Steven Branfman Workshop
Raku Spectacular - 2008
Steven will take participants on a journey through his process for creating raku-fired work from start to finish. Day one will feature Steven's wheel throwing and vessel forming techniques, surface manipulation, glazing, and firing. Participants will receive information on inlaying colored glass, texturing, expanding forms from the inside, application of dry clays to wet surfaces, trimming with chucks, and much more.
Participants will spend the second day glazing and firing their own bisque. Glazing techniques covered will include dipping, pouring, brushing, spraying, layering and resist. Steven will address a variety of post-firing options including different smoking methods, naked clay, controlled cooling, horse hair, copper mattes, and fuming. Participants will learn about firing techniques including combustion theory, kiln control, and atmospheric manipulation.
Class size 16. All experience levels welcome.
Free to the public
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Steven Branfman Bio
Steven Branfman (born 1953, L.A. California) grew up in N.Y.C. and credits a rich cultural childhood as being the influence that led him to an art career. He was further influenced by a dynamic high school art teacher particularly in the area of sculpture. Branfman studied art at Cortland State University, New York with Gerald Diguisto (sculpture) George Dugan (drawing) and John Jessiman (pottery). He received his graduate degree at Rhode Island School Of Design working under Norm Schulman and Jun Kaneko. He says of RISD, "The time spent at RISD was the most influential and important experience in my development as an artist. The teachers were dedicated, the students were serious, and the atmosphere was exciting and productive."
Branfman has been an independent studio potter since 1975. In 1977 he founded as his studio, The Potters Shop which has become a nationally known studio, school, and artists workspace, and he now enjoys an international reputation as a potter, teacher, and writer. He is the author of two books, Raku: A Practical Approach, and The Potters Professional Handbook published by Krause Publications and The American Ceramic Society respectfully. Steven has delivered numerous workshops and presentations and his work has been exhibited in many one person and group shows throughout the U.S. Steven has been the subject of, and has authored many articles on clay. Articles about, or by him have appeared in Ceramics Monthly, The Crafts Report, Clay Times, Boston Globe, Studio Potter, and Pottery Making Illustrated, among others. His clayworking techniques, examples of his work, and personal profiles appear in many books on pottery and ceramics as well as Who's Who In American Art and Who's Who Among America's Teachers. Steven's time is spent working in his studio, The Potters Shop and School in Needham, writing, traveling to present workshops and demonstrations, and Thayer Academy in Braintree MA. where he teaches pottery. Steven and his wife Ellen live in Newton, Massachusetts.
"My concern is to make good pots, pots that hold up to thousands of years of ceramic history. My work is about vessels and the characteristics that make the vessel come alive: volume, texture, color, and scale. One of my objectives is, through my vessels, to preserve the connection between contemporary ceramic expression and pottery's origins as functional containers, not to transform and abandon it. Though my forms are not functional as in domestic ware, they do suggest function and are certainly containers."
Steven Branfman Artist Information
Steven Branfman Personal Statement
Art has always been a part of my life. My mother was a graduate of The Julliard School studying piano, bassoon, and spent some time drawing. Her grandfather, a Russian immigrant who lived with us when I was a child, was a tailor of fine clothing. My Great Uncle, also from Russia and with whom I was very close, painted landscapes while he made his living as a house painter. My uncle was a talented painter and musician. My parents saw the value in art and took me and my siblings to museums, concerts, Broadway plays, and to our chagrin forced us to take music lessons. Despite all this, I was more interested in athletics than arts and went to college to become a physical education teacher. That career path didn't last very long.
There was never a conscious decision to do art or to become an artist. It's not the kind of activity one decides to do. It's more like something that gets done because it has to. My movement towards art was natural and I knew it was right. Clay entered my life as a random encounter in 1971. John Jessiman, my teacher, was an Alfred grad who was a wonderful potter and teacher. He mesmerized me with his fluidity and ease with clay. After seeing him throw I decided I wanted to be a potter. At Rhode Island School Of Design, Norm Schulman was unforgiving, rigid, and set in his ways. I learned alot from Norm and the whole scene there. The year spent at RISD was the most influential experience in my decision to work with clay.
I've been involved with clay full time since 1975 making pots, teaching, writing, and operating my own studio. From my earliest introduction to clay I have always been fascinated and excited about the wheel. It is not one, but all of the components of that tool that hold and keep my interest; the speed, fluidity, and in particular, the sense of growth I observe and control during the process. My aim and ambition is to make good pots. My work is about vessels and the characteristics that make the vessel come alive: volume, texture, color, and scale. One of my objectives is, through my vessels, to preserve the connection between contemporary ceramic expression and pottery's origins as functional containers, not to transform and abandon it. Though my forms are not functional as in domestic ware, they do suggest function and are certainly containers.
Steven Branfman Technique Notes
Raku technique and process has held my attention for over 30 years and throughout this time the primary attraction for me has remained the never ending variations of applied technique, the spontaneity of the firing process, and the always present degree of surprise and serendipity in the results. Raku is a practice that offers the best of all worlds for me. The method is deeply rooted in tradition and I approach it with the utmost respect for the technique and it's origins. And while it's origins serve as a constant reminder to me of where the craft has evolved from, it's contemporary incarnation is very different. So, I can work simultaneously in a traditional method where all the rules have been established, and a contemporary technique where the rules are constantly in question. Raku firing is fast by its design and spontaneous by my nature. When the piece is ready to be taken from the kiln there is alot of chaotic appearing activity for a very short time. It does, however, require exacting cooperation between myself, my equipment, my assistants, and the fire. Though there is always a degree of surprise, the success of the work depends on my ability to command and predict the variables of material and fire. It is like a dance that when choreographed well flows into a statement of beauty. It feels good when done right!
I enjoy the challenge of working large, not just to achieve size but to arrive at the correct scale for a particular piece. My largest pieces are done using a variation on the Korean coil and throw technique. Thick coils are attached to the rim of a leather hard form. The throwing continues and the coils are pulled up to continue the form. There is almost no size limitation and to avoid getting swept away by technique I must always be in touch with my intended form and design. The actual Raku firing of large work presents its own challenges and it is the search for answers to all of these questions that often result in new creative directions and discoveries for me.
My kiln of choice is top loading and LPG fueled. My firing area consists of 6 kilns, all recycled and rebuilt defunct electric kilns. I do not do multiple firings where preheating of the ware is necessary. I fire from a cold kiln with a slow firing cyle (3-5 hours). The cooling phase is also slow and controlled and this has all but eliminated breakage. Kiln atmospheres vary and include oxidation, reduction, salt, and soda.
By it's very nature art work is a reflection or portrait of ones self. An artists work must create a dialogue and speak to the viewer. An artists work must be honest and must come from within the artist. There is no art without emotion, without dedication, without passion. My most successful work is that which I feel the most intimate with from the initial idea to the completion of the piece. Whether you want to admit it or not all art is portraiture and some pieces make you look better than others.
Steven Branfman New Directions
I have been involved in the raku technique and process for many years and throughout this time the primary attractions for me have remained the never ending variations of applied technique, the instinctiveness of the actual firing process, and the always present degree of surprise and serendipity in the results.
My work has always been about form and my vessels have matured in concert with my personal aesthetic vision. Integral to the development of successful and satisfying shapes is the importance of their surfaces and how those surfaces contribute to the understanding, interpretation, and effectiveness of the finished ware. Shapes grow from the bottom up and the inside out. Volume, pressure, breath, and interior presence must be expressed and communicated.
To this end, my pots often have distorted surfaces that are highly textured through incising, carving, pressing, and combing. The incorporation of dry clay applications, grog, and sand into the surfaces are also techniques that have contributed to the aesthetic growth of my wares. My forming method of expanding the ware from the inside out without touching the surfaces alters, personalizes, and imparts movement and life to the shape. A technique that holds alot of interest for me is the use of inlaid and pressed glass as both an element of color and texture. The use of glass has proved to be both an aesthetic and technical challenge.
Efforts to achieve mastery of a palette of glazes is a challenge that in and of itself leads to discoveries of color, texture, surface, and form. Though my ware is fired in the cone 010-07 range, I use glazes of different maturing temperatures including so called "raku" glazes, standard low fire recipes, mid range and high fire stoneware and porcelain formulations as well as commercial glazes varying in temperature and style, underglazes, overglazes, slips, engobes, and oxide washes. Also contributing to color and texture are slips and dry clay and glaze mixtures that are often applied to the wet clay surfaces during the forming process instead of the usual application on bisque ware. Glazes are brushed, poured, and sprayed in multiple layers of varying thicknesses. I fire in electric and fuel fired kilns with oxidation and reduction atmospheres. Low fire salt and soda firing and fuming has also become more important to my work.
Post firing technique is important yet is often overlooked as a creative influence on the finished wares and this too is an area that occupies much of my creative energies. It is frequently treated as a rigid procedure that must be followed according to certain instructions that are not variable. It is, in fact, greatly variable and the method of post firing treatment will greatly influence the wares. I will vary the type of combustable material, the amount of material to use, and the length of time the ware is exposed to the material. Compressed air, water, and fuming sprays are all part of the post firing phase.
Steven Branfman Inspirations
My work comes from a tradition of functional vessels. When I began my career I was drawn to the concept of pottery being both utilitarian AND sculptural/decorative and I made purely functional pots; bowls, plates, cups, teapots, pitchers, etc. As my work and career matured I drifted from fuctional work and concentrated on decorative pots though always maintaining my comittment to the functional object and the vessel form.
My choice of shapes and the wheel throwing methods I use to form my vessels have to do with the concept that pottery forms have a volume and an inward pressure that defines the shape. Pots are formed from the inside out and the bottom up with the interior negative space defining the outward appearance. My surfaces further help to define the shape with textures that expand and grow with the shape during the forming process. I don't see the surface of my pots as canvases that sit on the surface to decorate, but rather as a skin that defines and communicates what is underneath. The inspiration for my surfaces come from my observation of the visual images and tactile objects around me: Rock faces, landscapes, tree bark, raw earth; the colors of sand, sky, oceans, sunsets; the patina of copper; lava rocks, worn concrete sidewalks, the green mold that grows on shingles and fence posts; grass, moss, coral and more.