Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sketchup and a cheap copy of Microsoft Office

As I'm not particularly good at drawing and often struggle to put my design ideas down on paper, I've been doing a bit of experimenting with Google's 3D modelling tool, Sketchup:

I'm hoping I can  use Sketchup to help visualise my ceramic ideas during the early design phases, before clay models are made.  I have to say that I'm really impressed with it so far:  it's free and it's really easy to use and there are hundreds of pre-created shapes and surfaces that can be adapted to suit almost any design project.  It has built-in 'living' surfaces such as grass, tree bark, sky and water, as well as brick, metal, plastic, etc. It even does shading according the global time of the model - i.e. month and hour of day!  Brilliant.

There are extensive online resources to help anyone new to Sketchup and training videos to suit all levels:  There's also a 3D warehouse of ready-made models and designs, many of which are freely available to use.

This is my first attempt at modelling the piece I've made for my current project:

I haven't quite got all the shading and layout right but you can immediately see the potential and, even at this first attempt, I don't think it's half bad.  It took me about 2 minutes.  I didn't bother watching any of the tutorial videos either, so if I take some time to watch those I guess I'll be able to make a better attempt next time. 

Whilst on the subject of useful software, if you're a student and you want to obtain a copy of Microsoft Office then have a look at Microsoft's Ultimate Steal offer which gives students a big discount on the full price: - you will need to use your official University or College email address to check your eligibility for the offer.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Going round in circles as usual...

So, three posts in one day!   Like the buses... you wait months for one...

Anyway, I thought I'd write a little about one of two current course modules. The module is officially entitled AD210"Critical Research Study".  It is an odd module to deal with because its principal purpose is to prove that I'm able to carry out critical research and write an essay rather than to design and produce ceramic work.  I can carry out research and write essays, no problem.  As to whether I'm a good critic -- not sure!

The subject for my critical research could be of my own choosing but had to fit into one of several broad themes relating to contemporary art and culture.  I decided to look at organic architecture and design as this is something that interests me quite a lot, from both an aesthetic and a philosophical point of view. I'd like to know more about the origins of the philosophy - it's generally accepted that Frank Lloyd-Wright  came up with the term:

I do have to make a ceramic piece as well - in response to the research.  So, I've been looking at various organic forms and designs.  I've been particularly inspired by the images in Morpho-Ecologies ( - an amazing book (quite a hard read), covering the design philosophies and 'manufacturing processes' behind a collection of architectural pieces including artworks and buildings.  Many of the designs have been computer-generated and are, in themselves, quite stunning in their beauty and complexity. There is also a long section on the design processes of Antoni Gaudi, of whom I've always been a big fan.  Many of the designs in the book use the same repeating patterns/pieces to construct a larger whole;  for me this is one of the most appealing features of many of the organic - or natural - forms that I really like.

book cover

The piece I'm developing uses repeated circles:

First construction...

I see this as a prototype for a much bigger piece - one that is big enough for me to get inside of and lie down; a piece to go outside, in the sunshine, so that the light shines through it and makes me (or whatever else is inside or nearby) stripey :-) 

Harv said it's 'like when you paint your toes...'

...not that I ever do paint my toes!  But I know what he means.  It reminds me a bit of a toast rack, which isn't good.  It needs to be bigger.  BIGGER!

I'm making the piece using flattened coils and attaching these to grooves in a base, using the score and slip technique. This basically means that I'm scratching the joining surfaces to create a better 'key' between them and sticking the surfaces together using slip, which is very wet or liquid clay ( This has to be done quite carefully because I'm joining only a very small section of the circle to a very large base.  I'm having all kinds of technical difficulties with the work due to its fragility.  As advised by Jess, my tutor, I will need to construct the final piece directly on to a kiln shelf. 

I'm testing metallic pewter and gold glazes for the finish.
That's all for now.  Will report back soon on progress... 

Emily Murphy

This is Emily Murphy's blog:

It is great!  There is just so much in it. A fantastic one-stop resource with hundreds of really well-written posts covering everything you can think of that is connected with ceramics, with stacks of practical advice and links to makers, publications, other pottery blogs.... etc, etc.

I particularly like her interest in pottery 'tools' (a woman after my own heart!) and making her own tools:  For example, this great little idea for making a non-stick bat holder: - simple to make and it works really well!

And.... she makes great pots too:

Grid of Mugs

Finally, for any other potters out there who are thinking of starting up their own blog, have a read of this: - it's quite inspiring.


Well, I must never ever do this again!  That is:  leave my blog unwritten for so long!  It's been incredibly difficult to get going again with it.  I don't know where to start...  Just launch into it I guess.... and ramble on, as usual...

The 'Thinking, Out of the Box' project, detailed previously, resulted in a mix of success and failure.  I didn't exactly end up with the finished work I'd anticipated.  The main problem was with the decals of the various 'doodles';  these were pretty disappointing because they arrived from the printer in a size which required a microscope to be able to see their detail!  I had some of them reprinted, but the cost of having them re-done meant that I couldn't really get them all printed as I'd wanted. The second problem was that I didn't make any 'spare parts' in case of breakage, and, as I was putting my final piece together, a fellow student accidently knocked it over and one of the sides broke in two!  To be honest, I wasn't devastated by this event - the work was pretty poor anyway.  And all was not lost: I liked my original idea and at some point I should revisit it, and try and make the box again.  Also, because I'd done vast amounts of research and testing during the project, I got a pretty good mark.  Actually, when it came down to it, I didn't really mind that much about the mark either:  this was my favourite project so far and I learnt so much along the way that (cheesy as it may sound!) that was reward enough in itself. 

So, I'm well into a new project now...  but I'll blog about that later.  (At least that's the intention!)

One other ceramics-related task I had to complete during November was the completion of a 'wedding present' that I'd put together for Eileen (my mother) and Keith (my step-father) when they finally got around to getting hitched after 27 years of 'living in sin'.   They had a wonderful wedding ceremony in a beautiful suite in the Dorchester Hotel in London with just 32 guests made up of immediate family and close friends.  I had the idea of making some ceramic tiles and getting the guests to secretly decorate them for Keith and Eileen, and include messages of good wishes, etc.  I can't really take full credit for this idea:  I'd participated in a similar activity when Jane, the teacher from my first ceramics nightclass went off to get married and left Newcastle in 2008.  Her colleague, and close friend, Christine Constant had encouraged all of Jane's students to make similar ceramic tiles for her.  I thought it was a wonderful idea!

Anyway, we ended up with 16 tiles, many decorated by the children in the family.  Although these were presented to Eileen and Keith on the day of their wedding, they were (finally!) properly mounted in a frame as a 1st anniversary gift.