Austin, Texas, potter Ryan McKerley was once offered a job as a studio manager at an arts center. He thought long and hard about taking the job with a regular salary and health benefits, but in the end, decided to turn it down to pursue the life of the studio potter. We all know, that is not the easiest choice in the world, but McKerley is making it work. Today we’ll share McKerley’s technique for creating his unique relief surfaces. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
These pots are not carved in the traditional sense. The patterns are created by painting melted Gulf Wax (parafin) onto the surface of a bone-dry vessel. I then scrub the unwaxed areas with a very wet sponge. The exposed clay erodes away as it is scrubbed, leaving a smooth depression. As I am scrubbing, I use a Lid Master caliper to periodically check to make sure the wall isn’t getting too thin. This body of work is thrown with Coleman porcelain. This clay body doesn’t mind big differences in wall thickness, such as 1/8 inch next to 1 inch on the same pot.
I add a small amount of motor oil to the wax to help it flow off the brush. Too much oil will make the wax soft causing it to wash away with the clay. If the wax goes somewhere I don’t want it to, I carve it away with a metal trimming tool. Soda firing highlights the edges of the patterns and alters the glazes from side to side. The recessed areas of the surface receive less soda glaze, which creates further contrast. Copper glazes surprise me every firing, adding a little chance to this tedious process. This is an excerpt from the article “Working for Others or for Yourself: It’s a Choice,” from Ceramics Monthly magazine. You can also see more images of Ryan McKerley’s work at www.ryanmckerley.com.