The first self -led project I ever did in clay was an exploration of my environment in North Wales and the qualities of form, materials, colour and texture I could find in my natural surroundings. I took a sketchbook and camera out on walks around my home in the mountains of Snowdonia, collecting earth and sheep wool to mix into the clay and seaweed, sheep poo, dead branches and lichen for saggar firing. My second taste of firing raw materials came with our summer project before the start of university when we collected clay from our local area to test.
Over the past couple of years I’ve drifted away from the use of my own dug up materials but I feel more and more drawn to the idea recently. Perhaps studying abroad, homesickness and my recent enquiries into non-space have made me even more keen to pursue work which explores a sense of place.
Above: Vessels from 2015 incorporating raw materials from my environment in rural North Wales.
While volunteering last year at Art in Clay, Hatfield House I felt particularly drawn to the work of Matthew Blakely (http://www.matthewblakely.co.uk) whose rock-glazed wood fired vessels are decorated with geological samples taken from all over the UK. When you buy a pot of his you also receive with it a CD documenting the journey of collecting the raw materials which make up that individual glaze.
Adam Buick (http://www.adambuick.com/) is another potter who works with the landscape, collecting natural materials and inspiration from the Pembrokeshire coast. On a visit to his studio last week he showed me an old corn grinder machine he uses to grind down his rocks before he mixes them with minerals such as Wollastonite to create line blends. He showed how he uses syringes to accurately measure the blend combinations. For some recently thrown porcelain moon jars he had incorporated the ground stone into the clay body itself. Both Adam and Matthew use simple, rounded forms as a kind of blank canvas for showing off the effects of these natural glazes.
I began to worry that returning to work with my own materials sourced from the landscape might be a big shift from the rest of my work at CSAD but I realise that much of my work has been concerned with memory and place and working in this way will only be a continuation of these themes. I want to follow up on a post about Katharine Pleydell Bouverie’s ash glazes –collecting my own ash to mix up has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I plan to get out the book ‘Natural Glazes: Collecting and Making’ by Miranda Forrest which I know we have at my local library.
With two weeks left to go of the Room project I think it’s time for reflection on how the project has developed so far and how I intend to bring my exploration of ideas to culminate in a final installation.
I chose the HDK’s black grogged stoneware clay to begin making with, the graininess makes it ideal to hand build with because it keeps its form well. At first I worked quite strictly from the collages I made from the earlier tram drawings but discovered quickly that this ‘steampunk’ aesthetic wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like the way the clay is manipulated to look like metal or rivets, instead of celebrating the qualities of this material I am hiding it. I realise that since this bothers me perhaps the tenet of ‘truth to material’ is somewhat important in my work.
After a tutorial and discussing with others I decided to focus on simplified forms instead of details. I still preferred my collages to the clay models, so this week I took the approach of collaging clay to create more two-dimensional ‘illustrations’ of my illustrations. These were made by rolling thin slabs and assembling them roughly and quickly together when in a leather hard state. The rough edges and unfinished, breaking apart look is an attempt to capture the fuzziness of how the memory of a place appears in our mind.
I added 10% coloured stains in different proportions of colour to this to try and match the colours found in tram interiors in Gothenburg. The orange, yellow and light blue are prefect although the pink was supposed to be red and the blue is too purple. Unfortunately on the black stoneware these glazes bubble but I still intend to use these glazes to decorate my original ‘sketches’ in clay – the haziness of the colour might work to reflect the blurriness of memory and the patchiness might reference the dirtiness of the trams.
Over the next two weeks I’m going to continue working with this collage technique but in a white low firing clay, hopeful the juxtaposition of these ‘sketched’ sculptures and a smooth, uniform and neatly coloured glaze will create impact. I’m going to try working on a slightly bigger scale so that there is some different in height levels in the final staircase exhibition. I have tried placing some objects on the stairs already to see how they look in this different context but the dark colour of the clay means they are lost against the surroundings. I hope the bright colours will change this and create a sense of playfulness and intrigue. I also plan to create more accurate blue and red glazes, a grey and a lemon yellow.
These forms above where made by casting plaster (2:1 plaster to water ratio) into thrown vessels with the technique described here. Red and black iron oxide was used to dye the plaster and the yellow surface effect is the result of using yellow earthenware clay to cast into. I enjoy the surprise of finding the hidden inside form within the clay once the plaster has set, it’s always a mystery to what form it will take. These plaster casts are fragile, they feel like eggshells to hold. I prefer the more complex asymmetrical forms like the one at the top of this page – it looks alien. The smaller pieces that fell off look a lot like shells. The pink one is also interesting, the controlled, smooth inside of the thrown vessel becomes the outside and the inside is changed to the very gloopy looking texture of plaster halfway to drying. It looks like the inside is alive, spilling out onto the outside.
It would be possible to make moulds from these moulds and complete the circle with a slipcast ceramic object which had the original’s inside form on the outside. Simpler, symmetrical forms would probably be best to try out first though.
In my tutorial with David last week we discussed colour theory and the way putting colour on the back of flat planes can reflect the light in a halo of that colour around the edges. As an example he suggested I look at the first year fine art project displayed on the third floor – I hadn’t looked closely enough at these to notice the optical effect before but it makes the images pop. I glued some coloured paper to the back of my cardboard cutouts and the result above shows a very subtle halo of green and red light shining behind them. It reminds me of the hazy reflection of light you get on overcast days like the ones we had at Port Eynon. If I manage to make some of these in porcelain paper clay I could glaze the backs to get a similar effect.
After Laura’s plaster casting workshop I was keen to try printing onto plaster because I hadn’t tried it before and I saw the opportunity to make more slab-like forms which I could assemble as a kind of theatrical scenery. I rolled coils of clay and pressed these onto an inked up plate, creating walls around different sections. Next I poured in plaster to a thickness of about 1cm and reinforced the back with scrim. I mixed up two lots of 2 pints water/plaster so I didn’t have to do the whole plate at once. I should have been much neater with the clay by cutting walls from a slab because I would have had to file down the edges less this way. The resulting sections are a bit too thick – maybe I could have poured the plaster sooner. On the plus side, lots of detail came out from the intaglio plate.
I then set these upright in a bed if plaster (4 pints) which again, was poured a bit late so looks like icing slapped onto a cake with a palette knife. The scene looks a bit naff and reminds me more of a snowscene with ice and glaciers than a beach. I like the idea of placing a second inked up plate onto the drying plaster then hanging up the sections when they’re dry so the print is shown on both sides.
I also tried using coloured slips and sgarffito on slabs of clay. Inspired by Morgan’s Vicarious Wednesday talk I tried using paper resist stencils but discovered I have very little patience when it comes to decorating. Hopefully the slabs below will fire black and white.
I’ve also been working on making paperclay for the first time. Porcelain casting slip can’t be used for this purpose so instead I had to use porcelain from a bag. I dried out the clay then ground it to a powder in a pestle and mortar, added water, then let it slake down overnight. In the morning I poured off excess water and soaked the paper pulp (ratio of 1:3 to the clay) for 2 hours before sieving it (60 mesh) to get rid of excess water. I mixed the paper and slip together by hand but the consistency was very lumpy so Matt showed me how to use the glaze mixer which blends the paper pulp into a smooth consistency.
I made up an ink with black underglaze, a small amount of borax frit to make it less powdery (about 5% is ideal) and copperplate oil. The powders were sieved through 200 mesh then the oil was added gradually, applied to the plate and rubbed off with scrim the same as with the intaglio ink. This afternoon I built a wall around the plate and poured in the porcelain paperclay slip with the hope it will be dry by tomorrow with the ink printed on. The underglaze should stay on when fired but it will need a transparent glaze to seal it. I’m worried the clay might not dry in time for tomorrow’s assessment so I may try using a heatgun to speed up the process.
To keep away the Wednesday blues I decided to work from my recent train doodles, enlarging them and working into the drawings with pastels, oil pastels, gouache and marker pen. Perhaps the next step is, how do I transform these drawings into three dimensional objects?
I’ve been practicing throwing repeat forms that I can use as glaze tests. These are also to explore what I mentioned in the previous post about the material agency of clay and the way it responds to hand movements and the wheel. I’ve deliberately tried to throw them as thin as possible and keep turning to a minimum to retain the throwing lines because I like how raw and fluid they are. I feel turning a pot ‘to death’ loses that spontaneity and immediacy. These were intended to be Adam Buick-like moon jars but look more like little beehives. Hopefully the ridges on the surface will cause the glazes to pool and display their effects with different thicknesses of application.
Wandering along Pencarnan beach in sunny Pembrokeshire this afternoon I discovered these fascinating textures – limpets and barnacles cluster together in creases of rock like frightened sheep and pits and hollows like pockmarks carved into stone by the waves remind me of Wendy Lawrence’s expressive surfaces.
These organic forms have got me thinking of additives that will leave texture in clay – pressing seeds and pulses or nuts into the material that will burn out and leave hollows… I wish I’d brought some clay with me to press into these rocks.