Shannon Garson’s visit to CCPS at the end of May was a delight. The Friday evening presentation provided a wonderful introduction to her background and work, offering plenty of inspiration to all present, and preparing workshop participants for the weekend ahead. The focus for this workshop was surface decoration - an opportunity to explore the surface of our clay pieces.
Coming from a painting background, with rich knowledge of colour ingredients and mixing, and skill in brushwork, Shannon’s approach to surface decoration is simple and experimental at times. She breaks the “rules”, mixing oxides, terra sigillata and stains as required to achieve the right consistency and colour. Her techniques have come from much experimentation and testing. She has built up a repertoire of marks and techniques over many years, developed from close study of the bushland near her home in Maleny, Queensland. Shannon’s beautiful drawings display a combination of these marks. They wrap the whole surface of her porcelain pieces, articulating stories from the natural environment, providing moments of discovery as you lift a cup or turn a plate.
In the course of the weekend workshop Shannon shared many tips and techniques; we were constantly busy applying them to our bone dry work. Shannon began by taking us step by step through “The Paddock”, one of her compound designs - layering the grass, filling in the background, adding the dragonflies and small decorative elements. It’s a process of storytelling as each layer embellishes the surface, is wiped away to create greater emphasis, covers the piece with colour or incises the surface to add detail. Lines are painted and filled in to highlight differing features of this well-thought-out design.
Shannon’s stackable ceramic paint palettes are in constant use. “The Paddock” design is made up of a blend of copper oxide and copper carbonate, and yellow, brown and orange underglaze/stain mixes. Clay or other colour mediums are mixed together to achieve the desired colours and consistencies, and to avoid the jelly quality of the underglaze.
From “The Paddock” design we learnt how to break down our ideas into a collection of symbols and techniques; how to use brushes loaded with underglaze to paint blades of grass and backgrounds; how to raise the grass using shellac resist and wiping back; and feature grass stems, flowers and dragon flies with sgraffito, infill, scraping back and touching up. We took these techniques and applied them to our own pieces, inspired by the items we brought to the workshop. To avoid wiping off or scraping back aspects of a design, careful consideration must be given to which technique is used and when - how will the design be layered?
Shannon demonstrated the creation of her “Nest” bowl where we discovered how to play with positive and negative line markings using sgraffito and infill. Shannon reinforced how important it is to draw directly from your source object. We played with slip trailing after watching her describe her "Dandelion" design with confident strokes from the slip trailer, embellished later with watercolour style line work.
Shannon also shared her “Moths in Wallum” design. It was a pleasure to watch her masterly hand using her pin tool to draw. Shannon has distilled the most important aspects of the moths to describe them in great detail. In creating this design she explained the importance of relating the “patches”, of linking them with spotty marks so they relate to each other.
Terra sigillata plays a big role in this design. Shannon’s simple recipe of ground clay, water and time provides a ‘no fuss’ base to a variety of colours. Oxides are added to the terra sigillata and underglaze mixes to alter the colour. To lighten, use a white terra sigillata rather than slip.
We were able to fire our test pieces overnight and view them on the Sunday. This gave us a taste of how our new-found techniques worked on the clay bodies of our choice. It was a challenge to think about the dimension of the surface, to work out how to bring about an idea in layers using each or some of these techniques, but it was great practice in breaking our ideas down and building our collection of marks to use in different ways on future work.
I found the following, very practical tips from Shannon most inspiring.
Paying attention to breathing - breathe in as you load the brush or pick up a tool, and out as you work. This ensures a steady hand when working on your piece.
Support your drawing hand - draw confidently by supporting your arms in a tripod configuration including using your chin.
Take a relaxed, 'anything is possible' approach - be open and unrestricted in your ideas for making and decorating.
Compile inspiration books - build a library of your photographs and ideas through the many differing online bookmaking sites such as Photobookshop, Blurb and Snapfish.
Draw from the source - this maintains integrity in your drawing, it looks alive not contrived.
Press objects into clay - see inspirational objects from a different perspective by pushing them into wet clay and printing with them. This can assist you in building your mark making repertoire.
Find a way to be creative that works with your life situation - look for ways of creating a fit between your life and being creative, with the time you have.
Shannon was incredibly generous and open with her knowledge. She spent considerable, concentrated time with each participant and her calm, positive energy created a focused and relaxed working environment. Thank you Shannon, we’d love to have you back again.
I encourage you to check out some of Shannon Garson’s videos on her Vimeo page.
Kylie Rose McLean
CCPS Educational Workshops Team
All photographs by Kylie Rose McLean
Clodagh, Jules and I would like to acknowledge Lynn Treers for her help in making and turning all the bowls for Shannon to demonstrate on. Thanks Lynn, it was a great help!
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Central Coast Potters Society is a non-profit, community organisation of like-minded volunteers who love clay.