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.