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.
I promised to post a picture of the finished pots from the workshop in Copenhagen. They arrived safely the other day and I’m really happy with the bottles… the rounded jar still needs glazing. As soon as the holidays are over (and I can warm up the studio) I’m going to get working on some tall shapes. I think it’s going to take a bit of practise to get them as thin as I’d like, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.
Me finishing the rim of a tall piece (photo by Line Klein)
In the summer I was delighted to find out that I had received an artist’s bursary from Made in Aberdeen. The award was to help me with two things, the first of which was to get some much needed tuition. I’m mostly self taught, which brings its own unique challenges. There are some things that I can work out for myself… rightly or wrongly. There are others for which the internet is an invaluable resource, but there are certain issues which can only be solved by talking to, and working with a potter with more experience.
My main obstacle has always been throwing tall pieces. This takes a combination of skill and confidence that I just don’t seem to have. The maximum height I can throw is about 20 centimetres, and the pot is always wide and heavy.
About a year ago I started following the Instagram feed of Eric Landon from Tortus Copenhagen. He is a master potter, with 25 years experience and specialises in tall decorative pieces. So last month, using some of my bursary money I boarded a plane to Denmark to take part in a week-long workshop at his studio in the centre of Copenhagen.
Nyhavn, in the centre of Copenhagen, touristy but beautiful
It was an wonderful week on many levels. There’s something about being in a different studio, away from the usual day-to-day which I found invigorating. There were times of affirmation where I discovered I hadn’t been doing things incorrectly… however it was amazing how seemingly small adjustments to do with clay preparation; hand and body position; and wheel speed resulted in significant improvement. Thanks to Eric’s help by the end of the week I was making pots that were much taller, and were narrow and shapely. Now I am back home with a head full of ideas for new work. I still need to work on getting the walls thinner, but that will come with practise and I have set aside the next few weeks for just that. As I write this my finished pots are on their way to me from Copenhagen. I’ll post a picture if they arrive safely.
Day one: Progress from right to left, getting taller but a bit clunky
Day two: Eureka! The tallest piece I had thrown to date – 30cm
Day three: Trying to go out as well as up
Day four: Something a little more shapely, as well as 32cm high
Day five: Taking stock of the week’s progress
Day six: Glazing, using Eric’s particular process of layering different recipes
Copenhagen is a breathtakingly beautiful city, and I was lucky to find a place to stay that was so central. I walked everywhere, however the days were short so I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked. A good excuse to visit again! The other participants in the workshop were wonderful – from Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK and Australia! Thanks to you all and to Eric and Tasja for making my week away such a memorable and rewarding one.
From left to right: Line Klein (Denmark), Eric’s assistant Tasja Pulawska (Poland), Silvia Woudt (Netherlands), Ashley Feijoo (Australia), Katherine Lees (UK) and me.
Earlier I mentioned that my bursary was to help me with two things. The second is to fund my application for a London show in 2016, something that would normally be beyond my means. I’ll let you know if I succeed.
This weekend I went to Kindrogan, in Perthshire, for my first SPA Weekend Workshop. I became a member last year and I’ve managed to miss various events up until now…
What a great few days. It was a treat to meet so many like minded individuals. I’ve bought a few new tools; some samples of clay; discussed anything and everything pot related; and learned a great deal too. The workshop demonstrators were Lisa Hammond, Christine Hester Smith and Simon Griffiths. The highlight for me was spending the best part of two days watching and listening to Lisa. Throwing and then altering pots big and small, she showed us how to take a more fluid and free approach, using the techniques learned from her time spent in Japan working with Rizu Takahashi.
I’m looking forward to experimenting – when’s that shed arriving?
This week I’ve been having another go at throwing larger pieces using a range of 1.5 to 2.5 kg of clay. Armed with a bit more experience it has been much better, although I did manage to break two when turning some yesterday… ahem.
The biggest challenge for me has been pulling out the clay to a large enough base size whilst keeping it centred and the base even. With small pots once you get a rhythm going you can centre, open and pull up relatively quickly. I have come to realise with large things you really have to take your time and repeat things like centring and compressing the base over and over again. Here Hsinchuen Lin makes it look easy. I’m chuffed though, as I’ve finished with seven dishes ranging from 25 to over 32cm in diameter… Now let’s see if I can manage to get them safely through decorating and the biscuit and glaze firings.
After more than two weeks away it’s been great to get back to the wheel. I’m trying to consolidate a few things that I have learned over the last few months… finer throwing, thinner bases and repeat throwing. Today I decided to use a throwing gauge to help with my accuracy. I don’t have anything fancy, just a wooden kebab stick anchored to my wheel tray with a blob of clay. After making a few clumsy mistakes when taking the pot off the wheel, I got into a good rhythm. Twenty-two pots later I feel like I’ve made real progress. There are still a few odd ones, but I think that when I go back and check them tomorrow the majority will be very similar. I don’t want them to be exactly the same mind you, as they would lose their handmade quality, but I’m aiming for pots that will work nicely together as groups.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a strangely enjoyable morning with a hammer, smashing all the pieces I have finished so far. For one reason or another I didn’t feel they were good enough to keep. One thing that became clear to me, as I was looking at the broken pieces, was that there was too much clay at the base of the walls of each pot. I feel strongly about not selling anything until I feel my pots are technically correct. So today’s task was to try and work out how to rectify this problem.
I repeatedly threw a similar form trying different approaches. After finishing I sliced each one in half vertically to check the wall thickness. Every time I could see a tiny improvement, but then I had a eureka moment… It was how I was opening the clay that was causing my problem. I had been starting with a low, disc-shaped piece of clay after centring. I always found opening this out and retaining it’s integrity to be difficult. So I tried a different tack – by having a slightly taller, more cone-like shape as a starting point (still with the same base circumference) I began to find it easier to open a flatter base and create an inside profile that better mirrored the outside.
First pot (l), twenty pots later (r)