About Textures

Early in my ceramics career, the use of textures became my major method of decoration (Figure 1). In this short review, I will discuss the influences on my texturing techniques.

My ceramics career began in 1999 when I took my first class at the Palo Alto Art Center in Palo Alto, California. Initially my focus was on form. I liked the classic forms often found in ceramics, metal, and related 3D art. I was particularly interested in vase and globe forms with a small base and a generous, graceful shape. I spent many hours improving my throwing of these shapes.

Eventually, I began to think about my decoration of these forms. Simple glazing and even multiple glazing were not fulfilling. Although I enjoy sketching, I was not satisfied with my painting on vessels. So I began exploring low-fire American raku techniques. I was particularly drawn to simple white crackle glazing. With careful attention to the smoking process following the firing, I learned to create a random crackle pattern uniformly around the vessel surface and eventually to have the pattern reflect the form and variations in elements on the piece (Figure 2).

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Figure 1. Sunflower – Desert Series, 2008, 22cm x 18cm tall
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Figure 2. Raku Vessel, 2002, 30cm x 36cm tall
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Figure 3. Mashiko Tsubo-Jar by Shimaoka Tatsuzo, 1962, 24cm x 30.5cm tall (photo from Robert Yellin, Yakimono Gallery)

In 2000, I took a trip with fellow ceramicists to Japan. This changed my entire approach. During a visit to the studio of Shimaoka Tatsuzo, a Mashiko potter and “Living National Treasure” or Ningen Kokuho (more correctly an intangible cultural asset), I became fascinated with his texturing of pieces. He had developed style he called Jomon zogan. This style began with rolling a small rope over the soft surface of a finished piece. The impression was allowed to dry and then a white slip was painted on the surface. After further drying, the surface was scrapped to reveal the underlying pattern (Figure 3). Shimaoka had created a unique technique that greatly enhanced his pieces and was harmonious with their shape and style.

I returned home excited to try his technique. I had some success copying this texturing, but I found that impressing the rope also slightly distorted the classical shapes I so prized. I tried impressing the rope on cylinders prior to expanding the volume of the vessel on the potter’s wheel. However the resulting pattern was no longer visually strong. This lead me try other, deeper impressing techniques. The textures had to be strong yet reflect the classical shapes and not overpower the vessel. Ultimately I developed a few textures using this method that meet my criteria (Figures 4 & 5).

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Figure 4. Chain Vase – Winter Series, 2006, 34cm x 30cm tall
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Figure 5. Sunflower – Winter Series, 2006, 14cm x 25cm tall

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Figure 6. Expanding Texture

Once I had completely textured a cylinder, I would never use my hand on the outside again. I was fascinated by the way the pattern evolved as I began shaping the piece from the inside only. The texture would twist and expand. I saw that this expansion helped to integrate the texture and shape – where the piece was expanded the texture opened (Figure 6). As the pattern adjusted to the shape of the vessel, it became reflective of nature’s adaptation to form, as seen in the patterns in seashells, reptile skins, and plants. This

Because these pieces were intended to be classic graceful shapes, any flaw was obvious. The challenge was to make the texture match around and all of the way down the cylinder. In addition, impressing the texture created a thin wall that could easily tear, thus I had to develop my techniques to ensure that I could visually control the final shape while feeling the inside surface with my fingers to recognize the limit of the clay walls’ plasticity. When done correctly, the results were very pleasing to view and touch.

I seek to create patterns and textures that emphasize the organic interplay between order and randomness as found in nature. My glazing process enhances this aesthetic. Thinly glazed surfaces highlight the macro-patterns and reveal the stoneware clay’s micro-texture created during the expansion process. I often use multiple glazes to intensify the dynamic tension of the surface (Figure 5). I have learned that a select few glazes work well with a given texture and shape. Some firing techniques do not compliment a given texture. For example, the random patterns created by wood firing may “fight” with a texture. Yet a hint of texture around the neck of a bottle can enhance the appearance of a wood fired piece. The search for the right combination goes on.

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Figure 7. Chrysanthemum, 2009, 15cm x 13cm, carved before expansion
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Figure 8. Carved Bottle – Sea Foam, 2010, 15cm x 23cm, carved after expansion
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Figure 9. Snowfall Globe, 2008, 18cm x 15 cm tall, chattered surface
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Figure 10. Fire Glaze Sculpture, 2012, 25cm x 33cm tall

As I continued to study the work of other artists, I came to explore carving of surfaces as another expression of my love for texturing. In this case, I prefer texturing after the final form as been achieved; however, I like both (Figures 7 & 8). I usually begin at the top of the piece and work my way around and down the form. I often adjust the carving to reflect the changing shape. Sometimes this done by change the tool I am using. In other cases, I can achieve this effect by simply allowing the carving process to respond to the expanding or contracting shape. A texture used on only a portion of the surface can highlight the shape or add interest. No two pieces are quite identical. I think the variations in hand-made textures give the piece energy and acknowledge the nature of the process.

Chattering of leather-hard surfaces provides me with another satisfying technique. The chattering can be light or intense (Figure 9). Again, it is performed on a completed piece; and the choice of tools, clay dryness, application of force and general handling of the tools can provide a variety of results.

I see working in clay as a lifelong experience and experimenting as part of the learning process. I am always looking for new shapes. When I find a series of painted ceramic pieces on display that appeals to me, I may study where the artists have painted a glaze pattern. This can give me a suggestion of how to integrate 3-dimensional texturing into a similar form. There seems to be no end to the possibilities, but many experiments do not work, so I keep looking in nature and the ceramic world for ideas. My goal is to pursue the interplay of shape, surface texture, ordered patterns, and random effects so that work is created that intrigues the eye and demands to be touched (Figure 10).