Handmade ceramics and glazing wares - perspective
My current work involves minimal glazing.
In our crazy world right now I feel that a more minimal aesthetic caters to my taste. It seems that the last thing I want to look at is something chaotic hanging on a wall or sitting on a shelf in my house. That being said, my lifestyle is nowhere near anything “minimal”. Two sweet little babies has me running in circles all day. Without the support from my fantastic wife and family…all I would be doing is chasing them around. HOWEVER, I’m pretty sure chasing my son and holding my baby daughter is my favorite thing on the planet.
There seems to be a pretty big shift going on in the tiny world of ceramics. I guess some may call it a fad. I’ll admit, sometimes I fall into said fad. But maybe it’s more of a cultural shift as well. Both the styling of handmade ceramics and the glazing techniques seem to be splitting. On one hand you have a more traditional glaze heavy, highly decorated pottery (in the US at least) and on the other a more modern, clean-lined version. Obviously within the ceramics arts there is a huge variation, and I’m obviously very drastically oversimplifying things but it seems like that is what I’m seeing a lot of lately.
What I think is happening is the entrance of a lot of non-university or traditionally trained young potters entering the field. For many, what is on the cover of Ceramics Monthly is not what you will be seeing produced in many new small or what I call “micro studios” around the world right now. New potters and craft people seem to be making what they like, emulating and tweaking design ideas they favor for new ideas and new designs. But that is what traditional potters do as well, maybe it’s just a difference in taste? I don’t think as many people are going the traditional route of a four year university and a years long apprecticeship at an established pottery. They are kinda just going for it.
I think we have exited the period of what I call the “IKEA Years”. The “IKEA Years” was a time where young-ish people (myself included) would buy cheap, mass produced goods crossing their fingers to get a single year of use out of them. No one really cared because they were cheap. The goods served a purpose and were disposable. Now I feel like I’m seeing a bit of change. I feel that more and more people are willing to spend more on unique, handmade, small batch goods. Instead of crossing your fingers hoping that they’ll last a year…they may instead last a lifetime. A few special items in your space that you cherish.
Like I said earlier…for me…right now…simpler is better. I like to carve designs into my wares, I love texture…but I dont necessarily love heavy amounts of layered glazes or crazy glaze designs. Even though my pieces can have a more modern flare, the simplicity and clean lines that I try to get out of my glazes hopefully allows people to feel like they can use my stuff on a dailly basis. Even though my carvings can be a bit more textured and intricate, I usually try to couple that with basic glazes. Does the crazier the glaze make you want to use your (say mug?) on a more special occasion or does that not factor in at all? Maybe I’m totally off on that statement. All I’m trying to say…without rambling on and on…is that I appreciate clean, simple glazes that allow people to feel comfortable using.
Freshly thrown tumblers
waiting for the clay to firm up before trimming
My glaze process is pretty simple but it is a time consuming endeavor. For how long it takes to throw a small tumbler, I spend over twice the amount of time glazing. My full process is as follows.
Wedge clay up (helps remove air bubbles and aligns clay particles to facilitate the throwing process)
Trim pot and clean up any issues, sign the bottom
Allow pot to dry thoroughly, 1-2 weeks
Bisque fire pots so you are able to glaze them AKA 1st firing
Glazing and decorating pottery
Final Glaze firing
Final finishing of piece - sanding, quality control
Vintage tumblers trimmed and banded
Waiting to finish the drying process so they can go through their first firing…transitioning from clay to ceramic
Once the the tumblers are totally dry, they go into the first firing called the bisque firing. If the pots are fired too early, still slightly wet, they will explode in the kiln. The water will be forced out of the clay too quickly and the expansion of the water as it is heated will cause an expansion in the clay body. There’s no pushing or rushing this part of the process. After the pots come out, they’ve transformed from a raw clay to ceramic and are ready to be glazed.
Ready to be glazed. Notice the light, pink color of the clay
Below are some photos I’ve taken to document the glazing process. Like I said, it’s a bit time consuming but to be honest…it’s my favorite part. There is nothing more fun then opening the kiln after a glaze firing to see what comes out and how the pots have transformed into the final piece. After reaching peak glaze temperature, 2232F, the clay changes from a peachy pink color to a warm brown body with heavy texture and black speckling.
Something about the body of the clay, the texture in your hands and the mouthfeel when you are drinking out of handmade cups is hard to explain. My entire life I’ve only used mass produced goods so it is definitely a big change to use handmade cups. They are durable, sustainably produced and fun to use. I’m trying to incorporate handmade everywhere I can now.
Thanks for reading…next time I’m going to document my glaze mixing and testing process.
As always, from my hands to yours.