Unifying Form, Texture, and Surface

The evolution of my sprigged jars illustrates that form, surface, and texture have been very meaningful to my artistic development and research. While exploring robust femininity in porcelain and how celebratory utilitarian forms relate to those ideas, the jar form has really stood out for me. A jar can have beautiful anthropomorphic qualities, an alluring potential for volume and containment, and a wonderful blend of utilitarian and sculptural elements. As I work, my goal is to find a place where form, texture, and surface all play an important role in expressing my ideas. It’s important for texture and surface to work to build the form as opposed to simply laying upon it. These relationships constantly challenge and excite me as I look for new balances between strength, beauty, and celebration.

Constructing the Parts

The body of the jar starts as a cylinder made from an 8–9 pound ball of clay. The form is proportioned like a bottom-heavy hourglass, with the collar located 2 inches below the rim (1). I leave the walls thick so that the form remains strong while I stamp the clay when it’s still fairly wet. The rim is left about ½ inch thick so that I can press stamps and waves into it. 

I throw a hollow bulb as an armature to support the sprigs on the lid knob (2). The armature size depends on the size of the jar body, since I want the final height of the sprigged knob to be about ⅔ the height of the body. The armature keeps the sprigs from shifting or slumping. The walls of the armature should be fairly thin to avoid adding too much extra weight. The lid needs to be heavy enough to support the weight of the sprigs.

1 Leave the rim about ½ inch thick, so that stamps can be pressed into it.

2 Throw the hollow armature for the sprigged lid off the hump.

3 Throw the gallery before the lid. The gallery will be attached later.

4 Throw the lid form off the hump. Throw it upside down as a shallow bowl.

Since the jar gallery and lid are thrown separately, I measure the inside of the jar body, ½ inch below the rim, then throw the gallery to match that diameter (3). The gallery will be attached after I have stamped the jar body. I’ve found that stamping all the way up to the rim of the body isn’t possible if the gallery is built in because it prevents applying pressure to the inside of the body to successfully manipulate the rim. 

The lid is also thrown off the hump (4). I want the lid to sit high on the form and for the dome of the lid to be fully visible.

Stamped Decoration

After constructing all of the parts, I move to the decoration. My stamps are a collection of found and purchased items; objects that have lyrical lines, deep texture, and are abstracted florals and vines are some of my favorites (5). I love the floridity of Rococo-era porcelain and am interested in items that spark visual similarities.

I stamp the outside of the jar when the clay is just dry enough to no longer be tacky (my fingers don’t leave a mark on the surface) but is soft enough that the clay bends but doesn’t crack. It’s very close to the consistency of clay fresh out of the bag. I place one hand on the inside of the form to support the wall of the jar and press a stamp into it (6).

5 My stamps are a collection of found and purchased items with deep texture.

6 Begin to stamp the jar when the clay is just dry enough to no longer be tacky.

7 Use a large stamp to create movement and a continuous pattern around the jar.

8 Score, slip, then attach the gallery to the inside of the jar.

I pick a large stamp to start with, improvising the flow of the designs, and alternating stamps that have minimal texture with ones that have more detail. I want the movement of the stamps to accentuate the belly of the jar and flow vertically and horizontally, making a continuous pattern around the jar (7).

Fitting the Gallery and Lid

The next step is to attach the gallery to the jar. The stamping process alters the rim out of round. Place the jar on a banding wheel and score a level line around the inside of the rim, then alter the shape of the gallery to conform to it. While attaching the gallery, pay close attention to keeping the rim level (8).

When fitting the lid, the edge sometimes needs small adjustments, like trimming or shaving small areas to accommodate the slight bends in the stamped jar body. After attaching the armature, marking keys on the lid and the body at this stage makes it clear how to align the lid.

Use a loop tool to blend the base of the armature into the lid. This will make the transition between the sprigs and the lid smoother (9).

9 Use a loop tool to blend the base of the armature to the lid.

10 Form various sized sprigs for use around the jar and on the lid armature.

11 Trim the sprigs carefully, maintaining the edges and cut out any negative space.

12 Sprig the lid by first laying a high-texture base where the armature meets the lid.

Adding Sprigs

Sprigs can be made from basically any shallow carving or texture that you can press clay into. These textured relief shapes are then added to the form. Sprigs can be small or large, and can have as much or as little detail as you would like. All of my sprigs are bisque molds made from the stamps in my collection. The bisque-fired clay is strong, while also retaining absorbency so it releases the clay that is pressed into it.

After pressing a piece of clay into the sprig mold and carefully pulling it out (10), trim around each shape carefully, trying to maintain the molded edges and remove any negative space to create more layering and visual information to play with (11).

I begin building with sprigs by laying a high-texture base of sprigs where the armature meets the lid and adding some support sprigs to the top and sides of the armature (12). I add to the base layer, paying attention to the connection points and flow of the sprigs. I work from the bottom up, and let the pieces firm up before adding more weight to them (13). I then build up the volume of the sprigged knob at the top, focusing on a balance of negative space and texture (14).

13 Work from the bottom up, building on the base layer, considering connections.

14 Build up the volume of the sprigged knob at the top, focusing on balance.

15 Use a wet paint brush to clean up any small cracks or splits in the sprigs.

16 Place a few sprigs on opposite sides of the jar body to form handles.

At this point, I take a paintbrush with a little water and clean up any small cracks or splits on or between sprigs (15).

Lastly, I place a few sprigs on opposite sides of the jar body to form handles and provide a visual connection point between the impressed stamps and the sprigs (16).

The finished sprigged jar is coated with bright, flowing glazes that melt down from the top of the knob. The playful colors flux in the kiln and flow over and pool in the various shapes and textures created by the sprigs, further tying the surface to the form and joyfully finishing the vessel.

Joyce St. Clair Voltz is an artist and educator in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she lives with her husband Lars Voltz. Voltz received her MFA in ceramics from Wichita State University in 2014 and has since completed long-term residencies at the Red Lodge Clay Center and the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio.

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