There are so many different methods when it comes to art. I guess that’s what I love about it. I feel like a researcher learning new subjects. For me, it all begins with a sketch, the very basics of art. Form, shading, depth- A sketch can actually be quite complex, and it is the fundamental stepping stone that advances into painting and can be essential even when working with clay.
Ceramics can be complicated. A potter must first master the potters wheel and be able to throw basic forms. The sculptor has to be aware of physics, how heavy the pieces are, how to shape them. The carver has to be careful not take away too much clay. If you carve too deep into the wall of a cup, well it won’t function anymore. There’s all of these skills to learn, with different levels of depth. As an artist, I want to understand them all.
The story behind Glazing-Sculpting-Carving cups
Lately, I have been fascinated with creating scenes and themes for my cups. This began, mostly, because I missed painting on a canvas. With acrylics, you layer to show depth, and the image is created entirely from the paint. You take four different shades of brown and add that to the bark of a tree. Then maybe some red highlights, a touch of yellow where the sun shines on the wood.
With ceramics, the act of painting is somewhat difficult. Our “paint” is glaze, typically applied before the very last firing. Glazes are unpredictable because they melt and change color when fired in the kiln. In my experience, they never quite come out the color you think they will. For a while, our blue skies kept turning green.
Under-glazes act very much like a stain and are much more predictable. Their colors don’t alter very much, and can be layered throughout the firing process. Under-glaze is often my go-to when I want to “paint” a design on a cup. There is however, limitations to this as well: To vitrify cups and make them food safe, we fire to cone 6 (2,000+ degrees). This sometimes burns away brighter colors like light blue and yellow. That makes it very difficult to layer as a painter would. When I only used glaze & under-glaze, I felt like there was depth missing from my cups.
Well that’s where sculpting comes in. What if I could just add a three-dimensional form?That would be my outline. Three-dimensional flowers could bloom right out the cup wall, a leaf could delicately fall on the handle and become a thumb rest. Heck, maybe the handle is mushroom growing out of a piece of wood. Then the colors of the glaze/under-glaze could accentuate the form. Sculpture adds the imaginary, but it too has limitations. Now physics come into play, and the potter has to make sure that the mushroom handle grows in such a way that is still comfortable to hold. If the mushroom top is pointy, it just might stab somebody in the thumb or face (Of course this is said from personal experience!). Also, if the sculpture isn’t mostly pressed against the cup wall, it may be much too fragile to survive the wear of time.
Carving made a late appearance in my life. It took a while before we acquired a specialized tool, but that made all of the difference. Remember those fundamentals of sketching? Well those become pretty important. Before I try to carve out anything complex, I like to sketch it on the cup first. This gives me a template to follow while carving. Fun fact, graphite burns away after the first firing, so any pencil marks made on the cups disappear.
Carving, like sketching, is only limited to what the artist can draw. The image doesn’t have to follow the laws of physics. It can become a background, or draw the viewer toward a focal point. Carving is very versatile in this way. The bumps and ridges quickly become an interesting surface for your fingers to explore while holding a morning coffee.
To get the perfect balance, I felt that I had to research and master all three: Glaze/under-glaze “painting”, sculpting, and carving (I’m still not a master, but aspiring to become one!). With all of these blended together, I am able to make the art that I have been searching for. It takes so many steps, from an idea in a drawing, to throwing the ideal form, sketching, then Sculpting-carving-glazing to add the final touches to my three-dimensional canvas. The process is lengthy, but satisfying.
Something I quickly realized in my potter profession: You can get weirdly intimate with a cup. You can learn all of its curves and textures, have a preference, depending on your mood or the drink. My favorite cup of coffee is a cup I have aptly named “little grog.” He’s just the sort of humor I need in the morning.
This is version two of my first scene cup. When I look at the panther, for a moment, I can imagine myself in a mystic jungle where bushes have curious glowing eyes. I made this cup (by accident, of course!) to perfectly fit an unopened Pepsi can inside of it. As such, it has become my favorite when I want a cup of soda.
My first love is and always will be, the act of creation; that moment when I wander through a tiny world of my own making. With more research and practice, I’ll discover even more ways to reflect the magic of imagination. Until then, this is the story of my latest design of cups.