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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Contemporary Ceramics

You’ve been asked to create a range of illustrations for contemporary ceramics that draws on the visual history and symbolism of pottery in some way. need to bring this up to date through your own illustrations.


Ceramics is an area I've barely gotten close to, however find it to be one of those things I enjoy watching process videos for, and seeing the wide possibilities that can be achieved with the medium.


Although this exercise is not so much about the creation of ceramics, I did want to make it as "realistic" as possible. I hadn't thought too much about the contents of the exercise just yet, however I knew instantly that I was going to illustrate onto an actual ceramic object. I planned a visit to a few charity shops in hope to find something interesting that was plain white. I was thinking along the lines of jugs or perhaps a vase, something that had a fair decent size to it.


Torn between a couple of objects, I settled for a rather standard looking jug that was perfectly white and calling to be adorned with an illustration. Once I had this, I now felt comfortable to research the subject matter I was going to focus on, whilst planning my drawing.





I began with researching contemporary artists working within the ceramic field.


Grayson Perry, Trevor Baird, Philip Eglin and Lucinda Mudge were artists that I had looked at.


I found myself a bit lost on this exercise. I was excited to create a design but setback by the brief itself, a pattern I tend to find myself in with this course. The title and objective sounds great, but then the connection of something historical just hinders my imagination of what I am supposed to do. I wasn't sure how far back to go, then to research the likes of Grayson Perry and other contemporary ceramic artists. I see connections but don't see what I am supposed to do here.


I took a look at the Blue and White Willow Pattern as mentioned in the exercise. It's of course a very familiar pattern that is widely seen across the world, inspired by the Chinese Porcelain. It's not the pattern that I am interested in, it's the use of blue to illustrate the design which catches my attention. I do also love the Chinese or Japanese inspired illustrations, but my question is, why blue? Is this purely a ceramics trick that blue happens to be the best colour?


I pulled out some images for reference on more traditional designs.




I then quickly jumped to more contemporary designs that reflect that tradition but used in a modern way.



Seeing the variety in designs had freed my mind of what could possibly be done for this exercise. I felt less stressed about delivering an intricate design that reflected the traditional narrative across the porcelain, and felt that I could look at the medium in a new way. My design could be anything.


My algorithm must have known I was looking at works like this as an artist popped up who worked in the exact same medium. Blue painting on porcelain. His style stretched across the traditional asian inspired works but with the modern twist.


Mikkel Westrup Ceramics


Mikkel Westrup is a tattoo artist that also works on ceramics. His detailed style of tattooing is perfectly translated on to ceramics, with what looks to be heavily inspired by the Chinese and Japanese styling. I thought he appeared in perfect timing for this exercise and have found his work to be very inspiring in a way that can guide my own ideas of what to put on my jug! That said, I still didn't have any idea or confidence in what I was doing - I am just hoping to be on the right path.


Initially I had the idea of creating an illustration based on a Japanese Folklore called Hanasaka Jisan - which translates to the 'Old Man who made Withered Trees to Flower.' There are a few versions of the story, but the moral is based on kindness.


The version that appears often is of an old childless couple living in the mountains. On the day that the old man was plowing his field, a white dog came running towards him crying that the greedy neighbour was mistreating him. The couple took the dog in, named it Shiro, and loved him very much. In return to the couples kindness and generosity, the dog leads the old man up a nearby mountain where he then barks and tells the old man to dig here. The old man finds gold coins pouring up from the ground.


Looking at Mikkel's vase with the portrait of a dog, I thought it might be a nice way to tell the tale in a painting. I like how Mikkel uses a chain or fence to wrap around the ceramics, creating a border and possible direction for the viewer to follow. I found it to be a clever way to bring a story together that travelled around the pot. As the title for the tale was around flowers and trees, this seemed an obvious element that I could use in a similar way to Mikkel. In fact, looking back at the images of traditional blue and white porcelain, it is often trees, blossom or waves that is used to make a story flow around the ceramic.


I thought about going in a realistic style similar to Mikkel, but think I preferred going in a more stylised direction that felt comfortable to me. I took a photo of the jug I had purchased and began with sketching some ideas on Procreate.










I did a few rough sketches and in the end decided to freestyle the concept straight onto the jug. I chose to draw onto the jug using a brush pen. It gave the effect I was looking for however I only had the pen in black.








I decided to leave it there for now. I took the photo into photoshop and attempted to change the black pen in to blue to at least give a mockup of what it could have been like.




Overall I think this exercise was fun. I enjoyed working straight onto the jug and drawing on a surface I hadn't worked on before. The only issue I really have with the drawing so far is the blossom around Shiro not flowing as well as I would like. If doing this again I would draw those gap fillers last so that I could plan how it would flow around each part of the story. As I had drawn the bamboo shoots towards the end, I regretted not thinking of this sooner as a way to frame the drawings. It might have also been good to have worked out the positioning of each element better so that it didn't feel squashed or unbalanced. That said if I were to carry on loading it the way I had started, it might not look so out of balance.


The way to have improved on this was would to be better plan the drawing in the early stage.


Of course I had experienced some challenges when drawing straight on to the jug, most noticeably in the pattern on the inside of the jug. I didn't really have a place to rest my hand so drawing straight lines was challenging. I opted to not care on how straight they were, let's just call it organic.





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