Pandaji's Blog

Art, research, education

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Tea Cup and Saucer: Synchronicity

The first two-week project at Wimbledon for the 3D design students who choose ceramics is always the tea cup and saucer. The students are required to visit the Richard Slee exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, From Utility to Futility.

Usually there are 12 -15 students, but this year with the loss of fashion as a subject and yet the same number of students overall, 30 students chose to try ceramics as their option for 3D design. This has meant that some students have to work in a room adjacent to the ceramic studio which cannot physically accommodate more than 15 students .

I asked my head of area if I could sit  in on the crit at the end of the first group to get a better understanding of what this entails. He agreed that I could observe only. Unlike the other subject areas, in the project timescale nothing gets fired or finished unless it is made with paper porcelain and/or raw glazed. Students have to present their work raw, and talk about how they might finish it if they had had more time. I was pleasantly surprised by one student who had made small tea bowls with leaf sprigs in terracotta clay, and said his influence was the Indian studio potter, Adil Writer.

In 2002 I attended a workshop run by Betty Woodman in India at Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry, and had met Adil at this course. I had left the 1001 cups brochure in the studio which the student had picked up and from there googled Indian ceramic artists. The student spoke about the connection with India as where tea is grown, and also mentioned the unglazed quality of the chai cup.

I was thrilled to be able to have had this kind of feedback on inspiring the student, and would not have gathered this information had I not attended the crit. This turned out to be a very rewarding experience.

Grayson Perry discusses his impressions of Richard Slee from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.


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Action research project: background

I am the Ceramic and General Technician at Wimbledon College of Art, on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design course. I am solely responsible for the ceramic studio, and my general responsibilities are shared across all subject areas with the technical team. I have been working two days a week since 2006.

I am concerned about cuts in education throughout the country. Ceramics courses are closing down across the UK. Over the last 10-15 years, three ceramic degrees in England have closed. Since the article about ceramic course closures, four more ceramic degrees courses in London Camberwell, Chelsea and Harrow (

and Glasgow, have closed. (

I am equally concerned that students at Foundation level have two days a week of self study, which provides the study environment, but does not actually offer any teaching.

This past year at Wimbledon there has been a cut in ceramic tutor hours from two days a week in 2008-2009 to one day a week in 2009-2010. My working hours have actually increased, as I am doing an extra day as a general technician while my colleague is on sabbatical. This has meant an increase in the number of kiln firings per week, and more contact time with both students and colleagues. Although I work in the general workshop on my extra day, it is physically opposite the ceramics studio, so if a ceramic student needs my help they can access me easily.

Because the study day for the PG Cert course is on a Friday, I have changed my working day to Thursday for the duration of the course. This has given me a whole new perspective, because the majority of students attend on Thursdays, whereas on Fridays attendance is not very high because of the concept of self study, and because some students work to support themselves.

My main concern, (apart from helping students realise their creative potential), was that more than the usual two students would choose ceramics as a final subject area at Foundation and at degree level.

The time required to produce a finished piece of ceramic work is longer than the two-week taster project length, so students have often moved to their next subject taster and do not complete the glazing of their work. As student 4 pointed out: “by the time we think about glazes it’s too late.”

I wanted to help students to start thinking about the final finish and glaze before “it’s too late.” In order to complete their work, they have to find time out from their next project to return to the ceramic studio and do the glazing. This is too difficult for most students, hence the accumulation of unglazed work at the end of the first term.

The anticipation of the final appearance of the glaze on a piece of work in Grayson Perry’s view, is “ always a disappointment.” (Perry, G. 2010) Occasionally, the kiln does something unexpected and “gifts” a glaze result that one could not have imagined even after years of tests. I have referred to these as “kiln gifts” in my previous profiles. Grayson Perry concludes: “It is only when other people admire the work that one feels better about it.” (Perry. G. 2010)

All the students at Foundation are encouraged to use a wide variety of materials and techniques, which form a part of their self- and summative assessment. (Appendix 5) I agree with Grayson Perry when he says “creativity is in the process.” (Perry. G. 2010)

Plate 1

Charts of stains and slip ceramic colours on slip-cast custard cream biscuits

Plate 1a: slip chart

Plate 1b: stains chart

Glazes are just part of the decorative potential of ceramics. I made charts of simpler-to-use colours (See Plate 1 stain and slips above) that look much the same before the kiln firing as after. They are similar in behaviour to using watercolour paint, and therefore more likely to be used by students who are less prepared to take risks, or who want a particular outcome and who may not make, experiment, or understand how to use glazes. The tutor Annie Turner usually demonstrates decorative techniques using these colours during the first term taster sessions.

Plate 2

Examples of final works by students using slips and stains, decorative colours

Plate 2a: student 2, final piece

Plate 2b: student 5, final piece

Plate 2c: ceramic student, final piece

I had considerable difficulty learning about glazes and glazing. It has always been a challenge. Providing learning resources such as standardised examples of glazed tiles makes this process easier for the students to learn about the application of glazes, to realise the glazing possibilities, and for myself to teach.

The glaze tile resource at Foundation was disorganised when I started my job at Wimbledon four years ago. The tiles were not labelled and they were haphazardly arranged, rendering them dysfunctional as a learning resource. On my arrival, I was encouraged by the tutor to familiarise myself with the glazes. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, so I agree with the student who responded: “it’s quite daunting” when I asked if the standardised test tiles were inspiring during a group discussion.

The more practice one acquires at glazing, the better at it one becomes. It is productive to break the process down into small chunks of information that can be easily understood. The glazes are handmade in the studio from raw materials that resemble varying shades of white powders. They have to be accurately weighed and sieved. By spending time on the glaze process, students can begin to discover the infinite decorative possibilities outlined in my presentation of my Action Research Proposal. (see 1001 cups)