Friday 21 May 2010

Birch Trees on the Downs

I painted this little landscape sketch a couple of weeks ago. It’s only small: just 5 inches by 5 inches on a deep-edge canvas. I’ve done a couple of these very small canvases recently (see here) and I’ve really enjoyed making them. I suppose I’ve enjoyed it because I haven’t had to worry about filling up the canvas – which sometimes feels like a large white and empty desert! Instead I can focus on a simple idea using a very simple colour scheme without fussing too much over the ‘finish’. They take just an hour or so to paint from beginning to end, and I think they work nicely because of this ‘no frills’ feel they seem to have.

This particular one is based on a quick line sketch I made about ten years ago while out walking on the South Downs near Ditchling Beacon. The sketch is also very simple – just three birch trees against a rolling slope on the downs. At the time it was autumn so the tree trunks were a lovely pure white and the leaves were bright yellow/orange against a rainy, grassy green. I’ve been meaning to do something with this sketch for a while, and finally a week or so ago I made this colour ‘doodle’.

The paints I used were very sparse: Hooker’s Green, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Umber, Titanium White and just a tiny blob of Leaf Green to add a touch of zing to the grass. I quite like the result; which is sort of chunky and loose somehow. I may come back to it and do a more ‘finished’ piece someday – or I may not! In the meantime this little canvas is hanging up in my studio and feels nice and cool and soothing; especially now my studio is getting so hot in the sun!

Friday 14 May 2010

Charity Shop Inspirations

I’ve been rummaging around in charity shops lately looking for possible ideas and inspiration. There’s usually a few bits of old crockery, china and general ceramics in charity shops and although most pieces are no longer fashionable (some are truely hideous let’s face it…!) sometimes there’s a piece worth turning upside-down and inspecting if only to work out how it was made (before re-shelving it). And then occasionally there’s something that isn’t made of ceramics but it gets the ideas going anyway. Hence this little pewter jug I found for £1.50 in my local RSPCA shop.

I don’t know anything about pewter. It’s the first piece I’ve ever bought – although the fact it's made of pewter is incidental really because the thing that struck me about it was the little spout. I realize it's a common feature of metalwork to form a triangular hole when adding a separate spout on jugs, coffee pots etc. But in ceramics the instinct when making is to avoid this more complicated route and choose the quick and simple solution; which is to shape a lip on the rim of a jug by smoothing a channel in the clay while the pot is still wet. Of course I've seen examples of ‘hole-and-spout-pouring’ jugs in ceramics before, but it doesn’t feature as a design as often as a shaped spout. So I’ve been toying with the idea of using it; something a bit different and quirky maybe...

Anyway, the point is, it’s a nice little jug I think and it's currently perched on my shelf in the studio (along with some other charity finds) to remind me of potential design ideas. I also bought this little 1958 copy of The Observer’s Book of Painting and Graphic Art. You can’t beat Observer’s.

I just want to say thanks again to Kate at Bluebell and Rosie for featuring my tea bowl in her Folksy Friday today on her lovely blog which you can see here. And also to Helen for featuring my buttons on her Folksy Friday last week on her blog Dizzy Izzy Handmade which you can see here. And finally to Haptree for featuring my raku buttons on Craft Blog UK recently which you can see here.

Thanks guys! Bye for now.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Raku Aftermath

(Raku buttons available here)

It’s been a few weeks since raku firing and I’ve been busy with the ‘aftermath’ – if that’s the right word. Debriefing? Raku is never a straightforward process and unlike ‘normal’ firing methods which means a pot is pretty much finished as soon as it’s out of the kiln, raku ware requires extra work at every stage, even the last.

First of all I had to give all the pots a really good clean. When the pots first emerge out of the sawdust they get an initial scrub to get the worst of the carbon off. But for some reason this is never quite enough and when you inspect them the following day, you realize there’s a lot more residue still to clean! So out come the brillos again…

I’m not sure what other raku makers do but I also find that raku pots can feel quite rough even after cleaning, particularly on unglazed areas like the base and - in my case - in the ‘black stripes’ I leave as a part of the design. So at this stage I always smooth all my raku pieces with fine sandpaper on all the blackened areas where the body of the pot is exposed. You have to be careful when doing this however that you don’t sand the pot too much! Because raku pots are low-fired they don’t fully vitrify like normal pots and so it’s much easier to actually shape them with sanding and accidentally expose the ‘un-smoked’ body of the pot underneath.

And then finally once I’ve done all this cleaning and smoothing I give them a quick polish with normal furniture polish and a yellow duster! It sounds somehow sacrilegious but I find it works wonders: it buffs the glaze and lustres, and enhances the exposed areas so they show up a deep matt black. I’ve heard people mention things like using beeswax on raku pots, especially on ‘resist’ or ‘naked’ raku items: but I tried this once and found it left a sticky, unpleasant coating which I didn’t like. Old-fashioned furniture polish (the type that comes in a flat tin to use on old wooden tables) however, works on exposed areas too - if you buff well enough afterwards.

So as you can imagine, considering I had about 50 raku pieces from this firing, this took me another couple of days! In the meantime I’ve also been photographing the results and making notes about the glazes. The photo at the top of this entry shows just some of the buttons from this firing: two of these have now been listed in my Folksy shop. Hopefully I’ll get around to putting some more raku in the shop soon.