“There’s many a slip twixed cup and lip”

It has been exactly 8 weeks from receiving our SUBJECT brief titled “There’s many a slip”, exploring the ceramic practice of creating vessels.
It’s few days to our group tutorial as well as close to the Formative Assessment, giving us an idea on what mark we stand on, judging on skills, context and ideas.
This will allow us to see and choose what direction we want the project to go in the Second Term.

I want this post to be my reflection on my ideas and exploration into a vessel, preparing me for the group tutorial to get most out of it. 

re cycle
The old English proverb that the brief is titled suggests that even if we know how something might turn up, and even if we are certain, something might still develop in an undesirable way.
It’s a great allegory to our first term of the degree where we are introduced to so many ideas and processes.
I managed to produced more waste (only recyclable of course) than functional objects; always pushing the clay when on the wheel to the point of collapse while developing my throwing skills, but at least I’m more confident at centering, pulling walls and creating shapes I desire.


As our first trip to the V&A Museum in London in the first, induction week revealed, there’s a huge number of ways to explore the subject of vessels; from just function or disfunction, to shape and size, colour and texture, narrative and impression or perhaps to nihilism and meaningfulness?

Besides, all the cultures Luxury cupsdeveloped an object to hold liquid, and to drink from for millennia. As the “1660 Tea Cup Connoisseur Set” exhibited as part of the V&A exhibition entitled “What is Luxury?” points out, is how the small differences in the shape of vessel can impact taste. Highlighting the lip of a cup and how it can enhance aroma, texture or taste.

I tried to look at what is pleasant for me too, when drinking from a vessel, and found out how a small milk jug with a pouring lip is my favourite object to drink a hot tea from (especially a three cinnamon tea).

Favourite cup






Also how profoundly different experience it is to drink fresh water from an Indian mug with a sucking lip rather than using just clean plain glass.
Nosecup Nosecup






However, the emerging technology around ceramics and art interested me too. I’ve been so thankful I could see a 3D printer working at the British Ceramic Biennale.3D printed vessels
3D printing ceramics

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 22.44.54.png
One of my 3D design attempts. A base/saucer for my vessels








I’m curious about playing with 3D software modelling and 3D printing, and incorporating this into my ceramic work, which than can speak of more contemporary ideas of practice and production.

An idea behind a body of work is important for me, as I want to explore or read concepts and arguments through an object.

Vulcanic vessel

Even an object gushing and bursting like vulcan full of magma can be considered a vessel; its own lava creating its walls, speaking of the formation process of clay and the Earth’s surface, as well as exciting and ever-changing human culture surrounding clay.

Throw and cast

That’s why the objects created this 8 weeks want to speak about an impression: of a certain stability, like photographs of Bernd & Hilla Becher, of total steadiness and secureness, supported and weighted by their bases, fully functional with their angled lip and still they can develop in unpredicted way, like “many a slip…”

Like the documentary photography of Bechers, this is a snapshot of my progress throughout this first year of my degree.
Like the structures they photographed, strong and secure, but now all disassembled, demolished or not used; most of my work destroyed and reclaimed, my skills improved and changed.


Decal transfers – IKEA Project


Learning the technique of digital decal transfer, so we can apply designs onto a plain IKEA tableware, which could be then exhibited at their Cardiff store.

Ceramic decal
Finished application of my bacteria decals.

Beginning with an introduction into decals and on-glaze paints and their application, I started to think about what sort of designs I could apply on the already glazed tableware from IKEA, and any limitations awaiting.

Decals are a ceramic glaze printed on a decal (sticky) paper. It reacts with the already fired glaze underneath, at 850 °C, burning away the film that the glaze is printed on. Because of the extra layer that burns away, decal designs shouldn’t overlap as the top layer wouldn’t adhere to the surface.

Any white areas on the designs are printed as transparent, so any background colour would affect the final result. That’s why I chose just white ware for the simplicity, and one light colour, burned orange bowl, to see the effect anyway.

The shape of the wares need to be considered when wanting to apply larger designs, thinking about the curves and edges. A flat pattern of the ware would needed to be created; very time consuming and tricky process, for the rather short project.
This fact clashed with my initial idea of using images from the slide collection in our library and covering almost entire surface of the tableware.


Cardiff slides
Images of Cardiff from the slide collection
cardiff slide
Scan of a slide showing construction in Cardiff.






Cardiff slide
Construction in Cardiff, image taken from the slide collection in Cardiff Metropolitan Library in LLandaff Campus


I managed to find a few interesting slides of construction work or architectural drawings of buildings in Cardiff, visually close to Bechers’ images.

These images were useful to learn and experiment on while undergoing Adobe Photoshop induction.

Edited slide image Edited slide image

2 of my attempts at playing with Photoshop. Looking at just the supporting structure elements which would look good as a pattern over the whole ware.

As a back up plan, I decided to use an image making technique I played with earlier.
Using slabs of clay as stamps with texture and pattern inscribed onto them and then painted with ordinary acrylic paint; that way I could create a smaller designs which could be scanned and then applied onto ceramic ware.
Bacteria clay print Bacteria clay printBecause of the natural and fluid character of the technique, I went for a design of a different kind of an architecture; juxtaposed to the large nature of industrial functional building, to the micro functional structure of cells and bacteria. Inscribing into the slabs of clay feature such as ribosomes, circular DNA, cell walls or cytoplasm.

Clay slab bacteria stamps
Clay slabs, painted and used to make prints

The prints were a success with its colourful looks in slightly off/burned hue which was caused by the tone of the clay, highlighting the universe of small parts/factories within the walls of bacteria or cells.

Happy with the designs, I have created the specific sheet in Photoshop that needs to be send to digitalceramics.com.
However, a problem with an extraordinary high cost and delivery charge occurred, for just one sheet of A3 decal paper.
We had to get organised as a group and split the delivery charge and the sheets to make the cost more bearable.
I ended up arranging different sizes of my scanned print designs to fit as many as possible on an A4 sheet of decal paper. I decided to add at least one image from the slide collection; planning to cut it up and use elements of it.
Decal ready to print

Prepared with the wares and my printed transfers I started to investigate how should I apply it best.
As the set looks better stacked up as a one bigger structure, rather than spread out on a table;  I decided to apply one of the largest print so it would run across different pieces when stacked on each other.Testing where to apply the decals
The smaller elements were trickier to organise.

However, smearing some paint on my fingertips and handling a mug pretending to drink from it, I could see where are the points of contact with the body, giving chance for bacteria to travel from hand onto the mug or vice versa.
On to these places I would then apply my smallest transfers, highlighting the most contaminated places of the object.
Final Decal

With this placement I wanted to explore some ideas I’m investigating in the main body of my work: how an idea/impression of a structure/object has an impact after they disappear.
How the remaining debris can have an effect on future, or the present.

Final DecalFinal Decal





Final Decal

Final Decal

As for the image taken from the slide collection; I used an architectural drawing of proposed Cardiff Bay Opera House, due to it’s coffee like colour and almost abstract design. I cut the decal print into few basic components which I then applied on a cup and saucer. Looking more at the shapes and angles they create on the cup, enhancing the abstractness of the image as well as disunion between plans and reality.

There was a problem of creasing when trying to apply the decal through edges. I have carefully pressed it and created as little ridges as possible, but I’m intrigued how the overlapping folds will turn out after firing .

Processing my dug clay

Initial processing of my dug clay from Fforest Fawr near Tongwynlais, and shaping it for experiments and analysis.

After drying up my clay at home and braking it into smaller pieces, I brought the dried clay to the studio where I covered it with water to soak and brake the dried pieces up again.

Leaving it for a few days to sit and braking it up a bit more with hands I noticed how my substance is more like a sandy mud, than a clay.
I decided to screen it first through 30 mesh sieve to remove any larger sand, rocks and organic debris more easily, and then again through finer 40 mesh sieve.

My very short clay, most likely very high in organic compounds.

The process was very strenuous and incredibly smelly, the clay substance releasing powerful sewage odours, giving me more proof that what I have is a highly organic and sulphury substance with little clay in it.

When I removed all larger sand and organic debris with the sieves, I poured the wet mud onto a plaster bat to soak up excess water, and tried to wedge it into a one ball.
The substance felt rather sandy and as sand is a non-plastic part of a clay, I knew that my clay would be very short and lack plasticity.
This would make it difficult to shape my clay into tiles for further testing, therefore I decided to integrate some clay available in university to make it more plastic and malleable and see how the two clays would react.

There could be another option on how to separate and retreat the clay from my dug substance, using levigation. However, that was the more time consuming process and I already felt slightly behind with the task.

I decided to introduce the same amount of porcelain as my dug clay; choosing porcelain for it’s plasticity and whiteness; so that any colouring from my raw clay would be more noticeable.
Wedging the two clays together, the mixture was still too short for my likings, so I added a bit more porcelain.

Totally my clay mixture consists of 1296 grams of my raw dug clay and the same amount 1296 grams of porcelain with extra 300 grams, as the mixture was still too short. That is 44.81% of clay sourced in Fforest Fawr and 55.19% university’s porcelain.

Raw clay test tiles
The test tiles and 100 grams balls.


I ended up with a more plastic and malleable clay, but also more porcelain than my dug clay.

I managed to shape the original raw clay at least into a ball of 100 grams, to test the water content in the dug substance.
The clay mixture was also shaped into a 100grams ball to see the weight difference compared to the pure raw clay, bone dry and then bisque fired; suggesting the amount of water as well as chemically bonded water in the clays.

The test tiles from my porcelain and raw clay mix will be fired to different temperatures raging from just bone dry, biscuit fired to 1280°C reduction.
This will demonstrate changes across the different temperatures as well as the shrinkage rate, when measuring the 10cm long line marked on the tiles.

After drying for few weeks and then weighting the 100 grams balls again, the difference in water content was 33.3 grams for raw clay and 26.1 grams for clay mixture with porcelain.




Kiln Care and Firing Induction

With our Technical Demonstrator Matt we were introduced to the ceramic kilns, how to take care of them and how to use them for firing out work, over two sessions.

Required reading

Kilns are one of the most essentials tools in ceramics (ignoring all the other, more primitive forms of firing), as it turns clay into ceramics – through quartz inversion which happens at 573 °C and becomes stable at about 870 °C (depending on including fluxes).

We were introduced to the booking system used in the department.
The arrangement of kiln furniture, always having three supports under kiln shelf, and on the same place as below.
Importance of cleaning or supporting glazed surfaces, so that glaze doesn’t run down and damages expensive kiln furniture.
Pyrometric cones which measure the heat-work – the effect of the heat on the glaze inside, rather than just set temperature in an instance. Their position. Health and safety when viewing them, and when operating the kiln.

Gradual firing of the manual test kilns:
* 10% on the dial for the initial 1 hour.
* 30% for another hour, at this stage the internal temperature will be approximately 400 °C
* 50% for another hour
* 70 % for an hour
* on 100% – check the cones.

Dampers (lids) 1. open until 600°C is reached – all the moisture is released and quartz inversion began (on bisque firing). On glaze firing the damper can be closed a bit earlier, at about 300°C.
2. Open when viewing the cone and the atmosphere inside is misty (never blow!)
3. Dumper should remain closed when cooling
4. Can be open at 300°C
5. Close the damper when opening the door very slightly, at 150°C

We received further documentation for reference when needed.
I also started reading The Electric Kiln by Harry Fraser from our list of required reading, do strengthen and deepen my knowledge which is at its complete basics right now, and for future reference.

Source of my Dug Clay

8GB-Old-Map-British-IslesAs a summer project before starting the degree we were asked to dig up some local clay for further testing, analysing and experimenting with.
Also undertaking a short research into how the area was used before for production; socio-historic timeframe, history and geology.

I dug up my clay in one of my favourite explorational places around Cardiff, where I tend to go on a short bicycle trip to relax and explore.
Fforest Fawr with the Castle Coch nesting nearby, above the village of Tongwynlais.

Landscape – Site of Specific Scientific Interest – the woods surrounding the Castle Coch know as the Taff Gorge complex, are amongst the most westerly natural beech woodlands in the British Isles. … The area has unusual rock outcrops, which show the point where Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous Limestone beds meet.

Screenshot of my location from Geology of Britain viewer on British Geological Survey website.

In the area of Tongwynlais, coal, limestone and iron ore deposits could be found in close proximity to each other, allowing creation of early industrial landscape for iron production.
The mine entrances known as “The Three Arches” (or The Three Bears Cave) descending of up to 20 metres deep into the thick bedded limestone, is still visible, but fenced. The walls of the cave reveal how the mines were carved, with cylindrical features; former drill holes for dynamite to blow open the seam.
The iron works ceased in 1879 due to competition of surrounding towns using cheaper methods of extraction.

Looking at British Geological Survey’ viewer, I could pinpoint the location of where I dug the clay substance and look at the geological composition of the area.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific information on surface composition of exactly where I dug the clay; but “Alluvium – clay and slit,…” deposits very close-by in the village.
The bedrock of the forest area is sedimentary Dolomitic Limestone, formed about 326-359 million years ago.

Me trying to dig some clay.

Equipped with only a small frog trowel, big buckets and a dear friend driving me to the chosen location, I enthusiastically set out for the investigational task.
With the advice from the letter stating the summer project, we’ve found a small stream in the forest. Trying to dig approximately 40cm deep before excavating the clay proved to be challenging without a proper spade. So after about 20cm of excavation I couldn’t go any deeper so collected any, at least a bit plastic seeming substances.

Fforest Fawr-2
Carved wooden sculpture next to the mine entrance, also known as the Three Bears Cave.
Fforest Fawr-1
Castle Coch next to the Fforest Fawr, with my brother in the foreground.

Back home I spread the mud substance, removed any larger rocks, twigs and leaves and let it dry. In the process a strong smell of mainly sulphur creeped across my house.

Resources: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/geologyOfBritain/viewer.html


Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993

An ambitious cast of a complete Victorian house in east London; doomed to be demolished, as all the other terraced dwellings.
Showing absence through presence of emptiness.
Creating a public sculpture with private/domestic space.

Rachel Whiteread House 1993 Photo: Sue Omerod © Rachel Whiteread

The road has been destroyed in the second Wold War bombing.
By the early 1990’s the terrace was almost completely demolished, giving space to new tower blocks, new housing and housing preferences, new progress and change.
The last houses were tear down in 1993, with the last one used to create the sculpture, just to be demolished too, shortly after the artist received the Turner Prize for the monument.

The appropriation of absence, how no-more existing objects and their history around and after their life-time can have influence today; how they can represent and reflect on ongoing changes in our society, are pretty captivating.

My project wants to explore ideas of stability and presence, through history of changing industry in Europe, but also like Rachel’s work, through absence and ephemerality.

Resources: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/turner-prize-1993/turner-prize-1993-artists-rachel-whiteread

Session I Recap – Creativity and Cognitive Development in Arts

Missing my first study group session with Sarah Smith, I have received the extract that they read and notes of the arguments they went over.

“But as every chip of the chisel contributes to the emergent form of the statue, so every drop of supersaturated solution from the roof of the cave contributes to the form of the stalagmite. When subsequently, the statue is worn down by rain, the form-generating process continues, but now without further human intervention.”

“Creativity happens between things”

Ingold, Tim, (2003), Making: Anthropology, Archeology, Art and Architecture; Abingdon, Routledge.

Hylomorphism is the theory that every physical object is composed of 2 principles, a combination of a prime matter, and form.
Hylomorphic model argues that creation of an object is composed of an idea and raw materials, processed/fused (form giving process) until we end up with an artefact that is the idea.

This is a beautiful notion, that shows how our creative thought/inner world can shape the world of matter outside, manifest the ideas in object significant to a human.
This can partially explain why humans tend to surround themselves with manmade objects; or rather thoughts, feelings and ideas of others, like endless, silent conversations.

If we consider ‘agency’ and theory of Material Engagement we can see an argument suggesting that making is a process in which “the matter [is] a participant in amongst a world of active materials” (Ingold, 2003, p.21)

Malafouris, L., (2003), How Things Shape The Mind: A Theory Of Material Engagement, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.