<br />Marlene Jack's altered functional pots combine elements of handbuilding and throwing.

Marlene Jack's altered functional pots combine elements of handbuilding and throwing.

When throwing pots for long hours at a time became too much for ceramic artist Marlene Jack’s wrists, she altered the way she worked, putting more emphasis on handbuilding and looking at the wheel as just one of the many tools in her arsenal – not the primary one. As you can see in the image, the work didn’t suffer one bit. Today, Marlene tells us about her working methods and philosophies for altered functional work. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

There’s a strong trend to make altered functional work these days, and though as a rule I resist trends in fashion or art, I’ve maintained an interest in altering forms since graduate school over thirty years ago. Currently, nearly everything I make is a nonround shape.
About half the work I do is initially thrown on the wheel, many without bottoms so that I can move the wall of the piece into a rectangular, square or oval shape. I then stretch, cut, paddle or rasp the pieces into their final shape. I strive for simplicity of form with a minimum of embellishment, constantly questioning the balance between too much going on in the piece and not enough. Form is my first priority, and I instinctively use architecture as my reference for the underlying structural framework. I prefer angles and feel uncomfortable around too many curves.
My approach to surface is to orchestrate a blend of tight and loose elements, moving back and forth between the two. I leave the thrown skin of the pot fairly taut, with subtle evidence of a rib tool, and then apply other marks to relax the surface. I am interested in texture that is pressed, trailed, carved or shaved, and I sometimes look to fabric patterns as a source. The unpredictable blushes of glaze color in soda firing integrate with these textures and help create a more visually varied surface. After texture is applied, I sometimes add small, embossed details to emphasize corners or provide an understated point of focus—like wearing a vintage pin on a sweater.

For more great ideas on throwing and handbuilding, check out
Throwing and Handbuilding: Forming Techniques in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore.

The other half of my work is primarily handbuilt, and molds have recently taken a more prominent role. This is one way I have been able to overcome the limitation of not being able to throw for hours at a time. Molds have opened a door of opportunity to move in a direction I might not otherwise have explored to this depth. I find I really enjoy building forms as assemblages, from an assortment of parts. Using simple molds cut from styrofoam blue board, I lay slabs into the templates and work the surface with a rubber rib. I make rectangular, square and elongated trays and serving dishes in graduated sizes, adding a thrown footring with cutouts for feet. Plaster drape molds are used for other forms, with either molded or carved feet added for elevation.
This process of alternating between the wheel and handbuilding serves my need to develop an assortment of forms while using a variety of techniques. It also has changed how I teach my courses. I encourage students to embrace different methods of working and to be open-minded about their approach to forming. Perhaps most importantly, I now think about the wheel as just one of my many tools and perceive myself as a builder of pots.

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