Exploring Collections – Summer Project

Summer project exploring and finding different forms of collection.



Tea for Two – Plaster workshop

Working continuously for over a week in the plaster room to create plaster prototypes from my textile stitched cups and then plaster moulds for slipware.

Textile cupAs I wanted to explore the holding and containing abilities of a tea set, and possible absence of it, I looked at shape created by the act of accommodating.
I chose textiles and stitch as it’s another object associated with home and domestic environment. Available at my house too, I spend few late evenings cutting shapes and stitching them together to govern the final shape to some extend, to at least appear like a cup or a teapot.
Textile mould

Tea for 2









Supporting form while plaster hardens




Filled with plaster, even thought the textiles forms were assembled from number of parts to hold the shape, the plaster was much heavier and overpowered the stitches.
In some cases I had to hold the shape until the plaster hardened, or supported them with boards, strings or in a container.

Teacups from 1 textile mould Teacups from 1 textile mould

At the end I ended up with fairly large amounts of prototypes, as the teacup moulds were open, allowing me to separate the plaster and textile without the need of ripping it, as necessary with other textile moulds. I was free to experiment with the way they stand and fold, turning them inside out, bounding them with string, etc.

Teapot spout?

Attempting for a smaller components such as spouts and handles, which are trickier.
The only worry is how much they will shrink in the kiln as a slip cast, and being able to pour.
Plaster mould
The hardest and most time consuming part was creating the 3 plaster moulds for slip casting.
With highly irregular shape, I had to look for many undercuts and divide the shape into 4 to 8 part moulds.

However, taking every opportunity to work in the plaster room, I managed to produce the 3 fairly complicated moulds in about a week + extra day or two; getting essential skills at more detailed plaster mould making. Of course through many mistakes too.

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.




Slab Building – Building a Sagger

On our Workshop day last Monday, we were introduced to the basic techniques of Slab Building by our wonderful Technical Demonstrator Matt Thompson. By the task of building a sagger for our future combustable and experimental firing, we acquire the essential skills through practice.

The session covered all the basics of slab building techniques, of which I was already aware of, but it was good to recap on them.slab
I have just finished reading book from our required reading list – Slab techniques by Jim Robinson and Ian Marsh, so I was very keen to test it in practice.


I had some issues with planning my time and started making my sagger a bit later, rushing it and therefore the result is of slightly decreased quality than anticipated. Mostly in the absence of a proper lid. However, that shouldn’t be a big problem as the lid needs to have some air holes, which my one has sufficiently enough around the edges.

I went for a simple box shape, using hand rolled slabs.

Each side is decorated with my exploration of patterns linked to my research into industrial functional architecture.
I’m very fond of the geometrical, triangular patterns; I’m just afraid how will I be able to translate them into a thrown piece.

Clay Suppliers

In our weekly ‘Material Alchemy’ lecture we were encourage to look into clay suppliers and the description for their clays.

One of the most widely used clays in the CSAD are from POTCLAYS. Established in 1932 as a clay mining company in Brownhills, South Staffordshire; it now creates premium-quality clay bodies with a worldwide reputation.

The supplier has very good website with large selection of products for potters, however the only technical information for their clays is the recommended firing temperature; which for the clays used in CSAD is 1150°C – 1290°C for Buff Stoneware and 1160°C – 1300°C for White St Thomas.

Valentine Clays is another British family manufacturer of clays, from which the CSAD gets its Red Terracotta clays.
The website also states the basic properties such as texture, appropriate use, colour and firing range:1080°C – 1180°C

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 21.15.44

I haven’t manage to find any more first hand manufacturers of clay with good website and online shop.

However COMMERCIAL CLAY LTD is another manufacturer from Stoke-on-Trend established in 1982. Its old-fashioned website shows all of their clays with some Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 21.30.43data sheets information.

I searched for suppliers in Slovakia too, finding only one KERAMIKA BIELA HORA s.r.o. manufacturing a multi-purpose clay, however the website doesn’t even inform if it’s stoneware or earthenware.
Most of the suppliers buy the clays produced in Germany or other European countries.
Local clay depositories and previous mining activity such as in Pozdisovce has apparently been closed, mostly due to low competitiveness and demand, as well as bad business practices from Communist era.

Health & Safety

The first point in ‘Material Alchemy’ lecture raised the importance of Health and Safety in our practice as a ceramicist.

Slips, trips and falls are the first general risks that we need to be aware of while working in CSAD. As the nature of the environment we work in is dynamic with possibilities of spillage, objects placed around and lifting heavy items; we need to be aware of the risks involved in such environment.
Although it’s a common sense, it still needs to be discussed, and not forget; being aware and clear of the hazards and proper procedures.

All the material used in ceramics are at least irritating and hazardous when exposed for a life-long time. That’s why correct procedures for each material handling should be fallowed to avoid accumulation of toxins in the body.
The most toxic and deadly substances are found in the Glaze room, which could enter the body by:



“Material Safety Data Sheets” are created for each substance to provide safe procedures when handling and working with a material; including data such as physical properties, health effects and toxicity, first aid, storage and disposal or protective equipment.
The Data Sheets can be accessed online (such as http://www.potterycrafts.co.uk/MSDS).

This information gave me a notion of how important Health & Safety in my practice is, even if it sounds dull and common sense.
I’ll try my best to listen to all H&S instructions given to us at individual workshop and follow them thoroughly.
I actually find myself being interested in all the correct procedures when handling and properties of individual materials, with detailed information written down in the form of the Material Safety Data Sheet.

An example of a common Data Sheet: Continue reading Health & Safety