A Captivated Imagination

In 1977, Star Wars was released and almost instantly established itself in pop culture as a monoculture. Viewing this film became a universal experience across the globe. I saw Star Wars for the first time as a 12 year old and was instantly transformed into a self-described geek. The film series captivated my imagination then, and now has a strong impact on my work.

Drawing inspiration from these films, I’m primarily interested in their set and prop design. I address the monocultural phenomenon by referencing forms, shapes, patterns, and colors that allude to a collective familiarity with an aesthetic that was created by the film series.

My mugs are slip cast using a red stoneware casting slip. Using the wheel, I clean up the body of the mug, and trim and throw the lip. Once the handle is attached, the mug is allowed to become bone dry before I begin the surface decoration.

Vinyl Cutting and Masking

When approaching the surface decoration of my pots, I work in layers, starting with the furthest back. Layering different colors and imagery creates depth within the surface. I use clay bodies that have rich color, such as red and black. These color-rich clays allow me to utilize the raw clay body as the first layer. I use two different masking methods, wax resist and vinyl, to reveal and conceal parts of the surface when building layers.

I start with waxing the elements of the piece that will remain the raw, fired clay body. Leaving handles and knobs the raw clay helps to repeat this color as a compositional element in multiple areas on the form. I apply wax with a brush, being careful to create a clean and crisp edge. Depending on the form, I use masking tape to mask off the edge of the wax, or apply the wax free hand.

1 Draw several guidelines on the bone-dry, waxed mug for placing vinyl stickers.

2 Place the vinyl sticker onto the mug using the guidelines to keep spacing even.

I use a vinyl cutter to cut sheets of vinyl stickers that I place on the bone-dry pot to create a pattern. Using Adobe Illustrator, I create shapes, such as the rounded rectangle; then lay those shapes out on the page to maximize the vinyl used. Once the file is prepared, I have the cutter run the file to create a sheet of stickers.

With the aid of a banding wheel, I create a horizontal line with a pencil. This marks where the stickers will start. I then use a triangular ruler to make a vertical line intersecting the established horizontal line (1). These guidelines help me place the vinyl consistently on the pot. Starting at the intersecting point of these lines, I place the corner of the vinyl sticker and follow the vertical line as I place the rest of the vinyl (2). I continue to mark vertical lines at specific measurements around the pot until the pattern fills enough of the piece (3).

3 Measure and draw new guidelines for successive vinyl pieces.

4 Apply colored sigillata (OM 4 ball clay and Mason stain).

Adding Color

Once the vinyl is placed on the piece, I apply three coats of terra sigillata to the surface (4). I make my terra sigillata using OM 4 ball clay and add Mason stains for color. For my Steel Blue terra sigillata, I use a volume ratio of 4 teaspoons of color to 1 cup of sigillata. I use less stain for more subtle colors, for example light gray.

Once the terra sigillata is applied, I remove the vinyl resists using an X-Acto blade (5), then lightly burnish the terra sigillata. At cone 5, the terra sigillata loses its sheen, so my goal in burnishing is not to create sheen but to help compress the terra sigillata in order for it to better adhere to the clay body. The work is then bisque fired to cone 06.

A food-safe liner glaze is applied to the interior after the bisque firing. I clean up any glaze that dripped over the lip of the pot from pouring. The next step is adding an underglaze wash to the surface of the piece (6). I prefer Amaco Jet Black Velvet underglaze thinned out to a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part underglaze. This wash gets applied to the entire unglazed surface. The excess wash is removed using a damp sponge (7). I don’t remove all the wash, leaving more underglaze in the crevices, creating a weathered and used look.

5 Remove the vinyl stickers with the aid of an X-Acto knife.

6 Apply an underglaze wash to the entire exterior of the piece.

7 Wipe with a damp sponge, leaving more wash in crevices for a weather look.

8 Mask lines with tape, and brush glaze into the negative space.

Line Work

Finally, thin lines are applied with glaze. I use Mayco’s Stroke and Coat glaze for my line work. These glazes are great for this purpose; they are bright, bold colors and are incredibly stable without any running. This layer creates a crisp, bold, glossy line that contrasts nicely with the matte of the terra sigillata underneath.

9 Use vinyl to tape circular lines, then glaze the space between the vinyl.

Lines are glazed one at a time. I use a banding wheel and the triangular ruler to create the guidelines for the horizontal and vertical lines. Once the guideline is drawn, I apply painter’s tape to either side of the line. I prefer the green painter’s tape as it has a little more flex than the blue tape. After the line is positioned, I apply 3 coats of glaze (8) and then remove the tape.

For the curved lines, I use my vinyl cutter to cut large sheets of concentric circles. These are then cut into sections. I start by laying down the larger of the arcs, which provides a guide when laying down the smaller arc to create an even line between the two (9). The lines are then glazed and the vinyl is removed. Once all the lines are applied, the piece is fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln.

Eric Heerspink currently has his studio in Jenison, Michigan. He received his BFA from Calvin College in 2008 and his MFA from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2015. To see more of his work, visit www.ericheerspinkceramics.com or follow him on Instagram @heerspinkceramics.

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