Assignment: Exploring a form, part 1

I taught advanced throwing and soda firing classes at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago for the past 10 years. I’m not currently teaching, but I am giving myself assignments. It’s something that I’ve always done to push myself to discover new forms, new surfaces and refine the old standards. Last month, Michael Kline posted an assignment on his blog, 12 before noon. Blog readers  had a lot of fun with, so I’d share the assignments that I give to myself.

So here is first part my favorite self assignment.

  • Pick a form. Something simple: mugs, small bowls, tea bowls, etc…
  • Pick a weight for the piece. If it’s cups, I usually do a small range: 3/4 lbs – 1 1/4 lbs. If it’s plates, I usually pick the same weight. Maybe 3 lbs. I did mugs this week, so all the descriptions below are for mugs.
  • Weigh out and wedge up at least 12 pieces. (Do more if you can. The more the better. Do 40 or 50.)
  • Think about the different parts of the form: lip, handle, foot, curves… Think about how these parts relate to one another.
  • Consider future glazing and decorating. Segment the form for clear places to decorate. Add lines for a glaze to break. If it’s going to be fired in an atmospheric kiln, think about where the liner glaze will stop.
  • What will the cup be used for? it might be used for: coffee, tea, cocoa, latte, espresso.., and
  • Think about who might use it and where. A coffee cup for the office, a mug for a nightly cup of Sleepytime Tea, etc… Is the cup going to be cradled and savored? Should it have a narrower opening to keep the coffee extra hot? If the user has little kids or pets, something with a wide, stable base is really important.
  • Start throwing – different forms. Push each form to be different from the previous one. Some will be radically different. Some with be variations on earlier pieces. Some you’ll love, some you’ll want to smush. But don’t, yet. You’ll want to study it to figure out why it didn’t work and might discover why part of it did.

Note: All these pieces shown below are porcelain in greenware/leather hard state. They are not decorated yet- that’s not part of this part of the assignment. (btw, I took these quick snapshots on my new studio photography set-up. Blog post about that coming up!) I want a form to be able to be strong and stand on it’s own regardless of the decoration, glaze or firing of the piece. So to study them in a leather hard state is perfect.

I shared some quick thoughts about the forms below each grouping (which are in no particular order). These notes are not at all comprehensive, deep critiques, just quick gut reactions to the forms. Feel free to just look at the images. Or if you want to know what my thoughts are about them, you can read the notes.

group 1:

top left: I’m usually a no-trim mug kinda potter. But I’ve really been loving the yunomi/mug hybrid. I love how the handle placement is so obvious.

top right: This is a standard form for me. I love how it feels to hold when you’re drinking from it, but I don’t love the handle placement. Need to push this more.

bottom left: Great for atmospheric firing. Top third can be glazed and has room to run.

bottom right: Eh- not my favorite. But playing around with yunomi hybrid.

group 2:
a

top left: I like the easy curves of this piece. But I think I want it to feel “fuller”

top right: Standard “diner” mug. Should try it thicker- with a heftier lip. But that’s hard for me to do!

bottom left: I like that the top and bottom of the handle have obvious placement. The curves and lines of this mug will be great in a soda or wood kiln.

bottom right: The form a a bit weak for my taste. But this type of form is great for hot chocolate with whipped cream.  There’s lots of room to top it off. Also good for a latte. I want to play around with this. Taller form, lower handle placement.

group 3:

top left: This is my least favorite of one of my new favorite forms. The lines are too stifled.  I prefer the curvier ones. But didn’t know until I played the form in both directions.

top right: This is a form that I always have a hard time with handle placement. I have a mug from another potter that gets it perfectly. But I can’t do it. I’ll always try, and maybe someday I’ll get there. I love drinking peppermint tea in the winter out of a full mug like this.

bottom left: I love the elegant flow of these curves. The taller form keeps the hot liquid hot too. And the curves feel good to hold.

bottom right: Another one of my favorite new forms. I’m excited to do some simple decorating on this form. The band is just calling for some attention.

group 4:

top left: This is a pretty large, wide mug. Maybe good for soup?

top right: This form is getting a little closer to what I want. I love the fluidity of the form. But I want the proportions to be a little different.

bottom left: This form is working a little better for me than the previous iteration. But still isn’t quite gelling. Something to push a bit more.

bottom right: I love the looseness of this form- both when I was throwing it, and the finished product. It has that night balance between a nice strong form and an ease of form.

group 5:

top left: This is similar to one in the previous group, but I tried to play around with having a stronger line and it doesn’t quite work. Next time I think I’ll make the top of the form a bit taller.

top right: I like the curves of this form with the break in the form at the top. I also like that that break gives me a nice place to attach a handle.

bottom left: Another version of one of my new favorites. Something that doesn’t come through in these photos is scale. Some of these similar forms are quite different in size.

bottom right: A taller diner style cup. But this one is quite large. Great for someone with big hands. The very linear lines of the form work well with most of my decoration. A big blank canvas.

group 6:

top left: This is my favorite one of this kind of form. The proportions and fluidity are just right. This is a very generous size cup.

top right: This gets the mix of the softer curves with the stronger angle/line break in the form. Will definitely explore this form more.

bottom left: This is a form I haven’t played with before. I was thinking about those stacking mugs. I didn’t think about making them actually stack, but maybe I will.

bottom right: Again, this cup is a different scale from the previous one. It’s a bit smaller. More “standard” mug size.

group 7:

top left: The curvy mug with a straighter top.

top right: Diner mug with more of a waist. I like that it give you extra room for your knuckles without having the handle loop out too far.

bottom left: I really like the strength of this form. I am mug, hear me roar.

bottom right: This is a variation of one of my first mug forms. I like playing with the proportions of the top and bottom. A slight change makes a major difference.

group 8:

top left: The curvy tea bowl hybrid with a straighter top. I like the swelling of the bottom part of the form, and the restrained upper part.

top right: I wanted to push the idea of the indented band around the cup, but it didn’t work. Often times, creating a whole new form with a very specific idea leads to an overworked piece. But sometimes that’s just where you have to start.

bottom left: Similar to earlier ones, but with a straighter bottom. Prefer the curves.

bottom right: This is another new form that I want to play around with. Nice and stable and a nice break in the form that can be a nice inspiration for decorating this piece.

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There are a couple more parts to this assignment, but that should be enough to get you started for today.

This assignment is something that I do pretty regularly. Not just for mugs, for all different forms. I prefer to sketch in clay rather than paper. By doing so many different forms, it really pushes me to try things that I wouldn’t do otherwise. When you start getting to number 10, you’ll really have to start creating new forms and pushing your standard ones.  If you do this in the next 2 weeks- take a photo of your grouping and email it to me: emily at emily murphy . com. Maybe line them up and take a photo of them in a row. It’ll be easier for me to post than to have to edit individual photos.

Have fun!
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17 thoughts on “Assignment: Exploring a form, part 1

  1. great post and what a bunch of interesting and thoughtful mugs.
    there are some real winners there which will be interesting to see after they are fired.
    I always think of the mug as the best piece of hand held art form there is.
    This is a great assignment and I am looking forward to the results others send in.

    1. Thanks Meredith, I’m also looking forward to seeing them finished! I always love watching customers react to mugs. They are the most personal of forms so they evoke the strongest reactions. These statements flow through my head when I’m doing one of these exercises. One of my husband’s former co-workers came to my studio to pick out a mug. He was feeling bummed out that everyone else at the office had Murphy mugs and he didn’t. He walked in, picked up a vase (large enough for a standard bouquet of flowers) and said: I want that, but with a handle. So I made him one. It held 1 pot of coffee. And drank out of it every day. He was always good at making a new pot of coffee when he emptied it out so no one resented his vase sized mug. I never would have made a cup that size without his prompting.

  2. Fab mugs, such variety.
    My son and I will be waiting patiently for all your end results.
    Thanks so much for sharing all the fab designs
    Caroline

  3. You have the best blog! The topics are ones I care about and don’t see addressed elsewhere, and your step-by-step instructions (e.g. how to make a foam bat) could not be clearer. Thanks for taking the time to photograph and critique your pots. So inspiring!!

  4. Emily,
    I am totally inspired by these! Pleasing, interesting, forms- what a great assignment. They are really lovely and also the photo set-up is great!!
    Very nice post, thank you.

    1. Thanks Glynnis- I may not be teaching at Lill, but I’m still handing out assignments! I’ll be doing a post on the photo setup sometime soon. I have some tweaks to make to it after using it for this post.

  5. Reading this and looking at those photo’s just reminds me of Clary Illian pots. I love some of the mug forms and what a great thing to do. I give my students these types of tasks but never myself..good thought to try in the furture!

    1. Jen, that’s an incredible compliment. Thank you! There is something about clay in the leather hard stage that’s so appealing.
      I have all sorts of self assignments and rules that push me out of my comfort zone. I think more of these assignments and rules will be popping up on this blog now that I’m back in the studio.

  6. Great assignment, I make a few different mug styles but haven’t thought to sit down and throw 10 – 50 of them all different. I’ll be trying this really soon.
    Thanks

  7. Dear Emily,
    I only just discovered your blog and think it is a treasure trove of information and beauty. Thank you so much for sharing it all with us. Your assignment on mugs was really inspirational and totally made me re-think my practicing. I hope you’ll continue to inspire us all with new assignments and especially with the pictures of your gorgeous pots.

    Best,
    Toni

  8. I am in an intro ceramics course and found this so helpful! I can relate to wanting to sketch in clay. We have an upcoming form and function assignment for mugs and I will certainly use this technique!
    Thanks you!

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