Saturday, March 06, 2021

Book Review - Frances Palmer's Life in the Studio


I first became aware of Frances Palmer when I read an article about her and her pottery and garden in one of my favorite magazines - US House and Garden. Her signature white earthenware pottery filled with my favorite sunflowers was featured on the cover. Although HG has been sadly long gone (Conde Nast closed it in 2007), Frances' beautiful pottery business and garden has grown and thrived in the years since. On my studio inspiration wall below you can see the cover photo from that issue of HG.

Many folks recently will have stumbled upon Frances through her incredibly seductive Instagram feed. There she almost daily photographs her pottery vases filled with flowers from her garden. Her feed is one of the joys of my day. She features incredibly voluptuous arrangements of flowers she grows on her tennis court turned cutting garden in her porcelain, earthenware and terracotta pottery. 

This past fall, Frances' first book Frances Palmer - Life in the Studio - was published by Artisan Books in October of 2020. You can see that book on the lead photo which shows the colorful turquoise and floral dust jacket and the cloth bound book that is hidden under the dust jacket. Ooooo- what a beautiful presentation. It is not many publishers that will put such care and beauty into a book.

I have followed Frances since the early days of Instagram and when I heard that she was writing and photographing a book, I was so thrilled. I ordered it early and it came just around the time of my birthday. What a fantastic gift to myself if I do say so. Thank you Frances for the hours of inspiration on Instagram and for the joy that I have derived from your book. 

What I really enjoyed about Life in the Studio was that it contained a great mix of all the things I love. Making ceramics, gardening, cooking, baking, photography, color, and studio life. Lots of times, books like these are all fluff - full of beautiful photos (which - don't get me wrong - I do love colorful photography books) but lacking in what I call the "meat" or substance behind the photos. Life in the Studio is different. Yes, it is packed to the gills with gorgeous Frances photography - but it also includes Frances' story. She describes her background, how she got interested in ceramics, how she makes a pot, her studio life..... And funny thing - she once had a knitwear business and she is a knitter. 

Life in the Studio also includes tips for gardening - especially growing dahlias which if you ask me - are Frances' signature flower. Eighteen pages on how to grow, care, harvest, and store for dahlias is a bonus for anyone interested in growing this (once again) very popular flower. She recommends 36 of her favorite varieties and includes photos of each one. 

Here are a few of the essays which Frances includes....
How to Make a Pot
Promotion and Patience
The Value of My Work
The Meditation of Repetition
The Importance of Collaboration
Arranging a Bouquet Step by Step (words and photos) 
My Education in Photography
On Being Kind to Yourself

As you can see, there is an amazing amount of information in this book. Although it is written partly for potters, the contents are valuable for any creative person. Kudos to Frances for a job well done. I look forward to following her for many more years to come.

Here are some of my favorite spreads from Life in The Studio

Some of Frances' early pottery.  

A sampling of the incredible flower photography

A photo of many pots lined up waiting for a studio sale

That cover photo from the original HG cover photo and article along with an essay entitled Embracing the Random

Some of Frances cobalt blue painted ceramics

A Tarte Tatin recipe photographed on a Frances plate

The opening page for a series of photographs of varying types of ceramics that Frances makes

At the back of Life in the Studio, Frances includes a listing of favorite books on ceramics, cooking, gardening, and photography and her sources for plants, seeds and garden tools.

You can visit Frances's website here where you can order your very own signed copy of Life in the Studio or purchase a piece of pottery. Or follow her on Instagram. Or purchase Life in the Studio here

You can listen to podcasts featuring Frances here:
The Potters Cast with Paul Blais
After the Jump/Design *Sponge with Grace Bonney
On Creativity with Jennifer Jewell

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