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.
Although I’m a thrower, I do enjoy the challenge of working with other pottery techniques.
These slabbed constructions are ceramic bases, designed to support a sculpture on a metal rod. That said, I reckon they look pretty cool as stand alone pieces. I particularly enjoy the potential for geometric pattern making when the bases are lined up in groups.
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….
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!
Something I greatly value about the making process is the emergence of an unexpected outcome.
The potter’s wheel offers lots of potential for a creative ‘surprise’ and I always try to stay alert to the ‘happy accident’. The slightest change in hand position or shift in concentration can lead to a whole new aesthetic or approach. I may not have the time to action the diversion straight away but will photograph, make notes and bank the idea for another day.
More recently, I’ve been getting further and further through the making process before the ‘light bulb’ moment presents itself. The forms above were thrown and assembled bodies of insects designed for a garden sculpture exhibition. There is something very elementary and abstract about the forms at that particular stage in the process that prompted me to take the photo. I then attached legs and wings to achieve the original intention and turned them into something quite different from the legless versions!
This piece below is a slabbed base designed to display a ceramic fish sculpture. A metal rod inserted in the hole to suspend the fish at the other end.
Most of my work starts it’s life on the potter’s wheel so shapes are invariably soft and organic looking. Producing a straight sided, angular object required me to work with another technique. I had so much fun rolling the clay, drying, assembling the slabs and finally smoothing the joins, it got me inspired to do more. Discounting the original function of the piece, I think the leather hard result looks like it could hold it’s own as a stand alone sculptural vessel.