Our New Challenge

Combining Ceramics and Junk

Combining Ceramics and Junk

Nancy D Lane describes working with Mardie Whitla

When I expressed interest in trying my hand at ceramics, Mardie Whitla invited me to the home studio in her garage. There we had a great day, with Mardie teaching me the ropes of creating hand-built ceramics.

Mardie started with the basics, showing me how to cut off a hunk of clay with a wire. She also showed me how to start working it to get any bubbles out.

Mardie cutting clay to the size needed

Ready to give it a go

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to make. Nonetheless, I had decided that whatever it was, I would indent it with lots of different types of junk.

I rolled my hunk of clay out flat. Then I started imprinting with screws, mesh and variously shaped pieces of metal.

I decided to cut around the edges to make it heart-shaped, given that our exhibition was about Melbourne as our creative heart. That left me with some scraps to remake into something else later.

However, despite the range of indentations, the heart didn’t seem that interesting. In fact, it seemed a bit boring.

To jazz it up, I cut it in four pieces, as if it were a puzzle. Then I added even more indentations with even more of my junk.

Rolling out my rectangle of clay
Adding even more indentations

Time for a break

It was cold in Mardie’s garage, though sunnier outside. We decided to break for lunch and take a walk on the beach near her house in Beaumaris.

Mardie packed a picnic lunch for us. Just being by the ocean seemed inspirational, walking on the sand and picking up shells and miscellaneous trash along the way.

Mardie prepares our picnic lunch near the beach

Back to work

With my scraps of clay, I tried making a few more things – a smaller heart with lumpy bits on it, a heart with edges, and a dome with markings from a scraper.

Mardie explained the rest of the process – underglazes, glazes, and firing in the kiln. I thought the full glazing process sounded too complicated given the simple work I was doing. Therefore, I used either no glaze or only an underglaze, so that the pieces needed to go through the kiln only once, not twice.

To continue the experimentation, I chose to use a blue underglaze on the small heart. I lightly and randomly underglazed the dome in various dilutions of the same blue, but with some black added.

The heart puzzle would go into the kiln with underglaze only. Finally, the edged heart would just be allowed to dry, no firing.

Mardie then helped me put my pieces onto round wooden trays to enable a careful move to the kiln for firing.

Transfer of clay onto trays to transport for firing
Pieces with underglaze and no underglaze after firing

All Heart

After Mardie delivered the clay that had been fired in the kiln, it was time to figure out how to integrate the ceramic pieces with my junk.

Because one of the motifs the Creativity Cluster group had selected was mirrors, I glued the puzzle heart to a small mirror. I searched through my collection and to this heart I added numerous smaller hearts – made from plastic, metal, wire, diamantes, fake fur, sparkly paper and even sea glass.

All Heart, made with clay heart puzzle pieces and numerous hearts found on streets and beaches

Pierced to the Heart

Amongst my junk was a piece of metal that looked like a blunt arrow. It fit nicely into a depression in the small blue underglazed heart.

What to do with the edged heart was a quandary. However, I decided to continue with the pierced theme, and added upright nails of all sizes, shapes and states of rust to the inside.

This was quite a tedious process, as I could only glue a few at a time and had to prop them to keep them upright while the glue dried. The rough and ready hearts,and the grotty nails seemed to look most appropriate when mounted on the back of a broken tile.

Two versions of a piercing
Closeup of the blue underglazed ceramic heart
Closeup of the multiple- nail pierced ceramic heart

And what made the cut?

Of all my ceramic experimentation, only the heart puzzle made it as one of the works displayed in my cluster. Here it is in exhibition (see blog), located to the right of the Arts Centre spire (see blog with Deidre Ogilve) and to the left of the pink hydrangea (see blog with Pat Duncan).

The pierced hearts made it to the display case about our experiments. Sadly, the dome is still awaiting its ultimate role in combination with whatever of my junk takes my fancy when the time comes.

All Heart as part of my final cluster of artworks