Referring to the ease of the techniques featured in her newly released book, Ceramics for Beginners: Animals & Figures, author Susan Halls states, “…the leather-hard slab projects are more akin to cutting and joining cardboard. If you’ve ever rolled a “snake” out of clay, then you’re halfway to mastering coiling. And children and adults alike can interpret the simple pinch pot method.” These methods, pinching, coiling, slab work, and making soft tubes, are used individually and collectively to create the 12 wonderful pieces featured in her book. Sculptures range from an endearing pig and a whimsical dog to a dapper wedding party.
In between teaching workshops, completing commission work, and tending her seemingly always-in-use kiln, Susan kindly found time to answer a few questions.
Q: You teach several techniques in your book including pinching, rolling a slab, coiling, and making soft tubes. Which technique do you feel is the most versatile and why?
A: I think that would be coiling. Many people think of it as a pot-making technique only, but it lends itself to figurative and animal forms of all scales. You could coil a house…it’s that versatile.
Q: Do you have any pieces that you’ve been itching to make but just haven’t found the time?
A: Pieces I’m itching to make, yes, there are several. A life-size sculpture of my wonderful dog—I want to give it color, probably with slips but very freely applied. It will be an interpretation of him rather than a portrait. More life size pigs, too—outdoor sculpture really interests me.
Q: When teaching your workshops, what type of animal is the most popular with your students and why do you think that is?
A: Pieces made during my workshops are very mixed—from armadillo to zebras! But there is an abiding theme of cats and dogs. They are usually based on a beloved pet…I can completely understand the need for this. It’s the modern day equivalent of a cave painting!
Q: What advice would you give to someone that’s never worked with clay but who wants to try their hand at ceramics?
For any beginner in clay, my advice would be 1) sketch out your idea first and 2) don’t make your clay work too big (or too small).
Q: Have you noticed any trends developing when it comes to creating animal and figure sculptures?
A: There’s definitely a trend to make animals using pieces of soft slabs—like bandages. It’s a very effective technique.
Q: What type of sculpture do you find most personally satisfying to create?
A: The most personally satisfying pieces to make are the larger ones—particularly ones that are life-size. Technically and physically they are more demanding but I welcome the challenge. The satisfying part is having a sculpture that challenges you, that gets in your way and that looks you in the eye. My whole reason for making animals is a kind of possession, so the bigger the better.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing your book?
A: The biggest challenge was trying to describe some of the smaller, more subtle finger movements that constitute the folding of an ear or the twist of a toe. I take these so much for granted—they’ve become spontaneous—that trying to break them down into a meaningful sentence was a challenge.
Susan has exhibited widely throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe. Her work has been included in The Sackler Foundation; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Aberystwyth University, Wales; The Shigaraki Ceramic Center, Japan; and The Contemporary Art Society, London. Halls received her Masters of Arts in ceramics from The Royal College of Art, London. She lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts.