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The perils and elation of 3D ceramic and glass original artworks

March 14, 2021 2 Comments

The Ceramicist Vivien Phelan blogger logo

Are you watching BBC Two's 'Pottery throw down' on Sunday evenings? I love it but feel sometimes it’s a bit of a farce with the high expectation placed on  candidates, given the time allocation.

More haste, less speed

You can't rush the art of making ceramics as impatience leads to disaster and disappointment.  Sally Tully, one of the very capable contestants on the programme had to leave the group.  Her parting words were, “the scariest thing about pottery is opening the kiln and not knowing what’s inside .” I think ALL 3 Dimensional artists would agree and empathise with her.

Kiln God

Let’s face it, if you put something to heat up to 1250 degrees centigrade you may encounter a few mishaps. I think most of us have a friendly 'Kiln God'.  This is mine, he has been with me since my student days.

Kiln God image by Vivien Phelan

The perils of clay

There are perils right from the start: the clay needs wedging to remove all air to prevent a blow-out. Clay that's too wet or too dry is another problem. If you use the throwing technique and you don’t start forming exactly in the centre then you're bound for another disaster.

But worst of all, I think, is the last firing, as my artist colleague Richard Dickson  pointed out to me for my column last month.  When you have nursed a piece for weeks, put the glaze on, and then open the kiln for the final time, I can't deny it's a huge disappointment to find the glaze is not the colour - or the transparency - you wanted.  When such a piece is ruined, I can't bear to part with something that I have nurtured so long. So they end up in my garden in 'the ceramic cemetery'!

Ceramic cemetery by Vivien Phelan

When fellow artist Stella Tooth was studying portraiture at The Heatherley School of Fine Art, a summer task was to portray at least three people from life in a single artwork. Fascinated by the work of those on the sculpture course, she decided to capture her colleagus’ portrayal, in full and half life size, of a pregnant model. She felt a connection not only with the sculptors but to the sitter who offered the gift of portraying the beginnings of new life. Then one day her heart missed a beat when she learned one of the figures had snapped at the ankles in the subsequent processes to prepare it for exhibition. Thankfully the story has a happy ending with disaster averted by the tutor. But the experience taught her much about the thrills and spills - and skill - needed to work in clay.

Heatherleys sculptors oil on canvas by British figurative artist Stella ToothSculptors oil on canvas 150x100x2cm £1,500  For collection only from artist's home studio in Ealing. Click here to contact artist. 

Eryka Isaak is a glass artist.  She tells me, “Sometimes I love working with glass: it’s such a magical material. I like to push its boundaries however and introduce different materials into the glass through the fusing process.

"The glass likes it sometimes; sometimes not. I think I know what’s going to happen, and I create my artworks based on this 30 years’ experience of fusing and slumping glass. But things very often don’t go according to plan!"

Slumping is a kiln-forming process that uses heat and gravity to transform sheet glass into the shape of a mold. When the glass is heated in a kiln and enters a liquid state, the force of gravity pulls it to the floor.

"With the first of my exoplanet series, the glass cracked when I heated it up - and later on. The firing process takes three days so it’s pretty devastating when an artwork doesn’t come out the way I want it to. With the making process and cost of materials, it can be frustrating. But when it works, it's so amazing it makes the whole thing worthwhile!"

And this is the image that tells the heartbreaking story of the glass crack...

Exoplanet by Eryka Issak

But this story has a happy ending...

Here's EXOPLANET XIV  glass and metal 75cm diameter x 2cm £2,500 (photo by

Exoplanet XIV glass and metal by Eryka Issak

So it’s not all doom and gloom.  When it turns out as expected or, even better, the emotion is sheer joy and elation, such as shown in these pieces.

Black stoneware bird by Caroline Nuttall-Smith

Black Stoneware Bird incised with colour slip pattern 7x14x6.5cm by Caroline Nuttall-Smith £40

Angel egg ceramic form by Ruty Benjamini

Angel egg ceramic form by Ruty Benjamini 14x16x14cm £150

The Ceramicist Vivien Phelan's blogger column summary and photo

2 Responses

Gill Hickman
Gill Hickman

April 07, 2021

Thank you Vivien,

I really enjoyed reading about the the ups and downs of using a kiln. Very interesting.

Smita Sonthalia
Smita Sonthalia

April 07, 2021

I enjoyed reading the blog. All artworks looks amazing.

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