I’ve been focussing on improving my pottery for the past few weeks. It’s been a fun time – learning new techniques, perfecting others and getting to grips with a new machine.
Every time I open the kiln, I get a real buzz of excitement at what I’m going to find. The clay and glazes go through such amazing changes. I’ve been making lots of wee bowls – perfect for porridge – and they start off as grey and kind of muddy. As they dry and the clay gets leathery, they get darker. Then after trimming, they get lighter until they are white when bone dry.
The first bisque firing changes them again, even before you get to start glazing.
Trial and error
But there is always the fear of catastrophe. Luckily, I’ve had no major disasters so far. And sometimes, there are happy accidents.
I’ve made some “wonky” mugs, handbuilt using an extruder and then shaped to make the sides more organic. I glazed some of them with blue and a plum colour, intending them to resemble the Scottish heather. But when they came out of the kiln, the purple bit was orange.
It was a bit of a surprise and in the spirit of experimentation, I decided to add a tree silhouette on each side to create a landscape and fire the mugs again. The result of that second firing? Well, it reminded me of photographing the Northern Lights at Lochindorb a few years back – all those colours dancing across the sky. I really like the way the mugs have turned out – I’d love to hear what you think.
There’s still lots to learn about glazing and firing but I am enjoying this part of my work right now.
The other skill I have been working on is slipcasting. This is when you pour runny clay – the slip – into moulds to make more precise shapes. It brings more consistency than throwing on the wheel (which I am also trying to practise when I get the time).
One of the new things I’ve had to learn is about deflocculation, which is the making the clay runny enough for slip-casting.
The process is great for mass production and I’ve been creating some blanks for experiments with glazes and for my pupils at Grantown Grammar. I find it’s nice to give them a functional base for their projects as it means that they can focus on the design and aesthetics.
Consistency is also the aim of my new piece of equipment – a jigger and jolly machine. Like slip-casting, this uses a mould to create consistent shapes but uses clay rather than slip. Clay is pressed roughly into the mould and then a sharp blade is pressed down into it while it spins, creating the shape.
The shape created depends on the mould and the blade. I’ve been making mugs so far and trying to perfect the technique. And of course, the production of blank mugs requires another skill – pulling handles and attaching them. This means each mug is hand-finished and unique even before I apply the glaze. I’m favouring the ear-shaped handle for these one, though as you can see, they suit some googly eyes before they’re fully formed!
All this has led to a new section on my website – Handmade by Angus Grant. It’s where you’ll find all the lovely unique pieces – when they’re gone, they’re gone. But I’ll be updating it regularly with new works as I keep practising. And you can follow progress on Instagram, where I share pictures of work as it happens.
Thanks for reading and let me know what you think of the new work!