Reflections

This project has been a challenging experience. Picking an avenue of exploration that is so familiar yet so different from anything I have experienced before. By choosing to make ocarinas, I forced myself to focus on a level of precision and detail that had been missing from previous work.

Early on in this project I deduced that research into ocarinas could only take you so far looking at pictures only gave me a limited understanding of how they work. It was clear that, without a practical understanding of the material, it would make designing a functional piece extremely challenging.  The best form of study for this project was the primary research gathered from practicing technical skills over the Easter vacation. This allowed me to come back to the workshops with the benefit of understanding the process better, and letting me focus on design and manufacturing issues. It couldn’t have been timed any better, as it allowed me to hit the ground running after my time away form College.

Visiting the Whitworth Gallery and viewing the products they were selling the shop had a huge impact on my workshop activities. I knew that the finish of the ocarinas was going to be of the utmost importance if they are to fit into the context of the Whitworth retail outlet – trying to get it to sound good, but also to make it look and feel good, too. This directed me to spending a considerable portion of workshop time sanding and buffing the bisque ware to create a smooth finish, so the instrument would be pleasant to hold.

One aspect of the project I feel needs development in the future is packaging. The bulk of the time of the project was focused on learning how to make ocarinas and creating a design for the product itself, with little time left for considering how it would be packaged and potentially presented in a shop.  Another thing that I would have loved to implement was the capability to  be fully tune each of the ocarinas so they conformed to normal music notation so players could learn songs. This would have been ideal – but it would have taken much more time than the project allowed.

The main reasons for choosing ocarinas for this project was because it was inherently technical, which things kept interesting for me. Constant problem solving is something I feel I excel at. I also wanted to get away from the perception that ceramics is just about pots, and I wanted to make something ceramic that showed others and myself that they can be as playful and active as any other material.

I committed a lot of time making more ocarinas than I might have needed for the show, mainly because I was wary of how the clay would cope with the level of precision needed, leaving it susceptible to warping in the kiln. Being aware of the time constraints, I knew that if I made the exact amount I needed and they failed, there would not be time to make new ones. My solution was to be safe and create more than I required to allow for unforeseen complications. Fortunately, none were damaged in the kiln – better safe than sorry!

Throughout this project, I have felt a moral obligation to help others if I can. The success of a show depends on all participants displaying the best of their work. So if, at any point, I could help someone by sharing my time or resources with others, I did so. It made me feel actively uncomfortable knowing I could help a peer and did not.

Setting up the exhibition, we had no information beforehand of what space we would be allocated in which to display. This made it very difficult to make a plan of how to set up the display prior to arrival. I made a basic, adaptable plan and trusted in my ability to improvise – confident that whatever I was faced with I could find a solution. This paid off when setting up the display, as I found some discarded wooden triangles in the space and knew they would be perfect for using as ocarina stands, and by wrapping them in paper they became the foundation of building the display. I should have made it clearer to the audience that they are welcome to try them at the exhibition. (I had allowed for this by providing ‘wet wipes’ to clean the ocarinas between use).

I feel like this project has been a partial success. Exploration into the world of ceramic instruments is fantastically interesting, and it felt like dipping a toe into an ocean of possibilities. I now have a better understanding of clay as a material but I also feel that it is not yet finished and is just the start. This is the first step on a new path for me.

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Investigations

Over the Easter vacation 2015, I began experimenting with making my own ocarinas, and there have been a series milestones in the development.

To start with, I was trying to get the ocarinas to produce a sound. I started my exploration by following a set of instructions from a book I Purchased called” from mud to music” by Barry hall. By following the instructions, it gave me a rudimentary understanding of how ocarinas were made and how they produced a sound. After completing a set of instruction led tests I began to experiment more freely; exploring what shapes were possible, how odd can the shape be made and still get it to make a sound , how small can I make them , what works best, pinching or rolling ? In each of these early tests my one fixed parameter was that it had to make a sound.

The biggest breakthrough I had was a test to see if was possible to construct the body of the ocarina from a single slab of clay. Rolling the clay flat I cut a random quadrilateral out of the slab. It just turned out that this idle shape was perfect for folding into an ocarina body and creating an exquisite feature line across the form.

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Form folded from a single slab

One of the major developments of this project has been making my own tools to create ocarinas. In the first attempts I was using wooden coffee stirrers as a fipple stick and my general purpose knife. This was nowhere near the level of precision that was required to create the voicing of the ocarina. To solve this problem I made a set of tools from razor blades and needles and a pair of fipple sticks (tools used for creating the voice box) from some scrap 3mm copper sheet, cutting and filing to the approximate size I would need. These tools have been invaluable for achieving the level of technical precision required for this project.

Tool made for the project
Tool made for the project

It has been really fascinating seeing the development of the pieces from the first trials to the more recent pieces. There is already a drastic difference in technical skill level required for the production of the ocarinas.

I have also been experimenting with ash glazes as a possible finish to the ocarinas. I read about the process of making ash glazes in a book during my research and thought it would be interesting to test. There was the possibility of using wood, leaves or any other biological material from Whitworth park to glaze the finished pieces – making them even more aligned with the park an Gallery. To test this process I collected leaves and sticks from the park opposite my house and rendered them to ashes. I collected the ash and refined it by sieving it through a 40 mesh sieve. I then tested the solution on some ceramic pieces with earthenware and stone ware. The stoneware tests resulted in success with all the particles melting to form a glaze. The earthenware test had the ash particles left on the surface to give a rough surface, like sand paper.

After taking delivery of the Whitworth clay I processed it all in in one batch for myself and others to use.

I did a pair of tests to see how this clay responded to earthenware and stoneware firing temperatures. The results were interesting, but raised more questions than answers. The earthenware test resulted in a red clay, similar to terracotta, whereas the stoneware test came out with a slight glassy sheen but did not react as violently as other found clay I have used in the past. The question is whether it is actually possible to make an ocarina out of the Whitworth clay and fire it to stoneware temperatures and still get it to produce a sound. Alongside this, how is the ash glaze best utilised if the clay that is used is not suitable for stoneware which is needed to melt the ash?

I think the best course of action is to make a range of ocarinas in the same shape, some of them using the Whitworth clay and some of them using a lighter stoneware suitable clay and the ash glaze using wood and leaves from the park.

Owing to the nature ceramics, these final developments need to happen within the next week or there is no chance of getting them finished in time for the exhibition!