If you still remember Amanda Tong from issue 5, you should also remember her beautiful ceramics series: The Perfect Imbalance. Garde Magazine is happy to invite Amanda back with us to teach us how to make ceramics step-by-step.
1. Wedging: Before throwing and doing any clay work, it is a MUST to wedge the clay thoroughly to get rid of the air that may be trapped inside to prevent explosion during firing. At the moment, I am concentrating on two clay bodies: black stoneware and porcelain, creating a marble pattern as I wedge.
2. Throwing (the fun and messy part): As my Perfect Imbalance pieces are relatively small, I tend to throw off the hump from a big chunk of clay to save time (without having to wedge a small ball for each individual piece). First, I center the clay on the wheel, open the clay up with my thumb and start to shape the pots.
3.Scraping off the layer of slip: While adding water onto the clay to keep it nice and slippery to prevent friction with the fingers, a brown layer of slip is created from the black stoneware clay and covers the marble pattern of the pot. This step is essential to scrape off the brown layer of slip with a kidney tool and reveal the hidden pattern underneath.
4. Turning (my favourite part!): After letting my pots dry overnight, they are ready to turn! This is basically to create the bottom part, usually a foot ring but in this case I am creating a knob for it to be unbalanced. First, I secure the pot on the wheel with 3 pieces of clay, and then I use my turning tool to take off the excess clay at the bottom. It is important be careful and to know when to stop to prevent making a hole at the bottom! This is my favourite part because you get to see the final shape of the pot.
5. Burnishing: After turning, burnishing with a wooden tool to keep the surface nice and smooth is necessary. Especially when I am not glazing the exterior, I have to make sure the pot is nice to touch and comfortable to handle.
6. Stamping: Finish it with my ‘at’ stamp at the bottom!
7. Loading the kiln for bisque firing: The bisque firing for stoneware and porcelain is between 900-1000°C. The heating process takes about eight hours. I have to make sure the pots are all bone dry before putting them into firing to prevent explosion. Loading the kiln is like a stacking game: works are put onto the kiln shelves with 3 posts set around the perimeter, and then another layer of shelving placed on top and so on.
8. Sanding (the not-so-fun part): Sometimes if the surface is not smooth enough or I want to reveal more of the marble patterns, I will have to sand the surface with sanding paper. This step must be carried out with extraction and a dust mask to prevent breathing in the hazardous particles.
9. Glazing (the annoying part): After sanding, I make sure the pot is clean and ready for glazing. I mix different raw materials together to create my own transparent glaze. What I do is pour the glaze into my pot for virtually two seconds and then pour it out. It is important to make sure that it’s a very thin layer of glaze, which requires many instances of trial and error…
10. Glaze Firing (the anxiety-provoking part): This time the temperature has to be brought all the way up to 1250°C, which takes about 14 hours.
Opening a kiln is like opening Christmas presents – there can be moments of happiness, surprise or sadness (when either the glaze has failed or the work has cracked).
11. The Perfect Imbalance is born!: It is an interactive tableware series that reflects the importance of the Eastern philosophical concept of Yin and Yang. Each of the ceramic pieces have different mixtures of black and white, symbolising each of us having an unbalanced Yin and Yang energy within us. They are designed to be unbalanced and presented on a wooden seesaw platter that allows the bowls to tilt depending on their weight and allowing diners to take control and adjust its balance.
12. Tools (the ones that I cannot live without): (From left to right) turning tool, needle tool, wooden turning tool, cheese wire, kidneys (metal and plastic ones) and sponge-stick.