Archive for category Medium: Ceramics

500 Figures in Clay volume 2 || Nan Smith

This is a big lump of a book that needs to be sat in your lap, but thankfully falls open easily (it’s a paperback) and the weight of its pages are not too much for the spine. This matters, because there’s no doubt that a book which feels good in the hands is always likely to make you feel better-disposed to the contents.

There’s barely any text here, apart from a brief introduction and captions to each of the illustrations that tell you the artist, title, size and basic construction. The organisation is simple, too: the contents lists Heads, Busts, Body Details, Figurines, etc, with page numbers. When you turn to the appropriate section, there are no breaks, no chapter heads. If you’re going through at random, the divisions are invisible. If there’s any further attempt at organisation, I’ve failed to find it. And I love that. I love the way things are seemingly just put in there as they come up, not with any attempt at classification so that you get like with like. You don’t, you get like with unlike and every turn of the page is going to be a surprise. I also love the fact that there’s no attempt at explanation: you make of this what you will. If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, well, there are 499 others.

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Clay, Light & Water || Margaret O’Rorke

I must admit that it took me a moment to work this one out. What the author has done is to provide a concise introduction to both the creative and practical aspects of combining ceramics with electricity and water, something the jacket blurb tells us, with splendid understatement, is “actually quite difficult”.

The problems come from all sides, threatening compromise on the design as well as demanding a reasonable knowledge of wiring so that the result doesn’t become a health and safety nightmare.

As well as these considerations, Margaret O’Rorke also offers practical advice on the use of lighting and on planning your piece so that its water features are both artistic and exciting for the viewer.

As ever, these specialist publications are not cheap, but the amount of information, help and advice that you get makes them amazingly good value.

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Ceramic Jewellery || Joy Bosworth

This handy and well-illustrated guide packs a lot into a small space and introduces the design and manufacture of the increasingly popular form of ceramic jewellery. Joy Bosworth covers the whole gamut from the original concept and looks at moulding and firing as well as tools and fittings and the practicalities of simply putting a piece together. With illustrations covering both the practical and aesthetic aspects of jewellery and also showing work by and international range of artists, this is thoroughly comprehensive.

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Low-firing and Burnishing || Sumi von Dassow

This handy and not over-complicated guide explains the techniques of firing at low temperatures without using glazes. It’s thoroughly illustrated both with technical photographs of the various stages of the process and also with examples of work by many different contemporary practitioners.

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Wall Pieces || Dominique Bivar Segurado

The use of clay for wall spaces is becoming increasingly fashionable amongst architects and decorators and this handy introduction to some of the methods and techniques involved is timely. The author looks at methods of production and installation as well as creative aspects of the process and reviews the work of some contemporary practitioners in the field.

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Dry Glazes || Jeremy Jernegan

This relatively technical little handbook should form an ideal reference for ceramicists who want to be able to quickly access information about the wide variety of glazes available to them. Arranged by type and illustrated with colour swatches as well as photographs of finished pieces, it is a valuable resource that describes the properties and use of different types of glaze as well as listing a variety of formulae for different colours and textures.

Reasonably priced and concise rather than exhaustively encyclopaedic in its coverage, this is a handy and accessible source of reference.

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Confrontational Ceramics || Judith S Schwartz

Say ceramics and most people think of utensils or containers. It’s natural because pottery was one of man’s earliest solutions to the problem of where to put things and how to cook them. Once you have a pot, you can make a stew. Without it, you’re limited to roasts.

It didn’t, of course, take long for the potters to discover that a few finger marks or scratches with a stick added decoration that set their pots apart from those of their competitors. From there developed glazes and other decoration that moved mere objects towards the world of art and museums all over the world are filled with items that are clearly intended more for decoration than for use.

So far, I’ve deliberately kept to the world of pottery and I’m referring to the use of relatively crude fired earths that retain the element of everyday use and I’m doing so because, in Britain, there is a well-established tradition of craft pottery that exists largely because of the work of Bernard Leach and his followers and descendants. Not so much now, but certainly in the 1970’s and 80’s, there were many small potteries all over the country that produced perhaps unexceptional but certainly individual work. They haven’t died out entirely, but increasing costs have pushed prices up and the remaining ones have moved much more towards the world of ceramic art and the £2 mug is a thing of the past.

If the general public is now more aware of that, of ceramics as a serious art medium, I think we have to acknowledge the contribution of Grayson Perry. Although there have been ceramic artists for a long time, the name of Lucy Rie, for example, is hardly a household word in the same way. Where all this is going is to say that there is increasing awareness of ceramics as an art form, but it is still something of a niche market.

Confrontational Ceramics is a look at a whole genre that certainly won’t be familiar to anyone other than the specialist. These are often quite bizarre, even disturbing, images that nevertheless have a strange and haunting beauty when seen in three very solid dimensions. It’s definitely a book for the collector and one which Black’s should be congratulated for publishing because it’s definitely not going to disturb the bestseller lists! The subtitle: The artist as social critic begs a number of questions and I think you could say that this is social criticism in the same way that Francis Bacon expresses it. Not to say that it’s not right, but it’s as specialised as the images themselves. I’m not sure that it tells us a lot about society in general; the mirror it holds up is definitely a distorting one, albeit no less interesting for that.

The standard of production is impeccable and, given that the price of books of this size really hasn’t increased in the last 20-odd years, it’s a snip at £30. If this is your thing, buy it, because there won’t be another book on this subject for a long time. If you don’t like this kind of thing, think no less of yourself. It’s an acquired taste, although one you may find exercises a strange fascination. If I say that this isn’t a book I’d buy, but definitely one I’m going to keep, I mean that as the highest praise I can give it.

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Tile Artists Bible || Jacqui Atkin

Quarto, the book packagers, have hit on a winning formula with this pocket-sized series with its spiral binding that allows it to lay flat in use and simple layouts that occupy no more than one or two pages at a time so that you really can work with it open at your side.

What you get here is a series of 200 decorative designs with easy-to-follow instructions on how to manufacture them and then also how to lay the tiles so as to make up a larger image. Experienced workers will probably turn the pages fairly quickly, muttering darkly about what Basil Fawlty would refer to as “the bleedin’ obvious” but, with so much variety, I’m prepared to bet that anyone looking at this book is going to come away with at least one new idea that could justify the not-unreasonable purchase price. Those new to the craft will appreciate the simple approach and the sheer volume of ideas that are bound to prove inspiring.

First published 2007

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