Nick Ramey started out making high-fire, wheel-thrown pottery,
but during graduate school became enamored with handbuilding low-fire
earthenware sculptures. After grad school he decided to combine his
various new skills and interests to make thrown and altered functional
work, but add sculptural details to infuse it with humor.|
In today’s post, Nick explains his forming process. To learn about his decorating processes, check out the September/October 2012 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
During my time in graduate school, I made the switch from producing wheel-thrown, high-fired functional pottery, to working with low-fire red earthenware to handbuild large-scale figurative sculptures. With this change came a whole new array of possibilities for colors and surfaces that were more difficult to achieve at high temperatures. I am attracted to the bright colors available in commercial underglazes and stains, but feel that they are inherently flat, and lack the depth and sense of life that I was used to with high-fire glazes. To counteract this, I use a multi-step firing process in order to give these low-fire colors more of a high-fire look.
After graduate school, I returned to making pottery, but had to figure out a way to combine the things I enjoy about working on the wheel with my newly acquired handbuilding skills, and infuse it all with humorous narratives. The body of work that I have created with these criteria is broad ranged, and includes a series of lidded containers, casserole dishes, and vases. The pieces all start as round, wheel-thrown forms that are altered into different shapes and finished with a variety of handbuilding techniques. One of my favorite of these forms is the Basket Vase. I love the dramatic contrast between the profile of the front versus the side, and the tension that is created with the handle springing off of, and connecting, the figures.
Throwing and Altering
To create the body, start by throwing a tall cylinder that is open at the bottom. It is important to use a bat when creating this form. This makes it possible to move the piece off of the wheel without messing up the form or any of its details. Based on the proportions, I make light marks on the surface with a needle tool to divide the form into sections (figure 1). Pressing in from the outside using a kidney shaped rib creates the concave contour of each individual section. After defining the contours, use a wooden knife to create a clean line between each section in order to make the individual curves stand out (figure 2), and give the appearance that the piece is comprised of multiple forms stacked on top of one another. The idea is to fool the viewer about exactly how a piece was made, making the process a bit mysterious.
The next step is altering the form from round to oval. By throwing the cylinder without a bottom, it can easily be transformed into virtually any shape, from oval, to square, to a figure eight. The alterations are done on the wheel immediately after the form is thrown. I start by cleaning up any slip or excess clay that is on the bat, both inside and outside of the cylinder. Then I add a small amount of clean water to the bat and cut the piece off using a wire tool, while the wheel is spinning slowly. This is important with bottomless cylinders; if the wheel is not spinning when the wire is pulled through, one side will cave in and create a flat spot. Next, using a long dowel rod on the inside of the cylinder (figure 3), the piece is reshaped into an oval and fine tuned by hand. Pulling the cylinder from the inside with the dowel and by hand, instead of pushing it from the outside, preserves the lines and details on the outside and maintains the integrity of the oval.