As a thrower I learnt a new respect for hand-builders after watching Petra Reynolds deftly form vessels from slabs of clay and paper patterns and then having a go myself. It's not as easy as it looks!
Petra started her demonstration by marking out a paper pattern beginning with an oval base simply drawn using two drawing pins, a piece of knotted string and a pencil. Marking the base then rolling it along the paper gave the width of the main body pattern. The pattern pieces were drawn, cut out and placed on clay slabs, then cut round. All joining edges were mitred to a 45-degree angle, scored, slipped then joined. After being pressed hard together the joins were smoothed with a small square of canvas and/or a wallpaper roller so that no finger marks showed. The seams and base were left proud as an aesthetically pleasing feature. Once a basic cylinder was formed Petra made freehand alterations and cut "darts" into the clay to form the shape.
Having made an oval bottomed cylinder with tapering shoulders Petra went on to make an all in one pattern beaker from an oblong paper pattern with three triangular points on one edge - rather like a section from a paper party hat. After joining the side seam she joined the triangular edges to form a pointed base, which was then tapped on the table until it was flattened, then slightly inverted so that the beaker stood without rocking. Finally the base seams were re-sealed.
Another beaker/vase shape started as a grid on pattern paper from which a cross was formed with slightly tapering sides. Through joining all the sides of the cross the beaker shape was formed, then the bottom corners were tapped on the table to give a good seal and a neat finish.
Petra's spouts are large and beak like, she admits to preferring the aesthetic of form to function. She forms her handles by rolling tapered slabs into tubes then making "darts" to shape. She agreed that her making style owes much to dress making from her own paper patterns.
Petra mostly decorates her pots with slip with printed designs. Firstly she applies a layer of white slip. She sticks squares of newspaper on top of the slip to form a resist over which she paints black slip. When the paper is removed white slip "windows" remain onto which she prints freehand designs. To do this Petra firstly coats pieces of newspaper with black slip. She then places the newspaper over the "windows" slipped side to the pot and draws her designs onto the back of the damp paper. Sometimes she uses an implement; sometimes it's her knuckles. Once the paper is removed dots, dashes and strange creature-like symbols (inspired by brooms and rakes!) have been transferred onto the white slipped surface.
When the pots have been soda fired the black and white slip design mutates into pale peaches to warm dark oranges and browns with lustrous flashes, the geometric designs softened by the soda and the flames.
For the Hands-on part of the day we were set the task of forming our own pouring vessels, starting with making our own paper pattern which Petra suggested we should test by making it into a mock-up (stapler supplied) before committing it to clay. I didn't see anyone actually doing this, which is a pity because I for one would have modified the size and possibly the shape of my "vessel" if I had!
Breaking up the making session, the slide show was a collaboration between Petra and Jeremy Stewart who is a thrower. They met whilst both attending degree courses at Cardiff and the slides charted their progress from first year to present day, six years after graduating.
Having started with sculptural "fun" experiments with clay both moved towards functionality and soda firing. Petra developed her hand-building techniques using moulds and printing and she and Jeremy started sharing kiln space.
Jeremy had spent time working at Winchcombe Pottery under Ray Finch where he became obsessed with usefulness. He became keen on soda reduction firing as well as glaze technology and making glazes from found materials.
He said that one of
the important firing techniques they learnt was crash cooling the gas kiln
from 1300 oC to 1000 oC in 1 - 1½ hours. This technique brightened
colour and promoted good crystal formation in the clay which made the body
stronger and helped prevent dunting.
In 1995 Petra and Jeremy went to work at Wobage Farm with Mick and Sheila Casson, amongst others. Their first task was to convert an old open fronted donkey shed into a workshop, dis-assembling the kiln that occupied the space. Of the six potters working at Wobage some have part-time jobs "outside" and the others, like Petra and Jeremy, are full-time. Jeremy admitted that working relationships in such a diverse group are not always easy. Most of their work is sold at Wobage Farm where all the makers take turns manning the Gallery.
Jeremy and Petra's work is mostly slip decorated or Shino glazed and fired in the wood fuelled soda down-draught kiln with 2 fire boxes every 4-6 weeks, burning around ¼ tone of wood off-cuts from local forestry sources (which costs about £30 a tone). Initially pre-heated with gas to around 350 - 400 oC, the kiln reaches cone 12 over at the top (approx. 1300 oC). Soda paste is brushed onto to the wood and fed into the fire boxes from about cone 5 till cone 9 or 10, when the temperature is held for an hour or so. Some soda solution is also sprayed into the kiln to get to the dry areas. The directional flow of the firing produces "two sided" pots - pale on one side, flashes of darker peach and orange on the other, which has become a feature of their work.
Jeremy sparked some debate when he cited recent research that suggested that salt firing might not be as polluting as originally thought and that it may actually be cleaner than soda. Part of the theory is that this is because salt is applied dry and soda in solution and water causes a chemical reaction causing more pollution.
After the slide show we rounded off the day by decorating our pots, using the slipping and printing method that Petra had demonstrated beforehand.
Petra and Jeremy gave us an enlightening and entertaining day, the hands-on session giving us a real insight into Petra's method of working. I can lay claim to making the pot most in need of re-cycling, which elicited bemusement and hilarity when I, amazingly, got it home in one piece. I enjoyed thoroughly myself!