Creative Caversham – Naomi Barker and Sian Pittman



TAKING THE leap from ‘doing something creative’ to putting on an exhibition and selling your own work demands a certain amount of energy, self-belief and determination – and also requires a venue. The annual Caversham Arts Trail provides the formula for local artists who want to take that step.
Finding a space to set up an exhibition open to visitors is not always so easy when many of our artists combine their passion with busy careers and family commitments. Oakley Road resident Naomi Barker decided that a bell tent set up in her back garden would provide the perfect venue. “I was looking to hire a tent for my husband’s birthday last summer, but in fact it cost just as much as buying one. So I bought a bell tent, and now I can use it for the trail, as well as for my children’s parties. It’s brilliant!” Naomi enthused.
Some artists don’t have the luxury of a studio or garden; Sian Pittman is an artist in need of a venue. Having met through a mutual friend, Naomi and Sian decided to approach CAT together – and the pair will be setting out their first joint exhibition inside Naomi’s tent this May.
When we chatted, it was very much ‘early days’ in their preparations, but they were full of ideas for how to display their works; planning practicalities such as obtaining tables and lighting, as well as how they might incorporate craft sessions for interested visitors. Both are keen to pass their enthusiasm on to others.
Naomi – who works in the buying department of a well-known high street retailer – will be exhibiting the ceramics which have become her passion. “This all started during lockdown, when I was furloughed,” she explained. “When things started to open up, I took some Activate Learning courses at Reading College, where I started to make my own pottery. I then started ordering my own clay and began making things on our kitchen table. We have a sitting room we didn’t much use, so I turned it into a studio. I now have my own potter’s wheel and a small kiln. Although I have gone back to work full time, I make my pottery at the weekends and in the evenings. It’s all a bit time dependent as the clay starts to dry so, once I start a piece, I might be up until midnight finishing it!”
Cooking is another of Naomi’s interests so she is particularly inspired to create crockery. “My pottery is functional, and I really love coming up with plates that might be perfect with a certain dish,” she said.
Sian similarly has always been immersed in art. “I always loved art throughout my childhood, and I studied fine art at university. Nowadays I work in education, but I want to create my own art again.
“I signed up for a few courses in screen printing, as well as doing some workshops at Art Jam. I love painting and printing, and using bold colours and patterns, as well as floral designs. I have created a range of products, such as notebooks and cards.”
Both Naomi and Sian have started selling their work – Naomi’s ceramics can be found at Blue Tin Produce farm shop at Ipsden, while Sian has taken part in the Artists and Makers Fairs as well as the Reading Indie Market. Working out the pricing for unique craft items is always tricky. “If you calculate the time you put in to creating a big piece of work, it pushes the price up,” explained Sian. “However, it’s possible to sell reproductions and cards at a lower price.”
“Similarly, when I have made something using the wheel, it can be moulded for reproduction,” commented Naomi. “I really enjoy making things, so I want to break even, just so I can afford to go on making.”
“I want to make and sell art,” Sian said who, like Naomi, was eagerly anticipating her first Caversham Arts Trail. “But most of all, I want people to be able to see it and enjoy looking at it. I don’t just want to make things at home, and for it to stay there tucked away!”