Every year in Boisbuchet, there are two or three workshops teaching artisanal manufacturing processes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the glass workshop this year, but I was very excited to learn how porcelain moulding works. ENSA Limoge, world renowned for this process, is partner with Boisbuchet for this two weeks workshop.
Matteo Zorzenoni, a young Italian designer was chosen to lead the creative process. Patrice Audevard a porcelain master from Limoge, on his side, had to teach us the techniques from A to Z, help us designing the mould and get everything cooked for the final presentation.
The theme of this year’s workshop was identity. We figured out later that, what Mateo had in mind was national and cultural identity. Our first exercise was to find the colours, textures, patterns, architecture and objects, which represents our native country. Among my images, I had pictures of the Canadian forests during the month of October, Quebec’s “ceinture flèchée”, the red and black lumber jack’s textile, grain silos and the Montreal’s Olympic stadium.
This last picture caught Mateo’s eye and he encouraged me to start sketching volumes with apparent skeletons. I quickly started building paper models that I could distort and transform in 3D. The shape of an open fruit bowl emerged and I digitalised it on my computer to print it on le FabShop’s MakerBot Replicator.
Being the first participant ready with a model Patrice helped me mould it with plaster. I was impressed by the technique, using only plaster and clay to create high definition imprints. Being from the digital age, I never even considered building a mould from such low-tech materials before. The outside of the plaster mould may look rough and dirty, but it is even more precise than a CNC milled HDPU foam.
Having some advance on my co-workers, I enjoyed experimenting a little bit more, trying in impregnate moss with liquid porcelain and reusing 50 years old plaster moulds to create new and modern objects.
I also decided to create a little brother for my bowl, a small vase using the same architectural inspiration.
On the first weekend, we started working in the beautiful workshops of ENSA Limoge. We spent the first few days getting the moulds ready and dry (which took a long time because of the very humid weather). Everyone started moulding at their own rhythm, depending of the advancement of the project. Some decided to work with another technique that consist of spraying the porcelain on a porous body (like cardboard) and burning it altogether. The interaction between the plaster and the porcelain is very unique and fast. Still now, I don’t understand how, after spending 7 years studying industrial processes, I didn’t know this manufacturing technique. (The plaster in the mould absorbs the water present in the porcelain, making it harden along its walls. You measure the thickness of the object with time. More you use the mould in one day, longer you have to wait to get the expected thickness.)
I used Limoge’s installations to finish restoring the old moulds I got from Patrice, turning them into a bowl and a cheese bell.
I quickly realized that my first mould wouldn’t work as expected. The space between the two parts was too thin and the ceramic was drying too quickly. I made some tests and understood that, in the end, only half of the mould was enough to get the shape I wanted.
Meanwhile, Sanam, my girlfriend, was taking the same workshop. She was faster than everybody else and did some amazing pieces inspired by her Persian roots. For one of her project, she also used le FabShop’s 3D printer, trying to get the detail from the FFF layers. In the end, the volume got distorted, but the 3D printing texture was incredibly beautiful on the porcelain.
Once our moulded piece turned white, we were allowed to sand them and cook them in the kiln. After this first night spent at 980 degrees, we finally prepared the glaze, which I found the most difficult step. You have to dip the object all at once in a bath of liquid glaze, trying to get an equal thickness all over the object. If you want some parts to stay mate, you have to cover it previously with latex. Once the glaze is dry, you can remove the latex (like a dead skin) and cook your part one more night at 1300 degrees!
When you open the oven on the next day, there can be good and bad surprises. The parts tend to deform and shrink. They actually loose an impressive 14% of their volume during this second cooking. If you had tainted porcelain and glaze, you may also be quite different than expected. Something that seemed like a dark grey may come out as a light blue. All these details may take years to control, but it also gives a little suspense to the work.
On the presentation day, we prepared a long white table with all our work in front of the castle. Sanam and some staff members spent the afternoon preparing a great meal combining meals from all our countries. Unfortunately, it started raining and we had to move inside, but it was still a great evening.