My excursion into ceramics

So… it’s been a few weeks since I’ve updated this – sorry for the lag in new stuff!  But I’m back now, survived finals week and have another excellent semester under the belt.  So, on with the show!

I was torn when deciding on my studio classes for this past semester.  I knew I wanted to take a class using 3-dimensional media, either ceramics or sculpture.  Ceramics happened to fit my schedule better, so it won out – and I have to say I’m quite happy it did.  Something about working so intimately with a material is very appealing.  More than any other medium I have worked with, clay truly feels alive in your hands.  Friends claim I’m addicted… and well, that’s a fair assessment.  Won’t be giving it up anytime soon.  Now that the semester is over I’d thought I’d use this post to share some of my work from the studio, and of course talk a bit about the process (you knew it was coming!).

At the beginning of the semester we were asked to think about our expectations for the course, and what we wanted to get out of it.  I had figured that I’d spend a lot of time on the wheel, making mugs and bowls and whatnot, trying to hone my skills in the direction of functional pieces.  It would have been neat to have a bunch of really cool mugs to give to friends… alas by semester’s end I had made very few mugs, and even fewer I could claim to be proud of.  But I wasn’t disappointed!  Rather, I am excited for the direction my ceramics work has taken.  As you can see from the photos up above, the objects I’m making look nothing like bowls, mugs, or plates.  Nope.  I’ve been making clay whistles, which some of you may know better as ocarinas.

I hadn’t intended to make musical instruments going in to the class.  The idea struck me after another ceramics student had started tapping out different tones on a series of mugs she had just taken out of the kiln.  It was those few notes that planted the idea in my head.  In class I had been experimenting with constructing strange organic shapes out of slabs of clay, and I decided I would apply what I had been learning in the process to making instruments.  Funny how ideas can come out of nowhere – we just have to be attentive and open to letting them find us!

My first attempts resulted in some very bulky, odd shaped blobs with mouthpieces attached.  But they made noise (couldn’t call it anything more than noise at that point)!  I had the basic principles down for making them work, and so I started refining the form.  My concern has been primarily that of visual form, and the sound that they make has been almost an afterthought.  Hopefully now that I have found a shape that feels natural to me, I can start paying more attention to the tonal qualities as well.

The process of making these guys is so much fun!  It’s the kind of problem solving that you can enjoy.  I throw a flat slab of clay, and then cut out shapes.  After that it is a matter of finding a way to twist and fold the slab so that it forms an interesting volume.  They are like strange little puzzles that consist of only one malleable piece, and you have to find a way to make each edge meet, folding the form around in your head until you think you have a viable solution.  Near the end of the semester I started to settle down into one form that just feels right, which you can see in the photos above.  The shape is just meant to be held – the hand wraps around it and it just feels like it belongs there (well, they were made for mine, so perhaps thats why I feel that way 🙂

Once the body is finished, finger holes have to be put in, and these can be just as exciting.  How many holes can I put in before it looks too cluttered?  How should I group them?  Should they follow the contours of the shape, or oppose them?  The mouthpiece needs to be positioned with the same critical eye.  And glazing – that gets even more complicated.  I haven’t even begun to understand how glazing works.  There is still so much more room for evolution and experimentation!

I ought to stop now, I’m getting long winded again.  I am curious to know what sort of imagery you see in these shapes though.  All sorts of things have been suggested: birds, stingrays, fish, leaves, even pizza pockets(?).  The birds and marine life ring most true to me, but I love that they remind some people of food!  What do you see?

p.s. – yes, these work! Some really cool people even taught me how to play Mary had a Little Lamb – thanks friends!

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