This piece is inspired by a traditional bronze or cast iron Japanese kettle form.

This piece is inspired by a traditional bronze or cast iron Japanese kettle form.

The biggest challenge I face in the studio is focus. Being exposed to a vast array of incredible work and cool techniques day in and day out, as I am here at Ceramic Arts Daily, is both a blessing and a curse. Often times, when I get to the studio I can’t figure out what the heck I want to do because of the cacophony of ideas floating around in my head. This is why, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to try to keep better track of these many influences by keeping a better sketchbook/notebook/scrapbook of ideas. It can be so helpful to glance over sketches or snapshots of influences before heading into the studio. Then, of course, you need to examine the finished work to see how those inspirations manifested themselves and determine what works and what doesn’t.

In today’s post, I decided to turn to our good friend Robin Hopper for a good example of how to examine one’s work from concept to reality. Robin traces the development of some of his own works, considering the integration of form, development of imagery, and processes of final surface enrichment. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

The usual way artists develop their work is to find some form of inspiration, concept, vision or idea and proceed through several working stages to realize or resolve the idea in its final, concrete art form. Ideas might come in a sudden blinding flash or, more likely, develop over time from several different sources that might be totally unrelated or mutually interdependent. Sometimes they are slow in coming; occasionally they come in rapid succession. Sometimes they need to be jump-started through playing with the process itself. When ideas are formulated, there is an incredibly wide range of possibilities available to their interpretation before arriving at a final ceramic artwork, possibly as many as all other visual arts combined. Although the form of an object is set after firing, the surface can be further developed and totally altered even hundreds of years after a piece is made. The potential of the ceramic medium is almost infinite.


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Over my own ceramic career of close to half a century, several themes have recurred and resolved themselves in different ways, using many variations of the ceramic medium to explore and interpret new ideas. These primarily have revolved around four themes: human cultures and their ceramic history; the landscape; geology; and the garden. Here I am going to analyze a couple of ways the path from concept to reality was followed. What did I want to say, and how did I want to say it? What did I need to know to make it happen? I trace the development of some of my own works with the integration of form, development of imagery and processes of final surface enrichment. This is done with a series of photo montages leading from the inspiration source to the reality of completion and what happens in between. I hopethey help to portray the road followed from vision to object.

Although I have worked in most variations of this medium for nearly 50 years, my preference is to work in cone 10 porcelain. It can be fired in either reduction or oxidation to make the most of the color potential the firing method makes possible. All the work shown here is in variations of porcelain, but if I worked with other clays at other temperatures, the process of “vision-to-object” would remain constant, regardless of changes in technology. I am the type of ceramist who likes to know what might be coming out of a kiln before it goes in. I am not against “happy accidents” and will gladly accept serendipitous occurrences.

With initial art training in painting and printmaking, where layering methods are the norm, I use layering processes in most of my work. I seldom use a simple process; more often it’s multiples. The serendipity, when it happens, is usually from the way that layering transforms in the firing process, building unexpected colorations and subtleties.

The longer you watch the process and analyze results, the better informed you can be in how to plan and coax the maximum out of the medium and realize the initial vision. After a time, you’ll become able to preplan accidents by being aware of what probably caused them to happen and capitalizing on that knowledge.


Chado Series: Kama Form Lidded Jar

The form of this piece is taken from the traditional forms of bronze or cast iron Japanese kettles, or kama (see sketch below), used for boiling water in the Japanese tea ceremony Cha-No-Yu.

The raised decoration is trailed on using a slip made of the same clay as the form, liquefied with water and a small amount (about 1 percent) of sodium silicate.

After the bisque firing, I glazed the interior with a smooth, serviceable glaze. For the exterior glazed surface I wanted to achieve the look of ancient patinated bronze. I used the same basic clay, powdered and fluxed with barium and lithium carbonates, to develop a dryish, alkaline, matt glaze that would respond well to the colorants of copper and rutile, developing soft broken turquoise and sandy colors. I fired the piece in oxidation to cone 8.

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Southwest Series: Trifoot Plate

Many historical cultures and ethnic pottery use the triad of black, red and white pigmentation, which often is symbolic as well as purely decorative.

Prime examples of the use of these colors are found in much pottery made by many of the indigenous people of the American Southwest.

This large plate has a recess in the center and a wide, flat rim for painting in simple, sweeping, calligraphic brush movements. Its trimmed foot is wire cut to form a tripod.

When bone dry, I sprayed the plate with a light ball clay terra sigillata to which I had added 10 percent tin oxide to create a brighter white. I then polished the piece with soft cloth — part of an old sweatshirt — until smooth and glossy.

I painted on the calligraphic brushwork and let it dry, then high fired it to cone 10. When it came from the kiln, I trailed and brushed it with a lead-based chrome red glaze.

This glaze is not suitable for functional objects designed for storing acidic foods or liquids, but it is perfectly fine for a decorative piece. It is the only way this vibrancy of red can be achieved using ceramic materials.

I did the glaze firing to cone 06. During the firing, chromium also had a chemical reaction with the tin in the sigillata and developed a hazing and smoky halo around the areas where the scarlet glaze occurred. After firing, I sanded the piece with wet and dry silicon carbide paper to a smooth, satiny surface.

This article was excerpted from Making Marks,
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