Design/Planning Vs Nature

How much does the nature of the material influence the final work? This is the basic crux of my investigation; ‘It’s the whole wheel-thrown verses slip-casting debate’ as Braun-Dahl confirms in an article from her blog, The Difference Between: Wheel Throwing verses Slip Casting, (2011) ‘is one better than the other?’ (ibid). Many traditional potters abhor the forced manipulation of clay during slip casting, favouring a sympathetic, natural touch achieved during throwing. Jim Malone, who produces his work by throwing believes it’s ‘a question of not getting in the way too much and letting the material speak’ (Malone, J. 2011). Slip casting necessitates considerable involvement from the human hand and machine; lots of planning. There is little opportunity to ‘allow the material to speak’ for itself (ibid).

With this in mind I want to bring this issue of planning vs nature into the question of research. As I begin to understand my practice clearer I have realised that when it comes to making work I am an Extreme Adaptive: super organised, driven and risk averse. Much unlike the Extreme Creative; highly disorganised and a risk taker.


But can this scale be used to quantify the methods of making to throwing and slip casting? Well I think it can. Below I have attempted to demonstrate where the methods of slip casting and throwing sit on the scale of adaptivity (planning) versus creativity (nature).


Slip casting is highly planned, low risk and manipulates the material extremely to produce an outcome. Throwing is much more risky as the material can only be manipulated successfully in limited ways; an element of planning is still essential in order to achieve a successful outcome.

So which one will it be? ‘Is one better than the other?’ (Braun-Dahl, 2011). By performing studio based research and exploring the existing methods of ceramicists past and present I hope to unpick this making journey and reason as to whether planning and design are better than nature.


Throwing Vs Slip Casting

A couple of exhibits from the Fragile? exhibition particularly caught my attention, and over the past few weeks they have really struck me, for two different reasons:

Edmund de Wall – A Fine Tall Lidded Jar, c.2002

IMG_8980Two, very tall porcelain jars appearing ready to topple over; elegant and ethereal. Clearly hand thrown in sections and then reassembled to gain the extraordinary height normally unachievable when thrown. De Wall describes his ceramic pots post 1991 as ‘being much happier in [their] skin. It would be a bit more wayward, hold some randomness within it[self]’ (de Wall, E. (2012). This was after a trip to Japan where his pots ‘got freer [;] the pre- Japan pot would be standing to attention, quite rigidly. It would hold its profile quite exactly. It would be beautifully balanced, but very self-conscious’ (ibid). Interestingly he believes his pots became better when he liberated himself from the need to strictly control the nature of the material.

Shift – Unknown Artist

IMG_8978A bizarre array of slip cast found objects, some resembling organs or body parts. Several pieces were repeated, but decorated differently. Slip casting ‘make[s] it possible to make multiple forms’ (Harnetty, J. 2014) Another artist, Hiroe Hanazono uses slip casting because it ‘best satisfies [her] intent to create immaculately executed and unusual forms’ (ibid). Slip casting forces the clay to take on the appearance of the mold and therefore any object selected by the maker.

All images (Sales, S. 2015)

(This report was undertaken as part of a research task for Bath Spa University)

Updating Aims and Objectives

As time goes on, my research aim is getting slightly preened and pruned. My aim still remains to explore the nature of the relationship between the making method and the final outcome; but I have decided to specify my query further by investigating the making methods of throwing and slip casting only.

These two particular methods of creating ceramic objects have significant conflict in their nature of making. The diversity and manipulation of clay during these processes has divided the ceramic community and I want to explore the roots of these issues.

This research will take place largely through studio based practice and experiential learning. By attempting to produce a range of functional ceramics both on the wheel and by using plaster work I will be able to judge the success and suitability of the objects after firing.


The Machine


I keep coming back to this little page. I’ve called it the machine. In essence it’s just a page with a few connected scribbles; reminders of the essential key elements in understanding my methodological approaches. In reality, the connections work like a factory; inputs and outputs, conveyor belts of questions probing and digging – constant reminders to make the tacit, explicit.

Slip Casting – Experiential Research

After attending the recent slip casting workshop I wanted to begin understanding the process of producing a mold first hand. My aim: to create a three piece plaster mold of a popular and well-known ceramic mug.

Prior knowledge of this technique, though limited, provided a rough foundation on which to build a stronger understanding. I relied heavily on the technician for step by step instructions yet observations provided a ‘direct visual experience’ (Grey, C. and Malins, J. 2004) and modeled good practice. Elements of the process were explicit – clear instruction and process to the making. However, mixing the plaster and understanding when the plaster was ready to pour was initially a tacit experience; having to feel the changes in temperature and consistency.

Many mistakes occurred on this first mold making journey, but I have gained a thorough understanding how to prepare the model for casting, how to measure and mix plaster,  as well as enabling each mold piece to fit and release easily when required.

Slip casting allows the maker (provided there are enough mold pieces) to recreate any shape/form. And I feel on the edge of a huge range of possibility ahead of me.

It begins with Bernard. 

Most potters would have it that Bernard Leach is a revolutionary in the return of hand thrown ceramics to the British dinner table.

Here’s a man, returning to a country obsessed with highly decorative, highly detailed porcelain with an agenda to put simple, honest, functional objects back into the home. And actually makes a go of it.

‘Their ideas came as a shock to a Britain used to porcelain from Stoke-on-Trent: Leach pottery was sturdy and sensuous, using powerful, sombre glazes’.  (Campbell, S. 2008)

 But how did Leach convince the British  public to reject the fussiness of porcelain for his Standard ware? What made the British public accept this u-turn in ceramic design and production?

Aside from the nature of changing trends in fashion, standard ware’s functionality has easy appeal and is embibed with the making method. Simply made and sparsely decorated, and with only two making processes, throwing and glazing, standard ware pieces could be produced relatively quickly. But…with all the hallmarks of a hand made, hand produced, cared for piece of ceramic.

So there must be something appealing about the thrown object. Honest, sturdy, sensuous and most importantly, functional.

Are we still seeking these qualities in our own contemporary dinnerware and what is so captivating and sensousiosly inherent in the hand thrown object?

Well whatever way you look at it, you have to admit… his stuff is a bit nice.



All images Leach Trust (2014)

So, what’s this blog about? 

The whole point of this blog is to begin the process of investigating the nature of the relationship between the making method and the final outcome.

By researching the three main processes of throwing, hand building and slipcasting (plaster work) to produce a complete dinner service, I hope to gain a comprehensive understanding of the making journey and whether the material influences the final outcome.