Making of a mug: Day six

Part one
I unwrapped the mug today and the handle has fixed well with no cracking. It is now dry enough to finish the decoration. This can produce a lot of very fine dust. I wear this attractive mask to avoid inhaling any of it.


Part two
For this mug I am using a traditional decorating technique called sgraffito. This is where you scratch a design through the previously applied coloured slip to reveal the plain clay colour beneath.


Part three
So now the mug is left for a few days. It needs to be completely dry before firing. Normally I would leave it for over a week but the kiln is firing with other work tonight, so this will speed up the drying considerably. All being well it will go in for its first firing on Monday.


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Making of a mug: Day three

Part one

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Making of a mug: Day 3.1 The next part of the process is to attach the handle to the mug. First I slip and score the two attachment points on the body. The slip is just liquid clay made from scrap trimmings from yesterday's turning with a little water added. Scoring is when you use a needle tool to scratch the surface of the pot. Doing this creates a rough texture which helps the handle adhere well. Then I cut the top and bottom of the pulled strap to the required length (I have a little measurement marked on the edge of my work board). Next I slip and score the ends of the handle and join the top to the body of the mug, ensuring I support the inside of the lip as I press. It is important to give the handle a little wiggle as you attach it to ensure a good firm join. Then I curve the handle into the right shape and attach the bottom, before cutting off any excess. I do a little smoothing at this stage before setting the mug aside for a few minutes to firm up. Then I'd do a final clean up of any rough edges with a damp sponge. #makingofamug #pottery #ceramics #keramik #clay #stoneware #process #handmade #madeinscotland #craft #cup #mug #handke #NEOS15 #openstudios #thismakerslife #piahandles @potsinaction

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Part two
So here is the finished handle. I’ve done a little fettling using a knife and damp sponge to tidy up the two joins…


Part three
At this stage I also add a coloured slip to the inside of the mug. There are many ways to decorate pottery… often this is done after the initial biscuit firing with glazes and underglaze. However I am a slipware potter which means I decorate the unfired work with liquid clay and added pigment.


Part four
Finally the mug is wrapped up tightly and set aside with the others somewhere warm to sweat a little and dry slowly… hopefully without cracking. It will be a few days before I check on it.


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Making of a mug: Day two

Part one

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Making of a mug: Day 2.1 Here is the next stage of the mug's journey. Now that the clay is firm enough to be touched (leather hard) the pot is removed from the wooden batt it was thrown on and placed back on the wheel for turning. This is where the base is neatened using a metal turning tool, and a footring (if desired) can be added. I add them because they create a nice shadow at the base of the finished mug, and it makes stacking them easier too. Once the turning is finished I smooth over any rough surfaces with a damp sponge and add my mark to the base. I then flip the pot over and sponge and smooth the rim to ensure the mug is comfortable to drink from. If only I could work as fast as this in real time! #makingofamug #pottery #ceramics #keramik #clay #stoneware #process #handmade #madeinscotland #craft #cup #mug #NEOS15 #openstudios #GiffinGrip

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Part two
The mug, along with some others, are now wrapped up tight so that they stay damp until tomorrow. Next I’ll make some handles…


Part three
I use a clay gun to extrude the initial pieces for making my handles. I’ve tried many different approaches and I find this works best for me. It helps both in terms of time and also means I have a consistent starting point from which to pull the finished shape…


Part four
Next I take each piece of extruded clay and pull the handle to the required shape and thickness. It is imperative that you keep your hands wet as it is very easy to tear the clay strap. I am aiming for a handle that matches the thickness of the rim of the mug, so that it looks in keeping with the rest of the form. I also ensure that the top stays thicker as this will give a good stub to use for attaching the top of the handle…


Part five
The handles are now laid out on a board to firm up. They need to be similar in dryness to the mug, but still flexible enough to bend into shape without cracking. Once they are dry enough I will wrap them up to stay damp until tomorrow.


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Making of a mug: Day one

Part one
With North East Open Studios (NEOS) rapidly approaching I thought it would be interesting to capture the processes a potter goes through to make just one pot. It is understandable that many people do not realise what goes into making a handmade item, especially when you can buy manufactured ones for so little. The things that set handmade work apart are the passion and craft that goes into making them. I’m starting the story with a lump of clay, but before this there have been sketches, research and endless hours of practise…


Part two
At the start of each throwing day I work the clay to a smooth consistency (wedging) and then weigh out and ball up the required amounts of clay. I have a log book with all the weights and measurements of thrown pieces so that they can easily be repeated. Here you can see three different sizes of balls. The top ones are for the mugs … 230g of porcelain white stoneware.


Part three
This next bit was easiest to capture in a film…

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Making of a mug: Day 1.3 This next bit was easiest to capture with time lapse. The stages that are gone through are as follows: First I attach a wooden batt to wheel head by using a pad of clay; I throw the measured lump of clay onto the batt and press down to fix it securely, all the time keeping the clay wet so that it slips through my hands easily; Using even pressure I pull the clay into the centre; Then I cone the clay up and down to ensure a smooth working consistency; Using my thumb I open the clay and press down until I get to the required depth, ensuring the base is not too thin; I then open up until the base is wide enough and matches my required measurements (note the stick attached to the wheel pan – I use this as a size guide); At this point I compress the base using a sponge to ensure no cracks appear during drying; Then I pull up the walls gathering all the excess clay from the base until the walls are the right height and thickness; Next I compress the rim using a piece of chamois leather, again to ensure no cracks appear during drying; Using a hard wooden rib I smooth the outer wall of the mug and remove any excess slurry; Then using a sponge I remove any water from the inside and compress the base one last time; Last but no means least I undercut the outer edge of the base, clean up, remove the entire wooden batt and set the pot aside for drying. #makingofamug #pottery #ceramics #keramik #clay #stoneware #process #handmade #madeinscotland #craft #cup #mug #NEOS15 #openstudios

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Part four
All of the skills shown in the previous film have taken over two years to accumulate and I am by no means a master. One of the things I love about pottery is that you are always learning and acquiring new skills. Here is the mug, along with some others, now set aside to dry. Once it is firm enough I will remove it from the batt and continue to the next stage… hopefully tomorrow.


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I’ve been looking forward to progressing my work and in the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to sneak in a few experiments. It’s been a wonderful combination – the methodical repetition of making established pieces interspersed with the odd opportunity to tinker.

Various threads keep coming back to me… things I have noticed; colours that spark; ideas that have been fermenting in the back of my mind. I’ve already mentioned the desire to expand my palette to allow for different seas – blues, greens and greys. There’s also my fascination with the flashes of colour that you find on the beach – the acid colours of lichens and seaweeds – yellow, green and orange.


Then there is reflection: light on waves, the shine of quartz, water on sand, the gleam of shell. I’ve been trying to think of ways to combine all these strands and these are the first results.


I’m looking forward to experimenting further.

Crack on

It’s been busy at the Cloud Pottery recently. I have three shows coming up over the summer so I’m trying to build up my stock. This means working mornings and evenings – whilst my littles aren’t around or awake. What this has reinforced is how much I love what I do. Sometimes I find myself thinking of it as a job, and panicking about how much I have to do… Then I get into the studio and settle quickly into a rythym: radio on, wedging and weighing out the day’s clay, throwing, turning yesterday’s pots and so on. Before I know it my ‘free’ time is up and I have to go back to motherhood. I find, particularly when I’m throwing, that I’m so absorbed that everything else just slips away. It’s not hard work, just a measured, thoughtful process that completely captivates me.


I’ve managed to sneak in some new work… some plates and beakers that I had been hoping to make since last autumn. I’ve been experimenting with shapes for a while, here and there, and they will be refined as time goes on but I’m pleased with the results so far. The first plates have just come out of their glaze firing and hopefully the test beakers will be fired next week.


Plates have been a new learning curve for me… I can throw wide based pieces fairly well, but I’ve been having persistent problems with cracking. After research it appeared that throwing on plaster might help, so I set about making some homemade batts and they have certainly slowed down the drying process. Originally I was concerned that pots would dry too fast as plaster draws out moisture from clay – in fact many potters use plaster tables to dry sloppy reclaimed clay to a workable consistency. On a wooden batt the rim of a piece can dry considerably faster that the base and starts to shrink putting pressure on the points where damp and dry clay meet. What I had overlooked was the way that plaster evens out the drying process by wicking away moisture from the base at the same speed as the rim allowing for even drying.


The other possible cause of the cracking could be that my wider pieces all have turned, but entirely flat bases. During firing pots expand and then contract quite considerably. Friction against the kiln shelves can stop wider pieces from moving freely thus causing extra pressure on any weak points. To hopefully combat this my latest plates have been turned with twin footrings so that only a tiny proportion of the base is in contact with the kiln shelf. So far so good.


So three weeks and two more sets of firings to squeeze in before Potfest Scotland in Perth. If you’re in the area please come along – it would be lovely to see you.


I mentioned in my previous post that David Roberts kindly let us bring some pieces to raku fire during our SPA weekend at Kindrogan. I’ve done naked raku once before, at Gray’s School of Art, and I’ve been meaning to have another go. This experience has inspired me to try and do further firings at home, perhaps over the summer.

David is a master of raku ceramics. His large-scale pieces are breathtaking and it was fascinating to discover more about his process. He cleverly juxtaposes rough and smooth surfaces in his pieces which adds depth to his already complex designs.

A detail of one of David’s stunning large bowls.

We were asked to bring some already bisque fired pieces to the workshop. Ideally these would be burnished to a smooth finish or have terra sigillata applied. The pieces were dipped into a barrier slip, some with areas already masked off. Once dry they were dipped into a raku glaze and dried again. At this point they could be fired as they were, or designs could be incised through the layers of glaze and slip. The slip is what stops the glaze from adhering to the pot during firing. The areas that have been left bare will become black during reduction.

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First the pieces were gas fired relatively quickly to approximately 850˚C. 

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The pieces were pulled from the kilns and put into reduction chambers.

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Then they were taken out and the glaze chipped away to reveal the naked pot underneath. 

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Following a good scrub to remove any remaining slip the pots were allowed to dry.
I almost love the bases more than the tops.