A Dialogue between Craft and Design
by on May 17, 2015 in Design

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In this initial explorative collaboration I worked as a designer, and Becks as  a studio potter. Becks would produce various vessels and I would “edit” them: deconstruct them and then reconstruct them. We then switched roles, which encouraged me to learn throwing, and encouraged Becks to manipulate her pots post throwing. Through this dialogue of approaches I learned that studio potters have a vocabulary of techniques with which they construct various forms; slender vase shapes, bowls, plates, spouts, handles, necks, feet, etc. I looked at this vocabulary of forms as modular parts with which to make an assembly and came up with a scale prototype for a ceramic stool.

Taking the scale prototype of a ceramic stool as a starting point I pursued the project further with a Master Potter: Dan Chappel. Because ceramics, even if produced from a mould, will always vary slightly due to the nature of the material I chose a tripod form because it will always be stable. I made a basic design for the body and legs, because before making an elaborate design I needed to know if a 1-1 scale stool could support a persons weight.

We discussed the design and selected a Raku clay because the high grit content made the clay structurally stronger. Working from my sketches Dan threw the central seat pot in three sections, and then threw the three leg pieces. I then finished the assemblage, and chose a reduction fire finish to show the materiality of the clay. I felt this worked well with the raw wood for the legs. I used silicone to bond the wood to the ceramic leg pieces. We then tested it, and it was really strong! We could literally jump on it with no problems.

The dialogues with seasoned throwers: Becky, and then Dan, assured me that ceramic furniture was a structurally viable product. Inspired by success I started to focus on designing the specific form of the ceramic body and legs. I came up with several templates. Though initially based on throwing as a production process, I am now using throwing as a process for prototyping forms off of those templates, and will use slip-casting to actually produce the modular parts of the assemblage. This opens up new possibilities, for example marbling using different coloured slips.

I commission a master thrower to throw the original vessel masters from which I made most of the moulds. The table-top mould was made from a cut sheet of MDF and the spherical body mould part was made from plastic sphere. I had originally hoped to be able to deform the the spherical body into organic shapes to create different formed seats for the ceramic stools but deforming the porcelain seemed to always produce cracks. The technique may work better with a more forgiving clay which is something I would like to explore in the future.

I mixed up my own reserves of porcelain slip as well as an earthen ware slip which was cheaper and turned out to be more forgiving.

I made several variation of stool, planter, and table, using the stock of plaster mould I had now built up, and settled on short legs with the vase body for the stools, and the sphere body with the long legs with the table-top to make the planter and the tables.

Marbling gave mixed results. The different coloured slips seemed to dry, contract, and expand at different rates. So though one marbled planter came out perfect, another cracked and broke apart during firing. This turned out to be a happy accident.

The table top, whether in porcelian or earthen ware, seem to always deform and never stay flat. Not giving up on the broken planted I used “no more nails” glue to glue it together, and then looking for solutions I turned to Jasmonite to fix the table top. I had perviously used Jasmonite to fill a crack in a deformed porcelain sphere seat. However the “repair” was so successful that I will explore the possibility of just firing the planter and tables with bodies and legs, and then using Jasmonite to create the marbled table top. This is because not only does Jasmonite marble better on a flat surface it also produces a perfectly flat and even surface.

For the stools I had experimented with many different finishes; marbling, glaze, unglazed. I personally prefer unglazed rake clay because it shows the materiality of the ceramic piece and goes well with the raw wood legs. However I had some success white glaze, and may go on to explore other glaze, decal, and sand blasting techniques on the seat bodies. The possibilities are endless.

I have experimented with different mediums to fix the wood legs to the ceramic bodies. I have used silicone, because I was concerned that there needed to be a bit of give in the join, but this means that the stools have slightly wobbly legs which undermines ones confidence to sit on them. What was very successful was using a polyester resin, however it is very nasty stuff, and you need a heavy duty gas mask to mix it and work with it. I tried using Jasmonite, however I found out by experience that Jasmonite hardens and then expands before setting which resulted in a hair-line fracture in the leg vessel. So at this point Polyester Resin seems to work best despite my reservations about its healthyness and sustainability. I will continue to look for better alternatives.

In future I will experiment with decorative glaze techniques, such as decals, lusters, and sand blasting for the ceramic bodies of the seats and tables. And will make atleast one prototype with a pure Jasmonite table top on a ceramic body.