Last week I attended the Contemporary Fine Art Pottery Short Course at NTU and it was a brilliant way to spend a week! I was taught in a small group of six with a fab tutor Jason Marks. In my mind I wanted to make my own Staffordshire animals, which I have fallen in love with since doing the MATS class earlier this year, but when the course began, I decided to keep an open mind and just spend the week exploring new materials, a new way of making and thinking. I spent the week playing, disregarded my pre-visioned outcomes and saw where the course (and the clay) took me.
By the end of the week, we had produced so much and explored so many processes and techniques. I made vessels by hand-building, using coils, created plaster casts and sprig molds, used CAD to 3D print a vessel, made tiles, learnt lots of decorative techniques with slips and tools and threw a few pots on the wheel! I wanted to share what I got up to - the finished pieces are currently being fired and glazed, so I have no idea how they will actually turn out - which I guess, is part of the fun of ceramics.
On the first day, we spent the morning preparing our slips for the week and learning about the different types of clay that we were going to use, mainly paper clay and porcelain. We prepped our materials - made plaster of paris moulds and rolled out our clay ready for construction.
During the afternoon, we went for an inspiration gathering sketch and stroll around the Arboretum in Nottingham to use in our ceramic work. The Arboretum is a beautiful park in the heart of Nottingham, with lots of trees and nature, statues, a big pond - lots to take inspiration from natural and man-made forms and an explosion of colour from plants, flowers and trees during the summer. For me, I was interested in the pigeons and the parrots. The pigeons were, roaming free across the park picking up dropped sandwich crumbs whenever they could, the parrots - among other birds were caged, chirping away, providing entertainment and fondness from the passersby in the park. Here are a few of my sketchbook pages from being in the park in the afternoon, I sketched the birds and started to refine them over a couple of hours:
On the second day, we looked through our sketchbooks and took some themes and motifs to carve into the plaster casts which we prepared on day one. It was really satisfying to carve into the plaster, much like lino cutting you can carried away with the rhythmic movement. I carved in my parrots:
Once fully carved and clean, I used paper clay to press into the carving and had lots of clay with my illustrations raised on to the surface, which could be used to build forms. I also made some bird shapes which would be used to make sprig molds, which are plaster cast molds in the shape or whatever you want so that you could mass make the same icon or motif fast to decorate vessels and forms.
Next was time to think about what I was going to make, we were challenged to make a vessel of some sort, but this could be practical or sculptural, traditional or contemporary. Inspired by the trip to the Arboretum, I started to think about the cages in the park and how my vessel could be a cage. I did some thinking drawings, thinking about what was important to me and trying to visualise in 3D, which is really out of my comfort zone. I think mostly in 2D - flat, a sheet of paper, a notepad, a sketchbook. I rarely construct in 3D or transform something which is 2D to 3D and found this a challenge. I feel that this might have altered the outcome I produced, I possibly kept the design to something which I could actually visualise and therefore construct, rather than pushing the boundaries of the material, but - it was my first go! I decided to think about what was important for me: I wanted to make something that I could use, in my home and something which had a lot of character.
Using my thinking drawings, I cut out the parts of my vessel out of my parrot pressed clay, which I had painted with some slips:
and started to construct!
In-between the building of my parrot pot, I threw a pot for the first time which is pretty hard to do but SUCH fun. Below is my first attempt:
Unfortunately it isn't the tallest pot in the world and does have a hole in it's base! But I do need a few more plant pots, so it'll be put to good use!
Back to my parrot pot:
Building it, thinking about the character of it. In the end, I decided on two feet only so it was have a jaunty stance and an angled slit across the neck.
I touched up the details with the coloured slip in a painterly fashion, which I hope comes out well after being fired. I also used some of the initial sketches from my sketchbook and some older ones (hello cat pattern) to digitally print on to transfers which can be applied on to pre-glazed tiles, which is an exciting concept to apply illustrations on to more surfaces.
It was a really fun and intense week of making and playing with new techniques. I'll share everything once it pops out of the kiln in a couple of weeks time! Fingers crossed for no explosions....
If you want to know more about this short course, including the full description and information about Jason, click here.