Textures of wild clay, bonfire-fired, with willow bark and the leaves of iris and lily: rich and tactile. Echoes of ancient processes. Bonfire firing creates smoke clouds on the pot surface; every pot is unpredictable, every firing a leap of faith.
This body of work is vessels made from clay and plant fibres foraged from where I live in Sussex. A love of working with natural materials, concern for sustainability, and connection to the natural world are integral to my practice.
I forage all my materials: clay, bark, leaves, grass, antler, flint. These vessels are a development of my work in experimental archaeology and interest in the origins of ceramics and basketry.
The clay is iron-rich, I dig it in Sussex. Added to it are broken or cracked pots from previous firings which I laboriously grind up on a stone saddle quern. The rubbing stone is a Sussex flint beach pebble.
Clay is wedged with the grog made from ground-up pots. This grog gives the pots strength for the thermal shock of the firing and adds a unique texture to the surface of the finished vessel.
Pots are all hand-built in the studio using slab and coiling techniques, beaten into shape with a split oak paddle. This makes each one unique.
Firing is done outdoors. I start the fire using flint and steel (left). The steel struck on flint makes a spark, which is caught on wild clematis bark. This fragile ember is coaxed into a larger blaze, fed with local oak wood.
Pots are introduced gradually to the fire. Once burning well, the fire is covered with soil to make a clamp kiln. It burns for 24-36 hours. Undetected impurities in the clay can cause cracks and breakages: it’s a leap of faith.
Once cool enough to handle, the kiln’s opened out, pots are inspected and washed. Each has its own surface colouration, smoke clouds, which are permanent markings from the firing. An unpredictable process with many uncontrollable variables.
Foraged plant fibres are dried and stored, then stitched to the vessels with an antler needle, made using only flint tools. The coiled basketry technique I use alludes to the construction of the ceramic parts of the vessels, and is one of the earliest known basketry techniques, with evidence dating back to Mesolithic times.
Scraping the needle blank from the antler with a flint blade, an 8-hour job. The shape of needle is refined on sandstone and the eye drilled with flint.
Bark that’s been gathered in the spring from crack willow and goat willow, dried in coils and stored. Later dyed with wood ash to get a darker hue, and attached to the ceramic vessel with bark strips.
The surface texture of the finished vessels with smoke cloud patterning, giving a depth of texture and colour.
See more images of these vessels here.
Vessels exhibited at:
The True Value of Materials (University of Brighton)
Fiveways Artists Open Houses, Brighton Festival
Making Lewes (Festival of Making, Architecture, Design & Sustainability)