Firing and Exhibition
The firing of the work made with the help of a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company took place in August 2017. A small selection of pieces would end up as part of a ceramics exhibition at the Kunsthuis Gallery near York which took place from November to December 2017. This exhibition would be the culmination of this year-long project.
All the work made in the studio up in Glossop was bisque fired and then transported down to the family farm in Wales for the final glaze firing. This would take place in a wood-firing kiln which I had built back in 2006.
The kiln utilises wood as a fuel source for a variety of reasons: it is readily available around the farm, is a more environmentally friendly way of firing (trees can be planted to replace the felled ones), and it can have quite a dramatic aesthetic effect on the ceramics.
The kiln is packed in such a way so that the flames can be forced around the ‘stack’ and get a more even temperature throughout the ‘chamber’. It takes several days to completely pack the kiln as the placement and alignment of every piece must be considered. Little pads of ‘wadding’ are placed under each piece to allow the flames to go underneath, and also to stop them sticking to the kiln shelf in case the glaze runs off.
I had a large selection of pieces in the kiln where I had used the slip transfer process and was looking forward to seeing the results.
Once the kiln is fully packed, it is bricked up and the firing can begin.
The firing usually takes up to 24 hours to get to the top melting temperature, and then a further 2 days for the kiln to be cool enough to be opened (some people fire their kilns for longer or shorter depending on what effects they are trying to achieve). I find the 24 hour firing suits what I need – to fully fire the work and develop the glazes, and to let the flames and ash gently mark the surfaces.
The fire is started outside the firebox and is slowly moved into the kiln over many hours so as to increase the temperature gradually (too quick and there is a strong possibility the pieces would explode due to rapid heating). The firing reaches its peak at 1290°C after about 24 hours, however in this case, due to problems with the pyrometer it took almost 30 hours! This was to prove to be one of the hardest firings to date with a mixture of losses but also a lot of stunning pieces.
During the firing process, the glazes mature and melt, the stone inclusions that I mix into the clay melt and burst out through the surfaces and alter the glazes and crack the forms, and the flames and ash leave their marks on the surfaces. The flame marks are more prominent on the pieces that are nearer to the fire.
I was somewhat worried about the state of the work after the difficult firing but upon opening the kiln, it looked to be one of the best firings so far. The glazes had run a lot more than I had anticipated, leading to quite a few pieces becoming glued to the shelves (mainly the porcelain pieces), however many of the pieces were further enhanced by the fluid glazes. The one major disappointment was that the slip transfer decoration was almost non-existent apart from a couple of pieces. It seems the slip recipe I was working with could not withstand the very fluid nature of most of the glazes and that some of the glazes ended up obliterating any patterns. It only seemed to survive on those pieces where the print was very thick and on a horizontal surface and with a particularly clear glaze over the top. What I can take away from this lesson is that it does work given the correct circumstances. I believe I can develop this technique further to work on vertical surfaces and with a range of glazes.
‘Shades of Clay’ Exhibition
6 pieces were selected to go to the annual ‘Shades of Clay’ ceramics exhibition at the Kunsthuis Gallery near York. The exhibition brought together ceramic artists from across the UK and Europe who explore and push the boundaries of the medium. The work was really well received with many comments about the strange inclusions that litter the pieces, and the patterns on the large platter. The exhibition ran from the November 3rd to December 24th.
The pieces will be going to be part of the ‘Legacy 2‘ alumni exhibition at the Manchester School of Art which runs from the 25th January until the 15th February. Showing this current work at the University I graduated from back in 2005 alongside many other School of Art alumni will be an enlightening experience.
The a-n The Artists Information Company bursary really helped me in exploring new techniques in my practice of which I will continue to develop in the next series of works. Although the final works weren’t quite what I had planned, it has shown me the possibilities if I continue to refine the technique. I am very grateful to a-n The Artists Information Company for their funding assistance.