How to make a dead albatross bowl.

by frogpondsrock on November 4, 2009

in ceramics,On my soapbox

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Chris Jordan’s albatross photographs. I sent an email off to him asking for permission to reproduce one of his images here but I haven’t received a reply so if you click on his name you will go straight to the images of the dead albatross chicks.

I  planned to take photos of all the steps involved in making the bowl. Once I started to work I got so caught up with the making that I kept on forgetting to take the shots. I would glance up in the middle of adding something to the bowl and see the camera and think,”shit I forgot the photos” and quickly snap away.

I rolled out some clay. It is exactly the same as rolling out pastry except if you nibble bits of the edges it tastes like mud.

I rolled out some clay until it was quite thin.

I rolled out another thin sheet of clay and then cut out an albatross shaped piece of clay.

I then added an albatross shaped piece of clay. I had totally forgotten about taking photos at this stage.

I then started to paint the albatross with black and white slip. Slip is liquid clay. You can buy slip from the clay shop. I make my own slip from white clay and add body stains to make all the colours except black. To make black slip I make up a black oxide mix which is 3% black iron oxide, 2% manganese,2% cobalt oxide and 2% nickel oxide. I then add a couple of teaspoons of this mix to half a cup or so of slip. It should fire to a lovely dark charcoal colour (fingers crossed).

I started to colour in the albatross with slip.

I then pressed shapes into the belly of the albatross for texture and to highlight the foreign nature of the plastic.

I then pressed some circles and lines into the albatrosses belly, to represent the plastic.

I decorated the shapes with commercial underglaze colour as well as coloured slip.

I decorated some more using underglaze colours as well as coloured slip.

I now carefully picked it up and  plonked it on top of a hump mould and hoped like hell that it wouldn’t rip too much, as the clay was really thin.

I then picked up the clay and put it on the hump mould. Hoping that it wouldn't rip too much.

Now I needed to add another layer of clay to make the pot a bit thicker. So I rolled out some more clay, painted it with some slip so that it would stick and then added it to the bowl. I squashed the new layer of clay down with a rolling pin and then smacked it with a piece of driftwood planking until I was happy with the shape and the texture.

I rolled out another sheet of clay and put it on to thicken up the bowl. then I bashed it with a piece of driftwood.

I then painted this layer with black slip.

I painted this layer with black slip.You can see the marks left by the driftwood.

I still had the pieces of clay leftover from when I had cut out the albatross shape. So I painted them with a slip I had made from local clay gathered from the side of the road, it fires to orange. So I stuck them onto the bowl as well.

I put the leftover clay pieces from the albatross on the bowl as well.

I covered them with clingwrap so that they wouldn’t dry out any more and then I squished it all together with the rolling pin.

I covered the clay with cling wrap and and squished everything together with a rolling pin.

Once I was happy that everything was all squished together. I took off the clingwrap and gave it a bit of a bash with the driftwood paddle.

This is the end result of the bottom of the pot.

I left it on the mould until it had dried out to not quite leather hard. I am an impatient potter and all the time I had been making the bowl, I didn’t have a clue how the albatross inside the bowl had fared.I didn’t know if it had ripped or distorted and I was itching to find out. So as soon as the bowl could be flipped off the mould and still retain a bowl like shape, I turned it over.

And here is the dead albatross.

this is what the albatross ended up looking like.

It took me all morning to make one bowl and the whole process from start to finish was very satisfying. I don’t feel quite so helpless in the face of the enormity of the tragedy of the albatrosses. I have since made another albatoss bowl and I am hoping like mad that I will be happy enough with them to put them in the exhibition.

* edited:- You can see photos of the fired bowl here.