Playing with Porcelain

Over the last few weeks I have been spending some time working at Berman Ceramic Arts, a studio/school in North Hollywood, L.A. They have a wide array of clays available, so I thought I'd try my luck with porcelain.

When I tried throwing with porcelain a year or so ago it was very difficult. It was so buttery! I found bits coming off in my hands, wobbles that could not be fixed and the whole experience quite frustrating. This time round was different. I was able to throw with it fairly easily, as if it were a stoneware clay. It was still buttery but in a more satisfying way. You have to be much more light with it but can really stretch it thin.

I sat down to the wheel and thought, shit, what should I try to make?

The last forms I was making at Winchcombe were beakers and handled beakers... basic cylinders with 8oz clay. I enjoyed throwing them at the time and felt like it would be good to get back in the zone with a batch of them. So, weighed out a bag of balls and set to it. I didn't throw to a stick, but tried to get them similar by pushing the clay as far as it would go. As I threw and got more confident with the clay, the beakers got taller.

When they had dried out a bit I thought they looked a tad boring, so decided to put a dimple in one. I did this with my thumb and first finger, simply pinching the wall of the cup. I liked it, so put another dimple on the cup, on the other side and higher up.

Examining it I thought it was a good alteration, adding character and making the cup more interesting to hold. So I dimpled all of them.

I left some weight in the first batch of them and trimmed a foot in them. Trimming porcelain is much trickier than I am used to. You have to get them at exactly the leather hard stage. When they are too wet it is impossible with globs and gloops coming off, smudging around your trimming tool. Too dry and you run often go through the bottom. After this experience I decided to try to throw the finished form on the wheel and forget about trimming.

I played around with various forms, from wide ones, to triangular ones, to more rounded ones, to tall convex ones. I was searchng for the perfect cup/tumbler/beaker shape by altering them a little each time and examining the results. 

The inside of a particularly wide one.

But alas, I still don't know which form I prefer. I need to see some of them fired and use them. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out the base of them; trying to make them attractive straight off the wheel. I ended up cutting a sharp angle with a wooden tool and using a twisted wire. The only clean up needed then was a damp sponge wiped around the base.

The last batch I made had a little more clay and I tried to stretch the clay high rather than round. The round ones appeal to my eye, or at least they did for a while, but are more difficult to hold. These convex ones are nicer to hold, but I am not sure whether I prefer the shape.

Before I stacked them up on the racks to be biscuit fired, I added my little moose stamp. This moose is called Pomple and is very special to me. He is a tiny lead moose, originally intended to be making his mark on the world being squashed against paper in a printing press. I made a couple of books with him at Reed College when I was on exchange there, but he has since been gracing my pots with his presence. I think he prefers the soft impact of clay.


Pomple, up close.