Marty Fielding’s pitcher and platter, hand-built earthenware, slip, terra sigilatta, stains, glaze, ca. 2013. When Fielding came to Columbus to record a how-to DVD for Ceramic Arts Daily, my colleague Holly Goring and I acquired these pieces. For me, buying this platter was an early foray into owning and using earthenware. I was immediately captivated by the surfaces and the immediacy of Fielding’s handling of the clay. Learn more about his investigations into color theory for ceramic artists on page 48.

Need a jump start to generate ideas in the studio after a summer break, or to find an accessible way to explore new glazes or techniques? I’d suggest making some cups and mugs.

For this year’s annual readership-wide competition, we focused on the drinking vessel, a form that many artists use as a warm up—to experiment; expand on technical skills; and refine design elements like proportion, balance, weight, and style, in addition to conceptual content. The constrained parameters and scale of cups, mugs, tumblers, and the like mean that they can be relatively quick to make, allowing you to make advances more quickly.

The drinking vessels included in this issue showcase a wide range of approaches to this go-to form, and the unique explorations by each of the artists are engaging and inspiring. 

We noticed more of the entries this year were made using low-fire or red clays. It just so happens that in this issue, we’re also focusing on artists who use iron-rich clays and fire their work in the cone 04–01 and cone 3 ranges.

When I started working with clay as an undergraduate student, the studio clay available for the beginning classes was a stoneware that fired to an iron-speckled gray in reduction, and a tan color in oxidation. It was a dependable clay body for beginners, but I found myself trying to prevent it from dulling and masking the depth of celadon and other transparent glazes by applying colored or white slips prior to glazing. 

Over the past 18–20 years there has been an increased interest in using red clays and firing in the low-fire to cone 3 temperature ranges. When looking at these contemporary vessels and sculptures, I see many approaches to working with a more dominant clay color. It is truly energizing. It also makes me realize that as an undergraduate student, completely covering the surface of that gray, speckled stoneware clay body was only one of many solutions to achieving a surface with more depth, vibrancy, and individual character.

A number of factors may be contributing to this resurgence of interest in low-fire red clay, from increased use of electric kilns to advances in commercial glazes, underglazes, and stains to more and lower-cost access to products and processes like screen printing, die cutting, custom color decals and underglaze transfers, etc.

Sharing information and investigations into making low-fire clay bodies more durable through formulation and firing, combined with increased energy consciousness and awareness of the effects that our studio practice can have on our carbon footprint has also contributed to artists adopting lower firing clays into their studio practice.

Red and rich dark brown clays talk back. They create a surface for artists to respond to and collaborate with. Investigating the potential of iron-bearing low-fire clays has also given artists the chance to challenge, investigate, and move beyond the historical view that objects made from these more abundant clays were less valuable than those made from higher firing clays.

I personally plan to explore the possibilities of iron-rich clays in my own practice in the near future. Perhaps reading about the artists in this issue will make you feel the same way.