While you may have heard of daily drawing challenges such as Inktober, British ceramicist Anna Whitehouse took the popular concept a step further by setting her own unique experimental project. Starting from January 1, 2018 she decided to create a decorative clay bottle every day for 100 days. Each white vessel is uniformly shaped and sized, however, Whitehouse explored new ideas by creating a different surface pattern design each time. From perforated patterns to floral motifs, the now completed collection of 100 clay vessels showcases the artist’s fascinating array of experimental techniques.
To come up with her designs, Whitehouse referenced her sketchbooks filled with many unexplored pattern and texture ideas. “I tried pressing and scraping any tool I could get my hands on into the clay,” Whitehouse explains. “From my standard clay tools to pen lids, tweezers, scissors, and even a string of beads! I also started making my own tools from bits of broken pen, wire, and aluminum to create particular marks.” Much like other drawing challenges, Whitehouse posted her daily creations on Instagram, creating a digital record and a way to review her progress.
“For me, creating the 100 bottles was like sketching in clay,” the artist reveals. “I’ve kept the work unglazed, like white pages from a sketchbook, highlighting the mark making through the contrast created by shadows.” Whitehouse created an interactive “clay calendar,” outlining each bottle she created from January 1 to April 10, 2018. Each piece is named with unique titles based on something that happened during the day they were made. For day 38, Whitehouse writes “Kitten stuck head in a bucket of slip” and for the final, 100th day she writes, “A well-deserved gin.”
We caught up with Whitehouse to find out more about her #100bottles100days project. Read on for our exclusive interview.
What first inspired you to start working with clay?
I was in my first year of a 3D Design course at Manchester Metropolitan University and we had a 6 week introduction to ceramics. This was the first time I had been taught how to handle clay properly and I quickly realized this was the perfect material for the forms I had previously been making in metal and wood. Partner that with the glaze lab, where we were encouraged to just mix up a recipe and “see what happens”—just like making potions, and I was sold!
Where did the idea for the #100bottles100days series come from?
I wanted to quickly develop ideas for a new collection of work, ideas that had only really lived in my sketchbook and my brain for the last 6 years, due to commitments with other work. By press moulding a bottle form everyday, to be my blank canvas, I could take risks with my experimentation. It didn't matter if it went wrong, there would always be another one to play with the following day. I initially thought I’d do a whole year but I’m glad my partner changed my mind on that! He suggested a month, but I felt that I needed more time to fully immerse myself into the process, and so 100 days was decided.
Can you describe your daily process for making one of your bottles?
First I would create a plain bottle from a 2-part press mould. Next I would either turn to my sketchbook to decide on what I wanted to experiment with that day, or continue with an idea from a previous bottle. There was one week where I used the same tool each day but tried using it in anyway I could think of, pressing it at different angles, scraping in through the surface, layering it with a different texture. People often ask how I came up with all the different textures, but it was a very natural process and I never ran out of ideas—there’s plenty more I could still do now!
The collection features a variety of amazing textures and patterns. Do you have a favorite mark making technique?
It constantly changes, but at the moment it is a carved texture from Day 78: Positivity is Key, which I’m using on my current project.
Why do you think these types of daily challenges are so beneficial for artists?
For me it was a purely personal project to push my making and my ideas quickly. I chose to record the 100 days on Instagram so I could have a visual record to look back on but also to make me accountable. I couldn’t skip a day if I’d put it in the public domain! These sort of challenges are so constructive for artists as it pushes development of skills and ideas. Rather than seeing the day’s work as having to be a finished and perfect “piece,” it allows a more free and experimental mindset, leading to new and exciting ideas that could never have come about any other way. However, I never imagined the following that would come from my daily postings or that the wider public would ever see what I made. The project, which for me was like sketching in clay, has resonated with people and become a piece in its own right, which is fascinating.
Do you have any tips for anyone who might want to take up ceramics?
Buy a bag of clay and just get stuck in! You don’t have to fire anything at first, play and see what comes out of it. Look for local classes or a local potter who may be kind enough to rent you shelf space in their kiln—I’ve never met a potter who isn’t open and friendly to help others!
Do you have any other exciting projects or exhibitions planned for the future?
My 100 bottles in 100 days project is being exhibited at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery, Leeds, UK from January 8 through to April 20, 2019. All 100 bottles will be exhibited in chronological order which is really exciting, as I haven’t even seen them all out like that—I don’t have the space in my studio!
I’m also working on a sculpture project inspired by Rhododendron pollen grains viewed through a scanning electron microscope, in partnership with a student from Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and a Himalayan Garden/Sculpture Park in the UK.