Work at Inesse begins as an idea. Whenever an idea hits, a quick sketch is made. We love this part of the process! Being a small-production wares studio we can pursue items that may have mass appeal and some that may have a smaller audience. In truth, the work made at Inesse is the result of something we want to own in our own homes and we then offer it for sale to others.
When a concept proves to have significant interest, the process moves along to design stage. Designing considers size and shape, type of clay, colors, method of production. Drawing plans and making several maquettes are required to get a more complete sense of what the final object will look and feel like.
Design is coupled with iteration. While drawing serves an important function, it is necessary to produce samples and live with them for a while to get a sense of their personality. Samples are altered until they are just what we want them to be. Clays, underglazes and glazes are tested on the sample forms to determine the final colorways. The whole process from conception to a ready-for-production design usually takes 6-12 months.
If the form is to be produced with molding techniques, a pattern will need to be made. To make a pattern we create a clay model and trim it to the required dimensions. Clay shrinks about 12% from wet to fired so the pattern needs to be scaled up to account for the shrinkage. Items that require more than one part will have all parts patterned at the same time to check for fitting. The clay patterns are handled mostly at the leather-hard stage; the clay can easily be carved but isn't so soft that it will distort when handled. This is also the best stage to cast a plaster mold around the pattern. Next, molds are made from the pattern.
A clay pattern wrapped in an aluminum cottle, ready for the plaster to be cast. Liquid plaster cast in the cottle where it will set and solidify. To make multiple production molds, rubber molds are made. The liquid rubber requires 16 hours to cure. Plaster production molds will be cast from the rubber molds.
Casting is a production technique used to create some of the work at Inesse. Slip-casting is a process where clay is liquified and poured into plaster molds. The plaster absorbs the excess water in the slip causing a dense "wall" of clay to build up next to the plaster. After the wall sets, the liquid clay is dumped out and the pieces are left in the molds until they are strong enough to remove and handle.
We make our own casting slip from scratch. It isn't an old family recipe but maybe someday it will be.
Some Inesse forms are thrown on a potter's wheel. Throwing is what people often associate with pottery production.
Cleaning + Coloring
While the clay is still wet, parts are trimmed, cleaned, and color is applied. At this stage, the clay is firm enough to handle without distorting, but soft enough to easily be cut and smoothed. The brushed colors on Inesse wares are engobes. Engobes are a mixture of ceramic materials that fall within a spectrum between a clay and a glaze. They don't fully melt like a glaze, but do become vitreous and durable. All engobe colors are formulated by Inesse using our own color recipes. We appreciate the evidence the brush mark leaves behind; a history of the creative process.
Glazing is a combination of art and science–much like baking. Glazes are composed of several ingredients in specific proportions that determine their melting temperature, opacity, color, and glossiness. A lot of testing is required to discover new glazes and refine them–getting a glaze to drip properly takes time and many experiments of altering the ingredient proportions. Nearly all of the glazes used at Inesse are in-house recipes made without leaded ingredients. Mixing our own glazes allows infinite color options and a variety of surface options that aren't offered by commercial glaze manufacturers.
The firing process is a very important component in the production cycle of the process, transforming clay into ceramic. Our pieces undergo two or more firing cycles: the bisque firing, and the glaze firing. The first firing, called the bisque, heats the work to about 1900 °F driving off the physical water in the clay, burning off organic matter within the clay, and preparing the ceramic material to accept the liquid glaze (the clay body becomes porous like a sponge). The glaze firing is the kiln cycle that matures the clay body and develops the glazes. Inesse uses several clay bodies that mature at different temperatures but the glaze firing can reach as high as 2300 °F. Each cycle requires at least 30 hours to heat up and cool down; cooling down takes much longer than heating up. The firing process cannot be rushed as the colors would not develop properly and the integrity of the ceramic could be compromised. The firing time combined with the initial drying time of the work contributes to the long production schedule–most custom orders have a lead time of 4-6 weeks.
After the final kiln firing, all work is inspected and cleaned. At Inesse, every piece is finely wet-sanded on the foot to ensure a smooth base that won't scratch your tables or shelves. Tags are made and each piece is serial-numbered and signed by the maker. The work is prepared for shipping and wrapped in kraft paper. Shipping fragile ceramics requires thoughtful packaging–we make cardboard dividers to separate all pieces and double-box the work to ensure safe delivery.