Friday, May 15, 2009

teapots, tide and textures

This week I have been mostly making tea pots. I seem to cope with them best if I make a batch of about 5 or 6 at a time.

On day one I make the body, the lid, and the spout, and on day two, I put them all together, and add the handle.

To make the sort of handle that goes over the top of the teapot, I first pull a strap of clay with a wet right hand from a thick sausage of clay held in my left hand. The action is a bit like milking a cow. My right hand slowly and repeatedly pulls and flattens a ribbon of clay, and I have to wet my hand in a bucket of water from time to time.

Once the strap of clay is about the right length and thickness for a handle, I lay it out on a board carefully on its edge in an approximation of the curved shape that the handle will have on the pot, and allow it to stiffen up slightly.

After an hour or two the handle material is stiff enough to put on the pot. I score the places on the pot where the handle will be attached and add a thin slurry of liquid clay to the places. I then lightly position the handle in place and make any adjustments to its shape, and height that might be needed. I put a temporary clay prop between the inverted lid of the teapot and the underside of the handle to add support to the handle that I have positioned on the pot. To ensure that the prop does not stick to the handle, I put a little piece of paper or plastic bag between the prop and the handle. Once I am happy with the position and size of the handle, I firmly finish each joint.

Most of the teapots that I made this time had handles that went over the top of them. I also made a couple of pots with the handle at the back. The teapots in the photographs have a thin coat of white slip over the stoneware clay. They now need to dry for a few days before I can glaze and fire them.

I am starting to give regular classes to a small group of teenagers that seem keen to learn pottery. We made these birds in my hour long Wednesday class. We will add some slip decoration to them next week. I am really enjoying my time with this little group.

Winter is really here now, some of the hills have started to sport a fine mantle of gray on their upper slopes, and the higher mountains are white with deeper snow.

To celebrate the first signs of snow, we went for a walk beside the sea. We live about a mile away from this beautiful stretch of the coastline.

I became very interested with the textures I saw around me,

from the muddy cliffs,

to rocks at my feet. Looking at small rocks in the sand, you can pretend that you are flying over the desert, and that the rocks are huge, and that the patterns in the sand which are left by the retreating seawater, are in fact dry river beds.

Small rock pools make interesting shapes and patterns.

A few bits of drift wood give movement and scale.

I like the tangle of seaweed.
Here is an abstract foam painting on the sand.

An elegant curve of seaweed and foam that might inspire shapes and lines on a pot.

Zigzag foam patterns in the water.

Lines on the sand, lines in the water, and more lines in the sky.

Smudgy gray block clouds.

A winter sky.

Lumps and bumps in the sky, and on the sand.

The sea makes dogs bark and run wildly full of joy. I feel space, an expansion of ideas, and more clarity of purpose. Heck, it's fun out there!


Linda Starr said...

Hi Peter, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I love the first tea pot and when it was loading up on my screen, the spout and the little sprig or circle looked to me as if a fish eye and the spout being the fish's mouth. They are all gems but the first one I really love.

What fun to have a class and get to see others newly discovering what they can do in clay. The birds are delightful especially lined up as you have photographed them as if they are all talking about the days events, their eyes look so bright.

As I was viewing the coastal photos at first I just looked at them and then all at once with your description, I felt like I was seeing for the first time, your comparisons to inspiration for clay. I must start looking more closely at what I see and how I can utilize the textures and shapes surrounding me in my clay.

I do love the ocean and you have such a lovely one and it looks as though you have it all to yourself so often, how lucky you are to have this beauty so close to your home. Walking on the beach is as once so peaceful, renewing, and so invigorating to me.

Peter said...

Hi Lynda, I don't take your comment the wrong way at all, and it is much appreciated! Actually it is fun to see the way tea pots can take on a personality of some kind, be it fish, human, bird, rooster, or cat!

I do feel a need to somehow reflect the area in which I live in my pots. I'm still searching as to how to do that. Maybe it is one of those things that one should not to go looking too hard for, but it is best when it happens naturally.

Peter said...

Ooops, so sorry Linda, I spelled your name wrongly in my reply to your comment. P.

Judy Shreve said...

Peter - your teapots are wonderful! I use the same schedule when I make them -- make all the parts one day and assemble the next day. I love the balance in all your parts -- really great!

Your students are definitely lucky to have you for the teacher -- the birds (and the photo) are very cool.

I love the sea -- and your narrative along with your photos made me feel as if I were there. I think all that is around us influences our work whether we realize it or not.

We head to the beach the first week of June for our family vacation. We are going to the Outer Banks in North Carolina -- about 10 hours from where I live. You are fortunate to have the sea so close.

Arkansas Patti said...

Love your tea pots Peter. Not being a potter, I really enjoyed your account of how the handle was attached. It answered a lot of my questions, rather wonderings.

I think it is so cool that you are making it possible for a whole new generations of potters. Think I will check around here for lessons.

Your pictures show the true artist eye you have. Just wonderful how you could capture things beautifully that the unartistic eye would walk right past. Thank you.

Pat - Arkansas said...

I admire the shapes of your teapots and hope you will give us another look at them after they are glazed and fired. I used to collect teapots, but soon ran out of room to display them, so the collection was split amongst my children. I have only one remaining and it's one that my mother used in the 1940's. It has a few chips on the spout, but I still love it, and I think it brews tea better than anything else.

Your photos of the mountains and coast are wonderful. You have an artist's eye.

jim gottuso said...

nice teapots... like the 3rd one down best and the handle on the last one. i want to move to new zealand... really really

Peter said...

Hello Judy, Patti, Pat and Jim, thank you for your kind comments. As I write this I am being playfully eaten by Ginger, our next door neighbour's cat, so... if I struggle more than usual for words, you can picture me with a half upside down ginger cat on my lap who is leaning back on my arms and looking up at me with wild staring eyes (and it is only 7am!).
Judy, I must have a look at the Outer Banks on Google earth, it an amazing way of finding out about places. It is ridiculous really but we don't get down to our bit of coast nearly as often as we should (I tend to just work, and work), so getting out with the camera is really good for me, as is this blog thing as they both make me stop and look at the world around me, and appreciate it more.

Patti, I'm glad you enjoyed the account about putting on handles. It was actually an enjoyable challenge to try and write about a process like that clearly. I do realize that there are many parts of the process of making a pot that must seem a mystery to those who don't pot (or even to those of us that do!!). Hope you do try potting, even for a few months. I found that learning to make pots was like being given the gift of sight. I observed just about every pot, bottle, or mug that I saw around me. When I made mugs and cups for the first time, I started to notice all the mugs and cups that I drank out of, where the handles were placed, how many fingers you could fit through it. It was, and still is, terrific fun!

Pat, I certainly will post some photos of the teapots once they are glazed and fired. I must say that the glazing part is the bit that always fills me with most apprehension. In some ways I would rather leave that to someone else who knows what they are doing! It's funny, but some potters love to make things, others like to decorate, and I am very much in the first group, even though I came to pottery as a painter and do love colour, and so on.

Jim, thanks for your comments. I'm interested that you like the handle on the last pot, as I am always experimenting with them. The tab of clay on top of the handle, to give extra grip, is something that I like to play with both aesthetically, and also practically. Some potters have them facing one way, and some the other.
Ah..., New Zealand! It certainly is a beautiful place, and there are lots of really good things about it, and the people that live here. It is horribly difficult (many would say impossible) to make a living here as a potter. Materials are very expensive, galleries that will take pots are few, and it is hard to get a good price for work. I do what commissions come my way and try to remain cheerful, but things aren't at all easy! Probably what we need are lots more people like yourself here, who make and appreciate pots. Like plutonium, if there are enough of us, we might reach some sort of critical mass, and... booom! There used to be lots of potters making a good living over here in the 1970s, and an appreciative public. Just about every other person seemed to be making pots or going to evening classes. Maybe it could happen again.

Amy said...

Wow... great teapots and I really like the texture pictures. And you live so close-- such opportunity for inspiration for your pots. I wish the beach was closer to where I live.

Peter said...

Thanks for that Amy, nice to hear from you.

Linda Starr said...

Hi Peter, some friends came over this evening and we were all talking about where we wanted to move next. I mentioned New Zealand and they had been to Dunedin before and were saying what a beautiful city it is. Ah if the housing market would only pick up.

What happened to all the people who used to appreciate the pots in the 1970s?

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
How interesting that your friends had visited Dunedin. Dunedin is a lovely city for all sorts of good reasons and I have always felt at home there.

I often wondered what happened to all the people who appreciated the pots in the 1970s. I was tempted to quip that they threw away their Caftans, had kids and got mortgages and "real" jobs, but it is probably a far more complex answer.

One has to understand that, until the late 1970s, NZ had a very protected economy. There were huge import restrictions and tariffs. Most food, clothing, pots for the kitchen, cups and bowls for the table, and other items were produced locally. Anything imported, if you could get it, was usually expensive.

One of the first blows that hit potters was made by the government in about 1979 when they introduced a sales tax for "luxury" items, which included a lot of pottery.

Then the free market thing hit in the 1980s. NZ governments produced radical reforms that were always hailed as "World Leading". Within a very few years we lost most of our manufactures of shoes, clothing, cars, electrical appliances, and light and heavy industry. Nearly everything that was possible to privatize was sold off, and a tidal wave of cheep imported goods flooded into the country, and most of our banks became Australian owned. Governments later "spun" what we were left with as "a knowledge economy". Farming was not immune from change. An "efficient" NZ dairy farm these days is one that has 1000 - 1500 cows, and hardly anyone working on it. I have grave concerns about that sort of "efficiency"!

With the flood of cheep goods from overseas countries, people were able to obtain their plates and cups, planters and bowls at prices below New Zealand material cost. This marked the end of most domestic ware potters.

Alongside all this was a change in society. We have less leisure time now than we did 20 years ago. People have less hobbies, are less likely to be members of clubs and societies, and so on. It may well be the case that some of the best buyers of pots have come from the ranks of those who have done a bit of potting at an evening class. With less leisure time and people participating in hobbies, the pool of interested and informed buyers contracts.

So things are not what they were.

Hope all that doesn't sound too negative. NZ really is a good country and there are a huge amount of things to be thankful for. It is really hard though to make a living from pottery and many of the other arts.

All the best to you. Peter

Peter said...

PS... Laura is laughing at my "Cheep" for cheap (as in inexpensive)! Spelling was never my strong point. P.

Linda Starr said...

Oh boy Peter, you could have been describing the United States with the "cheep" goods and no tariffs on goods, we are really suffering now because of that. I didn't realize all that about New Zealand. I was looking on Craig's list for real estate in New Zealand and folks from the US were advertizing their properties there and a builder from California was advertising that he would build a custom home there. Strange the way things are now. I am hoping things swing on the pendulum back to the way they were a while ago at least somewhat. Thanks for the info.

Peter said...

Hope I wasn't too gloomy Linda, but successive governments seem to have prided themselves on being "World Leaders" and some times it has seemed like we have been an economic experiment that has been followed at any cost, and I am not always sure who is really pulling the strings.

In spite of all that, I think that many people coming from overseas still find NZ a real "land of milk and honey", especially if their currency is lots stronger than ours. I was talking to someone just a few days ago, who said that there are a lot of English people settling in their area who were able to buy "life style blocks" and small farms here that they simply would not have been able to afford back home. I guess, with the relative strength of your dollar as compared to ours, that could also apply to people from your part of the world too.
Best Wishes, P.