Jeremy Randall uses texture and asymetry to reference the aging industrial structures and ephemera he remembers from his childhood. He also introduces nonclay materials like nichrome wire and steel tacks to further the aesthetic. He finishes the pieces with colorful terra sigillatas and black copper wash to enhance the aged appearance. In today’s post, an excerpt from the February 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly, he walks us through that process.
In life and in the studio, I am drawn to the patina of use and the implications of function. I can trace these interests to the objects that surrounded me when I was a child, and can follow those objects as they have found a place in my own adult life. The iron-oxide wash on an early-American primitive pine cabinet with close to 175 years of use, the early-American, blue milk-painted blanket chest worn bare around the edges, or my grandfather’s hammer, the handle smooth from years of use. These objects feel comfortable, both to hold and touch as well as to live with. This is the desire that I have for my pots. The information that can be received from using handmade objects and living with them can be rich and fruitful and at the same time quiet and contemplative.
Try Something New!. . . Jeremy Randall takes a fresh approach to handbuiliding and decorating. Whether you try one or all of his techniques,
you’ll love the results – cool forms, colorful slips, wire add-ons, simple textures – it’s all there. Weird out your next pot a little and see what you think.
Working with slabs allows me to create surfaces that can be primed with textural information, and then move from flat surface to form almost instantly. The soft leather-hard qualities of the clay allow for immediate construction of the piece without having to wait for things to stiffen. This sheet material is also closely related to the materials that I love to look at as inspiration. The corrugated steel walls of a grain silo, for instance, are incredibly thin in relation to the structure, but the space that is created is voluminous and beautiful. The textures that I use are derived from various found mats and commercial surfaces, collected over the years as I cross paths with them. I have even pulled over while driving in order to pick up an old dish mat that was lying in the middle of the road. I have enjoyed creating surface texture for years and have used it on countless pots.
Forming Used Objects
When building my vessels, I start with a dialog on the surface between the front and the back of the piece. The plastic mats, made for a sink or for the floor a car are pressed into fresh rolled and cut-to-size slabs (1–2). The mats generally have a pattern on one side and some have patterns on both the front and the back. They are made out of a heavy, slightly flexible plastic and hold up very well to repeated use. For my purposes, they create a surface that shows how objects and building materials weather over time and use. Scale is also important. When I add the textured slabs to the base slab of the vessel (3), I consciously consider the vertical and horizontal planes of the piece, then determine how the texture can make the viewer’s eye want to move around it (see figure 5).
As I secure the side pieces to the base and the trim pieces to finish the rim, it is important for me to make sure the seams and the edges are not straight and true (4). I don’t want to overwork them and risk the possibility of losing the reference to a used object that contains a sense of history (6). The roughness that remains will also catch the stains that are applied after the bisque firing.
While researching industrial and construction references, I spent time in the hardware store looking for bits that could be used in my pots. Rather than adding more texture that might clutter the surface, I found that standard steel carpet tacks could be pressed into the surface and remain intact after the firing because I fire to a temperature that is lower than the melting point of steel. I add them to places where seams come together as they may even help to secure the construction (8–9). The other non-clay material that I add to the pot is nichrome wire. The wire adds to the shifting scale of the pot while also adding to the reference of material like corrugated steel, roofing material, or barn wood (10–11). Both of these materials also help to break the plane of the rectangles and the repeated textures.
Developing a Weathered Surface
I have always steered away from traditional glazes for my pots. I want the exteriors to allude to the layered surfaces that I reference, and a glassy shine has never really seemed right. Using terra sigillata has filled a number of my goals, and provides a new vocabulary of surface and color. Firstly, to apply it properly, I have to touch each curve and crack of the piece, becoming fondly reacquainted with every detail of all my pots. This surface material and its application are ancient, most known for their use on the surfaces of pottery from ancient Rome and Greece, and extremely simple to make, leading to a simpler studio practice.
The colors I use are Mason commercial ceramic stains, mixed into a jar of terra sigillata to the desired intensity, applied at the bone dry state with a soft brush, and burnished with a plastic bag stretched over my finger. The surface obtained is soft and waxy, much like the surface of an eggshell or semi-gloss latex paint…or better yet, milk paint. This surface quality remains after bisque, and because it is smooth and somewhat shiny, the copper oxide wash I use to patina the surface, when applied after bisque, wipes off the surface easily. The copper then fumes during the firing and adds halos around the texture, lending a sense of uncertainty to every firing. Finally soda ash washes and selected sculpture/texture glazes help to bring my surfaces closer to the constructed and weathered surfaces that I am referencing.
Building the Surface with Terra Sigillatas
I apply the terra sigillata to bone dry pieces. This is a great way for me to semi-seal the clay without having to use a glaze. My terra sigillata (3½ pounds of water mixed with 2 tablespoons of sodium silicate and 14 pounds of OM4 Kentucky Ball Clay) is mixed with a ratio of approximately 1 cup of sigillata to 1 tablespoon of stain and sieved if necessary. I increase the amount of stain if I desire a more intense color. The sigillata should be the consistency of thin milk. I apply it to the pot in broad strokes using a hake brush (12) and burnish the freshly coated area with a plastic grocery bag stretched over my fingers just after the sheen has disappeared (13).
I choose my colors based on contrasts and the ability of the combinations to add visual interest for the viewer (14). I like the way it references traditional milk-paint—milk mixed with pigment and washed over wood—surfaces often used in early American furniture and having a soft satin sheen. After the surface and the pot itself, which has absorbed water from the terra sigillata, have dried, the piece is ready for the bisque firing (15). I want my pots to be used so I add a black liner glaze to the interior. For a finishing on the exterior, I apply a copper oxide wash, brushed on to cover the entire exterior then brushed off, leaving a residue of copper material within the textures and grooves. The remaining copper will fume and give an overall sense of history and wear. Upon completion, the sources of reference are embedded into the piece, quietly reminding the user of things and places that they may have seen. This nostalgia is a trigger. It brings a person back while at the same time allowing them to be present, in time and space, with the pot.
the author Jeremy Randall earned his MFA in ceramics from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. He currently lives in Tully, New York, where he owns and operates his studio. He is a visiting instructor of studio art at Cazenovia College, and an adjunct professor of art at Syracuse University. To learn more, visit www.jeremyrandallceramics.com. To see Jeremy demonstrating these techniques and more, check out his Ceramic Arts Daily DVD, Slabs, Templates, Textures, & Terra Sigillata.
For fabulous forming techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Five Great Handbuilding Techniques: Variations on Classic Techniques for Making Contemporary Handbuilt Pottery.