The brief was to create two pieces, each piece had to have two separate components working together, each separate component of the piece should be inspired by either something man-made or something natural. The items created would then be used to serve food at the Christmas get together for all staff and students.
Research - Manmade Base, Organic Top
I started by doing some research, I used Pinterest and then sketched out several ideas in my sketch book. Please refer to my A3 Black Cover Sketch Book for the sketches I made. In the end I decided to go for an organic spiky ball inspired by Allium flowers, Cow Parsley and sea urchins.
For the base I struggled a lot more, I wanted something that would be quite tall and that would have a wide enough base to support a ball laden with spikes at the top. I decided to look at pyramids, cones and pillars as I liked the shapes the profile of these objects and felt that they had the potential to connect with what I was aiming for in my design. I opted to make two shapes to determine which would be more compatible with the piece.
Making Process and Final Piece
I decided to use contrasting colours of clay body for this piece and that both would be unglazed, I opted for a porcelain paper clay for the top and a smooth body black stoneware for the base. I opted for paper clay as I thought it would be more forgiving when it came to the complexities of the construction. I knew I had to roll out a ton of clay spikes and attach them to a ceramic sphere and that there would be difficulties in doing this. I would have to manage the potential for uneven drying because of the different thicknesses of clay involved, the fact that I was attaching them to a sphere meant that I had to find a way to attach spikes all the way around the piece without damaging any spikes I had already attached in another place and would need to work out how to do stop them dropping off the ball.
I started by creating a cardboard template for the spike/pyramid style base, I initially planned to have a pointed top, but realised once I had constructed the base that I would be balancing a ball on a very fine point and this would likely be very unstable so I cut the top off to create a flat area. I began by rolling out slabs of black clay for the base. I let the clay set up a little, wrapped one around a polystyrene cone former and cut the shapes out of the other slab. I mitred the edges of all the slabbed pieces and slipped and scored each piece together to create the tall pyramid shape. See images below.
Making the ball section
Initially I constructed two spheres using pinch pots into a former I had made from plaster, I let these set up and then attached the two halves together with slip, smoothed and refined the surface to create a ceramic ball from the porcelain. I wrapped this as I wanted it to be firm but not too hard that I wouldn’t be able to slip and score the surface when it came attaching the spikes.
I then rolled out aproximately two hundred porcelain paper clay spikes using just my fingers and a wooden board, this was a difficult task as I was constantly managing the moisture levels, the clay repeatedly cracked at the thinner point of the spike despite rolling them out onto a damp board. I rehydrated the spikes, wrapped them in moist paper and then in plastic. I created a slurry of slip from the clay.
Once the ball was firm enough I made a hole in it to allow it to be placed onto the base when fired, during construction I used this hole to rest the piece onto a kiln prop for support so I could attach spikes all the way around the ball without damaging any in the process, it would also enable me to get the finished piece to the kiln without having to touch any of the spikes, well that was the plan! The reality was a bit different, it was very awkward and fiddly, the spikes on the bottom close to the hole kept dropping off because they were being inverted when attached and gravity was doing what gravity does! So I consulted with Diana my fellow student and we experimented with piercing the sphere with a small hole just wide enough to grab hold of the end of the spikes and this seemed to work, a generous portion of slip was also required but most of the spikes then held once the method had been adapted. The only drawback with making holes and using so much slip, was that it made it very difficult to clean up the base of the spikes and even with a paint brush there were stilll small gaps and bumpy areas on the sphere around the base of each spike.
Porcelain paper clay is forgiving in terms of how it enables the maker to attach wet and dry clay together without the usual concerns about cracking, but because of its paper content it has a tendency to ‘pill’ and the surface is difficult to smooth because as the surface is worked with a sponge/brush and a rib, the paper particles rise to the surface in a similar way to grog would do in a clay body. Below are images of the spiked ball being constructed.
Both pieces were single fired up to cone 6, and amazingly survived the firing! The pyramid base warped at the top, and it was advised that it may have been better to have dried it and fired it lying down on it’s side so the larger surface areas would be supported by the shelf and reduce the chance of warping. Below are images of the pieces after firing.
Research - Organic Base Manmade Top
The second design was based on a natural wave form as the base with box type smaller pieces at the top, I sketched out lots of different curved/wave shaped ideas please refer to sketches on A3 sketch book for these and also used references from Pinterest for inspiration. I decided to do one that also incorporated texture in the wave surface and I wanted to use slip casting to create the simple, small, box type vessels which would be the ‘man made’ aspect of the piece.
The Second Piece
I used a large PVC cylinder as a former to create the curved shape. I used Ashraf Hanna clay body, this is a lovely white stoneware with a high grog content but one that does smooth out well. I rolled out a slab of clay and left this to firm up a little as I wanted to create strips of clay with a torn edge like the edge of a wave, I planned to attach these in layers over the pipe, slip and score together and then create a base over the waves using a coiled wall, with some internal structures that would hold a slab over them giving this a hollow, double walled base, I would then add a foot at one side of the base so the wave stood up in a curve. My intention then was to cut out spaces in the top part of the curve and two very small box shaped dishes would sit recessed into these.
I chose two pre made plaster moulds once these were suitably dried I released them from the mould fettled the edges and cleaned up any blemishes and they were bisque fired.
I then aded a clear glaze suitable for earthenware clay body, and requested an earthenware firing, unfortunately due to a mix up they were accidentally fired in a stoneware firing and although the clay body didn’t melt it warped and the glaze ran off the pot and onto the kiln shelf resulting in unusable vessels. See Pic below.
Below are images of the construction of the wave form and the internal structure being made to support the base slab. This piece was not completed and the unfired clay was recycled.
This piece wasn’t completed and met with a number of problems along the way. Firstly I had spent so much time actually focussing on the first piece that I had not managed my time well and hadn’t left enough time to make the second one. I had also lost motivation and interest by the time I had come to this second make, I just felt that I wasn’t making the work I wanted to be making and found the exercise frustrating as I just felt that I wanted to get on with developing my own work and at the time saw this as me repeating history by making stuff in response to a brief rather than born out of my own interests. I still have a very limited understanding of where I want my practice to go and how to develop my own voice in my work, so I didn’t use this task as an opportunity to explore this which upon reflection would have been a much more symbiotic approach to the task as a whole. The difficulty in doing that, and now as I sit here reflecting with the benefit of hindsight, I am not sure I would have made anything differently, I definitely embraced and was more enthusiastic about the organic aspects as this did link to my own interests and certainly built on ideas I had already begun to express in other areas of my work but in truth I wasn’t invested in the task enough to finish the whole thing.