Glaze Research

20190513_124438 (626x800)While testing for suitable glazes for my sculptural vessels I came across a few exciting results, not really suitable for my pieces but interesting nonetheless. The two reduction fired glazes on the left here were supposed to be matte pink (coloured by rutile) but have instead turned pale turquoise which is not what I intended. The bottom right one however is a beautiful dry lavender colour and although I found the colour too bright and poppy to tie in with my theme of rethinking the country potter’s place in society, it could look great on sculptural pieces and reminds me of barium glazes. The dry purple effect is cause by a mixture of spodumene, talc, cobalt carb, silica and kaolin.20190513_124510 (800x327)

Since I couldn’t fire my vessels with the terracotta extrusions in the reduction kiln I tested a few oxidation glazes to try and get some subtle, satin or matte results that might echo the subtle ash glazes of Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie. Trying to multitask and confusing my glazes, I ended up firing these above to 1280C instead of 1220C so that rather than matte pinks and yellows I got some unattractive and super glossy results. The high iron content of the reduction st Thomas clay may have also altered the results.

20190510_111630 (800x484)

I kept getting glazes designed to be matte or satin coming out super glossy which would detract from the forms themselves and hide the traces and marks in the clay. The satin gloss blue (top right, above) surprised me with its depth and intensity. It’s such a uniform, bold, unsubtle shade of blue, reminding me of children’s toys and lego blocks, I struggle to think of it looking great on any piece of ceramics. One of my favourites above is the shino on top of tenmoku (second from left at a bottom row) which has a metallic lichen-like black smudging over the dark brown surface and shimmers without being overly reflective.

20190513_124532 (800x600)

Surprisingly I thought the glazes turned out much more effective on top of high fired terracotta – the shiny pink glaze shows speckling of tiny metallic crystals and the blues have much more depth and variation where they break to dark on the edges.

20190510_161238 (697x800)
The pieces that didn’t make it to the exhibition

 

Advertisements

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?

IMG20180512002401_1024x1024 (480x640).jpg
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…

Rock-a-Billy-Jug-smll (500x627)
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.

Reduction Results: Rethinking Surface

This morning, after nightmares of flooded glazes, collapsed shelves and shattered kiln elements, I opened the gas kiln to reveal the first batch of my exhibition module work that’s made it through to be glazed. I have mixed feelings about the results but seeing the finished coloured vessels is a huge aid in understanding how I want them to look, even if I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m happy yet. The vessel above has been sprayed with three layers of shino over three of tenmoku. Although oxidising atmospheres are necessary for oil-spot glazes to form in iron rich glazes, by layering these two glazes I found I could recreate a very similar effect. More different to my original tests however is the pink vessel (see below) which I expected to be a slate-like blue from a thin oxblood over a shino. I think perhaps the copper oxide didn’t reduce so much in my test since it was so small. Putting such a feminine, glossy, vibrant pink glaze on an almost violently disfigured, masculine form is a striking juxtaposition. I originally did think of juxtaposing the Peter Voulkos style slashed and punched vessels with delicate, child-like pastel colours to create an unexpected clash. I then chose instead, based on my prior research into reduction glazes to use more traditional, recognisable japanese style tenmokus, shinos and ash glazes so that there was some link to the familiar ‘humble’ functional vessels like the ones we saw at the Leach pottery and that you find in so many studio ceramic collections. I hoped deconstructing these vessels and patching them up would be a metaphor for my own deconstructing and redefining what it means to be a potter and to be part of this long tradition.

The spherical vessel form above is so far, for me, the most aesthetic of all the vessels I’ve made. Perhaps something about the three sections conforms to the golden ratio or perhaps it is simply something to do with the notion of perfect roundness which I’ve often mused about on this blog. Either way, my next stage is to make more of these round forms, some narrower, some larger. The construction is very simple – two bowls stuck together with a thrown and spliced collar. Cutting and sticking back together the pieces as much as possible is also something I must do. The brown vessel below shows what happens when I keep the manipulation to a minimum – there is nowhere for the glaze to catch and pool or break on the edge to a thin wash. The top vessel here however has a beautiful quality of lines which reminds me of the patchwork tarmac in the pavements of Cardiff that I walk on my way to university and back each day. Scars and layers speak of the passing of time.

Since I usually pour or dip glazes, I found it difficult to know how many layers of glaze to spray. Six layers is perhaps not enough although I do like the even coverage achieved with the spray gun. Also unpredictable though is the way the glazes will behave in the gas kiln, even if they’ve been tested many times before. The shino on the jar below was poured on but unlike the orange metallic sparkles like on my previous pieces, this one only turned a crackled off white. These deformed jars are another shape I want to play more with and that will be quick to mass-produce. Since time is becoming of the essence and I’m struggling to control how the glazes look, I plan to mix up six or so oxidation glazes with matte or satin surfaces to layer and test next week. These firings will give me more control of colour and also a quicker turnaround. I’m drawn towards the ridiculousness and humour of these bulky, awkward vessels decorated in soft pinks or baby blues. I like the sleekness and oily voluptuousness of the fake oil spot vessel too though. Hopefully by the end of this week I will have more clarity about the surfaces qualities I want and what they should communicate.

DSC06366 (561x800).jpg

Time and Ad Reinhardt

The realisation that over the next handful of months I’ll be making my final ever body of work at university is very daunting. I’ve spent the holidays working on the dissertation, an investigation into the relationship between contemporary ceramics and time, which has introduced me to a number of artists, philosophical concepts and ideas that I hope will act as a springboard for this term’s work. Some of these different aspects of time are listed below:

  • Material temporality and how it’s different from human time causing an instability in human-thing relationships.
  • Phenomenological explanations of non-linear time
  • The dichotomy between lived time and the homogenous time of the clock
  • How our experience of a static image is temporal because it takes place over a duration
  • The dichotomy between impermanent raw clay and long lasting fired ceramic
  • Indexical marks as visual traces of time
  • Keith Harrison’s ‘live firings’ make us feel the presentness of real time
  • Clay’s immediacy as a means of us experiencing ‘presentness’
  • How time can be transformed in a state of creative flow

One artist I don’t write about but who has captured my attention is the American abstract artist Ad Reinhardt and his series of black squares. At first the paintings appear uniformly black. It is only through contemplating the painting for a duration of a few minutes that it starts to reveal itself to the viewer – as a grid of very subtly different shades of very, very dark blues, greens or purples. In Arden Reed’s book Slow Art he argues that this is what he means when he describes a painting as a moving picture quoting the sculptor Robert Smithson’s remark that ‘each painting is at once both memory and forgetfulness’. In the past it was generally agreed that paintings could not show time because they were static images and seen in single instant (punctum temporis) in which change could not take place. However E.H.Gombrich in Moment and Movement in Art (1964) argues that we take in an artwork not in an instant but over a duration, building up the ‘reality’ of the artwork in our head partly based on guesswork, expectation and memory. Perhaps, following in the steps of Reinhardt, what I need to focus on is how surface can impact our relationship with time instead of form.

ad-reinhardt-black1
Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963, oil on canvas. Source: uk.phaidon.com

Currently in CSAD’s reception space is a pop up exhibition by some of the school of art’s technical demonstrators. With Reinhardt’s paintings in the back of my mind I was instantly drawn to Dallas Collin’s Behold (2018) – a wall panel made from 576 individually coloured oak cubes on which we see a pixellated image of a NASA project showing light from a distant galaxy when the universe was only 800 million years old (in perspective, it’s now 13.8 billion years old). The moment in time depicted doesn’t exist anymore – but then neither does five minutes ago or this moment now.  As Gombrich explains, we build up an image from a succession of tiny in focus dots which the pixels here are suggestive of. The two layers of the image below – the mathematical grid and the superimposed fuzzy space photograph might speak of the two kinds of time we experience – the objective time of ‘clock time’ and our subjective, lived experience.

20190114_160810 (796x800).jpg
Dallas Collins Behold (2018)

Gwen John

Last Wednesday we visited the National Museum of Wales with Jon Clarkson in order to explore the still lives in the collection. While wandering the museum we came across a corner space dedicated to a collection of Gwen John paintings. I instantly felt an affinity with the hazy domestic interiors and muted colours as they reminded me of my own recent ceramics and their subtle palette of glazes. What interested me more though was the tension held in such quiet paintings of women in interiors. The paint seemed to be painted on extremely thoroughly and carefully with a very small paintbrush, in complete contrast to the expressive and dramatic brushstrokes in her brother Augustus’s paintings. Although her portraits appear on the surface serene and calm, the stippled application of paint infuses their atmosphere with a kind of tightness, a holding in of breath as if the subjects of her paintings are simmering with a bottled up force of power as yet unleashed. Critics have suggested that she painted many women reading because she wanted to show women as educated and independent but I would argue that placing them within the domestic scene suggests that women are still to some extent confined within the home and domesticity. The paintings of contemporary artist Shani Rhys James could be seen as a darker extension of this narrative.
Models who sat for Gwen have said that she often painted them to look similar to herself, as if every painting had an essence of a self-portrait in it. Was she using painting in order to investigate her own self-identity deliberately or can we not help painting our own image into other peoples’? If that is true then in the making of a ceramic vessel do we also put a little bit of our own self portrait into that? In my artist statement for Llantarnam Grange I mention how tensions and anxieties in my own mind bubble to the surface when I’m throwing on the wheel. While engaged in such a repetitive process it’s easy to let your mind wonder and I find that often what it wonders to are worries and negative feelings. Drawing attention back to the clay dispels this focus on the negative things but it is difficult to maintain focus for a long amount of time, just like meditation. So as a result the pots are a result of that place we all go to as a result of solitude, when our mind only has itself for company and often the niggly little problems and forgotten things that need to be done creep out of the cracks in the walls. Our mind isn’t always in the present then, it’s drawn into memories of the past and hopes for the future.
Discussing John’s paintings in the gallery it was suggested that they almost look like memories half forgotten, the colours and restrained forms clouded by a film of time.
I’m interested in extending the tension of forms thrown on the wheel to the surface qualities by applying glaze in the fuzzy way that John applied paint, tiny brushstrokes in every direction built up to form a thick and almost crusty layer. I want to try and find resonance in her forms and colours with the shapes I make. Perhaps finding a series of glazes which respond to the paintings – tenmokus and grey-greens and seeing how anthropomorphic I can push my vessels could be a way forward.

Image source: https://www.terriwindling.com/

Variations on a Matt Glaze

Test num (800x279).jpgLast week I mixed together a few variations on the Nepheline Syenite matt white which was itself a variation on a white base glaze in Jeremy Jernegan’s Glaze Handbook . This glaze has been working really nicely in reduction so far with a smooth, soft satin finish, blushes of pink and lilac and minimal running. I wanted to see if variations in the colour were possible with the hope of pale mint greens and turquoises reminiscent of the hazy, sunny colours in a Wes Anderson film. The additions of colourant to the base glaze were:

  1. 1 Cobalt carbonate, 2 Chrome Oxide  =  Turquoise
  2. 1 Cobalt carbonate, 2 Nickel Oxide  =  Grey-blue
  3. 2 Ilmenite, 2 Rutile  = Brown
  4. 1 Cobalt Carbonate = Blue

The colours on the right indicate what colour the metals add however the glazes are all a little more brown and dark than I expected. The iron rich clay body I use is probably a factor in this, as is the fact that the glaze includes Nepheline Syenite which I already know adds a pinkish hue to this recipe. Swapping the feldspar back to the original potash or soda and using a porcelain slip underneath might remove the red tint from the colour and lighten the glaze. I’m hesitant to change the clay body itself. I’ve had problems over the past two years with jumping from one clay to another which results in lots of reclaim and the problem of keeping the different clays apart or the unpredictability if you mix them. I’ve decided this year to have fewer variables and hopefully learn something by working to get this clay to suit my artistic expressions.

Chrome oxide gives glazes a green colour (in percentages up to 2%) and mixed with the cobalt carbonate, a common blue colourant, gives turquoise. Cobalt carbonate is different to cobalt oxide in that it is a slightly less powerful colourant and since it’s a lighter powder, it can spread more evenly through the glaze.
Nickel oxide on its own produces green/brownish grey and in combination with chromium oxide creates more attractive shades of those colours, however here it serves to dilute the brightness of the cobalt.
Ilmenite is the name for the combination of iron and titanium oxide and as well as giving brown speckles in glazes is used in many crystalline glazes. Rutile is again titanium oxide but this time with up to 25% iron oxide.
Source: The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques

Sandy Brown and The Leach Pottery

On the 8th of October our final year BA Ceramics group took the bus down to Cornwall where we stayed overnight at the Penzance YHA. The purpose of the trip was to introduce us to St Ives and the surrounding area – a part of the UK which has been attracting artists to its beautiful coastline and unique light for hundreds of years. The vibrant community of artists on these shores have included Barbara Hepworth and even JMW Turner chose to paint here.

On our journey down we stopped off at the village of Appledore in Devon to visit the studio of Sandy Brown, a contemporary ceramic artist. Sandy’s brightly coloured, expressive ceramic forms range from domestic tableware to monumental abstract sculptures and ceramic chairs to be sat on. She showed us her current commission – an exploration of surface textures and colours on giant wall tiles and explained how she fires them standing up to prevent warping. There is a child-like joy to her making and an emphasis on playfulness and an abandonment of self-consciousness over precision and neatness. Interestingly, the high energy surfaces which have become characteristic of her work came about after she tried wood firing. The random and vibrant surface qualities you achieve from this kind of action-packed firing made her want to recreate similar effects but with the colours and patterns coming from her own actions instead of the kiln’s. Ironically, she wanted control over the randomness.

When asked if the landscape influenced her work she said that it wasn’t important, and that her memory of being in Australia and the vividness of the natural landscape there was more of an inspiration. However, she explained that she was drawn to being near water and spoke about the importance of stillness in her practice – not starting a piece of work unless she felt still and centred in her mind. Her colourful pieces don’t immediately strike you as to do with restraint, stillness and tranquillity as she suggests in her exhibition guide to Still Point, they lean more towards Jackson Pollock’s action paintings. However there’s a lot to be said about feeling in the right calm and ready mindset before beginning a piece of work. Speaking to porcelain artist Alison Graham at this year’s Made in Roath, she explained that yoga and breathing exercises help her get into a positive frame of mind for making. There’s a lot I can learn here as I often find myself battling against the clay when I’m in a frustrated or stressed mood and only making things worse when it doesn’t work.

Our second visit in Cornwall was to the Leach Pottery which was founded in 1920 by Leach and Hamada. Roelof Uys, head pottery at the Leach today showed us around and explained that about 20,000 pots are made on site every year, a third of which are sold in the shop there. The others go to a group of about 30 wholesalers including David Mellor who sell a selection of craft pottery and woodware by the likes of Svend Bayer and John Leach.

Apprenticeships at the Leach pottery are also sponsored by Sea Salt Cornwall, a local clothing company. As a beginner apprentice you are expected to make 600 eggcups on a kick wheel before you are allowed to progress on to other forms and an electric wheel. Roelof explained that pots don’t really sing until you learn how to make slowly. A kick wheel encourages this as you are forced to conserve energy, resulting in larger, more expressive throwing rings and a fluidity of movement. Tools he also explained, are not particularly important in the leach tradition – hands are all you need. In a more controlled way, it is the expressiveness that springs from spontaneity and freedom that the workers at the Leach are trying to capture in their own way, just like in Sandy’s work.  As Bernard Leach said in his essay ‘Towards a Standard’ ‘It is the uniformity of perfection that kills’.

The colour palette of the standard ware however is a lot more muted – an ash, dolomite and tenmoku glaze are used on most domestic vessels. Sandy, growing up with the Leach tradition taught to her as gospel, rebelled against tradition and started using brightly bough commercial glazes to challenge what was accepted as being in good taste at the time. For myself however, having never being taught glaze chemistry until university and coming from a secondary school where we only had the option of a few primary coloured shop bought glazes in gaudy colours, the Leach tradition glazes hold a charm and beautiful subtlety which I’d never encountered before.

Firing Fail

20180513_134844 (800x484)

20180513_135149 (800x730)

I felt my heart sink when I went to open the kiln this morning. Instead of a rainbow of bright colours – lime greens, turquoises, salmon pinks and cobalt blue, I found my series of white earthenware thrown plates had all turned a yellowish off-white. Checking back over the glazes I’d used I realised I’d made some mistakes with the calculations when I tried to double the ingredients. I’d added 1% of coloured stain to the new glazes instead of 10% to the base glaze. 

I should have realised something was off by the pale colour of the glazes in liquid form. I was hoping to display these colour experiments on the wall for next week’s corridor exhibition but I’ll have to think of something else instead. The firing itself didn’t really go to plan either. The first time I though I’d put the kiln on, I came back in the morning to find the kiln still on 50C. I hadn’t pressed and held the start button down to begin the program!

Hopefully I’ve learnt a lesson to keep neater notebooks so I’m not cramming illegible glaze recipes into every area of free blank space.

Colour Compositions

After a conversation with Alice about Italian Still life painter Giorgio Morandi, I went searching for sheets of coloured card on which to experiment with photographing my series of sculptures from the ‘non-spaces’ project.  It’s fascinating to see how much the glare from the coloured card effects the objects. The dark blue which is my favourite gives a kind of softness and warmth to the glazes. The yellow is too sharp and harsh while the grey and light blue make everything look washed out.

It’s fun to take the shapes, forms and colours out of the context of the original project. Instead I’m simply working with their material properties in a kind of collage. This method has a lot in common with the work I saw recently at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm about ‘Concretism’. Concrete art ”accustoms man to a direct relationship with things and not with the fiction of things” by rejecting the creation of the illusion of space and three dimension on canvas. Similarly, I don’t want to create an illusion her. I am not interested in conveying any deep meaningful message, I’m only concerned with the balance of form, colour and of positive and negative space.

IMG_20180511_110033_202 (800x508)

In other news, I’ve started constructing larger sculptures using repeated press moulded sections in a white molochite stoneware. I’m really excited by the possibilities of working in this way. I like the control over the overall shape from the press mould. It restricts the decisions I can make so I only have to decide where to place them. This new clay is great to work with too – it dries quickly , supporting itself, and so far none of the joins have cracked. I want to see if it’s possible for the shapes to interlock and interact once they have been fired to form one larger piece.

 

https://www.modernamuseet.se/stockholm/en/exhibitions/concrete-matters/

 

Room/Space Project Development

20180312_151307 (600x800)With two weeks left to go of the Room project I think it’s time for reflection on how the project has developed so far and how I intend to bring my exploration of ideas to culminate in a final installation.

I chose the HDK’s black grogged stoneware clay to begin making with, the graininess makes it ideal to hand build with because it keeps its form well. At first I worked quite strictly from the collages I made from the earlier tram drawings but discovered quickly that this ‘steampunk’ aesthetic wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like the way the clay is manipulated to look like metal or rivets, instead of celebrating the qualities of this material I am hiding it. I realise that since this bothers me perhaps the tenet of ‘truth to material’ is somewhat important in my work.

After a tutorial and discussing with others I decided to focus on simplified forms instead of details. I still preferred my collages to the clay models, so this week I took the approach of collaging clay to create more two-dimensional ‘illustrations’ of my illustrations. These were made by rolling thin slabs and assembling them roughly and quickly together when in a leather hard state. The rough edges and unfinished, breaking apart look is an attempt to capture the fuzziness of how the memory of a place appears in our mind.

20180320_185304 (800x392)20180320_185326 (800x406)

In a group tutorial today a few people commented on the fresh and spontaneous way these objects feel because they have been constructed quickly and fairly sloppily. Although I would like to see the sculptures on a bigger scale it would be hard to get the same effect of haziness and sketchiness.  20180321_131528 (800x400)Looking for a semi-matte base glaze with which to experiment I found this simple recipe online at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/ceramic-glaze-recipes/low-fire-glaze-recipes/easy-peasy-cone-04-glaze-recipes/

Satin Base Glaze Cone 4 (1168C)
Frit                  50                    (used Borax)
Kaolin             20
Dolomite        30

I added 10% coloured stains in different proportions of colour to this to try and match the colours found in tram interiors in Gothenburg. The orange, yellow and light blue are prefect although the pink was supposed to be red and the blue is too purple. Unfortunately on the black stoneware these glazes bubble but I still intend to use these glazes to decorate my original ‘sketches’ in clay – the haziness of the colour might work to reflect the blurriness of memory and the patchiness might reference the dirtiness of the trams.

20180321_131612 (800x400)

Over the next two weeks I’m going to continue working with this collage technique but in a white low firing clay, hopeful the juxtaposition of these ‘sketched’ sculptures and a smooth, uniform and neatly coloured glaze will create impact. I’m going to try working on a slightly bigger scale so that there is some different in height levels in the final staircase exhibition. I have tried placing some objects on the stairs already to see how they look in this different context but the dark colour of the clay means they are lost against the surroundings. I hope the bright colours will change this and create a sense of playfulness and intrigue. I also plan to create more accurate blue and red glazes, a grey and a lemon yellow. 

843-831_130527-9978_b (800x533).jpg
A Gothenburg tram interior : http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/T_Gothenburg.html