Our studio is small and we experiment a lot. However, when it comes to making items to sell in our gift shop, it is important to hone in on what our customers like and then repeat those designs. Prototyping is what it’s called when we experiment. Not all prototypes get approved for production and sometimes they don’t even make it to the gallery/gift shop to be sold as one-and-onlys. While many factors determine whether or not designs are appropriate for production pieces, complexity and appeal are probably the two most significant considerations. Our “production” runs are always limited to small quantities and only take place after we carefully refine a design and develop our processes to skillfully create multiples which are consistent in their size, shape and other aspects.
Prototypes take a long time to create because there are questions at every turn. There is a sketch, a plan, and then as we make a new design, we find parts of the process that could be smoother, elements that would be more appealing, etc. These prototypes are studied and improved upon through trial and error until we are confident that we have a design that is free from problems and ready for small-scale hand production using processes that are fully understood and consistent.
This is what production pottery looks like. The dishes are made, one step at a time, but in a group. So step one for dish one, dish two, dish three, and so on until we have our whole group finished with the initial step. Then, step two for dish one, dish two…get the picture? We move the piece forward through the steps as a group. This saves us the time of setting up for each step for each dish and allows us to pass those savings on to the customer in pricing that reflects a greater economy of making items in multiples, versus the very high cost of creating one-of-a-kind items.
For our sgraffito dishes, after all of the pieces are hand-built and carved, they must dry very slowly. The dishes are completely covered with plastic for at least 24 hours to allow the moisture content in the clay to equalize throughout each piece. Then throughout the next week plastic will be removed for a few hours each day, allowing the dishes, which are set out on drywall boards, to dry a little at a time. They are then wrapped in the plastic to equalize again overnight. This process is repeated until the dishes are dry enough to be lightly covered for a few more days and then ultimately set out to finish drying completely.
Clay tends to crack, or warp if it is dried too quickly, or unevenly; so drying at a controlled, slow pace is a very important step. You can tell when the clay is drying when you see the clay lighten in color. You can also feel the clay’s temperature; if it is cold to the touch, it is still wet inside; if it feels room temperature, it is dry and ready for kiln firing. Firing clay that is still wet can cause the water inside the clay to expand, resulting in the clay-ware exploding in the early stages of firing. Therefore, it is critical that the ware be “bone dry” before it is placed in the kiln for “bisque” firing which burns out the clay’s organic material and hardens the ware making it ready for glazing or other decoration.
This is only the first leg of the journey in the creation of this group of plates. Next, you will see how we add color to these dishes before the final glaze firing. We will be sharing all the steps throughout the whole process!