Sandy encouraged me to come to my first day of learning and making with no plans or preconceptions, to come with a totally empty head. This lack of a plan of action and not knowing what to expect put me slightly on edge but as soon as I began, I got into the swing of it and ideas began to flow.  I learnt some basic techniques, cutting the clay into flat sheets with wire; using a slab roller; hand-flattening the tiles, as well as various technical tricks to keep the clay from cracking.


Hester holding a cloth with a form tile in the forground
Hester making a tile
I enjoyed the rhythmic process of slab-rolling tiles – there were several steps that eventually produced a reliably flat surface.  But I surprised myself by really falling in love with the visceral action of hand-flattening, a technique that didn’t produce refined results but allowed the clay to gather and fold in it’s own way, directed but not totally controlled by me, and resulting in what I saw as the geological shapes of landscapes.


Hester's hand form a tile with the heel of her hand


Sandy explained the ways in which water, time, heat and gravity will affect the clay – if one doesn’t give the clay what it needs, it can crack or explode in the kiln. After a few days, my tiles were ‘leather hard’ and a layer of slip could be applied.  This gave the opportunity to use sgraffito, where one can etch into the wet slip to reveal the darker clay beneath. After biscuit-firing, the clay could be painted with glazes and oxides.  I’m used to oil paint, which remains as you left it on the canvas, so working with glazes was very unfamiliar.  Knowing that they would change completely after a second firing, I just had to relinquish control and go with my gut, which was exciting!


Hester painting a tile with glaze


Sandy obviously shared her technical knowledge as a master craftsman, but her other role as an artist was so much appreciated and I was able to be creative and find artistic direction with these extremely nascent skills.  At the end of the day, it was difficult to leave the studio and the creative frame of mind!


Hester holding a large tile with Sandy Brown in Sandy'd studio
Hester and Sandy