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

Tea is instant wisdom — just add water!

From the last blog posting I have done more research into Chinese and Japanese tea drinking.  The particular area that has interested me has been the association with Zen and Buddhism. I really want to pursue the idea that tea drinking is relaxing and meditative.


Symbol for Zen


One prominent symbol associated with Zen is stacked pebbles. The symbolism connected to balance and peace. I tried to look for where this symbol comes from. it could be linked to a stacked stone cairns that act as waypoints on pathways , perhaps these forms of cairns are symbolic of a spiritual waypoint for guidance .o-MEDITATION-BENEFITS-facebookf2a874402c7a3e5d8b2365268f49a548Grean leaves over zen stones pyramid on water surface

Stacked stones


A possilbe reason this particular form of smooth pebble is associated with Zen is because of their use in hot stone spa treatments. Spars are associated with relaxation and meditation. A host of initial ideas were generated from my research. I have chosen to commit to the idea of making a tea set in the form of stacked stones to incorporate the ideas of relaxation and meditation into tea drinking .


Hot stone spar treatment

I have thought about the possible components for the set and how to make them. It seems that ceramics will be the best material to work with. If I want to get a true stone effect I will have to collect stones to cast in plaster. Making my own stones from clay is a option but I want the stones to have the texture of real stones. To achieve this I need to make multi part mould’s for slip casting.  The Multi part-casting workshop has been really valuable in this project.  I am really quite enthralled with the casting process. It’s very methodical and relaxing.



mould from multi part mould workshop

After completing the workshop I went to collect stones at my local reservoir. It was a wet and windy day but I found what I was looking for and many extras. I thought it would be better to bring more than I needed in case a second inspection showed a flaw in a vital stone.


Bottoms reservoir – stones collected from here



Playing the stones by stacking them in different combinations has helped to solidify and finalise the form that the set will take. I wanted to know other methods of casting so I did the lost wax-casting workshop. It was very interesting; it has a lot of potential uses in future projects, especially using organic material.


Carved wax stamps for lost wax casting workshop

Currently I am on track with all the stone molds made and ready to be used at the start of next week leaving enough time to get all things glazed by deadline. So far I’m quite pleased with my project and the way it has developed, it helps that I drink a lot of tea to get in tune with the subject matter.

A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter

This project started off with a group research assignment on afternoon tea, with the aim of producing a 15 minute long presentation. It was an enthralling experience but initially I was quite uneasy about working in a group. During the first meeting we identified the areas of research we wanted to focus on:

• Origin
• Food
• History of tea
• Other cultures
• Objects
• Afternoon tea now

We divided the sections between ourselves. I opted to research other cultures and their tea ceremonies. I believed this would provide me with a broad range of areas that could proved sources of insperation .

We went to Teacup in Manchester’s northern quarter to try afternoon tea for ourselves. The whole experience was rather odd. Eating filling food in-between lunch and dinner is not something I usually do and resulted in a major loss of appetite. However having a structured break to drink tea was very calming.

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Teacup in Manchester’s northern quarter

During Christmas I began my research.We had set a group deadline of the 6th of January. Setting a clear deadline helped keep the group on track .

I found teas origin in china where it develops a strong connection to religion an interesting contrast to our own culture. where its drunk as a secular social beverage.

Patterns started to appear in my research. Not just between tea consumption and geographic location, but the objects associated with tea. For example turkey and Russia share the same method of a two part boiling process that is not present in cultures in other parts of the world.

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Turkish Çaydanlık (top)  – Russian Samovar (bottom)

The rules and methods of Japanese tea ceremonies are so intricate and precise that it makes the conventions of British afternoon tea look simple. It would be a great experience to be involved in a Japanese tea ceremony. If I ever go to japan I will have to try it.tea-ceremony-japan-scidmore_8028_990x742

A Japanese tea ceremony in progress

The presentation took a few sessions of group work to streamline. Having a different person write each section made the hardest part giving the presentation a coherent focused narrative. It was decided we should emphasize the difference between afternoon tea then and now. After the modifications it did give the presentation a better flow, allowing the audience to put the information into the context of their own experience.

From the other group’s presentations, I found a section expedition of particular interest. Explorers traveling to remote parts of the world, with only the supplies they carry with them to keep them alive. It got me thinking about the bear essentials needed to make a cup of tea.


Climbers drinking tea on everest

Over the next few weeks I plan to do further research on the cultures of china and japan because I found their interpretation of tea drinking the most engaging. I also want to look at the British East India Company and their role in the tea trade. By the next blog posting I would like to have identified some design ideas and to have started testing these ideas in the workshops.

Suck It And See

i have thought about my agenda for working and have settled upon this – my work needs to have a function or effect  – to clarify the function or effect need not always be its central role but still has to be present .

since the last post i have been to the metal workshop where i was intrigued by rolling metal until the point it started to flake apart . building on my glass blown bottle train of thought from last post i attempted to use soldering and twisting to create a cylinder that could become the neck of a bottle. during the soldering i found that when copper is quenched but not added to the pickle bath it left an interesting array of colours because of the coppers reaction with the solder . instead of buying new materials for these tests i chose to use pieces from the scrap bin , I found this process interesting in itself – odd shapes and cut marks that became part of the process while constructing tests , it posed an intuiting challenge .



in the ceramic workshop had the chance to experiment with a range different clays and was surprised by how different ones react under the same manipulation . carrying over the bottle theme I used a of wooden dole and built the clay around it to make a cylinder that could be the neck of a bottle

I had a strike of inspiration and used the laser cutter to create two bottles , one from vertical slices and one from horizontal slices to mimic the blown glass bottles this became the basis for my next set of ideas that were recreating the blown glass bottle shape of a long neck and rounded body in all the workshops I had been to .


I did research into glass bottles and jars attempting to identify the key elements that are important for a bottle or jar . the first question was why is glass used for these objects and not another material ?, the answer seemed fairly obvious – glass is used because of its transparency allowing a person to see the contents . this put an interesting twist to my plans because it meant to be an effective bottle glass needed to be involved to let the contents be shown . the second question was how important is a label ? this was a little harder to answer – in the commercial market the label is everything , eye-catching , informative and even instructive – on a personal level a label is less important ( if its even needed at all ) because the user will know the contents . i settled on the latte option as all these bottles would be one offs .





I have enjoyed this project as it has allowed me to get familiar with all the workshops and helped me feel more relaxed in the working environment. over the past week I have noticed a measurable improvement in my skills that i hope to keep building on in the future .




The cylinder effect

the digital workshop last week showed me the potential of using computers for aiding work. the level of precision possible is incredible and would help my work as my measuring ability needs improvement .

during the workshop I created a spiral laser cut section in a test piece of 3 mm MDF  . while other people were looking at the sample they were always drawn to the spiral section. Noticing this I plan to test out a range of spirals and see if I can find it a useful application for it

the progress review helped to identify points that need improvement in my work . the most important was the need to bring my own agenda to the project . over the next couple of weeks i will focus on what thinking about what my real agenda for making is so by the next blog posting my agenda will be clear .


wood workshop this week with Joe Hartley was insightful as I am not familiar with wood as a material  . I practised riveting and got the hang of it after blocking the machine numerous times . I used the riveting technique to create a long cuboid using 48 rivets . realising this was a large amount of materials and time going into one test peace I cut it into two matching cubes that could now be experimented on in different ways .it worked really well to start with a basic form and change it in different ways . Perhaps in the future it would be good practice to produce multiple forms then experiment on each one individually ?

wood workshop 3  wood workshop 5 wood workshop 4wood workshop 6wood workshop 7

played around with tension seeing if it was possible to attach two object without invasive gluing or cutting . After much experimentation I eventually created this  object that is more of a curio that people assign their own function to . it’s quite interesting to see people pick it up and figure out their own use for it .this whole session enlightened my view of wood as a material . potential for a line of investigation making object with a deliberately ambiguous use so the user decides

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I have become really charmed by a small blown glass bottle I made in the glass workshop . using  the advice given in the tutorial session , I have done extensive research into long necked glass bottles and contemporary glass makers . I intend to explore the possibilities of creating small bottles in all the workshops I have been to and all the ones to come .