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.

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!


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