Eight weeks into this first term I’ve succeeded in getting two loads of work fired in the little yellow gas kiln, although I haven’t quite been able to fill it myself yet and have relied on sharing space. I’ve been focusing so far on two simple forms – bowls for the Llantarnam Grange project, alongside jars which I began experimenting with over summer. Drawing from my experience of wood firing at HDK I am attempting to create a collection of classic/timeless and uncluttered shapes on which the activity of the glaze is brought to the foreground. Hopefully my exhibition statement for Llantarnam Grange can shed light on my thinking process:
Working with clay can teach us the value of patience, something which has become scarce and undervalued in our current society. The experience of time in relation to making is central to my practice. Through the stilling of clay as it slowly centres on the wheel-head, I enter into a different time zone where the material has control over my experience.
Throwing on the potter’s wheel becomes a method of quiet introspection where tensions in my subconscious manifest themselves in the finished vessels. I find a place of refuge in this sphere of stillness, a meditative zone reflected in the soft curves of the forms and subtlety of glaze.
My practice is characterised by the balance between imposing my own design on the clay and surrendering control to the vitality of materials. Rather than painting on patterns, I prefer to leave the surfaces of my pots at the mercy of the kiln. Flames from the reduction firing leave traces of the action and movement of the firing process in the form of flushes of colour and fluidity of running glaze.
As a result the vessel surfaces become as American writer Harold Rosenberg said of Abstract Expressionism: ‘not carriers of images but [carriers] of events’.
My intention originally was to undertake a technical in researching ash glazes however after a series of unsuccessful line blends and a realisation that brushing on the glazes resulted in patchy, unattractive finishes, I have decided to focus more broadly on the effects I can achieve in reduction with other types of glazes. I realised that the large quantities of ash I would need to glaze the amount of pots I had would be difficult to get. The unpredictability of ashes from different sources meant my tests would be largely pointless unless I had a singular plant source. Upon visiting the Leach Pottery I discovered that an ash glaze made from one type of plant ash can vary wildly in colour depending on whether the plant comes from a heavily mined area or not since pollutants in the ground can affect the chemistry. Although I embrace unpredictability to some extent in the way the glaze varies over the form with iron spotting from the clay body, pooling in the centres of bowls and crystallisation on the glaze, I want some idea of what the glaze will look like.
All the glazes above result from layering one or a couple of the five glazes below:
Potash Feldspar 19
Bone Ash 2.4
Ball Clay 6
Cornish Stone 15
China Clay 15
I had a lot of trouble with a Derek Emms red reduction glaze recipe. The heaviness of the copper carbonate meant the suspension was terrible and the sediment fell to the bottom immediately no matter how much I mixed the liquid. I tried dipping, pouring and layering but the red was very patchy still. Perhaps this was due to the atmosphere of the kiln being not reduced enough though.
Although I’m happy with the subtle qualities of these glazes so far, without the right light the quiet shades of green, blue, pink, purple and red can end up looking dull and grey. My next step will be to work with the same body (Reduction St Thomas) but applying a porcelain slip to the surface before bisque. Hopefully the colours will be a little more vibrant on a whiter surface. I’ve used a slip recipe from Jasper, adding 10% Potash Feldspar to porcelain to stop the slip cracking with shrinkage.
It might be useful next time I fire the measure how much the clay shrinks with each firing. – Measure Jars on the bisque shelf.