Residency : Nicola Henderson - September, 2013

Ceramic artist Nicola Henderson was our artist in residence for the moth of September. She took a moment to tell us more about her work.

The residency is only a month long, which is quite a short period, how did you approach it?
One month in ceramic terms is very short, because of all the firing and drying times, so I made sure I was reasonably well prepared before I came in: I mixed the glazes I wanted to test and made small pinch pots for use as test tiles. I felt I was fairly well prepared, but of course as I started I realised there were other things I could have prepared, which would have meant I would have accomplished more. Having said that, I’m pretty happy with the amount I’ve been able to do. Extending it would be fantastic, but it’s a good exercise to have a month, it helps the artist focus on what they need to do and get on with it.

Can you talk us through what you have been working on?
I tested the glazes I'd made up, about 14 in total – some I'd used before, others were new, but even the ones I've used before needed to be tested as different kilns can give different results. The idea was to develop the 'metamorphic' open bowls I'd started to make in College, through glaze experimentation as well as the size and form. I started by making maquettes of differing shapes, which I also used to test the glazes, but ended up making some experimental, laminated forms increasing the height rather than the width - which was restricted somewhat by the size of the kiln.

You have been working with lava glazes, can you tell us more?
Lava glazes give a really textured, cratered finish through the addition of silicone carbide into the glaze. The results are dependant upon how thick or thin I've applied the glaze, as well as the type of clay they've been applied to (I've used four different types of clay). Because of the testing I usually have a good idea of the results I'm going to get from a firing, but the reality is it can still be a bit of a surprise!  Though I can re-fire work if necessary - I have one bowl where some of the volcanic glazes didn't work as they should, so I’ve applied more glaze, and it'll be re-fired for hopefully a better result.

Can you tell us about your influences?
I love rock formations. I notice them wherever I go. Rock is classified broadly into three types: sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous. I particularly like the irregular, undulating layers or 'banding' found in a type of metamorphic rock called 'migmatitic gneiss', which is the inspiration for the open bowls. The tall vessels are more inspired by igneous rock, as seen under the microscope, where the mineral crystals that make up the rock look mosaicked or laminated. I’m also very influenced by Ewen Henderson, a well-known ceramic artist from the 70’s and 80's. He was also inspired by geological forms, as well as primitive tribal artefacts. Through these influences I'm attempting to create earthy, organic vessels that look as if they've been plucked from a cliff face, or found during an archaelogical dig.

Where will you go from here?
I’m particularly interested in seeing how the tall vessels turn out, because I’ve not attempted this type of making process before, and I really enjoyed it. The clay was not far off being soft leather-hard, and I haven't scored and slipped the pieces to join them, which normally you would, so there is a danger they may not survive a full firing without cracking or splitting… Next month I have a week with a Japanese ceramic artist, Shozo Michikawa. He uses a mixture of throwing, twisting and hand-building, which results in the most unusual, multi-facetted, sculptural vessels. I'm hoping I can take some influences from that week and incorporate it into the explorations I've made during the residency here, in order to develop my work.

You came here with the intention to learn more about glazing and firing, have you achieved that?
Yes I have. Had I been really fabulously prepared, I could have done a lot more with the  glaze testing, however I'm very happy with what I’ve achieved within the month. The work I have been doing here carries on from something I started during my 2nd year at Newcastle college, and which I then set aside for a while to follow different strands of interest. It was really nice to have this month to come back to it and develop it further.

What other type of work do you do?
The entire last year of College was spent making large, hand-coiled pots, using the surface decoration to express whatever happens to capture my interest during my day to day living. Inspiration can come from anywhere. The three pots I made for my Final Show in June were inspired by such disparate themes as; road potholes, professor Neil Shubin's book 'My Inner Fish', and a medieval church in the village of Muchelney, Somerset!  The outcome of this type of ceramic making stands at the other end of the scale to the organic style I've been developing here. They are large, 'in your face' things, colourful and eye-catching, not earthy and organic at all!

What are your plans for the exhibition in January?
We’ll see what I end up with at the end of the month. I hope to have one or two pieces good enough for exhibition. I really enjoyed the laminating process: the pieces are very light and consequently quite fragile – I'd like to be able to exhibit these. I want them to have more of a lichen type of finish than the volcanic look of the bowls. I'm still using the volcanic glazes on them, but I'm using less and wiping it back. I know how I want the final pieces to look, but I'm not sure they'll turn out that way!   I get very anxious about what's happening in the kiln during the final firing, when the reality is I can't do anything about it! So reigning in my expectations for the final results when I open the kiln door is part of my process to limit that anxiety: I tell myself if it comes out wrong, it's ok, I’ve learnt from it, and if it comes out great, then it’s a nice surprise!

What was it like to work in the Project Ability studios?
It's a great workspace and I've really enjoyed my time here. I love the large open-plan design and there's plenty of natural light. I’ve also really enjoyed seeing the Aspire and ReConnect groups, and have been really impressed by some of the work. It’s fantastic. And there’s a very good feel here, everybody seems to get on. I was also very impressed by the focus people have. There is friendly banter, but everybody works hard and just gets on with it. It's been a very positive experience for me.

Thank you, Nicola.
Thank you for having me!

Nicola Henderson will show her work in January alongside the other artists in residence.

All images are work in progress.