Monday, 14 July 2014

Ceramics for Beginners - How To Make A Vase Part One

I recently visited the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, France. It is a spectacular art gallery, situated in the Palais de la Berbie, a former residence for the medieval Bishops of Albi with exquisite gardens and a definitive collection of Toulouse-Lautrec's work including his posters, very early paintings and even the litho stones, which were used to create his lithographic prints.

Here are some of my holiday snaps, which I hope capture the beauty of Albi.

The image below on the left hand side shows Toulouse-Lautrec's only foray into ceramics and it is a portrait of the cabaret singer and actress Yvette Guilbert. It can be compared with the photograph on the right hand side.

Lautrec has depicted Guilbert's trademark silhouetted gloves and has pared down his use of colour indicating the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e prints on his work. Yvette Guilbert was not entirely enamoured with her likeness. She preferred more flattering portraits but Lautrec captured her character in just a few lines through the tilt of her head as she receives the adulation of the audience and the drama of the stage, allowing the spectator a close-up of this famous star. I have to say, I really admire his work.

Here is a clip of Guilbert singing. I think it really brings the portraits to life.

I loved Toulouse-Lautrec's ceramic portrait and so I decided to do a short course at Morley College in London to see how I fared with basic ceramic techniques. The course is held over two, three hour sessions. After the first session, I have constructed a vase, which is ready to be fired. I took photos as I worked to keep track of each stage in how to make a simple cylindrical vase.

Here are the three types of clay that we were offered. I opted for the one on the left, which apparently has a dark speckled effect when fired. The middle clay had a high proportion of sand in it, giving it a gritty texture and the lightest grey clay is the most refined.

First you knead the clay and then you roll it out. Believe me, it is good for your arm muscles!

I used an old bath mat to make the pattern to be used for the decoration on the vase. It gives a surprisingly intricate effect.

Then I had to trim the clay.

I wrapped it around a cardboard tube, covered in newspaper, which makes it easier to extract once the cylindrical shape is retained by the clay.

Once the clay was trimmed and joined together, I added a base and shaped it to add extra interest.

My final addition was a little sculpted bunny and I then covered the dark clay in white 'slip', which will make the colour glaze stand out better when it is fired for a second time next week.

I was asked to prepare a tester piece of clay, which I hope to use to experiment with different glazes. I should be able to use it as a coaster afterwards!

Here's a close-up of the bunny. I really hope he remains in tact after the first round of firing!

And finally, here is the potter's wheel, which pretty much meant that I had Unchained Melody in my head for the whole session!

Made me think of this scene from Community!

Next week, I will be adding colour glazes. I am looking forward to seeing the finished vase.

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