The form and function of each piece work hand in hand to nurture a healthy, happy way of life through objects that are equally beautiful, meaningful and useful.
Each form crafted at Studio Laroche is created through a ritual of steps. This process invoques all senses and demands a deep attention to detail. The transformed clay embodies this narrative and transmits the sensuality of the process into the final piece, perpetuating the millennia old tradition of clay works.
Clay that has been selected for its strength, pliability and luscious colour tones is gathered and divided by weight, as each piece requires a specific amount of clay to be crafted.
A portion of clay is then prepared by hand wedging, similar to kneading a dough, giving it a more pliable and uniform consistency before being brought to the potter’s wheel.
At the wheel, the clay is fixed to a plaster bat attached to the wheelhead with a simple combination of moisture and pressure. This bat serves to both secure the clay to the wheel as well as remove the vessel once it is thrown without having to handle it directly, saving it from potential warping caused by eager hands.
Throwing clay requires an inner stillness, calm and focus. Each gesture of the hands has been repeated over and over until the sequence becomes a reflex, following a feeling rather than a thought. With the help of the most basic tools; hands, a bucket of water, a sponge, a wooden or rubber rib and an angled detailing instrument or two, the process begins.
With the wheel turning, the dampened clay is first centered by being compressed downwards towards the middle of the wheel and then up, creating a soft cone. This shifts the center of the mass in line with the center of rotation and aligns the oblong clay particles, strengthening the structure of the clay body.
With the soft base of the thumb of one hand and the palm of the other, the clay is pressed back down to form an earthy cake. The tip of a finger locates the center of the rotating clay and presses down to the base, leaving just a few centimeters of thickness between the vessel’s floor and the plaster. A line is then drawn across the floor, opening up the piece.
Next, the clay that has been pushed to the edge is guided upwards with a delicate game of pressure between the fingertips of both hands. Starting from the base, each vertical pull stretches the clay upwards, giving it more and more height. A slight angle inwards is given to the growing cylinder to help fight against the centrifugal force of the spinning wheel.
Once the desired height is reached, the clay is opened up even more. With one hand reaching in while pressing outwards and the other guiding in parallel gestures on the outside of the clay, curve and character are given to the form.
A rib is used to remove excess slip and grain caused by the pads of the fingertips, smoothing out the surface of the piece and giving it a silky finish. A sponge is gently run along the lip for a soft rounded edge and a preliminary foot is trimmed off the base, uncovering the rough draft of the final silhouette.
Still firmly attached to the plaster bat, the piece is removed from the wheel head and set aside. Draped with a cotton cloth, it will slowly stiffen as moisture evaporates, over hours or days depending on its size.
The firmed clay will become like leather: flexible but strong. It is at this stage that it can be trimmed, carved, pierced, cut and assembled to be given its desired shape. With a bit of slip and scoring of the surface, knobs, handles and spouts are added.
A thrown piece will be flipped over and brought back to the wheel, where, with the help of a few metal edge trimming tools, a foot will be created.
Carving a foot removes any excess clay and makes the piece lighter. Only a thin rim is left where the vessel will be in contact with the surface of a tabletop or shelf.
A narrow foot also creates a visual lift, shifting the perceived weight higher up on the form.
As a final touch, a chamfer is trimmed off the outside edge of the foot, enabling a crisp glaze line later on.
The piece is then set aside again, covered by plastic and cloth. Moisture is slowly allowed to escape, as evenly as possible. As water particles evaporate, the form shrinks and its bold colour begins to fade. If it does not uniformly dry, shrinkage will be uneven, which will strain the fragile form and a crack is certain to appear.
Clay must be bone dry before it is brought to the kiln. If it is cool to the touch, it still harbours moisture. Only once it warms to the ambient temperature can it be fired.
The belly of the kiln is filled with tightly packed bone dry greenware. It is fired to ^04, where the internal temperature of the kiln climbs to 1945’F over a period of approximately 13 hours. It then cools slowly until the following day when the bisqued pieces can be taken out. This low temperature firing results in a semi-vitrification of the clay body, a half-way step between clay and ceramic. It is no longer water soluble as particles have begun to fuse together, but it is still very porous and ready to welcome water-based glaze.
The bisqued piece is wiped with a damp sponge to clean off any loose dust, and a thin layer of emulsion wax is painted on the foot, creating a protective barrier between it and the glaze.
Basic glaze ingredients fall into one of three categories:
Silica, Alumina and Flux.
With these basic building blocks, it is simply a game of proportions to obtain the right consistency and texture. From there, opacifiers, suspenders and colorants can be added to pigment the glaze in any hue imaginable.
This water based mixture is sieved to thoroughly mix the suspended ingredients. The bisqueware is dipped with one swift motion into the creamy blend; glaze clings to the porous surface and beads off the wax. The water in the glaze is quickly absorbed into the bisque, leaving behind a matte powdery surface. The foot of the piece is cleaned off, removing any glaze as it would fuse to the kiln shelf during the final firing.
The kiln is filled back up with glazed pieces, this time firing to ^6, reaching 2232’F over approximately 9 hours. During this period of intense heat, the final transformation occurs. The clay turns cherry red as it shrinks even more, its particles fusing together to fully vitrify and the powdered glaze turning to a molten glass coating. As the kiln begins to cool, the glaze stiffens and seals creating an impervious surface.
What emerges from the kiln after this final firing is truly dramatic. What was originally soft damp plastic clay is now sculpted stone. The final ceramic piece embodies the journey of the clay through this tedious transformative process, leaving behind on its surface traces of each step of the journey. The slight variations are what make a handcrafted object truly one of a kind.
Each piece has a story to tell: a story of passion, sensuality and dedication to this ancient craft.