PDP L6 Research and Development

While the forms for my exhibition work came relatively easy and spontaneously, choosing the surface decoration was a challenge and led to lots of glaze testing. I originally wanted brightly coloured matte glazes which would highlight the forms but I felt doing so would somehow betray where these objects had grown from, out of a curiosity for British pottery traditions and questioning the role of skill and the role of the potter in today’s society. I felt a need to create something unfamiliar that confronted these issues, rather than worrying about what would ‘look good’.

Deciding that one of the most recognisable ‘country potter’ surfaces is the ash glaze, I fired up four saggars of garden waste I had collected in the saggar kiln. I only wanted to glaze one vessel in this way but still needed to use some of the mixed wood ash from the glaze room to have enough. I had previously experimented with adding extra iron to darken a Phil Rogers fake wood ash recipe but didn’t like how streaky this became. The shinos, oxbloods and tenmoku I found recipes for in Anders Fredholm’s (HDK glaze tutor) glaze book.

On one hand I wanted the forms to have ‘functional’ glazes to link them to their pottery heritage but on the other, the shininess of these glazes, especially the dark tenmoku made them very difficult to photograph. Getting a good reduction in the glaze was a challenge too because it was hard to pack the kiln tightly and as a result they are very patchy, with the tenmokus showing a green tinge. The shino too wouldn’t behave the same as on the smaller functional vessels from last term. Spraying resulted in not enough variation of orange patches/speckles and pouring resulted in it being too thick (I should have thinned the mixture then poured again).

I also came across issues because I wanted to combine clays, thinking this would even better highlight the difference between the extruded and thrown forms. I found out I was not allowed to fire terracotta in the reduction kiln, despite having proof it would withstand the heat, so had to find oxidation glazes for my vessels pierced with terracotta extrusions. This led to time being wasted unnecessarily on firing test kilns at different temperatures when if I’d stayed to working with only one clay, I could have fired everything together.

For the process video, I struggled with the filming at first because I was so conscious of getting good shots for the camera that I couldn’t get in the flow of making and my pieces looked contrived. I organised to have someone film me instead and the making became much less self-conscious as a result. I enjoyed putting together the video itself and problem solving how to adjust the audio. Recording myself speaking for the voiceover was something I felt extremely uncomfortable doing and it took hours to speak without sounding robotic or pausing too much. I found that listening back to these recordings helped me understand the ideas behind my work with more clarity so I might do a similar exercise in preparation for the viva.

Research and Development
Glaze Research
New Glazes for Fractured Vessels
On Curation
Extruding and Throwing Combined/Adam Silverman
Gareth Mason / Mudfondler

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The pieces that didn’t make it to the exhibition

 

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.

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/

Seen and Unseen at The Mission Gallery

Today we took a coach to Swansea to visit Ingrid Murphy’s exhibition ‘Seen and Unseen’, part of the Language of Clay curated by Ceri Jones at the Mission Gallery. This was my first visit to the gallery and although a small space, the shop and exhibition were very thoughtfully laid out. Ingrid’s technological collaboration with Jon Pigott ‘The Campanologists Teacup’ had a perfect location in the old church’s apse. The installation consists of a series of ceramic horns with life size ceramic ears (3D scanned, 3D printed and slipcast) attached. When a member of the audience pings a teacup on a plinth in front of them, rubber balls suspended on strings inside the horns bounce around in a random series of movement to generate a 30 second or so sequence of sounds.

Interaction is a key theme of the exhibition. Some of the pieces require the audience to participate, to touch the palm of a ceramic dipping former in the shape of a hand which subsequently lights up inside with a ghostly radiance (and at the same time lights up a copy of the hand in Ingrid’s home), to place a terracotta plate on a turntable so the splatters of lustre vibrate the needle to create sounds, or to scan QR codes on our phones to reveal moving augmented reality models. Other pieces employ interaction by considering the interactions of the people involved in the making of an exhibition such as the series of replicas of traditional ceramic figurines superimposed with the faces of the artist, gallery director, filmmaker, curator etc.
My favourite piece stood out since it was the only artwork without a label or description of how the work was intended to be interacted with. A series of white ceramic plates onto which transfers of distorted imagery have been applied and on which sit gold lustre decorated teacups and pots is presented on an antique wooden table. It’s only by crouching down to view the work from an alternative perspective that you realise the images are anamorphic photographs of architecture from Wales to Jaipur which become clear in the reflections of the vessels. I was instantly reminded of the mirror in the Arnolfini portrait in which the scene of the couple we look upon is echoed back from a different perspective, both eerie and slightly voyeuristic. It’s interesting to note that in an exhibition that has such a pronounced emphasis on sound and touch the thing I was most drawn to was an optical illusion.

L6 Constellation Learning Journal (PDP)

Over the past three years Constellation has been a huge aid to my subject area, encouraging me to ask myself more critical questions surrounding my practice e.g. what does it mean to say I make something? Martyn Woodward’s ‘New Materialisms’ study group in the first year was a catalyst in igniting my interest in the material I work with (clay) and making me consider the theoretical discourse surrounding materials which led to the topic of my dissertation. In my second year I found that I could begin to see the value of ideas from Constellation feeding into my subject modules, drawing closer ties between my research and practice. This year however, my dissertation topic has somewhat overtaken my subject work in the sense that there seems to be a bigger gulf than ever between the ceramics I make and the theories I have been writing about at the start of level six. I expect this is because most of my writing was done over the Christmas holidays when I wasn’t making. I don’t see this as a negative though, in fact, my dissertation research into how the different temporalities of materials, humans, objects and the environment impact our sense of time has provided me with many new routes of approach to my practice and I look forward to making new work based on these ideas for my exhibition module. Writing about the ‘live ceramics’ of Keith Harrison has made me think about the power time-based objects have over us through creating temporal anxiety and tension. From past Constellation reading I’ve made work which is intended to arrest the viewer’s attention, slowing down the interaction with artworks through elements of surprise, familiarity or disruption in the field of vision. Writing about time recently has made me think about the different times embodied in different ceramic processes such as throwing and hand-building and how I can juxtapose these for effect.

In preparation for my dissertation I began to identify topics of interest, pinpointing the themes of memory, time, speed, mindfulness and slowness. Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and Arden Reed’s Slow Art were also important books in developing my ideas. However, I struggled with writing my literature review on how slow art can subvert the hierarchy of space since I realised the entire concept of slow art was so subjective I couldn’t define it. Unsure how to progress, I was encouraged by my dissertation tutor to write about my own perspective of time from my experiences of making and firing ceramics. This exercise helped me identify the three modes of time which were to make up my dissertation. In order to broaden my investigation into the relationship between ceramics and time I used the keywords I identified in Metsearch to find some short articles on the topics to begin with. I was introduced to some of the key philosophers that are concerned with our experience of time, namely Henri Bergson, E.H. Gombrich, the film analysis of Giles Deleuze and the phenomenological approaches of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. Moving on to larger texts, I found Heidegger’s Being and Time the most difficult and had to focus on bite sized sections related to temporality, with the help of study guides to make sense of the ideas. As a result of being unable to find many texts that discussed ceramics from the point of view of time, I instead looked into time and art in a broader context and learnt that the 60s was a period of important experimentation in this area. In Pamela Lee’s Chronophobia I found theories that equally applied to ceramics. The main difference with my argument is the emphasis on material agency and the different temporality clay possesses.

Reading Writing at University: a guide for students came the understanding that there are many different ways to write an essay and that I identify very much as a “diver writer” (Creme and Lea, 2008, p. 73) since I have to do a lot of writing, even if none of it is relevant, before I can even begin to think of putting a plan together. It’s valuable to recognise the writing approach I take so that I know I must start well in advance to start getting ideas down on paper. I also find I’m a “patchwork writer” (p. 74), using a collage approach of cutting and pasting paragraphs to alter the structure as I go along. I encountered a few technical difficulties along the way using Microsoft word, mainly with inserted images disarranging the format and difficulty indenting quotes, but managed to sort these with help from friends and the internet. I will consider using google docs next time I write an essay so I have backup copies saved automatically.

In regard to the writing itself, I was aware that the tone of my dissertation draft submission was fairly casual and descriptive so I made an effort to make the final draft more academic and analytical. Reading Tim Ingold’s Making, David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous and Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space I’ve learned that I respect academic writing which is able to ground theory in vivid and beautiful descriptions of everyday experience. I find I easily get carried away with such descriptions e.g. of wood-fired pots or the throwing process unless I reign myself in. How to connect together chapters to enable the essay to flow was a challenge but I found getting a balance between working on individual sections and reading over chapters and the entire body as a whole was a help here. One weakness I feel needs to be addressed with my dissertation process was that, while I could think through my ideas fairly clearly on paper, I felt a lack of confidence explaining them verbally. This meant that I had difficulty talking through my ideas in group tutorials and bringing them up with friends and colleagues. In any future academic writing I have decided I will be more verbal about my research topic because hearing the opinions of others can be extremely valuable.

 

Bibliography

Creme, P., & Lea, M. (2008). Writing At University : A Guide For Students. Buckingham: McGraw-Hill Education.

 

Finding Your Voice…The Log Book

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In order to better understand how our ceramics practice may fit in and contribute to the wider field, we have been tasked with identifying a journal from the Cardiff Met collection which aligns with our methods of working and which can support us in our future practice. My chosen literature is ‘The Log Book‘, the international wood-fired ceramic publication. Having tried out wood and anagama firing at HDK’s Nääs site outside Gothenburg last spring, I feel that I’ve finally found a method of working which suits my values and the qualities I admire in ceramic art. The close connection of the potter to the final work and our primitive ancestors imbues this method with a kind of magic and lack of control which excites me.

The Log Book (ISSN 1470-1812) began in 2000 and has been published quarterly ever since by a duo based in Ireland – Coll Minogue and Robert Sanderson. Currently, subscription is £25 annually. The most recent publications each include about six or seven 1000-1500 word articles which are all contributed to the magazine by artists , kiln builders and those with an interest in wood firing. Over the 18 years it has been running, the log book has published articles about wood firing from close to every continent in the world.

Article submission guidelines can be found on their website (www.thelogbook.net) and suggest a proposal for your desired article is discussed with the journal before sending a first draft in. First person writing from the artist/potter themselves is preferred and articles are checked for accuracy before publishing in order to avoid inaccurate or misleading information. In their online guidelines they state that in order to write about a new kiln design, the kiln must be fired successfully at least twice before it’s details can be shared publicly.

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Wood-fired Earthenware by George Metropoulos McCauley in The Log Book No.72

In the first couple of issues, a correspondence section is included at the back which is mainly comments from potters showing support for the new magazine. In the later issues however, there is no section for letters from readers which is a pity as it could open up the journal to a closer relationship between readers and writers, enriching conversations.

There is very little advertising in the journal. You’ll find nothing like the pages full of pug mills, pottery tools, kiln and workshop adverts like you do in Ceramic Review. Instead, the journal occasionally dedicates a couple of pages to a review of a new book about wood firing or wood stacking and advertises where to buy it from. At the back of each issue is a ‘backlog’ which is a list of up-coming wood-fire related events, fairs, exhibitions and conferences which readers can contribute to. Some articles inconspicuously advertise workshops such as the most recent issue in which is an account of EMA-CNIFOP, a prestigious but unfortunately named ceramic centre in France which offers short courses and claims to welcome 300 professional ceramic artists for short specialist courses each year.

The journal is interested in any articles relating to wood-firing, whether they be about functional or sculptural work, contemporary or historical. Technical details are important, many include diagrams and firing cone temperatures and times, although it was difficult to find glaze recipes. While issues at the beginning seem to take a more practical approach, recent articles are more storytelling and philosophical in their style. An article that particularly interested me was called ‘New Wave’ by Angus McDiarmid and was featured in issue 72 from 2017. In it he discusses the potential future of wood-firing and issues surrounding the environment (such as carbon emission levies) as well as economic viability. He asks ‘Can we move forward from our Japanese influence and all that wabi sabi speak?’ which is something I find myself questioning often. It has become fashionable to make work influenced by traditional Japanese ceramics in the west, but by doing so are we losing touch a little with the folk pottery of our own culture in the UK? McDiarmid also suggests that in a world of digitisation and virtual realities ‘woodfiring offers something very human.’, a comfort and connection to reality.

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The Log book Issue No.72

I hope that reading further into these journals will help me find opportunities for workshops/residencies which I may otherwise have not found. They will also be useful for learning about the journeys different potters take to get to the stage they are at currently, since lots of the articles are autobiographical. I am considering proposing an article describing my own recent experience of wood firing. Overall I’m very impressed with this valuable resource and of how international it is with writers from a multitude of different culture contributing.