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By Thomas Birnie, Apr 15 2014 06:13PM

What Does Handmade Mean When It Comes To Pottery?


The use of the word ‘handmade’ as terminology to describe the process of pottery making is debated frequently in the ceramic world. The ambiguity comes from the loose definition in the dictionary;

“made by hand, not by machine” plus the confusion new technology brings and the overlap in the different processes.


I define handmade pottery in the most common and traditional way, that is to say, in which the majority of the public would understand when they hear ‘handmade’. Handmade pottery is made by hand, and therefore I would not class ram pressed or slipcast pottery as handmade. Handcrafted yes, hand-finished of course, but not handmade in the traditional sense; pottery shaped using the hands, be it on a wheel, or hand built.


What About Glazes/Kilns And Wheels?


I hope one day to make my own glazes, to experiment with recipes, because of a deep inner need to create, to explore raw materials. I see myself one day building my own kick wheel and a fire kiln, simply to satisfy my own ‘I made that’ enthusiasm.


However, I don’t consider it necessary for a potter to have to use glaze recipes of their own design, or create pots using a purpose built kick wheel and wood fired kiln in order for it to be considered hand made. That’s nonsense, it gives one’s pottery a different aesthetic and certainly requires more nuanced skill to successfully make and fire and one would price accordingly for that, but the pottery, in essence, is still handmade whether it’s making is more in keeping with tradition than contemporary means.


Murky Waters


Now for the ‘grey areas’, where it’s not as simple as asking the question, “well was it thrown on a wheel or made from a slipcast mould?”. Here’s how I define ‘handmade’:


Process A: A slipcast pitcher body with a hand pulled handle

Process B: A slipcast pitcher with an extruded handle

Process C: A thrown pitcher body with a cast handle

Process D: A thrown pitcher body with an extruded handle or mould sprigs.


Verdict: A and B are not handmade; the body is the predominant component of the piece, which has not been made by hand. Handmade pieces or parts are considered ‘building components’ and do not constitute the final piece as being handmade, hand-finished would be more fitting.


Someone once said ‘well pots don’t jump off the presses and out of the jiggers and moulds ready to go”, but then toilets do not jump out of the mould, glaze themselves and run into the kiln, but it would be ridiculous to assume toilets are handmade!


Transparency And Integrity


Of course, I’m certainly not dismissing work made by other means – that’s absurd! A top quality cast piece that has detailed decorating can have a lot more time invested in it than a plain thrown or hand built pot. Art is art, and beauty is subjective. Still I would feel wrong to class that process as handmade, it muddles meanings at best, and at worst deliberately passes off work as made in a certain way when it was not, deceiving the public. Of course this happens in all areas of art and manufacturing – one only has to take a look into cabinet-makers in the furniture world!


I believe it’s incredibly important for potters to be honest about their methods, and to educate the public about the differences between the processes; tell-tale signs and why it might be important. I hope that by using terms in a more defined way, I am helping explain my own process of making pottery more clearly, and giving you an interesting look into the discussions of the ceramic world!

By Thomas Birnie, Dec 1 2012 02:00PM

Moustaches aren’t just for Movember, they are a way of life. Moustachioed men enjoy drinking tea as much as the next man. It is a pastime and shouldn’t be concluded with the sensation of wet facial bristles. During the festivities of Christmas month, moustaches will continue to be stained; unnecessarily. The solution: 450g balls of red clay with a honey glaze.



Now for the science:


Slip:

Ball Clay


Glaze:

Red Clay

Ball Clay

Lead Bisilicate Frit


900°C bisque temp

1080°C glaze temp



These dandy cups (approx. 150ml volume) are the first batch I’ve made and I hope to make more. Cups of greater volume for bigger hands and… ones for giants.


For any questions and feedback you wish to send my way: mail@thomasbirnie.com or visit www.mymoustachecup.com

By Thomas Birnie, Nov 1 2012 02:00PM

Tis the season of moustaches. Movember has arrived; 30 days of socially acceptable moustache sporting all in aid of raising awareness and funds for the plight of men's health: prostate and testicular cancer in particular.


On the eve of movember I was contacted by a yorkshire man enquiring whether I would be interested in making moustache cups, popularised in the Victorian period. Intrigued I said 'yes, I would,' then the logistics of making one started to seep into my consciousness. After making an assortment of test cups with a multitudinous array of bristles, some straight-laced, some wavy, a prototype was born (see below). A few ammendments, such as moustache size were agreed upon and production of the first few cups was given the thumbs up.


The first batch of cups are currently works in progress, almost ready to provide a stylish solution to a ubiquitous problem amongst gentlemen; dapper moustaches absorbing unsightly tea stains with every sip.


All cups are made by myself, each one unique, just like a moustache.


Selling from £25, with 25% of the profits going to Prostate Cancer UK, visit www.mymoustachecup.com



By Thomas Birnie, Aug 1 2012 01:00AM

Potfest, the annual ceramics festival in Cumbria, is located in the idyllic Hutton-in-the-Forest. Fitting grounds for beautiful clay objects to be gathered en mass, for the viewing pleasure of an enthusiastic public.


As a first time exhibitor, I had my anxieties; would I feel out of place in such illustrious company? Would fellow exhibitors and the public embrace my take on the slipware tradition? How would this translate into sales? After basking in the festivals warm embrace, I knew my anxieties were misplaced. Everyone I encountered was friendly; most went out of their way to provide help and assistance. Spending 3 days in the presence of those who have gone before me, who know how it feels, what it takes and the realities of making ends meet in this uncertain and at times precarious industry; was heart-warming and full of promise.


I am privileged to have exhibited at such a renowned festival and to have mingled with some lovely, talented and supportive people. Potfest ’12 was just the beginning for me, I long to play a part at such exhibitions and continue my learning.


Tom

By Thomas Birnie, Jul 1 2012 01:00PM

It was only a matter of time before I found my name with .com tagged on the end of it; it’s imperative nowadays. So here it is: blast-off! Thomasbirnie.com aims to serve as a platform to let you shop earthenware, know what I’m up to pottery wise, where I’ll be exhibiting my slipware, as well as a place where you can I can interact with you.


Hopefully it’s as accessible to those familiar with slipware, as it is to those who may be unfamiliar with the tradition. For further updates on my work, please don’t hesitate to join the mailing list.


A big thank you to everyone who encouraged and facilitated the establishment of my pottery business, especially Miss Stevens who created this website. I owe you all a teapot.


Tom


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