Topic: Articles

Kansas City Collaborations: Blending Histories

finished pitcher OL

Rain and Paul combine their different skill sets to create a collaborative body of work, including the porcelain pitcher above.



In 2012 we were both resident artists at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China. During the downtime of our own individual projects, Rain started to decorate commercially-made cups. After experiencing how artists collaborate with industry, we decided to personalize this process and, upon our return, started working together.

We each have very different skill sets and ways of seeing things, which influences our evolving collaborative work. Due to our histories, we both fell into our individual roles naturally and agreed that one of us would produce the pieces and the other would glaze and decorate.

As a potter my strengths revolve around form, utility, and the relationship between pieces. I like to consider each object, how it operates and I use this information to design pieces that people hopefully enjoy using.

Rain has a long standing interest in decoration and pattern. Her earlier sculptural works and installations explored excess through the layering of ornate surfaces and materials. For the collaborative work, she decided to create motifs that were very different—simple, minimal lines and dots that could be layered to create more complex arrangements.
Workflow is the most challenging part of the collaboration. Like many artists, we both have busy schedules and it’s often difficult to coordinate times when we are both free to discuss the potential of the work. Additionally, we need to be very mindful of each other’s schedules so we can complete the work and meet deadlines.


1 Throw a tall cylinder, collar the top into a neck, and use a rib to smooth the body.


2 Square off the front where the spout will be attached.


3 Add a slab of clay to the form to make a spout, then reinforce it with a coil.


4 Trim the leather-hard pitcher on a leather-hard chuck. Use a rib to form and refine the shape of the foot.


What I find exciting about the process of collaborating is that there’s a lot more freedom and opportunity to try new things. I think with my own practice I tend to be a little more reserved and calculating about the pieces I produce. Since our collaborative work is project based, it’s easy to take more risks. When you give up decision making for half of the process, the outcome is often surprising, which wasn’t possible before. I think this is beneficial because these experiences allow me to reflect on my own practice, the objects I produce, and how I think about making work.

Rain states, “I love the way that the collaborative practice makes me think about pattern. In my own work I often use busy ornamentation gleaned from the decorative arts. I have always had a love of minimal designs and surfaces and this collaboration really allowed me to explore that untapped vocabulary. I now look at forms and volumes with a more critical eye and I think about composition in a more linear manner. Also, making pots is a nice change from making sculpture; it keeps things exciting and diverse in my practice.”

For those who wish to give collaboration a go, we suggest you let go of all your preconceived notions about the aesthetic outcome of the work. If this is going to be an issue, then it might be a good idea to really change things up by experimenting with a different clay body and temperature range. This will allow for work that is more diverse and challenges your expectations. I think it’s also beneficial if the collaborative process is not dependent on a short time frame to produce the work. This allows for a less stressful workflow over a longer period of time. Give yourself a lot of time to work through your ideas and to figure out the quirks of working with someone else.


5 Attach a firm, but still flexible handle to the pitcher.  The handle is pulled and allowed to set up before the pitcher is thrown.


6 Apply underglaze tissue transfers to greenware, wet the back side of the tissue to transfer the pattern, then peel off the tissue paper.


7 Bisque fire the pitcher, then apply glaze details to softens the patterns and makes them less rigid.

Paul and Rain’s Collaborative Process

When making pitchers, I pull several handles the day before doing any throwing and I let them set up. On the morning of the next day, I throw a chuck that will be used later to trim the pitcher form. Later in the day, I throw a tall cylinder out of cone 6 porcelain, collar in the top to form a neck, then I use a rib to smooth the body (1).

Next I square off one side of the neck where the spout will be attached (2), then add a slab, shape it into a spout, and secure the join with a coil of clay to make the attachment smoother and stronger (3).

After the pitcher has set up to the leather-hard stage, I trim it on the firmed-up chuck. Using a chuck allows me to trim the pitcher without damaging the spout (4). Finally, I finish the foot by refining the shape with a rib.

I attach the handle to the pitcher (5), then the entire form is allowed to slowly dry.


8 Dip the pitcher in a clear glaze, coat the exterior with wax resist, and pour a colored liner glaze on the interior.


9 Apply china paint decals to the fired glazed pitcher. Then refire it to cone 016.

Finishing Surfaces

Now, the pitcher is handed over to Rain, who begins by applying underglaze tissue transfers to the greenware (see figure 6). We both designed the simple, linear-pattern transfers and had them printed while in Jingdezhen. The printed side of the transfer is placed against the clay surface, which can be anywhere from leather hard to bone dry. Rain wets the back side of the tissue paper with water, which transfers the underglaze pattern to the surface of the clay. The tissue paper is peeled off and the image remains on the clay. (6) At this point the designs can smear easily, so the pitcher is bisque fired to cone 04 to fix the pattern in place.

Next, Rain uses a squeeze bottle to apply layers of very runny, low-fire glazes over the tissue patterns, which cause them to distort. This softens the patterns and makes them less rigid (7). She then dips the pitcher in a clear glaze (8), applies a coat of wax resist to the outside, and finally pours a colored glaze on the inside of the form. The form is glazed on the outside first as the patterns will smear if the inside glaze is applied first. When the glaze is fully dry, the form is fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln.

Lastly, Rain applies china paint decals, which were designed to work aesthetically with the underglaze transfer tissue patterns (9). The pitcher is fired to cone 016 for its final firing.

pd+rh yunomis RT

Yunomis, 3¾ in. (10 cm) each in height, porcelain, underglaze transfers, fired to cone 6, decals, fired again to cone 016, 2015.

Paul Donnelly and Rain Harris are studio ceramic artists living in Kansas City, Missouri. Paul is currently an Associate Professor of Ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute. Check out more at, and

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