An idea of ritual accompanies the use of functional art. Interacting with objects that improve your daily routine and enrich typically mundane moments helps create that ritual. This concept surrounding utilitarian handmade objects is what inspires me as an artist. When I buy pottery, I immediately picture how to incorporate it into my routine. When making pottery, I try to design components that add excitement to the user’s experience.
My recent work is an exploration of pottery combined with the moving parts of a machine. The moving parts enhance the purpose of the object and impart another layer of utility, giving someone another reason to interact with my work and add it to their daily routine. To accomplish this, I attempt to make all the kinetic elements functional and not just an afterthought or unnecessary add on. If the added parts hinder its operation, I have only created a clever gimmick and not an object that encourages use, which defeats the purpose.
I get inspiration by looking at simple machines. I try to figure out how they work and how to utilize a similar mechanism in a ceramic object. This problem-solving process goes through many stages of sketching before beginning construction. As the drawings get more detailed, I begin to figure out how many parts are needed and how they should be made. Once I have a rough idea of how this device will operate, I move to the wheel and start throwing.
A lot of the engineering and designing takes place as I make the parts and piece them together. The technical details will be resolved through several attempts at making each part. Every round of throwing ends in a rough build to test how the device operates. Any piece not working correctly is altered or remade. I always work under the rule of making things bigger than needed and cutting them to the desired size.
The first time making a kinetic piece typically takes a lot of time adjusting and testing how the parts work together. Pieces can be made quicker and with fewer adjustments as I get more comfortable with the object. I could save even more time by having exact specifications of each part to speed up production; however, I love the problem-solving stage, so I enjoy spending time making these pieces slightly different every time.
Throwing the Parts
The locking jar is made from 5 wheel-thrown parts (1). I usually throw all of the components and let them reach the leather-hard stage before continuing to assembly. The sizing of each part is relative to the jar’s size, so I always start by making the body. The form is a simple, straight-sided cylinder that’s narrower at the base and wider at the top. The thrown cylinder should be about 9 inches tall and 7 inches wide at the lip. I leave it attached to the bat so I can return to the wheel and add the gallery later on. Next, I throw 2 flat disks about 7½ inches wide and ½ inch thick. One of these disks will be slightly trimmed to become the lid, and the other will be cut into parts and used to make the locking mechanism and display. I also make a small cylinder about 3 inches tall and 1½ inches wide. This will fit through a hole in the lid, attaching to and enabling the mechanism to move. Finally, I create the knob that will go on top of the lid. This part will be heavily trimmed and carved, but the thrown form is basically a small, thick bowl that is 1½ inches tall and 3 inches wide.
Adding a Gallery
Once the body of the jar is leather hard, I cut the top so the lid will sit at an angle. This makes the form more dynamic and increases the visibility of the top of the jar. To start the angled rim, use a ruler to mark the lowest point by making a line 2 inches down from the top. Then, make a quarter turn to the left and right of this first line and mark 1 inch down from the rim (2). Using those marks as a guide, cut the top piece off to leave the jar body with an angled rim. Use a chamois to round the angled lip. Now, score a band around the inside of the jar about½ inch down from the angled top and attach a coil to the band to form the gallery to hold the lid (3). To even out the gallery and fully join the coil to the jar, spin the wheel at a low speed and apply pressure on the coil. Since the gallery is attached at an angle, it’s necessary to move your hands in rhythm with the wheel and the changing height of the gallery. Once the gallery is in place and leather hard, add locking tabs by attaching a short, thick coil of clay to each side (4). These sit at opposite sides of the jar and will keep the lid in place when in the locked position.
Refining Each Component
Now that all the parts are made, the process becomes very detail oriented. Each part will need small alterations to accommodate the nuances in form and size of the specific piece. Start with trimming one of the disks to fit as the lid. First, dampen the bottom side and, after centering, apply pressure to the disk to stick it to the wheel. Then, use a needle tool to cut the disk to the correct diameter and to cut the hole for the locking mechanism to go through (5). Make the hole in the lid slightly larger than the width of the small cylinder that goes through it. Cut the other disk into parts for the locking device (6). The long, slender piece will be used as the lock and the other 2 medium-sized pieces will be combined to make the display (7). Next, trim the knob, then use an angled trimming tool like the DiamondCore Tools Carver to put vertical lines in the outside of the knob (8).
Building the Mechanism
The construction of the locking mechanism will be slightly different every time it’s made. The size of each part changes the way they interact together. Keep this in mind as you may need to make alterations based on the specific parts that you’re using. To create a locking device, attach the small cylinder to the knob (9). Once these are combined, put them through the hole in the lid and then cut the cylinder leaving a little over ⅛ inch exposed (10).
Next, attach the display piece. There should be some wiggle room once these pieces are connected that allows the locking mechanism to move freely through the hole in the lid.
Now that the display slab is attached, cut out the viewing window to make the display visible through the top of the lid. Do this by cutting out a small rectangle and beveling the edges. Then use letterpress stamps to push through the viewing window and stamp in the words “open” and “closed” (see 14). The words should be stamped about 1½–2 inches apart so that only one word is visible through the viewing window at a time. These stamped words are visible as the knob is turned, but you still need to add a piece of clay to act as a stopper to keep the knob from making a full rotation. The stopper will be attached to the bottom of the lid in an orientation that stops the knob as it rests on “open” and in the other direction when it rests on “closed” (11). The size and shape of the stopper will vary depending on the particulars of your lid and display piece.
The last piece of the device is the bar that will sit under the locking tabs and actually lock the lid in place. This slab should be short enough that it can pass through the gallery but long enough that it will get caught under the locking tabs (12). Attach the bar so that it sits exactly horizontal under the tabs on the gallery when the knob is in the “closed” position. In the “open” position the bar needs to move out from under the tabs, allowing the lid to be removed.
Now that the locking mechanism is finished, there are still a few small additions to complete the lid. First, go back to the body of the jar and cut off part of the shortest section of the rim above the gallery (13). This piece is now attached to create a registration tab on the lid just below the viewing window. The tab on the front of the lid and the cutout on the rim now force the lid to only sit at the correct position. Small coils of clay can now be added to build up around the display window and connect it to the tab (see 14–16). Test the fit of the lid and turn the knob to make sure the mechanism works (14–16).
At this point, the locking jar is finished. Let it dry slowly over 2 or 3 days. I check the jar every day or so to make sure the moving parts are not sticking or warping. Occasionally, small adjustments must be made to keep the locking mechanism working like scraping clay away from the locking bar or the locking tabs to keep everything moving correctly.
I use terra sigillata and underglaze on the exterior of my work because both materials do not flux enough to fuse the moving parts together. Pete Pinnell’s Smooth Easy terra sigillata works very well. I apply 2 or 3 coats of terra sigillata to everything at the bone-dry stage, and then bisque fire. Next, I cover the piece in Amaco Jet Black underglaze and wipe it away, leaving black in the grooves and recessed areas. The interior of my pots are glazed with a gloss black liner glaze and fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln. The entire exterior is sanded after firing, which gives the terra sigillata a slight sheen and a smooth surface. Flexible diamond sanding pads from DiamondCore Tools last longer than sandpaper and allow me to sand all the nooks and crannies. I over sand in some areas to reveal the clay body and give the finished piece a worn or used surface that has more color variation (17).
I enjoy making pots that have a functional purpose. Using moving parts to add functionality has been a challenge, but I want to see how far I can push kinetic clay devices. I hope that my work creates a ritual by improving the user’s daily routine.