Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Designing holes

There is a famous Australian film called The Castle in which the son of an extremely ordinary family develops a sense of achievement in the world of DIY by digging a hole . This is followed by another  bland statement a few days later that he dug another hole. The droll nature of the statement has become a bit of an icon in our family, at least, since DIY has been quite a past time.  Digging a hole is actually quite hard work and digging a deep hole is extremely strenuous but when it is finished it doesn't jump out as a significant achievement.
So it is with ceramics. Essentially the potter is capturing a hole that didn't exist before. And a hole can make such a difference to the outer skin that holds it.
We seem to have an innate sense of proportion and pre determined calculation of mass that should accompany certain proportions so that when we come upon this magical combination our minds  then  immediately click other programs into action to assess surface, colour and feel. If we are drawn first to the visual colour, we might forgo mass or feel, because in our minds it has already become a decorative item and if our calculations don't add up about weight for volume we can overlook that. These intuitions probably go back to our survival skills of picking the juiciest fruit or heaviest coconut, that would repay the energy expended in climbing for it.

It is with all these seemingly intuitive judgments that the experienced ceramicist develops a form.

Is that hole going to contain just air for the rest of its existence, hot beverages, fat ice blocks, a chunky stew or a special little treat? Do spoons or chopsticks have to wrestle with its interior? Are the contents going to extend beyond the top of the opening and therefore change the centre of gravity.

So many times when selling things at markets we ceramicists are bemused by the question "What would you use it for?" I don't know if this is because buyers want to know if they are committing a sacrilege to feed the beloved kitten milk from it or whether they think there is some secret code in the ceramics world tied to notions of value that ascertain whether a piece is going into the "good" room. Heavens to Betsy if you "use" the Wedgewood!
Sometimes I can't believe that people have so little imagination, or are so bound with convention.  The idea of a container that can be used for one tim tam and also for wasabi  or dukkah at  a dinner table is a revealation to them. Our job is not just to provide the object but also the vision to go with it. I can't believe our audience want to be dictated to.

When I make vessels I use a printed guide of the Golden Mean. It was used by artists of the classical eras and is sometimes attributed to Euclid.
1:618..... it occurs in nature through the Fibonacci spiral and it is what dictates our seemingly innate sense of proportion.

I don't use it religiously but when I have developed something new and want to make a decision about its proportion, I might just put it up against the guide. When I have made something I don't feel comfortable about it usually doesn't fulfil the proportions of the golden ratio and sometimes the addition of a higher foot ring might make all the difference or  the addition of a darker colour in one part might give a sense of grounding and balance.

I haven't got it all worked out. I struggle with every little hole I make. I fight a mind that constantly seeks novelty over pursuit of perfect form. If my work becomes too perfect I whack it or bend it or draw on it left handed. I want my pieces to resemble humanity and none of us conforms to the golden mean entirely. I fight the machine made look that comes with constant practice. I know that if I spend a week in the studio at my wheel my pieces dance off the wheel as perfect little replicas but my urge is to fight that because the gesture and nuance is lost. Regular and matching is what the buyer wants but I have always been a rebel and I am my own worst enemy. We want to choose the puppy from the litter that we feel most connected to and a bowl or beaker that fits our hand and heart.

 So bad luck if you want any of my pieces fitted neatly on your shelf and perfectly lined up. It's not going to happen and if that is what you want you are best to go to Ikea.

                                           POST SCRIPT
A beautiful video on Fibonacci sent to me by Mirta

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