Image of Ben Davies at work

Artist's Statement

I use a variety of coloured and textured clays to create distinctive coiled pots which take their forms and surfaces from nature, with particular inspiration coming from beach stones and geological strata. By combining clays and layering slips, using a range of techniques, I am able to create dramatic effects without the use of glazes. I scrape and sand surfaces before a single firing at earthenware temperatures. After firing I sand the pots again prior to final polishing.

Current Work

I am exploring ways of producing surfaces which are inspired by stone and strata, using a variety of techniques including smoke-firing.

Example of stone techniqueI make pots in which surface relief and undulations are incorporated as a result of the building process. One method involves making impressions onto a strip of clay using a variety of tools. These strips are then joined together, as they would be if they were coils, to build the pot. Another method I use involves traditional coiling, with patterns created by leaving the marks left from joining the coils with tools or fingers. The surfaces of these pots are built up with layers of slip (liquid clay), which are scraped back when the pots are leather-hard to reveal patterns. Scraping the surface with a metal tool allows me to refine the shape and changes the pattern to the point at which I decide the pot is finished.
Image showing an example of strata texturesI buy prepared clays in a variety of colours (red, blue, green, buff, black and white) and textures (ie. containing grog in a range of sizes from fine to coarse). I am also beginning to expand this range by mixing my own clays using body stains, oxides and grogs. I mix and arrange my chosen range of clays into blocks and then manipulate them by a variety of means, for example, folding, twisting, stretching, compressing, laminating and slicing. Pots are then built by coiling with strips cut from this prepared block. I refine the form by beating with a wooden spatula and scraping and shaping with sponges and rubber and metal kidney scrapers. When the clay is harder, the pattern is revealed by scraping with a kidney scraper and surform blade.
Two pots about to be smoke firedI coil pots using a mixture of molochite and coloured clay (red, green, blue, buff or white). I then prepare a slip from the clay body I am using and sieve this to remove the molochite grog. This slip is painted in several layers on the surface of the pot before burnishing with the back of a metal spoon or smooth pebble. I biscuit-fire the pot to 950ºC in an electric kiln in preparation for a final smoke-firing in a mixture of sawdust, wood chips (and sometimes seaweed) within an incinerator bin. I enjoy the relinquishing of control, of the surface patterning, inherent in smoke-firing, in contrast to my other more planned work!

Technical Notes

I use earthenware clays and generally single-fire at temperatures between 1000ºC and 1150ºC in an electric kiln.

None of my work is glazed. On my stone and strata pots the finished surface is a result of sanding before firing using abrasive sponges. After firing I continue the sanding using a combination of wet-and-dry paper of various grades and diamond abrasive pads to achieve a stone-like surface. I finish by polishing with a colourless microcrystalline wax. On my smoke-fired pots the surface is a result of the colour of the slip, the burnishing process and most importantly the range and variety of marks made by the fire. These pots are also finished by polishing with wax.