Ever since I started making pottery, I have loved making cups. I love how such a small object can fit in your hands and can still express so much. I believe that there is more than just function involved with a cup. The act of drinking and specific function is extremely important; however, the aesthetics of a cup can play just as important a role, if not more, in terms of its formal qualities and presentation. The combination of these aspects has the potential to take a cup beyond the tactile, aesthetic, and functional, to a more unique experience. My interpretation of the cup and stand is intended to elevate the ideals of what a cup is and how it can facilitate a unique experience shared between user, object, and maker.
In 2013, I spent a month in China at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen. I remember walking through the Shanghai Museum of Art and falling in love with a beautiful Northern Song Dynasty floral-lobed cup and stand (960–1127 CE). Seeing the elegance within such a simple yet sophisticated form exuding so much beauty was extremely influential. I was fascinated by the significance of this object within its historical context, its evident elevation and physical presence, as well as the attention it demanded. This is the moment when my exploration of the relationship between cup and stand began.
The initial development of my idea for a cup and stand started off with the stand as more of a flat surface similar to a saucer. As I interchanged the two forms, I saw that there was a clear disconnect of visual and functional language between them. I was reminded of what my mentors would say time and time again, “What is it that you want the work to do?” Through all of the fuss, my answer was simple. I wanted the stand to connect with, elevate, and locate the cup. Using my formal training in the principles of design, I deconstructed the four-sided cup form I had been making and developed a stand that reflected similar qualities. I gave the stand four sides and more height, making the form not only elevated in its presentation, but also giving the cup a specific place to live.
The Cup and Stand
When making this set, I found that throwing only four cups and stands at a time is the ideal production number from start to finish. I learned the hard way that making too many can, in fact, slow the process down and take away quality and attention from the details that matter. Making multiples allows the different parts time to set up naturally, and gives me time to work through each step of the process with a degree of finesse. I always throw on plaster bats so that I don’t have to wire off my pots, since the plaster ensures even drying and release from the bat.
Throwing the Cup
When throwing sets, weigh out each ball of clay so that you can keep track of the variables in order to repeat forms that you like, or make small adjustments if needed.
Start off with 1¼ pounds of clay for the cup. These forms usually start as a cylinder, with a 1/8-inch-thick base. I make about three pulls to achieve the desired thickness and form before adding volume (1). I find it helpful to err on the thicker side (at least ¼ inch thick) in the wall and rim.
Use a flexible metal rib to compress the wall as you push out the clay from the inside to give the cup volume (2). Before altering the form, I use a wooden trimming stick and a pencil to establish a foot ring and define each line on the surface (3).
After the cup has firmed up enough to lose its sheen, with the wheel off, use your fingers to push out from the inside, creating four defined corners. I’ve realized that it’s important to make small steps throughout the different stages of drying in order to achieve a nice balance between volume, compression, and rigidity within the form.
Throwing the Stand
In the preliminary stages of making the stand, I would start off with 5 to 6 pounds of clay, roll out 3-inch-thick slabs, then go through a slow process of drilling and removing clay in order to complete the desired shape. I realized that the handbuilding process took too much time to create such a simple form that ended up warping and cracking, and figured out that throwing the stand on the wheel would not only speed up the process, but also fix the structural issues.
Now, I start off with anywhere between 2 and 3 pounds of clay depending on the overall size of the stand, taking the advice that I give my own students, it’s always easier to remove clay than it is to add it. Keeping in mind I will trim and carve away much of the bulk to its final, refined form, I throw the base slab about 3–4 inches thick. Compression with a rib is crucial in preventing warping and cracking. Make sure to hold the rib at 3 o’clock in relation to the wheel head with the curved side against the clay. Lean the straight side of the rib down and toward your body, almost laying it flat (4). This will give you the most compression across the surface without removing anything but the slip. Open the clay up like you would a cylinder, but go all the way to the wheel head. After opening, create a gallery like you would on a lidded vessel and measure the gallery with calipers (5) to the same diameter as the outside of the cup (6). Determine the depth of the gallery based on how far you want the cup to recess into the stand. The depth of my stands vary dramatically, depending on whether or not I decide to inlay the gallery with wood or resin.
Revealing Volume and Form
Usually when the cup and stand release from the bat, they are leather hard and ready to handle. This stage is ideal for marking, carving, and removing clay. I’ve found that marking each corner on the stand to match the corners already established on the cup is accomplished most accurately and efficiently with an MKM Decorating Disk (7). After plotting out all of the guidelines, use a Surform tool (8, 9) to remove clay from the surface of the cup and the stand. This helps me to control the amount of clay removed, allowing me to reveal the desired volume both literally and visually. After this step, it’s extremely important to compress the surface using a flexible metal rib or a MudTools red rubber rib.
Usually the formal qualities within the basic shapes of my pots help direct my approach in surface decoration. For this specific cup and stand, I marked out curved bands by using a flexible metal ruler and a pencil (10). Flex and hold the ruler against the cup in a slight curve, then trace the line with a pencil.
To make the feet, roll out four small coils to the desired thickness and taper them into a shape resembling a nose. Score, slip, and attach the feet to the bottom. Next, compress and shape the feet with wet fingertips (11). Flip the stand and gently tap the top to level the stand. After the feet have been covered overnight and are leather hard, refine the shape with a flexible metal rib and define the attachment points with a pencil.
I believe that good form speaks for itself and that a confident form allows everything else to sing. One of my school mentors used to tell me, “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig,” and I relay this to my students to this day. If the form is not good, nothing else will change that. I enjoy the simplicity of design on this particular series of work because the process of glazing and firing brings a sense of complex beauty to the surface.
After the pots have been bisque fired, isolate specific areas with wax resist (12). (I have found that Forbes wax works best after it has dried overnight.) Applying wax-resist designs along the pot allows the wood- and soda-firing process to enhance the unglazed surface and finish the decorative work. Next, pour a liner glaze into the interior of the cup (13), and as soon as you get to the rim, pour the glaze back out into the bucket. Immediately after, hold the foot ring and dip the exterior into the glaze right up to your fingertips (14). Once the glaze dries enough that you won’t mar the surface by holding it, finish by glazing the bottom. To glaze the stand, simply hold the wax portion of the stand and dip it into the glaze for two seconds. Note: As soon as the pots come out of the glaze, use a small sponge to wipe off all of the excess glaze left on top of the wax.
My decisions for surface design and glazing come from the balanced beauty of controlled glaze isolation and natural atmosphere through soda and wood firing (15, 17, 18). Even after the firing, sometimes the work isn’t finished. Over the past few years, I have been investigating setting wood and resin (16) within the galleries of these stands to create a unique relationship, visually and physically, between the cup and where it lives. Despite years of exploration, this is just the beginning; not only between cup and stand, but also object, user, and maker.
Andrew McIntyre received a BFA from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2011 and an MFA from Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, in 2015 and has been a resident at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, and at Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry, India. He was recognized as one of Ceramic Monthly’s 2018 Emerging Artists. He is represented nationally and internationally by galleries including Charlie Cummings Gallery, Cerbera Gallery, Gandee Gallery, and Treehouse Gallery. Andrew is currently working as the ceramics technician and instructor at The University of Mississippi.