In my pottery, I try to create an opportunity for reverie or a feeling of emergent possibility. I have vivid childhood memories of reading stories filled with magical gardens and underground forests made of shiny glass leaves and jewel apples. I fell in love with the idea that the ordinary could so easily be extraordinary. A trick of the light, a stilled breeze, a quickening shadow, and suddenly the space around you has changed and anything seems possible. I try to capture this feeling and embed it in my pottery by layering imagery into and onto the clay, creating lush and rich surfaces. I’m drawn to the plants and flowers common in my area for imagery that can help to evoke this sense of reflection or potential of wonders hidden in the everyday.
I mainly form my pots on the wheel—I enjoy the immediacy of throwing and it gives me the opportunity to inlay a few marks that give an underlying structure to the imagery I will draw on later. I use the corner of a rib to make slow spiral marks into the pot, dividing the space and emphasizing proportions. For small pieces like creamers and sugar bowls, I usually inlay a simple ramping spiral from the bottom up to the top (1). I throw multiple creamers and sugar bowls at a time so I can pair them in visually pleasing combinations. Although I throw to the same general size and shape, each piece ends up having gestural differences that affect how they relate to each other in a set.
Throwing and Refining
Using 350 grams of clay for the creamer and 400 grams for the sugar bowl, throw them both to approximately 4 inches high. Leave extra clay at the top of the creamer to assist in forming a spout (2), and set the gallery for the lid of the sugar bowl early while forming the pot (see 1). This ensures that you have enough clay at the top to form a robust rim and seat the lid deeply into the pot. Throw the lid off the hump (3), again forming several at a time, measuring to ensure they fit into the gallery of the sugar bowl, then matching each to a sugar bowl.
Handles and Spouts
While the freshly thrown pots are stiffening up, pull an extra long handle and then double it up on itself, offsetting it slightly and pressing the two sections together (4). A few extra pulls further lengthen and thin the doubled-up handle while allowing the seam between the two to remain visible. Form to shape, then let this stiffen up to leather hard before attaching.
Next, form the spout on the creamer, taking advantage of the extra clay at the top to pinch out a generous curve (5).
Trim the lid into a smooth dome and attach a small, hand-rolled knob to the center. I like the knob to look organic, referencing the stem of a fruit (6). I don’t typically trim the bottom of the creamer or the sugar bowl. Instead, during the throwing process, I pay extra attention to the bottom of the pots and then only have to roll them slightly on an angle on a table surface to create a beveled foot. Once I’ve cut and attached the creamer handles (7), I pair up the sets and allow them to dry to just before they lighten in color.
Ever Evolving Imagery
Currently, I apply my imagery mainly at the greenware stage, but over the last several years, I have explored many combinations of techniques and tracked the positives and negatives of working on either greenware or bisque. My surface design is an ever evolving process with many side trips, but one constant is that I particularly enjoy working with raw clay and its incumbent feeling of possibility. If there’s a way for me to perform a process before bisque firing without compromising the vision I have for the effect, I will do it. Bisque-fired clay holds less interest for me, and at that stage, I simply want to glaze it efficiently and get it back into the kiln.
I strive for variation in my line quality, so when layering the same imagery multiple times, I use a few different processes. First I use a stylus or even a fine pin to sketch in the underdrawing of loose, spontaneous leaf and branch shapes (8). I allow my marks to loop and overlap and almost find the images through repetition. Using varying pressure on the stylus creates a calligraphic quality to these lines. I only carve into one section of the doubled handle, working the lines around the edge, and right up to the seam (see 8). Then, I use a squeeze bottle to trail casting slip (made from my clay scraps and a deflocculant) onto the surface (9). These lines are bolder, more definite, and they respond to the underlying carved lines—sometimes following, sometimes departing. I use casting slip because it flows easily from a fine-tipped squeeze bottle and the lines stay raised as they dry, adding an element of texture to the surface. Since I’m not actually casting with the slip, I’m not very precise when mixing it. I fill a bucket with my dry clay scraps, cover the scraps with water to slake down for several hours, then blend the mixture with a drill, adding drops of Darvan No. 7 until the mixture flows well. Once I pass it through a sieve, it’s ready to use for trailing.
Creating a Satisfying Depth
Once the pots are bone dry, I apply washes of underglaze thinned with water. I used to make my own colored slips and washes using oxides and commercial stains, but I’ve found I prefer to use underglazes. The colors are brighter and they lend themselves well to my application processes. For this set, I use two different washes: a dark blue made by mixing blue underglaze with black, and a lighter blue-gray combination. The difference between them is subtle, but it adds to the visual depth achieved in the finished pieces. As I’m brushing them on (10), I make sure to get the washes into all the recesses and to completely cover all the trailed lines. The washes dry quickly on the bone-dry clay, and I’m able to wipe them back right away, using a soft sponge and rinsing it frequently (11). This is one of my favorite processes—it’s very satisfying to see the imagery emerge from the surface, and I respond intuitively to this emergence, selectively wiping more or less away from each area as it feels right. The dark colors remain in the carved lines as they are wiped off of the surface and, simultaneously, the raised, trailed lines are outlined and emphasized.
Next, I paint thin layers of colored underglaze into the leaf shapes (12). I blend and mix various underglazes to achieve the specific colors I want, and I often layer similar colors on the same brush to create streaks and variation within each brush stroke. If the colors are thin, the previously applied network of inlaid lines will show through them, slightly muted, after the final firing.
The last step is to redraw some of the imagery using a fine-tipped squeeze bottle filled with black underglaze (13). This allows me to create another layer that floats on top and accentuates certain aspects of the drawing. I emphasize the doubled handle by trailing a thin layer of the black underglaze into the seam between the decorated strip of the handle and the plain section. Using a lightly dampened sponge, I clean up any smudges and soften any sharp lines on the pots before loading them into the bisque kiln.
After bisque firing, I pour a glaze color complimentary to the underglaze colors into the interiors and on the rims of the pots. I allow the pots to dry before dipping the exteriors in a thick clear glaze. The glossy clear glaze softens the black trailed lines, allows the blues to drift downward, and visually seals all the layers as if embedded in a pane of glass or viewed under water.
Dawn Candy is a visual artist living and working in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. She earned her diploma in Visual Art from Red Deer College. Her work has been exhibited internationally and she recently completed a short-term residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. Currently, she teaches several community art classes in addition to making her pottery. Learn more at www.littlesister.ca.