Designing for Function with Paul Donnelly

In this installment of the Ceramic Arts Daily Presents video series, Paul Donnelly shares his varied techniques for making pottery that functions well both aesthetically and in use. Using his tea trays – a cup and saucer set with an expanded tray for a snack or a spoon – as examples, Paul demonstrates how ...(Scroll for more.)

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Runtime: 2 hours 40 minutes

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…he works from idea, to design, to construction to create practical, yet beautiful objects. Paul begins on the wheel, his preferred method for forming vessels, and demonstrates how to create a “double volume” in which the interior of the form is different from the exterior.

With attention to shape, form, and proportion, he explains his trimming and handle-making processes, as well as how he activates his surfaces with carving and sprigging techniques. Paul also explains how he uses variable molds for slip casting, which can be reconfigured into a number of shapes and allow for continual exploration of form and shape. The variety in Paul’s methods provides something for everyone!

It’s All in the Details

Most potters put detail on the outside of their vessels, but one of the reasons Paul loves throwing on the wheel is that it allows him to put formal details on the inside of the pot that may differ slightly from the details on the outside. On Paul’s cup forms, he creates a “double volume,” or some extra curves that enhance, but don’t exactly match up to the shape of the outside. He chooses to add this little detail because it is something that the user will see when bringing the cup to their lips.

Trimming, Form, and Surface

For Paul, the trimming process is not just about removing extra weight on a form – design plays an integral role. Borrowing from Chinese potters, who rough out thick forms and refine them in the trimming process, Paul also adds detail by trimming detail into the form at this stage. If you struggle with trimming, Paul’s helpful trimming tips will help you build your skills (and you may even grow to enjoy it!). He carries these details into the surface, adding lines and curves that refer to the shaping on the inside and outside of the pot.

Inspired by Function

Function is at the top of mind when Paul Donnelly is designing new forms. His Tea Trays were born out of a need that arose at his own home: to protect the furniture and also hold a snack (while looking good of course!). Paul shares a couple of techniques for creating his extended saucer forms. He shares some great tips for figuring out the scale and design of these pieces such as using his canvas tabletop as a sketchpad and an actual thrown and trimmed cup for reference.

Two Molds – A Multitude of Possibilities

Paul demonstrates two different mold systems for making his trays. The first is a simple press mold that creates the foot and the tray in one piece. By pressing a thick slab into the foot well and removing the excess using a simple wire cutting technique, the slab tray is quickly ready for any type of decoration you can imagine. This would also work great for creating dinner plates! Paul also shows a variable mold technique that can be used for slip casting or press molding. By adjusting the sides of this two-piece mold, a multitude of variations of the form can be made. He also shares a fantastic and inexpensive solution for removing excess casting slip from a mold.

Bonus Features

The bonus features on this video include a demonstration of using the variable mold for press molding and Paul’s glaze recipes!

Artist Statement

Functional pottery is important to me as a vehicle for expression because it operates within this landscape. I am interested in integrating my work into people’s lives because of the close proximity between (the) user and object. Through use and display, pots will impart meaning that will change with the user’s relationship with the work. The objects we interact with on a daily basis can conjure experiences in our lives often becoming an article of sentiment. I intend to create work where there is a similarity between pieces but everything is unique in some way. Variability is one of the potter’s strength in terms of designing work. Crafting an eclectic array of dishes is a response to the ubiquity of objects sold through chain stores.

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