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  • Writer's pictureBecki Henderson-Gow

Keeping it Real - The Black Cat Mug

I have been absent from my website and my blog for a very long time. It has weighed on my mind daily. What have I been doing during my continued Covid isolation? I have certainly not been making blog posts. Like so many I know, I have been dealing with the shock of realizing that a pandemic is possible in our world. I have also been trying to figure out what is safe and what is not safe when it comes to activities outside the home and studio. I am still not sure I have any of the correct answers, but am content at the moment with my decision to stay close to home.

I have been working in my studio. Gallery sales have kept me busy making more pottery to place in the galleries only to turn around and make more pottery to fill my inventory for my website and future gallery orders. It seems to be an endless cycle, but I love every minute of the making process.

I am slowly replenishing my inventory. My website will soon be updated with items that have been out of stock for some time. I will also include a few new items to my website. It is exciting to offer new items to my customers.

I love to experiment with new surface design applications. I have managed to squeeze a new technique called monoprinting, into my busy studio schedule. Monoprinting on clay can be done in a variety of ways. I chose a time consuming method that involves working the design from front to back. I begin with a piece of newsprint cut into a shape that will fit the mug body. Once this shape is established, I apply colored slips to the paper. I start with the color or line that will be in the foreground of the design. When the first application of slip has dried to the proper consistency, I then apply the next level of color. I continue with this process, adding layers of slip on top of the previous layer until the entire sheet of newsprint is covered with the background color slip. I love this process because it forces me to think in reverse and I must trust that the outcome is what I had hoped it to be. Experimenting with any new technique requires trial and error and a lot of patience.

For example, I just finished firing the third version of the black cat mug.

My first version of the black cat monoprint was applied onto a mug with a white clay body. I used white clay because it was the only clay I had available in my studio at the time. Lack of brown or red clay in my studio is unusual, but then this has been an unusual year. I will save the story of my great search for clay for another day. As a result of my impatience to begin this project, I settled for what I had and made my first series of black cat mugs. I was simply eager to see if I could get the slip covered newprint to transfer onto the clay. It was a success. I loved how the slips did not adhere in a solid color swatch, but peeled away in various places. This peeling away of slip is really interesting around the outer edges of the print. It looks like a true monoprint, similar to those I created in printmaking class during my college days. The bisque firing went fine. I then had to decide on glaze application. This was not as easy as I had anticipated. I needed to brush clear glaze onto the design and then wax over that glaze before I could dip the entire mug into a colored glaze. I chose to use a different color inside the mug, so the process became more complicated due to my choices. I did manage to complete the task of glazing and fired the first edition of the black cat mugs. The results were good and off they went to Florence Thomas Art School in West Jefferson. They were barely cooled from the kiln when I delivered them for the Potters of the Blue Ridge art show entitled Beneath the Surface.

What exactly was beneath the surface besides the white clay body that was available to me at that specific time? There are many levels of interest and intent to this mug. The most obvious is that it is a mug with a black cat sitting in front of what looks like a full moon. The black cat was inspired by our aging cat, Lily. She often sits in front of the window looking out at the gardens beyond. What is she thinking? Is she looking for inspiration? Is she content? Is she bored? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a cat that had a rough start in life? Her formative years were not easy and as a result, she often suffers from anxiety. As a young cat, she was not always fed when she needed food, so she is always concerned when her meals are late. She also seems to have a fear of being left alone. I have heard her cry when she thinks we are gone. It is a sad, soulful sound and I find myself rushing to reassure her, letting her know she has not been abandoned and is not alone. She now has a wonderful home, but her anxiety still exists. So on one level, this mug is about a cat and on another level this mug is about anxiety and the search for peace.

The first white clay body black cat mugs sold quickly at the show. They sold so quickly, I was not able to see them on display when the show first opened. One mug remained, but not for long. When I checked the gallery last week, this last mug had also sold. I am so happy all of these mugs found good homes.

As the weeks rolled on, I was finally able to buy some red earthenware clay. I was now ready to explore a new version of the black cat mug. My original idea was to use this earthy, red clay as the mug body. Now that I had the red clay, I was ready to begin again. I proceeded with the same design using the same process of monoprinting on this earthy clay. All went well until it came time to glaze. Glazing is always a huge decision for me. It can make or break the overall look of a pot. Because I already had an idea in my head as to how this series of mugs should look, I was hesitant to begin, fearing I would fail. (I could go on about fear of failure, but that will have to wait for another day too.) I went ahead and applied a clear glaze on the outside of the mug, including the monoprinted image. The interior was glazed using a colored glaze. All went well until I unloaded my kiln the following day. I had forgotten that the highest temperature I should use with this red earthenware was cone 5, 2167 degrees fahrenheit. I usually fire to cone 5, but hold the peak temperature for ten minutes at the end of the fire. I find this hold allows the glazes to settle and smooth out. It is never a problem with my brown or white clay. It was a problem with the red clay. The mugs that were on the top third of my kiln changed from round to oval. The heat work in my kiln is an interesting thing. The top half definitely fires hotter than the bottom. I knew this, but did not think it would be a problem. Well, in this case it was. I now have three or four over fired, oval mugs. I am not sure what to do with these misfits, except view them as a learning experience and move forward. I did get several good mugs out of this second round and they are now a part of THE MUG SHOW at Doe Ridge Pottery in Boone. I also have a few for sale at Florence Thomas Art School in West Jefferson.

Round three of my Black Cat Mug series is now complete. I made another change in this process. I created the cat images in the same way as I had in the first two rounds. What I decided to change was to eliminate the clear glaze application on the handle and area surrounding the image transfer. The result was exactly what I was hoping for. The rich earthen red color of the clay and its matte surface create an interesting contrast to the glossy glaze on the cat image. The mugs have an mottled neutral colored glossy glaze on the interior. I find the contrast between the glossy interior and the matte exterior an interesting element not normally found in my work.

I am eager to see how others react to these varying textures, the monoprinting technique and the overall idea and design of the black cat mugs. I hope that others find them to be as pleasurable as I find them to be. Overall, I am pleased with the outcome. It was a strange time for me to begin a new surface design technique due to the fast approaching holiday shopping season and the need to replenish my inventory, but I believe I needed to try something new at this time. In my opinion, any time is a good time to push myself creatively. The Black Cat mugs are now available for purchase from my online shop. Meow!

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Becki Henderson-Gow
Becki Henderson-Gow

Hi Eileen! I will post a photo of the oval mugs in a day or so. I view them as disasters, but you may not see them as being so bad. I have a tendency to be super hard on myself most of the time! Thanks for your input! Becki


Eileen Flieg
Eileen Flieg

I love them all, but honestly like the white clay ones best. And I'd love to see what those oval ones look like! You should post a picture of them.

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