Ceramics: Seeking inspiration from nature and the garden

Over the last few years we have been having great fun exploring a new pastime, ceramics. Having spent a couple of years understanding and practicing the basics of building and glazing we are now beginning to have enough confidence to try out something more experimental. As with all experimentation this is sometimes successful but often not. However that is half the fun.

I think what I like most is the mix of art, engineering and science that goes into each piece you make. In addition to making something aesthetically pleasing you have to understand the mechanics of making it stand upright both during the build and firing. Finally the science around the glazes and the mix of oxides they contain is fascinating and often the outcome is unexpected.

Last autumn I came across this delightful group of mushrooms on a decaying piece of wood. These delicate groups are so transient and only last a few days so I felt there was an opportunity to capture this moment in time before they faded.

The resulting ceramic ‘mushroom-scape’ worked out rather well I think. The piece was hand crafted in crank stoneware clay to make it more robust for an outdoor piece. It was glazed in an Oatmeal glaze using different thicknesses of glaze to highlight the texture of the mushrooms and the ‘trunk’ base. I was particularly pleased how well the Oatmeal glaze reflected the colour of the real mushrooms.

The second set of pieces draw on seed heads from the garden. Nearest to the camera is a large nigella seed head and next to it an opium poppy seed head. Each stands about 5-7 inches high.

Something I learnt quite quickly is that to create both the look and a strong structure you have to mimic the way the plant itself constructs the seed head. This kind of work makes you look very closely into the detail of the form you are trying to build and this I find fascinating.

Both of these pieces are made using stoneware clay with the pieces shaped using various slump molds. The poppy seed head starts from two half spheres which are then joined and shaped. The nigella seed head is created from eight hollow teardrop shaped pieces that are joined at the edges to form the basic shape which is then refined.

Each of these pieces has been glazed with a Green Hue stoneware glaze with the addition of Tenmoku glaze. Tenmoku over Green Hue creates the lovely chestnut brown highlights.