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>Working Stories

Technical posts about ceramic artisan work and techniques

Arts and Crafts Today

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. (William Morris, The Beauty of Life, 1880)

“To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it”.(William Morris, The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress, 1877)

William Morris at the age of 53

With these words, which sound like music to my ears, William Morris expresses his thoughts and the essence of the Arts and Crafts Movement he founded at the end of the 1800s in London, in the Victorian Age. This Art Movement was born to safeguard the manual work of the man and the quality of handmade products in contrast with the unavoidable  and irreversible spread of industrialization. The Arts and Crafts Movement was important because it emphasized man’s need to be surrounded by beautiful things in all his daily life to make life better, questioning the ugliness of industrial products and denouncing the lowering of the quality of life of workers working within the English factories.

More than a century has passed since that era, everything has changed and yet I think that many of the ideas and principles of that movement can be more urgent than ever. In such a technological contemporary world made of high tech, smartphones and social networks where the real is virtual, in a society where almost everything is produced at low cost, in a present so frenetic and alienating, I think that craftsmanship is an activity deserves to be promoted and spread. Once the expression “handmade” was intended as a guarantee of the quality of a product; later, I do not know exactly why, it came eclipsing almost as if it were a demerit note; thus we witnessed a sort of reversal of the judgment as if only what was done industrially and had a great signature could be something qualitatively valid.

Craftsmanship is making a huge comeback these days. Just as William Morris thought, craftsmanship improves the quality of life of both those who practice it and those who like its outcomes. The craftsman benefits from his work because manual work, whatever it is, brings you back to reality, makes you regain the sense of time and place, here and now, makes you come into profound contact with yourself. When you work manually and you are focused on creating something out of nothing, you are the one who gave the time, and you decide how to do that particular job and the satisfaction of seeing an object created into your hands is all yours. Behind the handmade there is a certain genuineness and honesty that is typical of manual work.

But craftsmanship is also good for others, those who are not artisans. In a world dominated by Ikea-style furnishings (by the way, my house also is not free of it!), where all the houses have the same line and only the combinations of colors and modules change, people need authenticity, uniqueness, originality and personality. And many people look for these qualities in objects, clothes, food, experiences and different aspects of their lives. This is proved by the fact that today the demand for handmade products is growing and there are many creative people who choose to become artisans and open their own laboratory, of ceramics, leather goods, tailor’s shop confectionery, etc., doing things with their own hands, leaving a mark on the world by producing something unique for themselves and for others.

When I pause to reflect on my work as a ceramist, I think of all this … Despite the difficulties in engaging in a job “on my own”, I think I am lucky to have a passion as strong as ceramic. A work  A job that gives me great satisfaction both in the creation process and in the moment I see one of my objects coming out of my door and entering someone’s house. Exit the laboratory in the evening after so many hours focused on getting your hands “in dough” and look forward to getting back there is a pleasure that I consider a luxury!

By |2019-06-21T19:05:51+02:00June 7th, 2019|Working Stories|

Chasing a Shape

Looking at the ceramic production of the past is a way to find my own style.

It is incredible how a material soft as clay can be transformed into a solid and durable object. Its plasticity makes it so ductile that it can take any shape you want. Clay is one of the first materials that human beings have worked. The history of ceramics runs parallel to the history of man from its origins to the present. It is interesting to see how different civilizations and cultures have given birth to a very rich variety of forms and objects.

The shape of an object reflects the culture and values of a certain population in a specific historical period, such as the spread of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pitchers in pre-Columbian civilizations, or the prevalence of ovoid-shaped vases in Ancient Greece. In both cases the choice of style, color or decorative motif reflects uses and customs of the culture to which they belong. In the art of indigenous civilizations the intimate and profound link between man, nature and the animal world is clearly visible. Greek pottery arise from the need for domestic and commercial use; the quality is always very high and the style changes according to the geographical area and the epoch, from the oldest protogeometric style to the more “recent” and elegant ceramic with blacks figures originating from Corinth and red figures of Athenian production.

Anthropomorphic Pitcher

Anthropomorphic Pitcher from the collection of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago de Chile

Attican red-figure krater

Attican red-figure krater, from the Greek collection of the “Museo Civico Archeologico”, Bologna

As for me, I am experimenting and working hard to find my style. I adore simple shapes, minimal but never banal. I love lines, both painted and engraved. I prefer monochrome colors often combined with the color of terracotta. I adore the contrast between the gloss of the crystalline and the matte effect of the surface finished with wax.

My ceramics distance from the elaborate decorations typical of many local Italian traditions, such as the beautiful and elegant figurative and floral motifs of the majolica renaissance style of Deruta and Faenza. I feel much closer to the design of northern Europe or to the ceramic production of some Japanese traditions.  For example the Hagi pottery, produced mainly for tea utensils, is characterized by the sober beauty of the shapes and the delicate chromatic choice given by the application of a slightly opaque enamel.

Vase with leaf motif

Vase with leaf motif, from “Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche”, Faenza

Hagiyaki Pottery

Hagiyaki Pottery, Japan-Guide.com

The research for shape is the result of a long process made of inspiration, sketches and tests. I am a great observer. I look around me a lot, I enjoy going to museums and attend exhibitions,  I like going into nice shops and look at craft and design objects. Moreover, I seek for lots of images on the internet, finding sites or blogs of artisans who, just like me, have a passion for ceramics and have turned it into their work. I do a lot of research, I catalog and archive the images of objects that inspire me. I develop ideas in my head and then I translate them into real objects in the laboratory. The work I do in the laboratory is as important as the time spent searching for sources of inspiration. They are two moments in my work that run together and allow me to create always new shapes. I think that doing an exclusively introspective work in the laboratory is not very profitable, it is important to deal with the production of others and the beauty that surrounds us…there is always something new to learn.

Images Sources:

www.precolombino.cl

www.museibologna.it/archeologico

www.japan-guide.com

www.micfaenza.org

By |2019-04-05T20:04:21+02:00April 5th, 2019|About Ceramic, Working Stories|

Thoughts of an artisan

Shaping the clay requires long time, patience, concentration and confidence in the results… all mental attitudes that require serenity, break for a while the often too hectic pace of everyday life. Every time to reach the laboratory I go through a part of my city, I listen to its booming sounds, I look at its beauties and its ugliness, I slip into the urban flows of its streets… Then I go through the door of the laboratory and it’s like entering an other dimension. My mind is freed from all external impulses and it is focused on my working hands. In front of me there are only my turntable, tools and many coils… time passes and the object takes shape almost by magic.

By |2019-03-25T18:10:30+02:00February 15th, 2019|Working Stories|

Step By Step

The last week the kiln has arrived. This huge green cube of 150 kilos is on my terrace. It can exceed 1000 °C (1832 °F). It is powerful and gentle at the same time, increasing temperature at a slow rate, in order to allow a smooth drying of the clay.

After all the path that led me here and the successful Kickstarter, I can increase the production and cook on my own.

Becoming a ceramist is a long way, built step by step … and I think that the arrival of the oven makes me go forward one step (a big step!) in my path.

I did a little test and it seems to work very well, I can’t wait to cook my first objects.

The cooking process, which lasts about 22 hours, creates expectations, and can produce disappointments or great satisfaction. Open the kiln, wait for the hot air to flow away, see the objects in their new dry guise and check that they are cooked well, that nothing has broken and the colours have come as you wanted. It is really exciting!

My working schedule is going to be very busy in the next days, as I am finally starting to produce objects promised as rewards for my Kickstarter. So, the kiln will have to do his job several times…now it is time to start shaping clay!

By |2019-06-07T12:56:01+02:00September 29th, 2018|Working Stories|

How I decided to became a ceramist

Sometimes it takes time to gather the courage to risk and spend energy in a new adventure, in an idea, in a dream. Courage often joins the hand of chance or fate that sneaks into your life diverting unexpectedly the direction already taken.

This is exactly what happened to me: three years ago my life was messed up by the arrival of my beautiful daughter, after a while I lost my job and then I resumed my old passion for ceramic, taking it more seriously and determined to turn my hobby into my job.

It hasn’t been easy. At the beginning, I practiced a lot, I did many ugly objects and I had many doubts, then I started to have my first satisfactions, to open the oven and feel happy about the results. The Coiling Technique requires time and patience. The clay is worked in the form of ropes (called colombini), which are slowly and gently rolled over each other giving shape to the object. You have to try and try again before managing to handle the clay perfectly and create a nice and unique piece

At one point I realized that I needed a support to make a new step in order to become a ceramist: I needed my own kiln to increase production. With my partner, we decided to rely on crowdfunding and we turned to Kickstarter and it worked. It was fun, challenging, sometimes embarrassing because I am not used to appear in public. In a month, we managed to collect donations from all over the world, reaching and exceeding the amount I needed to buy the kiln. Today the new adventure has begun, it will be challenging but I’m ready to carry it on!

By |2019-03-20T17:06:50+02:00August 24th, 2018|Working Stories|

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