Last fall, I made fifteen tumblers, all the same size, all porcelain. I wanted to see how well I could make a particular form, no matter how simple, in repetition. With each one, my hands learned something new. New information. The third was better and more easily made than the first. The eighth, even more so than the third. Somewhere around number ten, the learning curve flattened considerably. I was “getting it.” The information learned from making was installed in me in a way that it could never have been by reading, looking or dithering.
Last week, I decided to get them into a glaze firing and so had to glaze them all at once and in somewhat of a hurry. I put clear glaze on the insides of all of them, to allow the porcelain to shine. And then, settling on a palette of black and white with a bit of brown thrown in, I proceeded to use black and brown underglazes and black and white glazes. It was pure play, with a bit of anxiety thrown in. I wanted them to be successful, but more than anything, I wanted them to tell me something. Information, please.
While I love them all…so real, so tactile, so functional…some suggest more and lead me to thinking beyond these small tumblers. One cracked, I don’t know why. One had too thick an application of a black glaze over a wax resist. Note taken. But many gave me more than I could have imagined. Waxy white over matte black gives a creamy, lively surface. Trailing black glaze over waxy white with a squeeze bottle gives a strongly graphic line. Using yarn or fabric as a resist or applicator gives a controlled yet fluid pattern, much like the textiles themselves. The simplest of applications, wax resist dots followed by a coating of waxy white glaze yielded an elegant surface, perhaps my favorite.
An interesting bit of information that came out of this exercise is a clearer understanding of the differences in decorative and expressive capabilities. Because the goal at this point is to be able to draw on clay, the processes that were the most hand-controlled, the least accidental and dependent on the quality of the glazes, gave me the most information that will be applicable to actual artwork. But it is the accidental ones that came out of a more abstract approach, allowing the glaze to do what it wants, applying it in straightforward and simple ways, that please me more. I realized that I have always been envious of potters and metalsmiths and woodworkers who could make objects that people could use in their daily lives. Now I just have to decide whether these are juice or whiskey glasses…