One of the most satisfying outcomes has been the incidental surfaces and effects that appear when I’ve been getting creative applying a slip resist to the surface of my bisque fired ware.
In an attempt to echo the experimental way I manipulate freshly thrown form, I’ll often take a thick brush loaded with slip and flick it at the poor unsuspecting pots. Most of it hits the target but there is also a considerable amount that doesn’t! Splash-back and wayward slip often deposit on the work surface, floor and pretty much everything in a five mile radius!
Below are some examples of chance and incidental slip landings – one of which looks remarkably like the surface of the moon. Wonder if I could replicate the effect on the surface of a pot? Maybe a moon jar!?
This gnarly ‘ol slab of oak has been gently decaying in the Pottery garden for the last 10 years or so.
It was initially used to display several of my discovery pots – lidded, thrown cylinders containing fresh clay and a note encouraging the ‘discoverer’ to make something and leave it in the pot. Little creativity traps! A few days later, I collected the models, took them back to the Pottery, fired them and exhibited the results online.
The elements and time have worked their magic on the wood and I adore the range of texture and colour of the decomposing timber.
Contemporary Ceramics asked me to provide a short piece of writing to accompany the work I sent them. It was suggested I comment on how I got into working with clay:
As a child I loved drawing and messing about with mud. We lived on the edge of a large housing estate and a planning dispute over freshly dug foundations on an empty plot next door, meant the deep trenches remained void of concrete for several years. What a fabulous landscape for myself, brother, and our mates to roam and explore. The walls of the foundations exposed seams of soft yellow clay, perfect for poking fingers and sticks. We dug old bottles, (there must have been a Victorian rubbish dump) squashed balls of clay onto the ends of sticks and hurled them at brick walls (and each other!) to see how long the clay stayed there. They always landed with a satisfying, heavy thud which over time, must have annoyed the hell out of the neighbours as the activity came to an abrupt halt with a proper telling off! Even though the forest of sticks and clay have long since dropped off the wall, the activity has informed and inspired my approach to ceramic practice and my educational/community engagement work.
My art teachers at school were encouraging and although it was a subject in which I excelled; I had no idea about careers in the creative industries. It wasn’t until the age of 15 I encountered the head of my local art-school and in a blinding revelation, realised that ‘art’ could be a job! I studied in Swindon & then Bath, my experience culminating in a 1st class degree in ceramics and 3d design. Whilst at Art School I met my future wife and fellow potter Sarah Monk and in 1994 we moved to Herefordshire, founded Eastnor Pottery and started a family.
I recently made a selection of high fired bee and bug shakers for a gallery in London. The high temperature makes for a satisfying ‘ring’ when the rattle is shaken.
As I was lowering the last beastie into the kiln, I decided on a whim to save it from the firing and give it a lower temperature bisque instead. My intention, to incorporate it into my smoke firing experiments as up until that point all the test pieces had been vessels.
So glad I did!
I’m really pleased with the colours. Deep blacks, a hint of terracotta and the odd flash of white – perfect!…and although the rattle sounds slightly different its still an interesting sonic.
Unfortunately, this discovery came too late for the critters heading to London, but if I could have my time with them again….
It’s amazing how a terracotta pot can survive outside in the garden for decades. Season after season it is resilient against the very worst the British Winter can hurl at it. And then, all of a sudden, it quite literally falls to pieces.
Frost damage occurs when water, absorbed into the ceramic wall freezes and expands. The force is strong enough to ‘spit out’ little chunks leaving the surface pot marked. Sometimes the force is strong enough to crack the vessel in two!
This button planter made by myself in the 1990’s with all it’s applied half spheres, lived happily and in tact, in the garden here at Eastnor pottery. Then out of the blue, quite recently, after a particularly wet and cold period, the planter shed all it’s buttons.
I can only deduce that the days of persistent rain had penetrated and saturated the pot. Under normal circumstances the pot would dry naturally, minimising the effect of the freezing water. On this occasion the sudden, plunging temperatures shortly after the deluge was sufficient to reek havoc. The conditions were spot on – a perfect storm!
I like the effect though – The area beneath the buttons resisted the lichen patina. When the buttons popped off, they left a satisfying terracotta polka dot pattern. Nature is the best artist!
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.
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.
In an attempt to add further depth to my ceramic surfaces, I’ve been messing about with fire in the Pottery garden.
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!