One of the most satisfying techniques in the clay world is pottery carving. Whether you are carving clay in realistic ways or abstract, the pottery carving process is just plain fun.
Alex Thullen had been looking at pattern and geometry in architecture for years, and after being inspired by Moorish Tile in Spain while on his honeymoon, he set out to figure out how to incorporate this influence into his clay work. In today’s post, an excerpt from the January 2018 issue of Ceramics Monthly, MK Bateman shares Alex’s pottery carving ideas and techniques. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Intricate Ceramic Carving Designs
While on his honeymoon in Spain, Thullen found inspiration for a new direction for his pottery: Moorish Tile. Having always loved Islamic art and architecture, his creativity ignited when he was surrounded by it. “Because of the Mediterranean climate—without the freeze-and-thaw issues we have in Detroit, everything, everywhere is covered in tile.” His greatest inspiration came in Granada at the palace and fortress complex of Alhambra. “It was extraordinary and really got me looking very intensely at this idea that had been growing in my mind for the past few years about looking at pattern and geometry in architectural detailing and embellishments.”
After returning home, he undertook a new focus with his pots. He began experimenting with his work in a tangible way, to see how he could include architectural properties. He asked himself: “could I physically manifest these images and ideas that I’ve had in my head and make them into an actual tangible thing?” That became his inspiration, leading to a big shift in form with his current work, expressed most dramatically by the intricate carvings displayed on the surfaces.
1 Pen and ink pattern studies from Thullen’s sketchbook.
2 Carving a pattern into the surface of a cup form. Horizontal lines demarcate the band of pattern and the fain vertical lines mark the directional changes from within the pattern.
3 Thullen uses a homemade stamp tool too create square and triangular impressions at various points on the pattern.
4 After the bisque firing, pieces are coated with glazes that accentuate the texture. Some pieces incorporate multiple glazes to create additional contrast between textured and smooth sections of the composition.
5 Cup, wheel-thrown and carved porcelain, celadon and black satin glazes, fired to cone 10 in reduction, 2017.