“The craft impulse has become dispersed in millions of do-it-yourself projects and basement workshops, where men and women have sought the wholeness, the autonomy, and the joy they cannot find on the job or in domestic drudgery.” – T. J. Jackson Lears

I’ve discovered two new little surface decoration things in the studio, both of which have some promise. (And when I say discovered, I don’t mean “new”, in the sense of “no new thing under the sun”. I mean something I stumbled onto myself, which I don’t remember being pointed towards from some outside source. Most likely, I’m just repeating what’s well known elsewhere; reinventing a wheel for the sake of doing it myself.)

Anyways, the first one is this smearing of the black underglaze after it comes out of the bisque kiln. For years now — how many? more than 10… maybe even 15? — I’ve brushed commercial black underglaze patterns on my pots at the leatherhard stage. Most often I then carve little ‘pips’ back through it, to reveal the clay body color underneath and add texture — what I call “Domino” pattern, for lack of a better name. (Note: I don’t think that name has any symbolic or referential meaning, other than perhaps the fact that I like to play games. Circumstantial, at best. Oh, and I really like the parephenalia of table and board games: rule books, cards, tokens and printed chits, dice, illustrations, etc.)

Anyways anyways, at some point I realized that this underglaze isn’t completely “fixed” at my bisque temp (∆07), Instead, it’s still kind of dusty and the top layer easily smudges or rubs off. Initially, I saw this as a flaw — the painted sections would smear into the unpainted sections. So I tried to work around it, carefully handling the pots so as not to touch the underglazed areas until after there was wax or glaze over them (and not at all if those parts were going into the kiln bare). Since that’s very difficult to do, a few smudges occasionally slip through the glaze firing — which makes the underglaze glossy and permanent. And I gradually found that I liked the effect. The smearing or odd fingerprint leaves a slightly darkened halo, sort of like you’d get from the overspray of a spray paint or airbrush.

Lately, I’m liking that effect so much — especially after the atmospheric salt has had its say, kissing everything with a bit of organic randomness and gloss — that I’ve started leaving most of the incidental marks alone, and even purposefully smearing the edges and lines that I painted on earlier. Since most of my designs are hard-edged and geometric (again, if there’s some symbolism or “meaning” there, I’ll be damned if I know what it is. Feel free to advance your own theories!), this blurring or softness can be really nice; another layer of semi-intent on top of or next to all my layers of intent. Similar to when a pattern of dots accidentally breaks down; proof that I’m doing these one at a time, by hand, with all the potential flaws and variability that entails. I’m not a machine, and neither are you.

All that said, it’s subtle. Like, so subtle I’m not sure you’ll even be able to spot it in these photos:

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

This one has a gnarly S-crack in the base, but other than that came out really nice.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

There’s a lot of it on that first pitcher on the right. A little near the top of the deco on that taller pitcher, below. It’s more noticeable with the pot in hand. (Hint, hint.)

Anyways, I may be on my way to making it even more of a thing. We’ll see.

The second thing is also a smudging/blurring/fucking-with-my-past-intent technique, which I discovered by complete accident during my last glazing session. I apply most flashing slips (eg. a very thin, kaolin-based layer of clay, closer in composition to the clay body than to an actual glaze) at the bisqueware stage.

(Which, incidentally, I’ve recently learned is fairly uncommon. Most of my “Friends” seem to do it at leather. Not sure where I picked up doing it the less popular way, but I’m pretty sure I was just following Clary and most of the other students at E’Ville, the two places where I learned salt/soda.)

So — applying the slips and then glazing over them works totally fine… except for the rare occasion when I spill glaze over the raw slip in a place I don’t want it. There’s no easy “erase” option, because wiping off the glaze also means taking away the raw slip underneath it. Ugh!

So the other day I lost my concentration for a moment* while sloshing the liner glaze around inside this nice oval jar, so that when I poured the excess glaze out, a big mangled drip of it ran down the outside rim. Now, oftentimes, I can live with that; I’ll just roll with it. But in this case the glaze drip clashed badly with this elaborate Domino decoration I’d put on the pot. And it was a first-time pattern — one I’d never done before — that took a (relatively) long time to do, and which I was quite pleased with. The form of the pot I had nailed almost exactly as I’d wanted, and I had a clear idea what I was going for. I just couldn’t let that drip stand.

[* I was probably thinking about something like how Trump is a horrifying, sociopathic narcissist who shouldn’t be allowed to run for my local, tiny city council, let alone perhaps the most powerful office on earth. Or maybe it was about Minecraft; or about something Malcolm Gladwell had just said on Revisionist History.]

So, feeling a little desperate, I decided to just roll back as far as I had to, wash off the drip and all the slip, even if it meant not getting it into this glaze firing. (If it was just a complete mess, I figured I’d wash everything off and send it back through the bisk firing, to burn off the wax, etc, and start over next time.) The pot was worth getting right.

But then, as I started sponging, I saw that the slip was coming off – well – interestingly. There was some pleasing randomness, to it; something caught my eye. Like a wash — a coat deliberately applied and then selectively removed — the flashing slip was staying put in the texture of the clay, at the joins of the little lugs, and along the horizontal grooves I’d thrown in with a metal rib. On the smooth, broader surfaces, it seemed to have left behind a little staining of the slip’s color; about as much as I’d get from a very diluted brush stroke.

“Hmm…”, I go. “Hmm, hmm, hmm.” Like Merlin Mann when he’s straining for attention. And then my inner John Siracusa, just like the real life John Siracusa, says, “Hey, dummy, isn’t that pretty close to the effect you go to all those elaborate lengths to get in the salt kiln? I mean, it’s right there on the pot already — why would you not go with this?”. And, as usual, inner John S. puts inner Merlin M. to shame, slicing through the murky, humanities-esque bullshit with his Lightsaber of Compelling Reason in a way that’s impossible to argue with.

And, unlike the real life Merlin M., my imaginary Merlin M. quickly relents, admits he has no counter, and that he should probably even just stop trying to talk for the next half hour or so. And then we end the show without subjecting our listeners to a third commercial break.

I’m sorry — where were we?

Ah yes.

Anyways, here’s that pot after the firing:

Oval w/ domino stairs.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

It’s another subtle effect, and one I’ve probably now oversold by a poorly-graveled country mile. But still quite nice, I think. Yay, innovation. Yay, process. Yay, me, and the voices in my head.

“Betting against technological progress is always a bad idea.” – John Siracusa

“You know why? Because I’m a lapsed fan. I’m pained; I’m hurt.” – Merlin Mann