Making – My pottery making in the seventies began with slipware but for over two decades I worked with stoneware. Because of market issues (almost all of my work is sold locally here in Carlow) I have recently returned to making slipware pots from red clay sourced in Wexford. This marl clay has been worked near Enniscorthy for centuries and is well known for its plastic throwing properties. Slipware is so called because the raw clay pots are covered with a coating of liquid white clay or ‘slip’. This allows for decoration by scratching through the white ground to the darker clay beneath. The white ground is also desirable if one wants to use brushwork decoration. (Video)
I still plan to continue with stoneware on a smaller scale focussing on the tea wares of the East. (See Gallery 1 -Tea Wares)
Decorating – I like my decoration to be quick and immediate while the slip is still wet. I work quickly often using my finger or a stiff brush to execute the simple motifs. I want the results to be spontaneous and free and welcome the serendipitous dribbles etc. that sometimes occur. Occasionally I will use leaves from the hedgerows to act as resists to create loose floral patterns.
Firing – The work is fired in a wood burning kiln using waste offcuts from my local sawmill. The sustainability of this fuel appeals to me and the wood firing also gives a distinctive look to the work.
Clay in liquid form is called Slip so pottery that employs slip in its decoration is called Slipware. This uncomplicated method of decorating pots was used extensively in England in medieval times. It is understandably a method that can be found around the world. Vast quantities of English slipware were imported into Ireland in the 16th -19th centuries. Indeed slipware sherds from Asia Minor dating from the 5th/6th centuries have been found here.
By using a white slip pots made out of the more common red clay can be given a white coating which can then be enhanced further either by drawing through the white slip to the darker ground behind. This is known as sgraffito. (See video on Working Methods page)
The white surface will also take painting with other colours such as ochres and metallic oxides.
Another much regarded method of using slip is sliptrailing where the slip is used as icing on a cake i.e the liquid slip is squeezed/ poured from a container fashioned for that purpose.
Sometimes the potter will draw the decoration and then scrape away the background to allow the imagery to stand out as in the jug below by the late Edwin Beer Fishley of Bideford in Devon. The North Devon towns of Bideford and Barnstable were major centres for slipware in the 18th/19th centuries. This type of jug was called a ‘Harvest Jug’ .Traditionally such jugs were used to bring ale to the workers in the field during harvest time. They often bore the name of the owner together with a date and a little light-hearted verse such as ‘come fill me full with Liquor sweet,for that is good when friend do meet, but pray take care dont let me fall lest you lost your liquor Jug and all.
Because of the ready supply of such wares from England little of this type of pottery was made in Ireland although Carley’s Bridge pottery near Enniscorthy Co. Wexford has been making redware (mainly horticultural) since 1650 to the present day!
For more images of slipware visit my Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/jimbehan/slipware/