Saturday, August 13, 2011


A couple recently visited with a sad tale of woe, a very special jug that had been sent over from the UK had arrived in pieces.  They made emergency repairs to the unfortunate thing so that it could at least be used, but it was never really the same!  The jug in question was unwrapped and placed on my table.  Shaped in the form of a fish, the jug was designed to entertain as well as to pour!  To demonstrate this, water was fetched, and the jug filled.  Whilst being emptied, a pocket of trapped air in the tail of the fish made a satisfying glug-glug sound, and when brought back upright, the remaining water in the jug glug-glugged again merrily as it trapped and compressed more air.  What fun!  I was asked if it would be possible for me to make something similar to replace it.

I realised straight away that a form like this would have its own challenges, but I said I would give it a try and see how I got on.

There seemed to me to be two alternative approaches that I could take.  The first was to make most of the jug on the wheel, the second was to build it entirely by hand by pinching and coiling clay.

I ended up trying both methods.  The wheel method was definitely faster, but I got a better result by hand building.

Throwing a fish on the wheel!
I first centred some clay on the wheel, and opened it out to form a doughnut shape with a hollow centre.  I pulled the clay up into a tall tapering shape that was open at the bottom and closed at the top.  It looked a bit like a straight cow's horn at this stage.  Carefully, with the wheel stopped, I progressively eased the top over until I could join the tip of it to the side of the cylinder, forming a loop. I smeared the clay at the joint to make the beginnings of a tail.  The following day, when the clay had stiffened a little, I was able to add a slab of clay to the piece to form a base.  After that I could turn everything over and build the head out of the wide end and add detail to the tail in the thin part that joined back to the side of the cylinder.  Once all that was complete I added the detail to the head and textured the body to form the scales.  I used a little wooden tool for this and did the scales one by one, I think that if I was to make many of these fish I would make a set of clay stamps or rollers that added the scale textures when pushed into the clay.  This would make the job much faster, but would take some time initially to prepare.

The thrown fish was more or less OK, but I was concerned that I had the clay just a little thick.  In order to be able to loop the clay over, a reasonable thickness of clay had to be left in the initial cylinder to allow for the stretch of one side and the compression of the other.  In addition I felt like the little fish was a bit short in stature!

A fish from Coils!
Building by coiling and pinching clay was slower, but gave me far more control.  The much larger fish that I made feels light and well balanced.

I started by making the base, and then progressively worked upwards making the twin forms of the tail and the main body of the fish at the same time.  Every so often I would use a small gas torch to firm up the clay lower down so that I could keep on building without the fish slumping, thickening, or collapsing.  It took me all of an afternoon to build the basic structure this way, and a morning to do the decoration of it, but I am happy with the way it is looking so far.  Currently the jug is in the kiln cooling after bisque firing, so I really hope that it has come through the firing intact.  The fish will shrink in this firing and its later glaze firing, and should end up just a little bit bigger than the damaged jug.

The dilemma that I always encounter when doing any one-off commissioned work is that it seems almost impossible to make much of a financial return for the hours that have been swallowed up (and this is not intended as a criticism of my clients!).  However, looking at it in another way, the return that I get on my investment of money spent on clay, glaze materials, and firing, is far more than if I had left the money in the bank!  To charge at a rate that any other professional person would charge would make things completely unaffordable for the client, and I would probably get no commissions at all, which would be disastrous.

There always have been benefits of doing commissions that go beyond the financial ones, in my case, as a potter who has not served an apprenticeship with another potter or attended a course of study, such commissions stretch me and improve my skills.  There is also a very real blessing of building relationships with others.  Many of our very dear friends first came to us as clients.

Waikouaiti Lagoon


gz said...

commissions always challenge us-if anything is going to go wrong, it will be one of them!

Angie said...

I love your coiled fish ...hope the firing and glazing goes well.

I think you need to do it for love, experience and material costs ...even your normal pots cant bring that much return in profit per hours work.

Hannah said...

Blimey I know exactly what you mean. It can be really hard to price commissions appropriatly. It looks fab though.

Arkansas Patti said...

I would think the challenge itself to be really stimulating and the finished project immensely rewarding.
Of course when time spent equates bread bought, I understand there could be a different attitude.
Think you did a super job and hope you show us the finished result.

Peter said...

Hello Everyone, thank you for your comments. Happy to report that the coiled fish has got through its first firing OK, so just the glaze firing to go. I'll be doing a glaze test firing first with some other work just to make quite sure I'm right with the choice of glaze and so on. Meanwhile, it has been snowing hard here and we're cut off from Dunedin! Apparently it has even snowed in Auckland, which is almost unheard of, and there are another couple of days of snow to come! Kind Thoughts, P

Hannah said...

Was just here to ask you how the snow is. Just been looking at pics. Enjoy it!

Elaine Bradley said...

Good job on the glugging fish. Very similar form to Bristile (WA China company) Dhufish forms of a few decades ago, but theirs were fatter and usually had a spectacular lustre finish.

John said...

Well Glugged Peter!

raindrop said...

Thank you again for such an inspirational blog Peter.You are very generous and quite brave taking on such a varied range of projects to help others.

Peter said...

Hi Hannah,
The good news is.... I'm about to do a snow post, hope to have it away in another couple of hours!

Hello Elaine, welcome to my site. I was really interested in what you said about the Dhufish forms, and had a happy time looking at them on the internet. Really impressive what Bristile did. The funny thing was that I did think about lustre. I have a feeling that this form might actually be quite an ancient one. When I made my first attempt on the wheel I was really struck with how like an animal horn it was, and could imagine a bronze age artisan making one... or earlier still.

Hello there Dad! Many thanks!

Hello Jill (raindrop),
Lovely to hear from you, welcome to my blog and thanks for persevering with the comment system. I'm not sure if I am "brave" or daft sometimes..., but taking on commissions is always educational and it does help one grow in technical knowledge, especially if things go wrong!

Pat - Arkansas said...

I continue to be amazed by your varying skills, Peter. I greatly admire the fish jugs (both thrown and coiled). I hope your clients are appropriately appreciative of your efforts.

Dave said...

Loved your chun glaze and your crystaline ones too. Collected and have owned chinese porcelain for over fifty years. Saw a lovely celadon glaze large dish on trademe recently and assume it was yours. One of the subtlest and most gorgeous of all glazes in my opinion. Do you still use that glaze? Dave.

Peter said...

Thanks Dave for writing in, good to hear from you. Regarding celadon glaze, it certainly can be really lovely, I use it when I am firing stoneware pots in my wood fired kiln. Unfortunately my poor kiln has been neglected for the last year or so, because I have been so involved with crystalline glazed work that has been mostly fired in the electric kiln (although extra firings have been done in an experimental small wood fired kiln). I certainly plan to do celadon and shino glazes once again, but I need to organise time to make the right sort of work for firing in the wood fired kiln. Sadly genuine celadon can't really be done in an oxidizing atmosphere, such as is normally provided by an electric kiln, so I can't put a few pots in with a crystalline firing.

I'm interested by your comment about possibly seeing one of my pieces on Trademe, I haven't personally tried selling that way, but someone may have put something of mine on there.