What do you feel about entering products you make in competitions?

ceramic Glazed by Hand HighFire Innovation Large Ceramic Serving Platter Louise Hugo Allen Photography NewGlazes platter Serving Platter Speciality Glazes Stoneware


Why do you enter competitions? I do not like entering competitions of any kind. This is not because I have a problem with criticism. I like it when people come to me & say “why don’t you do things this way or that way?” this gets my mind going in many directions which I store away for future use. Listening to what people have to say is important even if they do not fully understand the process required to make ceramics, as their insight is often very useful.

Five Large Serving Platters in Terracotta Stoneware handmade by Margaret Melville at the Ceramix Pottery from African Clay.

5 Handmade Stoneware platters by Margaret Melville at the Ceramix pottery in South Africa.

I went to deliver some prizes for the Regional Exhibition to Colleen Lehmkuhl the chairperson of the Potters Association and she asked me if I was entering the National Ceramic Competition. Of course, I always have a reason to get out of these things & mine was that you must have entered a Regional Competition before you can submit to enter the Nationals. Well, this time I could not wheedle my way out as they have removed this need.


I have entered my platters in the Corobrick National Ceramics Biennale hosted by Ceramics Southern Africa Western Cape. I am completely shattered. I had to give up my dream of becoming an opera singer many years ago as I simply cannot handle anything on an emotional level. It is so crazy that I completely fall apart at the seams. I know I have the technical ability but will the judges like what I have produced. I know I have to start entering competitions as it is the only way for me to develop and grow. I have now conquered a large hurdle in my life.

Four years ago when I started Ceramix, I desperately wanted to fire the white glazed Terracotta clay higher than the recommended 1060 degrees. Poor Gillian Clark who was doing my glazing & firing at this stage lost many kiln shelves. Eventually, I settled on a temperature of 1120 degrees.

You might be asking yourself why I am carrying on about the temperatures. It is all about the strength of the product. The lower the temperature the softer the product is. I am however firing a great deal higher than most earthenware manufacturers so my ware is microwave, dishwasher, oven and freezer proof. Tried and tested by my friends and many satisfied customers.

I have perfected the white glazed Terracotta method and it is now time for new things.

"Brick Contours"

To start with new things I need to have something that completely and utterly motivates me. I certainly cannot enter a white Terracotta plate, platter or bowl with a glazed addition for the nationals. What am I going to do? Gillian Clark has asked me repeatedly why I am not making the very large serving platters. The truth is that they are just too large for me to dip into the glaze.  Then it dawns on me that I have a variety of coloured mid-range brush on glazes that fire to 1200 Degrees. You have seen the first tests here. After giving it a great deal of thought I decided that one cannot enter a plain plate with no form of decoration just because the glaze looks pretty. I need to add depth to my ceramic platter.  This is how my journey begins.


I have 94 different coloured glazes. I brush 3 coats of each colour on to 94 plates and then add dabs of 27 different coloured under glazes and glazes on top to see the results. I am now ready to start on my large platters. I begin by using three different colours on a platter. This does not work for me as there is no depth. I then decide to sgraffito (carving designs into clay). This is certainly better. I add liquid latex which when removed leaves the raw clay showing underneath. In other areas, I add wax sometimes on the clay and other times on top of glaze and then I add more glaze. The wax burns away during firing.

"Coffee Furrows"

There is no guarantee with glazing results even when one uses the same glazes together which makes ceramics both frustrating and exciting at the same time. Some of the large platters have had two glaze firings, others three and some have even had four.  You only know what a glazed item will look like once fired. This is especially true when it comes to the layering of glazes one on top of the other. Other factors are platter placement in the kiln and the space between the shelves? Have I left the air vents open or closed? Have I soaked my ware at the top temperature and if so for how long? The list goes on and on.

You might ask what references I used for the sgraffito designs. To be honest I sit down and start carving as I want organic forms. Every platter takes on its own life after the first carved line. Come to think about it the designs are just like doodling something I have always loved to do. If I sketch or plan I get muddled in the detail and then nothing gets done.  Due to the thickness of the glaze application, much of the sgraffito work I do is often lost but it is the depth I am looking for not the detail.

I have submitted my entry and will have to wait for the result. The most important part of this is that I have entered a competition and I have taught myself an entirely new process which I can work on and develop. I will let you know how I do next week and show you photographs of the five platters I have entered.

The platters shown here are available for sale on the website.

Please let me know what you think of them and how you feel about entering competitions.

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  • Margaret Melville on

    Thank you so much Megan for the lovely comment on my blog. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. I am so glad you like my platters.

  • Megan on

    Lovely blog post, Margaret! In my field, I’ve always used as an excuse not to enter local competitions the fact that I would be competing against my own students and that’s not fair. As for international competitions, I don’t believe that any artwork should be judged on the strength of photos alone, which is what happens with the most prestigious ones. I do believe that one’s reputation and happy customers speak much louder than an award, but in this case, I think it’s excellent that you entered the competition. By pushing your boundaries and expanding your skills, you are moving forward to a whole new phase in your ceramic journey. The platters are beautiful!

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