Subjects I want to explore in Ceramics

I haven’t really explore ceramics as a method of interpreting my ideas as a Fine artist. The last five weeks have allowed me to explore them. As someone who is quite aware of sustainability and how as a society we consume huge amounts and form incredible amounts of waste which end up in landfills and our oceans, I want to produce work I can use in my house as crockery or storage. As well as making objects I can use again, I wanted them to abstract and slightly quirky. I didn’t necessarily have a typical topic for the work in mind so I doesn’t to just work with the clay see what I ended up with. I felt this gave me more freedom to explore this new material (new to me) and kept the skill level basic as a beginner.

I have learnt a lot of skills and techniques during this project. I was taught how to properly use the throwing wheel and to control the speed. I found it easier to keep the wheel on a slow speed to control the clay and mould it into the desired shape. On occasion I had the clay too wet which meant it was too soft and wast able to hold its shape. To overcome this mistake I needed to stop the wheel, dry may hands and work the clay and use hand towels to dry it slightly. This allowed me to start again and work the lay into shape. I found the throwing wheel was the best techniques I have learned because it enable me to work with the clay in my own way and create the shapes and abstraction I want to from the start.

We were shown how to make tiles and had the history of tiling explained to us during a lecture. I found the tiles were a good way to explore the different styles of slip work because there were easier to work with and experiment on. The flatness of them meant the shapes I wanted to create were easier to proportion and create. Although the tiles were a good way to experiment, I found them didn’t express my theme of usage in daily life. They did however allow us to explore terracotta clay after using stoneware clay on the throwing wheel.

My tutors and peers who specialise in the subject were able to guide me through the different basic techniques needed to produce different styles of ceramics. Crockery, tiles, slip casting, combined models – made up cutting up slip casted models and joining them together using clay slip – are all of the different techniques we were taught during the five weeks. I will be continuing to use ceramics as a material through my degree and possibly after during my artistic career.

Glazing

The final stage of ceramics making process is gazing. I also think it’s the most exciting because part of making because it is the finalising of the work. We were able to use different colours of glazing including, yellow/brown, blue, green and black. If you wanted you could just use a simple clear glaze especially if you have decorated with clay slip.

I decided with some of my pieces that I just wanted to use a clear glaze because I like the effect of the raw clay. I find the rawness of it coincides with my theme and concerns of sustainability and mass production because I have used less chemicals in my work. It is quite unsettling putting the gaze on the pots because it dry instantly and is a grey colour before firing. Once you have put a coloured gaze on your work you can’t dip it into the clear gaze. This meant you needed to paint the clear gaze on using a brush which  was quite difficult as it dried so fast. I found this worrying because it meant the coating of gaze wasn’t even on some of my pieces. This process didn’t really work for me however, it did allow me to apply different types of glazed on top of each other.

It will be interesting to see how my work turns up after the firing.

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Lucie Rie

Lucie Rie is a contemporary artist who made most of her thriving work around the 1960s and 1970s. This was a time where she was sharing a studio with Hans Coper. Rie and Coper’s work has often been associated with each other even though their most famous and well-known work is so different.

I find Rie’s work very interesting. I am especially intrigued by the texture she creates using the sgraffito technique in the clay and with the clay slip as well as the types and colours on gaze slip she uses. Her style and technique gives the work a rustic almost vintage look to the work. Sgraffito will create this effect as well as the way Rie uses the gaze.

Born in 1902, Rie grew up in a very privileged family in Austria. However, her easy life was affected by trauma and un happiness with the rise of Nazism throughout Germany and Austria. As a trained potter Rie fled to England where the affect of Nazism was not so direct. Most of her most famous work was made during her time where she was sharing a studio with Hans Coper.

 

Slip Casting

Slip casting was another method shown to us as part of ceramics 101. This method involves making a cast of an object/toy from plaster cast. The cast will act as a mould for the clay slip. Once you have the mould you need to ensure it is held sealed shut using thick rubber bands. From the whole in the mould you can now pour the clay slip into the mould. The slip is mixed in a large barrel with a motor-run mixing blade inside. The cast is very porous so it draws the moisture out of the slip to dry it into a leather hard state.  It is instructed that you leave the slip in the mould for 20 minutes (give or take depending on how thick you want the cast). After 20 minutes you need to pour the excess slip out of the mould back into the mixing barrel because you don’t want to waste the slip as it is expensive and there is no need to waste it. The mould is to stand upside down on the rack for about 30 minutes to drain all of the wet slip out of the mould leaving the letter hard clay in the same of the mould.

You can also mould tiles or other flat surfaces using slip. You need to form a barrier using clay – in a wet state or leather hard state – to contain the slip. The slip will take a lot longer to dry into a leather dry state than when it’s in the mould because the surfaces may not be porous.

Using this method you can also cut up the clay cast and combine them to create weird abstraction. For example, Yoda with a dog’s head or a princess with a frog’s head.

Slip casting is an excellent and quick way to create artwork and replicas of existing sculptures. I think it could be something I use as a future material.

Slab Building

Slab building is a method commonly used in sculptural pieces of ceramics because some shapes and ideas ceramic artist have may not be able to be easily made on the throwing wheel. As an artists sometimes doing for the easier method of creation is better economically and usually the least time consuming. No using the throwing wheel also meant I had more control of the clay and didn’t have to worry about it spinning too fast.

We were given a piece of leather hard clay to mould into a shape of our choice. However, I felt the leather hard clay wasn’t soft enough the bend round into the shape I wanted so I decided to use soft clay straight from the bag. I found this much easier to work with because it was easier to curve into shape and didn’t start to crack like the leather hard clay. Although it was easier to work with, it meant the soft clay was less stable and I needed to use the hand dryers to dry out the clay into the required leather hard state in oder for it to stand independently.

As I was moulded the clay it started to remind me of coral and rocks under the sea. The way the clay overlapped as it folded round and left a hole in the middle reminded me of tunnels. The shape of the slab is where I got the idea of the coral from and it was enhanced as I curved the clay round. I want most of my work to be useful in daily life so it doesn’t go to waste like a lot of art does in the modern day so, I decided to put bottoms onto the pieces so they could be used as mugs or as storage for pens and paint brushes.

Clay Tiles

Clay tiles date back to the Victorian era where they were used as flooring and walls. Today they are still widely used in walls especially in kitchens and bathrooms however, usually they are plain and not decorated so much. Many Victorian houses in Cardiff still have the tile flooring especially in student housing. As a student I find it is great for keeping the house cleaner however, it does mean it can be cold. However, nowadays if you want to lay this type of flooring it is very expensive and difficult to install because each tile is individually made, decorated and laid into a pattern. Although, it is difficult, the skill and detail in each is incredible.

Our technician showed us a few techniques that we could use to create different effects and styles using slip on top of the leather hard clay. Slip trailing and sgraffito are two of the methods shown to us.

Slip trailing is where you make indents into the leather hard clay making any pattern you want. Once you’ve done this you fill the indents with clay slip – a colour of your choice. You need to make sure there are no air bubbles in the fillings otherwise it would create the effect and if the air bubbles remain when it goes into the kiln, the work could explode. Once you fill the indents in you need to leave it to dry slightly for about 10 minutes and then scrap away the top layer of the slip away using a blade or a flat piece of metal.

sgraffito is a method of places layers of slip on top of leather hard clay and then scratching into it to reveal the clay and colours underneath. This method is a great way to create texture and detail into the tile.