The View From L2

Added on by Peter Bentley.

I've just put up a page for a project from June, a series of ceramic bowls called "Gravity Well". When I started working on it I sort of picked this one to be the project that I focused on the most, with a couple of goals in mind. I'm finding myself more and more interested in ceramics to the point where it's competing strongly with graphics work, which originally brought me to design (how much of that is due to my ongoing dissatisfaction with the graphics subjects I've done so far, I'm not sure). So, I wanted to use this project as an opportunity to develop skills I could use in future ceramic-focused work, with a mind towards the upcoming major projects in my design course. I particularly wanted to get more experience managing larger-scale production - previous ceramic work to date has been one-off or produced in a limited series where I've had time to manually finish each individual piece. I also tried to document the creation process in more detail than I have in the past. I sometimes find that if I begin with the intention to make detailed recordings of my work, I'll work harder at it because I want the documentation to have actually been worth the effort.

Ceramics projects are always a bit of a nightmare to complete in the timeframe of half a semester, given that you need to allocate a week for the mould to dry, and couple of weeks before the due date just for firing, so when using moulds it's vital to get everything you need ready as soon as possible, because your initial decisions will constrain the outcome. The form of the bowls I picked was deliberately simple, and being able to cast 24 at once with minimal finishing required made the production process rapid. This meant that I was able to focus more on organising and sustaining this production, trying to not get confused about what I was doing, and trying out different techniques, which is how I ended up developing the terraced bowl form, and eventually adding stain to the process to create gradient effects.

Even working as simply as possible, trying to produce hundreds of bowls made me acutely aware of how the difficulty scales up quickly when working at a higher production rate. For a start, it's difficult to keep track of numbers, but also for the purposes of testing glazes and firing results, the wide variety of shape and colours I was using really required a more intensive management scheme than I had prepared. Before glazing any bowls, I fired eighty or so test tiles to see how glazes I'd prepared (from recipes found on the internet + my own bumbling adjustments) would turn out. I recorded what glazes were on specific tiles by putting dots to indicate which of the four glazes, or which two glazes in combination, had been used, but I didn't have any indication to myself about which glaze was on top or which was on the bottom, or which firing temperature I had used.

I was even more haphazard when I started glazing bowls, essentially freestyling glaze combinations based off instinct and my impressions of test tile results. Of course, part of the point of doing this was to identify problems like this, so that I wouldn't make dumb mistakes later on, so this counts as a success. And an aspect of ceramics I especially enjoy is the unpredictability of it, which manifests strongly in the random variations in fired glazes, and I think it's more appropriate to revel in that uncertainty rather than become paralysed by the inability to replicate a precise effect.

I was very pleased with my documentation of the project. Taking photos just about every time I did anything was a bit annoying, and in some respects it makes me feel a little bit vain, like I think every boring step of the way is worth taking three photos of, but I would forget 95% of the process if I didn't do that. I didn't set up the camera very well for videoing the gallery setup, but that was because someone yelled "make a video of it" ten minutes after I'd started and I said "yeah!" and just pressed the go button on the camera (the production timelapse was a little more planned). My last-minute midnight photoshoot at Sydney Park was highly successful given that the planning for it was me thinking "I need some cool photos, maybe if I go to the park tonight it'll work out." - and it did!

Actually, "The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space; everything else is merely thought to exist.", in the 1925 translation, but the version I used here is significantly pithier.

I'm really pleased with the end result, and I'm excited to see if I can successfully apply the lessons from Gravity Well to more sophisticated stuff in the future. I don't think the outcome was at all perfect, and the gallery presentation was a bit rushed, but I was really more concerned about the technical issues of the production process on this project than the conceptual outcome. Anyway, there's a fair bit more photography of the project on its own very special page, so I'd encourage you to have a look there. You can also "like" my Facebook page, which I update independently of this site, so occasionally there's things popping up there that don't warrant a blog post here.