General Stories

General Stories (34)

General Stories

I was fortunate enough to be able to be present at the opening on 11 May of artist, Dan Elbourne’s exhibition, Deathgate. This exhibition is a ceramic installation that comprises of 1.3 million individual handmade ceramic pieces.

Each one of which represents one person detained in the Auschwitz network of concentration camps. It was a stroke of serendipity that this opening was able to be the first exhibition to be held in the freshly refurbished Toowoomba Railway Goods Shed. It was the perfect location for the exhibition.

Dan has been studying at the University of Southern Queensland, and this work formed part of his PhD project. Ceramics has been an ideal medium for Dan’s work with multiple components. With earlier projects, Dan used slip casting techniques, but as each piece was representative of a human life, each piece in this project needed to be individually formed.

Ceramics proved an ideal medium for the project in that while it is in its raw state, it can be individually manipulated, but when fired, forms an enduring object that has the potential to outlast us all.

The largest section represents the 1,100,000 people who died at Auschwitz, and the smaller is the 200,000 survivors.
The largest section represents the 1,100,000 people who died at Auschwitz, and the smaller is the 200,000 survivors.

The core of the project is remembrance. Dan conceived of the project while travelling by train in France. He says that you know when it is a good idea if it stays with you. Aesthetically the work is based on the main entrance to Auschwitz II, (also known as the death gate) The size, colour and shape of the stones were refined by observations Dan made when visiting the camps in January 2016.

He had begun the work on 25 June 2015, and it was completed 1,242 days later on 21 November 2018. This time frame corresponds with the mass killings of prisoners in the Auschwitz camps. There was a great deal of physical effort involved in the work, with much of the clay being recycled. The number of pieces had to be recorded, then fired, bagged and stored. Certainly, there were calluses.

Dan described the work as truly terrible:- monotonous, boring, scary, but also powerful. All the time, he worked with the thought that each piece was a person and that they were being killed at such a rate that he could barely keep up with the production.

This exhibition was the first time that Dan was able to view his work ‘in the flesh’. The pieces were laid out in two sections. The largest section represents the 1,100,000 people who died at Auschwitz, and the smaller is the 200,000 survivors. Dan intended that the work would also be considered as a relative fraction of the total amount of Holocaust victims (6 million) and act as a contemplative agent and exercise in empathy.

I personally found it quite moving to consider the mass of pieces, considering each one as a life and the overwhelming number of them. For Dan actually making them, it must have been quite transformative.

During the process, Dan was privileged to meet some Holocaust survivors. The comments of one woman who survived Bergen Belsen remained with him. “Work like this needs to exist as long as denial does.”

Tragically, prejudice and hatred continue with us, and as there are fewer surviving eye-witnesses, the effort must be made to remember the terrible consequences.

Visit Dan Elbourne’s website at: http://www.danelborne.com/deathgate

How did the people of Hobart respond to the event?

The Triennale was well-supported by local galleries, TMAG, UTAS and those further afield around Tasmania who planned exhibitions for the Triennale period.

A few local artists worked with Nanna Bayer and Selena de Carvalho on the fire sculpture and preparing plinths for the exhibition display. Waldies School, in Lower Snug, was also a busy hub in the 2 years-long lead-up – meetings, workshops and storage of Triennale paraphernalia.  

Was there a national and international buzz about the event?

Excitement built gradually over the preceding year with many people supporting us with early-bird registrations. Social media helped to spread the word and, with a 4-year gap since the last event, people were very keen to come along. Hobart also held a wonderful appeal, especially for those who had not previously visited the state.

I know it was a sell-out, but how many people attended and where were they from?

The event attendance was close to 700 – around 100 presenters and demonstrators, 60 volunteers and over 540 delegates (mostly full, 4-day attendance, but also including 1, 2 and 3-day attendance).

Attendance numbers:

International: 6% (45 people) from 14 different countries: 19 from New Zealand; 26 from Argentina, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Great Britain, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, United Arab Emirates and the USA.

Australia:

ACT 3% (24), NSW 20% (204), NT 2% (12), QLD 12% (81), SA 4% (30), TAS 18% (125), VIC 20% (141), WA 5% (32)

What do you think the average working potter got from attending the Triennale?

Connection with the broad ceramics community, stimulating exhibitions, rich and engaging discourse, a broad range of demonstrations from amazing international, national and local makers. We also ensured delegates had opportunities to sell their work through The Pot Shop and the Makers Fair.

We provided spaces for people to relax and gather in the lounge areas (complete with a local barista), the bar and around the forecourt food trucks. There was something for everyone!

What were the standouts for you?

I loved the location – Princes Wharf 1. To be on the harbour with the huge Aurora Australis sitting at the wharf, casting its bright orange reflection into the space and the shimmering water constantly changing, I found that a special treat.

We set-out to welcome all, to be as inclusive as possible, to bring together the newbies with the experienced. Within our means, I think we did well.

Potters love to get together. They love to see what’s happening in our world, to catch up with friends and those they know through social media, to meet those they admire. They love to talk, watch others making, be challenged with new ideas, and generally be part of the tribe.

Our pop-up igloo, ‘Ask the Doctor’, where you could consult an expert with a ceramic dilemma, was really cute too.

Pot Luck dinner was a huge success, with the local migrant Resource Centre cooking delicious soup for 600 people. Bowls were swapped (behind the scenes) from one potter to another, and people gathered around the forecourt fires enjoying their steaming hot soup, listening to great local music and enjoying the Hobart welcome. The fire sculpture brought to 1300ºC in the petal kiln over 50 hours was a fantastic spectacle, drawing in the local Hobart community as well as delegates.

The opening of the kiln to reveal the red-hot sculpture was just incredible – a challenging, inspiring and magical project!

You had an impressive team of people helping – how did the back-office manage to achieve so much?

Despite starting with a substantial group of interested Tasmanians in the initial planning stages (2 years out), the Tasmanian committee slowly reduced to a core group of 3 amazing people with me joining as Chair in October 2018.

We enjoyed the support of approximately. 60 volunteers in the month leading up to the event, bump-in day, the 4 event days and the bump-out day. Such events would not be possible without this volunteer effort. TACTT was well-funded by national, state and local government which gave a significant boost to the creative program, allowing artists, authors, arts administrators and curators to be paid for their skills and expertise.

The Triennale is a major undertaking – would you consider making it a more frequent gathering?

Personally no, but it’s not up to me.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Every one of these 15 events has been unique, tapping into the local environment and community. In 2022, it’s Alice Springs’ turn … can’t wait to see those big starry skies and getting to meet the local indigenous communities. I hear they’re excited!

We were very fortunate to have Mollie Bosworth talk about her stunning decorative techniques, for while she has been using and experimenting with mineral salts for many years, she has been reluctant to do workshops due to the toxicity of the materials and the unpredictable results.

As levels of toxicity vary, some being carcinogenic, it is imperative that users know the health and safety recommendations for handling these substances.   With these concerns a priority Mollie gave the following tips for working with these materials:

  • There may be no smell – so wear a mask. Good ventilation required.
  • Advisable to wear gloves. (Each salt has its own Health & Safety requirements.)
  • Mix small quantities for easier (safer) handling.
  • Keep tools separate from other tools.
  • Work on newspaper to absorb spills.
  • Throw sponges and cotton buds away.
  • When firing, avoid fumes. Good kiln venting required in urban areas.

Mollie was introduced to this process in a very old book, which is now difficult to find. A request to a library may locate a copy for borrowing. Written by Norwegian ceramic artist Arne Ase, “Watercolours on Porcelain” is an essential reference and includes health and safety tips on each material.

Also reference the work of:

Mark Goudy & Liza Riddle (California), John Shirley (South Africa), Angela Mellor (Australia/UK), Luca Tripaldi (Italy), Piet Stockmans (Belgium), Astrid Gerhartz (Germany).

The colourants that Mollie spoke about included:-

  • Iron chloride
  • Cobalt chloride or safer option Cobalt sulphate
  • Gold chloride
  • Copper chloride or Copper sulphate
  • Copper oxychloride
  • Potassium dichromate or Potassium chromate – both toxic and may cause cancer.

Some of these are available in garden sections of good hardware stores, while others can be purchased online from chemical suppliers. Usually, the dry or crystalline materials dissolve fully or partially in water, but some require Hydrochloric acid, and gold needs a combination of two acids, termed aqua regia, to dissolve.

As with our basic colouring oxides, these salts look different in different concentrations and work a bit like watercolours. Having obtained the strongest concentration from dissolving a salt in either water or acid, they can be diluted with water to give weaker effects or left to become stronger after evaporation.

Mollie Bosworth; bowl showing amazing translucency
Mollie Bosworth; bowl showing amazing translucency

Mollie prepared several samples by dividing up areas on thin bisque white clay tiles using a resist liquid, Liquitex* or Latex**. She decorated both moist and dry tiles.

(Apply the resist with cotton buds and throw away, or dip brushes in detergent first for easy cleaning.)

The colourant solution was brushed on horizontally so that areas of single, double, and triple coatings were separated by resist lines.

The acid** was brushed on vertically, over the bands of colour, and we watched the acid displace the colourants. The degree of dampness of the bisque is critical, as moistness encourages diffusion.

We also observed that:

  • Some colours were sucked into the bisque and almost disappeared. Hence the suggestion that if food colourant is added to the mixes, you can see where it has been brushed.
  • On damp tiles, the colourants seeped under the latex boundaries and created a halo effect.
  • This was less apparent on dry tiles. Mollie dries them in a warm place to make sure they are completely moisture-free if the boundary is to be as crisp as possible.
  • The clay was whitest under the latex, less white under the acid, grading to full colourant saturation.
  • Over time, a few hours or more, the colourants seep right through the thin clay to the other side.
  • Some colourants, like gold, for instance, may seep in completely and not be visible.
  • Others, like potassium, disappear but on drying become visible again.

*Liquitex is a gloss medium/varnish available from Art Suppliers, Bunnings, etc. Liquitex is water-soluble, it can be diluted and used as a resist material.

**Latex is also a wax substitute and water-soluble while still liquid.

Another decorative idea shown by Mollie is the technique known by many names, whereby the resist material is applied to raw ware (leather-hard or bone dry) and when the resist is dry the un-masked surface is eroded by repeatedly sponging with a damp sponge to remove areas of raw clay, leaving the resisted areas proud of the surface, in relief. Extension: Apply more resist and repeat to build up a 3D look and vary the translucency - apply up to 3 times. Variation: apply oxide/underglaze to the surface before the resist.

The resist can be peeled off before firing using a scalpel or pin, which enables mistakes to be peeled off too.

** Acid is Phosphoric – 85% food-grade, used to clean commercial kitchens and brewing equipment - watered down. Work with small quantities for ease and safety.

Additives to colourants and acid

Ceramics employing Mollie’s mastery of decals and work using metal salts
Ceramics employing Mollie’s mastery of decals and work using metal salts
  • CMC from ceramic suppliers or diluted wall-paper paste can be added to acid and colourants to encourage them to stay on top of bisque rather than soak in, especially if using gold.
  • Wallpaper paste, the light-weight version, can be purchased in small packets. The powder takes about 30 minutes to dissolve in water and go clear.
  • Food colourants may be added so you can see where they have been brushed.

General tips

Store liquids in small lidded glass jars with labels.

The salts can be blended for more colour options. If applying one over another, it makes a difference which one is on top. Bisquing between applications may be helpful.

Mollie bisques Southern Ice porcelain to 1000˚ and polishes with diamond pads, grades 120, 240, and 400.

Mollie concluded this part of her demonstration with words of encouragement to test anything that comes within your reach, or go seek unusual materials, rare-earths for instance, to see what they can reveal.

DECALS

The simplest type of decal is a ‘waterslide laser decal’ printed on a printer where the black ink (toner) contains iron. Mollie uses generic ink cartridges in a basic black (not colour) HP printer.

Finding decal paper got a little more complicated in recent years after the US supplier Bel Decal was put out of business following a successful patent application over the laser decal process.

However, Mollie has tracked down an Australian source, Dr Decal and Mr Hyde, who sells the original paper now called “Bel-type decal paper”. A list of other suppliers below.

A waterslide laser decal is a one-colour decal, black that fires brown. As we know from using iron oxide, when put with a clear glaze, the glaze “eats” the iron, it goes very pale or disappears.

So Mollie uses these decals on bisque ware with no glaze and fires to 1300˚C.

She suggests it may be possible with care to apply decal to a fired glaze and refire to just the temperature at which the glaze begins to soften, perhaps around cone 04 - 1060˚.

It can be tricky to get just the right temp at which the iron will stay on the surface and not get consumed by the glaze as it melts.

Mollie confirmed that Johanna is developing a paper with a flux in the cover coat so that the iron-bearing toner fuses onto the glaze at a much lower temp, like 800-830˚.

Normal decal paper result is dullish, matte colour, while fluxed paper is slightly glossy.

The images

The images for the decals can be created with any image managing software. If you don’t have Photoshop or similar, you can download Gimp for free.

Fill the page with images; duplicates, smaller, larger, leaving just a few millimetres between.

Photographs work well too.

NOTES

Plain colour decal paper can be used for flat areas of colour or printed on.

Ready-made decal designs called “Open Stock” are available. Bailey Decal (UK) sells packs.

Your own designs can be digitally printed: A3 sheet ($60) John Stewart (NSW), Decal Specialists, Northcote, VIC., and Johanna DeMaine can source screen-printed decals in quantities of 10 A3 sheets from Japan

Sources for clear waterslide

Laser Decal Papers

Low-fire (fluxed) laser decal paper, and coloured sheet decal paper

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Open Stock Decals

Somewhere down the track, you may need to make something to a particular size. And knowing that clay shrinks quite a bit, it is vital to know precisely how much and when in the process the shrinkage happens.

Traditional and online methods to estimate dry-to-fired shrinkage

Clay shrinks due to water loss, as well as physical and chemical changes during drying and firing.

This shrinkage is usually expressed as a percentage of the wet size and is typically between 5% and 20%.

Most clay manufactures will have data sheets showing typical shrinkage rates, sometimes expressed as a single wet-to-fired figure, other times as wet-to-dry percentage, bisque shrinkage percentage and firing percentage for various temperatures.

Testing - the surest method

We need at our fingertips some clay “rulers” to measure the particular size needed.

To make a ruler

  1. Roll, flatten or cut the ‘soft’ clay so that the thickness is between half and one cm thick. About the thickness of the wall of a vessel.
  2. Cut a strip approximately a ruler width or wider, about 12cm long.
  3. Scratch a fine line down the centre 10cm long exactly, and mark each cm (and better) each half cm along the length of the line.
  4. Scratch on the front or back the name of the clay, whether it is ‘soft’ or ‘leather-hard’, and what temperature it is going to be fired to. The date is also good as manufacturers change the blend from time to time.

Essential Records

  1. Measure when bone dry and record the difference. Let’s say it is 8mm shorter. That’s 8mm in 100mm or 8%. You can write this in colour on the bar for future reference.*
  2. Bisque fire and measure again. It will probably only have shrunk another 1mm, if that.
  3. Gloss fire and record the final shrinkage. Let’s say it’s another 7mm shorter. Total of 15mm shorter than ‘soft’ and therefore a total shrinkage of 15%.

Now you have your clay ruler - see this example from US potter, Jan MacKay

Note: Clays continue to shrink as the kiln temperature increases because some of the particles begin to melt and form a glass that pulls them even closer. With higher temperatures, clay eventually shrinks to a maximum point after which swelling occurs as a precursor to melting.

So for greater accuracy, it is important to know the firing temperature pretty exactly! This fact can be used to some advantage if, for instance, a lid is a bit tight on a container, it can be refired to a slightly higher temperature at which it will shrink a tiny bit more.

How to use the ruler:

Measure the size that needs to be matched WITH THE SHRUNKEN RULER. Let’s say 8.5cm.

When making the clay item measure it with a NORMAL RULER. 8.5 on normal will shrink to 8.5 on the clay rule. Give or take a bit!

It is handy to have a shrinkage bar for all the clays you are using in your studio, in all the various stages of wetness, usually three. That is: straight off the block, wet after being thrown, or leather-hard.

Ceramic Arts Queensland’s Online Shrinkage Calculator

The clay ruler takes into account all of the variables for clays, drying and firing conditions that apply in your studio.

However, if you want to get an estimate of shrinkage, then our new online shrinkage calculator will be useful.

You can find it on our main website under the technical menu or at https://www.ceramicartsqld.org.au/index.php/technical/shrinkage-calc

How to use the calculator

You first need to find out the shrinkage percentage for your clay at your firing temperature. You do this by looking up the data-sheets from the manufacturer or by talking with your clay supplier.

The Ceramic Arts Queensland Shrinkage Calculator
The Ceramic Arts Queensland Shrinkage Calculator
Sample data-sheet showing various technical specifications for the clay body, including the shrinkage percentages at different firing stages
Sample data-sheet showing various technical specifications for the clay body, including the shrinkage percentages at different firing stages

Open up the CAQ shrinkage calculator page and enter in the FINAL dimensions you want the finished piece to be and the shrinkage percentage.

If the datasheet gives a single figure enter that directly. If it gives two or three percentages for the various stages, click the advanced button and enter them.

The calculator will do the math to get the wet sizes for you to make the piece so that when it shrinks, it will be the size you want - or there-about!

No online system will be more accurate than actually using a clay ruler that has been dried and fired in the way your actual piece will be treated, but the calculator will give you a very approximation or can be used as a basis for further testing.

The online calcualtor main benefit is immediacy. The Ceramic Arts Queensland's online calculator will give you a good estimation immediately, where-as making a shrinkage ruler may take several days.

 

*If you know what the dry (pre-fired) shrinkage is you can check the dry measurement of the special piece for accuracy before you fire it.

Friday, 31 May 2019 14:51

Hobart Triennale 2019 Wrap-Up

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At the closing session of the recent Australian Ceramics Triennale in Hobart, 1-4 May 2019, the 700 strong audience was invited to assemble again in Central Australia. The re-birth of interest in ceramics will undoubtedly see this as a hugely popular destination, favoured as it is with many environmental aspects so compatible with living with, working with and firing clay.

The experience in Hobart confirmed just how wondrous is the level of involvement, creativity, and camaraderie within the growing ceramic community.

Young and old, new-comers and frequent attendees immersed themselves in 4 days of talks, demonstrations and exhibitions. Multiple choices had many moving quickly from place to place, while others settled comfortably to absorb the generous sharing of knowledge and experiences.

Held in the vast Princes Wharf 1 building it was so convenient to have all the conference events under one roof, or almost. Last-minute registrations had the organisers (an amazing team of 4), expanding seating and spaces to absolute capacity, adding two marquees to the perimeter courtyards for demonstrations.

CAQ had a presence, along with other Australian ceramic-interest groups, in the exhibition section of the venue. Representation was limited to those who could deliver their work on set-up day and 14 artists took part: Julie Shephard, Liz Izquierdo, Michaela Kloeckner, Dianne Peach, Sandra Robertson, Megan Puls, Anne Mossman, Larissa Warren, Bill Powell, Sue Fraser, Johanna DeMaine, Evelyne Upton, Molly Bosworth, and the collaborative work of Johanna DeMaine and Tatsuya Tsutsui under the brand name Kayabuki Kobo.

CAQ at the Triennale: The work of Anne Mossman (top) and Dianne Peach (bottom)
CAQ at the Triennale: The work of Anne Mossman (top) and Dianne Peach (bottom)

The organisers kept secret the colour of the plinths, except that all the tops were greyish white. The grey/black background of PW1 was illuminated by oranges and yellows, blues and greys of the cleverly designed painted cardboard box plinths. Ours were mid-grey and very complimentary to the work. What we lacked in lighting was compensated for by the corner position, which gave excellent exposure to all. Five pieces were sold along with many appreciative comments.

Other exhibitions in the space included TACA’s “Manifest – the art and design of contemporary Australian ceramics”, curated by Damon Moon, showing selected artist’s works with diverse approaches to the medium, and the “Presenters Exhibition”, showing the work of the national and international speakers and demonstrators.

CAQ at the Triennale: Michaela Kloeckner and below Susanne Fraser
CAQ at the Triennale: Michaela Kloeckner and below Susanne Fraser

“Holding Space” displayed works by both current and past Tasmanian ceramic artists/potters, all influential in the development of ceramic knowledge in this state and exposing the exceptional strength of the craft in this comparatively small geographical area.

A cameo collection of pieces by Prue Venables celebrated her award bestowed in 2018 as the 9th ‘Living Treasure – Master of Australian Craft’ by the Australian Design Centre.

The Pot Shop inside the venue and the Saturday Market in the forecourt was where opportunities for delegates to sell, and buy, from an amazing array of wares rarely seen ‘under one roof’.

Eight exhibitions in nearby Salamanca drew delegates to the buzz of this popular recreational precinct, and almost as many galleries were a short walk away in the CBD. The Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery showed five separate groupings of ceramics from their collection spanning decades.

The ‘serious’ business of the conference was presented under daily themes, the first being “Contemporary Meets History”. The custom of Triennale's is to examine all aspects of ceramic practice; the practical, theoretical, philosophical, experimental, conceptual, ephemeral, ethical, and even more mind-bending angles.

There was a lot of valuable talking, mostly in the mornings when our heads were somewhat clearer, with afternoons broken up by moving from Derwent Stage to Kunanyi (Mt Wellington) Stage, demo to demo, browsing exhibitions and trade displays, and of course, meeting old friends and making new ones. It was impossible to do/see it all!

But one session I’m so glad I didn’t miss was the “Glaze Chemistry Workshop” by Curt McDonald from WA. Expecting 20 booked delegates the overflow (double the number including me) were standing, leaning, for hours to hear the presentation. It went all afternoon, and I was lucky to get a chair mid-way through, but honestly, I was prepared to stand for the duration. This old potter, me, doesn’t know it all, and it was so enlightening to hear this complicated topic dealt with in such a rudimentary and methodical manner. Supported by generous handouts and references (mostly from Hamer & Hamer – essential reference book – Curt held our attention to the last second. Not to say we have it all clear in our heads, yet, but we all have a new appreciation of and awe for the depths to which we can go in understanding this fascinating subject.

Another highlight of the event took place on the second last evening in the entry courtyard - the opening of the “petal kiln” designed and fired by Andres Allik. Three days of wood stoking by the dedicated team concluded at 1300˚ and the fibre-lined petals were opened like a flower, sparks rising into the clear, cold night, to reveal the 3m high sculpture made by Nanna Bayer and Selena De Carvalho – as if they didn’t have enough to do getting the whole show on the road!

Ceramic Arts Qld members work: From left to right: Larissa Warren, Bill Powell and Julie Shepherd
Ceramic Arts Qld members work: From left to right: Larissa Warren, Bill Powell and Julie Shepherd

Skipping to the last day, and getting a wee bit overloaded, the theme was “Onwards and Upwards”.   The morning was free for The Makers’ Fair and the adjacent famous Salamanca Market. After lunch, one of the many speakers, Amy Kennedy, talked about her experiences as an Artist in Residence, as she has been engaging in these for many years in many localities around the world.

Tips on how to apply, both for positions and funding, were invaluable. I came away with the feeling though that more preparation was needed in sourcing and applying than in doing the actual residency.

I was surprised by a brief encounter regarding ceramic durability when Ian Clare, demonstrating his making of functional ware, dropped, purposely, a thrown lemon-shaped hand squeezer he’d brought with him. It bounced on the concrete floor! Impressed! The story goes that Ian leaves a small hole in the hollow form until it is almost dry (and shrunk) and then fills it in. “No, it won’t explode in the gloss firing”, Ian says.

The internal air/gas is compressed by the shrinkage in the final firing but not sufficiently to split the form. And when you drop it, the internal pressure seems to counteract the external shock of the drop. Can’t wait to try it with my eggs!

And this brings me to the final Closing Address by Glen Barkley, the Closing Ceremony, and the revelation of where the next gathering will be in 3 years’ time. Glenn’s closing Keynote Address touched on his experiences with clay as a practitioner, lecturer, judge, and curator, amongst other activities he enjoys, all of which influence his various artistic pursuits. Glenn became prominent in recent years for his outspoken appreciation of expressive rather than tidy craftsmanship, and fuelled debate amongst practitioners about the superiority/inferiority of such works, and whether these are ‘cutting edge’ or remnants of similar movements in the 70s: or just playful doodles or “kindergarten” art.

The questions from the audience indicated that this debate is not over yet, and I was tempted to think it a good launching pad for discussion when next, we all meet in Alice Springs. Hope to see you there!

I’d like to start with a caveat as such - I don’t profess to being a professional photographer, but like all potters, I have an ongoing need to document and promote my work through images and a life-long desire to learn. So, I’d like to outline in simple form, the evolution of my photography and share with you my hows and whys and the current results I am achieving.

I currently use a Canon D600 DSLR and have created a flexible setup of lighting and backdrop that is both portable and a size that can handle the scale of my work. Everything from the smallest jewellery piece to pots a metre high.

I use a graduated Infinity backdrop in white to black. It is this backdrop that limits the biggest pot to a metre simply because of its size. It can be used either white foreground to black backdrop (my usual approach), or black to white.

This is governed by the style and tone of the work to be photographed. If you are generally shooting small pieces, then a small light tent is excellent for creating bright but diffused lighting.

Lighting Ceramic Vessels

My lighting consists of two large and diffused lightboxes and an adjustable 240 LED lamp, also softened with a diffuser cloth. All my lights are lit with daylight 5,000 K bulbs.

The higher the Degrees Kelvin, the whiter the colour temperature and the truer the colour response. Diffusing or scattering of direct light is important in that it limits the shadows cast and allows for strong and clean light.

Use of diffuse lighting for photographing ceramic art
Use of diffuse lighting for photographing ceramic art helps the true colour and textures to be captured

Even with diffusion, it can be very difficult at times to photograph highly shiny surfaces and glazes without the appearance of hot spots. These are bright white splashes of light that remove the true colour and surface of a piece which distracts from a quality image. This is where I play with the direction of my adjustable intensity LED light by hand holding it on an extension stand to both remove hotspots and diminish or direct shadows.

If a piece is predominantly white or light in colour, I will often create a shadow to define the edge of the piece.

Cameras and Accessories

Settings on your camera are vitally important. I shoot at 100 ISO, this decreases the graininess of the shot. As you go higher in ISO, you get more light available but at the cost of quality.

Camera and lighting setups that work well
Camera and lighting setups that work well

I use a shutter release cable and a tripod to remove all possible shake. This will also allow a very slow shutter speed without sacrificing clarity and allows for even more light to hit the sensor. It also accommodates a higher F Stop.

The F-stop number is determined by the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the aperture. Focal length refers to a lens’ field of view (sometimes called angle of view), which is the width and height of the area that a particular lens can capture in focus.

I generally use a setting of between 9 and 12, this will keep both the front of a pot and the side and back profiles in focus while taking the backdrop out of focus and giving a soft look to it. This will highlight the piece and clean up any marks or scratches on your backdrop while featuring a piece in full focus.

I use the ‘M’ or manual setting on my DSLR to set all these parameters. The distance you set your camera and tripod up is determined by the size of each piece but be wary, if you have a camera with a lens that has a wide-angle available, it can distort verticals in your image. Studies have measured the cone of visual attention of the human eye and found it to be about 55 degrees wide.

On a 35mm full-frame camera, a 43mm lens provides an angle of view of 55 degrees, so that focal length provides exactly the same angle of view that we humans have, so try to keep your lens (if it’s a telephoto) in this zone for accurate renditions.

If you only have a prime 50mm lens, then you can move the tripod back and forth to centre and capture your image. So, these are my general settings. Lens around 50mm field of view, ISO at 100, F Stop between 9 and 12 with the shutter speed determined by the available light.

If you don’t have a DSLR, then the camera on your phone will do if you have good lighting. Some like the Huawei P30 offers a Leica Quad camera with remarkable low light capability, and the new Samsung s10 can provide quality shots with good Bokeh effect.

Smartphones Can Do A Good Job Too

This smartphone camera will recognise the foreground and background of a photo, and then blur the background, while keeping the foreground in focus digitally. So rather than occurring when the photo is snapped, smartphone bokeh is created after the picture is taken.

As cameras in phones are getting better and better, crop sensor DSLR are becoming very cheap and will allow you to do all your own photographic work for yourself, saving all the packing, travelling and added cost of getting your work professionally shot.

My photography has evolved over time to a standard that I am now, with these methods, comfortable with large size reproduction or publication.

Just a note, if you are shooting your work for magazine standard then be sure to save your files at least at 300 dpi resolution and leave a good amount of space around the actual subject of the shot to allow editors freedom of use.

Taking charge of your own images is very convenient and cost-effective.

I buy all my camera gear and lighting from a New York-based company with an incredible range of inexpensive photography equipment, B&H:

www.bhphotovideo.com. They do a great mail-order service and have all that you’ll need.

My first efforts were quite crude, but I have evolved. You will too.

Every pottery picture tells a story. An essential part of that storytelling is the composition or relationship between the elements within a photograph.

The things that affect composition of a photograph are:

  • Line — the path the eye moves around when looking at a photograph
  • Shape — the distinct masses (like pots) that make up the images
  • Colour — the hue, tone and luminosity of objects and how the colours relate to each other
  • Texture — the surface character causing shading, forming patterns the eye will explore
  • Value — lights will cast shadows that will give depth and definition to the ceramic object
  • Form — the eye will use all of the elements above to infer a 3-D shape from the flat 2-D images
  • Space — positive space is the ceramic object itself while the negative space is the areas between the objects. Both are important compositional elements.

Here are some well-proven guidelines that will make your photographs tell better stories and look truly professional when you use these guidelines thoughtfully.

Once you know the rules of composition, occasionally breaking them can be fun too.

THE RULE OF THIRDS

the-rule-of-thirds

Imagine two horizontal lines and two vertical that divide the scene into nine equal areas. Place key elements on or near the lines or the intersection points. This will result in a balanced image with a clear point of interest. Some cameras show these lines in the view-finder.

BALANCING ELEMENTS

balancing elements

Here the main element of the photograph is set to one side, though still positioned according to the rule-of-thirds. The empty space to the left then has a balancing item, the spoon, which also adds further meaning to the story being told by the photographer.

LINES THAT LEAD THE EYE

lines that lead the eye

This composition is a classic example of the rule of thirds but has an additional element where the layout of the elements leads the eye in a triangular pattern from one object to the next. Such triangular patterns give a feeling of stability and unity to the image.

SYMMETRY (MAYBE WITH A TWIST)

symetry

The human eye yearns to discover symmetry and balance in nature and things human-made. This photographer has catered to this craving for order, and pattern with two elongated vases set symmetrically side-by-side and then used the colour and form of the flowers to add a quirky twist.

COMPOSITION IN-DEPTH

COMPOSITION IN-DEPTH

Conforming to the rule-of-thirds, this photograph is framed by two small elements at the lower corners. The eye is invited to look beyond the main image to a blurred background that enhances the colour and tone and invites the viewer to imagine more about the story of the pot.

 

STONG DIAGONAL JOURNEYS

STONG DIAGONAL JOURNEYS

This composition uses a strong diagonal composition from the top right to bottom left. The positioning of the three ceramic elements dominates the image, the use of light and shade reinforces the diagonal line, and the chop-sticks finish it off. Note the strength of the triangular layout.

Thursday, 28 February 2019 06:10

Doing The Sums - Methods Of Pricing Your Pottery

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Pricing your pottery is always a vexed issue, that never seems to get more comfortable. Markets and tastes are ever-changing, so is the price people are willing to pay for hand-crafted ceramic ware.

Many ceramic artists sell through galleries and retailers of one sort or another, and there are various ways of entering into commercial arrangements with them.

The cleanest method is for the retailer to pay you a wholesale price agreed between you. How much they mark it up becomes their business.

Wholesale pricing is neat because you know what you are getting up-front and more importantly when you are likely to be paid.

You know your production costs - materials and labour - and if you can sell your work for a commercial profit above these costs, then you have some degree of control and certainty. However, most galleries and many retailers want to sell on consignment only.

Here you supply the goods at no up-front cost to them, and the retailer agrees to pay you a percentage of the selling price if and when they sell. The retailer covers its costs with a commission percentage from the selling price.

This is a riskier proposition from your perspective, but often it is the only game in town. On the upside, it is also a way of potentially increasing your returns as it is in everyone’s interest to maximise the sale price.

PRICING

Commissions are generally 25% - 60% of the sale price. That seems a lot, but galleries and retailers need this sort of margin to pay their rent, pay their staff and to promote and market your work.

Retailers will sometimes seek your guidance on the final selling price for your work.

Let’s say your costs for a piece are $15 for materials, $25 for labour, utilities and packaging and your accountant recommends adding a further 50% to cover other studio costs. That makes a minimum return to you of $60. We’ll ignore GST to keep things simple.

MARKUPS AND COMMISSIONS

Markups are easy to calculate. In the above example, your costs are $60. To sell at a local market, you might need to markup your costs by 50% to cover your selling expenses, the total is 60 + 30 or $90. If the markup you need is100%, then the sum works out to be 60 + 60 or $120.

Commissions and Markups
Commissions and Markups

With markups, it’s a simple calculation.

With commission sales, it is different.

Say the selling price is $100. With a gallery commission of 50%, they get $50, and you get $50. If the commission is 35%, they get $35, and you get $65.

If you know the selling price, it’s simple to work out what you will be paid. But if you need to figure out what that selling price should be, then things are more complicated.

Let’s take our pot from our previous example, where we want $60 paid to us from the gallery.  

If the gallery commission is 50%, we can’t just add 50% to our $60, because that would make the selling price just $90 (60 + 30). When the gallery takes 50% from that final selling price, we only get $45, not the $60 we want.

So we have to multiply our $60 by more than 50% to get that $60 payment after commission.

The table below shows you how much to markup your price to give the gallery the commission percentage the gallery wants, and you get the return you need.

Therefore, if you want $60 and the gallery wants 60% commission, then the markup on your price is 150% or $90, making the final selling price $150.

Ergo, you get $60, the gallery receives $90, and everyone has what they need to stay in business.

Thursday, 28 February 2019 11:31

The Art Of Documenting And Delivering Your Ceramics

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Here’s the good news. You have finally gotten most of your pots through all the stages of firing, and there they are, just out of the kiln, laid out on the table, all splendid and finished. A giant sigh of relief now that it’s all over.

Here’s the bad news. It’s not over yet. About a quarter of the work and effort is still to be done. Yes. Welcome to the dispatch preparation, documentation and the packaging part of the exciting wholistic ceramic art production process.

Now if you are lucky, there is someone on your team who is anal-retentive about details and loves nothing more than to have every last part of the process bolted down and perfect. Here are some tips that may save you time.

INITIAL INSPECTION

Look at every vessel just out of the kiln with a fresh eye and sort out any that are not good enough to make the cut. Are there any hairline cracks? Any bumps or inclusions on the clay surface? What about the glaze – is it up to scratch? When you hold the piece, does it feel smooth and finished? What about the foot ring, are there any bits of kiln shelf on it or is it rough and likely scratch a shelf or wooden surface?

Carefully sort through the kiln load and find those that are good enough as they are, those that will be once you fix a few things, those that you need to find a local market to sell them at a discount and those awful enough that they to be binned right now before you have second thoughts.

Grinding, polishing and dusting

Some of my work is porcelain with illustrations on an unglazed surface. The inside is usually glazed, so the piece is functional, but all of the outside surfaces have to be polished with wet and dry sandpaper to achieve a smooth buttery surface. They are lined up on a sink and rubbed with three grades of paper from medium-coarse to ultra-fine. At the same time, the foot ring is sanded until it is smooth.

Each piece is then carefully hand washed and allowed to dry before a final inspection for hairline cracks that generally show up during the washing process.

It is essential to make sure each piece is immaculate and dust-free - no customer or gallery owner expects to wash a piece of newly received ceramic ware.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND DOCUMENTATION

Accurate documentation of your work is essential so that gallery owners and retail outlets know what you are delivering, what it looks like are sure about things like price, item number, description and even fundamental things like the artist’s name.

Each piece should be identified by an artist’s recognisable seal stamped into the ceramic surface, a signature or mark or if you are a production potter, your business name applied as a stamp inside the foot ring with underglaze and fired into the piece. That way, the ownership is clear even if months go by from the time you deliver to the time it is sold by the retailer.

Our delivery documentation begins by taking an identifying photograph of each piece - or a generic photograph of the line of work if you produce many identical pieces.

You should record the details of each piece manually or electronically - ideally using a word-processing template, a spreadsheet or a database of some kind. That way, you will have all the information you need to printout delivery documents and invoices for your work.

The delivery documents should include the following:

A cover sheet with your name, trading name, ABN number, postal address, contact details and banking details or preferred method of payment (bank-to-bank transfer, cash or cheque)

A complete list of each item in the delivery including the following information on each piece: serial number, item name, price (see below for methods of calculating this), a marketing description, identifying photograph (and a marketing photograph if possible).

A sheet outlining your terms and conditions of sale which you need to prepare with your accountant, lawyer or business advisor

A copy of this documentation should accompany the delivery of the goods and to be safe, a further copy emailed, so you both have records of the documents and the time they were delivered to the gallery or retailer in case of any dispute later on.

Box in Box style of packaging Pack your work in the inner box and enclose that box in another that is 50 - 100 mm larger. Crumpled newspaper also works as packing.
Box in Box style of packaging Pack your work in the inner box and enclose that box in another that is 50 - 100 mm larger. Crumpled newspaper also works as packing.

PACKING TO REDUCE BREAKAGES

Packaging your ceramics for dispatch to customers needs to be approached systematically. The key is to make sure the work is surrounded by material that stops it from moving around, absorbs any vibrations or shocks and has some resistance to crushing forces.

Two methods work well:

A single box method where a well wrapped smaller-sized pot is placed in the centre of a box that is filled with packing material. The carton should be 150 - 200mm bigger than the work in it, and the work must be positioned in the middle.

The box-within-a-box method suitable for larger, or fragile, or more expensive work. Here the work is first packed in a box as above, and then that box is placed within another box filled with packing material.

The ceramics should first be wrapped in tissue paper or foam wrap to prevent scratching and abrasion of the finished surface. Each item, no matter how small should be packed separately.

Make sure any protrusions like spouts etc. are well wrapped too. Wrap the entire pot in several layers of bubble wrap and apply masking tape to secure.

Packing fill materials include poly chips, crumpled newspaper, packing peanuts, foam, airbags or a combination of these. The use of polystyrene sheets to add rigidity around the work is also recommended.  

The boxes you use should be made of robust corrugated cardboard - new or undamaged at least. Make sure each item is surrounded by at least 50mm of cushioning and be placed at least 50mm away from the walls of the box.

Tape the box closed with 50mm packaging tape. Run the tape along where the flaps of the carton join, then run two or three runs of tape around the carton, perpendicular to this.

Make sure the box is clearly labelled with the delivery address and your return address and contact details. Remove any old labels if you are recycling. Use stickers to indicate the way up the box is to be transported and make sure that the box is clearly labelled as FRAGILE.

Place any delivery documents in an envelope and tape this to the box.

Think about insurance for valuable items.

If all of this seems too hard, there are packing services that will do the lot for you, and take responsibility for losses and breakages.

Remember to notify your customer that the work is on its way and ask for a confirmation that it arrived safely.

In Instagram, images that “pop-out” is the term for photographs that reach out and grab the attention of users for that 100 milli-seconds people spend deciding if they will look further into a post or just move onto the next.

The image (right) was created by Instagram image guru, Unmesh Dinda of PiXimperfect.

The left one is the beginning of the journey and on the right is an image that “pops”, grabbing attention, forcing you to look a little longer.

The finished image tone is warmer and more appealing. The girl’s eyes are sharper, and their colour more intense. The edges of her mouth are sharper as are her fingernails - all of these details subtly grab your attention.

Unmesh Dinda uses Adobe Photoshop to enhance the image, to resize it and make it perfect for posting on Instagram.

His is a six-step process:

  1. Convert the image colourspace to RGB at 8 bits per channel (easy to do)
  2. Change the canvas background to white (like the Instagram background) and then adjust the brightness and contrast
  3. Add punch to elements by adjusting colour, focus, sharpness and gamma
  4. Crop and resize, so it matches what the social media platform expects; say Instagram at 1080 by 1350 pixels.
  5. Sharpen the overall picture before saving
  6. Export at 75% quality in RGB colourspace as a JPEG.

To an experienced Photoshop operator, all of this is simple.

If you want to experiment, then Photoshop Elements is an inexpensive way to get to know how much you can improve almost any photograph with digital editing.

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