Ceramics at Northampton High School

Clay is something we get very excited about in the Art Department as its properties allow us to devise projects using slabs, coils and solid sections. It enables the girls to express their ideas in three dimensions through extruding tools, kidneys, wire loops, knives, slip and of course hands.

You may have seen the GCSE Egyptian Canopic Jars outside in Cripps Court at the Arts Festival in June. These can now be seen in our current display in the Senior School Foyer. The jars have been hand finished with underglazes and a metallic lustre. Shoe polish acted as a useful stain, rubbed in after the biscuit firing at 1060 degrees in our electric kiln.

The girls’ visit to London really helped to inspire the group to create an authentic look for these coiled sculptures, after examining original jars in the British Museum.


A New Product in Town

This term sees the introduction of a medium which allows us even more freedom due to its unique composition. Paper clay combines paper pulp bonded and mixed within the clay body. It is an exciting development in the ceramics field. Easy to use; it is extremely strong in the unfired state, simple to repair at nearly every stage in the forming process, and the final glazed and fired result looks similar to conventional clay. The result is lighter than normal. Paper clay is great when used to make delicate sculptural forms and is flexible, providing us with exciting possibilities.

U3N are the first group to use this as we investigate ‘Nature’. The girls are using the American artist Elizabeth Shriver as an influence for their beautifully handcrafted sculptures. I have asked the class to focus on the aesthetics of three dimensional forms rather than the function of design in the pottery industry.

During class I said “imagine you are designing a piece for display in a hallway or lounge as opposed to something to be used in the kitchen”. The girls are indeed moving away from pots and vessels, using their design sheets to problem solve balance and construction with annotated solutions noted for future reference during the making process. Inspiration comes from marine life, seeds, pods and cones – much like Shriver.

Glazes can still be applied as a finishing decoration; U3H are going to use a neutral glaze so the viewers’ attention is focused on form, without the distraction of colour. This is a different approach to the stoneware turtle that Samantha Hynes in U5S has recently made which she dipped and double dipped into glaze buckets. Samantha then finished off with brushing combinations of Yellow Brown and New Frog Green coloured glazes onto the shell. It is important to match the glaze colours and technique with the character of the work.


The Great NHS Throw Down

U3N will be having a ‘Potter’s Wheel Taster Session’ where each girl will have the opportunity to throw a pot as part of their ceramics experience. I am really looking forward to seeing what can be achieved after they have centred the clay on the bat and mastered the sensitivity of the pedal which controls the speed! Girls are welcome to have their ‘Taster Session’ during Art Club on Wednesday if they wish. Look out for the Throw Down results on Twitter through our Creative Arts Account.

You can also watch the Great British Throw Down on BBC2 on Tuesdays at 9pm. Maybe this will inspire you to purchase a wheel for Christmas but remember a wheel is not just for Christmas!

For more details about working with clay and paper clay please click here.

Mrs Mel Beacroft

Head of Creative Arts