Sunday, 29 January 2012

Of menhirs and megaliths

I've been slightly obsessed with standing stones, stone circles and pre-historic burial sites for a few years now. But until I visited Carnac in France last spring,  I never realised just how many menhirs still exist, spread across Western Europe..and just how many thousands more there would have been originally, before many (or most?) of them were destroyed or recycled as building materials.

The Carnac alignments

The Carnac alignments

These mysterious, ancient relics have been the inspiration for some of my recent ceramic work where I'm carving the clay walls to create a more rock-like surface. I also wanted to create vessels which are similar in form to standing stones, but their shapes generally don't lend themselves easily to functional pieces, especially ones thrown on the wheel. In the end, I opted to make some lidded containers which are thrown as closed forms and then altered and carved at the leather-hard stage. The container below is the prototype in its raw clay state:

Lidded container, approx 5.5 inches tall

Lidded container, unfired

On this piece the lid was cut at an angle so it will sit in place without adding an inner rim. The problem with this approach is that the cut needs to be made at a fairly steep angle so it will sit snugly in place, but too steep and the rim of the lower section becomes extremely sharp and delicate. Even if you manage not to accidentally chip it during the making process, it wouldn't be very robust over it's lifetime. So I reckon cutting at 90 degrees and adding an inner rim is probably the best way forward.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Inspiration from Africa

Recently, I came across some images of funerary vessels made by the Bura asinda people, in what is now called Burkina Faso, West Africa:

"Funeral urns in phallic forms were made to be placed in the tomb of their deceased amongst personal effects such as arrowheads, lances, clothing, teeth and bones. Some are very tall (80 centimeters) and are topped off with small heads giving them a Giacometti-like aspect. Then, a « baura » was put on the tomb with its opening looking the skies, exactly like our tombstones or burial plaques.

These were accompanied by pots, other urns and heads representing family members of the deceased, all in terra cotta. The Bura Asinda-Sikka heads are generally completely flat, and are characterized by their great simplicity and, in the majority of the cases, are decorated with raised bumps running the length of the piece."

From memoire d'Afrique:

I really like the simple and characterful designs of these anthropomorphic pots. Many of the sculptures are quite cheerful and clearly meant to represent living, breathing individuals, whilst others are more sombre and ominous-looking, with designs which verge on the abstract.

I was inspired to make some small sculptures which can be turned upside down and used as cups:

Small beakers (unfired)

Small sculpture/beaker with ash glaze

The large piece below I made a few days ago in three sections. It was partly thrown, partly coiled and once leatherhard, I decorated it by smearing and pouring slips onto the surface.

Lidded vessel (unfired), approx 15 inches tall
The clay body contains alot of terracotta, so i'm not sure if I'll be able to fire it above 1200 degrees C...I may just take it up to high earthenware temperature.

The weather has been pretty miserable the last week or so, and it's freezing cold in my workspace at the moment. Hence I nip inside to warm up with a coffee for five minutes and it turns into half an hour of sitting at the PC, blog-writing. I think this is called classic avoidance behaviour..

James Vincent McMorrow - Follow You Down To The Red Oak Tree

Follow you down to the red oak tree
As the air moves thick through the hollow reeds
Will you wait for me there until someone comes
To carry me, carry me down

See I have not, I have not grown cold
I have stole from men who have stole from those
With their arms so thin and their skin so old
But you are young, you are young, you are young

Then somebody laughs like it's all just for hell
As though we could not be saved from the depth of the well
But the cloth that I make is a cloth you can sell
To pay for the gossamer seeds

Names get carved in the red oak tree
Of the ones who stay and the ones who leave
I will wait for you there with these cindered bones
So follow me, follow me down
Follow me, follow me down
Follow me, follow me down
Follow me, follow me down

For E.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Varda Sharon Kramer - Walking beyond

Varda Sharon Kramer is a painter and ceramicist living in the northern part of Israel, in the city of Haifa. I am really blown away by her beautiful incised work and the imagination shown in the wonderful designs she creates. 

Please do visit her blog and take a look at the many fabulous pieces on display there:

Friday, 6 January 2012

Some black pots from the kiln

Nearly every kiln opening brings with it some nice surprises and some disappointments. Occasionally, the disappointments are hard to bear, when a pot you spent alot of time making is ruined in the final glaze firing. Today was such a day and, although I was pleased with much of the work, some of the glazes had crawled badly, I think because the black slip had been applied too thickly to the bisqued ware.

Here are a few of the pieces I was happy with:

Bottle vase, approx. 6 inches tall

Sake bottle approx. 4.5 inches tall

Lidded vessel, approx. 8 inches tall

Sake cup, approx. 2.5 inches tall

Bowl, approx. 4 inches tall

Bottle-vase, approx 7 inches tall

Cup, approx 2.5 inches tall

Most of these pieces were decorated with a black slip (after bisquing), then a clear glaze was brushed on.

After much experimentation, I've also come up with a formula for an orange slip which I like the look of. I think this shade of orange works quite well alongside the black or iron underglaze decoration. I may try and darken it a little more, I'm not sure yet..

The slip was made using Scarva's Hobby Orange stain which is stable up to cone 10. This trial piece and all the other pots were fired to cone 9. I am surprised that the manufacturer states that 10-15% needs to be added to a slip as for many coloured stains, I find this is nowhere near enough, unless you want to get a very pale, pastel shade. To achieve this strong orange colour I used a 50/50 mix of clay and stain i'll need to go easy with it, as it costs £9.80 for 100 grams!

If anyone knows a cheaper way to obtain a deep orange colour under clear glaze, please let me know!

Never give up..the best is yet to come!