Blog Map of Research and Development Progress

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1. September 2018 (RESEARCH) L6 Characteristics of Practice
I begin early on in Term 1 defining some of the concrete pillars of my practice. I want to make vessels for one. A vessel is the original abstract form and its familiarity means I can imbue it with metaphors and layers of meaning while still being accessible to viewers. I also identify traces and memory of place as significant to my practice. I think I want to make functional, wheel-thrown forms decorated in ash glazes, utilising weeds and plant waste in Cardiff. In the months afterwards I will hone in on these ideas, realising it is the capability of clay to hold traces and memory that I am particularly interested in as well as the time of making.

2. October 2018 (RESEARCH) Sensory Geographer, Kinetic Poet
A month later I begin to understand more why making vessels is important to me. While my work so far has defied boundaries of fine art, craft and design, it becomes important to me to root my practice in this tradition of pottery since I want to especially feel connected to the tradition of clay in the UK, reaching back to Leach and Hamada who had such an influence on the development of ceramics in this country. While I admire the work of potters working in the country pottery tradition – Leach and his disciples including Batterham and Pleydell-Bouverie and contemporary potters like Jack Welbourne and Charlie Collier who have adopted these values, I don’t feel satisfied making functional work in this way. I find Leach’s potter’s book dictatorial and I connect with De Waal’s description of the passive-aggressively humble pot. I feel pots made with such a nostalgic aura can lack a sense of humour and so I want to rebel against this paradigm of ceramic virtue. A quote by Alison Britton about it being necessary to go beyond technical skill to make work relevant to today’s world strikes me as pertinent.

3. November 2018 (PROCESS) Gas Firing Gallery
Feeling a bit lost, I decide that in order to understand clearly how I feel about traditional pots I first need to embrace them and become familiar with the processes involved. I adopt the stance of ‘know thine enemy’. Skill is important to me still because it teaches things that I think are good such as patience and commitment, remedies to our culture of speed where sloppy craft is prevalent. Over this first term I focus on improving my throwing skills so I am confident to take bolder risks as well as learning how to fire the reduction kiln and developing a range of reduction glazes based on traditional shinos and ash glazes. I decide not to focus solely on ash since it is difficult to get it in enough quantity and results vary dramatically depending on the type of wood in the mix.

4. Dec 2018 (RESEARCH) – PDP L6 Term 1 The Gesamtkunstwerk Bowl
Having written the main body of my dissertation at this point I have much more knowledge about the relationship between ceramics and time and its importance to my making (my thesis is titled ‘re-defining the experience of time in contemporary ceramics’). I am no longer confined to the indeterminate idea of ‘slow art’ and creating a relationship between an object and viewer which draws attention to the present moment. I frame my thesis argument through examining works by three contemporary artists in relation to time – Phoebe Cummings and her raw clay installations anticipating collapse in a future time, Keith Harrison’s performative firings demonstrating transformation in the present and causing temporal anxiety and Alexander Engelfriet’s practice exploring the preservation of traces made in the past. As a result I feel liberated to move away from the functional vessels of the bowl project and explore the layering of time and traces in my vessels in a different way – through building up and breaking down the vessel in a repetitive, continuous duration through time, working in iterative response to past moments.

5. Jan 2019 (RESEARCH) Statement of Intent for Exhibition Module 
I decide to return to a process I have used in the past, of hand-building with thrown forms to juxtapose two modes of time. I like how thrown forms capture the tension, speed and movement in the process of throwing but I also enjoy the breaking of this tension and creating new rhythms by slicing the vessels and sticking them back together in a new configuration. This process would not be possible without the skills I developed in the previous months in order to control and manipulate the clay. My vessels still feel too safe and I begin to look to artist/stuntmen like Peter Voulkos for inspiration. I begin to consider more the time of actions and making as a dance of choreographed or improvised movements.

6. Jan 2019 (RESEARCH) Gareth Mason / Mudfondler
In the same vein as Voulkos is contemporary potter Gareth Mason who I first heard of at the 2015 ICF where he was demonstrating. I found Mason’s method of working resonated with me since he sometimes works on a single piece for years, firing, re-firing, breaking apart, sticking together and re-firing pieces until he arrives at a piece which can be considered completed. Mason works especially with subverting our ideas of beauty, working in particular with eastern celadons, copper reds and traditional korean, chinese and japanese vase forms, smearing sections of the delicately thrown porcelain vessels in darker, earthier clays which fracture and bubble. He is interested in a sensous beauty rather than the refined, oculacentric beauty of the past. He creates sculptures which make the traditional korean moon jars resemble the dull relationship of Edgar and Catherine while his own are the passionate, destructive and toxic relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, chained to nature and the dangers of the wild.

7. Jan 2019 (PROCESS) Building Bigger
I struggle with the tricky process of building with and altering thrown forms. I learn to work on pieces slowly over days, covering the pots in bin bags to balance out the dryness of the different sections. I experiment intuitively and spontaneously with mark-making, developing a vocabulary of marks which include slicing, squeezing, patching, punching, drawing on and cutting sections out of the clay.

8. Feb 2019 (PROCESS) Extruding and Throwing Combined/Adam Silverman
Following on from John Clarkson’s lectures on the bases of pots being ceramic ‘parergons’ and how the grounded nature of pots makes then feel safe and humble, I begin experimenting with extrusions alongside thrown forms. I begin intending to make extruded legs and frames for the thrown sculptures as plinths to elevate the status of the humble vessel but later use the extruded sections stuck on or pierced into the thrown pots. In retrospect, this is something I would like to push further in the future since I still feel I was too precious with my pieces. They took time to make and the pressure of an upcoming show meant I felt each one had to succeed so I didn’t quite push them to the edge of destruction. Later I returned to making extruded legs for my vessels to sit on, feeling the two vocabularies of shape (precise extrusions and fluid throwing) was too jarring.

9. March 2019 (PROCESS) New Glazes for Fractured Vessels
I realise I am a maker who prioritises form over surface. Unlike Gareth Mason, my sculptures are uniformly glazed so as to highlight the marks and traces in the clay. I struggle with deciding how to glaze my pieces before realising it makes the most sense to draw from my previous reduction firing knowledge and glaze the work in shinos, tenmokus and ash glazes which reference back to the standard ware at the Leach Pottery in St Ives. The familiar, domestic glazes are unexpected on such unorthodox and sculptural forms.

10. March 2019 (PROCESS) Corridor Crit / External Examiner
I can begin to identify the small details that make one of my vessels work and start imposing restrictions on my making after so much freedom previously. Minimising choice can be liberating.

Visit to One Wall Studio/Tradition and Modernism

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been to visit various artist studios in Cardiff with the hope to get a better impression of the Cardiff art/ceramics scene in preparation for after graduation. One of these was One Wall studio, a ceramics workshop in Adamsdown set up by Jack Welbourne and Arthur Goodfellow in 2017, both graduates of the ceramics course at CSAD. The upstairs of the industrial unit building houses an exhibition space while downstairs is the workshop with shimpo wheels for pottery classes. Jack showed us the kick-wheel he works on that sits in the corner, explaining that he built it while still at university. His pots are functional, reduction fired stoneware, intuitive rather than designed to be precise and following in the rich tradition of British country pottery and the likes of Leach and Batterham. He uses local clays and wood-ash on a rich, coarse clay body, the ashes with additions of different feldspars to give them subtly different surface textures. It’s fascinating to see someone working almost as the archetype of a country potter in such an urban setting.

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Pots by Jack Welbourne

Interestingly Jack doesn’t sign his work which raises the question of why do I sign my own pieces? Shoji Hamada famously never signed his pots believing instead that the work was signed by the nuances of each individual maker’s hand at the different stages of the making process. Is it romantic to put your work out into the world as the product of an ‘unknown craftsman?’. I have begun this year to sign and date my sculptural pieces, partly as a way to keep track of when I made things for myself, partly out of pride and partly out of a hope to one day help future educators in ceramics. It’s of great interest to me that many younger potters like Jack and Wichford Potter Charlie Collier insist on making a living in the tradition of country pottery today. Rather than fully committing to a life of making vessels in this way, I feel like I prefer to peek in to this way of life and making from the outside, subverting this British/Eastern tradition by making forms that reference it but are distinctly function-less and sculptural while still not quite crossing the line into sloppy craft. Reading Leach’s potters book feels to me a bit dictatorial, as if there is a correct beauty, aesthetic and taste.

I really enjoyed reading this article I found today (below). It’s a few years old but I think still relevant and although designed to entertain more than to really critique contemporary craft, it raises the interesting point that ‘The serious modern potter is a priest of a nobler, simpler way of life’  but that the result of this is that modernist ceramics inspired by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie is dull because it has a ‘holier-than-thou morality, sexless artistic restraint, and oatmeal puritanism.’ It reminded me of Grant Gibson’s interview with Edmund de Waal for the Material Matters podcast on porcelain in which de Waal talks about ‘needy’ pots, pots which are so humble they are almost passive aggressive in their modesty. I love what these humble pots stand for, of quietness, mindfulness and introspection but equally I can find this minimalist aesthetic lacking humour, and their seriousness can be alienating. I appreciate a Morandi though as much as a Picasso painted jug and I feel my own work is an attempt to balance on a precipice between the dull and the excessive, the safe and the chaotic and fractured.

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Ash glazed vessel by myself

Link to article:


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.


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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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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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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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:


Extruding and Throwing Combined/Adam Silverman

This week I’ve began extruding with crank and constructing what I’ve started to think of as frames or scaffolding onto which my vessels will sit. I’m interested in the contrast between precise and imperfect, soft and sharp, human and inhuman. The grounded quality of pots is something I wish to challenge. Their humble nature lies partly, I believe, in the fact they have a solid footing in their surroundings, growing almost like plants from the matter of daily life itself. By elevating them and subjecting them to forces of gravity I hope to highlight the way the material slumps and flows slowly, almost like a liquid over time, to fill the gaps in the containers of its environment. While the grogged crank’s strength makes it great to hand-build with, I’ve chosen to continue throwing with a St Thomas stoneware to save the skin on my hands.

Adam Silverman –Ghosts Source: Photo: Edward Goldman.

Thinking of my extruded pieces as frames or plinths brings me to Adam Silverman’s 2017 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Cherry and Martin Gallery. A circular section is cut in a gallery wall through which a long beam of dark timber protrudes, supported on breeze blocks. Silverman’s training as an architect is bought to the forefront in his manipulation of the gallery space and the vessels become monochrome components or metaphors in the installation space. The round hole references the openings on the vessels and frames the gallery space as a vessel in itself. It may also reference the circular wheelhead on which the forms all originated. It feels almost as if the vessels aren’t been celebrated for their clayness and individual qualities though, only for their power through repetition in a wider narrative.

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Adam Silverman Source:

Another interesting example of framing is Silverman’s piece for the 2015 exhibition Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. A composition is placed in what looks like the bottom section of a toploader kiln. While I’ve become interested in showing traces of making and process in my work I’ve never thought to directly include the tools and equipment I use in the finished piece itself, they have always been the back of the canvas, the scaffolding that supports the outer facade. Writing my dissertation I came across the chapter in Tim Ingold’s Making that discusses how we think of things as either objects or materials depending on the context. Kilns for me have always been objects but to a scrap metal dealer they are materials. Silverman has used them in the same way with parallels to the circular frame in Ghost.

Silverman’s technique of joining thrown sections together on the wheel is an avenue I haven’t explored yet. As seen in the vessel above I always throw and join them together separately. My vessel above is terracotta, thrown and stuck together and sat on extruded legs. Later as it dried, the base fell out so I may have to create a new pair of legs with a more stable connection. This form took on a lot of personality in the making. It slopes with attitude and the sections stuck on look like hands posing on hips giving it an air of sassiness. The images above show the progression as I manipulated the surface over a period of a couple of days. I’ve become much more patient with the vessels, allowing them to dry more before cutting into the surface. The extruded cross section in the hollow cone looks almost like a cartoon plaster. Patching up and mending is as much part of what I do to these vessels as deconstructing and cutting. 

The thrown sections on the bats in the image at the top here were made into the vessel below. Unhappy with the asymmetry, I pushed a dry terracotta section made by connecting extruded tubes into the tall body. Reading this then as a kind of handle, I added a spout to the opposite side, making the more familiar form of a jug. If the structure hasn’t collapsed by Monday I plan to work more into the body to unite the sections better, not hiding the joints but drawing them together as part of a whole. I’m beginning to get a feeling for when they are finished, once I have paid attention to every little part of the surface. At the moment the making is very spontaneous and improvised. Perhaps to make more complex structures with parts sitting on top of one another and extruded frames and plinths, I will need to work from preliminary drawings in a more design focused manner.

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Building Bigger

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The images above show my first attempt at making a larger composite form. I threw two bowls (approx 3 kg each), a 4kg ring and a 2kg cylinder with the aim of making a kind of narrow necked bottle shape. However, I made the mistake of not covering the clay overnight because I thought this would leave it at a leather-hard state for me to construct with in the morning. The sections dried too much but I manage to just about salvage them by spraying lots of water over the surfaces and wrapping them tightly in plastic for a couple of hours. Although they were workable, they split easily and it was a battle to get them to join together at all. The bottom bowl had too much weight on it and started to bend and split, leaning the pot to one side. This jaunty angle, although initially unintended, does lend the pot character and life. It speaks of the struggle of making and the active nature of a material in constant flux.

I spent yesterday going back and forth, altering the pot little by little over the course of the day – pushing out cyst-like lumps, gouging, slicing with kidneys and pin tools. I added on more protruding thrown clay sections, trying to find a pleasing balance in the asymmetry.  Today I decided that what the vessel requires is a foot-ring to elevate it. The form is in such a precarious state I was worried that lifting it up to work on the base would destroy it completely. Jasper suggested I make separate ‘feet’ for the pot to balance on, much like plant pot feet (below) so I’ve thrown a thick ring of stoneware clay which I plan to cut up into sections tomorrow. I hope having space underneath the pot will give it a sense of weightlessness and elegance which will juxtapose strangely with the pot’s warty, scarred and slumping appearance.

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I intend to bring up the issue of glazing in my tutorial tomorrow because I don’t know if I want to carry on gas firing for this exhibition module. On one hand, I have already tested many reduction glazes, am familiar with this clay and I like the variation in effects from reduction – it’s more exciting. On the other, the gas kiln has broken down a few times in the past months and could cause problems closer to the exhibition deadline, and firings can only take place a few times a week so it might take a long time to get larger work through. As well as this, gas kilns are hard to find outside of university so it may be a while before I have access to one after I graduate.

Gareth Mason / Mudfondler

Of all the contemporary artists whose vessels follow the principle of form follows function, Gareth Mason’s hold a special place in my heart. His 2015 demonstration at Aberystwyth’s biennial International Ceramics Festival was the turning point that led me to decide to pursue ceramics at university. Under the stage name ‘mudfondler’ he regularly updates his avid Instagram followers with close up details of his pots’ varied surfaces, videos of the bold and labour intensive making process and, er, seemingly random photos of polished apples. While the photos of his amorphous, tension charged vessels are undoubtedly stunning, interestingly the poetic, stream of consciousness style of his writing which accompanies these images shows there is a lot more here than meets the eye.

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Gareth Mason ‘Tricolour’ 2006-2013

In terms of thinking about time in making, Mason’s work is a perfect illustration of the layering of different durations. Viewing his work on display in the online catalogue for the Jason Jaques gallery, it becomes clear that many of the pieces have been created over a period of about five or six years during which his vessels are made, remade, broken and remade again, sometimes fired multiple times. Working as a production potter making terracotta garden ware at Franham Pottery for three years, he learnt the tacit knowledge required for his current practice. He also spent a while focused on traditional functional ware inspired by Leach and eastern traditions, the chuns and copper red glazes of which can still be seen in his work now.

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Gareth Mason ‘Mammon, Tarnished’ 2010

He states that his pieces stem from a rejection of the pretty but that he continues to value skill. It is after all, the base from which he works up. Interestingly he writes about how not every thrown form he makes goes the right way and he has had experience of vessels collapsing in public demonstrations (I’ve read this happened to Peter Voulkos at times too). I admire the way he pushes the porcelain to its very limits while throwing in his videos. It shudders and warps dangerously but it is this sense of vitality in the material being pushed so far that gives his work so much life. I hope I can be as courageous in my own throwing.

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Gareth Mason ‘Insulator Flask’ 2010-2014

Mason’s vessels sometimes incorporate lots of different clays and found objects. In a recent firing he used a broken break pad which melted, eating away at the pot. Inspired by Henry Hammond’s pottery philosophy that “it’s the rim and foot that are the main thing. The middle will take care of itself”, he takes into careful consideration how the vessels leave the ground. With my own current experimental vessels, I need to start carefully considering the same thing. I’ve been thinking recently about the masculine nature of the work of ceramic artists like Voulkos and Gareth Mason. The vessels are large scale, thrown with huge quantities of clay that are difficult to control and require brute strength. There is a violence to the mark-making too, of the piercing and scratching in defacing the surface.

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My own slab built vessel

I hadn’t thought of my pots in terms of masculine or feminine before until Yixia pointed out today that a slab construction I was working on looked very masculine with it’s rectangular building blocks. Without the thrown forms which act as a base, I struggled with this construction. There were no marks or textures to respond to and the form lacks a visible tension.

Artists working with deconstruction of Vessel: Glenn Barkley, Kathy Butterly, Nicole Cherubini, Babak Golkar, the Haas Brothers, King Houndekpinkou, Takuro Kuwata, Anne Marie Laureys, Gareth Mason, Ron Nagle, Gustavo Pérez, Ken Price, Brian Rochefort, Sterling Ruby, Arlene Shechet, Peter Voulkos, Jesse Wine and Betty Woodman

Gareth Mason photos from:

PDP L6 Term 1 The Gesamtkunstwerk Bowl

My work this term has arisen very much out of my experience of wood and anagama firing while on Erasmus at HDK and the vitality in the way the glazes flashed, crystallised and took on a life of their own as a result of the flames in the kiln. My thinking about time in relation to making has been shaped by this experience and as a result I have switched from electric to reduction firing to encourage a livelier capturing of the duration of the firing process.

Feeling my approach last year was too conceptual and not process-based enough to satisfy me creatively I resolved to throw myself into a more of a production potter mode to develop my throwing further this term, however I feel at the moment that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction and my work doesn’t adequately illustrate my conceptual ideas. Musing along the lines of roundness as fullness or wholeness and therefore as a metaphor for happiness and a centeredness of form and mind, I’ve been working with juxtaposing forms of roundness for the bowl project to emphasise the round and humble nature of the bowl. I worked especially this term with jars (a cylindrical contrast to the bowl’s hemisphere) and found a lot of satisfaction in learning how to create fitting lids. I enjoy the extra dimension this interactivity gives to a vessel. Listening to Roelof talk about slowness on the kick-wheel at the Leach Pottery encouraged to me try working on one myself. I liked the way the jerkiness of this technique added character to the forms but I found the noisiness of the incessant creaking a big distraction and a constant marking of time that stopped me from reaching my meditative place of flow. It was a valuable exercise to make me more aware of the speed at which I throw and made me think about conserving energy in my actions.

Jon Clarkson’s Still life lectures have been valuable in making me think about my ideas in a wider context. I found parallels with my own work and Dutch still life painting in which the artist tries to explore an object or idea by painting its many different facets e.g. a lemon or a loaf of bread. One painting by Juan Sanchez de Cotan is an exploration of roundness by juxtaposing different vegetables. As a result of seeing this I have experimented with photographing my work as a collection in a still life but they don’t really succeed in highlighting roundness through juxtaposing ellipses, cylinders, hemispheres etc. possibly because the subject matter is too familiar and we can’t see the abstract shapes beyond that. If nothing else though it has been valuable to learn how to take professional photos on a DSLR camera for the first time in order to better promote my work on social media.

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Researching the work of Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie I found a softness and gentleness in her ash glazed vessels that embodied the qualities I hoped to convey and so began gathering together sources of ash. However, I discovered a flaw in my approach when I began processing the ash – an entire Tesco bag of rushes produced less than a gram! I had vastly underestimated the quantities I would need. As a result I looked to Phil Rogers’s ‘Fake ash’ glazes and played with layering one of these with a handful of other glazes to produce subtle qualities and pastel colours. For the first time I have been making large enough batches of glaze to dip work which results in a much more even and attractive coverage.

At first I was disappointed with the dullness of the colours but the more time I spent with them the more I grew to love the way the colours, iron spotting and carbon trapping in the shinos revealed themselves to you in different lights. I realised after doing a couple of makers markets that perhaps my work didn’t stand out as much against flashier ceramics but I decided not to compromise on my making. My vessels require the viewer to wait, to allow the object’s subtleties to unfold over time. It seems that ideas about ‘slow art’ and Arden Reed’s belief that ‘paintings can behave like moving pictures’ have subconsciously wound their way into my thinking.

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Thinking of making and firing not as a means to an end but as processes in themselves, I’ve started looking at ceramists who use firing as performance (Keith Harrison ) and making as performance (Peter Voulkos) with the hope that I can learn more about duration in relation to ceramics. My ideas currently mostly come from reading for my dissertation but I need to start making them concrete. As a result of my tutorial with Claire I plan to begin next term by setting myself a series of challenges which will help me move into larger, more expressive work that will help me realise my ideas better. The vessel form with its embodiment of roundness is a central theme but function feels more of a safety net than a necessity.


Makers Markets

This term I’ve taken part for the first time in a number of makers markets. The first of these was with Nam at Tiny Rebel’s Autumn Makers Market in Cardiff town centre (Nov 25th), the second was at CSAD’s School of Management as part of the fundraising for our degree show catalogue with the rest of the course (Dec 5th), and the third was last Saturday at the Cardiff Quakers Meeting room organised by Hannah (Dec 8th).

Carlota, a graduate from the CSAD fine art course had set up the autumn makers market at Tiny Rebel. It was a successful day and exciting to see the public engaging with the work. Sharing a table with Nam and her co-worker Richard my first time helped calm my nerves. There was lots to remember – boxes to display the work on, a cash float, scissors, sellotape, bubblewrap, paper bags, business cards, price tags…I was worried I would forget something. The venue itself was cosy and not very big although unfortunately Tiny Rebel weren’t able to advertise outside their premises except through social media so most of the visitors had heard about the market online or through word of mouth.
I felt that my work (a mixture of different sized functional stoneware storage jars and bowls) was in the higher price range for this kind of event. Most people appeared to be buying things that were £10 or less, especially stickers and cards. My jars ranged from £26 to £60 while the bowls were £15 to £30, prices I had decided on after a last-minute tutorial with Natasha the week before. I’m happy with the prices I’ve chosen and so far the public seem to agree that the prices are justified.

Richard’s work sold well and while it was also ceramic, he buys in bisque ware which he decorates with brightly coloured splattered glaze and overglaze, meaning he can afford to price his mugs at £10 while mine were going for £26. For a ceramics student outsourcing in this way feels almost like cheating but then I’m reminded that even Bernard Leach probably didn’t make most of his own pots, although he decorated them. It was a little disheartening to see that the public seemed to see no difference between ceramics which had been handmade from a lump of clay and ceramics which had been decorated but not made by the artist. It made me think about how much of my work I would be happy to outsource either to industrial manufacturers or other makers.
I suppose I already outsource the processing of the clay and glaze materials, I’m also happy to use tools that I’ve bought or that have been made by others. The enjoyment I get from the process of throwing and control over the form is too much for me to compromise though.

The Quaker’s Market this weekend was a little different – a three hour market over lunch time instead of a whole day. We were made to feel very welcome in the ground floor meeting room and regularly supplied with mince pies, tea and hot mulled apple. I had positive feedback about my work although again I felt my work was the highest priced of everything in the room. Rather than art college graduates and craftspeople this was more of a second-hand shop with an Avon sale and a few craftspeople. I managed to make over £200 from these two markets but in order to work out if these kinds of events can be lucrative I need to work out how much I’m spending on materials, firing, transport costs, business cards, wrapping etc. I hope to take part in more makers markets in the new year but with smaller, cheaper items such as eggcups, plates, lemon juicers and plant pots. I had visitors asking me if I made vases and jugs too so perhaps adapting my products to the desire of the public can encourage me to try out new forms.

Our collaborative mug sale at the CSAD Christmas Market was organised through the Centre for Entrepreneurship. Yixia and I liaised with Giorgia to secure a couple of tables and I put together a rota so we would have students manning the stall add day. Luckily none of the makers markets have required me to pay to be there (Richard paid our £15 for the Tiny Rebel stand and the Quakers only suggested a donation of 10%) but I realise that usually the cost of the tradestand would need to be deducted from the overall profit.
I lowered the price of my mugs from £26 to £18 since this market is aimed at students. A number of us from L6 had made mugs for the sale and we made a total of about £130 from the day. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised we would have also been allowed to sell on the Friday of that week too so that’s something to look out for in future.