Archives for category: Ceramics

I had one last session on wet clay on Thursday and made the last three plates. I won’t have time to make any more and have them dry and fire them before the kiln goes next Friday. The school is packed up then anyway. Shirley rolled out clay for me and I stayed behind until six to finish the last three sprigged plates. There will be some glazing to do next week and I still have to fire the kiln a couple of times to get everything done.

I made the last plates with a range of sprigs and the wood cuts. On the very last plate I used the art room key to make an impression which looked so sad and felt so sad to do I almost cried.

There will be more plates in other places, no doubt. Having built up this level of expertise in ceramics it seems silly not to carry on. Looking through the books there are so many ideas and drawings that haven’t made it onto plates there are still lots more to do. But really the 100 plates about being a middle school art teacher is over. We have managed to break the century mark with a few extra, I think.

Things at school are getting more and more difficult as we approach the very last days before final closure. We are counting out the last kiln firings and calculating the precise number of plates and children’s work that we can fire. The kiln is scheduled to go on the very last day. I am still making plates though. Two last sprig plates and three are rolled up and waiting for images to be drawn on for the Walpole Chapel show in a few weeks. We have counted all of the plates and we make it to be about 96 at the current moment. It would be satisfying to make the century before the end of term and the end of the school. It is possible.

Last week I spent at a conference at Mansfield College in Oxford and I took my plates with me. Taking time out and having to pack the room up and sort out my stuff from the general accumulation of material int he space has been time consuming and has interrupted the flow of plate making. The journal has slowed to a stop as I focus of getting through the next few days.

Still I did make a couple of plates with two children who came down at lunchtime and I worked on a couple of plates yesterday and today. I even found some new items to press into the clay in a couple of pieces of font metal from some old printing kit. these made a satisfactory square relief shape in the clay. We are also working on a set of plaques to give to all of the staff as leaving presents so we are very busy at the moment.


As part of the process of reflection I have been using old sketchbooks at school, taking in old ones and using them for ideas. I have taken in the two most recent ones so far but today I took in a spiral bound one from December to February. I used a couple of the drawings today on a couple of plates, one made of bag ends and one rolled up for me by Nawalla. I used an drawing of a lancer with the sword over his head ready to slash down and one of a 18th century merchant sitting behind a table with a couple of boats in the distance behind him. I turned it into a self portrait as an 18th century plate maker with a couple of boats behind him. Meaning myself as some sort of historic figure making the plate I had drawn in the V&A on 15th January but it could well be me as a Lowestoft Porcelain maker, of course. I didn’t do it in blue though, for some reason. Pretty dumb of me not to do it in blue. It did look good though, an obvious idea once I had done it.

Looking through the book though I am struck by how complete the plan is. The sprig making is just getting going, the trip to the V&A sets all sort of things going in the book. The styles, the major themes, the techniques are all planned out in the book. The Grayson Perry pot and the connection to the heroes theme and the start of the work with the children. I, as always, think I have under reported and I have left stuff out and I don’t think the book can have been used every day and some of the referencing is a bit opaque but, on the whole, it is mostly all there. And there are a few ideas I haven’t used in there yet or that could be revisited from this position. The plates that are referred to in the book take me ages to make, it seems. I am so much quicker and more fluent with them now. Assuming I can get them out of the kiln, anyway.


One of the themes of the work seems to be destruction and damage. It is bound to be. Seeing as this is be conducted in a closing school. Ceramics has an interesting connection with breakage. Shards exist as things and the British Museum is full of shards. Quite a lot of the ‘complete’ things in the BM are made of shards found. I have had some success with a couple of plates that burst in the biscuit stage and I have been able to get them to stay together with glaze which looks fantastic. But the kiln isn’t behaving itself so well this week and I have had a few plates crack in awkward ways that I haven’t been able to live with. I think the kiln is getting too hot at the top and some of the plates are bursting. I have been trying slightly higher temperatures to try to get the glazes to melt thoroughly and this hasn’t helped. I used to think that if I could get the things out of a biscuit fire then the glaze fire was pretty much a formality but recently I have been getting them to crack in the glaze fire too.

This week I put in a fantastic plate with a self portrait in the manner of Guston incised into a layer of purple haze glaze. I don’t think it was thoroughly dry as I was firing it from green. The result was a completely dissolved plate with just a few purple shards in the middle. I’ll have to reconstruct it as it was a cracker. Most of the other plates survived apart from the two very plain terracotta plates I was planning to gold leaf. They both cracked badly. The ‘experimental outcome’ plate with a very fragile edge hanging on in another clay came out fine. I just fired once this week as Shirley hasn’t been in and I haven’t been able to do as much without her help. I made up four plates with bag ends of clay. I drew on gas masks and military hats from the Norfolk military museum with oxide in linseed oil as a sort of ceramic ink. They worked well. So far.

I was using the red sketchbook and using some of the drawings and ideas from that to recycle old ideas as a form of reflection in the work. A reprocessing. I also had some fun with monoprinting using some of the plastic sheets we have found in cupboards in the art and DT room. I riffed on the military hats idea and they came out well. It was nice to work at a different scale and when they are done they are done. I didn’t have to wait to see if I had blown them up with clumsy kiln firing.

Thursday I did a bit of gilding and went round the degree shows at NUCA. It’s a good show, better than last year and some interesting stuff. Huge amounts of effort and work by all involved. The commitment and creativity is incredible really. The illustration was interesting and the visual studies were good. The edges of things were more interesting. And painting looks like a very difficult thing to do. The least interesting things were paintings.


Opened the kiln and took out some very fine plates. Interesting glazes on some and all of the biscuit fired ones survived my packing.

Made four plates again. The first one used another lino cut I found under the radiator yesterday and the new clay stamps that I took out of the kiln today. I was pleased with these. The raised screw head worked very well as did the impression of the lego wheel. The failure to reverse my initials was embarrassing though.

The new sprigs of ‘Teacher’ and ‘Mr C’ also worked well. It is a bit late in the day but I thought it was probably time to make some artist teacher plates and, probably, some teacher plates. Today it was artist teacher.

I also found some Guston pictures on the web and played with those in the book. I have long been a fan of Guston and I wanted to make some plates inspired by his work. It was there in the bacon sandwich on the Dunwich cycle ride plate from a long time ago – inspired by his sandwich drawings. Today I channelled his book drawings with one about learning journals, another one of sketchbooks in a pile under a table as I was flicking through the ten books that I have accumulated this school year. And I finished off with a self portrait based on his drawing of a painter, scratched directly into a layer of purple haze glaze in a rough and ready manner. Only I made him a potter, of course. Fun stuff.

Glaze firing tomorrow.

Three plates today playing with the idea of experiments that make outcomes. As with most of the plates I make I don’t really know how they will come out so, to an extent, they are all experiments. But they are also final outcomes, assuming I can get them out of the kiln, which isn’t always the case these days. I think the multiple clays and the speed of production is affecting them and not all of them are making it out at the moment. They are rather roughly done and the rolling out is a bit haphazard so some are splitting here and there. I got a very fine one out of the kiln this morning that I had managed to stick together with glaze so that it was a whole plate again but with different sections in different colours and great joining gaps. The other plates came out well too. Pretty pleasing. I packed the kiln with another mixed fire and left it to go for it. God knows what I’ll find in the morning again.

Two days spent as a exam moderator last week which was very interesting. Managed to make four plates with Shirley’s help on the days I was in and fired the kiln twice. I loaded and fired the kiln with a glaze firing on Wednesday and tried out a lot of glazes mouldering at the back of the cupboard. The big reveal moment wont be until tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to that.

The plates I made on Wednesday came out well. Shirley had rolled out the usual four bits of clay and I trimmed them up and put a layer of coloured slip on ready for some sort of incised mark. I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything too developed as I had to sort things out for the days out and so on. I looked in the current sketchbook/journal which is a relatively recent one and there weren’t any appropriate ‘ideas’ in there. The books have become so much part of my thinking that without the books to tell me what to do next I can’t function! I only tend to carry one around at a time, of course, so when I fill a book I go through a peculiar change over period where all the accumulated thinking of one book gets left at home and I start with a fresh and underdeveloped book. This is obviously stupid and I do sometimes carry more than one book to get over this. But it does become the case that there is a big pile of books on the shelf over there and there are some great ideas stacked at the bottom that I have forgotten about or haven’t finished off and they are sort of ‘stuck’ at the bottom of the pile.

The retrieval system of books inevitably doesn’t provide instant access to everything all of the time, especially if I am working in two places like this. I should probably take all of the books into school and use them all there in these final weeks. There is a sense of vulnerability to that though. I am leaving much of a doctorate in a cupboard in an art room fifteen miles away! I really need to sit down and go over them all again and reclaim the ideas and fold them into the current state of play. There are currently seven of them so that would take a bit of time.

I have also been further complicated things by making books. I went up to NUCA and spent the afternoon learning how to make books with Sarah in the Drawing Workshop. I made a fairly successful blue A4 sketchbook which I have used as a studio book to keep a better chronology of the plates as they are made, fired and glazed. At the moment they are all recorded in the books but the chronology is unclear. They are made and recorded, biscuit fired and often recorded and then usually recorded when glazed and finished. This means they pop up in the books as batches which is a bit difficult to unpack. It makes sense in terms of a learning cycle as how my efforts come out of the kiln tends to inform how I make the next batch so it fits the learning/reflect/play/make cycle but it is more difficult to see the progress of a plate from idea to make to final outcome.

I want to play with the idea of making the books more as part of the learning journal thing and how the recording and processing of the ideas and activities affects and informs the outcomes. The big sketchbook from Great Art with a of other peripheral stuff and notes and drawings glued in is pretty efficient but it is also a container, a restraint in some ways. Of course. How does changing the container change the thought? So I wanted the skill of making different containers, hence the book binding obsession this week. I went to Norwich and got some new needles and thread from Anglian Fashion Fabrics and I made a pretty neat A6 sketchbook yesterday. The big fat multiple paper drawing book is about to get its fourth binding though as I have mucked up the other three so far.

The plates on Wednesday I drew SCVA heads on from a forgotten sketchbook on my desk from a trip with Y5 some years ago. The first red one I did with a sort of abstract drawing but that wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I picked up the sketchbook and quickly inscribed the drawings into the clay with a needle before I went home. The last one which was based on a drawing of an Inuit cork head was particularly interesting. It was a more complex drawing with a lot of mark making and shading going on. I drew it onto a plate with a layer of dark slip painted on and another light blue layer sponged on top. So my mark making was a sort of negative drawing, including some blurring and shading. I was drawing with a white incised line and reversing out the drawing as I did it. One of them I drew into a layer of green glaze painted onto the wet clay. Should be interesting.

Four plates today. Two remakes of a Head of a Man and a Head of a Woman. This time in white earthenware clay which I hope will not crack and should take the glazes nicely. Then one sprig based one and another one of some needles and thread pressed into a nice white plate with ‘For Sarah’ impressed on. This one for Sarah Adams who had a chow at the Halesworth Gallery last month. Yesterday I made two blank plates for gold leafing with Sarah at NUCA next week and a couple of interesting sprig based plates. I fired the kiln with biscuit ware too.

Before leaving school on Friday I emptied the kiln of its glazed contents. Some very fine examples of heavily oxided plates under green glazes. Very pleasing. Some cracks here and there but pretty interesting results.

The old paint cupboard is stacked with plates ready for a biscuit firing next week when we return from half term. Altogether there are about sixty plates in the boxes and on the shelves. The aim of a hundred seems possible, just about. Stopping the project at that point having made one piece of work called ‘One Hundred Plates About Art Teaching’ seems about right. All I have to do is find somewhere to put it.

I got some ceramic paints from Great Art on Friday so I can paint some blanks up over the half term ready for glazing and this will get the score up further. Quantity is a quality, as Lenin had it.

Finished off the big red sketchbook yesterday. This is an 80 page German sketchbook from Great Art which has become something of a beast to carry about. It has been tough though and has taken a lot of punishment over the six weeks of use. Obviously, it has to carry on taking abuse as it gets worked over and used as an example on the summer school at SARU. The next book is the same sort of book in black and I am going up to NUCA on Wednesday to try to custom make one as an example. This seems to be the ultimate learning journal; one you design and build yourself. Whether I can make it as tough as these fantastic German books I don’t know. Should be prettier though.

Is making art and distraction or a concentration? Is it both? Is obsessively making art in the circumstances I find myself in at school (which aren’t nice, it has to be said. Closure of school in seven weeks.) distracting myself from the main event here or am I doing the right thing? I did catch myself wondering that and it slowed me up for a while. It all looked a bit cracked.

Today it looks sort of incredible and sort of all right. I am preparing for a job interview tomorrow and there isn’t much more I can do, certainly not at school. There were four rolled out plates in the moulds form Friday when I hadn’t been able to finish anything off at all. I have been asked to put some work into a little charity show nearby and I thought one of the main project weird plates might not do so I toyed with a De Waal pottery book last night and the idea of making some Decoratively Abstract ones. I liked the plates by Katsue Ibata in the book I did a drawing of it in the sketchbook. I made a version of this on the first plate and then another one. Then I copied a drawing of a gas mask that I did in the Norwich Regimental Museum last Thursday onto another one and then did a bad style mouse saying ‘Hit Me in the Face’, a message of frustration from The Social Network. And I finished off with big Japanese style mark making with an overlay of a roughly done blue border in the manner of the Lowestoft porcelain teapot that David had proudly shown me on Friday.

Whilst the plates look odd what and the meanings are pretty impacted into them what I like about them is the range of reference going on here. The themes of childhood fascination from the gas mask drawing, the interest in mark making in the Japanese potter’s work, the childish drawing style in the mouse cartoon and the final mash up of Japanese marks and restrained decoration. Highly satisfactory. Very briskly done during lunchtime and in odd moments this afternoon when the children were doing their study drawings for their Stepping Stone project.

Emptied the kiln too and a couple of failures and some disappointments. The heavily oxided ones didn’t fuse on as I had thought. And one of them had failed completely.