Colouring clay – pastel slips

This morning I opened test kiln no 3 that I fired to 1060C on Friday. The cone (06) bent at 1063C so the monitor was an accurate reading of the kiln’s temperature this time. These test pieces are a series of LF bowls thrown off the hump and painted in coloured slips then coated in an EW transparent glaze to an Emmanuel Cooper recipe:

High alkaline frit                            10
Standard borax frit                        50
Ball clay                                             30
Cornish stone                                  10

After admiring the work of Chloe Peytermann and Ben Fiess I painted a series of gouache abstract patterns in a similar palette of pastel colours then tried making these colours in slip to apply to clay.

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For the coloured slips I mixed Ball clay and China clay in equal parts then added 6% stain in primary colours: cobalt blue, red/orange and yellow. I’m disappointed with the results. 6% makes the colours soft but they’re no where close to the shades in the painting. The black slip (made with red clay recipe not stain) turned out brown and watered down while the pink is a sickly, fleshy colour although I can see it working nicely on sculptural forms. I feel a matte surface would complement the colours better – the shininess looks tacky.The colours didn’t mix as I expected either. The green turned out turquoise and the purple stayed pink.
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The flatness and precision of this decorating style bothers me but then again I’m tempted to cheat and just paint gouache straight onto bisqued clay, sticking two fingers up at Christopher Dresser’s principle of ‘Truth to materials’ in order to get better vibrancy of colour. I like the illustrative qualities you can get by painting slips and they can look stunning like on the domestic ware of Isabel Merrick, but the results are boringly predicable.

The only surface I’m happy with is the turquoise with the eye pattern below. Paring down to three colours looks more sophisticated and these cool, calming tones remind me of the seaside.

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Indexical drawing – a walk in the park

Last week’s constellation day on Thursday we took to Llandaff fields, braving the raging Storm Doris and the threat of rain to create indexical drawings. Indexical drawings record that something has happened and document the activity involved rather than being ‘icons’- resembling the thing they are drawings of or being conventional symbols like music notation. It could be argued a piece of sheet music is a drawing of music but we know it has no relation to the way we experience music, it is just symbolic.

The road to the park was scattered with broken branches, victims of the storm the night before and the trees above us swayed precariously. However, we decided to use the blustery weather to our advantage, harnessing the power of the wind to create a drawing that would be impossible to capture on a clam day. Our group of four gathered together our tools – some old violin strings to tie things together, brightly coloured sharpies to draw with and sketchbooks to draw on. We were attracted to the movement of the trees swaying but how could we capture this energy and activity when the branches were meters above us? In one corner of the field we spotted a sapling, about four feet tall and decided to use this tree for our exercise. We tied a couple of marker pens to a swinging branch, held a sheet of paper underneath then let nature do its work.

The image below shows the results of the branch’s movement over 10 minutes. As the wind blew the plant, the sharpies swayed over the paper in a random pattern, stopping and starting, tapping here and there then sweeping over in long calligraphic lines like a miniature Jackson Pollock. What is the result? A collaboration between uncontrollable natural forces and human intervention? A drawing of what wind looks like?

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At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. (Harold Rosenberg)

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson made a fascinating series of kinetic drawings called ‘Connecting cross country with a line’ (2013) in which a drawing machine drew’journeys’ between train stations. An ink coated ball rolled around a sheet of paper, documenting the topography of the country as the train winded and juddered. The varying darkness of lines as the ink runs out is beautiful.

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image: olafureliasson.net

The randomness of line quality in both our work and Eliasson’s reminded me of a workshop I took part in a few years ago with artist Zoe Robertson. We set off machines that vibrated, filled with felt pens onto a sheet of paper and they created abstract patterns of coloured lines, pooling where the robots got stuck and forming dotted, tentative lines where the pens weren’t laid flat.

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These unconventional methods of drawing are exciting and I like their move away from dependence on human agency to create them. I think it’s the same reason I like the unexpected results of raku and saggar firing. The lack of control makes the outcome feel like more of a collaboration between myself and the forces of nature rather than forcing materials to my will.

 

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

Update: The kiln should have fired for another hour because the cone fell over instead of bending so didn’t reach optimum temperature. The glazes have been underfired which may explain why they didn’t flow much and why the raku blue was so vibrant.

 

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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