At Leeds College of Art, studying for the Diploma in Visual Arts, I worked alongside several students from the Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design course. Some of them were making ceramic tiles as part of their design projects. Much of their work was light and delicate with intricate patterns, often reflecting natural or culturally derived motifs. One of our teachers, Dianne Cross, introduced me to black clay, a material she uses for much of her work.
The dark chocolate colour of the material invited me to make some work that was in sharp contrast to the work being produced around me. I could set my well-defined forms with a limited palette and more expressive surfaces in opposition to the regular patterns in pale and colourful surfaces made by those around me.
The black clay gets its strong colour from the oxides (Iron and manganese) incorporated into the clay body. The oxides can act as a flux at high temperatures, making the work soft and slumpy if you're not careful. That was just one technical challenge.
For some of the work I mixed the black clay with near-white stoneware to get the 'marbled' effect you see in some of the images. This is known as 'agate-ware' like the mineral it resembles. Although there are even more intense technical difficulties in getting this to fire satisfactorily without cracking, when it works, the effect is stunning.
See me talking about some of my black clay work at an exhibition here: