At the start of my third year, I was very much focused on the use of natural materials in my work. I experimented with clays, ashes, shells and rocks to form glazes. I was intrigued by the work of Matthew Blakely and Andrew Preistman, who both use materials available to them in the landscape to create their pots. Over the course of this year, my practice has swung round to focus equally on pottery, and the shapes and forms of traditional pots.
I was also still very new to reduction firing, and so firing the small gas kiln solo for the first time was a daunting task for me. It has gradually become easier and I now feel that I have a level of understanding of the kiln, and what happens inside it during a firing. Gas firing has become an essential part of my practice, and the earthier, more expressive and unpredictable results only enhance the nature of the materials that I use. As I began focusing more on ash glazes, the focus of my pots changed slightly too, I became more aware of the surface to which I was applying glaze.
My work has become much more refined in the past few months, and I have begun to understand more about the functionality and finesse of pottery shapes. I still have a very long way to go in my throwing and turning skills, and I know that the details of my work need refinement. For example, the foot rings which I turn into my bowls are often too short, and look a little stumpy. What I would like to do next is focus purely on skills.
In January, I worked a lot on throwing larger amounts of clay, working from 3lb up to 8lb. I found this very difficult and despite throwing a dozen or so pots, I only kept a few. I found that there was only a certain height that I could reach, however much clay I was using. I looked at Clive Bowen, Mike Dodd and Phil Rogers for inspiration on shape, and spent a lot of time trying to work out exactly where a curve should go in a pot. It is amazing how the slightest change in shape can offset the feel of a pot completely. I think this helped to improve my small scale throwing too, as I found it much easier to go back to bowls after throwing a 6lb pot.
In March I went to assist the salt firing with Jeremy Steward at Wobage Workshops. Seeing the work made there and the community atmosphere they had helped me to remember that evidencing the joy of making in the work is important. I began experimenting making some lively mugs, leaving finger prints in the clay, and decorating with stamps and wooden tools. I really enjoyed making these mugs, but decided to omit them from my exhibition, as I feel they contrast to much with the rest of my work at the moment. Perhaps in the future I would like to develop these forms with my other work to bring them together.
In the last few months I have been working on producing quantities of bowls to certain weights and dimensions. This is to help me think more about working sustainably as a potter, and also about the costs of time and materials. I have been also thinking about the display of my work, and how to link the range of pieces together with heights, glazes, patterns and shapes. I developed two ranges of bowls, one curvy and simple, and the other more squared, tea-bowl shape, which was inspired by a small bowl by Helen Pincombe in the Anthony Shaw collection at the Centre of Ceramic Art, York.
I found that I needed some warmer glazes to bring the pieces together, and really stand boldly next to the ash glazes. I began developing Shino glazes, using recipes from books, journals, and some directly from other potters, while substituting some ingredients with my own dug clay from Leicestershire. I found one which carbon trapped really effectively, and create a great palette of colours. However, I soon discovered that when applied thickly, it easily bubbles and crawls. If I had more time, I would like to develop my Shino and learn how to apply it to functional wares for optimal balance of thick, crawl on the outside, and smooth orange on the inside. I also started using a tenmoku glaze, which I took from a Phil Rogers book, and edited to include my own willow ash. I really like the way this glaze settles into crevasses in the clay, and creates dark pools. However, similar to the shino, I would like more time to really get to know this glaze and work on my application. When this glaze is too thin it is rust-red, and when too thick it runs easily.
There are still a lot of materials and techniques that I would like to explore. I would like to do research into the use of rocks in glazes, and learn to identify rocks myself that could then be ground into a glaze or slip. I would find it incredible to make a range of bowls from completely self sourced materials. I would also like to develop my glazes in wood firings, as I think this would bring a whole other dimension of expression to their surface and colours.
Over the Easter break, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of potteries. The first was Winchcombe pottery in Gloucestershire, where I worked for a few days. The team there had altered slightly since I had last visited, and the production of wares for The Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent seemed to be going well. It is always when I visit a pottery like this that I am hit with the reminder of what I want to spend my time doing.
Production pottery functions differently to studio pottery. There is very much a team atmosphere going on, with each person completing their own tasks, which tie into everyone else’s. The wares aren’t those designed by the makers, but ones which have been made at Winchcombe for decades. The learn about and be a part of a history like that is an incredible thing. Measurements and weights of clay for specific pots are written on pieces of paper by potters of the past, and shapes of cups and pots are often referred to by looking at those made by the old potters of Winchcombe. Each potter has their own subtle style leached into the pot, whether it is the curve of a handle or the weight of a rim. A pottery like Winchcombe is the feeling of being a part of something greater than yourself.
The second pottery I visited was unintentional. I was camping in exmoor, and when I got into conversation with the old lady who worked in the icecream shop, she told me to visit the pottery that happened to be just around the corner. The pottery is called Ruffen Common, and houses two makers, the first is Brian Andrews, who makes animal sculptures, and the second is Russel Kingston, an earthenware potter who had been there for two years. He was very welcoming and happily chatted to my boyfriend and I about his work and how he came to be an earthenware potter. The history of earthenware pottery in Britain is rich, especially in north Devon, and the shapes and patterns that can be drawn from this tradition are distinctive. I think it is again about being a part of something greater than yourself – living and continuing a tradition in a conetemporary way. Of course a real country pottery is something that will not exist again, (because of many reasons including changing customer demands and technologies) but taking ideas and learning or teaching the skills that they used is a way of connecting ourselves to the potteries that were once an essential part of rural life.
I also bought a lovely mug from Russel’s seconds box:
The kiln I fired on Friday went very well, and there are things I can learn from. I am glad that I am doing my last firings over a few weeks, so that I can make any improvements or slight changes that I need to. For example, the Shino I am using needs to be applied very thinly to the insides of functional wares, so as it doesn’t crawl. However, on the outsides and on larger pots it can be heavily applied, so as to get more carbon trapping.
The Phil Rogers Tenmoku I made using willow ash is lovely, and works great with stamps in the clay. I will be using it more in the next firing.
Where the Shino changes from bright, firey orange to the carbon gray, it is almost as if the are two different glazes on the pot. The colour combination is great.
Last week I made some iron slip using river Soar clay and red iron oxide. I brushed this onto some salad bowls which were unloaded from the communal bisque over the weekend. Sadly, the slip shrank much more than the St Thomas clay body, and so it pulled away.
I have brushed it all off, and after some research in books and asking around in the studio, I have decided to calcine some of the iron slip – grind it down and fire to about 600. This will then mix into a 50/50 mixture, to try and lower it’s shrinkage rate. However, it might be too late for me to use this slip this term.
Inspired by Jeremy Stewards mug shapes, I have been trying to throw some mugs which express the joy of making. Using slips and stamps, I have been decorating them ready for ash glazes. A lot of them are currently drying ready to be bisqued on Monday. They are shapes that I really enjoy throwing, squeezing them in to create character and life. struggled with handle placement at first, but then settled for a handle which started about 2/3rds of the way up, and came in at the foot.
After gradually making a stock of the bowl shapes I have shown in previous posts, I wanted to start making a set of bowls which allowed me to use the stamps I have been making. I went from a quick sketch I took of a tea bowl by Helen Pincombe at the Anthony Shaw Collection at CoCA. The tea bowl was a squat, angular shape, but something about the curves and angles really resonated with me. I thought if I could stretch that shape out, it would translate well into a soup or salad bowl.
Taken from her Guardian Obituary –
“She always strove for strength and simplicity of form, and is remembered particularly for her domestic ware, garden pots and individual bowls – a form she returned to again and again. She developed an elegant style of brush work, and always worked in stoneware, with temoku and grey glazes and dark slips. ”
It’s a shape I found quite hard to throw, not sure how to go about getting the undercut right, whether to leave that totally to turning or try and leave a gap when throwing. I now have about 10 individual sized ones (1lb) in the bisque firing, and 6 larger ones (1lb 4oz) that have been slipped and stamped. My one concern is that the footring isn’t big enough for my liking. I found it hard to leave enough clay at the base to turn a decent sized footring, so they are quite short. I shall have another look at them on Monday and see how I feel.
These have an iron slip made from river Soar clay on the outside, and a white slip (50% China Clay 50% Hyplas Ball Clay) on the inside. I am hoping that this will have lovely effects on my ash glazes. I have yet to try them out.