Thursday, 21 November 2013

Random musings and connections

I like to work in a quite random fashion, flitting from one theme to another. Sometimes when I take a second or sideways look I see the most surprising connections.

I have been photographing a recent piece, my chicken dish, another coloured clay piece. 

Whilst I had my camera out I photographed the latest project taking shape on my work table.

And the connection? Which came first; the chicken, the egg or the dinosaur?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Coloured clay success

The experimentation with coloured clay is producing results. Above is a selection of pieces fired to earthenware, the colours of the clay brought out with clear glaze. Below is an inlaid clay dish that I am particularly pleased with.


The first pieces to be finished have generated more ideas to try. I made two similar shallow dishes decorated with inlaid clay and textured by drawing into the designs with sharp points. After biscuit firing both dishes were painted and the texture enhanced with cobalt oxide before glazing and firing. Above is a dish fired to earthenware, the glaze has brightened the colours and  the cobalt has produced a bright blue wash effect, and below is the other dish fired to stoneware, the colours are much  darker and more muted. I like both dishes for their different qualities and will be firing more pieces to stoneware.

Not all transparent glazes are the same. Above are two different transparent earthenware glazes. On the left is a traditional  recipe from Emmanuel Cooper, the brightness of this glaze is achieved using fritted lead, so work is not food safe. On the right is a commercially produced glaze which is food safe but has a tendency to be a little opalescent and colours are not as bright. The intended use of a piece will determine which glaze to use, and prompts much musing on the debate between beauty and usefulness. I want both, so will try to find a glaze that delivers both.  

And between working with glazes and other projects I'm still beavering away finding inspiration in fabric and wallpaper designs from the 1950's, like these from Lucienne Day and Marion Mahler.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Bronze Age Potters.

Just back and still smelling faintly of woodsmoke having spent the weekend with friends and their families experimenting with making pots and firing them in the open as Bronze Age potters would have done.  Without having an actual Bronze Age potter to hand to help us get things right, we tried out a theory about how they fired their pots proposed by Bill Crumbleholme, You can see his U Tube video here.  Beakerfolk Amesbury Archer Beaker Firing.

When we started we hoped to finish with some usable pots, if we were lucky we might even be able to use them for breakfast. Whatever happened we would have a good time.


Mid-day on Saturday, we started making our beaker style pots using a mixture of grogged clays. All the pots, and a few small sculptures, were hand built by pinching, some had additional coils added and nearly everyone had the urge to add decoration. We aimed to be as authentic as possible so tools were anything of a natural and non metal origin and included shells for scrapers (mussel shells were excellent) bone, wood and stone burnishers.

It was important to make sure the pots were completely dry before attempting to fire them. 

When the BBQ was lit to cook tea it seemed natural to move the pots to the heat to dry them further. Underneath the fire bowl was ideal. The pots were tended and turned to ensure even drying.

Dusk and firing started. The fire was lit and burned for a while to dry and heat the ground, the ashes were raked aside and the dry pots placed in the centre. As the pots heated up the fire was brought closer and closer to the pots.

When the fire was touching the pots it was built up and carefully heaped over over the pots.

Everyone tended and stoked the fire as it burned fiercely for a couple of hours. If we peered into the flames we could just see the edges of pots glowing orange and for the first time we dared to hope that we would have usable pots at the end of the process.

When the fuel ran out the fire was allowed to die down. Some time after midnight the pots were cooling sufficiently to start bringing them out of the ash. The ashes were carefully raked aside and the newly fired pots revealed. They had fired well with very few "accidents"; judging from the character of the pots the fire probably reached a temperature around or just above 800C.


We had a load of usable pots, the following morning tea* was drunk from the small beakers and  Rachel had breakfast in her new bowl. It had taken just about 12 hours for a lump of raw clay to become a handsome and functional bowl.

What a fantastic weekend, many thanks to Rachel from Hive for inspiring the event and  Georgina and Phil at Hebden Bridge Camping for letting us turn their campsite into a Bronze Age pottery camp. 

* not strictly authentic. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Coloured Clay Techniques, a sneak preview.

This year I have started to move in a new direction. I've gained my initial teaching qualification and  been given the opportunity to teach a weekend workshop at Hive in March next year. I have always been keen to see decoration as an integral part of a ceramic piece rather than an afterthought and with this in mind will be delivering a workshop devoted to coloured clay techniques. I have started preparations and have been busy developing ideas and practising new techniques to make a range of demonstration pieces.

These are some of my experiments with Nerikomi drying out before they are biscuit fired. Nerikomi is a decorative process that involves stacking different coloured clays, and then slicing through the cross section to reveal a pattern, which is then used as an applied decoration. Another name for Nerikomi is millefiori. 

The results are a combination of careful planning and accidental surprise. I am fascinated by the way the pattern influences decisions about the final form of the piece as much as the intended form influences pattern choices. I am looking forward to more experimentation with this technique adding texture and exploring the potential of glazing to add depth and interest to the patterns. And there are further techniques to explore such as inlaying and the free and random effects of agate or marbled clay.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Chalices and patterns

The chalices and patterns are finished and have been handed over to Sarah Jemison of Christ Church, Windhill. This is the first time I have worked to such a very specific brief and it took longer than anticipated to complete as I progressed from calculating the weight of the clay for throwing to researching and testing glazes to get just the right result. Getting the right glaze took the most time waiting for the tests to be fired, hoping they would come out right, and going "back to the drawing board" on more than one occasion.

The testing and preparatory work paid off, the glaze is a lovely soft satin slightly warm speckled grey. All the pieces are as similar as possible, however they all have their unique small differences and individual characters.

And now I'm making some more space scouts while I ponder what next. Would I do another commission like this to a very specific brief? Yes, I think I would. Getting the finished pieces just right has required practical problem solving requiring patience and persistence alongside imaginative solutions. But best of all was Sarah's pleasure when she saw the finished pieces for the first time.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Work in progress

Fired  and unfired work
I've been busy at Hive with a number of projects, meanwhile work on the chalices has been progressing. All the pieces have been biscuit fired and are waiting for their next and final glaze firing.
Glaze tests
Trial glazes have been made, tested and retested to get the just right one. When the best glaze is chosen, all the pots will be glazed and fired. I'm getting exited and impatient to see them all together and finished.

Wedgwood made and fired thousands of trials to get the exact finish he wanted. You can see trays of his glaze and body trials at The Wedgwood museum .

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A new commission

Relaxing after a busy at at HIVE. I've been asked to make several chalice and pattern sets for Christ Church, Windhill. I'm a bit stiff after working at the wheel for the day and debating whether to have a hot bath first, or a cold beer. 

Work in progress - some patterns (saucers) towards the front and component parts for the chalices at the back.  The chalices are made in two parts, bowl and foot which are then joined together. Meanwhile I have made some sample glazes which are being fired on test tiles,  I have to be patient as they will not be out of the kiln until early next week when I will select which glaze to use.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Some new Ceramicals

I have at last  finished my latest group of Ceramical Scouts, I've been experimenting with another traditional technique, Maiolica , which has given them a very different look and attitude.


Also finished are the boxes inspired by the Antikythera Mechanism .


 I've been offered a wonderful commission, to produce a number of chalice and pattern sets for a local ministry. I'm very much looking forward to starting to work on them as I'll be following my favourite traditional techniques and creating classic and contemporary pieces. Strictly no gears or gizmos!

Saturday, 4 May 2013


Is been a while since I posted my last blog, so I sat a while in the sun reviewing all that I had been doing over the past months and was mystified by a delicate whirring, clinking and tinkling. Closer investigation revealed wonderful mechanical insects. 

I have a box of almost finished ceramicals, so will turn my atention to them whilst I ponder my new insectical friends. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

New stuff and new directions.

Belated New Year greetings. January has been a busy month, taking the ideas I was developing in December turning them into what I hope will be new beginnings. The weathered test tile from December inspired this group of ceramic boxes, they are fairly small, just the right size to hold a piece of treasure.

I've been experimenting with majolica, a tin glazed pottery decorated with oxides that when fired has lovely bright colours. This is a very different decorative technique for me, and I think one with huge potential to bring a new feel to my Space Scouts.

These new pots have gone into my submission to the Saltaire Arts Trail  which was sent off  this week. I hope to hear next month if I been fortunate & gained a place in the Art Trail or Maker's Fair.

Over the past months I have been feeling increasingly unhappy at my paid work and have been looking for ways to re-balance my life with more of the artistic work that I love. Next month I start working for a PTLLS qualification through Artworks Creative Communities  which will allow me to teach and take workshops sharing my love of ceramics. 

So, I'm going to clear out the (frosty) cobwebs and look forward to a year full of potential.