Learning Index >> Ceramic Decoration: a selective guide to pots in the collection of the Crafts Study Centre

Brush Decoration
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The most common form of decoration on pottery is a motif or motifs in glaze, slip or pigment, applied by brush. This is true of most fields of ceramic art except, of course, for transfer-printed wares. This selection of pots, plus one tile, demonstrates some of the approaches to brush-painting favoured by eight of the British potters represented in the Crafts Study Centre collection. They are: Alan Caiger-Smith, Michael Cardew, Henry Hammond, Bernard Leach, David Leach, Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie, William Staite Murray and Mary White. Their work, dating from approximately 1930 to 1990, can now be regarded as the classical phase in studio pottery, a phase in which many makers drew on non-western or historical decorative traditions. Since the 1950s and 60s, subsequent generations of potters working in Britain have questioned the relevance of this attitude and have strived to find broader, often more personal, decorative languages.

Every potter creates his or her own forms, contours, ground colours and surfaces to serve their individual brief, often with mark making in mind. These grounds can be neutral and relatively dry, as in the case of Henry Hammond (No.20, bowl) , and (No.21, bowl) or William Staite Murray (No.27, vase or jar) and (No. 28, bowl) , dark and mysterious as with Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie (No.10, vase) or white, shiny and smooth, as in the work of Alan Caiger-Smith (No.18, large flared bowl) . The British potter whose oeuvre probably exhibits the widest range of forms and grounds for decoration is Bernard Leach; his pots often appear to have been formed primarily as a vehicle for brushwork and became a role model for his many followers.

Large dishes, open bowls and tall jars offer some of the best surfaces for painting on, seen here are three classic types of motif: lettering, plants and animals. The vigour of calligraphic marks and letter forms inspired the work of several potters selected. In particular, Bernard Leach (No.23, rectangular bottle) who looked to ancient Chinese and Japanese writing on scrolls, Alan Caiger-Smith who has studied and written authoritatively on Islamic and other tin-glazed pottery (No.16, bowl) , and Mary White who favours the geometry of Roman lettering (No.29, lettered bowl) . Other familiar motifs have been appropriated by studio ceramists as part of their language; for example, the single weeping tree found in Chinese Song porcelain has been used by a number of potters up to and including David Leach (No.25) . Fishes and long-legged birds - as found in many branches of art from medieval illuminated manuscripts to hand-painted Chinese wallpapers - have long been a theme in ceramic decoration. See Michael Cardew, (No.19, plate) , Henry Hammond, (No.21, bowl) , and Bernard Leach, (No.30, bottle vase) .

The methods of mark making employed in brush-decorated ceramics include painting, drawing, stippling and working with stencils and resists (or barriers), such as brushed liquid wax. To these skills and techniques is added the challenge of controlling the brush on a three-dimensional form, and assessing colour density. In addition, permanent glaze colours appear only when a pot is fired, and can depend on specific kiln conditions, hence the many glaze tests and firing records found in any potter's workshop.



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