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Ceramic Art Lesson Plan: Finding Your Voice

Posted By Jeffrey Nichols On June 16, 2010 @ 3:46 pm In College Level Ceramics Assignments,Education,Lesson Plans 9-12 | No Comments

 

Sanding through the layers of different colored underglazes reveals a beautiful effect like that of weathered wood. A respirator and good ventilation are required.

Goals

 

As clay artists and potters, we’re always striving to express ourselves in our own voice. It often takes us years to find that voice because it usually develops out of our experiences, our education, and our exposure to many different forming and decorating techniques. In addition, everything we read about ceramic art history and keeping up with current trends in the art world also helps to form what we do.

 

Here I demonstrate making a teapot in my own voice, and you may find it inspiring for helping you to find your own way. Like many studio potters, I make work that’s technically involved, but while my approach is complex, it can be broken down into steps. You can view part of this process with online video clips on Ceramic Arts Daily (ceramicartsdaily.org). Search the features archive for my name. Hopefully, you can take aspects of my approach and use it to further your own research.

 

 


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Finding Your Voice


Fig.1 When the form is leather hard, mark lines for the facets.

Fig.1 When the form is leather hard, mark lines for the facets.

Teapot Body

 

Begin by throwing a simple boxy form with ³/8-inch thick walls and a slightly smaller top than base. The simple shape I make reminds me of a Shaker form. Make a fairly shallow gallery in the rim for the lid.

 

Fig.2 Slowly remove clay with a Surform tool to facet the piece.

Fig.2 Slowly remove clay with a Surform tool to facet the piece.

Using a heat gun or hair dryer, dry the teapot body to a soft leather hard then cut it off the wheel. A heat gun is an important tool for my process, but if you use one, remember to handle it safely and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

 

Fig.3 Use a rounded Surform tool to bevel the bottom.

Fig.3 Use a rounded Surform tool to bevel the bottom.

Mark lines for the facets (figure 1). Using a Surform tool, create the facets (figure 2). I use a Surform instead of a wire faceting tool or a fettling knife because it gives me more control over thickness and the development of line because you can remove small amounts with each stroke. Next, use a rounded Surform to bevel the bottom of the teapot (figure 3). This helps to visually lift the teapot off the table surface (figure 4).
Fig.4 A faceted teapot body ready for additions.

Fig.4 A faceted teapot body ready for additions.

Handle, Spout and Lid

 

To create the handle, roll out a coil that’s slightly thicker in the middle and tapered on the ends (figure 5). Form it into a C or ear shape and place it on a plaster bat to dry to leather hard. Create facets by compressing the handle with a palette knife (figure 6), then attach the handle to the teapot body when it is leather hard.

 

Fig.5 Roll out a coil handle slightly tapered at each end.

Fig.5 Roll out a coil handle slightly tapered at each end.

To form the spout, roll out a tapered coil that’s about ³/8-inch at one end and 1¼ inches at the base. You may want to roll out several spouts in the beginning to get the one that works best for your teapot body. Form the tapered coil into an S shape and allow it to set up to leather hard. Use a palette knife to form facets.

 

Fig.6 Form the coil into a C and make facets with a palette knife.

Fig.6 Form the coil into a C and make facets with a palette knife.

Once the spout is shaped, cut it in half laterally, then draw a line about ³/16-inch from the edge and scoop out the interior of the spout. Re-attach the halves and let the spout set up. Trace the spout opening onto the teapot. Create a series of holes in the teapot body where the spout will attach (figure 7). Slip, score, and attach the spout when it is leather hard.

 

Fig.7 Attach the handle and spout.

Fig.7 Attach the handle and spout.

Make the lid in three stages. First, throw the knob on the wheel (figure 8). With a heat gun, dry the knob to leather hard and cut it off the wheel. Use a palette knife to make the spiral facets. Throw the lid right side up and attach the knob on the wheel (figure 9). Throw a hollow stem and attach it to the bottom of the lid (figure 10). Use a ³/16-inch hole cutter to create the steam hole in the top of the lid. The teapot is now formed (figure 11).

 

Fig.8 Throw a knob and dry it with a heat gun or hair dryer.

Fig.8 Throw a knob and dry it with a heat gun or hair dryer.

Developing the Surface

 

Inspired by the concept of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic where beauty is found in things that are imperfect, I began looking for inspiration in non-ceramic surfaces. I found it in surfaces like weathered, painted wood and brick, as well as in nature, within fall leaves and spring flowers. I wanted to create works that evoke the same kind of impact that a Rothko painting does.

 

Fig.9 Throw the lid right side up, attach the knob and add facets.

Fig.9 Throw the lid right side up, attach the knob and add facets.

The following is the process I developed to replicate these kinds of surfaces. After making a teapot, bowl or vase from earthenware, I bisque it to cone 02 and begin spraying the vessel with multiple layers of Amaco Velvet underglazes. Essentially, I use the Velvets as a high-frit engobe. You can also layer the underglazes by sponging them on if you do not have access to a spray booth. I recommend wearing gloves if you take this approach.

 

Fig.10 Add a flange to the bottom of the lid.

Fig.10 Add a flange to the bottom of the lid.

After the underglazes have dried, I begin sanding through the different layers, exposing the other colors, as well as the earthenware clay body underneath. Again, remember to wear a respirator! I start with 320-grit sandpaper working to a 600-grit surface. I then fire the piece to cone 04, holding it at maturation for ten minutes to create a strong bond between the clay body and the underglazes.

 

Fig.11 The completed teapot is ready for glazing.

Fig.11 The completed teapot is ready for glazing.

It is important to apply this surface only to the outside of vessels or in areas that do not come in contact with food or drink. When fired, the Velvets and other underglazes have the durability of a matt glaze, but are not food safe. I then apply a food-safe liner glaze to the parts that will come in contact with food and fire the vessel again. After this firing, I coat the underglaze surface with a food-safe oil sealant (like Salad Bowl Finish, available from home centers) and wax used by woodworkers. This seals the outside surface and makes it fairly durable, but check the instructions on the containers for care and use of these products.

 

 

Jeffrey Nichols is a studio artist and educator working and living in Kentucky. He exhibits his studio pottery nationally and internationally, and you can view more of his work at www.jeffreynichols.us.

 


Safety with Spray Gun

 

It is important to maintain a safe and clean working environment while doing this process. Always wear a respirator with a P-100 rating when using the spray gun and, if spraying the underglazes, use a spray booth with at least 1000 cfm.



 


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