Development so far

The primary developments have been experimenting with sagers. sager are used to safely fire work in the kiln and protect it from other interference . they can also be used to keep fumes and other things produced by the firing process inside the sager effecting the ceramic work. this has lead me to develop ideas around firing work inside each other (like Russian dolls) , placing substances that will affect the ceramic work as it is fired in between each layer , so what effects the inside of one will affect the outside of another. I have done some exploratory tests of this idea, it has been difficult to predict results. This is the nature of the experimenting. The next step is making results repeatable so I can better predict the final outcome. This will be done by repeating the experiments and observing if the results are comparable.  I am pleased with these developments as it fits my creative agenda.

Scan 11

I have been investigating a way to slab build my crucible forms that can then be turned on the wheel. This was to allow substances to be mixed into the clay without it effecting my ability to throw. Although I still feel that this was an important avenue to explore I consider the end results of the test to be substandard. keeping the forms completely round so they could be turned was problematic, this led to unwanted marks and inconsistencies while turning. Overall i will abandon this method, it actually took more time than throwing and yielded poorer quality results. Instead i will investigate press moulding as a better solution.


Key feedback

The peer review was positive and the follow up tutorial was positive. However both did highlight things that could be improved upon.  I was advised to embrace the alchemical testing nature of my work and apply it to my sketching. My drawings were not reflecting the colours and textures that were being achieved in my practical work. In response to this I have made a set of unconventional drawing tools and have started using Ink bleach and salts within while sketching. with the intention of being able to better reflect my practical work within my sketching.

It was recommended that I apply the symbols I have been investigating in my drawing to my practical work. Of all of the symbols I want to focus on the triangle because of its symbolism in alchemy as the elemental symbol for fire.  From this I have been experimenting with subtly Incorporating  the triangle into the lids of the crucibles. Using thinly rolled metal and paper and gently rolling the templates into the surface to create a faint impression. There are many things to consider like size and placement , which both effect the character of a piece.

It was suggested that I give more consideration to the grouping of my work. I have been contemplating this by positioning different pieces of work together and observing how positioning and composition effect the overall impact of pieces, this was really helpful and will have an impact on my decisions in the future. This is something that up until this point I had overlooked but i now realise is one of the most important aspects to refine.


moving towards professional practice

As I move toward professionalising my practice in need to improve the outward facing side of my work. I will need promotional material and a website supported by social media so my work can reach a wider audience. I have found that presentation and communication of work  is extremely important within the context that I see my work , as non functional ceramics that are on the border of design an art. From speaking with people who run galleries and work  for the arts council they have all highlighted the importance of a good quality website as a platform for presenting work. I have begun researching the best way for me to set up a website and it will be ready in time for the degree show.

To professionalise my practice I need to have considerations for health safety. I need to have a better understanding of substances I use within my work and the appropriate safe handling and storage of these materials so they don’t pose a risk to myself or others. For this I have collected COSHH data forms on all substances I have been using , implementing their guidance on appropriate PPE and storage. I have also made my own sheets related to safe handling and the effects of substances in the kiln. This health and safety work is essential to ensure my work does not pose a hazard to myself are anyone in my workshop.

I do feel that my work will change after leaving university. I will be able to pursue experimentation in areas  such as  gathering and processing my own materials. I have been unable to bring this element I am after into my work because of the location of university.




Definition of alchemy

Jenny Lee describes alchemy as “a practice of a twofold nature – exoteric and esoteric” (Lee, 2014). This identifies a contemporary understanding of Alchemy consisting of two components; internal alchemy – the physiological world of the practitioner, and external alchemy – the physical world the practitioner occupies, and can also be described as a microcosm and a macrocosm.

My interest in alchemy stems from personal reflections on my work with ceramics. As a craft practitioner driven by material exploration, I feel alchemy relates to and has influenced my work because of its basis in curiosity and exploration of the world around us. Clay is raw and elemental; always changing state, transforming from one set of material characteristics to another as it reacts to its environment. The possibilities that come with these state changes are a source of endless opportunities for experimentation, and increasing my understanding of the material I’m working with. The key question I’m bringing to my practice is how I can imbue my working materials with new characteristics by adding or removing components, and influencing its reactivity to resonate with the principles of alchemy?


Contemporary Alchemists

Christian Schou Christensen is a Danish ceramicist who principally experiments with glazes. In her work she challenges the conventional use of glazes as decorative embellishment by experimenting with their use as structural elements of the final product. It’s this questioning of established of ideas and exploring them in subversive ways that I think makes Christensen’s work alchemical and is something I want to bring to my own practice. Her work occupies a context where I would like to see my own – that being non functional intrigue.



Max Lamb studied at the Royal College of Art under the mentorship of the designers Martino Gampa and Tom Dixon. Lamb’s work fundamentally focuses on exploring different materials and processes while questioning established methods of working. Lamb’s approach resonates with alchemical beliefs  and is similer to Christensen’s approach. however lamb works more broadly across a range of materials. this is something would like to bring to my work within the context of ceramics. shifting processes and materials as appose to focusing on one aspect like Christensen.




Material testing

It was clear that I was working in earnest when I came back in September . This became clear after the first review tutorial. I struggled explaining the focus of my work. It was evident that I was approaching the subject of alchemy far too broadly. This prompted a session of self-reflection. I have chose to focus on adding materials to the clay body. Using the form of the crucible because of its symbolic  importance in alchemy as a focal point of change.


I have experimented with several different construction methods exploring the crucible form. The exercise was to find an alternative to throwing the forms on the wheel. The most informative thing I received from this was not the method of construction but how the changing of scale effected the characteristics and personality of a piece. some of the smallest made in this session had more presence than the bigger counterparts. I will consider this in the future. possibly making sets of differing sizes to create a dialogue between pieces?


My method for testing has now been standardised. Using the same type and amount of clay for each one allows for rigorous investigation into the effects of a substance on a clay body at different concentrations. This standardisation was necessary to make comparable results that could then be used to inform future design decisions; a step toward professionalising my practice.


 The crucible

As part of my research I visited the Pitt Rivers Museum; A fantastic place. Amongst all the great cabinets of wonders I discovered a collection of crucibles.  These objects were simple in the making but the surfaces were extremely complex. The way that the crucibles had been used had clearly become part of the object as a whole. On the surface of the Egyptian crucible a glassy sheen flows between the craters and valleys spawned by the fire. The beautiful way that the way the object is used has affected the object,  simultaneously capturing and describing the processes that its undergone. What this makes you wonder is what if this connection between the way something is used effecting the look of the object. It’s curious; an untellable story that the object has been instilled with. A narrative that has no voice but only form.

Think of the vessels as people – they are put through situations that affect them and part of the outside influence effects the crucible changing it forever. Adding lumps, bumps, tendrils of glaze affixing to the surface, it’s truly beautiful. Mirroring the way people pick up additions from the outside world and add them to ourselves, experience, feeling,  memories all added to us through external forces,  just like the crucibles. Micro effecting the macro and macro effecting the micro. This is alchemy.


Preparing for the future and long term plans

The context that I see my work is the borderline between ceramics and art. I don’t intend the pieces to have a function. the key to selling to this market is about communicating an idea or ideology behind the work that people can buy into.

As a long term aspiration I would like to sell work in the Goldmark Gallery. It sits directly in this context at the borderline between ceramics and art . The underlying themes of the work it stocks are expressive, raw , primal clay. These are themes I feel resonate with my own connection to clay. However all the practitioners whose work is stocked at the Goldmark are very well established. To get there I will need to start at the bottom. I think the first step is to look for an apprenticeship with a ceramicist through the  CPA mentor or adopt a potter scheme. This will help me to expand on the skills I have learned at university. Also it will be important to attend new designers in London to get the best possible starting platform for my work.


I have been assisting in and running workshops because in the future I aspire to run workshops that related to my practice.  firstly I assisted Laura Negus in a workshop in Joe Hearty’s studio. my role was to help the students throwing on the wheel. Then I ran a throwing workshop in the Chatham ceramic studio for foundation students. From these experiences I have found that I really enjoy teaching small groups of people that want to learn this has confirmed that It is something I want to do. The next step would be to attend a workshop run by someone else to get a better understanding of structure and effective teaching method. An important consideration for the future is that I will need public liability insurance if I am to run workshops in my own studio.


Four years of living in the city of Manchester  has made me realise that city life is not for me. There are definite benefits. But the environment is not one I feel attuned to. So I plan to move my practice back to the country after my degree where I feel more at home and inspired. There are other realities I will have to face after leaving university. Finding a job to support my practice will be important. I believe this will keep me grounded and more focused on work.





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.


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!


From the initial activity it became clear that working with people from other courses introduced a whole new spectrum of viewpoints. It started off tense, but became more relaxed as everyone became comfortable with the situation because at the root of it we all had something in common. We were all creative people -just with different ways of expressing it.

On Wednesday the 11th of march we visited the Whitworth art gallery. It was a busy day with a lot to take in. Every aspect of it was fascinating.

The history of Joseph Whitworth and his role in the industrial revolution, to paintings and sculptures that had only previously been seen in books. For me, I found the greatest connection with the Park. Previously I had lived across the road from Whitworth Park in halls of residence, and I used to go there (mainly in summer) to draw and paint. Being outside with a connecting with nature is a rare thing in Manchester.

From all the sessions we had the most influential was the talk about the shop. This really helped to outline what kind of products they were seeking to stock, and the approach they take to choosing what goes into the shop. Investigating and interrogating the products currently sold there, I engaged most with the family- orientated toys and games. It’s nice and playful to pick up an object and interact with it.

We found out we could use clay from the park for our work so we organised its delivery from the Whitworth. I really want to involve this clay in my work because of its direct connection with Whitworth Park and using natural materials that are locally traceable and have a low environmental impact has become a large part of my practice. However, it still needed testing to find its suitable temperature range for firing in the kiln.

I started my research by picking elements that had stood out and made an impact on visits. I quickly found my research gravitating towards the playful element, with a connection to the park

Among other things I was intrigued by the wooden whistles in the shop. I started investigating how they were made. The process was quite interesting so I began in investigate other simple instruments made from wood – like bamboo flutes and slide whistles.

I investigated further to see if I could find an instrument of a similar type and scale that was made of ceramic. I primarily work in ceramics as it’s where I have the most experience and feel the most comfortable. This led me to the ocarina – a clay instrument that fit right into those criteria. After further investigation discovered that ocarinas made with different clay will have different tones because of the varying resonant frequencies of clay. Thus, by using the clay from the park it would give the ocarina a sound unique to the park. To further this I recalled a process that involves making glazes from scratch out of plant ash. If I used an ash glaze made from plant ash from the park to glaze the work it would create something that was further attuned to the to the park, and give it a unique ‘Whitworth’ flavour.

I pitched Three ideas of making ocarinas in a group tutorial session, and the feedback was extremely positive. It was great having input from people working in other courses and disciplines as it gave me a broader range of perspectives for the feedback, helping to inform decisions in the future.

Making a living and living the making

Throughout this unit I have been looking at the context of studio pottery in relation to my future work. It’s a career I’ve been interested in for a while and one I wanted to find out more about:

  • what studio potters make
  • how they make it
  • where they make it
  • why they make it
  • what they make it with
  • where / how they sell it

 Visiting Joe’s studio

I visited Joe Heartly’s studio in Manchester to get a feel of what a functioning studio is like. Joe does not describe himself as a ‘studio potter’ or ‘ceramicist’, but a large part of his practice is ceramic-based. The visit really brought the reality of this kind of work to life – his studio was not the clean pretri dish of the the university workshop I was used to. The workspace I found myself in was cluttered, but you could feel that it was Joe’s (personal?) clutter, and everything was where it was for a purpose – a great space to be working in, if it wasn’t for the crippling cold.

During the visit, I spoke to Joe about the kind of projects that he works on. His advice was that it is ok to do jobs that pay the bills – just try and relate it back to your work principles, and working for a commission can be difficult i.e.. if a person comes to you with an pre-formed idea instead of asking you to develop one for them. However, I think I would enjoy the challenge of this kind of work.

Joe shares his workspace with two other people where, as a group, they operate the space with an area for ceramics, an area for textiles, and an area space for woodwork. Something Joe stressed was how important it was for him to work in an environment with other practitioners – a feeling that has been echoed by the other practitioners I have researched.

Deiniol Williams, a Manchester School of Art 3DD graduate in 2004 says in his experience of working in an isolated environment after graduating “It erodes your creativity not to have the oxygen of a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off.” I take this as a word of caution that working in an isolated environment can be stifling. But, as a counterpoint to this is how personal each ceramicists work area is to them. Some, like Adam Buick’s, are purpose-built, dedicated spaces and others, like John Tilton’s, naturally evolve over time as work becomes a bigger part of their lives.

For my future practice, I feel that having my own space would be very important but similarly don’t want to work in an isolated environment. The best example of a balance of these two factors I have seen is at Section 6 in Eindhoven, as part of Dutch Design Week. There the workspaces could be rearranged to be communal or private, and each work space had a mezzanine level room where one could step away from the workshop. Working in this kind of environment would be the ideal.

Blue coats and selling work

I visited Bluecoat display centre in Liverpool to gather research about what kind of work is sold there and the way it’s sold. I found more ceramicists displaying their work there than I had anticipated. The underlying theme of the work there was functional display. The application to Bluecoat is done by submitting:

  • A current CV
  • A selection of good quality images, acceptable formats include photographs, slides or CD rom [pc or mac compatible]
  • A brief statement citing inspiration, technical details, materials and processes
  • A price list quoting wholesale or retail prices

The selection committee meets every couple of week to select new work for the gallery. Bluecoat stocks work from makers all over the world, but has a significant representation from the North West of England (assumedly because restocking is simpler) unfortunately because of the need to maintain a stock level, students work is not accepted for selection.

From my research, ceramicists early in their careers attend more fairs and events than those who are more established. The key reason for this, I deduce, is that early on its more important to get your work out there, seen, and to make a presence of yourself. Later, as you become more known, it may not be worthwhile to attend fairs and have the time away from the studio. Going to craft fairs would have to become a fact of life in this career path and, initially, any opportunity is a good opportunity. I have never done this kind of direct selling before, and am unsure if I would be suited to it. However, I am willing to try.

The price range at Bluecoat ranged from £20 to £300. Typically, the price was dictated by the size of the object and materials used. From speaking to Joe Heartly, I got an insight to the pricing of work. His view is the price should be dictated by the overhead cost of running the studio, the price of the material used, and the time taken to make the object. He described how he has tailored projects to fit within specific price brackets of £5 and £15.

It has become clear to me how important a good, clear website is. It is one of the most effective tools used by professional practitioners to sell work with a fair portion of sales done online. It serves as a public face for your practice, and allows for a subtle sales pitch to be performed by selling the work visually and in the best cases with the style of writing used to draw the customer in and get enthused about the work.


A number of the practitioners I have researched became ceramicists later in life. For example Adam Buick originally went to university to study archaeology and anthropology, and this influence is still present in his work. Likewise, John Tilton studied for a PhD in Mathematics before pursuing a career in ceramics. From this, I gather that working as a ceramicist is still accessible later in life if I choose not to commit directly after university.

A key aspect of the mentality of these practitioners is not to give up. If things don’t work, keep trying until they do. Keep striving for perfection knowing that you will never find it. I think this should be applied to all aspects of life, and not just studio work.



Going from the start of this project of choosing two words (mine were ‘mineral’ and ‘vessel’) and developing from there has been interesting. With so many possibilities, I knew I had to narrow it down so I focused on my local area of the Peak District, and then further refined my research to Blue John. Within my researched context this narrowing / zeroing-in approach would be very unusual. Subject matter and inspiration seems to arise more organically in the professional world; for example, Bill Boyd’s discovery and subsequent obsession with zinc-silicate glazes in 2002 that has been the focus of his work ever since. This sudden spark did happen for me when visited Castleton and the Blue John mines there. I found (and purchased) a fragment of a Blue John bowl that had shattered during the lathe turning process. Being able to touch and feel this fragment allowed me to fully understand how objects are made from Blue John and I knew I had to incorporate this reductive process into my work. That’s how I should be working, finding things and getting inspired to make rather than forcing out inspiration.

Material gathering

In this project I have been out on a number of field trips to gather my own materials. Because I didn’t know the outcome of putting these materials into the kiln, I made a series of tests to find out what would happen. However, owing to time constraints I had to move on with the project before all the tests were finished. However, in my future practice I want the use of ‘found materials’ to become a cornerstone of my work. There are a number of ceramic practitioners that use found and local materials as a key part of their work, and I find this relationship between location and resource availability very important. The physical act of going out and gathering your own materials to use I have found to be extremely satisfying – knowing exactly where your materials have come from.


In this project I have improved the way I make and test ideas by using a standard form to make the results combarable and more useable. My research into professional practice highlighted my need for improved testing methods. Specifically the work of Adam Buick who used the same 9cm thrown moon jar form for all tests stood out for me as a great practice to aspire to. Although I think I can improve my practice further by getting all the test forms to a standard that they can become potential finished objects in their own right – that’s the aim, anyway.

Current outcomes

I think my ideas about translating the Blue John turning process to clay and creating voids within the vessels to reference the naturally eroded caverns and their dark agency will fit well into the context of Bluecoat design centre which is my chosen venue. However, as it stands at the moment, the execution of the work is not at a standard to fit into this context. Parts of the form and proportion are still in flux but I will be able to resolve this before the project deadline.


The presentation

The feedback the presentation was positive but highlighted key areas I need to focus on as bring this project to a resolution.

I need to maintain a focus on the process and continue to record and make notes about it as it continues to develop through experience. I am constantly making notes on the process but I do need to take good quality photos of the process for use in the portfolio. I also think it would be worthwhile to record the turning process as I’m doing it, and analyse the footage to better understand what I am doing and how to improve it.

Currently, the forms are quite heavy and take a long time to dry. It was suggested that I try and hollow out as much of the interior as possible. I completely agree with this and have some ideas about how to improve the process to give me access to the lower part of the form without compromising the top. I will need to try these ideas out before the end of the week to ensure results before I make the final forms.

I was asked to consider colour within the pieces and I agree that it should be taken into consideration. I intend to trial this using red and yellow iron oxide on the interior to reference the iron oxide that lines walls of the Blue John mines.

One of the pieces was put on its side for transport to the room of the presentation but I forgot to stand it back up. However it was highlighted how much more intriguing it was on its side than on the base. Despite being an accident I will definitely take idea that the form does not  necessarily have to stand upright into consideration.

I was also told to consider the groupings and collection of objects and how they relate to each other. It was suggested that the best way to capture this would be to take photos of the objects grouped in different arrangements to get a sense of what the relationship between them was. I intend to do exactly this and respond to my findings by adapting the form to create a relationship between the objects.

But above all – keep it simple!


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 .

food for thought

Much time this week was dedicated to testing and producing the presentation board for the tea set while the ceramic work was being fired. The main feature of board was to be bringing the grain to the surface. This was to reflect the sand used in Japanese Zen gardens. I tested on pinewood the best way to bring the grain to the surface; I tried both wire brushing and sand blasting. Wire brushing took a fair amount of time and left the pine with a fibrous fluffy look that was not desirable. The sandblasting on the other hand revealed the grain smoothly but impregnated the wood with partials that turned it gray. It was clear that pinewood was not ideal. I was recommended by Dave Grimshaw to try ash wood. I acquired a good piece of ash and wire brushed it. Ash wood worked far better, the grain is far more defined and Is the look I wanted.


Before                                                   During                                                     Cleaning up                                                After

It had been my  intention to use a red glaze on the interior of all the pieces. However after discussing it with a friend who has more experience I learned It would be more reliable to use a different color. Instead I opted for a vivid blue using cobalt carbonate and clear stoneware glaze. I had tested this combination and knew it would give an effective result. However I will attempt to produce a reliable red glaze in future.


cobalt carbonate clear glaze mix

I coated the outside surface with manganese oxide, which would define the textured surface of the stones. However when everything emerged from the kiln the manganese had burned away leaving the surface bright white.


After the fireing  – the manganese has completely burned off

This did not go as planned. to rectify this issue I tested out some different methods . The best was to wash the surface with ink and buff it off with a tissue. This method is not what I intended but gives a better representation of the desired effect than leaving it white.


After being coated with ink

This project has taught me a lot about myself and how I work. a drawing method I had almost discarded has been revived and has shown its true potential . the hiccup with the manganese oxide has highlighted the need for geater testing before application In future . Getting glazing down to a science would be an very useful tool for the future .


Tea set

In future I want to work on improving :

  • Photos – must be taken with a decent camera and regularly
  • more glaze testing
  • More primary research