My Story : The black sheep of the family.

posted in: blog 2

Its March again, I don’t know where time goes! March is my favourite month of the year, its my birthday, spring is really gathering momentum, not that it can quite be believed with all this bloody rain we’ve had this month, and I get set for a month of celebrations as many of my friends have birthdays this month also.

March Meet the Maker is also this month. Created by Joanne Hawker, it is a month were we as makers post everyday encouraged by a list of prompts so you can get to know us better. “Story” is day one so I thought I would embrace the blog and tell you my story…. be prepared, its quite long …

Danka Napiorkowska holding chloe Michell when she was a baby
Mum and I in 1977

I was born in 1977 in Scarborough, Uk. My parents Roger Michell and Danka Napiorkowska ran a successful working pottery in North Yorkshire called Lustre Pottery. They were responsible for many well know ceramics over the years. Their work is in the V&A museum in London, and they were responsible for the Walking ware (cups, egg cups bowls etc with feet) and the ceramic dusty bin from the programme 321, just to name a few.

Chloe Michell in st.lucia 1978ish
Me in St.Lucia 1979ish

My adult life has been intensely influenced by my upbringing with these two incredible artists. My very first memories are being in the pottery in Yorkshire and walking through the connecting door from our sitting room to the pottery, watching Mum and Dad on TV talking about their work (being allowed to stay up late for that was very exciting when I was 4) and Mums excitement about the article in Vogue that was about them. My sister came along in 1981 and not long after that we moved to Cornwall. My fathers family routes were tied to Cornwall and thats how we ended up here.

After the move Mum and Dad ceased to run lustre pottery together. Which meant Dad spent many hours in the pottery, and Mum upstairs listening to Sade and ridiculously crazy jazz ( i’ve never managed to get my head around that still to this day). Mum made the most beautiful prints that were air brushed stencils and moved on to decorative ceramic tile panels, she even did one for Mary Berry back in the day . Dad was making fantastic pots which required lots of feathers. He used to send my sister and I out around the neighbouring church yard to collect them …. I think he paid 2p per feather, the going rate at the time.

Vases made by Roger Michell
Dads vases (the pale blue at the top is were the feathers were used, the technique was lengthy but if ever you want to know about it just ask)

Our home was an incredible cornish cottage in a hamlet called St. Breock, near Wadebridge. We had to park in the church carpark and walk through the grave yard to get to it. The garden was huge, the graveyard and its surroundings were our playground an we had a great time. Our neighbours up the vally were good friends of ours (Meg, Lisa and Genevieve) and we had some great times together. Campfires, Rollercoasters (thats another story) and just general outside roaming.

Behind closed doors we were encouraged to be creative people, that doesn’t mean it was all art and craft it was mainly being creative with our time. We didn’t really watch the TV but played, cooked and joined our parents occasionally in their workspaces to make things with them. We enjoyed time with friends, lots of walks on the beach and there were lots of dinner parties and tribes of kids ….. they was good times.

Being the child of these two artists meant you really were part of how the whole thing worked. Frequent trips to London to stock galleries, crammed in the back of the car in amongst all the boxes with tiny spaces to sit in for 5 hours, hanging out at private views and not being allowed in and being delivered juice so we would stay out of the way, witnessing the late late nights while Mum or Dad or both franticly worked away getting work finished for exhibitions and deadlines, seeing the sheer delight on their faces when their work was appreciated and big commissions came in , and one of my favourites, and I still remember this with love, Dad reading me Vogue magazine instead of books at bed time ….. he was obviously fed up of the Mr Men (there were only about 10 of them then and I loved them) and he hadn’t discovered Asterix books at that point.

All in all it was a wonderful time and I look back at it fondly. Sadly M&D went their separate ways when I was beginning to turn into a teenager …. I’m not going to dwell on then until I dropped out of college because it was a tricky time, not directly because of M&D, I was a rare case of not being affected by that too much, but secondary school wasn’t a great time for me, I was socially awkward and not massively mature, I had some fantastic friends mind and that I wouldn’t change. In amongst all of that, and before I moved out at 15 to live with Dad, I remember desperately wanting to work with silver and Mum couldn’t find anywhere for me to go because I was too young. It was a dream I held on too.

When I wasn’t getting on at College ( I was an established party animal by this time thank god there’s no photographic evidence of that time), I was living with Dad and he just said ” Darling leave there, your not doing well, come and work for me” ….. so thats what I did, I painted pots and learnt a whole lot more about running a creative business, within a couple of years I was running the “bread and butter line” from start to finish and delivering and collecting from galleries. Dad taught me how to cost work, work though designs and I spent hours and hours doing glaze tests and recording each one thoroughly and used them as his main glaze reference until the day he died.

When I was 18 I became pregnant with the first born .. Abbie, a few months after my 19th birthday the little whirl wind was born, and what a sweetie she was. My creative life, other than sticking and drawing ceased at this point, when I was pregnant with my second child Oliver, Dad had a dinner service commission which I worked on from home while Abbie was sleeping. That time is all a blur really, just looking after kids and being young I struggled quite a bit.

I got heavily into crystal healing and alternative therapies when my babies were small (the beginning of my love of gemstones), I read a lot about the properties of gemstones and began to make healing jewellery. That is where it all started, and I continued lusting after working with silver. In 2003, Mum booked me on a two day beginners silver smithing course with Mid Cornwall school of jewellery, and I didn’t look back. I applied for a Princes Trust grant. That was in the day when everything was written by hand, so the business plan took hours, my business advisor would come every week to check on my progress, and then I got the grant !!! I still use many of the tools I brought back then, tools are an investment and if you buy the right ones they will last you a life time.

After that it was just a constant learning curve, I continued to self teach myself from books as much as I could! Mum had a regular exhibition in Rock (which I still do annually with her now) and she has very kindly let me do it with her every year (apart from a couple). I was consumed by creating, I spent hours making things, It was a battle, money was tight, looking back, I know I spent loads of time on it but goodness knows what I was doing …. I didn’t seem to produce much, well it feel like that now. Dad built me a website and I worked on that, but the reality was time and life just got in the way of making it more than a hobby business.

In 2005ish my situation changed and life became about survival for my self and the kids. Again I don’t really want to delve into those times too much, it was hard. I had lots of support from my loved ones in this time though and a few years later I got together with Lee. Things got brighter, we had lots of fun and lots of parties with our best friends and after a couple of years I became pregnant with the smallest one … Evie. I began to make jewellery again for the Rock summer show and a few others Mum invited me to do with her. Then one day ……

One day, I had had the most dreadful day with the whirlwind that is Abbie, she was a dreaded teen by now and it was all a bit of a shit show. I rang Pops for something random and cut a long story short, I had the most monumental melt down about how hard and crap everything was ….. he said ” Go to university, we’re in a recession, its not worth busting your gut now, go and learn and by the time you come out the other side it will all be over” …. he was a wise man and always had the right answers to life stuff. So thats what I did, I went to Truro College and studied BA Silver Smithing and Jewellery.

It was hands down the best thing I ever did (other than the kids etc etc). I cannot stress how much confidence it gave me, I loved it, every minute of it. We had the most wonderful tutors and I made great friends, one of which who i’m still incredibly close too.

A ring from my final degree collection. Silver clay, emerald and enamel

We learnt all of the good old traditional techniques, mixed with contemporary design. I got heavily into enamelling in the second year, frustrated my tutors as half way through a brief with loads of sketch book work and I would change my mind … every time!! I had DP (dyslexia Paul) who came to the house most weeks to untangle my dreadful writing. I learnt so much, became really comfortable with the materials I was working with, and then began the “slight” obsession with gemstones. It was just a wonderful time, fucking hard work, but great. I did well and graduated with a first class pass, I vividly remember one of my darling friends coming with me and sitting with me when I got my results, i’m forever in her debt for that day, I think i’m getting close to enough hot dinners to wipe the debt now?

Claire, Alex and I on graduation day.

Since then it’s been a whirlwind, ups and downs, changes and all sorts of things. I have my own (very small) workshop at my home, so after I graduated I got myself a business loan, I invested in equipment and I also invested in a show in London, Chelsea town hall to be precise. I spent hours working towards this bad boy, it was going to change things, the brake I needed, I invested money i’d borrowed for business development assuming i’d make it back and could move on with that after the show …. but no, thats not what happened. It was a total flop !! I’d brought a stand 1m x 1m for about £650 + vat (yep, this shit isn’t cheap), i’d carefully designed my stand for the space, had it built for me, made a huge amount of stock , which of course isn’t cheap and then to cut a long story short , the space I had so carefully prepared for was a different size (argh), I sold about £350 worth of jewellery over 3 days …. it was a bad bad time and i’d lost thousands of pounds on this gamble.

It kind of put me on a back foot after that. I carried on regardless, moved into a new shared studio with my beautiful friend Claire (the friend I met whilst doing my degree) and just kept moving on. Sadly the workshop was too far away and I had to move back into my little workshop at home. It is very small but i’m always moving it around, its a constantly evolving work space.

Chloe Michell jewellery workshop in st.issey
The Jewellery workshop in St.Issey

I continued to sell my work by word of mouth, social media and the annual show at Rock and maybe one or two other shows a year. I even tried to do an MA. Firstly in Contemporary Craft (I deferred), second time was for MA in Entrepreneurship in Creative Practice and sadly the funding fell through for that. I was gutted, but you just have to move on don’t you?! In early 2018 I got a part time job and aimed to change my business model, the one you know now. I didn’t want to be making hearts and stars all the time for off the peg sales (which I wasn’t making), I wanted to be working closely with clients, doing commissions, basically making different things every time I made something and challenging myself.

four images of the heirloom jewellery remodeling on the bench at chloe michell jewellery
The first proper remodel I did using some of the metal and the gemstones from an inherited ring

Very soon after I had made the decision to do that my world got flipped upside down … My father died. It was and has been the most profound thing that has ever happened to me. Just like that Poof, boom .. he was gone, the oracle, the man that knew everything was no longer here. He died suddenly in Portugal, our friends and family rallied around us ( a special thanks to Dave and Louise, Evie’s god parents who dropped everything to look after her while we were away), made sure we could all get out there for his cremation and to be with our step mother Julia and her children. I could write for an entire life time about this time, maybe I should one day, but not now. All I know is things changed from that point onwards. When we were there it really struck home how incredibly talented he was, we all knew it, but that day it became part of me more so than it ever has done before. I suddenly understood …. I am a maker, its my DNA, it runs from my parents into me and is an intrinsic to who I am.

My dad. Roger Michell
Pops ❤️

He said once ” Darling, you are the black sheep of the family (Mum, Dad and my sister are all potters) we have all the faith that you will be the one that makes it” ….. he said it in humour, and it still makes me laugh till this day and always will …

After the epiphany that my journey/story is really just me and my life, i’ve moved forward slowly, understanding with more and more clarity about why I am doing what I do …. to summarise that, is because i’m good at it and its meant to be, I am not meant to be doing anything else as a career.

later that year I somehow managed to secure a grant for some new workshop equiptment through Cultivaor Cornwall, who are a EU funded group for the Arts in Cornwall. The tools I chose were larger pieces of equipment that enable me to refine metals (gold and silver). I was so delighted, I had spent a over month on the application and worked really hard to put the application together. I knew it would change my practice and the extent of my abilities however, what I hadn’t realised was after the initial shock of receiving such a grant how it would affect my confidence levels. I realised soon after that they just didn’t hand out money willynilly. And they really thought I ( the black sheep ) was viable enough to invest in. That was amazing, so, thats what I did, I began the remodel process using bullion as well as gems stones, and got to understand my new equipment.

Molten 18ct gold
Nothing like a blob of molten 18 ct gold !

It has been about a year now of doing this work and I love it. It is time consuming, it is nerve wracking, and requires a lot of energy but I love it. My work now for commissions and reworks are mainly in gold. I make silver for all of my collections, however I am to change that this year and add a little more gold for those who like it. I still do the Rock Summer Show with Mum, this year we have slightly different dates and open on a Tuesday, which is a little odd, but I hope to have some really new and interesting work there this year. There are other things to come from Mum too but I can’t say too much about that!

18ct handcarved vine ring with diamond
18ct gold hand carved vine ring with 3mm diamond 2019

The environment becomes a bigger worry to me every year, I have always been a nature girl, a hippy at heart so I plan to try and make new collections as environmentally viable as I can , combining the passion I have as a maker and zero waste policy. This year I have some technique courses booked in and …. a gemstone identification course, I am incredibly excited about both of these and they will help me on my crusade to rework what we have rather than buying new . I am also hoping (fingers crossed) to have a larger work space later in the year, which will enable me to really let loose on those tools and get some beautiful things made.

If you made it this far, Thank you for sticking with it!! There is so so much more to this story and I would be happy to sit and chat with a glass of wine any time and chew the fat anytime. I mean, how can you summarise 43 years of life in one blog post ?? Untill next time


Ps. Enjoy the pictures below. These people are my story ❤️

2 Responses

  1. Suze
    | Reply

    Wow!! Gave me goosebumps!! You amazingly talented lady and family..much love xxx

  2. Shannon
    | Reply

    Such a nice story. It just highlights how much work and effort you have put into your passion, and what a journey it has been to get to where you are! Very inspiring

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