TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS
My production processes are cyclical in that once I start a run, it has to be finished off to the end. Several production runs can exist concurrently but each must still be carried out to its final stage. Seasons affect how long I take to do a production run as warm weather encourages drying which isn’t always a good thing as pieces can crack if they dry too quickly and cold winter weather can also be a challenge to meeting deadlines.
It begins with wedging and kneading or pugging clay to get it into the right state of plasticity, to remove air bubbles, to align the clay particles to aid throwing and to assess the hardness of the clay to suit the forms I’m planning to throw. I work exclusively with stoneware or porcelain in order not to contaminate the latter with the former. If I’m working with stoneware, I then usually stain the clay with manganese, iron and copper oxides which are pugged in. These blend smoothly into the unfired clay and only come alive after firing. I therefore have to be very vigilant with these stained clay batches as there is no way to tell which clay has been stained and which hasn’t.
I throw on two wheels, one for porcelain and one for stoneware. Some potters say they can let serendipity determine what they do but I need a throwing plan of what I want, how many of each and what size I want. Being organised this way took some time to develop but it has saved me a lot of time and wasted effort in the end.
Pieces are subsequently left to air dry to soft to medium leather hard and then turned on the wheel. Porcelain pieces are then incised (strips of clay are removed on a slowly revolving wheel with the hand moving to create movement) or scored (the strips are removed with a still hand to create regular lines for a more geometric feel). Lips may be bevelled to create a change of line and to introduce some tension, pieces are fettled to create neat, aesthetic feet and then left to dry. My finished pieces can sometimes look lighter than they actually are owing to this sort of embellishment giving this optical illusion of fragility and thinness contradicting the result of layers of glaze adding physical weight. I don’t mind this weight when it is controlled and expected, it adds stability which is always practical for both domestic and studio ware.
After these stages, all the clay slops and trimmings are recycled for the next production run. The workshop is cleaned regularly to keep dust levels down but after each production run, I clean like a man possessed to avoid contamination, mopping rather than dusting to keep the clay particles from getting airborne.
I then glaze my dry pieces, pack the kiln while it’s still warm from the last firing if possible and then once fire my pieces, without bisque-ing. My glazes are adapted from commercially obtained recipes on the web and in publications. My wonderful gas kiln from Northern Kilns is my best friend, providing reliable service and never failing to keep me wondering what I’m going to see when I open the door after a firing.
The fired work is then checked for quality and any that fail the grade fall under a hammer. The rest are then displayed in the showroom at my studios ready for visitors, to fulfil orders that come in or for repacking for shows and exhibitions.