Friday, 26 August 2011

Jan Downes: Mark Making

Mark making
In my work I have always been interested in making marks on clay. Texture and line are prominent features of my porcelain work. In my first blog I wrote about making lithophanes but did not show examples, so here are a few. Since I have been illuminating porcelain, chasing its beautiful translucent qualities, my mark making has experimented with the potential of porcelain to admit light in varying degrees according to the thickness. The deeper the marks on the clay surface the greater the amount of light transmission. I have been trying to get a tonal range of translucency. Recently I have been making tiny holes which have allowed the light to pass through in tiny sparkles. These experiments have at times brought me to the point of finding the limits of the porcelain, which reveal themselves when the material cracks.
Sometimes I draw directly on the clay surface or on the plaster with a gouging tool, other times I make marks with a range of surprising found objects. I find myself always on the look out for unusual surfaces that might make interesting marks. Bits and pieces from nature are always attractive. One of my favourites is a sea urchin shell, and it can be rolled along. So often it is the unexpected objects that might make a great texture, such as the inner sole of a shoe, a lid opener, a plastic toy crocodile or some bubble wrap…Always looking and thinking in reverse.
This interest prompted my search through fifty years of Pottery in Australia (Australian ceramics) journals, not all of them but most, in a library collection. I did not find any articles specifically on mark making however did find some information on tools, and in particular two tools that will make small openings: the kind I like for the light to pass my pieces.
I was delighted to find the fipple stick (Pottery in Australia vol 15, no 2, 1976) the author Julei Korner, “I carved and sanded a thin sliver of Cyprus pine into a long flat shape of equal thickness, leaving enough of the original piece to form a handle. Cyprus pine was used because it is hard yet flexible.” A fipple is the name of the passageway at the head of a wind instrument that allows a channel for air, in the article it described how to place three incisions in the making of ocarinas. While this is a specific use I think a fipple stick could be used for many purposes, small holes in the porcelain to allow the light through.
Another tool is the tapered hole cutter “it can be made from an old-style post office pen nib and handle reverse the nib in the holder and file it to a taper, then squeeze it with a pair of pliers so it tapers towards the cutting edge.” Its specific use is for teapot strainer holes, again it can be used in a variety of applications.(Pottery in Australia vol 23, no 1,1984, from Handbook for Australian Potters, DeBoos al(1984)

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