We began talking about collaborative pieces late in 2013 and set aside time during a residency at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts the following summer to focus on the project. Instinctively, we knew we needed to set up some ground rules: I would form the pieces and Chandra would decorate them. We wanted the collaborative pieces to have a separate aesthetic and be simpler in process from our own respective bodies of work. We both draw a lot of inspiration from the visual culture of Kansas City: sturdy, aged-brick buildings and worn paint on the streets. We decided to work with a red, mid-range stoneware and use slips and washes with limited glazes. This allows us to celebrate materials and show the marks of the hand—something we both revere.
The collaborative process has been exciting and worthwhile because it gives both of us permission to explore a new design vocabulary. Chandra really enjoys the problem solving that comes from responding to my forms when making decisions for surface design. I enjoy creating pieces that have a clean and modern design aesthetic. I also like the fact that her surface design decisions have been naturally in sync with my vision for the work.
As for the end results, we have been extremely happy, but we both acknowledge that we’re still finding our collaborative voice.
For other artists considering a collaboration we encourage you to clearly communicate, be able to compromise, and be open to new discoveries, then spend some time during the process by yourself, away from the watchful eye of your collaborator.
1 Clay dryness is important. If it’s too soft, the rasp will gum up. If it’s too hard, the surface texture may be less dramatic.
2 Experiment with different directions in mark-making with the rasp to shape the knob. Surprising patterns may emerge.
3 Use deep score marks and a thicker, mortar-like slip to adhere the hard-leather-hard clay together.
4 Apply paper stencils and a colored slip. Once the slip is no longer tacky, remove the stencil.
Chandra and Tommy’s Collaborative Process
A wine bucket needs to hold one bottle of wine and enough ice for chilling. Similar to a vase form, it requires a weight distribution that will allow for stability.
Begin by throwing five pounds of clay into a tall, wide cylinder, making sure to leave the walls a little thick for refining the form later with a Surform rasp. The top of the cylinder gently widens, becoming roughly 1½ times the diameter of the bottom.
After removing the form from the wheel, allow it to firm up to the leather-hard stage, then use a Surform rasp to shape and refine the bucket. The rasp creates slight variations that showcase the hand-worked nature of the piece. Using long vertical strokes, refine the skin of the bucket with the rasp to create the desired texture (1). Smooth and compress the bottom with your fingers.
To create the handles, pinch two ¼–pound balls of clay to form two triangular shapes, similar to a three-sided pyramid. Allow these to firm up to leather hard then use the Surform rasp to refine the shape, create hard edges, and impart a texture similar to the bucket (2).
When positioning the handles, consider the rule of thirds. In this case, the majority of the volume of the bucket is contained in the upper 1⁄3 portion. For maximum physical support and visual continuity, place the handles on opposite sides of the bucket near the line that separates the upper and middle thirds. Dry fit and mark the position of each handle, then score, slip, and attach them both (3). Remove any excess joining slip with a soft, rubber-tipped tool. Tightly wrap the finished bucket in plastic overnight to equalize the moisture levels of the bucket and handles and to firm up the piece to the late leather-hard stage.
5 Brush on a second color to select areas of the piece. Leave some areas bare to let the raw clay body show through.
6 Use a wire scoring tool to create decorative marks on both the colored sections and the bare clay body.
7 After bisque firing, brush black underglaze into the textured areas, then wipe it away, leaving the black in the recessed lines.
Using blank copy paper, cut two triangular stencil shapes that complement the shape of the bucket. Briefly submerge the stencils in water and position them on opposite sides of the bucket. Using thin, colored slip, brush a solid area on the middle 1⁄3 of the bucket and a horizontal stripe on the lower 1⁄3, leaving the clay-body color visible above and below this stripe. Once the colored slip is no longer tacky, remove the paper stencil (4). The Surform rasp texture on the bucket may prevent a crisp stencil line and you may need to clean up any bleeding slip with a curved knife tool. Apply underglaze to the upper 1⁄3 of the form, leaving a ¼-inch border of bare clay between the upper and lower colored areas (5).
Using a wire scoring tool for decorative mark-making, score the surface of the clay vertically down the center of the form and horizontally around bands at the top and bottom of the bucket (6). Allow the piece to fully dry and bisque fire it.
Next, pour glaze to coat the interior. The majority of the exterior will be left unglazed, but will receive various washes, slip-trailed accent lines, and spot areas of high-gloss glaze.
8 Use black Mayco Designer Liner to create line work and enhance only the colored surface areas.
9 Pour glaze to line the interior. Brush clear glaze and soda-ash wash onto select areas on the exterior.
Use a graphite pencil to sketch lines on the exterior. These lines serve as a guide through the decorating process and will burn out in the glaze firing. Brush black underglaze on the lower 1⁄3 of the bucket and wipe away the excess, allowing the underglaze to remain only in the textured areas (7). Add a band of black underglaze around the top of the bucket and the handles to give visual balance to the form.
Brush soda-ash wash on select areas of the exterior to give variation in surface quality to sections that will remain unglazed. The soda ash will darken the clay-body color and make the slipped areas more transparent. Soda crystals that are visible on the surface of the bucket (see figure 9) will result in spotted shiny areas after the firing.
Create line work on the surface, by applying black Mayco Designer Liner (8). Brush a glossy commercial glaze into select areas of the exterior (9). Finally, glaze fire the finished wine bucket.
10 Decorated plate, 16 in. (41 cm) in length, stoneware, slips, glazes, washes, 2015.
Chandra DeBuse is a potter in Kansas City, where she has maintained a studio since 2012. Learn more about her work at http://chandradebuse.com.
Tommy Frank maintains his art practice at Red Star Studios where he is also the Studio Manager. Learn more about his work at http://frankarts.com.