Shape of Thought

Monday, 14 October 2013

Shape of thought

Concepts development                                                                 

We are rapidly moving to the present time with this blog. From now on, we are live on air, figuratively speaking.
I am intrigued by making larger objects – always difficult in clay – from smaller components.

As I look through my inspirational images collections on computer and in books, I am particularly drawn to spherical objects.
I want to make spherical form reminiscent of seeds, pollen,  planktons. 
Form that evokes ideas of genesis, growth, evolution, potential for change.



of course, Ernst Haeckel drawings:
The 1st plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904), depicting radiolarians, classified as Phaeodaria (credit:

and miscellaneous plant structures:

where will it take me?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Next step                                                                 

How can I make sphere, from components? Clay sphere, of course. I happened to be on 16 hour flight...lots of thinking and drawing time, no distractions:

I have to research Geodesic domes!

I chanced upon this inspirational web site that got me playing with skewers:

Except I wanted something more permanent than lollies.

Here is my version:

It took a few days to make, but it was invaluable exercise in order to fully understand principals, components and sizes. Making a 3D model and having it in front of me is totally different than looking at the drawings.
To get a better idea of size of this dome, here it is on my table:

It is quite large, but awesome. I want to keep it, but it takes so much space....
Now I have to figure out how to translate it into clay.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


First let me tell you a bit more about geodesic domes and spheres.
The word geodesic refers to the shortest distance between two points on a curved surface, and it comes from a Greek geo-, earth, + daiesthai, to divide; thus we have "earth dividing" domes.

Simplest geodesic dome and sphere is based on icosahedron. Icosahedrons have 20 equilateral triangle faces that form very roughly a sphere.

They are called Frequency 1 or 1V domes. Frequency of a geodesic dome indicates how many times each side of the base triangle is subdivided. For example: frequency 3 means the base triangle is divided into 3 lengths, thus forming 9 triangles. It is easy to understand when you look at the drawing:

The Higher the frequency (or number of divisions), the closer the shape is to the sphere. It looks less “pixelated”.
 As a compromise between the complexity of construction and visual impact of the form, I choose to make 3V sphere.
3V sphere is formed from 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons (think soccer ball), divided into triangles. (6 triangles for each hexagon, and 5 for pentagons). Here is where things start getting complicated....the length of the edge of the triangle ( a "strut" in dome language)  varies pending on whether it forms a hexagon or pentagon, or connects them.
3V sphere has 3 lengths struts. I called them A, B & C and colour coded them A green, B blue and C red.

Still with me?? There are lots of web based calculators available that will calculate the lengths of struts, radius of the dome or angles, which is GREAT, as I glaze over those mathematical formulas.

The challenge is that I want to make each triangle in clay - which will need certain thickness - so I need to figure out not only the length of the triangle edges, but the angles as well, so that my clay triangles form a sphere rather than a flat surface.

Now that I know the sizes and angles, next step will be to design triangular components I can make in clay and decide on the making techniques. Fun! Fun! Fun!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


I have decided that radius of my sphere will be 80cm (diameter 160 cm). I am too cautious to make it any bigger on the first attempt. That way, if I make full sphere it will stand slightly shorter than an average human.
In the past few weeks while the blog was silent, I was busy designing triangles.
 I want the object to be reminiscent of pollens, planktons, molecules and similar “building blocks” in nature (remember the images at the beginning of the blog??) I definitely don’t want it to look mathematical and geometrical. I also don’t want it to look like clay shingles or ceramic tiles mounted on underlining structure. No, the object has to have “biological” I have to introduce randomness ...and holes. Holes are interesting... they make you aware of the thickness of the material, inner surfaces and even objects on the other side. They provide visual interest and rhythm.
Unfortunately they also complicate design as inner surfaces need to be visually as thought out as outer ones...and in this case they (holes, that is) eliminate the possibility of having struts structure underneath.

After several attempts I have settled on this shape:

Here is attempt of drawing - imagining what it will look like:

How will I make it?
How will I put it together?
Assembling part first:

Pieces will be made by press moulding in plaster moulds.
As I can't make correct angles in the mould (or I will not be able to get clay out) I have to cut them afterwards.
Drawings on top of the visual diary page ( above) illustrate cutting line.
Should be achievable.
Careful planning at this stage is really important. More problem solving I can do now,I will have less problems later.

Thursday, 30 January 2014


After several attempts at prototypes, I am finally happy with curves, thickness and the shape of my triangles. It is great to be making in clay again, although it is hard to imagine how the finished object will look. Image in my mind is still pretty vague. And it keeps changing. 

Plaster moulds are ready, and making begins:

extruding coils
pressing coils in the mould.
Notice the clay triangle at the top? It is there to distinguish that corner so I can assemble the sphere correctly. 

smoothing and "knitting" together

strengthening the edges

filling in corners

cutting off excess clay with the cutting wire

leveling edges with metal ruler

making porcelain slip "bubble"

I love doing this!

pressing a nut in the corners
I'm hoping to use this to assemble the triangles together after firings.

adding porcelain bubble
 This is just for visual fun. Bottom of the triangles will be visible through the holes in the sphere, and it can't be glazed. 

marking future cutting line
Those edges will need to be trimmed later, so the triangles will fit together on an angle, forming a sphere.

ready for drying
 As it dries, clay shrinks , making it easy to take out of the mold. However, if I don't take it out of the mould at the right time, clay will shrink too much and form will break, as the shape of the mould will prevent it from contracting.

out of the mould
Clay is still very soft at this stage so it is easily deformed. Drawing on the board will assure the shape is not distorted

drying near the window
 but not in the full sun

applying porcelain slip

fun and very messy bit

dry and ready for bisque firing

Here in Perth, Western Australia, we are in the middle of hot dry summer. With temperatures in 35C– 38oC range for days (we have reached 42oC couple of weeks ago) clay is drying very fast. Sometimes too fast.
But at least I don’t have to wait for weeks in order for the work to dry for firing.
Yes, clay has to be absolutely dry before it goes in the electric kiln. (gas firing is slightly different, but that is a conversation for some other time). If there is even a little bit of moisture left in the middle of the thickest part of the object, it will quickly turn into the steam in the kiln and explode into rubble. Ceramists and potters have to learn patience and perseverance. I rarely win arguments with clay.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Bisque Firing                                                                 

While the whole batch of triangles is drying, I’m (with husbands’ help) resurrecting an old kiln. It looks great from the inside, but the outside is so rusty that the box with wiring has nothing to hold on. The whole thing is literally held by duct tape. I am also waiting for the new controller to arrive.
It looks almost new now:

Old kilns never die. Wiring gets replaced quite regularly, inner brick work sometimes, outside gets a new sheet of metal when the previous one rusts out (like in this case) .....but in its hart it is the same kiln.

Getting ready for first bisque firing 

·      Bisque firing is the first firing of clay object, to a temperature lower than vitrifying temperature of clay. It changes it from clay object to ceramic object – which means that it won’t dissolve in water, and it is much stronger than when just dry. Main reason for bisque firing is to make the object sturdier, so that it doesn't break while glazing. Or dissolve in bucket of glaze, or under a tap when you make a mistake or three.

I bisque fire to 1000oC and estimate that the firing will take about 14 hours. I don’t know how long it will take for the kiln to cool down enough to open it. Every kiln is different, and I’m just getting acquainted with this one. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

First disappointments                                    

I have just opened a kiln after a first glaze firing. It was a test for the kiln as well as the glazes. Firing went ok and the kiln has reached the temperature (1210oC) without any problems, but when I opened it, glaze didn’t look the way I expected it to.

I don’t mind the crawl surface, but it obscures all textures underneath.
Not what I wanted. I have spent so much time creating those textures, I don't want to lose them.
This is what I expected, as I used the same combination of glazes as on the Gateway arch:

Why is it happening? Is it due to the change of raw materials? (Very likely as I witnessed problems with other high feldspar glazes)  Did I make a mistake when mixing? (Not likely as I bought just enough raw materials for two glazes, and had no unexplained leftovers)
So what else can I do? I can’t quite picture the sphere in any other glaze. First reaction is to test whatever is immediately available in the studio: test glazes separately, test clear glaze and very thin washed out application of dry green glaze, just in the crevices. I also want to see what it looks like without the glaze. 
So I used broken bits, applied glazes and put them back in the kiln. Restarted it......and instead of a click that announces heating has begun, there are sparks and silence. Controller looks dead.



Studio still has working lights. Press a few buttons on a controller – no response. Fuse has short circuited. And that is the limit of what I can do. Except call kiln electrician.

What was that I said about patience?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Glaze choices                                    

Kiln was fixed on Friday. One of the wires got pinched between the kiln wall and casing ( while putting a new metal on the side wall) , so wire insulation melted and short circuited. Took a while to find the problem, but once found it was easily fixed. 
So here are the glaze/surface tests:
porcelain slip, no glaze
If I choose this I can once fire as there is no glaze added at all.
thin clear glaze
Very subtle shine, slightly wet or slimy look.
crawl glaze
This one is intriguing. Cool white.
crater glaze
Creamy, off-white and mat.
thin copper wash
Another subtle effect, but with "aged" patina.

Now I have to make a decision....All of the tests are satisfactory as textures are visible, and colour is in the "white" range.
I'm tossing between crater and crawl. ( those two together were meant to give me bubbly, frothy glaze like on the Gateway arch). 
Crater gives me weathered look - I imagine object pitted by weathering, bleached by the sun and slowly decaying. A coral bone found on the beach.
Crawl is much whiter, intriguing and implies a living organism. I almost expect it to start moving like a lizard. 
The challenge is in trying to visualize a 1.5 meters large object in each glaze and deciding which glaze is most suitable. Once choice is made there is no going back. 

I am lingering with the choices and savoring the possibilities for a while. 
Both are equally valid....
What do you think?

Monday, 17 February 2014


Something is wrong with the kiln again, and I’m waiting for the electrician as we speak. The glaze tests fired OK, and I loaded the next batch for the glaze firing; and sometime during the night the kiln stopped working. Very very disappointing. I hope the kiln can be repaired...and soon.

In the mean time, I am making... I need to make 180 – 6(for the base) triangles. It is kind of nice to be in the making routine. When I walk into the studio, I know exactly what I’m meant to be doing. ...and I just make. There are days when mind likes to wander while the hands are busy, but then there are days when it gets inpatient and bored and it wants to be doing something else. On those days I listen to audio lectures. At the moment, highly appropriate: “Philosophy, religion and the meaning of life”.

I have also done a bit of research on Buckminster Fuller (architect and philosopher who popularized geodesic spheres) and found series of lectures recorded live: “Buckminster Fuller – Everything I know”. They are on the waiting list to be listened to next.
But I digress....

I need to make only 27 more triangles + spares. Studio is becoming really cluttered with shapes in various stages of making, drying and waiting for glazing and firing.
Bread crates are really handy way to store ( and transport) lots of work in a condensed space:

Electrician was here, found a loose wire (!!!) and the kiln is ON again. I really hope I get more then one firing out of it before something goes wrong again. I feel like I'm a month behind already.

Problem with not being able to fire work as it is ready is in the broken feed-back loop. Every step of the process has different issues and requires a degree of problem solving. If I'm not able to see the results, I can't change/improve process of making. 
For example, I have discovered that the two types of clay I am using ( hand-building & porcelain) have so different shrinkage rate that the little "planktons" (picture below)  I was putting on the underside of triangles fell of the triangles in the glaze firing.  ( Yes of course. porcelain shrinks so much more). 

So I stopped making them and it considerably reduced the time needed for each triangle. (But I only found that out after I made 80 or so....).

And now to wait for the first full batch to finish glaze firing. I can fit 26-27 triangles in the kiln, and if it all goes well will be able to see results in 2 days.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Are we there yet?                                    

There comes a point in the journey when the road seems to stretch forever, there is only a climb and no summit, only the ocean and no land, and it seems to take lots of motivation and energy to make another step.....or in this case; another triangle.

As the number of made triangles grows, and firings are happening without further problems, my mind turns to the next step in the process, the next unsolved bit: connecting them together.
The plan is to glue the bolts into the holes made for the purpose on the triangles, make metal brackets and screw them together.
I am really pleased with the way  bolts fit into the spaces for them:

If you don't work with clay, you are probably wandering why is this such a big deal. The thing is, the clay shrinks...and every clay shrinks differently so the exact size is difficult to predict if you have not tested the clay.

Here is the shrinkage example:

First triangle (top left) is freshly made, second is leather hard and third bone dry.
Bottom row: first is bone dry, second bisque fired and third glaze fired to 1210oC.
Lines are 3 cm apart.

There are several unknowns left to solve: I don’t know which adhesive will be strong enough for the purpose, so I will need to test a few.....starting with the one recommended by the professional shop, claiming to glue ceramics, glass, wood, marble, metal, etc.....which failed miserably.

Resin is showing promise. First test was holding the screw firmly in the hole, but in a few days it broke off like a rotten tooth.
 I realized I used 10 x the recommended amount of I mixed another batch and it is looking good:

This is the first prototype for the brackets:

it needs the hole for the bolt on the left side, but at the moment I'm using it to test the strength of the glue.
I will need to make 540 brackets, and I don't have a metal workshop, just few basic tools. This is one of the moments when I'm sorry I don't work at art school any more. Access to the metal workshop was a nice privilege.
This is the plan:

I am pretty sure it will work. I think. I hope. Wish me luck. Please.....

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sometimes it is good to be impatient                                                        

,,,,or would curious be a better word?

couldn't wait to connect first 6 triangles and see how they fit together,  so I "bravely" ventured into the unknown metal brackets territory. I soon discovered that steel is too hard for me to work with, but luckily, my husband Vlado spotted aluminium flats next to the steel ones in the hardware shop, so I bought a meter to try it out.
Working with a trial and error method, I (thanks for the patience Vlado) figured out how to cut, drill and bend aluminium flat into the bracket resembling the drawing ( see previous post).

I only had to make 12 brackets to connect a hexagon and here it is, first connections:

I can't tell you how exciting it is to put 2 clay shapes together with a metal bracket and it's not  falling apart.

Four of them together..still holding...but I feel the first seeds of doubt. The shape is not quite what I imagined.

And the 6th triangle just doesn't fit in. Not enough space.

Where did I go wrong? the hexagon shape I am getting is tighter and more pointy than expected, and no way to "flatten" it a bit.
I find it hard to resist the urge to flatten the angle on the brackets to see if that would help.
I need to properly diagnose the problem.....

Isn't it good I only made 12 brackets, rather than commissioned someone to make 540?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Back to the drawing board                                         

I have put my analytical hat on in order to methodically approach the Mystery of Non Fitting Triangles.
The first problem: due to its shape (tapering angles) I can't accurately measure the size of the triangle.
Solution: make slightly oversized model and see how my shapes fit on top.
 If I haven't totally blundered in making the shapes, the angles should match....
and they do.
So do the angles on the brackets.
in the moment of practical inspiration I drew the clay shape on the transparency and copied it 6 times. Position of the holes is important.
And there I found it!
The hole on the bracket needs to be 5 mm further from the center. Therefore the bracket needs to be 5 mm longer on each side, as you can see on the paper model (right).

So, back to the bracket making, measuring, connecting and testing the theory....
and this time it works:

Do you want to see it right way up?

It fits! It fits! It fits!
(Of course, that is only first 6 out of 180. And I made 12 brackets out of 540....)
But I will keep those thoughts at bay, and finish with a quote from the father of geodesic domes:

“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty........ but 
when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” 
Richard Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, 24 April 2014

minus one                                         

I have been silent for over a month, I know. I have been busy making, angle grinding, drilling,bending and procrastinating. Today I have glued the last of the bolts into the clay and connected (those which were ready) triangles into hexagons and pentagons.

I am planning to put the sphere together on the weekend - trial run. It worries me terribly - will I be able to connect it? will it break? 
It feels little bit like constructing the house of cards. one wrong move and it all collapses. Not a reassuring thought.
This was also a chance to count all the triangles and, I cant quite believe it.... I am ONE triangle short.

I thought that I made plenty spares....but obviously not
Quite a few broke in the last batch

so I guess you won't hear from me for a while. I need to make, dry,fire,glaze and fire again some more triangles.Again.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

First  assembly                                                         

The big day has arrived – no more postponements – I have to find out if I can put my sculpture together. Will it work?

It is a beautiful day, and the family has gathered to help. I feel very nervous and keep saying to myself that if it doesn't work nobody will die. It is not as if I’m constructing a bridge or a building.

 In other words, worst thing that can happen is not the worst thing that I can imagine happening.

Oh well, that is comforting. But my hands are still shaking as I’m bringing all components to the grassy area in front of the house.

Positioning the first ring clusters roughly where they should be seems like a good starting point.

And so it begins: 

Tie down straps are really, really useful. They pull pieces in, preventing them from leaning too much out of the center.

Second row is already difficult to handle.

Every nut and bolt is adjustable point. If it is too loose, the whole structure moves out of shape. If it is tightened, it becomes rigid. It is really difficult to find the "just right" position.
And I am beginning to see the complexity of putting it all together. And I am starting to panic. I sense that it will not work ( but I was wrong before, so I try to calm myself down).

And this is when we notice that pieces are starting to break. You know how it goes...first you notice one ( oh no!) than you start looking and notice more. Too many.

Time to stop and pull back.
Time to re-think.
Pull it all apart and go back to the drawing board.

Thursday, 29 May 2014


The way that pieces broke is really interesting. I would of thought that they would break on the weakest point - narrowest part of the shape, following the construction ( coils) line.
But no, breaks are closer to the middle of the shape and do not follow the lines of coils.
Well, at least I know I can't blame fractures on bad claywork.

I am questioning everything: materials, construction method, design.....

I don't think it is the weight of sculpture as I did not get very far with the assembly, and it was not the bottom pieces that were breaking.

Somebody familiar with the way the skeleton and human body works says that she is familiar with this type of fractures. That is the way our bones break, apparently.
I like the comparison to the skeleton and bones. It speaks of organic origins that intrigue me and inspire my work.

I have attempted a quick internet search of the bone fractures, and just as quickly realized that I could never ever be a doctor.  I can deal with x rays, just not with flesh, blood and pain.

 It is about tension and twist, I think.

During the assembly I was not very comfortable with the way the whole structure moves if the bolts are not tightened (hand tightened, not tool). Yet if it is tightened it becomes too rigid.

I have come to terms that right now, sphere is not going to happen.
My next move will be to try different assembly method.

Almost two months to the exhibition opening - I have plenty of time.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Second  assembly                                                         

As mentioned in the previous post, I have come to terms with the fact that I can't construct a full sphere right now.(yes, I think I will attempt again in the future).
I know that I can assemble 3 clusters together - 2 hexagons and a pentagon.
Already, the shape has the certain appeal and a presence.
It is almost moving, crawling, slithering....

It is curious how ready our brains are to connect the missing dots into a picture, and how quickly our imagination breathes life into inanimate objects. 

I am beginning to think that fragments of the sphere will be just as interesting, if not more, than a full sphere.
Sphere has a certain poise, perfection of shape. It is balanced,  symmetrical,  accomplished....and  static. It is hard to be curious about a sphere.

Fragments, on the other hand, are a story in the making. They can be parts of the bigger objects, growing or decaying. 
Let's see how big can they grow...

A milk crate seems to be perfect height to support the unbalanced piece. 

So far so good...with the small scale paper model next to it for comparison

And here it is:
I'm not sure if you can see it, but the points on the centre right are not touching the ground.
My creature is standing on the tippy toes.
My creature is standing.
This is exciting.
I am going to leave it like that for a few days to see if it develops any problems (fractures?)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Shape of Thought

It grew a little bit more, but this is as far as I dare to go:

Please excuse "doctored" background of the image; I did not want messy studio backdrop distracting the view.

So instead of a sphere, I will be exhibiting 3 fragments.
The work still fits its original title: The Shape of Thought
Come to think of it, it probably fits it better than the planed sphere. Thoughts evolve, connect, disconnect and reconnect...

This is the artist statement accompanying the work:

I am inspired by fragility, organic beauty and delicate balance of natural environment, interested in exploring personal and archetypal symbolism of visual language, and intrigued by parallels with cultural environment.
I work with clay. I love the feel, the smell, and the idea of using a natural, earthy, ancient material to explore and express thoughts.
Shape of Thought is inspired by microscopic images of pollens, planktons and molecules and geodesic sphere structure popularized by architect, philosopher and futurist Buckminster Fuller.
I am intrigued by the fact that it is also a shape of Clathrin which plays a major role in the formation of neurotransmitters in our brain.

Although, now it is not the shape of Clathrin...

Monday, 23 June 2014


Shape of thought will be exhibited in Lawrence Wilson Gallery, in the HERE&NOW14 exhibition

26 July - 27 September 2014

HERE&NOW14 presents an exciting exhibition of contemporary ceramic work from both emerging and established Western Australian artists.
The exhibition encompasses a variety of materials and techniques ranging from fine porcelain forms and rustic stoneware installations to large-scale sculptural work. Artists working in clay, including Greg Crowe, Pippin Drysdale, Sandra Black, Ian Dowling, Graham Hay, Andrew Nicholls, Warrick Palmateer, Bevan Thompson, Andrea Vinkovic and Stephanie Hammill, have been challenged to produce new work, extending their artistic practice by experimenting with both technical and conceptual approaches.
Objects and installation-based work will be complimented by innovative audio-visual projection works by Jacob Ogden Smith and Luke Aleksandrow, exploring themes surrounding ceramic practice.

I hope to see you there.

Lawrence Wilson Gallery is also organizing public programs for HERE&NOW14 with the Campus partner Earth Sciences and asked me to provide samples of clay and glazes for analysis.

This is soo very exciting!!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Exhibition  set up                                                                                                                                             
I have spent two interesting and intense days in Lawrence Wilson Gallery connecting the sculpture together, and sieving almost 0.5 m3 of kiln fired sand.
Everybody's work looks amazing and it was a rare privilege to watch it all installed and brought to life. 
If you are in Perth, come and see it, it is absolutely inspirational. It will be a pivotal Ceramic exhibition for WA. Opening is on Friday 25th July ( Tomorrow!!) 2014.

Shape of thought looks good in its new surroundings. I'm not going to show it to you and spoil the surprise, but I can't resist a l teaser:

Thursday, 28 August 2014

It has been an amazing month                                                                                                                                             
As Ted Snell said at the opening of HERE & NOW 14 at Lawrence Wilson Gallery, this is the most significant ceramic exhibition in WA in a decade. 
I was hoping to show you lots of images, but unfortunately, photography was not allowed at the opening. Hopefully, the gallery will grant me access to their photos, but I guess I have to be patient about it.

We managed to take a few shots before we knew we shouldn't J

The West Australian article:

I love the image of Warrick's work. You would not think that it's a gallery shot. And that is, in my view, why this exhibition is so significant., beautiful and feels just right: there are no white plinths. ( Well, hardly any white plinths). It is  not so much an exhibition as an experience.
The only time I have encountered such an experience previously was in Korea at Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale in 2009. I hoped to find web site or online images to illustrate what I'm talking about, but this is the only relevant link I could find ( and it has a strong focus on tableware, while I wanted to show you the way the contemporary ceramic is displayed). Have a look, it takes only 6 minutes:


is where you can find my recent talk: Failure: Playing with Fire.

Preparing for the talk came at precarious time just before assembling Shape of Thought at Lawrence Wilson Gallery. I was hoping that it was not going to be a prediction of the things to come.
Interestingly, although the work was ready with plenty of time to spare, and everything was going well, I still felt very very fragile not only before the sculpture was finally put together, but for weeks afterwards. I know that it is not a unique feeling ( actually it is quite common and something I warn my students, first time exhibitors, about).
 I know that it sounds silly, but I expected the call from the gallery telling me that the piece has collapsed, that it is not good enough, to please come and take it away.
Those feelings are not easy to explain or to talk about. I can't help but to think of Robin Williams and the question lots of people ask: "How can somebody so successful feel so desperate?"
Is it the same something that defines us as artists?

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