Personal Review 26/06/2017 updated 3 July

Context 26th June 2017

I have had the 1st Assessment on May 18th, and been to Earth and Fire this weekend. It was a rush to finish building my Sea Bean piece for the assessment.  I enjoyed the assessment, but since then I’ve felt a bit flat. I’m not as confident in my ability to do this as Dave, Anna and Wendy seem to be.  So far I’ve only made very experimental pieces, none of them ‘finished’; none of them of the standard I’d like them to be. And the question of small scale sculpture was raised again during the assessment. And texture, not to mention surface finish. I’ve been testing colours, so lets start with that:

Surface Finish

I’ve done a preliminary test batch of stains in Dave’s engobe, to check the colours and see which make of stains are best. Also to ascertain the percentage to use for further tests. So far, the ATC stains are my favourites, not just for the hues, but also for the intensity of colour.

I’ve done a second batch of line tests for colour mixing ability: blue/yellow, blue/red, red/yellow. Awaiting firing.

I’ve had a word with Dave about his engobe and I have a line test drawn up to try adding a greater percentage of frit to increase the vitreous quality. I have yet to do the test tiles. 

I also need to test colours+white, maybe colours + black.

Depending on the results of the biaxial line blends, I next intend to do triaxial blends. I’ve already planned how this will be done, but this may need tweaking.

Once those are done, I may need to test colours in the new engobe recipe, on different bodies, over oxides, and different methods of application dipping/brushing/spraying.

Update 3 7 2017

Gaynor Ostinelli showed me how they add colour, using underglazes like watercolours. They put a little in the lid then brush a couple of colours on thinly, spraying with water to brush out thicker areas.  They build up in layers, firing in between so they can remove anything they don’t like. Interesting. Then they use clear glaze for eyes and highlight areas eg horns.


Mmmm, not getting on well with texture. I’m not enamoured by stamping or rolling things into the surface. I can’t see myself oozing slip everywhere, like Akiko Hirai.  James Oughtibridge refines the surface, then adds marks that flow with the form using a surform. It looks like Ashraf Hanna – and his wife – does something similar. Try this. Brendan Hesmondhalgh thinks James should leave some of his joints and working marks in his forms.  I can’t say I think it would work well, especially as James even refines the inside that isn’t seen, but it looks good on Brendan’s work. I’m not sure that I’m a joint-leaver, but I’d like to do something a little looser. Maybe cutting.  Many do the crisscross tool mark thing – that’s okay in moderation. I liked Annie Peaker’s porcelain over stoneware texture under transparent colour – maybe explore this?

Update 3 7 2017

Ostinelli and Priest have provided food for thought. I’ve loved their surface texture since I saw their work in the Contemporary Ceramics Centre last year. In their demo at ICF, Paul Priest showed how he rolls his clay with a metal roller, which sticks to the clay and creates a torn texture, then slices it off to form a slab. The texture looks like that I was trying to achieve on my first ‘poo’ piece back in November. I discussed this with them in the demonstrator tent afterwards.  They use Earthstone ES40 Stoneware, heavily grogged, which ideally would be drier than the clay they had been provided with. How can I utilise this? Make internal former then cut it out? Use a hump mold and join pieces? Use it as an insert? Use it as the basic form?  Add it over the basic form?

Their use of an internal armature that is fired in situ made me check Kathleen Sandon’s Additions to Clay Bodies. Katie Queen p68 adds balls of cotton fibre dipped in deflocculated slip to leatherhard clay.  The cotton burns away to leave a honeycomb effect, which she often fills with coloured polyester fibre:

Katie Queen

I could use this technique to line my honeycomb concave inserts, or use doweling and other objects to add surface texture, or create internal structure within a cavity. Don’t suppose Geoff will appreciate it in the kiln room, though.

Small Scale Sculpture

This has been problematic. I’ve tried making small scale versions of the concave/convex inserts, added to spherical forms, but it hasn’t worked well, nor have I enjoyed it. I don’t really like any of the drawings I’ve done based on Kesseler’s spherical seeds and pollen grains. The thought of having to make loads of them is depressing. However, DAW are right, I do have to address the issue of small scale work. The second years also say that we should be thinking about next year’s Earth and Fire now.

I’ve given up trying to make anything until I’ve researched what other ceramicists do, both online and at exhibitions.  Many just do tiles or small basic bowls finished with their distinctive surface decoration – morsels for the poor people. Not keen on this approach. I prefer the small items to be fully considered pieces in their own right.  Tony Laverick’s jewellery and Eric Moss’s plain wave forms tick this box. I’ve discussed it with James Oughtibridge. He said he knew he needed to have a less expensive range, but struggled to get it right. He too wanted to make objects that related to his large pieces, but weren’t just inferior versions that gained value solely from referencing the large versions. ‘Works of art in their own right’.

I also discussed it with Adele at E&F at the weekend, and she pointed out that trying to do small spherical versions of my work isn’t ‘me’.  She suggested using the full scale motifs in smaller pieces. Genius! I’ve been working on this today and have come up with ideas for very small, small, and medium sized forms. I have yet to turn my scribbles into working drawings, but I’m pretty excited about the prospect of starting to make test objects.

Update 3 7 2017

Emilie Taylor talked about this at Gallery Oldham on Wednesday.  She says it takes 2 years to start selling larger items, but advises against making small objects with the sole purpose of getting sales.  She says that making smaller items for sale can compromise the potential for your practice. Cheryl and I were chatting to John Higgins over lunch on Saturday at ICF, and he also said that it’s easy to get caught in making things just to get sales and not developing the work that interests you.

So, the small items I make must be something that interests me, and relates to my larger work, as Adele suggested.  Or constitutes my larger work, given my penchant for installations. I started exploring composite pieces in the 3D Fine Art modules at Bolton, which is something I’d like to investigate further:

My bear project at Bolton

I looked at how Liz Ellis does this at Ruthin Craft Centre on Friday.  One of her gallery pieces was comprised of porcelain petals and claws on slate:

Liz Ellis Ruthin Craft Centre
Liz Ellis: Petals and Claws

On the display, the individual slates were advertised at £15 each, which seemed rather cheap. However, in the shop, ‘each’ turned out to be a single claw flower set on a very small slate, or worse, on a modelled green or lustre calyx.  Oh dear! I imagine potential customers liking them in the gallery would get to the shop and be very disappointed. This relates to something Barnaby Barford said.  We were discussing his Tower of Babel project, where the actual individual shops were for sale, proceeds to the V&A:

The shops had been slip cast in Stoke and finished with decals from photographs he’d taken and digitally prepared himself.  To paraphrase, he said it was important to him that each element was a perfect stand-alone piece. James Oughtibridge’s ‘works of art in their own right’.

The Sea Bean Sculpture

I didn’t have high hopes of the large holey piece surviving firing, given it was the first time I’d tried this method, there was the issue with the clay, the form had had one major and one lesser repair, and the last few sections were inserted wet. But I couldn’t move on until it had been fired to apply what I’ve learnt to the next piece. I put it in the kiln room too soon (patience is indeed a virtue), and a small crack between an insert and the basic form appeared even before firing. During firing two more small cracks appeared – one where the side wall of an insert was too thin (NB ensure even thickness of walls), and one where I’d sanded back the joint between an insert and basic form too much (note to self to do the joints properly at the building stage). Also, the repair to the top is faintly visible (might be the because there is a mix of very short recyc clay and new clay here). I used wire wool to smooth the concave areas before firing and it has left specks of metal adhered to the clay.  It will be interesting to see how this affects the glaze. I need to source either a carborundum cloth or diamond pads. Overall, there’s nothing that can’t be easily remedied, so I’m pleasantly surprised it survived firing in such good shape.

Future Larger Forms

I think Rob Kesseler has been a helpful starting point, but now I’m more inclined to follow Tony Cragg’s example of exploring the potential of the material, whilst creating some of the infinite number of forms that can exist outside those of functional objects.

For now, larger forms are on the back burner.  This will give me time to investigate smaller forms, colours, engobes and glazes.  It will also give the new technician time to start so I can get help with my wood framed moulds.

Update 3 7 2017

Seems larger forms will be back on the agenda sooner than anticipated.  I can start experimenting with textured slabs and internal armatures/hump moulds asap.