Spark: twenty six

A series about people that have influenced my creative path

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Jennifer Pettigrew, Changed Direction, unique print, 2011

I bought this picture at the Pittenweem Arts Festival not long after we moved to Aberdeen. I love the mark making used to build up an abstract image; and it reminds me of my early days of my degree at art college, when we were being taught drawing skills…

I turned up to our weekly life drawing class, taught in rotation by four tutors with very different approaches. As we entered the room that week we were given a large pot of black wall paint and a stick. Pinned to the walls were large (2m square) pieces of paper and there was a life model in the centre of the room. We were instructed to use the sticks to paint with, and that we would have 30 seconds for each pose. To start with our attempts were pretty dreadful, but as the time went on our confidence built, our observation improved and our mark making became more gestural and fluid.

I think I’d like to try it again.

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Magpie {37}

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Glazed stoneware moon bowl, by
Pottery West

I’ve been using Instagram regularly for over two years now. I use other social media too but Instagram suits my visual nature the best – I enjoy seeing other artists work and process. Recently, during my daily perusal, I came across Pottery West’s feed. They are Catherine and Matt West, both Goldsmiths graduates, based in Sheffield. They had just posted some lovely images of these beautiful little bowls and I couldn’t resist… so now I have one happily sitting on a shelf in between two other pots made by Carys Davies and Miranda Forrest.

Spark: twenty five

A series about people that have influenced my creative path

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Maggi Hambling, Summer Wave Breaking I, 2008
(image from David Case Fine Art)

I’m just back from a fantastic weekend spent in Glasgow. We’re normally rushing through to see family, but this weekend we spent three days exploring the city. Highlights were Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, GOMA and The Hunterian. At Kelvingrove I saw my first Lowry seascape. I had no idea he painted them, and I was taken aback at the simplicity and stillness of it. I spent a little time researching and discovered that I had missed an exhibition at The Lowry in Manchester at the end of last year… The Sea: L S Lowry and Maggi Hambling. What a pairing! I’ve been meaning to write a post about Hambling for ages and this reminded me how inspiring I find her work.

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Laurence Stephen Lowry, Seascape, 1950

Magpie {36}

SHONE2julietmacleod2015  SHONE4julietmacleod2015 SHONE3julietmacleod2015  SHONE1julietmacleod2015 Thrown and altered wood-fired cup by Patricia Shone

Oops… another pot that I bought at Kindrogan. Normally I only show one image for this series of posts, but each side of this squared pot is unique, and highlights the fascinating process that Patricia uses to create her beautiful work. She lives on the Isle of Skye – one of my favorite places on this earth – and is strongly influenced by its imposing landscape. This particular piece is thrown on a wheel, then wire cut and stretched to create the rugged texture. It was then wood fired to 1260°C with soda, and has a lithium flux glaze inner.

Magpie {35}

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Tiny naked raku pebble, by Moyra Stewart

I’m sure my husband is by now regretting suggesting that I should post about the pots I own. He has unwittingly given me an excuse to buy more of them.

Moyra makes fantastic raku pieces. Like me she is inspired by the Scottish landscape – to be honest it’s difficult not to be. Her recent large works are influenced by the complex strata of rock formations and they are breathtaking. I met Moyra at the SPA Kindrogan workshop where members are encouraged to display their work and I couldn’t resist buying this little piece. Now I’ll have to start saving for something bigger.

True colours

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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.

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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.

Naked

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.

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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.