This was a collaboration ten years in the making with Ambika, my classmate and friend. We spoke of creating things while sitting on a tree in the playground of our school, but were not sure of what. At age 12 we knew we wanted to draw and work with our hands. We loved pottery and art class as much as history and science but were more inclined to the former from the very beginning.
We decided to go to art school together but got accepted to different schools. Our plans changed but this idea of collaborating didn’t. We went on to learn different disciplines and run our own studios. Ambika has trained in Thailand and Auroville. She came back a year ago and we have more in common than ever before.
We have finally collaborated with each other after all these years, in a way we never saw coming. It began as fun way to distract ourselves from our other projects. We’d work in the evenings while listening to music and sharing what we had read or seen. Slowly it turned into an experiment to see how well we could work together and if all the interests and ideas we share could be translated into something tangible.
I have learnt that pottery is a really long and difficult process that is not for the faint-hearted. It involves mixing clay, sourcing elements like cobalt, iron, silica and a zillion others, making glazes, having the right tools, the most important one being a wheel; in this case a kick wheel that is completely manual and as the name suggests, it has to be kicked for it to rotate. Then comes measuring, weighing, throwing (making an object on the wheel) followed by drying, trimming, waxing sanding, scraping and finally firing.
Below is the kiln. It is a gas kiln with four burners, insulated with ceramic fiber. It reaches 1200 degrees and has to be monitored through the night with the help of a pyrometer. We went through about three firings to really get a hang of it. Each firing takes 12-16 hours non stop, the temperature has to rise at a controlled pace and decrease gradually as well. Ambika is now becoming nocturnal, she can stay wide awake and productive for three days at a stretch, she might also be developing night vision and growing wings.
There are different kinds of clay that do different things. Stoneware and terracotta are the two we used. They have to be fired at different temperatures and react differently to glaze and paint.
I started implementing the little knowledge I have of sculpture and etching along with illustration to the mugs and bowls Ambika was throwing. The paint used below is a solution of pure cobalt, that looks black when painted, but when fired turns blue (the plate behind). Usually when I paint with black, it remains black. This was hard to judge and get used to.
We drew what we felt like and didn’t over-think it. We decided to stick to nature, as the entire process was earthy and handmade. It was not a series or a well planned body of work.. it was spontaneous, fun and easy to do. While I was drawing on the plates she was making, Ambika decided to make some planters to go with an illustration of mine, another unforeseen collaboration took place.
Pottery is unpredictable, you never know what you’re going to get.. the slightest variation in consistency of glaze, temperature, even where things are stacked in the kiln make a huge difference. It cannot be controlled beyond a point. Which is really quite beautiful. I see now how much knowledge and precision this artform takes.
At the end of two months a lot of lessons were learnt, the main ones being; collaboration is everything and working with a new medium can really help open your mind. It doesn’t always work and there is no fixed way to go about it, but identifying the right person who’s skill you have complete faith in and combining it with all you know, will most often lead to something interesting.
The next step of this collaboration will be to perfect ideas and technique, concentrate on design and creating a well planned body of work!