Identity

After visiting the Potteries museum in Stoke last week, visiting the V&A in London yesterday and looking at my own personal collection of ceramics, I’m beginning to see trends and patterns in the work I am drawn to and like to surround myself with. Much of my work in the first year was stuff I enjoyed making but didn’t necessarily like. By pinpointing styles and techniques I find attractive I hope to make work I can feel proud of and that speaks more clearly of me. 

Looking through my sketchbooks, notes and photos I’ve identified some key recurring themes and styles which I’m drawn to. Hopefully this can be a starting point for exploration when I return to university next month:

  • White glaze on black clay
  • Celadons
  • Dry glazes
  • Altered vessels
  • Asymmetry
  • Thrown forms

Layering slip and glaze

Here I’ve tested to see what effects can be had when layering slips and glazes onto ash white stoneware.

  1. White slip with turquoise glaze on top produces crazing in straight lines underneath a patchy shiny green.
  2. Reversing the above with the white slip on top creates a dry, textured matte surface which doesn’t flake or peel.
  3. My favourite – yellow/green glaze with blue slip painted on top forms islands of matte dark blue over a shiny surface with a very painterly effect. I like this rough, uneven texture which might look exciting on a large scale.
  4. The same as 3 but with turquoise glaze on top – this looks like a painted landscape with lots of variations of blue and hundreds of tiny bubbles encased in the surface.

I expected the slips to run off the surface when fired but the addition of glaze works to stick the raw and bisque fired clays together.

 

Stoneware mugs

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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.

Pop art oil lamps

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.

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.

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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.

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Laser cutting

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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.

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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.

Glaze tests – low firing

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

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Blue grey speckle glaze

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s many a slip

Our ‘There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’ brief requires us to produce a series of cups for a cafe of some kind. While I was away at university I suffered bouts of homesickness and especially on weekends, longed for a break from the busy city. I’d never lived in a town with more than 3,000 people before. I also drank a lot of tea while I was away, but early on found out I’d left one of my favourite cups at home. It wasn’t something I expected to miss.

There’s a distinction between a cup and a mug. While cups are usually used for drinking tea, their bigger siblings – mugs, are used for coffee and hot chocolate, although the only place I’ve drank from proper cups with saucers are cafes. It feels dainty and sophisticated to drink from a cup while a mug has a more down to earth feel. I’d call my cup from home a mug.

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My mug from home

The mug has a wider base than lip and a curvy barrel shape which keeps in the heat of the drink and prevents it from spilling as you carry it. This sense of security is further embodied in what the mug represents – the security of being with people I love and a place I feel safe. The lip is thick and smoothly rounded –  it feels almost as if you’re been given a kiss when you sip from it!  It appears to have been made from a mould based on a thrown form. The glaze is a little lumpy where the colours have overlapped and there is a small amount of pin-holing where the glaze has left tiny craters.

I began without a reference. I drew what I imagined the shape to look like and attempted to repetitively throw these forms with the aid of a pattern I had cut from the side of an old debit card. I then asked my family to take a photo of the mug and send it to me. The difference between my memory of what the mug looked like and reality startled me and this opposition is something I’d like to further explore.
If you ask me if I know what my family members look like, of course I know but could I draw them accurately? Very unlikely. What I worked from was a sort of caricature of the mug I knew, the ridge at the base and curves emphasised. This made me realise how completely unreliable my mind is. Similarly to this post my mind fills in the gaps in its knowledge with what it expects to find. How can i capture this essence of how the memory works in cup form?

If a cup had a memory it would remember all the drinks it has contained, the times it’s been knocked over and liquid spilt, maybe the chips would read as the wrinkles of old age. The life of a cup or mug in a house is entwined with the lives of those who live there.

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I’m designing my mugs for an imaginary cafe – a piece of home for me in the city, someplace I can go when I miss the countryside of North Wales. What could be more appropriate than to make the mugs from clay sourced from the area where I live? So far I have been throwing these forms in LF (low firing) white earthenware clay. My plan next is to try throwing with the clay I sourced from my local area in Snowdonia. I’m also interested in coloured slip decoration and it’s potential for illustrative qualities as my mugs would need to be colourful and cheerful to fulfil their purpose. I’m going to photograph textures and patterns from around my home for inspiration.

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Beautiful, minimal slip decoration, Craft in the Bay

 

Slip Decorating

Yesterday we had our first introduction to slip decoration with technician Matt, who demonstrated a range of techniques including paper resist, sgraffito, slip trailing and inlay. The inlay technique was new to me but one I found exciting. It involves carving into the surface of a leather hard slab (usually with a looped turning tool) then painting wet slip into the indentation. After this has dried the extra slip on top is scraped away to reveal the line. The result reminded me of the incised designs on the work of one of my favourite ceramic artists, Gordon Baldwin.
I’m also eager to try out rolling slabs of clay onto carved lino to create surface pattern, a technique Jacqui Atkin describes in her book ‘250 tips, techniques and trade secrets for potters’.

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Paper resist and sgraffito design – inspired by Henri Matisse paper cutouts
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These inlay and sgraffito figures remind me of prehistoric cave paintings