Ceramics 260A


Assignment #1. SPIRIT BALLS
This first project was a good one for me to get more familiar with clay again. The wedging and pinching techniques used were pretty new to me. I had some trouble in that I was a little tentative with the wedging and I probably did not do the best with getting a perfect spherical form, but I think overall, the three I made turned out nicely. My favorite of the three, Quick Chef Boy, was the last one I made, rather spontaneously compared to the other two. One of the three I made is missing. Perhaps it is still in the pit. It had simple line carvings on it with a central form of a small house on it. I covered it with reddish, Bermuda, and ball clay terra sigillata. The first one has more of a all over carved design. I remember making it with my dad in mind as he was quite the wood carver in his day. It was a challenge to keep the carvings clean and free of small bits of clay along the edges of the carving. It turned out looking like a Neapolitan ice cream ball after covering it with reddish, white, and blackish terra sigilata. In the process of the pit fire, it did not receive much smoke and remains expressive of the terra sigillata.
All three were blended well and hide the seems. Barring the similarity in color of the first two balls, all three are pleasing to the eye. Because of the lack in smooth surface and decoration, they have a coarser feel. The missing rattle was decorated with a design which included a kind of drawing starting point in a lot of my recent 2-dimensional artwork. I used 5 lines: one horizontal, one diagonal, one small circle, one larger circle, and a parabola. It was interesting how I managed to match up and combine the five line on a surface in the round. As a painting major, I think I’m concerned about flat surfaces more often and it might be a good idea to investigate my five lines in clay more.
While I did not utilize the saggar firing, the pit firing was a good experience. Everyone likes a good fire. It’s a bonus to be able to pull something out of the fire afterwards. I did raku one of the spirit balls, the third one I made, and my favorite. It was dripped with a copper penny glaze and turned out pretty nice. The raku smoked the rattle black except where the glaze was dripped, which fired to a shiny finish. Perhaps I needed more layers of the glaze or a longer reduction for more intense copper color. Both of my remaining spirit rattles sound and I believe the missing one did too. The sounds are ones I do like, and combined with the surface decoration and scale, I feel they are a decent approximation of my spirit these days. They remind me overall of a weird kind of baby rattle…or maybe they are a good reflection of my mood on some mornings…or a reflection of some kind of new beginnings and new processes which I’m learning in class. Overall, the project taught me about basic forming techniques and gave me a familiarity with working in clay again. A crack in the cosmic egg…and a seed has been planted.

47/50 points

Beyond the day on which I made the mold of my face, with the help of Abby and Ned, I was thinking mostly about the presentation of the pieces as they relate to some kind of ideas about trauma and sports, specifically soccer. I kept thinking about a piece of bluegrass sod I had acquired from the golf course after some recent changes to some of the holes where layers of soil and clay are exposed, also ideas relating to the process of the rolled slab laid in the fragment mould. A self portrait in this case doesn’t seem maybe as narcissistic. I have a plan to use Abby’s mould as part of a future piece as well since I played a part in making her mould.
The first fragment I pulled out of the press mould I ended up curling under and warping. Parts of the piece ripped open. I liked the effects of those quick and spontaneous decisions. The other mask was left more realistic but I took the advice of Jordan and pressed the mould in three segments. The seems in the finished piece added something extra and heightened the overall look of the mask. I applied copper terra sigilata to the interior of both masks and a cracked glaze for raku firing on the first warped piece. The embossed five sided marks on the surface of thepieces refers to heading a soccer ball and the resultant trauma over time. The masks benefited from the details, both intended and accidental. I do wish I would of maybe poked holes in the masks but remember thinking about just presenting them by laying them on top of the piece of sod laid on top of a slab of clay. The raku firing itself was fun and added I think to the overall look of the fragments. The first warped piece reminded me of the capitol dome in my home town of Topeka. The second mask was smoked black in the raku except for some areas which remained white, a nice kind of soccer ball look. It would have been nice to maybe have a little more white left for more of that black and white of a generic soccer ball pattern.
Overall, I had fun with the fragment masks and may do some more work with the press-mould process. My mould held up ok, I avoided undercuts, and I was able to pick up sufficient detail. There was a bit of difficulty getting the clay pressed into the mold, and perhaps I could have added some smaller molded elements to the exterior surfaces, but I like how they turned out after firing. It might be interesting to play with brighter colored glazes. It seems the historical research I was doing for the coil vessel influenced both my spirit balls and the body fragments.

50/50 points

In starting to research historical vessels, my Non-Western art historical studies came flooding back to me. A lot of the vessels I was looking at were related to tea ceremonies where simplicity seemed to be the key attraction. The palette of the all the vessels were either dark blacks and browns or earth tones. There is a truth in the material and a functional quality to most of the early examples of pottery from around the world. Even the Greek red and black pottery which comes to mind first of all when I thought of pottery retains a simplicity in design of the basic vessel. Associations with the body as vessel are evident and it is interesting when the vessel begins to take on figural elements, whether an Egyptian bowl with two realistic looking feet or South American vessels with animal qualities.
My coil vessel kind of became an amalgamation of all the vessels I was looking at online and in books. Initially, when I thought about coil pots I thought of smaller coils which were not smoothed but were more of the final look of the vessel. I liked the split foot of some of the Asian examples and used a plastic base as a pattern for pressing my pinched base to start building. The process is more labor intensive and time consuming and I think I didn’t try to do much of a lip for my vessel. I would maybe like to try to do something related to the elaborate Jomon vessels, something maybe floral…as a hand. Any decoration I was attracted to was minimal, which is probably good for me when learning basic forming and building techniques. Part of me wants to push for a newer form too…an inverted teepee…a wall mounted vessel…simple geometry, but morphed?
I did have a few problems in the pit firing with the amount and density of the sawdust I used, but overall I like the way my pot ended up half dark, simple, and an easy form that hints at me wanting to play with the lip and the base of the vessel. I kind of did a simple embossing with a bracelet that had my name on it so the end effect is my name backwards on the surface, which was influenced by some vessel I spied online of a pot made in Ghana with a slightly raised or incised surface. I had done a drawing of it where I wrote something about skull eye sockets…as if I stuck my head down it, my eyes would match the curving outward I did with the lip. I did make it too small for the required scale, but am happy with the end result and the different processes we learned.

90/100 points

Assignment # 4. FIGURE/ ANIMAL
After several pages of sketches and research into some ideas I was having about a more human based figural project, our class brainstorming sessions pushed me more towards an animal hybrid. I decided upon doing an elephant/donkey as political symbols after a quick maquette. In order to simplify my ideas, I did another maquette and decided finally on the donkey. I would have been interesting to see if I could have created one piece combined, but I am happy with the result of concentrating on the one element. The form/ pose of the donkey reflects more about my working process than any conceptual idea. I think I create better work when trying to achieve a real likeness. The idea of combining or morphing one animal into another was revealed to me as I worked. From the back of the piece, I feel the donkey looks more like a jackrabbit. The body is stretched a bit compared to a real donkey, more like the form of a horse. At another angle, Jack takes on more the form of a deer. I did a lot of propping up and resting certain parts of the piece as I was working which worked alright because I kept it smaller and it ultimately determined the pose of the figure. My technique and craftsmanship are pretty quick and spontaneous. One thing I do like a lot about hand building with clay is that I’m able to use all the extra trimmings and subtractions as I work and the process is a very intuitive one. I was able to slip and score everything together nicely. The piece has a black and white under glaze, a red earth brown stain on top of this, and a clear finish glaze on top. I do notice a bit of cracking, but the finished figure takes on a realistic looking dirty grey color with appropriate hair texture. Overall, the project was a fun one and I’m happy I was able to create a dynamic ceramic animal.

Assignment #5. Setting the First Group Problem
Goal: Using coiling, soft slab, and pinching techniques, create a figurative ceramic sculpture and two cereal bowls inspired by a single Saturday morning cartoon character. Minimum height for the cartoon character is 1’. Use stoneware and high fire. Please invite a friend to join you for cereal on November 9th to celebrate the completion of the project. Write a one page summation including photos of the series.
Oct. 15 Begin work in clay
26 Complete series and dry for bisque
29 Bisque fire
Nov. 5 Glaze
9 Photograph series and PARTY!
12 Paper due
40 points. Concept/Idea File
Why and how did you choose this character? Does your sketchbook reflect time spent working on ideas?
40 points. Craftsmanship/Form
Were you able to create a 3d likeness of the character? Are the cereal bowls functional?
40 points. Craftsmanship/Surface
How well do the surface decoration and finish elevate the theme? Are the glazes applied with care? Did you pay attention to the details?
40 points. Creativity and Style
How does the pose, posture, gesture of the figure elevate the theme? Did you capture the essence of the character?
40 points. Professionalism/Presentation
Do the three pieces show as a cohesive series?
Was everything completed on schedule?

The choice of Foghorn Leghorn comes mainly I think from my idea file and also harkens back to some of the ideas I had been thinking about for the animal/figure project. Before the donkey, the original symbol for the democratic party was the rooster which has many popular associations with morning time and breakfast cereal and seemed like a good fit for the project. It gave me an opportunity to work large and challenge my coiling and forming techniques. The character is repeated inside the two cereal bowls. My finished glaze comes off a bit messy, but considering I am not to experienced with glazing high fire, I think they are complete and functional. If there is something that I would do next time I attempt a figure so large, it would be to work more in sessions in order to let the clay dry a bit in order to support the upper portion of the figure. Our original schedule for the project was changed a bit, but our Saturday morning cartoon party should be a fun way to end the semester. In the end, the essence of the character is there in the work and the pieces do come together nicely as a cohesive whole.

Assignment #6. Setting the Problem for Personal Series
Goal: Create a series of three (3) figural fragment vessels taken from a mold of your own knees. Embellish and/or decorate the surface of the vessels using majolica glazes.
October 29 Research and Develop Personal Series Problem
31 Ask for demonstration of skills you need. Begin work.
November 2 Continue work. Make plaster mold.
16 Complete series and set out to dry.
26 Glaze
28 Glaze
30 Glaze
December 3 Photos
5 Paper and Critique.
40 Points Concept/Idea File
Can you trace the completed ceramic series back to some of your sketches in your idea file? How much if any does the series differ from your initial conceptual ideas?
40 Points Craftsmanship-Form
Describe some of the techniques used to transform the clay body? Is the form well balanced? Is your concept re-enforced by the formal elements of the vessels?
40 Points Craftsmanship-Surface
Describe your technique in achieving the surface decoration of the series. Does the surface have (a)focal point(s)? Is your concept re-enforced by the surface?
40 Points Creativity, Style
Do the three pieces act effectively as a series of work? How did the series of work reflect your creativity? How would you describe your working method?
40 Points Professionalism
Did you achieve the goal of the assignment? Was it completed on time?

This final project is indicative and a good example of how strong I think the whole course was organized and structured from the beginning. Initially, I had some reservations about all the writing, etc. that was included in the requirements for the course. The idea file is key to this project for me as I ended up using a decorative motif from cut pieces of advertising and sketching that I had done early in the semester. My initial conceptual ideas dealt only with the form of the knees. One of the things I think I struggle with in the beginning of some of my work is thinking to much about having a solid concept before any hands-on work is done. For me, it seems as if the concept is art making itself and how important it is that we use our hands and minds and bodies to make things and express, reflect, and shape the culture in which we live. I wanted to try the majolica glazes after doing historical and contemporary ceramics research throughout the semester. I do feel the forms are well balanced and hopefully they speak for themselves on a few different levels. I could of perhaps made more of them or made a mold of my other knee as well. Presentation seems to be an important consideration and lends the work to different readings based on how it is presented. This work is more about forming and learning basic techniques and I feel I got a lot from the clay I worked with this semester. The surface of these knees has varying focal points and the form itself is re-enforced by the nature of the presentation. There may be a few things I would do I little different but the work is an effective series and reflects my creativity well.


This semester in the ceramics lab, a lot was expected of us and I don’t mean this in a critical way. Introductory courses give a lot of information and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. The way in which we kept our idea files and sketches acted as a way to process the information effectively. I learned a lot about the processes involved, and think I will probably pursue working with clay in the future. The whole course acts as a kind of test and that’s what keeps it interesting. The written, open book test was a good reflection of how much our instructors trust that we are involved in the whole process. I am a little upset I didn’t quite complete the whole test but am OK with my grade.


Time management and collaboration were two more keys to being successful in this course. It always seemed like we were moving a bit quickly, but in the end, maybe not. This helped us to focus on moving forward and to stay aware of how our own working method could be of service to us and those around us. It forced us to ask questions and get more involved in the complete process, from forming to fire. I learned invaluable information regarding collaborating and staying in contact with my instructors and fellow students. I am kind of a quiet type around anything new and I had a bit of a weird start to my semester, but what I thought might be a hindrance to making work with all the writing, emailing, etc. was really good for me.

Wrap Up

Overall, this course taught me a lot about trust. Linda and Ned trusted enough in my ideas and my initial interest in ceramics and helped me create a body of work I can be proud of. They expected me to be aware and present, and in turn I trusted that they would help me with what I needed to accomplish. At times I was really busy with other classes and did not necessarily have a lot of time to spend in the ceramics lab, but also at other times the lab acted as a nice break from painting and work. The whole ceramics making processes and forming seem to be a really intuitive way to work out ideas and I am thankful I had an opportunity to be around people making objects out of clay.

Ceramics Introductory Projects
Linda Ganstrom, Ned Day, and Fellow Students