From Wet Blob to Pretty Little Dish
I've been doing this for 20 years. I LOVE clay and find there is a part of myself that I can only express through clay. The part of me where there are no words. Maybe someday I will figure out how to address that in a blog post. For now, this is how I make my pottery.
My process begins as sketches and concepts drawn with ink and markers before the bag of clay is even opened.
All of my items are made with smooth icy white porcelain clay. This clay allows a finish that is both strong and translucent; qualities desirable in porcelain. I love the way it holds my color and glows when light shines near it. After carefully preparing my clay by weighing and wedging I either throw my shape on the potters wheel or hand build my piece using slab techniques. I enjoy the construction phase and place particular emphasis on the construction of the piece. I want it to be strong and balanced both from a visual and tactile perspective. The piece is then placed in a damp box until it achieves the desired level of dryness for the next step of the process.
At the leather hard stage final shaping takes place either by trimming on the wheel or carving, paddling, and sponging. When I am satisfied, the decoration of the surface begins. I use a pencil to lightly draw my design and then paint the color of the design on the surface. Wax resist is used to cover and protect the clay and my design from the next step. Once the wax is dry I carefully carve my line design through the wax and into the clay. Dark underglaze is applied to the lined areas and then wiped away leaving it only in the carved areas. This is known as inlay. It allows a fine crisp line not achievable by brushwork. At this point I allow the piece to dry fully in a slow controlled manner to minimize warping.
Now the pieces are ready for the first firing. After firing to approximately 1900 degrees in an electric kiln the glaze process begins. Some are treated to complex glazing and other pieces are simply dipped in clear to maximize the impact of the underpainting and inlay. After cleaning up and perfecting the application of the glaze the pieces are allowed to dry for 24 hours and then fired again, this time to about 2200 degrees. This transforms the work into the strong vitreous porcelain we are all familiar with. In some cases there may be a third firing to add other aesthetic effects.
Porcelain clay is a constant challenge for me. It doesn't behave like other clays and keeps changing the rules on me without telling me what those changes are. I have to discover them. I am learning every time I touch it new ways to get it to do what I ask. In the meantime porcelain and I have a bit of an agreement about just how far I can push it and how far it can push me!