December 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
I paid a visit to the new workshop today and was promised that it would be mine by the end of Friday. I was hoping to have been in for a good few weeks now, so that I would have had a productive run up to the Christmas break but that has not proved to be the case. It would have been nice to have kitted it out before Christmas, which mainly means put up quantities of shelving, and orientate myself a little bit, so that I could have started the New Year running, but it is not the end of the world. We are nearly there now. I have a firm plan for how I want to proceed, so when the workshop is ready I know exactly what I want to do – work on a new glaze and two new forms (mugs and plates), as well as build up some much needed stock.
So, getting the workshop ready is one of my jobs for the extended Christmas period. I hope you have a fantastic festive time over the next couple of weeks. Thank you for all your invaluable support over the last 12 months and it has been really nice to meet a number of you. And I wish you all good things for the coming year.
December 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
It’s a great feeling when a book you’re reading has such a profound influence on you and your work. I have been continuing to read Howard Risatti’s ‘A Theory of Craft’ and strongly urge anyone making craft objects to read it. The question ultimately posed, and answered, by Risatti is: Why, why in an age of mass production when limitless quantities of objects can be produced ever-so cheaply and quickly, make functional craft objects? Why make something functional, by hand?
I like the rigour of Risatti’s work, and it is painstaking, the way he takes you through his argument; and in reading his book I have been compelled to reappraise what I make and why – and, crucially, to consider the creative context within which I make. The final part of the book, which I am about to read, will, I believe, come to the conclusion that craft is art, or can be viewed as art; this is what he is leading up to. To be honest, I don’t really care about this, about craft joining these exalted ranks. Craft seems to be constantly needing this affirmation. But what I have found to be extremely powerful is the discussion of function in relation to craft, fine art and design.
Risatti attempts to give craft a definition, a hard and controversial (in terms of his answer) thing to do. But his attempt to define craft has forced me to do the same. As Risatti says, there are many books on how to do what we do but so very few on why we do it. This is partly because the field of craft is so intrinsically linked to material, whether it be wood, fibre, clay or glass, the mastery of which is key. A book like this that discusses the philosophical underpinnings of craft is, I think, essential and very valuable. Risatti differentiates fine art from craft by their different ‘functions’ – fine art is visual and its purpose is as a sign, to communicate, within a particular knowing cultural context; craft is universal, has a ‘practical, physical function’, is three-dimensional, and satisfies bodily need. How does craft sit, then, in relation to design, which also fulfils a practical functional space? This is the part of the book that discusses mass production, limitless quantities, cheapness, the erasure of the trace of the hand. Because both offer practical function, Risatti’s distinction is a philosophical one, a reflection on how we want to tread on this earth. He believes that ‘the craft object takes on an urgency it didn’t have in the pre-industrial world;…the handmade object of craftsmanship needs to be accorded a more prominent place in our thinking, for it sheds a light onto our world that offers a counterpoint to that anonymousness and “unlimited-ness” that industrial production encourages.’
‘Every machine multiple offers essentially the same experience to every viewer…The unique and individual, as a reciprocal relationship between the handmade object, maker, and viewer, is no longer extent. Experience is flattened out and made uniform – this is standardisation and multiplication in action…The hand of craftsmanship provides a reference by which and against which made things and the raw material used to make them can be placed in a human perspective and comprehended in human terms… Craftsmanship in craft objects fosters a worldview that projects the creative imagination firmly within a humanly defined, a humanly scaled, and a humanly understandable tangible reality.’
Thinking about all these things has changed my relationship to what I make, which includes the way I want it to be photographed. Risatti’s definition of a craft object is one that contains, covers or supports. My pots contain, self-evidently, but that is the point – they contain something, this is their function. They are not intended to be made to sit and be looked at, they are not sculptural objects.
Heidegger wrote in his essay called ‘The Thing’, to which Risatti refers, ‘…the jug’s thingness resides in its being qua vessel (‘in its ability to hold and pour’, Risatti). ‘The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but the void that holds.’
These photographs are my first to demonstrate the functionality of the object; they show the object as container. It’s simple, really, but is actually quite a shift in thinking. I will experiment more but the mindset is there. And the same consideration needs to be given to how I display my pots on my stand when I go to a fair.
December 3, 2012 § 9 Comments
Last week, I spent a lovely afternoon in Grassington, in the stunning Yorkshire dales, with David Ashby and Carine Brosse. Carine is an artist who makes fabulous work based on fairy tales and the wilderness, while David is an extremely talented potter.
David had promised me a lesson in making handles in the New Year but as he was in the process of attaching some handles to his own pots while I was with him, he gave me a quick demonstration. It was fascinating watching him go through the process and, consequently, it has got me all fired up about making my own mugs. There are two main ways to make a handle: ‘pulling’ a handle and cutting a handle out of a rolled out slab of clay with a tool. David uses the latter method and it was this that he showed me.
With a bit of fiddling and trial and error, you twist a length of wire (the one I used, and I think David did, too, was 0.9mm thick) into the required shape for your handle, insert it into the clay and pull in a straight line. Then, you neaten off the ends with a knife and leave to harden a bit before attaching.
The mugs I’m going to make will be in two sizes, the smaller being the same size and shape as my current salt pots (an idea given to me by someone who came to a fair I was participating in). So, in the picture the pot is approximately 4cm across x 5cm high, quite small. Initially, I had thought the handle would be attached at the foot and the lip but practically it wasn’t going to work, as the space inside the handle was too big for one finger and too small for two. The handle in the above picture is, I think, too round compared to the more angular pot.
It was also too wide compared to the lip.
I think this shape is a bit better, I think it would fit the finger better. The idea of this placement is so that you could hold the mug with one finger through the handle and the next finger down resting just under the handle on the foot. Or you could use the handle to pick up the mug with one finger and the next finger down rests under the handle. It is really important to get the weight and feel of the handle to match the weight of the rest of the mug, so that the pot is all of a piece. Because I have attached the clay handle to a finished pot, I cannot pick it up, so it is very difficult to tell whether this one feels right. My suspicion is that it is fractionally to big/thick, but only fractionally.
I have really enjoyed trying out the handles and it has made me eager to have a go for real. It has also made me look again at the range of pots I make. I think adding mugs will give the range a lot more purpose, and clarity. Other items, which are currently a bit ‘what is that actually for?’, will then come into their own, especially the beaker and cup (which have had to take on too many guises), and the salt pot, which I’m going to make slightly bigger, so that it becomes a sugar bowl. Having more understanding of the range is much better for me and, I think, will be better for my customers, too.