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Being completely new to clay, I’ve learnt a great deal from Nicky, as well as my own experimentation and exploration in the studio. We tend to think of a much more simplistic process in which artists create their work; for example, potters simply shape some clay on a throwing wheel, decorate it and fire it and tah-dah, you have a bowl. It was a misconception I had before starting at Habulous. There are actually a great number of careful, technical and detailed processes that go into making a ceramic piece. I myself sell my paintings and similarly have always found it frustrating when people don’t realise how much work is put into my artwork. However, this is also because it probably isn’t discussed enough to inform people. We only see the final outcome as a buyer or viewer, so we don’t realise or sometimes understand the length of processes behind the work.
So, when learning and actually making some ceramic pieces in the studio, I realised I too hadn’t been aware of the makings in this particular field of art. For example, Nicky taught me the fundamentals of clay before making the pieces to be sold on the Habulous shop: how it reacts with water, the different stages of drying, the different levels of kiln firing and how it can be manipulated. I initially thought you simply got the clay and made it into a shape, but I have now learnt you have to always be aware of how fast its drying to prevent it from being too hard to work with, and equally how moisture can either make it far too malleable to work with or how a simple damp sponge can help shape and smooth it. I’ve learnt that the texture of clay has a lot to do with the types of working you can do to and with it.
What I also didn’t know is that we fire the pieces a couple of times. The first firing, which is usually done at the lower temperatures, is known as ‘bisque’ (which actually means biscuit which I liked). This makes the clay hard and unaffected by moisture, but still brittle. Next, we glaze the pieces. The glazes we use tend to have matte, pastel appearances, which to my awe completely transform when fired for a final time at the higher temperatures, producing much more solid and vibrant colours, as well as movements. After the final firing, pieces are much more sturdy, however obviously still breakable if knocked or dropped (which we’ve unfortunately experienced a few times in the studio!).
Although I’m yet to learn throwing on the wheel - something I’ve been told takes years of practice - I have still learnt a lot from observing. Throwing is definitely not as simple as plonking down a bit of clay and magically moulding it into the perfect shape in a matter of minutes. Each piece goes through a variety of shapes and heights until being formed into the desired piece. And even then, they have to be as similar as possible in size, weight, diameter etc for it to be saleable - it’s a lot of work!
So far, I have been learning how to hand-pinch pots (which as you might’ve seen already are in fact the heads of our very popular hanging jellyfish air plants), as well as individually cutting out, smoothing, glazing and lustering our small ceramic jewellery pieces (the photo above shows a sneak peak of my new designs using Nicky's glazes), and carving soap dishes. Although great fun to do from a creative aspect, I’m still trying to master timings and accept that artwork, especially when you are intending to sell it, sometimes has to be viewed from an efficient and methodical point of view, but equally remaining mindful of how we want our pieces to be unique.