Every One is Different

25 July, 2015

Warm Chocolate

I’ve been working on some new clay and glaze combinations lately, inspired by woodland walks (my previous post has more on this). My latest firing included pieces using these tones, one of which is a rather chocolatey colour clay combined with a milky speckled glaze. This combination seems to work particularly well. I took a quick photo of some of the pieces, using my phone on the top of my kiln, still warm from the firing. I had lots of positive reactions on twitter and instagram, which was lovely and really encouraging.


Sadly the firing wasn’t all good news, lots of porcelain pieces in my green glaze came out looking muddy and the glaze had crawled in places. Something had gone rather wrong and I’ll have to find out what, though I probably won’t get to the bottom of it in time for my Autumn shows. So the work on my stand might look a little different from previous shows, but it seems that’s quite me.

Variations on a Theme

One of the things I often worry about when I’m making work is that I tend to make lots of different things. I make spoons, teabowls, vases, jugs, bottles, brushes, mixed media compositions and even plates now. I don’t tend to stick to a particular range and make lots of them; it’s just not me. I find I can’t, and don’t want to, produce multiples of cups and rows of jugs all looking the same. I can happily produce small families of items in the same clay and glaze combo, or make similar shapes in different clay and glaze finishes. But I often find myself moving on from these to try other variations and new ideas.


So every piece I make is unique. When I sell work, I can’t say I have 10 of these or 15 of those. Occasionally I might have three or four that are similar. But no two are the same. It’s more work for me, but I like it that way.

I worry that this looks inconsistent, or that it doesn’t give me a recognisable style. I’ve worried about this a lot. It’s pretty much my MO. But I’ve decided to try to stop worrying about it and celebrate the different things. I find something pleasing about grouping different but complementary objects together, so I’m going to carry on doing that. I hope that by using a varied but harmonious colour palette, the work I produce will still be coherent and still be recognisably mine.


The pieces above are some more ideas I’m playing with, using the clay mixes I’ve developed. The forms were intended to reflect the aesthetic I try to have for my ‘curious utensils’ – a bit quirky, a bit wavy edged. I don’t think I’ve entirely done that, but they’re a start, and I’m enjoying working on the idea. Perhaps more on this next time…

In the tea garden

18 August, 2014

Over the last few months, along with other things, I’ve been working on developing a new range of teabowls which will feature various complementary glazes.

There’s something very special about the teabowl, with it’s handle-less form, that seems to make you engage with the vessel, and its contents, more intensely. It’s a simple concept but can be created and recreated in so many ways, shapes and sizes.

Elaine Bolt - teabowls

The teabowl has, of course, a very long tradition and association with Japanese ceramics. However, I decided to develop my teabowl shape as an extension of the rounded vessels that I already produce. Using this as a starting point, I then extend the base into a gently sloping but pronounced foot. It’s not the most ‘traditional’ shape for a teabowl perhaps, but it represents and evolution from my existing designs towards a specifically ‘functional’ form.

Elaine Bolt - Green crackle teabowl

I have produced examples in a variety of glazes and clays, including green crackle and pale speckled white glazes on porcelain, produced in a reduction firing. I’ve added the iron oxide details on the sides that I use on other forms to provide subtle decoration and highlight line marks scored in the soft clay.

Elaine Bolt - White speckle & green glaze teabowls

Unglazed dark terracotta versions of the same shape also provide a strong contrast to the milky white porcelain.

Elaine Bolt - Dark terracotta teabowls

Alongside the teabowls, I also made a range of bottles which subtly complement them. Influenced more by the ceremony of the British cuppa than anything else; the bottle shapes I’ve made take their cue from the rather stout form of old-fashioned glass milk bottles. But the form also aims to reflect the shape of the teabowls I make; with the mouth of the bottles mirroring the profile of the foot of the cups.

Elaine Bolt 'milk' bottles

These stoneware versions I made illustrate the connection of the two forms quite strongly.

Elaine Bolt stoneware cup and bottle

Despite not often seeking out functional forms in my work, I’ve found a strange delight in making these clearly functional-inspired pieces. Though they may, or may not, be used as such by any future owners. It is this exploration of an idea of a form that lies behind the work of so many ceramicists.

So I’m hugely excited about the forthcoming Oxford Ceramics Gallery ‘Teabowl’ exhibition in October. I feel even more honoured that I will have teabowls of my own in this exhibition. My pieces will be amongst many, including some very exalted names in the world of Ceramics, in what will prove to be a very varied and fascinating mix of styles based on one simple idea.

I can’t wait.

Oxford Ceramics Teabowl exhibition

Oxford Ceramics Teabowl exhibition

Oatmeal and plums for tea

10 August, 2014

Some test pieces from my latest firing

My latest firing included a mix of pieces heading for galleries and forthcoming shows. It also included some tests to try out different clay body mixes and surface treatments.

Some of the new test pieces explore a different look to the light celadons and dark pieces that I make. I’m hoping that some of the new avenues of colours and tones I’m looking into will eventually sit happily alongside the existing ranges.

'green' teabowl, 'milk' bottle and small dish

‘green’ teabowl, black iron ‘milk’ bottle and new small ‘plum’ dish

Speckled stoneware and terracotta mix pieces

I mixed up different proportions of a speckled stoneware and terracotta and tried some different combinations of clays, slips and glazes. I was pleased to find that they all survived the firing, though some were more interesting than others!


before and after shots

Of these, my favourite mix produced a dark oatmeal when glazed with a milky glaze, and a dark brown, slightly plum, coloured clay body when unglazed.




Plum colour clay body mix in reduction

None of the samples I mixed up produced a clay body quite as dark as I would have liked. So I may do some more tests on this. Another test used iron oxide underneath the milky glaze. I tested black iron oxide and red iron oxide, I also tested terracotta slip under the glaze. All had very similar results – the brush marks showed through the glaze quite strongly. This works better on some forms than it does on others – I thought it had a bit of a ‘retro’ look to it.


Red iron oxide under milky white glaze – test

I also tested some ‘agate ware’ style pieces – roughly mixing the two different clays. I’m not sure about these, but here are the results.


‘agate ware’ tests – glazed and unglazed

I won’t take all these ideas forward; I need to select a few key new ideas and keep a range of work that looks coherent and works well together. But I like variety and I like trying out new things; so we’ll see. I’d love to know what others think!


17 July, 2014

I’ve been experimenting again. In fact I think I’m always experimenting a bit. I always want to try out things and ideas that are new to me, so I rarely spend a day in the workshop without trying out a variation on a shape, a new glaze recipe, or a new clay body.

clay body mixes

bisqued clay body mixes with varying quantities of red clay

Recently I’ve been looking at mixing clay bodies to try to get the best performance and colour from the clay.

Because I push the terracotta that I use way beyond its guide temperature, I sometimes have problems with it. I relish the random bloating that often appears on the surface as it adds character and texture. But it really struggles when I start trying to add some glazing. I want to go beyond the bare clay body and explore using glazes over the dark background that the reduction firing gives me. Some tests I’ve done so far have had some lovely results but also some extreme and very disappointing failures.

glazed terracotta pot

glazed terracotta pot

This large pot is one of two that came out with cracks through the body of the piece . I did plenty of tests of this glaze on smaller pieces, which came out fine. But when scaling up to larger pieces, it just didn’t cope. I like the look achieved on this pot and it now sits in my lounge looking like there’s nothing wrong, but I know it’s fatally flawed.

You can buy black stoneware, but where would be the fun in that? But seriously I much prefer the subtle tones you get from the reduction fired terracotta I use. So I’ve been mixing the red clay with other clays to make a more robust body whilst retaining the iron content. I’ve also tried a few tests with an ‘agate-ware’ look by leaving the clays only roughly mixed to get a sort of marbling effect (hopefully).

agate-ware test

agate-ware test

I’ve also been testing red clay slip over a stoneware body as well as using pure red iron oxide over a stoneware body. When I do a glaze firing in a couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see how my glaze will come out on these tests, and see if they all survive!

iron oxide test

red iron oxide test

I’m sure what I’m trying here is nothing new and there may be others out there who can tell me about their trials in this area. But there’s nothing like learning by doing, even if sometimes the lessons are painful ones.

Easter surprises

18 April, 2014

I’veElaine Bolt Stoneware and terracotta vessels just unpacked my kiln after a reduction firing. The firing contained some pieces intended for the Contemporary Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey in June; some are for a couple of galleries right now and some for a very exciting teabowl exhibition I’ll be taking part in later on in the year (more info to follow soon).


Along with finished pieces, the kiln also contained numerous test pieces where I’ve been trying out some new ideas and finishes. So it’s understandable that the work that emerged was a bit of a mix.

Firing can be a touch-and-go process, and there are often disasters along with the triumphs. That was the case with this firing – some pieces I was really keen on, that had potential homes to go to, just weren’t good enough or just didn’t make it at all. There were a few issues with the glazing on some pieces, and one of the larger pieces had slumped over, taking out a few other large pieces with it, which was very disappointing. Having said that, there were some nice surprises too, and lots of tests to take further in the next firing. Here are images of some of the work and tests. Let me know what you think!

Some of the tests I’ve done are to do with trying out different glaze finishes. Sometimes the simplest glazes can be the most interesting. But this can be a slow process – first identifying what I’m after, then trying different combinations of raw materials. There’s also often lots more work to be done after a glaze test comes out of the kiln – something that looks great on a small test tile can be terrible when scaled up.


White lumpy glaze test

Some of my tests were about combining different clay bodies. Clays all have different shrinkage rates and porcelain shrinks more than most. So combining two that are going to shrink by different amounts can be really pushing the tolerance of the materials. My tests so far with combining porcelain and stoneware have come out surprisingly well. But more work needs to be done here.


Piece combining porcelain and stoneware

Some of the tests I’ve been doing are about how different materials can be combined after firing. Making compositions is something I like working on and I’ve been wanting to combine ideas I have about the ‘objects‘ I make with my vessels for a very long time. But I’ve not made a piece I’ve been totally happy to take forward yet. I expect it will slowly emerge as an idea, but maybe it will pop out and surprise me one day!


Test piece – combining ‘objects’ with vessels


Sea Change

11 February, 2014

I have just opened the kiln to inspect my first reduction firing of 2014. I had been very nervously waiting for the kiln to cool down because the firing itself hadn’t seemed to go particularly smoothly. So this morning, when it was cool enough to open, I inspected the results and found there were some winners and some losers in there, as can often be the case in any firing.

In this case, the terracotta pieces came out the best. The reduction process transforms the soft orange of the bisque fired terracotta to a dark purple-brown-black, without the addition of a glaze or engobe, just using the iron in the clay body itself. The temperature I fire to also pushes the clay to its limit, creating small bubbles on the surface in the process. I enjoy the texture it gives to the vessels and like the way it enhances the ‘metalic’ quality of the pieces. Here is a ‘before and after’ shot of some of the pieces in Sunday’s firing.

Elaine Bolt ceramics, terracotta in reduction

I also put some stoneware tests in the kiln. I’m exploring some new ideas with different clay bodies. It’s very early days yet, but I like how some of the results look so far, particularly how they look in combination with the dark terracotta.

Elaine Bolt stoneware tests 2 Elaine Bolt stoneware tests 1