Undulating surfaces and convoluted forms have become my signature style, and react nicely in atmospheric firing environments. Once I generate the overall shape of the form, I begin to spatially divide the surfaces into the points and shapes to be pushed and moved. There is a lot going through my head as I reflect on a wide variety of inspirations, and interpret them through the clay to create an intriguing vessel that someone will want to use regularly.
Europe, Inspiration, and Interpretation
I have been fortunate to travel extensively through Europe. In my travels, I am constantly inspired by the wide variety of vessels designed for lavish events, the ornate adornment of all forms of craft work, and the interaction between the vessels, the furniture, and rooms they occupy. The opulent surroundings make for an overwhelming and unforgettable experience for those who attend events in these spaces.
I have found myself drawn to interiors from the Rococo and the Art Nouveau art movements; specifically their attempts to bring nature into finely crafted interiors. When making ceramics, I often find myself combining elements of furniture, interiors, and decorative accents to design original works. My flask form is inspired by a combination of the undulating surface of an Art Nouveau armoire and the diamond patterns of Rococo upholstered chair backs.
Function, Interaction, and Community
I am constantly fascinated by the way pots can bring people together. Much like the opulent dinnerware sets for formal celebrations in 19th-century royal Europe, contemporary gatherings—whether they are large, formal occasions or smaller events like celebrating craft brews and fine spirits—demand specialized vessels to present items for consumption in exquisite ways.
Serving whiskey from a finely hand-crafted flask catches people’s attention, drawing them away from distractions and into present company. It is through these rituals and presentations that friendships are forged and memories made. Community is built around festivities, which can be made even more special because of the hand-crafted vessels guests pass around the table.
To create my wheel-thrown and altered whiskey flask, I use a 1-pound ball of clay to throw a 3- to 4-inch diameter cylinder with no bottom, and use a metal kidney rib to create three or four (depending on the height) recessed horizontal bands going up the piece (1). These are used to ensure even spacing of the points. I then place four evenly spaced points around the circumference of each band (2). I use my left hand to push out above the point from the inside, while my right hand is pushing in below the point from the outside (3). The result looks like a belly button. I repeat this process all the way up the pot, alternating my spacing with each band.
I then use a wooden rib, pushing in from the outside to connect the different points (4). As the wooden rib is rolled between the two points, my middle finger on my left hand is sweeping along the line, pushing out in the area above the wooden rib (5). This creates a folded look, exaggerating the movement in the surface of the piece. Finally, I cut the piece from the wheel and apply gentle pressure to oval the form (6).
When throwing the top of the flask I use a 1½-pound ball of clay to throw both the cap (off the hump) and the funnel shape that becomes the top of the flask. First, I throw a small cylinder off the hump with a thick base to become the cap. I hold my first two fingers in a V shape around the base for support and lift while using a wooden knife to cut the cap off the hump (7).
To make the top portion of the flask, I open the clay to the widest circumference of the oval-shaped flask, and pull the wall inward into a volcano shape. I use the wooden rib to shape and smooth the form. I then use the right angle of the wooden rib to push in a lid seat at the top of the form. This shoulder is where the cap sits on the top of the bottle (8).
When completing the piece, I score and slip a slab onto the bottom. I allow the top portion to dry to a soft leather hard, and then shape it to better fit the oval form of the flask (9). I cut and remove the excess clay after scoring and slipping the top onto the body of the flask and smoothing the seam (10). I check the fit for the lid and make adjustments if needed before allowing the assembled piece dry (11).
the author Tim Compton received his BFA in ceramics from Ball State University and is currently the ceramics, sculpture, and woodworking department chair at the Indianapolis Art Center (indplsartcenter.org) in Indianapolis, Indiana. For more information, visit trcompton.tumblr.com.