Here’s a sequence of shots of the making process for a large bowl like Meteor. First the stoneware clay is weighed (5 kg of wet clay for Meteor), then wedged – rather like kneading bread, only to get the air out, not in. Wedging makes the clay’s consistency uniform, removes air bubbles, and sets up a spiral structure in the cone of clay, which is then slapped onto the wheelhead. The first stages of centering and opening up the clay are quite quick – I slow the wheel down a lot for the last stages. Here I’m consolidating the rim of this tall bowl before opening it up a little more:
and refining the form:
Once thrown, the bowl is lifted (on its wooden bat) from the wheelhead, and set to dry overnight. Then, the following day, when it has reached leather-hard and can support itself, it’s turned: upturned onto its rim on another wooden bat, attached to the wheelhead with soft clay keys, and peeled or shaved to the refined form. I often cut a foot into the base, but sometimes, especially if the bowl is not to be glazed outside, I keep a flat base. Here I’m shaving excess clay from the base curve:
And here I’m refining the surface with a flexible steel kidney:
Once the bowl is turned it’s set to dry on my studio’s open wooden shelves. When the clay is bone dry, after several days, it’s ready to be decorated. I decorate on raw (unfired) clay – not a very common technique – with a brush. This is so that the letters of the text are absorbed into the porous clay, and fired into the body of the clay, rather than sitting on its surface – I like to feel a deep integration between text and form.
With the Meteor bowl, the text on the inside of the bowl was painted on in wax resist, then the dark blue underglaze oxide mix was brushed on over the text, and the wax letters ‘resist’ the liquid colour, casting it off like water off a duck’s back. In the firing, the wax burns out, leaving the text lit from within, made by the clay itself, creamy in contrast to the dark blue of the oxide.
Here, I’m decorating not the Meteor bowl, but this one I’ve just thrown and turned: first I’ve decorated the inside of the bowl with a swirl of muted watery blues, then set the text in pencil on the outside of the bowl, to follow with a brush loaded with underglaze oxide colour, more soft blues. The pencil marks will burn out in the first (bisque) firing, to leave the lettering in place absorbed into the clay body, and the colour will be fully developed in the glaze firing. The text I’m lettering here is by Sylvia Townsend Warner:
Let such a sight Brim up my seeing
And with delight Renew my being
(I like to think the sight STW is celebrating would be that of her handsome lover Valentine Ackland, walking round Mecklenburgh Square in her trousers in the 1920’s.)
After decorating, the bowl will be fired first to 1000 degrees, then glazed, then fired again to 1260 degrees – and then it is done. (I never say finished, because it’s actually only just begun.)