Pre-Reflexive thought

We began our subject field with an exercise in creative strategies. Our first task was the explore the act of interacting, attempting to capture the sense-scape of CSAD building. We spent 20 mins collecting the following:

5 sounds: The automated female voice of the lift, the rhythmic tapping of a person running up and down stairs, the deep muffled tone of a voice through a huge paper cone in the fine art department, the soft tinkling of running tap water and the eerie muffled echoes that filter through to the top of the flight of stairs.

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Impression

5 movements: The sliding open and closed of the automatic doors, the effect this movement causes on a piece of thread hanging off Carwyn Evans’s installation ‘Pader’ in the foyer, the wave-like movement of captured rainwater on the bench outside, the  rustling of a plant being shaken, the rotating motion of an empty drinks can being spun.

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Impression: a difference made by the action/presence of someone/something

5 impressions: Dents and creases left on the sofas downstairs where people have sat, fingerprints leaving a greasy film on the doors of the lift, paint marking a table, shadows casting letters on the bench outside, the messy marks left on the blackboard where writing has been rubbed away.

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Transition of light and shade

5 points of transition: The threshold where outside becomes inside, the change of the position of shadows throughout the day-transition of light and shade, the change of texture from carpeted to hard floor in the reception area, the kilns- irreversible chemical transformation of clay to ceramic, the heart space- a place where conversations with others can lead to a development of ideas.

Next we were challenged to test out ways in which drawing (an interaction between one thing and another) leaves evidence of that interaction behind and what that tells us about ‘something’. We decided to go downstairs to the forecourt of the building where we had spent lots of time gathering inspiration for the previous task. Here the movement of the automatic doors acted as an interface between outside and inside. As a way to document sounds other than on a phone, Jasper had been drawing continuous lines of how the sounds around the building felt. We decided to follow on from this idea by tracking the lines made by people as they leave and enter the CSAD building, by using coloured chalk to draw around Jasper and Lucy’s feet as they walked.

Next they each tried to walk ‘in the other’s footsteps’. This made me think of the Chartism project ‘In their footsteps’ I’ve been involved with and the shoes we made. Shoes hold many interesting connotations as do footprints: ones made by a shoe are evocative of detective mysteries and yet footprints in sand are considered romantic.

We filmed these walks then thought more about the way we all enter and leave the building and the lines of movement we repeat every day. We considered too of the way lines of footprints could be mapped out as people go to use the smoking area, moving to the outskirts of the forecourt. It would be possible to record how long people stood for by drawing consecutive lines around feet in different colours to signal the passing of time. This could result in a map of lines showing the interaction of students and staff with their environment over time. What patterns of behaviour would this reveal?

We noticed that walking in someone else’s footsteps was awkward – often they were too big or small which resulted in a disjointed, silly style of walking, a bit like a Monty Python sketch. Thinking of the imaginative ways our body could interact with the environment as we entered the building, we drew a sort of hopscotch in chalk leading towards the entrance. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to hopscotch into college every morning?

Next we planned to draw as we moved through the building, creating a kind of map of our experience as we moved through the environment. Instead, because we had so little time and were interested to use the large sheets of tracing paper, Phoebe suggested pressing the paper against each other’s faces and drawing portraits though it. This was fun to do and when laid on top of one another the images became ghostly collages of faces that remind me of the Turin shroud. To get better definition we’d like to photograph these faces with a lightbox underneath. They might speak of the transition of time and the way our faces change as we age. The tracing paper acts as an interface between the one being drawn and the one drawing. As well as being drawn the person is also in a way being drawn ‘on’.

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Layered drawings on tracing paper

 

Headless chickens

In today’s print workshop we decorated manufactured fired ceramic tiles. First the tiles were wiped with mentholated spirits to remove dirt and grease. On this first one I used open stock decals of chickens and red rectangles which are applied by soaking the cut shape in warm water for a few minutes then flattening them down on the tile’s surface, using a rubber kidney to remove excess water. A red onglaze powder was mixed with universal water based medium and then painted on and scratched through.

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For the next tile, I tried a different technique, rolling out printing medium onto a sheet of acetate in an even layer. The plastic was taped onto a glass board for support. Next I placed the coated acetate face down on my tile’s surface, placed a sheet of paper on top and drew onto it. The printing medium stuck to the tile wherever I pressed my pen. Finally I dusted powdered onglazes on top with cotton wool, working from the darkest to lightest colour. The result is a very crisp line but with a sensitive quality because it responds to how hard I press.

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I liked the effect of line quality when painting the onglaze then scratching through so decided to experiment with spontaneous patterns on this next tile. I also like the different colour intestines and the way the glaze pools on the shiny surface. Drawing directly using the printing medium made the lines look contrived and flat in comparison.

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Chris Taylor is a British ceramic artist who’s work I find stunning. His terracotta vessel forms are decorated with layers of slip, underglaze prints, decals and lustre in bright, cheerful colours and floral patterns. I like how busy the surfaces of the forms are with layers like peeling wallpaper and I’d like to experiment with using decals, underglazes and onglazes to a similar effect.

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Chris Taylor

Image source

Raku firing and Zen Buddhism

Raku is a low-firing method of making pottery. It has its origins in the time of the shogun (military dictator) Hideyoshi towards the end of the sixteenth century (Momoyama period) in Kyoto, Japan. Hideyoshi wanted to encourage the tea ceremony and called upon his tea-master Sen no Rikyu to mastermind the ceremonies. A potter called Sasaki Chojiro was commissioned by the palace to hand carve tea bowls from Rikyu’s designs using tile making techniques.

Rikyu moved the tea ceremony in a new direction, towards a new form of ceramic expression called wabi sabi – peasant-like, monochrome ceramics with minimal decoration. The growth of Zen Buddhism (Sen no Rikyu was a Zen Buddhist monk) had replaced the lively, extravagant tea ceremonies of the past with solemn rituals that emphasised the transience of life. These tea ceremonies held spiritual significance and were associated with the Zen ideas of living in the here and now, finding peace and significance in something as mundane as drinking tea and appreciating every act as a unique event. The idea is to look inward for meaning to life rather than outside our existence like in Christianity and other faiths.

Wabi sabi is an aesthetic that embodies the principles of Zen Buddhism. It emerged  in Japan as a reaction to the lavishness, luxury and grandeur of the nobility and it’s essence was to find beauty in imperfection and embrace the natural cycle of growth and decay. The aesthetic incorporates a number of qualities: humility, asymmetry, authenticity, simplicity, tranquillity and the organic forms of nature, the complete antithesis to today’s fast paced, mass produced, disposable culture.

Recently I’ve been reading Oli Doyle’s book ‘Mindfulness, plain and simple’ which highlights the way meditation and mindful practice which stem from the discoveries of the Buddha can help us live happier lives. I felt the raku firing we took part in on Friday was a kind of practice in mindfulness because we were forced into the ‘here and now’ while having to continually watch the kiln, adjusting the gas depending on the height of the flames, checking how much the glaze had melted and concentrating on moving the hot ceramics carefully with the tongs.

In ‘A Potter’s Book’ Bernard Leach explains how the thick and porous nature of the clay used for raku tea-bowls made them bad conductors of heat so the hot tea could be held comfortably in the hands. At the beginning of the 20th century Leach brought the idea of raku back from exotic Japan to his studio in St Ives. Later, raku was re-invented in America during the 1970s, moving away from the idea of truth to materials and Zen philosophy and ‘the anti-machine ethic so beloved by the reactionary camp in the ceramic world went out of the window as space-race materials were pressed into service for kiln linings, and glass-fuming technologies for post-reduction treatments'(Jones, 1999, pg. 22). Western raku (like the one I took part in) differs from the eastern technique in that the pots are placed in a reduction chamber rather than left to cool in the open air or quenched straight away in cold water.

Raku firing is an exciting and rewarding process. First the work is bisque fired and glazed then the raku kiln is fired quickly to a temperature of about 900C with the pots inside. Through the top of the kiln it was possible for us to watch the glazes melting. Because the clay undergoes thermal shock, it’s important to use once-fired, grogged, stoneware clay rather than the LF i’d been throwing with. The only work I had suitable were slipcast shapes. We tried raku firing work that hadn’t been bisque fired but this only resulted in the work exploding in the kiln because of its high water content.

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One of the raku kilns firing

The pots were removed from the kiln after about 45 mins red hot with tongs and placed in an airtight container (a bin) of shredded paper and hemp wood chips. As they are moved into the colder air outside the kiln they undergo another sudden temperature change which produces cracks in the glaze. The lid is then placed back on and the bin left to stand in a ventilation chamber. This technique is known as smoking and is an ideal way to get rainbow coloured surfaces from a copper matt glaze. The smoke produced from the combustible materials is trapped and creates a reduction atmosphere in the bin but some oxidation also occurs to the glazes when the lid is lifted off. Carbon from the smoking highlights the cracks in the glazes and turns the naked clay black.

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Lifting work hot from the kiln into the bin of wood chips and sprinkling more combustibles on top.

After being left to smoke in in the chamber for an hour the work is lifted out with tongs and dipped into cold water- yet another thermal shock. The water washes off some of the carbon and combustible material but they need to be scrubbed with a sponge to reveal the surfaces properly.

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Pots after being dipped in water, ready to be scrubbed.

I enjoyed being more directly involved in the firing process than I am with an electric kiln and the physical and slightly terrifying activity of moving the work when it’s red hot.

RESULTS

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Side with shiny copper glaze and wax resist

Where I sponged on the copper matt on top it’s more green/brown. I don’t like the washed out blue of the cork stopper. Although the effect is very striking I find it a bit too showy for the aesthetic I’m searching for in my work. This bottle form isn’t suited to raku because it’s narrow and has a small base so is prone to fall over in the kiln.

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Reverse side of bottle

This side I glazed with Pale satin duck-egg blue raku glaze found in Linda Bloomfield’s ‘The handbook of glaze recipes‘. I like the fresh colour and the fine bubbly texture. A stripe of copper matt was brushed on top and resulted in rich shiny greens. The pattern on the bottle shows through black with carbon where wax resist was brushed on. The blue came out in patches of purple which reminds me of port wine stains on skin.

Pale satin duck egg-blue (cone 9):
Borax frit                                    42.5
High alkaline frit                     42.5
China clay                                    15
Bentonite                                      5
+ Tin oxide                                    15
+ Copper oxide                            0.5

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Glaze tests on slipcast banana
  1. Duck egg blue (more purple where applied thinly)
  2. Duck egg blue with copper blue on top – water colour effect sky blue but not very interesting texture
  3. Shiny copper blue on its own – darker blue with hints of purple
  4. Shiny copper with duck egg blue on top – this combination has the most interesting colour variations
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Glaze tests on slipcast ‘grape bunch’ glass bottle

Top half: white raku glaze splattered with copper blue which has turned purple. Bottom half matt copper painted on top of white crackle. I wish I’d glazed more of the form but was scared to in case it got stuck in the kiln.I like where the matte copper turns iridescent and shows emrland greens.

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Bottle dipped in white crackle with thick duck-egg blue brushed on top. I like the way the white underneath makes the colour look brighter. Teacup on top dipped in copper matt turned dark grey with little colour variation.

GLAZED POTS RESULTS

On Tuesday we took part in a glaze application workshop and our results came out the electric kiln on Friday too. I’m really happy with these LF bottle forms and like how they work as a series because of their variations in heights and shape.

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  1. Bottle dipped halfway down in yellow, dipped in blue up to base of neck then dipped in yellow at the rim. Patterns brushed on with red iron oxide, white and green sponged on patches.My favourite decoration. It’s busy and I tired to balance the shapes.
  2. Bottle dipped in white glaze with small area un-glazed. Manganese oxide splashed on top with a thick brush then turquoise self-mixed glaze splattered over.
  3. Manganese oxide and red iron oxide painted on under transparent. White and yellow pattern painted on top. Yellow becomes very feint when painted on top of white. I like the shape of this bottle and the way the vertical edges balance with a curved shoulder which hasn’t slumped like the others and a thin neck. I’d like to explore this form further.
  4. Dipped sideways in green, matt cream and manganese splattered on top. This fused to the kiln shelf at the base where the glaze ran (applied too thickly).

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I’m not as taken with this bowl’s decoration. The inside was dipped in blue and manganese oxide, turquoise glaze and red iron oxide brushed on the outer surface which looks patchy.

http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi
http://www.2000cranes.com/Raku.html
Jones, D, 1999. Raku, investigations into fire.Marlborough: Crowood.

Glaze tests – high firing

Tests no.1 and 2 below are the same Blue grey speckle glaze as seen in the previous post with low firing tests. Here I fired them to 1260C rather than 1060C to find out what happened to earthenware glazes at stoneware temperatures. 1 is the glaze on Buff stoneware clay while 2 is on porcelain. I still don’t like the results but maybe this glaze will look better layered with others.

In contrast I really like the opaque speckled green glaze from Emmanuel Cooper’s ‘Potter’s book of glaze recipes’. It has lots of depth on the Buff stoneware (4) and breaks to a warm orange when applied thinly. I like the celadon colour effect on porcelain too (3).

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Opaque speckled green stoneware glaze (1200-1220C)

Clear transparent glaze base:
Standard borax frit                         30
Feldspar                                             25
Calcium borate frit                           5
Ball clay                                             20
Flint                                                    20

with addition of :
Tin oxide                                          5%
Copper carbonate                          1.5%

Testing my clay

Firing tests
The test tiles I made from clay sourced from my local area in North Wales were fired at different temperatures between 1000C and 1280C. It’s possible to see just from the images below that this clay is low-firing since it even begins to warp and turns a dark  red/purple at 1100C. Any higher than this and it begins to melt to fill the tray, bubbling and becoming metallic. Visible on the tile fired to 1000C are white deposits on the clay which are probably sodium and potassium salts. These act as fluxes and indicate the clay may start to melt as it gets to higher temperatures, which is proven on the higher fired tiles. Clays high in silica tend to puddle at higher temperatures. My raw clay is a dark green-grey colour which suggests the presence of carbon.

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Raw clay
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1000C
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1100C
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1200C
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1280C Oxidation
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1280C Reduction

Porosity
To test for porosity I boiled the test tile fired to 1000C for 1 hour. I weighed it before and after boiling. The tile turned out to weigh exactly the same before and after (80.2g), showing when fired to this temperature it has a porosity of 0. The clay has reached it’s maturing temperature at just 1000C so it’s a very low firing clay.

Shrinkage
After air drying the 10cm line on the tiles shrunk to 9.4cm showing a shrinkage of 6%. However, after firing to 1000C it shrunk further to 8.5cm which is a shrinkage of 15%.

I also weighed out a 100g ball of the clay and fired it to 1000C. The fired ball weighed 76.3g – a 23.7% decrease in weight.

Acid test
To test for the presence of limestone (calcium carbonate)  in my clay, I placed a small lump in dilute hydrochloric acid. No fizzing (carbon dioxide released) took place which proves there was no limestone in the clay. This is supported by the fact geological survey maps show no evidence of carbonate materials in the area I sourced it.

Glaze tests

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The three tiles above show slip made from my clay brushed on the left hand side. Different amounts of glaze materials have been mixed with the clay along the tiles. The first tile shows my clay as it mixes with wood ash. A ratio of one part clay to two parts wood ash produces a warm khaki colour. Equal measure of both creates a dark brown while a ratio of two parts clay to one part wood ash makes a dark purple/brown. The wood ash on its own is on the right hand side of the tile.

Below this is the clay mixed with potash feldspar. A small amount of this feldspar mixed with my clay produces very reflective brown glazes, however a very small amount of clay produces a subtle and attractive pale blue-green like a blackbird’s egg. Potash feldspar (also known as Orthoclase) is the commonest of the 12 types of feldspar. It’s an important glaze material and is used as a flux in bodies.

Below this is my clay mixed with whiting creating different shades of green. My application of the glazes is a bit splotchy, next time I know to paint on more than one layer and aim for a more even coating. I like the effects of mixing two parts potash or whiting to one part clay and I plan to make up a batch of these greens to use on vessels.

 

Glaze tests – low firing

My first glaze test tiles have come out of the kiln, frankly with quite disappointing results. I used the recipe for a Blue grey speckle glaze from Emmanuel Cooper’s glaze book, firing range 1050-1100C. The top tile shows the glaze on LF (low firing) white earthenware which results in a flat, brash blue colour that reminds me of children’s poster paint. The bottom tile shows the same glaze on terracotta which is slightly more green tinged and has visible speckles. I’d hoped for something more subtle. Maybe I accidentally overdid the cobalt oxide.

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Blue grey speckle glaze

Calcium borate frit               20
High alkaline frit                  15
Whiting                                   4
Standard borax frit              25
Feldspar (soda)                     18
Flint                                         5
Rutile                                       5
Zirconium silicate               8
Cobalt oxide                           1%

Frit – Raw glaze materials that have been melted together and reground before being included in the glaze slop for a variety of reasons e.g. so that soluble minerals become insoluble or hazardous substances (like lead) become less harmful.

Whiting – Calcium carbonate. A source of Calcium oxide for glazes.

Rutile – Titanium oxide with up to 25% iron oxide.

Cobalt oxide – The most powerful colouring oxide, gives a strong blue.

 

Newport Chartism Project

Yesterday we visited the Sanctuary project at Bethel Community church in Newport which offers English classes, social events and other activities for asylum seekers and refugees in the city. The men’s class we dropped in on appeared to really engage with the story of the Newport Rising, possibly recognising that the injustices the Chartists fought against still exist in some of the countries they’ve come from. They were more than happy to contribute to the clay shoes project.

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Some of the shoes, camels and goats made at the Sanctuary

We also had the opportunity to speak to some of the residents along Stow hill. A conversation at the clock and watch repair shop which we visited to see the photo of the old Chartists wall mural, sparked an idea for a chalk outline figure (similar to those seen in crime movies) to be etched into the pavement outside, representing where the Chartists were shot and fell as they fled from the soldiers at the Westgate.
Another suggestion was from the old olive branch day centre for the homeless (which I learnt was situated where Newport public baths used to be) but has sadly just closed down – Stow hill could do with some sort of bench along its steep incline.

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Experimenting with layout for the final piece

Today we were  joined by ceramic artist Ned Haywood, the maker for the famous blue commemorative wall plaques that adorn buildings around the UK where significant people have lived. The plaques are high fired white stoneware which has the benefits of being highly durable, rust-proof and harder than steel. Ned demonstrated to the visiting school children a way of making shoes from three paper templates – a sole, front and back, similar to how a shoemaker would assemble sections of cut leather but using sheets of rolled clay instead. Details like stitches and laces were added afterwards with a variety of tools.

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Shoes make by the children to Ned’s template

I also had an opportunity to visit the Newport museum which has an in-depth section on the history of the Chartists, including a variety of weapons on display, similar to those which would have been used in the Newport conflict. It’s been exciting to learn about a significant historical event I knew nothing of before the start of the week.

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Shoe at the museum

The graph below shows how democracy grew in countries around the world between 1800- and 2000. What’s significant about this data is the way the graph line begins to climb after the 1840s- the decade in which the Chartists pushed for political reform. They appear to have sowed the seed for the roots of democracy across the globe.

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