How I Work & Think

'My artwork is just my contribution to living. Hoping to enrich the experience.'

In 1962, I was a sophomore at Ohio University majoring in Art Education with an emphasis in sculpture. At that time, I thought that I wanted to be a high school art teacher. Part of the Art Education curriculum mandated that I take a course in ceramics. Ceramics at Ohio University was taught by Professor Henry Lin, a master potter who immigrated to the United States from China. That sophomore year, I took a course in ceramics to fulfill my curriculum requirement and immediately fell in love with the media. I enjoyed everything about ceramics. I enjoyed working with clay; I loved working on the wheel. The large kilns and the temperatures that they could attain completely overwhelmed me. I was most impressed with Professor Lin and the joy that he reflected for the media. Two months into the course, I realized that I wanted to take as many courses in ceramics that I could. I changed my major from Art Education and completely forgot about ever wanting to teach high school. I decided to devote as much of my education to ceramics and to working with Professor Lin. I had no idea where I was headed or if I could find a future in ceramics, or, more concerning to my parents, if I could find a livelihood in this new direction.

Professor Lin taught me the aesthetics of the Chinese potter. I became very good at throwing on the wheel, firing the kilns, and every aspect of the ceramic process. I especially became very good at making work that looked very much like the work of Professor Lin. After three years of working with Professor Lin, I was accepted to do graduate work at Alfred University, New York State College of Ceramics, where I received the Master of Fine Arts degree in 1966. In graduate school, I worked toward developing an aesthetic of my own. My work no longer looks like the work of Professor Lin, but I think of him many times while I am working in my studio and the work ethics that he instilled in me.


When I began ceramics, all ceramic work was fired in the high temperature ranges and always in a reduction atmosphere. This was the established method of working that dominated ceramics in the sixties and is much the established way of working today. It was a way of firing ceramics that was never questioned. It seemed like the accepted philosophy in ceramics was that if one was going to have their work regarded as a work of art, it had to be fired to cone ten reduction. The lower temperatures were for the hobbyist and not for the serious artist.

Accepting the ceramic firing philosophy and without ever questioning this established way of firing, I worked in high temperature in my early career. Even as I enjoyed building large construction vessels and then large figurative type work, I automatically fired the work to high temperature reduction. Part of the attraction to this temperature was that the clay was vitreous and the glazes were always beautiful. At this temperature range, there is something magical about the glazes. Just one glaze would change into hundreds of colors. What would happen on the surface of the clay was almost impossible to describe. The glazes were always magnificent in how they brought life to the work. No matter how familiar I was with a glaze and how well I understood how to apply it and to fire it, I never knew exactly how the glaze would come out of the kiln. There was always a magic in the beauty of the fired glaze that I could not have described before the firing. As I kept working in ceramics and firing in the high temperature reduction atmosphere, I began to question the glazes that I was using. I was not exactly controlling the entire rich multitude of color that was appearing on the surface of the clay. Even as I took all the credit for the beauty of the glazes, I realized that it was not me that created all of the color. Things were happening in the glazes that I could not have thought of before the firing. It seemed as though there was a god in the flames that totally decided how the finished work would look.

When I built my present studio at my house, I decided to completely change the entrenched firing philosophy that I had adhered to for so many years and to do all of my work at the low temperature range. Primarily, I wanted to have complete control over all aspects of the work. If a change in color appeared on the work or some little dots appeared in the color, I wanted it to be me who made those things take place. I wanted to be in complete control of the final work. I did not want to be dependent on some supernatural force controlling the surface of my clay work. I felt that what is regarded as the low temperature firing range would allow me to do exactly what I wanted. I also just wanted to make a complete change from the clays and glazes and kilns that I had become accustom that would allow me to take on some new challenges.

Over the years, I have developed an extensive palette of colored slips, engobes, and glazes. When I apply a certain color slip to the surface of the clay, I know exactly the color that it will appear after it is fired. I now have to rely totally on myself to bring the surface life to the work. The method that I now use to bring color to clay is very much like the method that a painter employs when working on a canvas.


Usually in the process of making the work, I have some feeling or direction that I want to take when the time comes to add design and color to the surface. So that I will not forget these feelings weeks later when it is time to work on the surface, I sketch the work with notes on how the surface of the finished work will appear as I am working on the wet clay form. Ideas and feelings are constantly changing as I am working with the wet clay, and usually I will have many pages of sketches and notes when the work is completed. With the work in either the leather hard or the bisque state, I first review all of these sketches and notes before I ever begin to work on the surface. After making a decision on how the finished work will look, I then prepare the eight to ten colored slips, engobes, and glazes that it will usually take to do the surface. I place the bowls of color around the work and tediously begin brushing the colors on the surface of the clay. I apply the color in a somewhat impressionistic style of overlapping brush strokes of different color. It usually will take me around ten to fifteen hours to apply the slips and engobes to cover the surface of the clay for a work that is three feet high. The work is then fired and then I add more color for another two to five hours. The work is then fired again. If I am satisfied with how the work looks, I apply a coat of clear glaze to intensify the color and fire the work a last time. Sometimes I have to apply more color and fire again before I can apply the clear glaze. The parts of the work that are just glazed with a colored glaze are fired the same time as the clear glaze. I want a clay surface that has a depth. It should not look like a flat surface of color, but I should be able to look around a brush stroke of one color and see another color, and then to be able to look around the brush stroke of that color and to see another color. It should have the same surface depth that I find in looking back through the canvas surfaces of Claude Monet or Jackson Pollock.

Over the years I have tried many different approaches to making the clay form. I have always enjoyed throwing on the wheel, but I will use any way possible to make the clay form that I envision. The large figurative forms were first modeled in clay; I then made a plaster mold of the clay figure and used the mold as a press mold to make the final clay work. Although very time consuming, I found this method to work best because it was easier for me to control the thickness of the work. The vessels that I enjoy making are usually thrown on the wheel. Years ago, I made all of my thrown work using one large ball of clay on the wheel, but as I desired a larger and larger thrown clay form, I have had to continually change my method of working on the wheel. Presently, I roll out a large slab on the bat and then put a large coil of clay on the slab's perimeter and throw the coil as the beginning of the clay form. After the clay dries a little, I add another coil of clay on the perimeter of this form and throw this coil. Repeating this process as necessary will give me the clay form that I desire. This method will give me a large form that I find central to making a vessel. I then throw a series of smaller open forms that I can use for the top of the vessel and lastly, I make a series of pairs of handles. I have found that the shape and placement of the handle can change the entire feeling of the work. The entirely round handle (or the doughnut) is the obvious product of the wheel and has a feeling of rolling away from the contour, especially when just one handle is used (such as on a pitcher). The handles are made using a press mold. I have made these press molds from clay forms that I have thrown or constructed. I then assemble all of these parts into a final vessel form.


My work as a professional visual artist has taken basically two directions in subject matter over the past forty-five years. I have done both large sculptures based on the figure, and I have always been very intrigued with the vessel as subject. I have always questioned why I enjoy working with the vessel form, perhaps only to pay homage to the pottery traditions of the media.

I have, however, always been concerned primarily with the issues of artistic vision and not those of the utilitarian functionality of the form. When I work with the vessel, I am not concerned with the functional aspects of this form. This subject has become a metaphor allowing me to redraw its boundaries both as a physical and aesthetic form. I use the clay vessel only as a subject to its traditional reference. Primarily, I enjoy the sculptural and expressive qualities of the subject.

In my work, the platter has grown beyond the traditional concept of size. The orientation of the platter can be used vertical, seen as a wall relief or a painting. Or it can be used horizontally and filled with objects that I make. In either case, the platter must now be judged using the same vocabulary and considerations as when viewing any work of art without the utilitarian functionality of the form being a part of the critique. - (812) 448-1527

Copyright © 2017 - Dick Hay - All rights reserved.