Billy Adams Demonstration

On Saturday we were lucky to have potter and Made by Hand pottery showdown compère Billy Adams come to demonstrate at a South Wales Potters event at CSAD. Billy has a fascinating process of making which involves layering different kinds of clay as well as firing multiple times, starting with a bisque before a glaze firing at 1260C then lower and lower glaze firings each time before finishing with a lustre at about 750C.

I especially liked his resourcefulness in the way he doesn’t throw any pots away even if they are not successful. Instead, he re-glazes and re-fires them to the point of cracking, preheating the already glazed work to 200C before re-applying the glaze so it adheres to the surface. I had a glaze disaster with my large green vessel where the glaze flakes off but I wonder if I could peel off all the gaze which chips then re-fire it with a different surface?

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Billy Adams. Image: foundandseek.co.uk

Billy also spoke of how he ends up with lots of offcuts of clay on his table while making, much like myself. He showed us a dampbox he has had for years which keeps the clay damp permanently. It’s a lidded plastic box with plaster poured into the base which keeps the moisture trapped so the clay can be reused. Another point he raised was the importance of having smooth, clean bases on the pots so that they don’t scratch surfaces. He suggested using silicon carbide with water and washing up liquid to smooth the bases.

I feel many of the questions which are relevant to Billy are also important to myself since we both work with the sculptural vessel, using thrown sections (although he hand-builds up most of his). He often plays with how much you can show of the inside of the vessel while still keeping it as a vessel as well as where the openings should be situated, on top, on the side…

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Rock-a-billy jug Billy Adams. Image: http://www.ceramics-aberystwyth.com

Taking part in different exhibitions has pushed his work in different directions. An arts council grant allowed him to experiment with casting his vessels in bronze. The way he felt distanced from these objects made him realise that the colour and texture is what makes his forms more than the shape. Another exhibition required him to make work to fit in small, portable boxes so needed him to make miniature versions of his pots. Doing this, the marks became more pronounced and any mistakes were amplified. Each gesture becomes crucial to the overall form. It could be a useful and quick exercise to see what happens if I try and make my sculptural vessels on a small scale, giving them a greater connection to tableware with their scale.

Finally, he advised that a potter have a couple of base glazes that they know like the back of their hand, understanding how to adjust their viscosity, colour, dryness/shininess and knowing how the glaze looks on different clays, at different temperatures.

Corridor Crit / External Examiner

Last Thursday, after a slightly panicky start to the day when I discovered yet more of my test glazes had turned out unsuccessful, things began to feel better towards the afternoon  as I realised I need to focus on making the best of what I already have. I realised I haven’t been asking myself concrete questions about what I want the sculptures to look like and as a result hadn’t committed to a choice of decoration.

Over the lunch time I took part in a corridor crit which was positive and constructive. Displaying my work on three plinths of different heights which I’d found around the school, I realised the plinths would not need to be as high as I’d predicted for the work to be at eye level because much of it is fairly tall. Themes which seemed to dominate the composition were growth, architecture, distortion, movement, a dialogue between function and non-function, order/disorder and collapse. I found it interesting how the others commented on the uniting feature of the horizontal throwing lines on all the pieces and how this made an interesting contrast with the vertical clay particle orientation in the legs. They also pointed out a harmony between colours, which was positive since I was worried the vessels were too disparate. In regard to curating the show in a wider sense it was suggested my work may be interesting beside Andrea’s functional thrown tableware, the continuity of the vessel and process of throwing raising  questions surrounding the role and value of craft and skill in our contemporary society of mass production.

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Set up of work in progress for corridor crit

We realised too that it may be more practical to place my sculptures on clusters of plinths rather than individual ones to avoid the danger of knocking them over. It might be interesting to look into exhibition safety guidelines to figure out the distance required between each individual plinth if I choose a set up like the one in the exhibition plan. 

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Bisque vessels ready to be glazed

Talking through my work with our external examiner Bonnie Kemske was also hugely valuable to me because I was forced to explain my ideas to someone who knew nothing of my work. Initially I thought I wanted to create a range of bright, matte glazes for the vessels but realised this was because I was following a pre-determined idea of what I expect the forms to look like. Perhaps the proliferation of ‘insta-porn’ pots has something to do with this – bright, beautiful, photogenic objects that look modern and fresh. It’s not that I don’t want to create modern, fresh, beautiful and photogenic vessels, but that the concept and the experience of viewing them in reality is more important to me than whether they look good online.

I realised when explaining the objects to her that what I needed to do was go with my original idea of using my pre-existing ash, shino, tenmoku and red oxblood reduction glazes which will place them very much in the context of Leach and British country pottery, but with the unexpected twist that the forms are sculptural. I hope this use of the familiar and domestic in a sculptural high art white plinth context will create an uncanny experience. In regard to the forms of the objects, again I solidified my conviction that the ones with defined rims and bases work better since they behave as a start and finishing point for our line of vision, an empty space on which the eye can rest. I have started to lay down rules for myself when making now so I apply these design considerations.

Below: Vessels in progress

 

 

Exhibition Set-Up Initial Planning

For our formative we were tasked with creating a design for our exhibition. Currently I’ve been designated a space somewhere in the reception area with the concrete and glass walls. Will helped me put together a digital mock-up on Rhino of what the area might look like. I’ve taken inspiration from Ranti Bam’s display at Golbourne 50, a gallery that showed at Collect this year. The Nigerian born artist’s colourful clay vessels were displayed on individual plinths of varying heights so that you could walk among them, reminding me of trees in a forest or standing stones.

I’ve decided, depending on space, I would like five or six of my best pieces placed on individual plinths in this way. I also thought rather than having white plinths it might be an idea to leave them unpainted. For one thing, in the concrete space with a wooden skirting board, white plinths might stand out like a sore thumb rather than being the almost invisible props I need them to be. Secondly, the idea of my vessels is to celebrate the way they are made, not hiding joints and traces of the process but exaggerating it. Having a plinth on which you can see the joints and screws in the surface might add continuity to this idea through the display.

While visiting London for Collect this year I also visited the Franz West exhibition at the Tate Modern. Interestingly the plinths and rope barriers for the exhibition were designed by the artist Sarah Lucas who was a friend of his. The MDF plinths with what look like thermolite breeze blocks on top are certainly a statement as are the rope barriers in poppy, sweet-shop light blue, pink, yellow and green, characteristic of West’s more recent work. The colours reminded me very much of Sam Bakewell’s ceramic pieces which I had seen the day before. I though the MDF was an unusual choice until I read about West’s collaboration with Heimo Zobernig who specifically chose tones associated with offices and institutions.

The exhibition followed West’s artistic development in chronological order, beginning with his ‘Passstück’s’ – objects with which to play and improvise with as physical extensions of the human body. His next work almost referenced the ceramic art of Gillian Lowndes in it’s mixing of materials, metal and clay for example. He called this later work ‘legitimate sculpture’ as opposed to the ‘interactive sculpture’ that came before. He thought of his newer work too as interactive sculpture, welded together and painted with the sickly green of old hospital walls. The tacky-looking surfaces reminded me of the latex-like texture of my own work recently glazed pink vessel.

I like the idea of displaying my work on concrete breezeblocks and have found very cheap/free material available on gumtree and facebook. However, I feel that as I am moving to a new rented property soon and don’t own a car to transport the bricks making plinths of some sort appears to be a more practical option.

New Glazes for Fractured Vessels

 

After my previous blog post about the kinds of surfaces I want on my sculptural vessels I created a series of glaze tests. Realising that I wouldn’t be able to fire my terracotta vessels or those with terracotta extrusions in the reduction kiln because of the risk of the clay melting or becoming too brittle, I decided to test some in the oxidation test kilns too. Above are my results from the gas kiln which all give a bright but slightly earthy dry surface that I thought would be less distracting than the shiny surfaces of my previous vessels.

The oxidation glazes (above) turned out a lot more glossy and gaudy than I expected. I’ve turned instead this week to the dry glazes book for simple recipes, quick to mix because of a small number of ingredients. Yixia suggested I use ordinary stoneware glazes but fire them to a lower temperature so they don’t mature completely and remain dry and pastel coloured like she has been doing. It was interesting speaking to Hannah too who has been using ferric oxide raku glazing. For her the firing process is the most important part and she decides on her forms based on how to show these firing effects best. For myself it’s the other way around, starting with form and thinking which surface will work best afterwards. I think most makers prioritise either the form or the surface.

The large glazed vessel forms shown here were all fired in the large red gas kiln, the first time I’ve fired work in this kiln since starting university. While the top half reached 1280C, unfortunately the cone at the bottom looks to have only reached about 1220/1240C. Perhaps as a result of this, on the largest of my thrown and altered constructions the glaze flakes off and hasn’t fused to the clay body. The glaze on the sculpture above is the same speckled blue-green that you can see on the first test piece at the top of the page, but because of the nature of the firing has instead become a very fluid dinosaur green, too variegated in shades to work well with the complex forms. It’s a set-back as it was one of my favourite shapes and as I don’t have time for in-depth glaze refining in these last few weeks, I’m going to abandon this glaze completely for the time being.

The photos above show two pieces almost completed and with surfaces I would be happy to show in my degree show. The sculptural jar was made in the spirit of some of the vessels I saw in Sandy Brown’s studio – bottomless because there is no concern with function here. Like her vessels which were often just canvases, not designed to hold anything except for surface decoration. I like to think of mine as sketches of pots in three-dimension. They look like pots and reference traditional vessel forms but are completely impractical and stitched together, optical illusions that subvert our expectation. The mustard yellow glaze works very well and gives a buttery texture that’s not too shiny to distract from the form. Iron oxide in the glaze gives it this colour but I wonder if I substituted that for cobalt, rutile or manganese, could I create similarly textured glazes in different colours?

Professional Practice – Website Research

I’ve spent some time this weekend becoming familiar with the kinds of web layouts used by professional ceramic artists in order to begin designing the website for my own practice. One of the things which strikes me is the importance of having good quality images on the home page, immediately after you’ve clicked on the website, preferably images filling the screen. Phoebe Cummings, Clare Twomey, Rebecca Appleby and many others all use this format to some extent.

JACK DOHERTY

One of my favourites however is Irish potter Jack Doherty’s site which has a minimalism and lightness to the format which reflects the delicacy of his porcelain vessels. ‘Doherty porcelain’ is an interesting name choice for the site too, rather than putting his name foremost as a brand he is emphasising the importance of the material to his practice. To do this though requires a very definite idea of your practice which I’m not confident to commit to yet. Other things which make Doherty’s site stand out include the great quality images blending seamlessly into the white background, the small social media buttons in the top right of each page and an exciting to navigate site with lots of pages and content. This isn’t always necessary but it works for him since you get information about how the work is made and an appreciation of the process. Concerning the small details, I find it looks better when the artist’s name is written in block capitals, generously spaced out. The uniform height of the letters gives a cleaner aesthetic. Layering some writing over images too gives a depth to the visuals which I also like (Adam Frew and Rebecca Appleby have good examples of this). Doherty’s home page, like Adam Buick’s is also a slideshow which gives the page some dynamism and life.

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https://rebeccaappleby.co.uk/
Doherty porcelain (640x292)
https://dohertyporcelain.com/home

 

ADAM FREW

One of my favourite things about the layout of Frew’s site is that the gallery has a sideways format. As a result, instead of dragging down a scroller, you just press an arrow to the right of the screen to see a new image which feels a lot more neat and compact. I also like how each image has a title, description of materials and dimensions. Other potters whose websites I found, Tom Kemp for example, don’t include titles or dimensions for the work. Perhaps this is more important for functional pieces but for my own website I would like to provide a little background to the materials and firing method in a caption. I don’t want the process to remain a complete mystery to the buyer as I feel that devalues the material of clay. Another think I value about Frew’s site is that the first option on the top menu is a film about his work which is a great introduction to the artist’s process.

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http://www.adamfrew.com/

STEVE HARRISON

Having met Steve, I can vouch that his quirky website is a perfect reflection of his quirky personality! While I struggled to find much variety in the layout of the websites of ceramic artists (admittedly most from the UK), Steve’s is a breath of fresh air and succeeds in standing out in my memory because of it’s surreal humour. The home page is a giant image of his salt glazed vessels laid out in grid form on terracotta tiles on a porcelain smeared floor (presumably the artist’s studio). Beneath these is Steve himself, in the same outfit he was wearing when I met him, holding a sample of work. I want my website to include photos of myself too. I realise it’s important to me not only to show my face but to show some aspect of my personality which will help others to understand my work in the context of the maker. I need to get some good photos of myself for my website plan!

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http://www.steveharrison.co.uk/

Visit to Jason Braham and Steve Harrison

Last Saturday I took the opportunity to visit the potter Jason Braham whose studio is located outside Llandrindod Wells in mid Wales. I first saw Jason’s salt fired functional ware at Ceramic Art Wales a few years back and had originally hoped to pay him a visit before going to study abroad. Like many potters who still make traditional country pottery, he lives out in the middle of the countryside as far away as possible from cities, a location difficult to access unless you have your own four by four. I was rewarded for my efforts though by a warm welcome and Jason’s generous and enthusiastic desire to share his knowledge and passion for pottery.

Behind the house is a roofed structure which contains the two kilns. Back to back, a curved chambered bisque/conventional glaze kiln and the salt kiln share the same chimney which can be blocked off with a sliding kiln shelf depending on the firing. Until recently Jason didn’t bisque the work before glaze firing. At the early stages of the firing wood is used which builds up a small layer of ash inside the kiln but after about 650C oil is the main fuel instead. Salt (16 pounds/ 7kg in total) is introduced into the kiln from 1260C and pushed in through the side with a long metal tray and a rod to push.

The salt kiln especially has warped and bulged from years of firing so that every time the entrance is bricked up it needs different sized bricks cut at the top. This is a problem I’m familiar with having struggled to seal he door of the wood kiln at Nääs. Jason suggested that the problem could be fixed if springs had been added to the metal frame rods in the construction of the kiln to allow some room for movement. Signs of wear too can be seen in the large quantity of broken kiln shelves lying around. Over time the inside of the kiln gets eaten away by the salt leaving a thick layer of glaze coating the inside walls. This salt affects the kiln shelves too so that after six or seven firings they become brittle and crumble apart. The kiln chamber’s inside walls too had to be propped up with flying buttresses to avoid collapse. Salt firing isn’t perhaps then the most economical way to make ceramics, especially as beginner, but there’s no doubt the orange-peel texture achieved by this method has a unique beauty.

The studio space is housed in a long wooden shed, kept warm from a log burner at the centre. Lining one end is a collection of wheels, one which Jason built himself is based on a traditional Leach style frame with an old heavy printing press flywheel acting as momentum wheel on the base. Jason explains how he enjoys turning on kick wheel’s like this, challenging himself to complete the turning of a section before the momentum runs out so the forms feels more fluid. He advises that unlike in his studio, the glazing and making spaces should be separated so it’s easier to keep the space tidy when holding workshops.

Our last stop off was the showroom. Here you can see the rewarding results of the months of hard work –  jugs, tankards, yunomi, casserole dishes, espresso mugs, plates, footed bowls, bowls without feet, butter dishes, utensil pots and so on in range’s subtle colour scheme of blue-backs, ash greens and tan with some tenmoku and tea-dusts scattered in between. Richard Batterham style, some of the outer rims of the lids have been left without glaze and a thin red iron oxide wash brushed over to encourage a toasted look. It’s clear Jason has been very much inspired by Batterham’s work. There is a collection of the pots in the kitchen and he speaks highly of the DVD ‘Richard Batterham – Master Potter’ produced by the Joanna Bird Foundation which I’m currently trying to get my hands on. I too have been drawn to Batterham’s gorgeously balanced vessels with their lines of blue-green glaze and toasted, unglazed clay in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre collection. Similar to our visiting potter Stefan Andersson at HDK and Phil Rogers glaze recipes,  Braham uses a glaze recipe with the proportions 2:2:1 for many of his glazes, using the three glaze ingredients of a feldspar (usually potash), hyplas 71 ball clay and mixed wood ash. To encourage bursts of iron in the body sometimes rust has been sieved and added to the clay. The stoneware clay is often a French clay from close to La Borne which is also favoured by Micki Schloessingk.

In the afternoon we paid a visit to another salt firing potter working in the area called Steve Harrison. Unlike Jason, Steve sells his work exclusively in Japan and lives most of the year making his work in London, coming down to mid-Wales only to fire. This set-up is common it seems, Deiniol Williams is a wood-firing potter who makes all his work in Yorkshire and returns to his family farm in west Wales to fire work a few times a year. Steve had just unpacked the contents of his last firing when we arrived, his wife Julia was rubbing off the wadding that has glued itself stubbornly to the bases of the pots with carborundum stones. 

Steve, who was taught by Emmanuel Cooper, has devised an ingenious way of combining stoneware and porcelain, making delicate vessels with intricate handles and sprigs attached. While both potters salt fire, Steve’s method is a bit different to Jason’s as he uses a funnel which he calls a hopper though which the salt flows down a tube into the gas flame and instantly volatilises. Both potters appear to start putting in salt at about 1260C, at this point the glaze is fluid enough to be affected by it. Steve soaks are longer though, two hours usually instead of Jason’s half hour or so. It’s clear that Steve and Jason are part of a community of potters (including Phil Rogers) who have chose to situate themselves in this particular part of the country, working with similar processes but very different results. While Jason spent most of his career as a teacher and continues to invite groups to his studio for workshops, Steve’s focus since leaving art school was very much about pushing his work to a technical perfection and trying to make a living solely as a potter. Thinking about different kinds of websites in yesterday’s professional practice session we have two very different examples here – Jason’s as a shop and showcase for his  enthusiasm to share skills and knowledge, and Steve’s as a very visual, interactive kind of gallery catalogue. I’m extremely grateful to both for their time and I hope I get the opportunity to try salt-firing one day. I’m still very drawn to learning about traditional firing methods and hope one day to build my own kiln.

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Potter’s websites links:

https://www.jasonbraham.com/

http://www.steveharrison.co.uk/

 

First Draft of Artist Statement

In this first attempt at writing an artist statement relevant to my current practice, I’ve tried to follow the format of answering the why, how and what of my making…

My practice stems from a motivation to understand the thrown form. Through a cyclic process of fracturing and reconstructing I hope to achieve an instinctive understanding not of the process of throwing but of the forms that result from this method of making. My belief is that through this process of reworking, of pulling apart and stitching together the various components of a vessel, it is possible to come to a truer understanding of what a ceramic pot really is.

I approach the breaking apart of my thrown forms almost as an autopsy, a dissection of the thrown sections. My process is an iterative response to the nuances of each thrown vessel which I slice, squeeze and punch, responding instinctively to the shifts in tension and balance in the form. It is a fraught and risky dance with gravity which I don’t always win.

I enjoy feeling the tension held within the undulating walls and the subsequent exhaling of that tightness as the clay is sliced, pierced and turned inside out. The surfaces of the vessels show traces of these operations in their scars and stitches. Through the cracks in the surface the viewer glimpses their interior, the void which is as integral to the vessel as the clay itself.

Answers on a Postcard

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The Answers on a Postcard exhibition is a collaborative project between ceramics courses in Wales, Iceland, Ireland and Sweden with the idea being that the postcards we make in some way represent the country from which the objects are being posted. My submissions arose from a process of making which is relatively new to me – throwing and altering the thrown sections, destroying, re-inventing and re-building forms. The process illustrates my own turning inside out of and re-defining my own definition of what it means to make pots. Working previously with functional ware, I am trying to contain traces and references to this tradition but also questioning the values of this tradition and skill in the contemporary craft world.

In a wider sense, my shift in process and attitude towards making stems from my six months abroad in Gothenburg where, living away from the culture I was familiar with, I began to redefine what it means to be Welsh. My relationship with this country where I was born and grew up has always felt complicated. Bad memories of Eisteddfodau as a child and the isolation of growing up in a tiny Welsh village where everyone went to church as well as my disinterest in rugby give my a confused Welsh identity. I am proud to be from Wales but as a fluent welsh speaker without an accent my identity feels distorted from what is expected of me.

My identity as a Welsh person is still shifting constantly as I grow older. With Brexit on the horizon as well comes a new definition of what it means to be British. My fractured, torn and warped postcards reflect these ideas about Welsh identity. Rather than giving answers, these postcards perhaps raise more questions and uncertainties. High-fired to 1280C, past it’s optimal firing temperature, is the terracotta stronger or more brittle?

 

London Visit Day 1

Collect 

I visited Collect for the first time a couple of years ago but at the time I don’t think I understood exactly that it was a bringing together of international craft and design galleries, each with their individual focus and themes, and that many of the galleries were nearby enough in London to visit within the same trip. This time, one of my first impressions was surprise at the use of bright acrylics to decorate ceramic in Matt Sherratt’s work. Perhaps my views are prejudiced having studied on a purely ceramics BA, but having tried it myself, I now view painting ceramics as a lazier, quicker alternative to glazing and value much more the depth and subtle variations in glazes. In the same gallery as Sherratt’s sculptures (the Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections) I also found one of my favourite works in the show, Danish artist (and recent RCA graduate) Theis Lorentzen’s ‘Remnants’, £3000 assemblages of what look like collapsed terracotta vessels with a tin/lead glaze breaking at the edges. To create them, slabs of clay are cut or torn straight from the bag and thrown down to form a random but confident balancing composition. The work reminded me of my own recent vessels which have collapsed when I’ve sliced, patched up and stretched the clay too far. The quality of line where the glaze breaks to allow the clay’s iron to seep through is something I’m hoping to draw attention to with my newest glazes as well – it highlights the ragged silhouettes and adds a textile-like feel to the fired clay, like a seam running along the edges. Of all the gallery spaces, Officine Saffi was my favourite which their surreal, whimsical collection of objects. This Milan based contemporary ceramic gallery is one I’ll be looking out for at Collect in the future.

 

Marsden Woo

The Marsden Woo, although just around the corner from the Saatchi where Collect was held, was difficult to find because we didn’t expect the upstairs to be full of designer ballroom dresses. The ceramics gallery space is hidden down some stairs in a small room, but is a fantastic collection representing artists such as Alison Britton, Gordon Baldwin, Philip Eglin, Kerry Jameson and Nao Matsunaga. It felt a little uncomfortable to have the gallerist following us around since I’m not used to visiting these kinds of galleries which I expect are targeted more towards rich collectors than the general public. It has made me think much more about gallery structures which are different to the usual open gallery/museum (e.g. Craft in the Bay or the V and A). On the other end of the scale it seems you have appointment only exhibitions such as Claire Curneen’s current exhibition at Oneroom. Tabish Khan writes an interesting article on appointment only exhibitions here , discussing art’s accessibility and the ‘private sales room’ structure some galleries have. In between these two I found the Corvi Mora, a strange hidden away gallery which you have to ring a doorbell to enter.

Corvi Mora

Sam Bakewell’s (UWIC graduate) exhibition ‘Time for Waste’ at this gallery was the highlight of my London trip. The collection of objects centres around a series of brightly coloured ceramic block assemblages and the coloured clay dusts which were collected from sanding the blocks down. Although the dusts look as if they might blow away if you breathe too close, they’ve been re-fired onto the rectangles as you can see on some piles which show traces of sintering. The parian clay which has been used gives the blocks an almost milky, translucent quality like a panna cotta dessert. The choice of colours tingles the taste buds too, reminding me of trips to the sweet shop as a child, jelly beans, starbursts and sherbet powders. The texts written by Alison Britton and Edmund de Waal to accompany the exhibition are beautifully written and draw attention to the complex relationships between clay, waste, dust, time and things forgotten and lost.

 

Contemporary Applied Arts

I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of this gallery and the variety of ceramics in the collection. While the Corvi-Mora is more orientated towards Fine Arts and Mint which I visited yesterday has a much more home decor/furniture vibe, this venue has a much more craft orientated approach. To exhibit at CAA you must be a member, the call for which goes out around April time each year and costs £130. Among the work I was most drawn to were the large thrown vessels by Chris Taylor (priced at £510 for the smallest). He appears to first paint on coloured slips, then apply transfers, then loosely apply a transparent glaze to change the colour of the slip darker in some areas, then apply over-glazes in floral patterns on top. The work is low fired but I imagine it still costs as much as stoneware to fire the work multiple times to build up layers.

 

As a result of my trip I’ve began to pinpoint figures who align closest to my current practice and the deconstruction /sculptural qualities of the vessel. Dylan Bowen’s fun, sketch-like vessel caricatures at CAA and Alison Britton’s forms at Marsden Woo which reference domestic vessels but use almost symbolical shapes for spouts and handles are exciting to me in terms of shape. Surface-wise I’m very much drawn to the dry, matte glazes of Sun Kim’s porcelain vessels at Collect which appear to absorb the light, as well as Sam Bakewell’s glutinous tiny cityscapes.