Alex and I have talked about merging ideas and creating a collaborative line for a couple of years. Although we make very different utilitarian pots, we have similar aesthetics and influences when it comes to design. We both love Mid-Century Modern design (architecture, furniture, textile designs, wallpaper, color palette, etc.) and this common inspirational source influenced our forms, patterning, and color choices.
We each bring our own strengths to the table. Alex brings the knowledge of working with terra cotta and slip in a low-fire temperature range; I contribute my experience working with paper and vinyl stencils as well as the use of underglaze for surface decoration; while we both have been exposed to using underglaze tissue transfers during recent residencies in China.
Both being full-time studio potters, we have busy schedules and are consistently working to meet deadlines. Coordinating and committing the time to working together is a challenge. During the making process, catching each piece at the right time for each step is difficult. Since our studios are in separate locations, we need to transport pieces back and forth for different parts of the process, which can be complicated to arrange. Working with different methods, new materials, and processes comes with a series of challenges (but that’s part of the fun, too).
This collaboration definitely helps to inform our own studio practices and it’s a chance to keep the making process fresh. I’ve been trying new different color palettes and thinking about the potential for using a clay body other than porcelain. My pattern vocabulary is expanding and it’s fun to work with new themes. I’ve really enjoyed using a more complex stenciling method with the Silhouette Portrait printer and am looking forward to incorporating some of the new decorating techniques I’ve discovered while working with Alex into my own work.
1 Alex throws and trims a wide terra-cotta tray. Meredith applies a paper stencil to the leather-hard surface.
2 Alex pours white slip over the exposed clay. Once the slip dries, the stencil is peeled off.
3 Meredith applies an underglaze tissue transfer and hydrates it to transfer the pattern. The tray is dried and bisque fired.
4 A vinyl stencil is cut and placed on the tray to mask off areas for additional underglazing.
5 Meredith brushes on 2–3 coats of gray underglaze, allows them to dry, then adds orange underglaze.
6 All the stencils are removed, and the serving platter is fired again to cone 06.
Alex notes that collaborating has made him think about the surface treatment of his pots—bold colors and patterns in particular. He can see himself incorporating techniques such as the paper stencils with slip application and vinyl stencils paired with wax resist and glaze onto his own surfaces.
Our collaborative work is really a hybrid of us. It’s not just one of us decorating the other one’s forms, as we made a conscious effort to have this work stand apart from what we both typically make. It’s exciting to see this new line develop and we look forward to continuing the exploration in collaboration.
To other potential collaborators, we have the following advice: Have patience. Plan more time than you think you need to complete a project. It’s a good idea to talk and figure out the roles of each collaborator before starting.
Meredith and Alex’s Collaborative Process
Alex begins by throwing a large serving tray out of terra cotta. Once the tray has set up to leather hard, he smooths and trims the bottom.
After trimming, we both decide what slip color to use and what areas of the piece will be left as exposed terra cotta. I create paper stencils out of copy paper by using a Silhouette Portrait printer—many of our stencils are too intricate to cut by hand. The stencils are soaked in water and are applied to the surface of the tray (1).
Next, Alex pours white slip over the exposed clay area and the paper stencils act as a resist (2). Once the slip dries, the stencil is peeled off. Any excess slip around the rim of the tray is trimmed for exactness.
Together, we designed a series of patterns inspired by Mid-Century Modern design. I had underglaze screen-printed onto tissue paper with these designs while I was in Jingdezhen, China. We used these on our collaborative pieces, placing the tissue transfers face down onto the leather-hard surface, then hydrating the back side of the tissue paper with a wet brush. The moisture transfers the underglaze onto the clay, and when the tissue paper is peeled off, the underglaze print remains on the surface (3). At this point, the thin underglaze transfers are very fragile and susceptible to smudging, so before any more decoration can be added, the tray is dried and bisque fired to cone 06.
The Silhouette Portrait printer is used to cut an adhesive-backed vinyl stencil to match the size and shapes of the underglaze tissue transfers—paper stencils won’t stick to a bisque surface. We use small pieces of scrap sign vinyl that we acquired from a local sign shop. After the bisque firing, the vinyl stencils are placed on the tray to mask off areas for additional underglazing (4).
7 Vinyl stickers are placed on the bisqueware to mask off areas for waxing. Wax resist is applied, dried, and the vinyl is peeled off.
8 Alex pours clear glaze onto the surface, cleans up any unwanted glaze, then glaze fires the platter to cone 03.
I apply 2–3 coats of gray underglaze with a hake brush. Once the underglaze is dry, selected sections are re-masked with paper, in preparation for a second color. The vinyl stickers don’t adhere to the underglaze surface, so moist paper is used instead. Orange underglaze is applied in this section (5).
Once the orange underglaze is dry, all the stencils are removed. The tray needs to be re-bisqued to cone 06 because we’ve found that the freshly applied underglaze doesn’t allow for absorption of glaze (6).
After the second bisque firing, I place another round of vinyl stickers on the bisqueware to mask off areas for waxing. We enjoy playing with the contrast between glazed and unglazed surfaces. Wax resist is applied with a brush, and once it’s dry, the vinyl can be peeled off with an X-Acto knife (7).
Triangle dessert plates, to 7¼ in. (18 cm) each in diameter, terra cotta, slip, underglaze and glaze decoration, 2015.
Finally, Alex pours a clear glaze over the tray (8). A little sponging and clean up is necessary to remove any unwanted glaze. Once the glaze is dry, the tray is glaze fired to cone 03.
Meredith Host and Alex Watson currently live in Kansas City, Missouri, and are founding members of the Kansas City Urban Potters. To see more of their work, visit http://meredithhost.com and www.alexwatsonpottery.com.