The Potter’s Craft

Charles charles_fergus_binnsBinns is known as “the Father of American Studio Ceramics”. Binns brought forth important information about ceramic clay and glaze recipes. He is also known for teaching others about the balance between science, math and ceramics. Along with being a potter and a professor, Charles F. Binns is also an art critic, so the introduction of this book starts off with a general overview of what art should be and how it ought to be perceived.  Binns strongly believes that art should always have a function and a sense of purpose. From the perspective of an outside viewer, when looking at an art piece, it is easily under appreciated by those who do not create it, especially with art pieces, which are more than just purely aesthetic. In order for one to truly understand the process of such a medium, one has to understand the science and math behind the material.  While describing the process of creating ceramic work and how it can be elevated, Binns touches on the science behind clay throughout The Potter’s Craft.

This book was published in 1910 and was reprinted in 1967. As aforementioned, this book is important because it describes the work process of making a ceramic piece. However, before it gets into detail about the method, the book gives us a bit of background history of pottery its purpose as it evolved over the years. It then switches to addressing the clay, what gives it its properties, and the steps needed to prepare the clay for use. Continuing chronologically, details about the techniques used to create the different kinds of pieces are discussed in a thorough manner. Following this, Binns discusses the glazing processes. Binns reverts back to providing scientific background on how firing works, and the effects different temperatures have on multiple types of clays. He provides this information because it helps better explain his methods of working with the clay.

Binns includes a background on pottery because one should know the reason for using different clays and it has changed over time. The opening chapter focuses on expressing the importance of function verses aesthetics. It does so by looking on the where pieces were made with the sole purpose of being functional, when clay was used more in its purest from. It was the work from the American Indians where aesthetics came into play along with the functionality of the piece. Since aesthetics became the main focus, pottery became more of a woman’s craft. From here, the chapter takes a strange turn when it starts describing the method of building these pieces, comparing it by region and introducing terms mainly found in the field of pottery. Binns presents the introduction of the wheel and the effect of colors from an open firing by the types of minerals it contains. He also discusses the artists known for certain styles and the characteristics of styles. With the amount of information provided, this chapter is extremely dense for its length of 11 pages. A similar pattern is seen in chapter 2, which focuses on introduction of porcelain, mixed with types of glazing techniques and overall styles found with this particular type of clay.

In the last chapter Binns officially starts discussing the process of pottery making. Unlike the previous two, this chapter flows a lot better and the transition between the types of clays and the properties is smooth.  It begins by explaining how the characteristic of the clay varies by the type of minerals it contains. Binns supports his statement by using a ordinary clay as an example. “[b]ecause almost all clays contain significant amounts of iron oxide, ware made from ordinary clay will fire to a red color” (p. 16). It then covers the topic of how mixing sand in with the clay can give it different properties, and how those properties affect the clays. Binns listed the three properties which are plasticity, porosity, and the property of being vitrified (converting into class) when fired at a specific temperature. He then explains each of them in a more detailed fashion, and which aspect of the clay changes when either one of the others changed one way or another. He also includes calculations used to measure the proper ratio of clay to water and how shrinkage, absorption and glazing can be differ based on the clay mixture. All going back to the emphasis on the balance of the clay used for the work. This is important for him to explain because these aspects of the clay itself can vary based on its main function. Knowing how the clay changes based on its properties allows the potter to create the correct type of clay.

The next 9 chapters go in depth about each of the different stages of creating a ceramics piece, mainly techniques such as molding, casings, hand building, and the use of the potter’s wheel. Following these chapters, is one about the types of items that are made by using these techniques. Covering the last step of the working process, Binns talks about glazing and provides formulas. All of these chapters have one thing in common; they all go into great depth of the topic, from the making of it to how it is used and the outcomes. Similar to chapters 1 and 2, there have been times where Binns strays away from main topic and goes into greater detail about a particular item or technique. A great example of this is in chapter 5. In this chapter, Binns talks about the molding process. He starts off with presenting the reason why molding is used, and the types of molds, but later trails off to explaining the molding of vases in great detail. By only focusing greatly on a specific molding, one could assume that it holds more importance, and that takes away from the overall teaching of this book.

Aside from being a professor, Binns is a pottery artist who directed this work towards his fellow artists, wanting to share his thirty-six years of experience with pottery. The title of this book is appropriate for the content that he shares because it, indeed, is explaining the craft itself. The strength of this book is the amount of information that Binns touches upon throughout the reading. The weakness, however, lies in the organization. The dense amount of content could have been spaced out, making it easier on the reader to grasp the technical processes. With that being said, the type and amount of information shared, from beginning to end, is extremely successful, and will benefit the audience. Though there are some inconsistencies in regards to the organization, this book is highly recommended for those seeking further knowledge of this craft.

Henna

henna

This image is of a design/pattern using henna. Henna, in general, can be found in a lot of Asian cultures and due to this, the styles vary. Styles such as Indian, Arabic and Pakistani, to name a few. Aside from body art, these designs/patterns adorn clothing, accessories, and decorative home pieces. The design in this image is one I hand drew and is a recreation of a design I came across while browsing google images.

In this image, Henna is applied to my hands, which is hovering over a grayish-blue carpet. Starting at my wrist, there is a thick line where the two different parts of the design branch from. The wrist design is outlined and is filled with a circular motif. The edge of this outline is asymmetrical and mimic movement of a wave. The area opposite of this design is a heavily detailed quarter of a flower. This flower consists of four layers, the first layer being the base of the flower. The next three layer are petals that alternate in quantity and size. The first and third layers of flower petals are tight and narrow, contrasting, the second petal layer are larger petals. From this flower, two spiral designs branch off into opposite directions, leaving enough space at the top for another floral design. Unlike the previous flower, this one is simpler and emphasizes the large petals by the thickness of the outline and is located before my index finger. Decorating the rest of my index finger, is the same curved spiral pattern used before on my hand. My other fingers are designed differently because the design is facing the opposite direction. It is a continuous pattern with a mixture of waved and curved lines and directly below, are dots. These dots start off with a heavier weight and get smaller as they go down.

This design/pattern relates back to the topics discussed in class about typography. Similar to typography, Henna designs/patterns vary in line weights, style, size, placement and the styles differ by region and culture. For example, Indian henna designs are highly complex with their use of flowers, peacocks, and detailed heavy motifs. There is also little to no spacing in between the patterns which gives their henna a “fuller” look. In contrast, Arabic designs are simpler and mainly use leaves, flowers, paisley, and vines. The use of thicker lines to create an outline brings more emphasis on the shape itself. Pakistani design is a mixture of the previous two styles because it combines the detailed heavy nature of Indian design, the emphasis of outlines and use of flowers and paisley patterns of the Arabic design.

Comparable to other art mediums, design students can interpret the meaning of henna design because each specific design has its own meaning. Peacocks symbolize beauty, Paisley designs represent fertility and luck. Flowers and petals are associated with happiness and joy and because of this reason, are most prominent in henna done for celebrations. Vines and leaves are perfect for weddings because it symbolizes longevity and devotion. Henna designs/patterns were originally applied on the hands and feet but over the years, people started using henna anywhere on their body and the designs themselves has become more simple and less meaningful. The henna trend still continues today and the designs are becoming more versatile, and modern.

Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters was born in 1887 in Hanover, Germany. He was mainly associated with the Dada movement but he was also in the Constructivist and surrealist movements as well. Along with graphic design, he worked with paint, sculpture, poetry, collages and typography. In 1918, he was invited to exhibit his abstract paintings at Herwart Walden’s gallery in Berlin. There, he associated himself with the Berlin Dadaist but pretty soon was rejected by them and because of this, the term Merz was created.

“Merz” became an umbrella term for his dada-like art. It was kind of like his brand name for majority of his artworks, not only that, but he used it so often that he ended up referring to himself as “Kurt Merz Schwitters” or just “Merz.  He was known for using papers found on the street to make art. He then used that art to make political statements. His works mirror his environment and activities in his daily life because he would use almost anything to create his collages with, even receipts, newspapers, etc. His works juxtaposed Abstraction and realism, Art and life.

Below, is one of Schwitters’ collages called En Morn (1947). This piece was made to be a poster and cover page of Tate’s Brittan exhibition. The collage is made up of different types of papers, newspapers, and magazines. The focal point of this image is the picture of the girl on the right side of the cover. Below her is an upside down picture of a man. These two pieces are surrounded by cutouts that are laid on top of one another. At the very bottom are words that run across from one side of the image to the next which read, “These are the things we are fighting for.”

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Schwitters’ collage style spread through Europe and even the United States. He will be known for “Merz” because it influenced the graphic design works the most. The Merz images are known to be his greatest contribution to 20th century art. He also thrived in making the official typeface of Hanover, Futura. His style of work later inspired the works of many successful Dadaist artists.

 

Work cited:

Webster, Gwenda. “Kurt Schwitters.” Kurt Schwitters. N.p. 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. < http://www.artchive.com/artchive/S/schwitters.html&gt;

 

Alphonse Mucha

Unsatisfied with the industrial revolution, artists wanted to move away from the urban, mass-production style of work and create everyday artworks and works that a machine could not make. Starting in England, it spread through Europe, especially France, and then the United States. The French Art Nouveau “new art” was influenced by Rococo and Japanese Art. Stylistically, it had a decorative style which united different arts and crafts. Around the late 19th century, there was a huge poster revolution. There were life size posters using vibrant colors with women being the focal point. These same aspects were found within Alphonse Mucha’s works.

Alphonse Mucha was originally from Czechoslovakia but moved to Paris in 1887. He basically got lucky in his poster making career, because he knew an actress named Sara Bernhardt. In a very short time, she came across Mucha and asked him to create a poster for her which showcased his signature style of an elongated woman. This actress was known internationally because she traveled and performed all over, and because of this, more people were exposed to Mucha’s works.

Mucha’s posters had similar characteristics in each of his pieces. He used curvilinear lines throughout his work which is most prominent in the hair. A lot of his posters had some sort of a decorative frame, adorned with leaves and flowers which gave it a glamourous feel. The art would also take up almost all of the space, which was a typical characteristic of Art Nouveau. Overall, Mucha’s posters were very organic and showcased the idealized beauty of women and their sexuality.

I personally love Alphonse Mucha’s style of work. He is able to portray a women and her body in such an elegant manner by using soft curves and embellishing her in organic elements. A lot of his work have a gentle movement to them that seem almost sensual. My favorite piece from Mucha would be “Dance” because of the way he positions the figure and the lines around her to create an upward motion, making it seems as if she is floating.

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Dance

 

Image cited:

Tuesday (M)art Blog- #3- Alphonse Mucha, Mart V/d Wiel, “Mart Vd Wiel, N.p. n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.