Each year we head to the Outer Isles for a family holiday. Whatever the weather we always have the best of times, and this year was no exception. Most days were spent on the beach, with my husband and girls investigating rock pools, the dog going mad in the sand and me soaking up as much of it as I can.
I sketch and photograph whenever possible whilst I’m on North Uist. It’s my way of unwinding. There is so much to inspire and motivate – the colours and textures of the sea, shore, lochs and hills. Everywhere you look there’s something…
I also finally remembered to bring some pots with me to shoot amongst the landscape that inspired them…
I promised to show you the finished pots from my makeathingaday week over on Instagram…
Over the last week they have all been biscuit fired, sanded, washed, waxed and glazed. They came out of their second firing yesterday and were packed up and put in the post to their winners today. I’m so relieved they have all survived as I really forced the making process to get the projects finished in the allotted time. I’m afraid the teapot is not a good pourer (not surprising considering it was my first), but I see real potential in all these pieces. I’m looking forward to progressing some of them from this prototype stage in the near future.
Last week I took part in makeathingaday on Instagram…
‘a generous process laboratory where makers make a thing a day to giveaway. It was started in January 2015 by George Winks of Temper Studio to kick start his creative year, as a way of testing new ideas, and as a personal challenge to make something new each day for a week.’
Take a look at the website to see other makers projects… there is some beautiful work there.
It was a fantastic experience and an opportunity to experiment with concepts that I have had stored away in sketchbooks for some time. I thought it would be good to make an archive of my week’s work. Click on an image for details of the day’s process…
Day One: HANDBUILDING Today I’m planning on making a serving platter and dipping dish. As with all the things I’m hoping to make this week, there will be some challenges as clay does not like to be rushed. Most pieces I make take up to three weeks to complete, but we’ll see how we go…
Firstly I’m rolling out a slab of clay (It’s times like these I wish I had a slab roller). On either side of the slab is a rolling guide to ensure I get an even thickness.
Next I cut the slab to size. I’m making the cuts at a slight angle to hopefully give a nice profile to the finished piece. This will now be flipped onto a piece of plasterboard and left to firm up.
To make the dipping dish I start with a ball of porcelain stoneware clay – roughly 250g. Using my thumb I create a hole in the centre and then start pinching the clay and rotating the pot in my hand to create a rough form.
After blasting the basic shape with a heat gun to firm it up a bit, I start refining the shape. Here I’m using a surform (rasp) to remove some of the thickness.
I’ve left the little dish for a while. So now it’s back to the platter which has firmed up considerably. Here I’m roughing up the surface of the clay where the two feet are to be attached.
Using some slip (liquid clay) as a kind of glue I have attached the two feet. Now I’m pressing a small coil of clay into the join to ensure good attachment, and a neat finish.
Now I have flipped the platter over and I’m beginning to hollow out a small area, for the little dish to sit into.
So Day One is over and here is the completed platter and dipping dish. You can see they are beginning to dry, hence the changing colour of the clay. Once this piece has been fired and glazed it will go completely white, like the pots on the shelf above and it will also shrink a little from the 32cm long that it is now.
Day Two: ALTERATION Today I’m hoping to try making an oval dish. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time as it combines throwing and handbuilding skills. The sun is shining, so hopefully it’s going to be a good day…
I’ve weighed out 1kg of porcelain white stoneware. Clay straight from the bag often has wetter and drier areas so l’m now kneading it on plaster to get it to the right consistency for throwing.
Now I’m throwing an open ring on the wheel. This part will make the walls of the oval dish. Here I’m compressing the rim with a piece of chamois to hopefully prevent any drying cracks.
Now the wall has firmed up enough to be cut from the wooden throwing batt. Note that I am keeping the small skirt of clay on the inside as this will come in handy later.
I rolled out a slab for the base earlier so it could also firm a little. Then I picked up the wall ring and laid it onto the base, easing it gently into the required oval shape, and lightly marked the shape on the base. Here I am slipping and scoring where the join will be, before lifting the wall ring back into place.
After laying the wall ring back onto the base and firming down gently I smoothed the inside join with a wet finger. Then I cut away the excess clay from the base. Here I am scratching the outer join to ensure a good seal. This will then be smoothed with a rubber kidney.
Here’s the finished oval dish for Day Two. I’ve made it reasonably thick in the hope that it could go in the oven. I’ve really enjoyed making this, so here’s hoping it fires well.
Day Three: DECORATION For the past two days I’ve been making completely new things and testing my skills. Today I thought I’d show you some of the techniques that I use all the time. I threw some beakers earlier in the week to work on today.
First I’m turning (trimming) the base of each beaker to neaten it up. I will also add a footring. When it’s sitting on a surface this should create a good shadow beneath the pot.
1: Slip trailing. Slip is liquid clay with added pigment that has been mixed and sieved to a smooth consistency. Here I am using a slip trailer to apply small spikes of slip to the outside of the pot. Once fired the body of the pot will turn white and the spikes will be grey.
2: Sgraffito. Although it is difficult to see I have covered both the outside and inside of this beaker in grey slip. Now I am scratching a design with a pin tool through to the clay beneath. So, opposite to the previous pot, this one will fire grey with white line work.
3: Mishima, or inlay. I have scratched a series of lines into the bare clay of this beaker. Then I have filled/covered the design with grey slip. Here I am using a flexible metal kidney to scrape away the excess colour. Once fired this pot will have a white body and the design will be grey.
4: Paper resist. I cut some thin strips of newspaper and soaked them in water before applying them to the beaker. Then I covered the inside and outside with grey slip. Here I am pulling off the paper to reveal the bare clay beneath. As with the sgraffito pot, this one will fire grey with white decoration.
So here is Day Three’s completed lineup. As with a lot of pottery they don’t look much at this stage. Once fully dry the beakers will be fired and glazed, hopefully next week. I will post some images as soon as everything is finished.
Day Four: ACCURACY For my last two days of #makeathingaday I have set myself big challenges. I’m a self taught potter with only three years experience so I have lots to learn still. In fact I’ve never met a potter yet who hasn’t said that they are still learning regardless of the amount of experience they have. With that in mind I am going to try and make a set of small stacking canisters. It will be important that I try to throw them all to the same diameter so that they sit neatly on top of each other. Well, here goes…
Today starts with weighing out the prepared clay. I’ve decided to throw three sets to be sure that I end up with at least one good finished piece. For the canisters and lid I’m using 350g and 200g of clay respectively.
Now I’m throwing the jars on the wheel. I’m using a throwing gauge (pointer) to ensure each piece is the same height and diameter, and a right angled wooden rib to help get a straight side to each pot. I’m making each pot a little thicker than usual to give me a bit more leeway when trimming.
Next is the lid. I’m giving it a small lip at the top to make it easy to lift off.
So here’s this morning’s efforts. Now to get them dry enough for trimming…
I’ve force dried the pots (not usually recommended) and now I’m turning footrings onto each piece… measuring and checking all the time to ensure that each part sits neatly on top of the next.
Here’s the finished set of stacking pots for Day Four. Once fully dry they will be glazed and fired to 1240*c. They will eventually turn white.
Day five: CHALLENGE It’s the last day of my #Makeathingaday. I find great inspiration in Lucie Rie’s work. She was famously direct – she used to tell her students that their work was hopeless and to try making teapots for ‘discipline’. Well, I have never made a teapot, and today seemed like the perfect time…
I’ve just made the body of the teapot with a gallery at the top where the lid will sit. I always throw in front of a mirror as it gives a more accurate perspective than viewing from above.
Now all the components are thrown: body, lid and spout. I’m still undecided about which style of spout to use so I have made both. I’ll choose when I’m assembling all the parts later today, once they are dry enough to trim.
I’ve trimmed the body of the teapot. Now I’m just throwing a tiny piece of clay into a knob for the lid.
I’ve added two sections (from the small thrown cylinder) to the rim and I’ve made a hole in each. These will be where the handle is attached after firing.
I’ve made further holes in the body to act as a tea filter, and joined the remaining part of the small thrown cylinder to make a small spout. I’m just doing a little cleaning up (fettling) and then the whole pot will be wrapped up tightly and allowed to settle for at least 24hrs. Keep your fingers crossed for no cracks!
So that’s Day Five all done. Here’s the almost finished teapot… As with all this week’s projects, it will be allowed to dry, then fired and glazed next week. The clay will turn from the buff that it is here to a lovely warm white. Providing there are no disasters I will then make a handle using this piece of driftwood and some heavy wire.
This is the week’s work set aside to dry. They are now in the kiln being biscuit fired and hopefully they will be glazed by the end of the week. I’ll post finished images before I send them off to their already selected winners.
Any of you who have been following me for a while might know that I am a contemporary slipware potter… I use coloured slips (liquid clay with added pigment) to decorate my pieces rather than glazes. To date my work has been inspired by the breathtaking turquoise blue that I see each summer on North Uist’s shell beaches. However the sea can be a multitude of colours from blue, to grey, to green and for some time I’ve wanted to expand my colour range to allow for these.
Until now I have been using ready-made slips but I’m finding this both limiting and expensive. To make my own there are two alternatives: to buy manufactured stains, or to blend my own combinations of oxides. One day I hope to do the latter but for the meantime I’m going down the stain route. I’ve been prevaricating about this for ages… Why is it that the things you think are going to be tricky end up being pretty straight forward? Maybe it is as a result of thinking about it for so long that I’d worked out most of what I needed to do in my head before starting.
First I made a series of test tiles out of clay slabs – each one with seven impressed areas to apply the different combinations of colour. Then I made endless pots of slip using measured amounts of dried waste clay, water and stain. These were left to slake overnight and then passed through a fine sieve to ensure a smooth consistency and proper mixing of the pigment. With each colour I did three tests –
Dilute: where incremental amounts of water were added to the slip to thin the colour
Lighten: where additional quantities of white slip were added to fade the original colour
Blend: fading one colour into another to create other colours
126 combinations in all.
There are some results that I really like, and some that need a little finer testing before I achieve what I’m after… but all-in-all not a bad first attempt.
I’m just back from another amazing Scottish Potters Association weekend at Kindrogan. When I was wending my way there through the stunning Perthshire countryside I was thinking that there was no way that it could be as good as last year’s. How wrong could I be – not only were there excellent demonstrators once again, but as I was no longer a novice I knew more folk and I relaxed and enjoyed it far more this time.
The workshops were given by Patricia Shone, David Roberts and Ronnie Fulton. I spent most of my time flitting between Patricia and David’s rooms. Patricia gave us an insight into how she makes her incredible textured pieces both by using the wheel and through hand building techniques. She is inspired by the landscape of the Isle of Skye and as a result I feel a real kinship with her, although the style of our work is poles apart. David is a raku potter whose large-scale work I have admired for a long time. It was a treat to discover more about his process. He very kindly let us bring pieces to fire over the weekend, using his own barrier slip and glazes with some great end results. I’m now inspired to try further raku firings of this type in the summer.
I came away with a wealth of ideas relating to surface… burnishing for raku firing; adding terra sigillata for a fine patina; using unusual tools to create strata, roughness and waves, applying sodium silicate to obtain coarse volcanic structures; stretching and moulding to achieve organic character… more scribbles in my sketchbook. I wonder when I’ll have a chance to try them out. Until then here are a few tastes of what I saw…
We’re past the winter solstice now and slowly our days are getting longer. This far north we’re lucky to have seven hours daylight during December, but the sun being so low in the sky does give a fantastic light – I can see why artists and photographers like it here. I’ve been spending the last few days gearing myself up to get throwing again and, come Monday I’ll be back in the studio… but today I spent a few hours at Aberdeen docks and beach searching for sunshine and inspiration.
A fortnight ago I was lucky enough to spend the weekend on Speyside. We were spoiled with spectacular weather and I managed to squeeze in something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time… To pay a visit to Thomas Gough at the Speyside Pottery. Thomas has very kindly agreed to let me witness one of his wood firings. So far I’ve been unable to take him up on it, but it was a treat to finally meet him in person after a few months of exchanged emails.
Once a Chemistry teacher, Thomas was taught pottery in Argyll, by Joe Finch. It was fascinating to be shown round his gallery, studio and kiln room; and to learn about his process. Thomas single fires his pots, a process believed to give a greater depth to glazes, but often it carries more risk. It is amazing how in spending a relatively short time with another potter you can learn so much. From simple tips to do with wiring off thrown pieces from the bat, to ideas on clay storage (an old freezer), and mixing (an ancient industrial dough mixer) – just brilliant. Things that could take a lifetime to work out, but take seconds to pass on.
I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by different potters’ studios and workshops, maybe because I am dreaming of working in my new one soon.
Thomas Gough’s studio
Ludie Rie’s studio (photo: Wikimedia Commons, by Andreas Praefcke)
The Leach Pottery (photo: Wikimedia Commons, by Jordanhill School D&T Dept)