to take on?
With most of the tasks, I’d tried them out before. However, while I had seen the 3D Jelly flowers in Thailand I’d never had a go, which was resolved straight after filming!
The process is very interesting as you have to design/create the finished flower by injecting the dye the opposite way to how it will be finally displayed. Mark Francis particularly enjoyed this activity and, to give him his due, he was pretty good at it!
How was Kirstie to work with?
I thought there might be a bit of anxiety as working with celebrities was a whole new format, but this was not the case. Kirstie was charming, always concerned to make sure her guests – including us judges – felt welcome and comfortable. She was very natural and friendly.
What was your most memorable moment from the series?
I know the series is all about crafting and encouraging more people to have a go, which of course is fantastic however I did enjoy meeting the celebs!
Being shown how to do a good selfie by both Jenny Eclair and Angellica Bell, sitting on the sofa between filming and talking Art History courses with Mark Francis from Made In Chelsea and finding out about Alpacas from Natasha Kaplinsky were just a few memorable moments!
As a maker where do you go to find inspiration?
The short answer is everywhere. I find inspiration in the objects around us. From those that don’t work well to those that do – and how can they be improved. Mother Nature, travelling and learning about new countries and cultures also inspires me.
Which makers do you most admire and why?
I admire all who aspire to create and make whatever their level of output and skill as quite frankly it’s not easy.
What’s been your biggest creative disaster?
A creative disaster, which ended up as a triumph was when I mixed up a beautiful glaze for a piece of work for a show at a new gallery in downtown Long Beach, California. During my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to spend a semester studying in the incredible ceramics department at California State University. A group of us organised an end of semester exhibition in a funky new gallery/coffee house. I decided to go sculptural and cast stone-like objects with spikes, which would be displayed on the wall. All was going well, objects were made, turquoise glaze for the main body and black for the spikes applied and into the kiln. Out came beautiful blue objects with bright yellow spikes! No idea what happened and a rookie mistake as I never wrote down the glaze recipe… oops!
… and your biggest creative win?
There are many objects, drawings and films that I’ve made that I’m proud of, but also the many individuals I have helped to develop and support!
What is the best advice you give your students who want to pursue a career in craft?
The best advice is simply if in doubt always have a go, find your passion and mix materials if need be. In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett states, ‘Raw talent cannot take the place of training’. He also sites the idea that ‘10,000 hours of practice – roughly three hours a day for 10 years – are needed to become expert’. You need to dedicate time and practice, which is why learning what you are interested in, or what you are not, is key.
What does making mean to you?
Physically making something is great for mental health and that feeling of achievement whatever the level of craftsmanship.
Polly Macpherson appears on the Kirstie’s Celebrity Craft Masters, watch previous episodes on All 4. Oh and remember to subscribe to Mollie Makes for more fab interviews and inspirational sewing projects.
First image courtesy of Channel 4.