Breaking the Rules

Skirted Jar, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, white stoneware, fired to cone 6 in oxidation. Photo: Taylor Made Photography.

In October of 2015, my former college professor, Wil Shynkaruk, invited Ted Neal for a workshop at Minnesota State University Moorhead. I had been on a decade-long hiatus from clay, and had just begun to get back into making pots mere weeks before the workshop. Little did I know that meeting Neal would change my life, and the way I approach ceramic forms. After the workshop, while sitting in my vehicle with my sketchbook with new and exciting ideas dancing in my head, the skirted form was born.

The look and feel I am trying to emulate on the surfaces of my pots is that of a weather-beaten, neglected, faded wall with layers of written history, left there by authors that took the space secretly and without permission. Some of my favorite memories growing up were of painting graffiti with friends under bridges or on abandoned buildings, pushing boundaries, and developing a writing style. There is also this unexplainable, constant hunger to write on everything I see. It never really ceases, but it can be tamed. This is a huge part of who I am, and incorporating it into my ceramic practice has been incredibly fulfilling.

Planning

All of my work begins as a sketch. I solve the majority of my form troubles with a pencil and paper, and I have stacks of random drawings to prove it. More often than not, there’s a napkin or a grocery list with new form possibilities drawn in the margin and tacked to the wall above my wheel while I throw.

1 Throw a bottomless form, leaving extra clay at the top for a lid gallery.

2 An extra-deep lid gallery allows for cutting away clay with a wire tool to create a scalloped lip. Smooth the rim with a chamois.

Throwing and Trimming

I begin by throwing the body of the skirted jar as a bottomless cylinder (1). Extra clay is intentionally left on both the lip and the base. This creates a place for other sections of the form to rest or connect. An extra deep lid gallery is pressed into the rim to allow for cutting the scalloped edge. I cut the edge with a wire tool. One more throwing pass over the cut edge smooths and accentuates the undulating lip (2). Next, I throw the lid and the bottom sections as two bowl forms and wait for the parts to firm up for trimming.

Leather hard has always been my favorite stage of the ceramic process. Clay can be manipulated in so many ways, yet there are limitations as to what you can do at each stage. Neal helped me to realize that the limitations I saw with form were rules waiting to be broken.

When trimming the bottom edge of the body of the jar, I emulate the process of creating the lid gallery, but in reverse, and with far less malleable material. A combination of trimming (3) and throwing makes the bottom mirror the lid gallery, leaving a place for the bottom section of the form to connect. I create the scalloped edge using a wire tool (4). Finally, I trim the inside of the pot where the pieces connect, creating the illusion that the form is thrown as one piece.

3 When the clay is leather hard, trim another gallery into the bottom of the form.

4 Cut a scalloped edge with a wire tool, then smooth.

5 Incise lines vertically and horizontally to create sections for varied surface decoration.

6 Scribe decorative lines into the bottom section for later underglaze application.

Surface Decoration: Greenware

When laying in the grid for the different sections of glaze, I return the body of the jar to the wheel. While secured on the wheel with a Giffin Grip, the form turns slowly, and I scribe horizontal lines into the clay with a Kemper double-ball stylus, being careful to stop before the tool reaches my starting point. These lines are all varied and random. Next, I use a framing square to incise the vertical lines at the ends of each of the horizontal lines (5), resulting in a collection of random squares and rectangles. The same tool is used to scribe the decorative lines into the lid and bottom section (6) before assembly (7).

7 Attach the base to the body of the form.

8 A knob is made from a press mold and attached to the lid.

Knob

During our first years of marriage, my wife, Kristin, and I loved to rummage through antique shops looking for treasures. One store in particular had a back room with boxes upon boxes of lamp parts. The knob I use for my jars was cast from a lampshade finial we found at that store (8, 9). I’ve been using that press mold for many years. Though the mold is admittedly poorly made, it serves as a reminder of those early years where infatuation occupied the spot that deep, mature love does today.

9,10 After cleaning up any debris on the jar, dry it slowly, then bisque fire it to cone 06.

Signature

Growing up immersed in hip-hop culture and writing graffiti, it is extremely important for me to scribe my name into each pot I create. My signature is an alphanumeric cipher where A=1, B=2, etc., spelling my last name: IDE=945. The three dots flanking my signature represent my wife and two daughters (10). Just outside the foot ring those three dots appear again, and they are always aligned on a horizontal plane. This plane serves as a baseline grading scale for how I feel I’m behaving as a husband and father at that moment to each of my girls. This exercise allows me to reflect on my performance often, and make adjustments to my priorities accordingly.

Surface Decoration: Bisqueware

After bisque firing, I apply Amaco Jet Black Velvet underglaze to all lines scribed into the form. Next, I sand off the excess underglaze, leaving only what is in the recessed areas. I then bisque fire the piece again to set the underglaze.

After the second bisque firing, each section is carefully planned and masked (11) to make sure certain sections receive specific glaze combinations. All glazes are sprayed and layered to achieve various desired effects (12). The masking tape is removed, and the piece is again bisque fired. Firing the piece to cone 06 fuses the glaze to the bisqueware, hardening it enough for masking tape to stick to the glazed surface without damaging it. If glaze accidentally gets on this surface, it can be wiped off without affecting the previous layer of glaze. The masking, glazing, peeling, and bisque-firing process is repeated until the entire exterior is glazed, which takes 5–6 separate firings. Finally, a liner glaze is applied to the interior, and the jar is fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln with a slow cooling cycle to promote crystal growth in my glazes for more matte surfaces.

11 Apply underglaze to the incised lines, then choose sections to be glazed. Apply masking tape to protect adjacent sections from overspray.

12 Spray glazes in multiple layers to achieve a varied effect, peel off the tape, then bisque fire again. Repeat until all sections are glazed, then fire to cone 6.

13 Apply multiple decals to the surface after the glaze firing, and fire to cone 04.

14 Fired to cone 04.

Surface Decoration: Decals

Applying custom decals that I make from my own hand-written and digitally altered text is typically the final stage of my decorating process (13, 14). Once they are applied to the pot, it is fired again to fuse the decal onto the surface. The possibilities are endless when it comes to surface decoration, and I am continually looking for ways to push boundaries. 

15 After the jar has undergone the 7–8 separate firings, it’s time to wet sand the foot with concrete polishing pads, ranging from 50 grit to 3000 grit.

Finishing Touches: Foot Fetish

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Jeff Campana’s blog entry entitled “Foot Fetish” (http://jeffcampana.com/foot-fetish). What I do remember is the intrigue and drive to learn about this glossy foot he spoke of. I saved up for a set of concrete polishing pads ranging from 50 grit to 3000 grit and went to work wet sanding the feet on my pots. I secure the pot with a Giffin Grip, and work with each grit for about a minute, applying water and a lot of pressure (15). From the moment I felt that first polished foot, I knew that I would forever chase that extreme level of craftsmanship for my work.

Skirted Jar, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, white stoneware, fired to cone 6 in oxidation. Photos: Hayden Swanson.

the author Paul Ide lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with his wife and two daughters. He works at the Plains Art Museum as the ceramic studio technician and community outreach coordinator. Follow Paul’s shenanigans on Instagram @9phore5.

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