Week 1 Field: Shadow Play

For our first collaborative field project with the maker and fine art students we worked in the ceramics studio. Our project was to create a clay sculpture on the theme of light by exploring the way still lives can create abstract patterns of light and shadow.

We began by setting up still lives of objects we found interesting then used projectors to cast shadows from these onto large sheets of paper. Charcoal and biro were used to trace the patterns of light and shadow, rendering the objects together in abstract form.
We tried using a photocopier to enlarge sections of these collaborative drawings but found it difficult to get the settings right. I wish I’d put my name down for a workshop on how to use the photocopier effectively! Some materials like the scrunched up strips of masking tape above made crisp shapes of flat shadow however others like glass bottles, were a lot more difficult to render because of the distorted way light reflects through them.


The next stage was to create a relief using cardboard and we decided to each recreate sections of the drawings we liked the most then make an abstract collage of these aspects of the still life. We spent a long time arranging and re-arranging shapes to get a sense of balance. From the start we were drawn to the green netting we found because of the delicate, intricate lattice pattern it cast. We noticed our still lives reminded us of underwater scenes – the forms looking like seaweed and sunken treasure.

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The next step was to use this cardboard relief as the basis for a clay sculpture. We decided to explore through pre-reflexive play to begin, trying to recreate details we liked individually from this collage in clay. We tried pressing the clay into the cardboard shapes, pressing the netting into clay and using the cardboard shapes as stencils.

We had a lot of fun during this stage of the process but frankly the result just looks a bit naff! In it’s earlier stages the design looks considered but we ended up throwing everything at it with an enthusiastic approach of ‘more is more’. The final piece looked like the crumbling, ivy entwined ruin of a fairy-tale castle (one who’s architect was fond of geometric shapes). Since none of us had used the extruder before we were eager to have a go even though the forms it created had nothing to do with our original design. The task taught us an important lesson – that a work of art can be pushed too far! Our approach was one of ‘see what happens’ rather than a pre-planned design. We spent lots of time trying to achieve a sense of balance in the cardboard collage and should have spent the same amount of time with the clay. It was a struggle to construct because we discovered pieces with intricate detail cut in dried a lot faster than other slabs and tended to crumble. Making the lattice forms in paper clay may have made them stronger or we could have dipped material in slip.

On reflection, we would have been more successful making a series of small sculptures rather than throwing everything at one piece. We had lots of interesting patterns and forms – the geometric circles in squares combo, the lattice clay sheets, the plant-like slabs and the repeated leaf pattern. There was just too much going on! During the rest of the week we managed to create a new, simpler sculpture. We tested to see what results our sculpture would produce by taking it back to step one – placing it in front of a projector. It has an interesting juxtaposition between the geometric box form and the organic flowing vine-like slab sitting on top.

Raku Friday

Phoebe and I fired a raku kiln together yesterday and I put in a couple of my thrown forms. The first is a white st thomas ‘moon jar’. The duck-egg blue raku glaze came out a bright light blue with crazing however the stoneware reduction glazes I applied came out a rusty colour from the red iron oxide and a matte dark green, possibly from the presence of copper carbonate. The earthenware cream glaze inside came out a much brighter colour because it matures at a lower temperature. The effect looks a bit like an abstract upside down landscape or a globe. We left the pots in the flames for 1 hour 15 mins then placed them to smoke and reduce in sawdust, shredded paper and hay for 1 hour. To get even temperature around the kiln chamber I’ve learnt to cover the top on the side which is coldest with a piece of kiln shelf as this adjusts the air flow.

The rounded form was inspired by the work of Adam Buick although I’m struggling to make perfectly spherical shapes. It’s clear from these photos the footrings on his are a lot narrower than the top which elevates them. This article has a little information about moon jars and their contemporary re-interpretations.

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Adam Buick at Collect ’17

Inspired by Cait’s sake cups from the Pottery throwdown on Thursday I tried wrapping copper wire around this mug (reduction st thomas clay). The surface is painted on duck egg -blue with lines cut through sgraffito style with a needle point tool. I like how the glaze has blistered and crawled dramatically on the side exposed more to the flames in the firing. The copper wire turned black and fused somewhat to the glaze but other than that didn’t leave any trace. It was interesting to watch Hannah from L5 spray alcohol onto her vessels to create varied surface colours. I’m going to try and get hold of the Lark ceramics book ‘Alternative kilns and firing techniques’ from the library to find other raku firing techniques to try.

Reduction Firing

Last week I had the chance to fire some work in a gas kiln for the first time and the results came out today. I don’t know much about how the firing works except that the kiln chamber is starved of oxygen so oxygen is taken away from the metal oxides, but I’d like to learn more. I’m attracted to the unpredictability of the glazes in this kind of firing.

I’d prepared two reduction glazes -the first was a Crystalline pale yellow/green semi-gloss with slight speckle (1280-1300C):

Feldspar                                 37
China clay                              18
Whiting                                   15
Quartz                                      10
Lithium carbonate               9
Titanium oxide                      9
Copper carbonate                 1
Zinc oxide                               1

The feldspar I used was potash and I added Titanium dioxide as a substitute for Titanium oxide. I’ve decided to use small thrown (off the hump) vessels or sections of discarded pots for glaze tests from now on because flat tiles can’t show how much the glaze runs.

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Crystalline yellow/green on Reduction st Thomas

The second reduction glaze I made was a Chun type pale green glaze with crazing:

Potash feldspar                                  45
Quarts                                                    25
Whiting                                                  17
China clay                                              9
Bone ash                                                 2
Dolomite                                                 2
+ Red iron oxide                                    1

The colour was subtler than expected but I like it’s fresh, quiet quality. I find the random speckles of dolomite glazes like this one attractive.

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Chun type green on Reduction st Thomas

Below: Buff stoneware. Two layers of Crystalline yellow/green glaze on outside with Duck egg blue raku glaze circles and Chun glaze inside. I like the roundness of this mug’s base in contrast to the sharper cylinder forms and the pulled handle balances it well.The ribbed texture from drawing up walls inside the form is highlighted by the way the glaze has pooled and draws attention to the way the mug was made on the wheel.

Reduction st Thomas. Duck egg blue raku inside and outside painted with crystalline yellow/green with chun type on top. Painted lines in red iron oxide. The duck egg raku glaze turned out a stunning, vibrant matt blue, I only wish I’d applied it to the outside.

Reduction st Thomas with blue slip splattered on top before bisque. Chun type green painted on outside with red iron oxide lines and turquoise spots. Inside crystalline yellow/green. I enjoy using the surface of vessels as canvases to explore abstract application of slips and glazes. This layering means I get exciting and unexpected results each time although I have to document carefully what I apply.

Buff stoneware cylinder. Inside turquoise stoneware glaze. Outside crystalline yellow/green with duck egg raku over bottom half which has created a cloudy, lichen-esque pattern. Red iron oxide details. The turquoise stoneware glaze turned an almost emerald green and had a bubbled texture.

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4 layers Transparent green stoneware glaze on RsT

 

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Chun type green over crystalline yellow/green

 

Narrative and Metaphor

This week’s subject based field focus was on narrative and metaphor in drawing.

We drew inspiration from last week’s exercise of drawing our individual pathways through the university and the way these lines crossed and intersected when laid on top of one another. This, we thought, was symbolic of the way our lives are woven together like individual threads in a messy ball of yarn. The pathways through the building could be metaphors for our journeys through life, full of twists, turns and unexpected encounters. We considered how all of us group members were like converging lines at this point in time, although for some of us, our lines had crossed previously, sometimes with us being aware and sometimes without.

Originally we wanted to use tracing paper to layer line journeys in different colours but decided the effect would work just as well by drawing them all together on a large sheet of paper using different colour sharpies. It was a really fun activity to do because we found ourselves trying to devise storylines for the characters whose ‘life lines’ we drew. A black line for a reclusive character who’s only interaction is with the shopkeeper on the corner street who he meets on the rare occasions he leaves the house. A complicated tangle of lines for a couple having an affair. The parallel lines of two siblings growing up together then gradually going their separate ways. The undulating lines suggest the ups and downs of life. The physical activity of drawing on such a large sheet of paper required us to climb over it and lean in awkward positions a bit like when playing Twister – the game itself a kind of metaphor for entanglement and the crossing of lives.

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Schematic drawing

In last weeks subject based field we wanted to explore the different ways members of our group would document a journey through the university building.

We each took a large sheet of paper and a marker pen then went on individual unpremeditated journeys through the building, documenting our experience with a continuous line. It’s fascinating to see the differences in how we’ve recorded going down the stairs – Jasper shows them in bold zig zags as if he was bouncing down them at speed, Lucy’s are almost like sound waves and mine are more like traditional drawings of stairs, documenting each one individually.

The sun shape on mine is where I crossed lines with Lucy while concentric circles show the seconds I counted waiting for the lift to arrive. This idea stemmed from Phoebe’s suggestion to use concentric lines to document time passing in the pre-reflexive drawing exercise. I also attempted to document sounds as I sat outside the ceramics workshop, listening to passing footsteps and voices.

Originally we wanted to draw these lines on tracing paper and lay them on top of one another but since we couldn’t find any we decided to improvise and copy the journeys onto one sheet. To make it more interesting we decided we would each copy the other’s line as accurately as possible which gave us an insight into how the other drew the journey. The result is a kind of map of the building but one which shows what it feels like to move through the space. It would be fun to get others to try to use these maps as a guide and see if they can be followed. Our task achieved the aim of recording journeys in an abstract way, using a series of symbols which could be further explained with some kind of key.

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Collect ’17

On Saturday I visited Collect 2017 the ‘international art fair for contemporary objects’ at the Saatchi gallery in London – an impressive and richly diverse display of ceramics, textiles, metal, jewellery and glass by makers from 37 of the world’s leading galleries. Of all the incredible objects on display I found myself drawn to the quieter, smaller scale artworks, especially the enamelled stoneware sculptures of French artist Chloe Peytermann (www.chloeterre.com). The upturned bottle shapes are called ‘atolls’ which I’ve learnt are kinds of ring shaped reefs or islands formed on coral. This accurately describes the ring formations of glazes on the flat surfaces that bubble in thick dollops of colour.

I like this idea of using the base of the vessel, the part that’s usually hidden from view, as the focal point. It’s a good flat canvas to work with glaze flow and thick application. The forms look like they were thrown and I expect they’re open at the other end but I was too afraid to pick them up since they cost £300 each! This is the one thing that frustrated me at Collect, the prevalence of ‘do not touch’ signs when so much of the work looked irresistibly tactile. Accompanying the Atolls series on her website is the quote by French author Maylis de Kerangal I like the idea that the experience of memory, in other words the action of remembering, transforms the place into a landscape, metamorphoses the illegible spaces into narrative. ” The idea of the experience of memory and how it differs from truth is a thread I’m interested in pursuing in the Cafe society project and leads on from trying to replicate the shape of a mug I remembered from home.

The colour scheme of speckled pastels with patches of vibrant pink and blue reminded me of the work of Ben Fiess who makes functional jars with cork and elastic band stoppers. I like the effect of juxtaposing eye-popping colours which conjures up memories of the candy colours of jars on the shelves of old fashioned sweet shops. For me they evoke childhood camping holidays to the New Forest where the arduous bicycle expeditions through hornet infested woodland were amply rewarded with a visit to Lyndhurst sweet shop. When I think of it I always think of Roald Dahl’s account of the sweet shop he and his friends always visited on the way back from school, funnily enough, in Llandaff.

Ben’s website www.bfiess.com is well worth a visit, he’s got a quirky selection of mixed media drawings as well as an ongoing database of research into glaze recipes and clay bodies.

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Chloe Peytermann’s ‘atolls’
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Atoll
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Ben Fiess
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Ben Fiess

Images: http://www.bfiess.com

Hot melt rubber molds

I took part in my first ‘open house’ workshop today where I learnt how to use the hot melt vinyl compound Vinamold/Gelflex to make flexible moulds. Much cheaper than silicone, it can be used to cast all sorts, from plaster to wax, resins and ceramic material.However it does have some drawbacks, namely that it shrinks over time and when used with plaster or wood they have to be soaked first in water.

The Vinamold is first cut into sugar-cube sized chunks which is a bit of a challenge but is easiest done with a stanley knife and scissors. The texture is similar to that of tough meat. Next it’s heated in the microwave to around 150C which took around 6 minutes for  a full Pyrex measuring jug, a little longer for larger quantities. It’s best to check the consistency every 3 minutes or so in case it begins to burn. The objects we wanted to make moulds of were placed onto sheets of clay with a cottle to give a gap of about two fingers width in between. When the compound was of a runny, soupy consistency it was poured into the moulds and left to set for about an hour. It was easy to release the objects from inside and every tiny detail is captured. The process is so much quicker than making a plaster mould.

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