I’m really enjoying the challenge of throwing on the wheel. I feel I’ve come a long way since beginning the course in September – I can now control the clay to a degree and make the shapes I want which is new and exciting for me. Most of my last term was spent practising to throw cylinders which was a struggle because the clay is determined to flare out at the rim (hence why most teachers encourage you not to begin with making bowls).
These mugs are slightly tapered cylinders with pulled handles (attached when the body was too dry – there are cracks at the joint).
To decorate I played with layering a couple of glazes from Stephen Murfitt’s ‘The Glaze Book’ – an opaque yellow green and pale satin grey/green. At the moment I am brushing on glazes and making up small batches (100ml) but this is causing very uneven layers of colour. I might choose a couple of glazes I really like and make up a bigger batch so I can start dipping and get a more even coverage.
I don’t feel I’m very good at harmonising form and decoration. My approach has always been ‘more is more’ but I’m going to challenge myself to spend less time decorating and see if I like the pared-down results.
Our final field lab was an introduction to using the dark room and making our very own pin hole cameras. I made a pin hole camera from a shoe-box once which worked well but this time I wanted to try something new, closer to my chosen subject area. I found a few thrown unfired clay cylinders in my studio space, stuck pin-holes in their sides then cut circles of clay from a slab and squeezed them on top. Strips of gaffer tape were placed over the holes to stop unwanted light going in. The cylinders were loaded with strips of photographic paper in the dark room then I set out with one of my group members, Alaw, to try one out.
Lucky for us, the camera worked perfectly the first time. We took it outside on campus and pointed it at some undergrowth in a shaded area, exposing the paper for 4.5 minutes, which was an estimate based on our previous experience. The negative is great – it has lots of detail and a good tonal contrast.
For some more interesting subject matter we chose to visit Llandaff cathedral because of the wealth of medieval architecture and beautiful graveyard. We placed the pots around the midway ledges on the W D Conybeare monument, each facing different directions to get a panorama when joined together. The photos below are the results – each was exposed between 4 and 4.5 minutes, using the first photo experiment as a guide. Some of the pin holes were very tiny so only a small circle has been developed on the paper. Since the cameras were very temperamental we didn’t have much control over what exactly was captured – the focused shots on gravestones are very eerie.
Since we were using negative photographic paper, we converted the images to positive by laying them shiny side down on a fresh strip of photographic paper and used the enlarger to expose for a few seconds (between 7 and 9 worked best) before developing. These positives were cut up into squares and glued to a cardboard cube to create a kind of 360 degree panorama of the graveyard. Ingrid Murphy introduced us to a couple of apps for augmented reality called Aurasma and Augment. Our aim was to use Aurasma so that when you scanned the cube in the app it would play our recorded sound of birdsong and footsteps on the paving stones from the graveyard. Since we couldn’t upload just a sound file, we tried making videos using a number of apps but unfortunately none would work when uploaded to Aurasma. It would be great if there was some way of placing the sound inside the cube so it plays when you look at it – the inner space would become a kind of capsule for the time we spent in the graveyard.
We encountered a few difficulties along the way during this project – the gaffer tape wouldn’t stick very well to the dried clay which may be why some of the cameras didn’t work. We used six clay ones in total but only three of them produced consistent results, the others somehow let in light and overexposed the paper. Despite this I’ve enjoyed this field lab the most. I love the mysterious, cloudy quality of photos taken this way and developing them in the dark room is very similar to firing glazes in a kiln in that you’re never quite sure what the results will be like, only you get results much faster.
It was pointed out to me that my pop art oil lamps have a visual resemblance to the assembled structures of Lisa Krigel, a potter working at Fireworks clay studio, Cardiff and ceramic lecturer at the USW. Her 2016 work ‘Eighteen storeys‘ from the National Eisteddfod is a collection or stacked thrown vessels that reference a city skyline in perhaps Shanghai or Kyoto, drawing from the Brechers’ photographs of industrial architecture.
The only time I’ve seen her work in life was at a gallery during Made in Roath last year. At the time I liked the use of natural grey-green and blue sea-tones to complement the neat, architectural forms, but I felt the symmetrical stiffness of the towers made then lack character. I was excited to find images of similar towers on her website with teapots included, the spout and handle adding a pleasing, quirky asymmetry. Now that I know these objects are functional too, disassembling into cups, saucers, bowls and teapots (even the wooden display plinth can be used as a chopping board!), I have a new appreciation for her playful ingenuity.
This idea of assemblage, more than one item coming together to form a whole, is similar in Ben Fiess’s storage jars. I like the idea of being able to play with a ceramic object, to take it apart and put it back together (sometimes in new ways). Thinking of the way things stack, that ever growing pile of dirty dishes (admittedly mostly mine) beside the kitchen sink could prove to be an unexpected source of artistic inspiration.
From the rough-hewn and rustic to Roy Lichtenstein – Mick’s next challenge, to make a set of pop art inspired oil lamps, came as a surprise. Pop art is generally defined as an art movement that emerged in the UK and US in the mid 1950s, drawing inspiration from pop culture and advertising and characterised by the use of bold colours, consumer goods as subject matter, the combination of text and image and a change of focus from abstract to representation. It’s ironic, it’s tawdry, it’s Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s soup’ it is, to quote, ‘the inedible, raised to the unspeakable’.
A few years ago there was an interesting culture show documentary called ‘Pop go the women’ about all the forgotten female artists involved with the pop art scene during the 50s and 60s, who’s work is, sadly, overlooked.
‘Petticoat’ tin oil lamp
I began my research into oil-lamps by using the V and A and British museum collection databases, but found my spark of inspiration closer to home while scouring through metsearch. It’s a tin ‘petticoat’ oil lamp about 10cm tall from Texas. Apart from this there’s very little information but the elegance and asymmetrical balance of the form captured my imagination. The shape struck me as something that could me assembled from a series of thrown cones and bowl forms and led me to explore sketching composite thrown shapes in my sketchbook.
I went on to throw and turn a variety of shapes on the wheel in White StThomas clay, then played with placing them together like stackable children’s toys, cutting some of the cones and cylinders at jaunty angles like Walter Keeler suggested in his masterclass, in order to give the lamps more character. I then attached pulled handles which will make them easier to use and emphasises the asymmetry which I find attractive.
To decorate, I wanted a design that wouldn’t detract too much attention from the forms. Roy Lichtenstein’s polka dots have always felt iconic of pop art to me, so I tired cutting circular stencils from newspaper for paper resist, but was unsatisfied with how organic they looked. Pop art was about mass-production and sharp, clean graphics, so today I spent some time in soft modelling workshop learning how to use the laser cutter to cut out ‘halftone dots’ into paper. I was advised newspaper might catch fire and blow around too much but standard printer paper is ideal. Like newspaper it can be wet and attached to a rounded surface so slip can be painted over easily. I had to cut it to 600mm x 400mm then masking tape it to an MDF board of the same size for the laser machine, which only took a couple of minutes to cut the design. The singeing on top was caused by the first Adobe Illustrator vector file having too many layers of lines.
I’ve painted the lamps above in blue, orange, yellow, green and black slip, using the cut up laser cut stencil to make polka dot patterns. The effect wasn’t as clean as I hoped but I found leaving the slip to dry before removing the stencil stops splodging. I might try using the stencil with underglaze colours to add more pattern, Pop art after all seems to be a bit about going over the top.
Last week Mick introduced us to ‘primitive clay’, a heavily grogged clay body that includes sparkly mica, and we spent about an hour sculpting tiny clay oil lamps as part of our ‘light’ theme. Working on such a small scale was a new challenge for me, but I enjoyed how fast the process was – great for making maquettes. We speeded up the drying with the aid of heat guns so we could fire the lamps in the afternoon. This caused lots of cracking but surprisingly the results stayed in one piece, proving it is possible to make and fire a piece in the same day! We woodfired the clay in a big dustbin with the addition of sawdust and copper carbonate to colour the surface, resulting in a range of smoky oranges, reds and purples. There’s definitely some of Geoff Swindell’s influence in these teapot lamp forms, but unlike his precise, colourful porcelain pots, the smoking effect makes these look like they’ve been freshly dug from the ground after being buried for centuries.
Our third field collaboration was an introduction to installations and film, focusing more on concepts and ideas than previous field labs that have focused on techniques. The task was to create a triptych: three associated artistic works intended to be appreciated together. We tried some idea generating exercises to begin thinking about how to approach the task, playing the surrealist drawing game ‘exquisite corpse’ and drawing a still life from memory. Sean Edwards introduced us to the work of a number of artists including Douglas Gordon’s ‘Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait’ that shows a football match from the unusual perspective of one single player. This distortion of perspective was probably an influence on our first artwork, a 20 second film and the middle part of our triptych.
My group was interested in the individual journeys we repeat each morning on our way into the building and to our studio spaces, so similarly to the schematic drawing exercise, we each filmed our individual paths from reception to our spaces and back down to where we met in the heartspace. Alex spliced the four journeys together and sped them up. The result is a very speedy, busy montage that feels almost overwhelmingly hyperactive and needs to be watched a number of times to follow all four windows. I’d say it contrasts starkly with the generally relaxed atmosphere of the art college. Although one of the cameras is facing backwards and another facing the ceiling I feel the video would have been more successful if the other two were filming from less predictable perspectives i.e. from the height of a child or just filming the feet. The idea was that we showed familiar journeys from a point of view that was unfamiliar and unexpected to try and elevate the ordinary.
Next the films were rotated, and we created a second artwork (the first part of the triptych) based on another group’s film. The one we were given showed a pair of skyscapes: two videos of slowly moving clouds overlayed and accompanied by the recorded birdsong. This slow paced, contemplative video of the natural world was the complete antithesis to our first piece. We decided to make a simple, straightforward installation that made use of natural light. Firstly we went outside to gather branches, placed these on a photocopier and proceeded to print them onto acetate with varying degrees of opaqueness (density setting). In the fine art studio we then overlayed these into the rectangle on the window, framing the sky outside, then placed a few potted plants at the base, echoing the trees at the bottom of the screen when the camera quickly pans down at the end of the video. The simple style and natural light reflected the tranquillity of the video well I think. I’m not sure if it’s what you’d normally classify as an installation because it wasn’t very big. This artwork was my favourite to make because we worked with the physical rather than digital and I learnt a new photocopying technique. I would have liked to have had a hand in editing the films though because it’s something I’ve never done before.
Finally, the artworks rotated again and we made our third and final work inspired by a group’s still life exploring the concept of time. The original work was a circle of 6 apples, each bitten and then placed on a table at different times during the day so the bruising showed the deterioration of the apple over time: a kind of ‘apple clock’. After hearing about filmmaker Peggy Awesh and her documentary style, the plan was to have a bit of fun by reverse the idea of people causing the apple to deteriorate to the apple causing us to deteriorate. We were to film ourselves on a night out, drinking only drinks derived from apple of apple flavoured, then use snapchat to create a series of short videos at intervals in the night, showing the deteriorating effect of alcohol! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to be part of the final video. Although it was a fun concept, I feel the idea of the deterioration over time is a bit lost because of the way the videos and images are not chronologically ordered. We probably should have organised to have a sober member of the group filming instead!
In a similar way to how glaze powder is fused into glass on ceramic, enamel powders are fused onto copper. The temperature however is a lot lower, any higher than 800C and the enamel starts to discolour, as I soon found out.
Before and after shaping the copper needs annealing and then plunging in cold water to cool. Gum arabic is painted onto the back of the shape after cleaning, then backing enamel is dusted on top and the copper placed in a small kiln. When opened the kiln temperature plunges and you have to keep an eye on it as it gradually climbs back up to 799C. On the opposite surface different coloured enamels are fused on in separate firings, although the process is a bit more difficult than I expected. The colours don’t behave as planned, burning out before the kiln reaches optimum temperature or leaving speckled textures (which can look nice – a bit like a dusting of snow).
I’d like to know if these copper enamels can be used on top of bisqued or glazed clay. Alternatively, perhaps panels of enamelled copper (maybe a maker’s mark) could be inlaid into the clay after firing by being stuck on, although I’d have to contest with shrinkage.