I loved everything about clay and glaze calculation class; discovering how a material’s individual properties can change a glaze, how clay is formed in nature and how that determines its color and plasticity, but most of all I loved testing new glazes.
I recall being so excited by one particular kiln unloading where I only had a few minutes to pull the tiles out, before racing off to catch a plane. One glaze tile was so thick and waxy, with such an eye-catching red color that I grabbed it and threw it in my carry-on bag. I put my belongings on the security belt, walked through the metal detector, and waited on the other side to gather my things. I watched as a security agent snapped up my bag and asked me to follow him. I’ve been known to have a wine opener or a needle tool (the essentials) tucked in my bag, so I didn’t think much of it. He removed the bag’s contents, sifted through my random stuff, and finally grabbed the tile. As I watched him hold it up and examine it, I noticed how the glaze had a slight shimmer from the dolomite and how intense the red was from the encapsulated stain. I could feel the waxy surface and the slight drag my finger pad would have running over it just by looking at it. It was a very haptic moment—feeling what I was seeing. Suddenly pulled from deep thought, the security agent asked, “What is this?” I responded, “It’s an earthenware tile with a low-fire satin glaze, fired to cone 04,”—as if he knew what that meant. “I’m not sure I can let you take this with you,” he snapped. “What? It’s just a tile. Well, not just any tile.” The back and forth went on for a few minutes before he relented and sent me on my way. I told you I was a ceramic nerd!
I recently relayed that story to a PMI author and he pointed out what a nerd I was then. I replied, “I still am.” I still have that tile and it still looks just like it feels. The haptic quality of a ceramic surface is a sense a ceramic artist develops over time. After years of touch, the eye simply makes the connection to how something feels—an orange-peel glazed platter vs. a commercial diner mug, or an ash rivulet-covered vase vs. a burnished terra sigillata bowl. When I see these objects, I know what I’m getting into when I reach my hand out to touch them. I love that about ceramics.
I also think a developed haptic sense helps a reader navigate the pages of Pottery Making Illustrated. In this issue, you’ll see how Ian Hall-Hough’s streams of ash rivulets will rise and fall below your fingers, how Amy Simon’s thinly rolled coils of bare clay are rough and bumpy against your palm, how Åsa Olafsson’s runny transparent colors feel glassy and smooth without any detection of texture, and how Cormac Boydell’s craggy edges and pools of glaze will alternately create drag and feel smooth with each touch. It’s all in this issue. Happy haptic reading.