There are many, many ways to put lines onto pots – carving, fluting, painting, drawing – but, I have to say, I had never seen anyone doing it quite like Jeff Campana. Jeff takes his well-thrown porcelain pots, chops them up into pieces, and then reassembles them. Then to top it all off, he uses glazes that pool in the seams. If you have ever worked with porcelain, you know that it is already challenging enough to handle. To put it through the extra stress of being cut up and reassembled—and still end up with such refined finished pieces—is pretty darn remarkable.
In this post, an excerpt from Working with Porcelain, Jeff shares his technique and how he arrived at such a labor intensive process in the first place. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
People tell me all the time that I’m crazy for making these pots. The time, effort, and staggering loss rate involved with my work make it perhaps a risky business idea, but I think it’s a worthy artistic endeavor nonetheless. The idea rattled around in my head for years before I actually found the courage to make it a reality. I’ve found that the things that seem almost impossible to make can provide the most richly rewarding experience to the maker and viewer alike.
Make surfaces that stand out when you download this freebie, Five Great Decorating Techniques.
Decorating through a process of dissecting and immediately reassembling my pots, I make connections between structure, process, surface, and form. More than simple incising, my decoration consists of lines and the architectonic plates between them. Small wanderings in the alignment subtly point out the complexity of process, while the continuity of throwing lines and trim marks allow us to see these vessels with the comfortable familiarity of the simple thrown pot. I share this process in hopes that it inspires others to try their own seemingly insane ideas and find that in fact they are possible, and worth pursuing.
The process starts with a leather-hard, thrown and trimmed bottomless form made from cone 6 porcelain. The form is ready to be worked on when the clay is firm to the touch, i.e. pressure from my fingertip doesn’t leave a mark, but my fingernail will easily leave one. At this stage, the clay is rigid but not brittle. This is important because I don’t want the clay to lose its shape in the process, and as accuracy and clean lines are important, the clay can’t be so hard that a knife crumbles the edges as it cuts through the form.
I mark the pot with some dots to guide my cutting (figure 1). I use an MKM Decorating Disc for the radial divisions, and a compass without its pencil to measure height. Alternating high and low marks, eight in total, result in a finished form that looks like it has four sections or is divided into quadrants.
I flip the pot upside down on the Decorating Disc to begin cutting. Using a box cutter, I carefully cut an arching pattern, connecting the dots (figure 2). I do this freehand, and it did take some practice to get this right although I don’t always hit the dots exactly. Once this is done, the top portion is set aside and work begins on the bottom (figure 3).
Two vertical cuts on opposite sides divide the bottom part in half (figure 4). I gently sponge the sharp edges to soften them. Using a finely serrated rib, I score the edges, then brush a special joining slip into the grooves and sponge off any excess.
I quickly press the two halves back together, making sure there is a continuous connection along both seams (figure 5). The bottom portion is set aside to allow the slip to set up and I switch back to focusing on the upper half.
Using the Decorating Disc once again, and working with the piece upside down, I make four vertical cuts, one at the top of each arch (figure 6). For a more dynamic lip line, I carve some of the clay from the middle of the rim on each part and carefully sponge it until no line is visible (figure 7).
Each piece is put back in its place so that parts don’t get jumbled. Once all four parts of the top section are prepped for assembly, I set them aside and move on to finishing the bottom (figure 8).
Two cuts are made on the bottom section, just like before but on the other corners (at a 90° angle from the first cuts), then the edges and topsides are sponged and scored.
For each pot, there is a separately thrown and trimmed clay disc that floats freely in a groove trimmed into the inside wall of the foot ring (the groove is visible in figures 4 and 5). I do this because it results in a very unique, interesting termination for the lines carved into the pot. In the final assembly of the bottom portion, I carefully select the best fitting disc from a stockpile of various sizes I have on hand, kept in the perfect leather hard state in a damp box (figure 9). If one does not fit, I narrow the diameter of a disc by spinning it in my hand and going over the edge with a damp sponge.
I insert the disc into the groove and check that it fits snugly and that the two halves can go back together nicely with the disc in place (figure 10). Joining slip is applied to the two seams and the excess is sponged off, being careful to keep slip out of the groove. After everything is carefully lined up, I squeeze the seam together, again checking that the seam is well joined (figure 11).
Now it’s time to begin attaching the top segments one by one. I score and slip each side and carefully attach (figure 12). The placement is crucial. If the part is placed too far out in relation to the bottom wall, the pieces will not meet up when I get to the last connection. The angle needs to be perfect as well so that the seams connect from the top to the bottom. Before slipping the piece together, I dry fit the parts, getting a feel for their exact position.
The lid is thrown at the same time as the body of the pot, allowed to reach leather hard, and assembled the same way as the body, but in this case, the disc that fits into the center opening on the lid has a knob thrown onto it. I cut the lid in half one way (figure 13), clean it up, score it, and reassemble it. While the slip sets up, I move to the other lid. I learned early on that it’s always a good idea to make at least two lids for every pot, just in case something happens to one of the lids in the drying and firing. If both turn out, I can pick the one with the best fit, or the one that looks the best.
Returning to the first lid, I cut it in half at a 90° angle to the first cut, clean it up, and test fit the knobs (figure 14). I keep a stockpile of knobs on hand just like I do with the discs. I slip the two parts and attach them firmly. After finishing the second lid,the drying process begins. When working with porcelain that’s been assembled from various parts, careful drying is essential to the survival of the piece. I keep the jar and its lids loosely covered, drying to bone dry over the course of at least five days.
Joining Slip for any Clay Body
I make joining slip by deflocculating my clay throwing scraps. Deflocculation is basically changing the ionic pull of the water. This causes the particles to repel each other, allowing a liquid consistency with much less water than it would otherwise take.
Deflocculating the slip has a number of advantages:
- It reduces the shrinkage of the slip, which reduces the chance of cracks in the drying.
- It gives the slip a flowing quality that helps it fill the tiny score marks completely.
- It makes the slip very tacky, so parts joined together have an immediate bond.
I take the big chunks from my splash pan right after throwing. Basically, it should be a little bit wetter than plastic clay. Add a few drops of Darvan #7 to a pint of it. Blend the mixture with a hand-held mixer until smooth. You should notice that it immediately loosens the mixture to a runny liquid. It should be the consistency of honey. If it is too thin or runny, add some more clay. If it is too thick, adda few drops of water. A batch of this should last months.
|Campana Mid-range Porcelain Cone 6–7|
|Tile #6 Kaolin||15|
|OM4 Ball Clay||10|
|Silica (325 Mesh)||20|
Jeff Campana received his MFA from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. To see more of his work visit www.jeffcampana.com.
**First published in 2010.