April 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

The bowl that I glazed with Scout last week came out of the kiln today.

As anticipated, it doesn’t look at all like I had imagined it would. I had thought that the body of the bowl would be a much darker, richer brown, approaching black in places, and then for there to be a pink/blue ring around the foot. The pink/blue ring is there but the darker brown is only there in flashes. The hollow of the bowl looks like it is encrusted with burnt sugar and the over-riding colour is what one might call ‘Studio Pottery brown’. It’s the colour that I associate with more traditional studio pottery: serious and worthy, a bit like having too many green lentils. It’s fine but not very exciting.

Having said that, I love this little bowl. I didn’t at first but the more I look at it the more I appreciate it. I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of colours that fill the sky and how they are affected by the seasons, the cloud formations, the time of day, the addition of the landscape. The array of greys on a winter’s day against the mute, desaturated green of a darkened landscape. Rose madder against phthalo blue. The palest yellow shut in, squeezed about the edges, by a vast charcoal grey. I want these colours to be an inspiration with regards to glazing and I can see with the overlay of the tenmoku over the pink/blue glaze how this might be possible. The pink/blue glaze is revealed by the tenmoku almost like the parting of a cloud revealing the sunset. It’s not there, obviously, but I can see how it might be.

These colours don’t appeal to me but I do like the combination of a brighter hue alongside something more sober and understated. I like the layering and depth created by the thick application of the glaze. I like the unpredictable nature of the surface and the texture that results.

It’s the first object I’ve kept since I started using the wheel and now I am keen to experiment more with glazes and make more pots upon which I can experiment.



April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today has been fantastic spending the whole of it at Kirkgate Studios with my daughter, Scout,  glazing, throwing and slip decorating what I threw in the morning.

The first job of the day was to glaze the bowl whose foot I turned a couple of weeks ago, and which will sit on my girlfriend’s desk. Sitting in the glazing room with a cup of tea we perused the file full of photographs of test tiles and decided upon Alan’s homemade tenmoku over Emmanuel Cooper’s pink blue glaze. We didn’t completely cover the pink blue in the tenmoku, so we are expecting a lovely pink/purple ring around the base of a tenmoku bowl. We shall see…

The next task was to throw the bowls that we were to decorate in the afternoon. Scout kneaded the clay she wanted me to throw for her two bowls and together we prepared 7 250g balls of clay. The throwing was a little bit hit and miss but we managed to come away with 5 usable bowls to decorate, which was all that really mattered. And Scout squished the two we didn’t use with great relish.

Lunch to replenish energy and to let the bowls harden a little, then we settled in for an afternoon of decorating. We chose Easter as our theme with pale blue and yellow as our main colours and Scout has already decided who the lucky recipients of the bowls will be. They are not going to be ready in time for Easter but that’s fine, a week or so late will do no harm at all.

I hope these will go in the kiln next week, so that I can put on a clear glaze the week after. What a delightful way to spend a Wednesday – potting with my daughter.


April 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I find youtube to be a fascinating and invaluable resource for researching the art of throwing. When I first started watching clips I had never sat at a wheel, so it was purely wonder with no reference at all to the reality of throwing. But now I am spending hours replaying the same clips, repeating endlessly the same 5 or 10 seconds. “How did s/he do that?”; “What did s/he do there?”; “OK, so it’s like that.”

I have found several clips of Warren Mackenzie being interviewed in his studio talking about throwing and his approach. He is an inspiration. He is an American and was the first potter to be apprenticed to the Leach Pottery back in the 1940s. I love his story of how when he first arrived at the pottery he was assigned the job of throwing 150 mugs within a three week period. He had been throwing pots for a couple of years and was fairly confident in his ability, so set about his task with enthusiasm. He threw so many and was pleased with the outcome and then came the moment that his work was to be surveyed. The head potter went down the line of mugs squishing every single one: “Too fat”; “Too tall”; “Too short”… It took Mackenzie the full three weeks to complete 75 mugs that were of a sufficiently high standard to be acceptable to the Leach Pottery.

Mackenzie describes himself as a fast potter, a casual potter, and accuracy isn’t that critical. He talks of other potters who work much more slowly and meticulously. For him, it takes only a couple of pulls and a little shaping to complete a bowl, and then he moves onto the next. There is a lovely rhythm to his making. I like the way he throws, the objects that he makes, and the philosophy behind his making. These are pots accessible to everyone, for everyday use.

And then I was looking again at a clip of Michael Cardew demonstrating throwing off the hump and the difference between his throwing style and Warren Mackenzie’s is evident. The quality of the clip isn’t great but you can see him work the surface of his pots, smoothing over, checking, re-checking. As a result, the wall of the bowl you see him throw here is much thinner and finer than those thrown by Mackenzie.

I think my tendency is to throw in the style of Cardew, although I would love the freedom, generosity and spirit of Mackenzie.


April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

On the back of a review in an old copy of Ceramic Review, I have recently bought a book called Pottery Form by Daniel Rhodes. It isn’t quite what I anticipated but, I think, because of that I am even more excited.

It is a practical book covering every aspect of the potter’s trade from wedging and centring to trimming, handles, plates, and glazes and decoration. Rhodes has been working with clay since 1940 and this knowledge and command of his craft are evident in his writing. It is a step-by-step account, a how-to book, and he is an expert guide, with the aid of photographs and basic diagrams. Rhodes’ skill is in his ability to take the reader through even the most basic elements of the pottery process and for it to be accessible, engaging, inspiring, and, practically, extremely useful.

But what excites me most about this book is the life that Rhodes gives to clay, to pots and to pottery. He talks at one point about how breathing into a freshly made bottle demonstrates something about shape. “The soft clay of the bottle gives under the pressure of the air and expands lightly like a bolloon. This stretching and extension can sometimes make a perfunctory form miraculously come alive.”  This is exactly the effect of his writing, and he spoke directly into my heart.

Just one example:

“The two basic maneuvers [sic] of throwing, swelling out the form, and narrowing and restraining it are at the heart of the potter’s art. The music of the wheel sounds in this undulation inward and outward, swelling and contracting. The function and spirit of the pottery jar is taking shape. Its mass, dark, voluminous, and generating, is formed by the hand feeling and urging outward from center. The upper neck and lip constrains the volume below, holds and protects its contents, moving with elasticity back towards the central axis.

From an ample and sturdy base the walls of the jar rise. The form immediately reaches outward, curving, responding to the pressure of the space within. We speak of curves and profile, but what is happening is volume.”

Being so inspired it is difficult not having ready access to a wheel or the time in which to practice. I just want to sit at the wheel and throw.

Here are two forms that I threw last Friday. For some reason I keep wanting to remove all the throwing marks, which I am going to resist next time I am at the wheel.

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