My wrap vessels were inspired by my love of color and nerikomi, the Japanese technique of building forms with colored clay. My wrap vessel stemmed from my exploration with creating wrap-around rings and has evolved into an extensive range of contemporary and decorative forms. Having studied printmaking at university and learned ceramics from my parents, I married these passions to create bright and intricately layered porcelain artworks that are both beautiful and functional.
My aesthetic is unabashed neo-chintz that references contemporary style and culture. The vibrant color is accentuated with 12-karat-gold luster highlights. My works reference the landscape in which I live and work. The forms I create are based on historical pottery forms and imagined structures and act as storytellers and props from domestic and natural spaces, in order to inject joy and happiness into everyday life.
Mixing the Colors
The first step in creating a colorful wrap vessel is mixing the stain into the porcelain to color the clay. I like to use porcelain as it is luminous and the colors really pop when fired to 2372°F (1300°C) (cone 10). For this wrap vessel, I have used a range of stain colors including blue-black, brown, black, light orange, pink, royal blue, and turquoise (refer to the chart above for stain measurements). You can use any stain colors, but these are what I have used to create this piece. Before making a final artwork, it is good practice to test out a range of different clay-to-stain ratios to see the variation in hue and what will work at your chosen firing temperature.
Make a small well in a 2-pound (1 kg) ball of porcelain and then put the stain into the well and add half the amount (see chart above) of water (1). Make sure you are wearing a properly fitted respirator and protective gloves. Stir the water and stain mixture to a thick paste, then wedge the color into the clay on a wedging board or table. If you have excess colorant on your gloved hands, dip them in water and continue to wedge, transferring the colorant back into the clay. Use these same steps to prepare separate balls of clay with each color you want to use. To create the marbled blue-black effect, twist two 500-gram balls of blue-black-stained clay into white clay until the color striations reach the desired marbling (2).
Rolling Out the Colors
Once the clay colors are mixed, roll them out into very thin slabs. I roll my clay out on an MDF board, but if you do not have one, you can roll them between two thin sheets of calico material. Roll out the colored clay with a rolling pin, rotating it in different directions until it is approximately 2 mm thick. Do this for all of the mixed colored clays except the pink and black (3). You will use these colors later when creating the layered slab.
The black-flecked clay slab is something I created by accident many years ago. Frustrated in the studio one day, I frantically rubbed my black-clay-covered hands together until the clay crumbled over the porcelain slab (4). I rolled it, then . . . presto! Follow this same process to create this type of effect. A small, 2-cm (or 200 grams or less) ball of black clay will work.
Creating the Colored Slab
Roll out stoneware clay (any type of clay with the same shrinkage rate as the porcelain you are using) to around 1 cm thick. Start applying your colors, layer by layer. I like to tear small sections and arrange them into a spaced, yet interconnected pattern (5). Make sure you allow for a pass of the slab roller or rolling pin to flatten the surface between each color layer, otherwise you may find the surface gets too thick and the design smears. In other designs, you can cut the clay using cookie cutters or a knife. This provides more precise design patterns.
In this wrap vessel, I have applied torn pieces of colored clay to the slab in multiple layers. From first to last, the layers were: speckled black/white, royal blue, marbled blue-black, light orange, and lastly turquoise (6). Next, create small (1 cm) round pink porcelain dots and squash them down onto the surface (7). Roll a rolling pin over it top to bottom to ensure the round dots do not smear or distort. Then, roll the slab completely. Apply smaller (2mm) round, black porcelain dots into the middle of the pink dots, then flatten the surface by rolling it again. Once this is done, cut strips of chocolate-brown porcelain (8) and lay them across the colored slab in a considered and balanced way (see 9). Flatten the slab with the rolling pin one last time.
Creating the Wrap Vessel Form
Cut your slab into sections, approximately 20×20 cm in size (9). I cut my clay a bit smaller than my template because I roll my clay out further with the rolling pin when creating a form. I do this because if I made the slab very thin when making the colored layers, then the colors would distort and potentially become too dry and fragile to handle.
On a non-stick MDF board, roll out the slab a little thinner using a rolling pin. Roll it until it is approximately 8 mm thick or to your desired thickness. Rotate the slab when rolling to ensure consistent spreading of the added colored-clay bits. Place a pre-made wrap-vessel template (26 cm in length × 22 cm in height) onto the slab and cut around it using a knife. Bevel the end edges with a Xiem X-bevel tool or a knife on an angle. Scratch the rounded side using a serrated kidney tool and apply vinegar or slip (10). Wrap tissue paper around a 5.5 cm diameter PVC pipe or cardboard tube and roll the slab up until the seam is sealed (11). Pull the PVC pipe out and then the tissue paper, and place the wrap vessel on the MDF board to stiffen up.
Roll out a thin slab to the same thickness of your wrap vessel to form the base. Score the bottom of the wrap vessel, apply vinegar, and place it on the bottom piece of clay. Cut around the vessel and blend the seam between the base and the vessel with a wooden sculpting tool (12). Tap the top with a wooden paddle or flat piece of wood. Compress any joins with a wooden sculpting tool and smooth areas with a wet sponge.
Cleaning, Glazing, and Applying Luster
Once finished, I put my pots under plastic for about two weeks in a moderate-temperature room, drying them very slowly and changing the plastic each day to prevent condensation and cracking. Once bone-dry, I clean my pots with a wet sponge. Some people prefer to clean their pots by sanding them after the bisque firing, but I prefer to do it this way as its less dusty and strenuous. Caution: Do not make your bone-dry pots too wet as they may crack. Once they have dried, bisque fire them to 1796°F (980°C), apply paraffin wax to the bottoms, then dip them into a bucket of clear stoneware glaze. The final firing is to cone 10 (2372°F (1300°C)).
After the glaze firing, apply gold-luster accents. It is very important to be in a ventilated room, preferably with an exhaust fan or near an open window and wear gloves and a properly fitted safety respirator when working with lusters. For this wrap vessel, I applied small dots with a very fine 1-mm brush and gold banding around the rim with a thick 12-mm brush (13). Make sure when you apply your luster that it is not too thick, thin, or runny. Make sure you do not apply the luster repeatedly or you will make the luster go matte and it may burn off or flake off. Use a clean brush and make sure your pot is dry and free from dust and anything oily, especially hand moisturizer (as this repels the luster). When you have finished, fire your pot for a third time to 1436°F (780°C).
All photos: Tara Moore Photography.
Ruby Pilven is a ceramic artist based in Ballarat, Wadawurrung Country, Australia. She creates highly colorful and decorative porcelain and stoneware functional ceramics and jewelery, which are inspired by her natural surroundings in the bush. The gold in her work is inspired by her hometown of Ballarat, a major Victorian gold rush town.