Friday, 19 December 2014

Good things come in threes

So there you have it. I'm half way through my three year degree course in visual arts.

This week I made the finishing touches to my work - techniques and processes, and studio practice, For both I have done ceramics and loved every minute of it.

In the last few days I have enjoyed visiting my former colleagues on the textile course, and admiring their endeavors. A lot of beautiful woven and printed work there. As I looked, I realised that I had made the right choice to leave the course and go to visual arts, and that was a reassuring feeling to have.

I have also seen some snippets of work by other students who have worked in what is called the Painting Studio or Spinning Shed. There is Beth's cardboard life-sized horse, Ian (Dash)'s 3d painted pallet explosions, Maggie's ceramic wall of curved bricks; Kristof's intricate tiny village.

Here are a few pictures taken of my work as it looks now, ready to be assessed over the next couple of weeks (along with everyone else's work too!)

Three different balls of wool, dipped in liquid clay, fired and glazed.

Ceramic spools - clay extruder, hessian and felt fibres dipped in slip, fired, glazed

Handmade textile coil pots, slip, firing, glazing, glass bead added and re-fired

Friday, 12 December 2014


Ceramics is full of surprises.

This week we experienced the joy of raku, the firing technique traditionally used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, most often in the form of tea bowls.

As with everything in ceramics, the process takes time.

First you need to make a piece to be bisque fired which is an overnight process.

Then coat it with three layers of slip. When that is dry - a good day or so later - you then add the raku glaze.

And leave it to dry.

So I made my pot last week and put the slip and glaze on this week. On Wednesday, tutor Martin fired up the outside kiln and we stood like strikers round a brazier in the 3 deg C chill.

Heating the kiln takes a mere 30 minutes; and initially we had to put the fired items on the lid to encourage them to dry out more. When they were finally ready to be put in, the firing continued for another 30 minutes. Then came the really fun bit ...

No-one else wanted to volunteer to put on the helmet and gloves and it somehow fell to me. My role was to pour buckets of sawdust over the clay items once they had been removed by Martin (also dressed up and armed with tongs) and placed in a metal bin. The first addition took me by surprise as the sawdust burst into flames and sparked violently out of the bin.
My bisque fired pot, decorated with a fork

Martin in charge

Firing the kiln

Like strikers round the brazier.

Martin and me in the gear 

My pot at back in the kiln

This continued for another 15 minutes or so as items were placed in the bin and I poured on more sawdust. Then the lid went on and guess what. Yes, come back the day after.

... the day after.

My blackened charred oval dish which I had thrown together in a hurry the previous week (and would shortly come to regret my haste) was retrieved from the bin. The next step was to chip away the slip, somewhat like scaling a fish, I should imagine. This is done for health and safety reasons over the extractor which sucks away the dust.

As I chipped, the dish broke. I was left with two pieces! It was only my first attempt so I wasn't disheartened, even though it then broke again, leaving me with a rim and several base pieces.

I had also not spread the initial layers of slip and glaze very competently - only patches of the opaque whiteness were visible amid the charcoal covering. But what did show through was intriguing enough for me to certainly have another go next year.

In the meantime I plan to do a 'Grayson Perry' with my raku bowl. He recently made a vase depicting shamed MP Chris Huhne (read more here)

The vase was smashed and repaired using an ancient Chinese technique, where the cracks are repaired using lacquer resin dusted or mixed with gold. And that's not quite exactly what I attempted. I do however have some Araldite (the goddess of repairs, says Martin) and some gold leaf. Here is the result ...

This final image is after I scrubbed away more of the charcoal residue.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Spools and wools

Monday mornings are magical - the kiln is opened to reveal its wonders; how will my slip-dipped knitted pieces look? Have the glazes worked? 

It's like Christmas morning for five year old me as I am handed my latest ceramic results. 
I'm pleased to say my work is improving as I learn and experiment with new techniques.

The kiln this week with all my exciting creations in it, just waiting to be devoured!

I have created more than 20 bobbins and spools so far. The first batch were based on extruded lengths which I then wrapped with hand-rolled wool. I also dipped balls of wool in slip, fired and glazed them. You can see the results above. My next batch of spools are awaiting their first firing but this time I have wrapped slip-dipped felt and wool round the extruded lengths. 

It's getting close to final assessment for this first semester (grrr, they are called terms) so I am now putting my finishing touches to this project. I am thinking of ways to display all the spools and wools! 

Meanwhile, I have gone off on a flight of fancy with a new project, based around collections.

So I have been making display units out of old boxes and wooden containers. The nooks and crannies and cubbyholes will contain an ambiguity of objects - some made from clay, some collected, fossils, man-made and natural found items. It's a work in progress and at the moment I'm excited about it but I am aware of how easily I get distracted by other ideas!

Juxtaposing boxes and objects

Upturned note and pen rack, thimble stand,
spoon rack.

Pencil box and small box opened to create display

Watch this space!