In this project I have made a series of positive discoveries that have changed my view of the materials I work with, including:

  • what happens to a range of oxides and compound when mixed into a clay body
  • a new way of working with clay
  • a fantastically diverse culture in Colombia

Contextually I have completely expanded my view of ceramics, and changed the way I work. From my experience in this project research works really well starting broadly with secondary research and narrowing down into primary research. This enables a much more focused analysis on the primary research visits.

I was finding was that there was a massive difference between what I was drawing and what my skill level allowed me to do. This meant that some drawings were purely fantasy. It wasn’t until I had spent time in the workshop exploring the materials and possibilities that I could start to make drawings that were functional. I also found was that I could think much more functionally through making than by drawing because there is no separation between idea’s and what’s possible. My rate of being able to produce drawings was outstripped by my ability to think by making, so making became the driving force.

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Working in ceramics has meant I haven’t been able to get the most out of my group tutorial sessions because my work has either been in a state too fragile to move, in a kiln or covered in glaze. This has irritated me because I have not been able to show my work to others in the group to give feedback on. I could change this in the future if I set aside some work at the green ware or bisque stage that could be brought to the sessions.

The leather aspect has been part of this project that I don’t feel that I have been able to give it a fair share of testing. Only after the ceramics are finished can I begin experimenting with the leather element. It is unfortunate that the number of leather tests that I would like could not be completed prior to the project deadline. I will test any that missed the deadline at the first opportunity because it will give me more knowledge for the future.

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The extent of my experimentation with the agate process was as much as I could manage within this project. I had to restrict myself to testing each oxide/compound at a consistent percentage of 10% (with the exception of cobalt at 5%). Only by using consistent percentages could I get comparable results, and I have tested every oxide/compound that was available to me. Testing and research into agate ceramics in this project has given me a base of knowledge to build on in the future.

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I tried to test each oxide/compound in as many combinations as possible. Because of this, and the need to practice the hand building process, I found these two needs extremely complementary. After some experimentation I got an idea of the most effective ways of mixing the oxide/compound clay body. Unfortunately it was just a suggestion of what worked, as I didn’t have any fully finished tests at that time to give more information to make better informed decisions.

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I need to improve the speed that ceramic work gets processed. I think the best way to do this would be learning how to pack and operate a kiln myself. It would be prudent to learn for my future practice, so I should do this as soon as possible.

I have found that without notes on clay mixes, glazes and oxides then my results are useless. Throughout this project I have been more rigorous with record keeping than previously but there is room for improvement.

My Key motivations behind this project were:

  • wanting to work directly with clay.
  • wanting to learn new skills and techniques.

I can safely say that I have satisfied both these motivations. In the last batch of tests everything I had learned started to come together into what I had intended at the outset . If I do choose to pursue a future career in ceramics the things I have learned in this project will be invaluable to me. I think there is still a lifetimes worth of work to explore in the agate process and its applications. So far I have only scratched the surface. If it is relevant in the future I would love to pick it up from where I left off.

It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work!

Material Investigations and Lines of enquiry

My activities in the workshop began by learning how to recycle clay into a usable clay body Initially this process took two weeks, but with practice and refining the process it can now be done in a day. Being able to do this quickly has expanded the amount of tests that are possible.

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I learned from a book called “South American Folk Pottery” how to form ceramics in a traditional Colombian method. Using recycled clay I started out by practising this method, and it was and interesting experience as it’s not a method I have ever used before. The Colombian approach is a hybrid of coil building and thrown ceramics. I started off my tests by using Almington clay for its plasticity, and this worked but, because of the intense handling required in the clays green ware state to remove the top layer of agate, some of the pieces developed holes that couldn’t be filled as the pieces were already too dry.

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Learning from this I switched to crank clay, which was much more readily available and was much better suited for this process of hand-building. The only downside is that it doesn’t create the clear agate layers that Almington clay can produce. From my experiments in the workshop have learned a great deal about the processes of recycling clay and mixing in oxides, and  through these experiments I have collated a small library of results for future reference.

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Getting to grips with the traditional Colombian technique by practising with oxide clay to form different combinations has been extremely beneficial, and has allowed me to experiment with the different clay combinations and forming processes simultaneously. Having a large number of test pieces had allowed me to experiment with surface texture by scratching or burnishing the surface to see which better reveals the agate layers. 

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The key developments so far have been experimenting with the traditional process and material so I can now influence it the way I want, and I am now at the point that I can start to formulate my own processes and start evolving them into what I want.

Keeping good records of what oxides have been used, and in what quantity, has been an essential part of this project, as all the variable parameters need to be fully documented if I want to obtain reproducible results. I believe my record keeping has been through enough but only time will tell.

What has interested me so much in this project is the breaking down of the clay and reforming it with new components and observing what effects these have. I want to extend this beyond oxides in the future and experiment with freely obtainable natural materials. Considering environmental impact and cost of purchased oxides I want to find more sustainable materials to use.

In future, if I’m studying a traditional process, it would be really beneficial to see it in action. In this instance I have had to make do with learning instructions from a book but being able to see it done in person would be much more useful.

The route forward for this project is developing away from the Colombian method and diverging into either mass production or keeping it as a hand-made process. If it’s to be kept hand-made, the pieces have to read visually as handmade. If it’s to be mass produced it must reflect the original process. It is an interesting crossroads and I currently intend to experiment with both.

So far none of the test pieces have been fired to stoneware, but that should be happening in this coming week. Once that’s happened I can start experimenting with the leather additions. Any tests done this week need to be in the kiln on Friday to be ready for assessment, but it’s an achievable deadline.


Tradition is a guide and not a jailer

Beginning this project of tradition and innovation I focused on secondary research . Reading as much as I could covering as many traditional processes and materials as possible . By using this broad approach to research to choose a starting point it allows me to be more concise with primary research and prevents second guessing . Furthermore by having a material and process in mind while doing primary research allowed me to be more critical.

The starting inspiration for this project came from reading a library book called “Artefactos: Colombian Crafts from the Andes to the Amazon”. south America and in particular Colombia is a part of the world that up until then ,I knew very little about . The fist strong influence of this project came from a single picture in this book of a small pre Columbian* drinking vessel from Colombia .

Colombian pot with leather cover
Colombian pot with leather cover

The things that interested me about it was its rough handmade nature and it had been wrapped almost entirely with leather but over time the leather has shrunk creating large rifts in the stitched seam.
This book got me looking for more information on Colombia and their traditional crafts.

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My visit to Dutch design week in Eindhoven really enlightened me to different ways of ways of thinking about and approaching problems . In Particular the work of Philippa Wagner that involved carving vessels with a large specific heat capacity from soap stone so they would stay warm for longer without using more energy to heat
them . The most important aspect from me was she had also used the waste soap stone from the carving process to add to clay bodies crating a clay soapstone hybrid that complimented her carved vessels . Using the waste of one process to the benefit of another leaving no waste. This is a fantastic way of working I want to incorporate into my practice.

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From my visit to the Great northern contemporary craft fair the work of Matt Horne stood out for me. the main feature of his work is the crystalline glaze which creates mould like growths on the surface of his vessels . I love its fascinatingly random beauty and the vivid colours that he has managed to synthesize though testing and research . It’s this scientific approach of Horne’s that I want to bring to bring to my work now and in the future.

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The areas of research I want to explore further through the unit are the Colombian traditional hand building methods because it’s an ancient process that is still used today and allows for great direct interaction with the material. Using this Colombian method I want to build a better understanding of clay as a material by gaining a hands on l knowledge I can use in my future work .

the second area i want to explore is agate ware process of adding oxides to clay then mixing the coloured clay bodies to create abstract patterns on the surface of the fired clay . the benefit of this Is it’s also an opportunity to build a catalogue of the effects of different additives for future reference .

the last element I want to include in this project is using leather to wrap ceramic like in the original inspirational image of the Colombian vessel . I want to explore the practical , visual and tactile effects of using leather in this way and what effect it has on the use of the vessel.Through this project I want to explore all three of these elements and combine them to make useable unique pieces of table ware .