I came to ceramics late in life. My first love was teapots – porcelain with a shino liner, woodfired for three to four days to build up ash, and cooled for a week. The aesthetics were Japanese – the forms were not.
I found that I had resolved many of the aesthetic issues relating to cups while making teapots. For my cups, I use the same clay, a porcelain with Helmar kaolin I get from the Archie Bray, a shino liner, and no external glaze, and I fire them with my teapots. Just as with my teapots, the forms are narrower at the base and gradually widen, moving the volume up in a way I find compelling. I do find that there is greater variety, looseness, and freedom in my cup forms because I throw the porcelain as thin as I can and the forms tend to take on a life of their own.
The functional issues, however, were new to me. The key parts were the rims and the handles, the two principal points of contact. I examined innumerable cups and tea bowls looking for guidance. I found that the rims I liked were thin and curved out so that they effortlessly penetrated the drinker’s lips in a sensuous manner. Easier said than done.
But the handles were even harder. Although they are attached to the side of the cup, they must balance it, physically and visually, while being secure and comfortable to hold. I continue to experiment with different handles, but have discovered that it is natural to use the free hand to help steady the cup. This, of course, is another point of physical contact with the cup and I now concern myself with how the rest of the cup feels to the free hand, which has a tendency to roam around the back and bottom of the cup.
Whoever said cups were less complex than teapots?!
Editor’s note: this post was first published February 18, 2009.