by Bryan Hopkins
My work exists in two categories. One is what I call Function, which is the utilitarian work. The other is Dysfunction, which is a series of vessels not bound by any pragmatic function. While each is informed by the other and they overlap from time to time, the two series remain separated by basically one directive; the Function series needs to be durable enough to go in to a dishwasher. Working this way has always been part of my studio practice, as the Function series pays the bills, and the Dysfunction series keeps me from being suicidal.
So about a year and a half ago I decided to move from wheel-throwing all my cups to slip-casting them for two reasons: to streamline my production and to get texture all around the cup- not just in a single panel. This has worked very well, and frees me up to explore and play, two reasons why I love being an artist. And the cast cups are just as interesting as the thrown and altered cups.
But in changing how I make my two handle-less cup forms I began to reevaluate my entire, well, life. And it has to do with the following events and thoughts:
1) The vessels I make have always been a combination of wheel-thrown and slab-built parts and are translucent, but not as translucent as the smaller utilitarian work, like the cups.
2) Slip-casting is a horrible way to make work for me. It borders on being psychologically damaging, mostly because I hate making the plaster mold. The process has sped up the production of an individual cup, but in making that part of the process more efficient I have removed the part of the process of making a cup I like the best- the forming.
3) I made a series of panels (large tiles) a few years ago and rolled thin slabs for their construction, each about 2mm thick. It was then I realized why I am not a slab builder: rolling thin slabs sucks.
4) My favorite types of boat hulls (we all have our favorite hull construction, right?) are lapstrake. They look like clapboard on a house looks.
5) At SOFA Chicago last year I got to see work by and meet two of my clay heroes: Henk Wolvers and Arnold Annen. They work in a vessel format and the work is translucent, made with Limoges porcelain. The work is pushed to the limits of what the material can handle.
6) I enjoy making my studio life as difficult as possible, and I do not mind spending many hours walking down a path only to find myself at a dead end. I push the porcelain as far as I think it can go, sometimes successfully, but more often than not, failing. I learn a lot more from failing than succeeding.
7) About 9 months ago I was at Goodwill looking for inspiration and found some great little plastic cups I thought I could make molds from. I did. They are nice.
After coming back from SOFA last November I decided to push the Dysfunction series in a different direction- more toward emphasis on and exploitation of the translucent quality of porcelain. In my studio there is a list of stuff I want to do and stuff I need to do, and investigating a new process of making that I have never done before sat painfully low on the list. Finally, this past March, I had some time to play and decided to figure out this new vessel idea. Having difficulty throwing thin enough parts, I decided that I could just pour out casting-slip on plaster and get very thin slabs- thinner than I could easily throw or roll. For whatever reason this actually worked. I do not like scoring, so I decided not to do it. For whatever reason this actually worked.
Cups are a real passion for me, so that is where this began, with some lapstrake inspired cups. Each weighs in at about 90g when bone dry and fired. Very little warping. Going to a vessel I was very cautious, but they hold up- better in oxidation than reduction, but they always remain vertical.
This brings us up to today. On Friday I completed the largest forms so far: a 21” wide low oval bowl, and a 14” tall oval vase. Of note is the oval vase weighs about one pound (550g) wet. I can’t wait to fire it and see what happens next.
I am excited about this new line of work, maybe because I have no idea where it will go, but the series is in its’ infancy and my thoughts about the “why” are evolving as each piece is built. Regardless of where this all ends up, I have confidence in the “creative process”, the process of making, and that anywhere I have gotten in my studio practice has been through a series of risk-taking involving lots of failure before any success. At the end of the day I am just trying…
What you need to know:
1) For my casing slip I simply deflocculate my cone 10 porcelain throwing body by adding Darvan 7 (thank you Darien Johnson) at a proportion of 1% of the dry clay weight. So for every 20,000g of dry clay I add 200g of Darvan.
2) My joining slip is my casing slip, and as I mentioned, I do not score.
3) You can pour on any plaster surface to get very thin slabs. My preference is to pour over a low arc of plaster, made by filling a 16” diameter dome light fixture with plaster. I pour on between 1 and 2 cups of slip, then spin it to get the slip to spread out, becoming thinner and thinner. Flat pieces of plaster work, but I find it pools.
4) I find building with slabs about 1.5mm to be optimum. They hold up in firing and are very translucent.
5) Texture is added how I always have- by pressing the slabs in to bisque molds of collected textures.
6) I pre-curve each piece, meaning I give it the shape it needs to be in when added to the piece. Otherwise the final piece will really warp.
7) I dry these fast. The cups are not covered- they sit out. The vessels just get a strip of plastic on the lip and sit out.
by Emily Schroeder Willis
A little over a year ago is when I shifted from exclusively cone 10 glazes to exclusively cone 6-ish glazes (I pretty much fire it to almost cone 7). I can’t even begin to say how saddened I was by this switch. Years of tests, maybe a thousand test tiles, probably more…. down the drain. But I have to say, I feel like my work is better for the change. There is nothing like starting from scratch to help you see your work with new eyes. When I made this shift, I had a few base glazes I had seen, liked and collected recipes for. So, instead of trying to replicate everything I had been doing at cone 10, I decided to get rid of all of things that frustrated me, the things that bored me and the crazy absurd color combinations which sometimes made a train wreck for me trying to carve out a cohesive body of work for shows. Sure there are things that I miss, sure there are subtle nuances that I haven’t found in these new glazes, but I have to say, I feel this work fits more of the mantra of “Simplify, simplify, simplify”.
by Doug Peltzman
I can trace my love for range in firing temperature and clay to my formative years wood firing. I was always drawn to the buried, crusty, iron rich pots, as well as the vitreous porcelain surfaces that a wood kiln can yield. So for me, working in earthenware and porcelain feels natural, each body of work informing the other. Different clays provide a new canvas and a new problem to solve. I draw from the relationship of watercolor to porcelain, and oil paint to earthenware. With my porcelain pots I focus more on using color to delineate shifts in pattern, composition, and line. The translucent porcelain is the backdrop for my glazes, analogous to the way paper can be the backdrop for a watercolor painting; the white clay color is key to making the glazes pop. With my earthenware pots, the focus is more on using color to fill spaces or play with interlocking shapes. Line and color merge. The satin low fire glazes I use are opaque, with breaks of red clay coming through. The rich red clay becomes a backdrop for the glazes, similar to the way under painting and priming serves as a ground for an oil painting. I love seeing how my ideas form and translate through different clays and glazes, and the challenges, boundaries, and possibilities that ensue.