Featured image, J Affleck, Mind map sketch, Procreate IPad Pro, 8/10/2017

Trying to tie the threads together

I felt the need to try to tie the four research tasks together into one document. In doing so there are a lot of blanks to fill in, and ideas that I need to write down.

Research Aims

The context I am interested in situating my work within is in contemporary Scottish ceramics, to underpin my studio practice with a rigorous theoretical background and production process. I want my ceramics to communicate the essence of a place in conjunction with contemporary critical thinking and processes.

My inspiration for this comes from Japanese ceramics, I intend to investigate further the ceramics of the wabi-sabi tradition/renaissance, where natural and local materials are utilised and imperfection is integral to the design process and final outcome. As with many of Japan’s craft traditions, ceramics are highly valued as intangible heritage and the masters are named as ‘living human treasure’. They use local materials and traditions and are instantly recognisable. Japan is also known for it’s innovation, a term I came across this week in relation to Japanese weaving is ‘hybridisation’ the marrying of technical innovations with traditional hand made methods.

In Scotland there isn’t the same traditions or value placed on hand made ceramics. The instantly recognisable Scottish ceramics sold in shops tend to have prescribed imagery of stags, tartan, hills and lochs, produced by companies such as http://www.highlandstoneware.com/. There are also excellent individual ceramic artists who seem to sell their work in galleries, rather than the more accessible shops, perhaps the price is prohibitive. I am not criticising  successful Scottish ceramic producers, I am interested in exploring and experimenting as professional development within a contemporary Scottish identity.

My aim is to create ceramic objects that communicate the spirit of place, using local materials, traditional forms/concepts, in a contemporary context. A similar concept relating to architecture is critical regionalism, which, as I discussed in my blog, has a focus for using local materials in a contemporary manner, of grounding an object in a place, translating the specific geographical and cultural aspects of place – which I propose to do using ceramics as the medium.

My aim is to structure a rigorous way of investigating, exploring and discovering the ‘spirit of place’ in order to make my own interpretations and allow a viewer to make their own.  An interpretation that is open and ambiguous rather than prescriptive and communicating this using ceramics as a medium.

Part of the investigation is to clarify the terms spirit, essence or genius loci. I intend to explore the ideas discussed and look at theoretical framework through the lens of a contemporary ceramics practice rooted in the cultural, geographical distinctiveness of a specific ‘place’.  It is not my intention to fully explore ‘Critical Regionalism’, it’s historical position, the developing positions of Frampton, the roots that go as far back as Vitruvius (regional variations in his 10 books of architecture), Phenomenology and Heidegger, but to better understand the concept itself and to apply it in an attempt to use the framework as a way of investigating/exploring/ discovering the essence of a place.


My objectives are to structure an interplay between a theoretical framework and studio practice in a cyclical process of reflection ‘in’ action and ‘on’ action using a constructivist methodology of knowledge construction, and reflection. An open ended, flexible process that produces qualitative rather than quantitative data. The methodology will progress as I begin working in the studio.

I will begin by investigating how to capture ‘essence’ which by it’s very nature is ephemeral. Much of our perception of place is shaped by our tacit knowledge and is therefore subconscious.  Our senses provide this data so my starting point in practical terms could be translated as sensory engagement with the place and the collection of site specific information.

I will set out what I mean by ‘place’ and ‘essence’ by exploring the related theoretical and historical frameworks that surround these terms.


The methodology I propose to use is an open ended, qualitative and multi-method of research.

The focus will be studio based and practical, I propose to use a Practice-Based Research approach. There is an important distinction between practice-led and practice-based approaches, the Creativity and Cognition Studios clarify this:

(https://www.creativityandcognition.com/research/practice-based-research/differences-between-practice-based-and-practice-led-research/) (a better source will be quoted)

with the distinction that practice-led the focus is on the knowledge produced, while practice-based the focus is on the artefacts produced. My focus will be on the ceramic objects produced, therefore a practice-based methodology.

Initial data or primary sources will be ‘visual records produced by the researcher’ (video, photographs or drawings) (p138 creative research) in the way of field observation notes.

I would like to collect visual data- photographs, video, sketches, physical samples – clay, rocks and plant specimens that could be used as natural glazes/local clay if present.

Secondary research could begin with research into vernacular language relating to the place, such as MacFarlane Landmarks. MacFarlane (2016, p1) discusses how language has the power to structure a sense of place. This could provide a layer of meaning to help provoke sensory memory and information in addition to visual information.

Historical research into the area if relevant. 

In the Studio – translating this

There will be reflection and processing of the data collected. Curating of photographs, making sketches, illustrations, processing the samples, some interpretations of the initial data – making colour palettes, creating collages. Producing decals. Producing stamps? Making clay samples from collected and processed clay?, making glazes from dried plant samples, firing and grinding rocks?

A question I have been asking is do I focus on form and surface separately? My initial focus seems to be on surface treatment. I would like to produce a form to test the layering of surface treatments. In my last blog entry I begin to discuss what form this should take (Affleck, https://janiceaffleckceramicsblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/reflection-on-critical-regionalism/). I began by researching traditional Scottish ceramic forms, most of which I noted are of practical use – vessels. I began thinking of contemporary vessels used today, which are often single use plastics.

I discuss moulding a typical plastic, single use bottle, which is a vessel we use every day and also symbolises our bequest to our future generations. Onto this repeatable, slip-cast surface I can layer the visual data collected and processed. And after this I can re-consider the form. I’m not sure I wish to move to far away from using vessels as a form. Vessels – hold, store, collect, form a bounded space, traditional form. Vessels carry things/ contain things – meaning.

Update – As I am part of the way through the process for my first site, Loch Lomond, I’ve realised that the form may change as I am thinking of using another form for this site. I’ve noticed much of the photographs I am short listing/curating, have lots of horizontal layers apart from the photographs showing full or ruined piers, where the timber uprights contrast with the horizontals. I am thinking of moulding a tubular shape, which I can cast at different heights but will give a standard, upright form to experiment on, and will also be a vessel if I leave it opened at the top or make it into a lidded form.

pier loch lomond.jpg

Then I will translate the visual data into a layering of information on the ceramics. I imagine different layers of information, choice of clay, layering/staining of slip, underglaze colours, text if handwritten, on-glaze painting, sealing with glaze or keeping the clay raw, decal firing or photographs or typewritten text.

I am currently in the middle of processing all the field data collected for loch Lomond and about to mould the vessel, this week hopefully.


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