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Behind the Scenes with Linnea

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My work consists of one of a kind ceramic wares, using wheel throwing and hand building methods that I embellish with my illustrations of forest creatures: from microbes in the soil to insects and small mammals. Through my drawings, I want to celebrate and bring attention to these tiny creatures and the large impact they have on our world, creating pieces that provide a functional, yet whimsical, impact on people’s everyday lives.

I use many different processes to create my pieces depending on whether they are hand built or thrown on the wheel; however, everything starts out as a block of clay. Mugs are my best seller and as a result, I create hundreds of mugs every year. I start with a 25 pound block of clay that I slice up, weighing out balls of about 1 pound clay. Each mug is thrown by hand which causes some variation and gives each piece its own character. The process of starting with the same amount of clay provides a certain degree of consistency with the size and shape of each mug without appearing like a production line. After I have all of the chunks of clay divided up into 1 pound each, I wedge them into balls. This process is important to get rid of air bubbles in the clay, as well as to compress the particles of clay together making it smoother to throw with.

After all of the clay is wedged into balls I get my wheel set up and have a bucket of water and my tools. I start by throwing the clay onto the center of my wheel and then after starting the wheel spinning at a relatively fast speed, I proceed to center it.

I pull the walls of the mug up creating a simple cylinder shape to start with. Initially, the walls are relatively thick and low. I slow down the wheel speed and proceed to thin the walls by pulling it one or two more times until the desired height is reached.  At this point, the bottom is still messy and I let them dry on a board of drywall overnight with plastic lightly covering them. By the next day they are what we call in the ceramics world “leather hard”. Meaning they are firm enough to hold without altering their shape, but still wet enough to trim and attach handles. I start by trimming the foot of the mug with a sharp cut back.

The next step is attaching the handle. As a young person starting out in ceramics, I found that attaching handles was the part of the process that I struggled with the most. After a lot of practice, it has become one of my favorite steps of the process. I start with a small ball of clay, and roll it in my hand into a flattened carrot shape. I then use my needle tool and score the end of the handle and score the side of my mug where it will be attached. After attaching the handle to the mug, I hold the mug sideways to begin pulling the handle. Using generous amounts of water, I use my hands to stretch the handle out to the desired length thickness. I then position the mug upright and bend the bottom of the handle down to attach to the mug just above the foot.

My fascination with the natural world and the various communities of life in nature influences every piece of pottery that I create. This represented in my hand drawn illustrations of organisms ranging from microorganisms and insects to small mammals and plants, which I have burned into silk screens. The next step of creating a mug is choosing which of these images to use and then printing them. I print with underglaze onto rice paper, which I then transfer onto the ceramic piece.

The mug then waits to fully dry before being fired in the bisque kiln. This kiln goes up to about 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to remove all of the water inside of the clay and makes it strong enough to dip into glaze. However, this initial firing is still a low enough temperature to keep the clay porous and able to absorb the glaze.

After the bisque firing, I am able to use sandpaper to get any rough spots or finger prints out. I then rinse my pieces off in water to make sure there is no dust on the pots before dunking them in the desired glaze. This is an important step as dust can cause the glaze to pull away from the pot leaving a bare spot of clay. As all of my wares are meant to be used extensively in everyday life, I high fire all of my pieces. Specifically, the mugs are fired to cone 9, which takes them up 2336 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes my pieces extremely durable and suitable for use with hot tea and coffee as well as the dishwasher.

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