Research point – Illustration and Ceramics,

Do some research into artists and illustrators who have used ceramics as a surface for their image-making. You might also want to look at ceramicists who have a strong link with image- making in their work. Find contemporary examples as well as exploring older ceramic traditions. What sort of motifs feature regularly? Could you say there’s a visual language of ceramics?

Grayson Perry immediately springs to mind, and not just because he features in the course notes (why does the Tate seem to think that the first thing I want to know about him is when he was born?) Here is an interesting video where he discusses his techniques. I love Grayson Perry, his work doesn’t always resonate with me, I think that I don’t spend enough time looking for the meaning, and some of his imagery, whilst relevant, is a bit brutal for my taste. He is however a great ambassador for fine art, his willingness to explore and break boundaries is inspiring and his opinions are always interesting. He plays with traditional motifs, figures, buildings, plants but corrupts them with different meanings.

Whilst Googling I came across the blog of Glynnis Lessing who demonstrates loads of techniques, I didn’t realise that ceramic decoration had so much in common with printing.

Historically are ceramic tiles the original decorative medium? The history here says that they were being used by the Egyptians. More history here.

General ceramic history here from the V&A

Clarice Cliff (also here) did bold semi abstract designs in bright colours, its hard to imagine how they would have looked to an audience who were used to more muted traditional designs. I am impressed with how she managed to succeed at a time when women were not expected to have a career.

Willow pattern china has been a British staple design since the 1790’s There is a myth that was created to link the elements of this design but there are a variety of designs which are usually done in blue on a white background although other colours are sometimes used.

Delftware is a tin glazed pottery with similar colours. It was made in the Delft area of the Netherlands and some pieces have Chinoiserie designs like the willow pattern Here is a beautiful modern take on the design by the tattooist Paul Timman

Bernard Leach made work that was completely opposite to this. Muted colours and simple designs make his pieces look solid and tactile. I feel some sort of genetic affection for willow pattern but I much prefer Leach’s work. He is titled the father of British studio pottery which Wikipedia defines as pottery made by professional and amateur artists or artisans working alone or in small groups, making unique items or short runs.

Picasso became interested in ceramics in the late 1940’s I’ve never really ‘got’ Picasso but I do really like these pieces. I think it is because they aren’t as messy as many of his other artworks. It’s interesting that the piece notes that this isn’t uncommon, ‘ It is notable that even viewers actively renouncing the master’s painting which is incomprehensible for them, are not able to impute anything negative to his ceramics. Here, his unwillingness to servilely copy reality is forgiven by the audience,’

So many lovely designs, its difficult to know when to stop. Through my research I have discovered that I know next to nothing about decorative ceramic art.

In 2018 anyone who has a drawing or design can get it applied to a mug or paint it onto a plate. Just Google ‘create your own mugs‘ Commercial examples are Sally Muir for Anthropologie, Justine Osbourne and Jimbobart. It helps to develop a following first, if I like an artist I won’t necessarily be able to afford a picture or a print, and even if I can I have limited allspice for pictures. I do however buy nice mugs which I use every day and which give me a little lift of pleasure each time I use them because of their surface designs.

Motifs and Visual Language

Plants and animals are very popular, buildings and people less so although abstract or caricature versions are a bit more common. Jokes and cartoons are common as are sketchy images which could have been pulled from a drawing book like this lovely mug by Leah Goren. If you want art on your ceramics then anything goes, but if you want to sell it to someone then they my well be looking for something recognisable, an animal, a scene, a plant, that evokes a memory or a sense of place or a cartoon or joke that resonates. You have to make the connection immediately,  the image has to speak directly and quickly to grab attention, there are countless variations competing for the buyers attention so the image has a split second to make a mark. Naive, colourful images are common (eg John Booth) and you can see the influence of Picasso in many works.

Incidental finds while I was researching:

Nina Hole Sculptures

Andrea Innocent

Nichola Theakston

A piece in The Guardian about contemporary ceramics.


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