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MUD Studio visit and demonstration with Gary Zeck

Updated: May 26, 2023

Report by Jeanne Armstrong

Photos by Cat Connor

In May, CAAWA hosted another Make-Understand-Demonstrate (M,U.D) session, this time with Western Australian ceramics legend Gary Zeck. Gary invited us into his home studio in the Swan Valley. This added a heightened sense of excitement for the attendees because there is nothing more exciting for a potter than to sticky beak into another potters' studio to see the inner workings of their processes. Gary's studio is extensive and packed to the brim with all imaginable production processes and tools. It even includes a gallery showcasing his work.

Gary provided an introduction to his practice and talked about some commissions he received and how he went about them. His attention to detail and quality throughout the production of the commission really came through. He will invent the tools and processes needed in order to ensure a stunning result.

He showed us some example moulds and mentioned that he likes to use both the mould and its negative so that if he ever needs to re-create that mould, then he can.

Gary discussed the benefits of mid-firing: you can use thinner shelves, which heat at the same rate as the works. This prevents losses from cracking. A question about using shelves with holes came up, and Gary responded that those are good to use for pieces that have no foot or have large areas of contact with the shelves. So you ideally want the heat of the shelf and the heat of the atmosphere to be the same.

When working with tiles, he has done extensive testing on shrinkage and cracking issues. When you roll out clay, those parts of the clay that are easiest to manipulate tend to move to the edges, and these edges will shrink more than the clay in the centre. Therefore it's important to prepare and roll clay properly, or your tiles will crack.

Gary works with lots of underglaze and overglaze, along with a clear glaze coat. Underglaze is used to decorate bisque ware, which is then covered by a clear glaze, while overglaze is used on top of a white glaze on bisque ware. Gary's recipes for underglaze and overglaze were provided. Gary noted that how finely things are milled prevents destruction during the critical inversion point in firings. 10 to 7 microns is good.

Following this, he walked everyone around the studio, visiting different areas for glazing, throwing, mould-making, the gallery, and the kilns.

Members of MUD sub-committee generously prepared and brought a load of tiles ready for the demonstration and hands-on portion of the workshop.

Gary showed us some decoration techniques using scraping and metal tools.

Once Gary's demonstration was done, everyone had a go at making a tile or two for themselves. Gary's hand-make tools were distributed, and they all had different effects. Seeds and other natural elements could also be used to provide texture.

We had a lovely break with time to meet and socialise with fellow attendees. A bounty of dips, cheeses, fruit and other nibbles were laid out by the MUD Sub-committee, along with beverages.

Many thanks to Gary for opening his studio to the CAAWA community and to the MUD subcommittee for organising this event.

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