Posts Tagged ‘lettering’

Containers of something else

September 14, 2010

One of the pleasures of throwing pots on the wheel is to develop shapes that challenge one’s technique, while still keeping a beautiful line and sound balance in the form. Size is good – I certainly like throwing big things, but there are other challenges. One shape in my throwing repertoire I’ve developed most successfully I call a crater dish.

Here, a wide shallow bowl is cantilevered out from a central deep well, the outer line following the inner form with an even thickness of wall.

This shape is quite difficult to throw, as there are certain points where the wet clay would prefer to collapse. The trick is in the soundness of the lower supporting well and the tension of the rim. This is a good shape to decorate, a form that can express thought. The text around the outside of the lower well or crater gives the visual impression of an architectural support, a series of arches like a loggia holding up the wide bowl. This well is full of intense colour within, opening up to an enlargement of the text mapping the width and open spread of the upper bowl.

Crater dishes (and crater discs, flatter versions, with a shallower central pool) are not usually functional in the domestic sense – they have a slightly more abstract quality – more contemplative containers of something else – a colour, an idea, space – so they’re good for commemorative commissions, which often celebrate love (civil partnerships, weddings) or time (birthdays, anniversaries) or other abstract ideas that are a fundamental part of our lives. 

People sometimes ask me ‘what they’re for’ – and though I try not to prescribe too much the uses to which my pots might be put, I have described these pots as ‘like a painting that you can put on the table and turn in your hands to enjoy physically, as well as through sight’. 

The text is lettered freehand with a brush onto the raw dried clay, inside first, to express visually the form and line of the pot, as well as its purpose and significance – in fact to identify the form with the meaning. For me, the combination of the physical balance of the form with the setting of the text, as well as the relation between the inner and outer surfaces, and the play of light within the text and within the glaze, makes the crater dish an enjoyably expressive integrated whole – a real thing.

If you’d like to know more about crater dishes or any other work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

A kingfisher and a little elephant

September 7, 2010

Several of the artist’s books I’ve made recently have been ‘little elephants’, so called because they’re made from one sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded, but instead of an ‘elephant’ size sheet (A2) they’re made from a half-elephant size (A3). The resulting book is about 10cm square, instead of 20cm, and this scale lends itself to quirky short texts, like Kingfisher (text by Phoebe Hesketh):

This is how the page looks opened out, showing the torn and folded structure. The vivid text by Phoebe Hesketh evokes the flash of the kingfisher swiftly but lastingly; I have set the text with the aim of giving a concentrated, focused reading without a directly illustrative representation, within an abstract design following the colours, shapes and movement in the text. The painting is in watercolour, acrylic and ink, and the text is lettered with a driftwood pen.

For more information about my artist’s books, please have a look at the Bookworks page. If you’d like to know more about this or any work, click here for contact details and information.

Like flowers in the sky

April 12, 2010

I went from the house at midnight, and stepped out of light

Into the shallow cavern of night and a cloudy moonlight.

The last fallen leaves of the poplar lay on the grass like flowers,

And like flowers in the sky shone the gentle Pleiades.

Valentine Ackland’s poem All Souls’ Night was the inspiration for this large open bowl.  The text is lettered by hand with a brush directly onto the raw clay when the bowl was dried but not yet fired.  This technique allows the marks that I make, the ‘decoration’, to sink into the absorbent body of the clay, rather than remaining on the surface.

I always use a brush, and I set the text first in pencil, which doesn’t scratch the surface and burns out in the firing. The brushwork is done free-hand on the raw clay, and I use underglaze metal oxides in a water-based medium, which the fire transforms from raw colours like an ashy pale mauve (cobalt and manganese oxide) to the deep dark blue of the glazed and fired bowl. Painting onto the raw dried form is very enjoyable – not unlike a handmade paper, the surface is quite porous but fairly smooth, with a nice grip to the brush and absorption of the colour. The oxide sinks into the surface without spreading, though it’s quite easily smudged and once on, requires very careful handling when lifting the work into the kiln.

The decorated pot is then fired to 1000 degrees over about 10 hours (I fire with green electricity), and then after a day’s cooling, I dip the pot in the milky raw glaze, clean the foot and any drips or overlaps, and then fire again, this time to about 1250 degrees – or white-hot. This takes about 12 hours, and then a couple of days to cool. The huge energy of the firing is still deeply exciting to me after all these years, and even though I use an electric kiln – often thought of as perhaps an unexciting, controllable way to fire, unlike stoking a small building with wood for a couple of days or heaving salt in – it is certainly an exciting harnessing of cosmic forces, not without its own unpredictability – and unpacking the kiln always makes the heart beat faster.

On the Pleiades bowl, the text is set round the outer surface, to contain and reflect the vessel’s inner space, a bowl of sky. The long line of small letters at the rim defines the physical placing of the poem and the physical dimension of the bowl, mapping their connection. The letters of the leaves like flowers are scattered on the open field of the clear area below, mirroring the stars scattered across the dark blue space within.

The stars are made by applying liquid wax resist carefully to map the position of the stars at midnight at the end of November – All Souls’ Night. When the wax is dry, the dark blue underglaze oxide is brushed over it, the wax resists it, and when the waxy dots melt and burn out in the great heat of the firing, the stars are left, shining in the light creamy body colour of the clay, against the dark blue brushwork of the sky field. I enjoy the true cosmic association of the stars being made from the ground beneath our feet, the clay of the earth.

And now in welcome the sky

Lights star after star on high

Whether the lost thing found by Valentine Ackland provides the text for this constellation bowl, again lettered round the outside and within, full of a dark blue starry sky. Some more constellation bowls can be seen on the Water Vessels page.

Pleiades bowl: signed one-off, 33cm x 11cm high, sold.

Welcome bowl: signed one-off, 27cm x 9cm high, for sale

To buy or enquire about any work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details.

Most of this text is from Working with Words, a series of gallery talks given in the Southbank Centre’s Poetry Library in 2008. These talks can be read in full in my artist’s book about the exhibition (Journey from Winter by Liz Mathews) now in the Poetry Library’s permanent collection.

All photos copyright Liz Mathews, and should not be used without permission.