These worries weighed on me for years, until finally, keeping a journal helped me resolve some of these questions. Drawings are “feather-thoughts”—ideas that I catch in the air and commit to paper. All of my thoughts are visual, but often, the subjects of my drawings aren’t translated into sculpture until years later. So a lot of what appears in my drawings is never explored. Abstract drawings come from a deep need for calm, rest, and sleep, and they spring up directly from the subconscious. Realistic drawings are the surpassing of a negative memory, the need to erase it, to eliminate it.

Louise Bourgeois on her sketchbooks

What would I be without my notebooks? I’ve kept a variety of diaries, sketchbooks and “research” notes since I was a kid. At first I collected all sorts of cool facts on the natural world around me, as well as stones and fossils (and dinosaurs!) and mixed that with my own experiences and discoveries. My “nature books” had a bit of everything: dried flowers, written observations, lots of collage and some sketches. I even started a separate one on dinosaurs alone, because I was a little obsessed at the time and dinosaurs are fantastic.

Later on, during a difficult period in secondary school (I was bullied), I read Anne Frank’s diary and I started my own. I even adapted her letter-writing diary style for a few years. I’m happy that I developed this habit of writing about my inner life at the age of 13 and have maintained this ever since. It’s been a life-saver. Even when you can’t talk to anyone, you don’t have to keep it all in and paper is always forgiving… And then you go back to what you’ve written before, and it starts making sense; you become your own counselor.

sketches and scribbles 2014-2015
sketches and scribbles from 2014-2015

Only much later in my twenties, around 2006-2007 I began to collect my visual ideas in dedicated notebooks. I should show you the development of the notebooks some time, when the daylight is better than on this dark February day… The curious thing is that these notebooks are a lot like the earliest ones, the nature books. I’d even say that they pick up where the nature books ended!

They’re filled with research, quotes, sketches and technical processes, … mostly focused on my own artistic process and who (or what) inspires me. And at the same time, they have the same aura of privacy that my diaries have. It’s not that they contain anything secret but to me they are certainly private to an extend. What’s going on in there isn’t ready yet, it’s all squishy and not articulate. It’s still happening, not quite done yet. I don’t want to share that with whomever, although I don’t mind sharing parts of it (which more or less end up as blog posts anyway).

Interestingly, a few months ago Anne-Marie Van Sprang taught a great workshop in Sint Lucas on the most gorgeous white porcelain, and she mentioned the importance of jotting down your thoughts as part of documenting the process, while you’re working, so you can revisit them when you reconstruct your working process afterwards. Making sketches was important as well, but she emphasised the combination of the visual and the written.

As I am writing this, it makes perfect sense but when I heard her say it at the time it was a revelation. The permission to be private, and allowing yourself to open up in a place of safety (even if that place is just a notebook), that’s a big thing. At least for me, but surely I’m not alone in this sentiment!

In my own work I know that I tend to keep to the safe side of abstract, organic, geometric design which can be interpreted in various ways and doesn’t directly link to my personal experience. It could be, for me, but it wouldn’t be directly revealed by the form. It works rather through concepts than personal history. I love how Louise Bourgeois herself makes the distinction between her abstract, perhaps meditative sketches and her raw figurative ones that link right back to memories and things she had to work through. I actually try my best not to give myself away, fearing to reveal too much, but I’m learning to trust the process and by writing as well as drawing work towards more connected and personal work.

To be continued…

album et pellucidatum

The turning point came as the new year of 1708 dawned. A handwritten sheet in Böttger’s eccentric mixture of Latin and German dated 15 January 1708, recorded a list of seven recipes: 

N 1 clay only
N 2 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 4:1 

N 3 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 5:1 
N 4 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 6:1 
N 5 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 7:1 
N 6 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 8:1 
N 7 clay and alabaster in the ratio of 9:1

The results of the test firings were more startling than even he had dared hope. After five hours in the kiln, Böttger records, the first sample had a white appearance; the second and third had collapsed; the fourth remained in shape but looked discoloured. The last three held him spellbound.
These small, insignificant-looking plaques had withstood the searing heat of the kiln; they had remained in shape and intact. More importantly they were ‘album et pellucidatum‘ – white and translucent. In the dank, squalid laboratory the twenty-seven-year-old Böttger had succeeded where everyone else had failed. The arcanum for porcelain for which all Europe had searched now lay within his grasp.
Gleeson, Janet. The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story. Transworld Publishers, London, 1998, p. 56.

clay to glass // glass to clay

clay to glass // glass to clay
Raw materials, calculating ingredients for recipes, measuring exact quantities, … A challenge for this absent-minded brain but at the same time I love it! A bit of “work” for the playfulness that comes with good, well-measured recipes.

Some time ago I came across this simple clay recipe that consisted of 50% clay and 50% glass, for a clay body that was supposed to be wonderfully translucent. It was linked with the first European attempts in the 18th Century to recreate Chinese porcelain; at first they didn’t manage to find the high firing recipe but developed several low firing ones, like the one I’m researching.

What fascinates me about this history isn’t so much the fact that they did, in the end, find a real, high firing porcelain clay body but the wildly experimental, alchemical process of developing these recipes that have all sorts of interesting properties in themselves.

clay to glass // glass to clay
prior to mixing the batches: putting the necessary and clearly labeled quantities
of glass (square boxes in front with white powder) and clay
(soup buckets behind; greyish powder) together

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js It also tickles me to explore the boundaries between ceramics and glass. With a recipe like this, is it still clay? Does it look like glass or not? So what I’m doing now is making a binary series of this recipe: a gradual mix of the ingredients, with 100% clay on one side, and 100% glass on the other, and then I mix them with amounts of 10%.

The clay mix consists of 50% kaolin and 50% ball clay; the glass powder is the finest clear Bullseye frit.

This phase is very technical, there’s not a lot of room for creativity yet… but I’m curious what will come out of it. If this goes well, I’ll have a whole range of clay/glass bodies to play with!

clay to glass // glass to clay
the clay part is in itself a mix of two clays:
kaolin (this is the white powder; the main ingredient in porcelain)
 and ball clay (greyish powder; a very plastic clay)


clay to glass
making clay: adding clay powder to a certain amount
 of water (and mixing and sieving again later on)

More photos of the working process on flickr!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The pâte de verre and artistic glass objects of Georges Despret (1862-1952)

a little intro

This is a post on my thesis subject, Georges Despret,  who was a Belgian-French industrial who developed the pâte de verre technique around 1900. He’s the subject of my Master’s thesis at UGent, and of the technical and practical research I’m doing at Sint Lucas(now Luca School of Arts) Gent. And I’m happy to share it with you!

reconstruction of a working process

At Luca I’m piecing together how Despret might have made one of his pâte de verre bowls, by making one from scratch. I’ve been working in the glass and ceramics studios, so this is a hands-on type of research, figuring out how each step of his work process might have looked like. It’s partly based on historical sources and contemporary research into historical pâte de verre, and partly on the process of making itself.

Georges Despret - bowl 1906 - Design Museum Ghent
Georges Despret – bowl from 1906 – Design Museum Ghent

Of course it’s impossible to replicate the exact circumstances in which Despret worked – this wasn’t my intention, but I reasoned that making one of his bowls could be a helpful complimentary method since there are very little historical sources left. His archives and many of his artworks were lost during the first year of World War I, when his manufacture in Jeumont (north of France) was reduced to ruins in an explosion. There he had built a museum that showed everything his manufacture was capable of, with an emphasis on the artistic glass objects. But all of that has been destroyed.

So I’ve based my practical research on what remains: his glass objects kept in museums all over the world, his collaborators like sculptor Yvonne Serruys (on whom my promotor Prof. Dr. M. Sterckx is a specialist) and ceramics collector Géo Nicolet; a few archival documents, some contemporary press, and recent research. Next to that I’ve looked at the discoveries and techniques of other pâte de verre artists, like Henry Cros (the pioneer to whom Despret looked up), Decorchemont, Argy-Rousseau and Walter.

The little (and big) parts I couldn’t find an answer to anyhow, I’ve tried to find through experimentation, So there’s a degree of hypothesis in my research I’m well aware of, but that doesn’t make this project any less worthwhile. I’ve received fantastic help from my teachers at Luca, my promotor at the UGent, the city of Jeumont and the curators of the Design Museum Gent and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. And all the fantastic librarians!

This research project will become a chapter in my Master’s thesis (it’s due in August, so I’m still working on it), but I also wanted to give a more personal account of it,  showing you what I’ve been up to in the past 7 months. A bit like my studio and work in progress pictures. Thanks for reading!

Edited to add: here is an account of my technical research (pdf, in Dutch).

a few links:

Despret on Wikipedia (in French)
Despret in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass
Mémoire vivante de Jeumont with photos of Despret’s castle in ruins after WW I, close to his manufactures

further reading:

Cummings, Keith. Contemprary kiln-formed glass. Londen: A & C Black Publishers ltd, 2009. -with a chapter on Stewart’s research on Amalric Walter.
Daum, Noël. La pâte de verre, Paris: Denoël, 1984 -extensive book on pdv, but needs critical reading.
Delaborde, Yves & Bloch-Dermant, Janine. Le verre: Art & Design XIX°-XXI° siècles. Courbevois: ACR Edition, 2011.
Hamaide, Frédéric (red.). De glace et de verre: Deux siècles de verre plat franco-belge (1820-2020), Fourmies: Ecomusée de l’Avesnois, 2007. -with a chapter on Despret’s artistic glass by A.-L. Carré.