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experiments surface quality

Thorny Charcoal

thorny charcoal sticks created by burning pruned rose bushes by herefordshire artist jon williams

These thorny sticks of charcoal are an inspiring bi-product of recent smoke firing and sagger experiments.

They originated as garden waste, pruned from my father in law’s rose bush and contributed to the marks and effects on this little pot.

I’m marveling at the texture and shape of the charred, blackened twigs and excited by the possibilities of using them in my work.

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experiments work in progress

Sagging saggers

broken saggers used in the fire place by potter jon williams to decorate his pots with smoke

I think its time to retire these ol’ saggers! #kintsugi anyone?

Also… not sure what the shiny black stuff is on the inside the one on the left – tar or creosote maybe? Whatever it is I like it!! 🖤🖤🖤

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artist experiments work in progress

Out of the ashes

Somewhere in this blackened sagger is a little burnt offering in need of  wire wool & wax tlc!

thrown torn and altered pot made on the potter's wheel by ceramic artist jon williamssmoke fired thrown torn and altered pot made on the potter's wheel by ceramic artist jon williamsthrown torn and altered pot made on the potter's wheel by ceramic artist jon williams

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experiments Outside work in progress

Saggers

Whilst experimenting with smoke fired pottery on the BBQ last Spring, I found a lot of my pots developed hair-line cracks and fissures due to the thermal shock of the flames licking the ware. There was only one course of action – make myself some saggers!

Those of you who might not be familiar with the word, a sagger is a protective fire-clay box enclosing ceramic ware while it is being fired.

Traditionally, they were used in the pottery industry to protect the pottery whilst it was fired in huge bottle kilns.

Above are some fine examples of antique saggers, piled high at Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke. They’ve obviously seen some action and been in and out of the kiln many many times, protecting their precious contents from the ferocity of the fire. The pitted and roasted surfaces really tell a story – I love the effect!

I used brick clay to make my saggers – x3 crude and rather brutal looking cylinders with lids made on the potter’s wheel and fired to 960 degrees. 

Not only do the saggers prevent cracking, but I have produced some really intense blacks by packing combustible materials around the work inside the sagger. The twigs and sawdust inside the sagger smolder in the oxygen deprived atmosphere rather than burst into flame. This produces a lot of smoke which permeates the ceramic surface with great effect. 

sagger made from brick clay on a fire protecting pottery by herefordshire artist jon williams

I’ve had so much fun experimenting with the saggers over the Autumn and Winter, firing them on the BBQ, bonfires and inside the house in the fireplace during the colder months.

sticks of charcoal inside a sagger created by herefordshire potter jon williams
Sticks of charcoal produced by the slow burning of hazel sticks inside the sagger

 

Categories
experiments Outside

Smoke fired pottery

In an attempt to add further depth to my ceramic surfaces, I’ve been messing about with fire in the Pottery garden.

pottery fish and pottery experiments being smoke fired on a bbq

I had dabbled with smoke firing once before in my role as an artist in residence at Evesham Nursery School. I have very fond memories of working with the staff and children in their amazing Forest School site on the outskirts of town.

The young artists had great fun painting thick wet slip onto bisque pots they’d created on one of my previous visits to the Nursery.

 

Once the pots, leaves, staff and children’s faces! had been daubed in slip, we set about building a fire around the pots, watching as the flames and smoke curled around the children’s creations.

When the fire had died down, we carefully extracted the scorching pots using raku tongs and plunged them into a bucket of water, admiring the sizzling, bubbling and frothing as they sunk to the bottom.

As soon as the pots were cool enough to handle, the children set about removing ash and scrubbing away the painted slip to reveal the pale terracotta – a terrific contrast to the blackened, smoked areas of the unmasked surface.

I remember being encouraged and inspired by the children’s results and keen to try out the process for myself. Unfortunately, as with a lot of things, I never seemed to find the time to explore the technique. That is until Lock down! 

I discovered an amazing website called Ceramic Arts Network, packed full with articles and accessible features. My fave being how to smoke fire pots on a BBQ!

garden bbq filled with ceramic experiments by artist jon williams

I have learnt so much from the first firing (thermal shock can be so frustrating!) and am looking forward to trying again using saggars to protect and pattern the work.

smoke fired pottery experiments by jon williams