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February 2014 - John Wheeldon Ceramics

1.  Where have you studied and learnt your skills ?

I learned to throw at Chesterfield Art College [1969/70] whilst on foundation and went to Wolverhampton to do a Degree in 3d Design [ceramics] in 1971.

I have been a potter ever since !

 

2.  Who has inspired you along the way ?

Wolverhampton was important because it introduced me to industrial techniques such as mould making, enamelling and gilding, which, over the years have been important additions to my work even though I am still at heart a thrower. It was during this period also that I met Derek Emms who remained, along with Mick Casson an inspiring figure in my development as a potter

Another important influence on me while a student was that I shared a flat in Stoke and travelled daily by train to Wolverhampton. Living in Stoke allowed me easy access to places like the Museums and the Reference Library as well as giving me an appreciation of the history and geography of the city.

 

3.  Please explain your work process… skills, techniques, clays & firing.

During my early career I made traditional, thrown, reduction fired stoneware, and developed a technique using rubber stamps to apply precious metal lustres to a black stoneware body.

After 20 years of decorating in this way I started working in Raku, concentrating on perfecting the copper-matt technique, still using thrown forms, fired in a small gas kiln and smoked in sawdust.

For several years now I have again been applying lustre patterns to my work but this time on a Raku fired Terra Sigillata surface.

My present way of working involves throwing and turning the pots using thin steel ribs to ensure a perfectly smooth surface. I use very smooth stoneware clay, B17 or B17C, which enables me to achieve a very fine finish.

The pots are dried, coated with 3-4 layers of Terra Sig applied using soft brushes and biscuit fired.

The lustre is then applied, as before when I was making black stoneware, using small rubber stamps, building up the pattern area by area until the piece is complete.

The lustre is then fired in an electric kiln to harden on the decoration.

The final part of the process involves sponging on a resist slip [similar to those used in the naked raku technique] over the lower part of the vessel using either cut and shaped foam to produce a geometric pattern or a natural sponge, usually used in conjunction with latex trailing to create lines, giving a marbled finish.

Raku firing using sawdust completes the process.

The heavy smoking modifies the colours of the lustre and creates a dense black background to the pattern which helps intensify the effect. 

 

4. Please tell us about your new range of work & future ambitions ?

Two years ago, after so many years of working with Raku I decided it was time to look afresh at what I was making and try to incorporate into it elements of the ceramic history I am interested in.  So, over the last year I have begun to reinvestigate tableware and finally I have the beginnings of a new range of work drawing on research into early 18th century Staffordshire ceramics.

I am aiming for this new work to be ready by Easter in time for next year’s shows and so far the people who have seen the early pieces have been complimentary.

After lots of trials and false starts I have settled on using white earthenware, but as yet haven’t made a firm decision as to which body to use but it is likely to be LF or KGM. I am throwing most of the work but using press moulded additions such as spouts and knobs and extrusions for handles. Firing is to 1080°c using a low lead glaze. I am also using a lathe to turn some pieces horizontally in the industrial manner and decorating with roulettes.   The roulettes are copied from examples in museum collections, illustrations from various sources and other research.

As for the future, I feel that I have a rich seam to dig about in with my interest in 18thC potters and will continue to explore the techniques and forms of a period when pots were still made substantially by hand but with a new sophistication born of newly discovered white clays and research into glaze technology. I have always felt that it is a period strangely ignored by most 20thC potters, probably for its association with the worst excesses of the industrial revolution, which is a shame because it was a time of extraordinary innovation in ceramics.

 

View John Wheeldon Ceramics's gallery

Visit their website: johnwheeldonceramics.co.uk