I have attended a lot of craft fairs in my short time in business, but rarely have I seen such beautiful, delicate ceramics as Anne's, which I found at the Support Local Popup in Tunbridge Wells. Every single one of her pieces was exquisite, with a delicate balance of clean lines and subtle colours that immediately jumped out at me.
Two pieces in particular caught my eye. The first (of course!) was this stunning ink well that, quite simply, sang to me:
The second was the most gorgeous, delicate white cube of what looked like origami, but was in fact porcelain, which you can see some photographs of below
I was so intrigued as to how she made them (How?!) I asked Anne if she would be the first artist to appear in my brand new #spotlight_on feature* to talk about the process behind her cubes and the ideas that got her there. (Spoiler alert: she said yes).
So, without further ado, I'm going to hand you over to Anne, who was kind enough to to describe her process for me in this piece:
A short blog on the process of making ceramic cubes using origami paper as a casting mould, by Anne Wagstaff.
Clay is such a wonderful malleable substance that can be used to make sturdy bricks or the finest porcelain tea cups. I particularly like the challenge of capturing some of the fluidity of the clay from the early stages of making, when the clay is soft or even liquid, in the final solid piece.
"Ceramic making is a fairly brutal process."
It involves high temperatures, around 1240˚C in my case, and long slow cooling. Inevitably there are breakages and unexpected happenings along the way. I made life particularly hard for myself making these little origami cubes. I lose about half of them in the manufacturing process, though with experience I am learning to avoid some of the pitfalls.
"My aim is to make a tactile object that captures the softness of the clay in its final solid form"
They remind me of those 1980s desk top ‘toys’, Newton’s Cradle- a nice thing to fiddle with whilst on the phone!
I start with a piece of square origami paper, folded using the instructions from my childhood origami book into a ‘waterbomb’ box.
I tape the box with a masking tape to add a little rigidity.
I then inject a quantity of liquid porcelain, known as casting slip, into the waterbomb and spend time rotating it to try to coat the inside evenly.
It then spends about three weeks sitting in a plastic drying box, being regularly turned. As it slowly dries and becomes more solid I dare to start removing the tape. The tape doesn’t burn off cleanly in the kiln, I think because it contains some plastic, so has to be completely removed.
"I also make sure at this stage that there is a small hole in the cube somewhere to allow expanding gases to escape in the kiln . . . otherwise they do just explode!"
When I am completely confident that they are dry, which I test by touching them to my face and feeling if they are warm or slightly cool due to retained water, they head to their first or, bisque, firing which changes them from clay to ceramic at some point in the 1000˚ heat.
"The thrill of opening the kiln to see if they have survived doesn’t get stale."
I do get ones with holes or gaps in which initially I called failures but I am starting to really like them. They carry the scars of the brutal processes and have their own beauty that isn’t quite what I set out to make.
The next stage is deciding whether to glaze or leave raw. Either way they get a good sand to smooth over any lumps and bumps and add a silky smoothness. Glazing takes place in a much hotter kiln; I take mine up to 1240˚C and hope that the kiln gods are looking on kindly.
I have loved developing this process. It has taught me a lot about the nature of clay and what it will tolerate and what it refuses to do.
"It has taught me patience. It has also taught me that ‘failures’ are not that at all."
Written by Anne Wagstaff. Process photos by Anne Wagstaff, photos of ink well by Nicola Budd.
If you're interested in seeing Anne at work, she says that
"Open Studios are in June, and you can click the link here for all the details. I am artist 91."
*This #spotlight_on series will bring you inspiring artists, creatives and eco bloggers speaking about their processes, top tips and businesses through interviews and guest blogs. I have some seriously exciting posts ready to go and you will be able to catch it on Fridays, monthly, starting from today. To get notifications of when these blogs are up, you can sign up to my blog (don't worry, you won't get any other random mail from me!), or follow me on instagram @howellillustration.