In September 2018, I went to Andretta, Himachal Pradesh (India), to primarily learn two skills: a) create slip trailed designs, and b) make low fired glazes.
Andretta pottery, set up originally by Sardar Gurcharan Singh, works primarily with terracotta clay. They extensively use four colored slips – white, blue, green and brown – to decorate functional ware, and finish it with a clear glaze. However, not all functional ware is slip trailed, many pieces are simply glazed. ‘Neela tota’ is a popular glaze and one of my favorites too, Its green color contrasts with the red terracotta and creates a beautiful interest for the viewer.
To start practicing slip work, I made medium sized, flattish katoris (bowls) on a hump. When leather hard, they were ready as a canvas for various slip experiments. We started with marbling and feathering techniques inside the katoris. Once slipped, the clay again softens. So one needs to wait for the clay to get back to leather hard before the pot is trimmed. Marbling and feathering came easy. It was the third technique – slip trailing – where I struggled the first two days. I struggled with getting a regular and controlled slip flow from the trailer. From day 3, however, I started understanding and enjoying it. I would draw designs every night to come and practice on my pots the next day. There were endless design possibilities – abstract, geometric, repeat patters, floral, jali work etc. Within a span of one month, I had a kiln load of work ready to be fired.
All slip trailed work with a clear glaze coating were fired at 1040 degrees Celsius in a gas kiln. At temperature higher than 1040, all slips changed color, white became yellow, and blue, green and brown slips turned blackish.
Many of the slip trailed pots were bought by Mansimran ‘Mini’ Singh, the same day they were out of the kiln. It was a big validation for me as a potter. He often asked me, you are already a potter, why have you come to Andretta. Him appreciating my work, meant a lot and I guess that is when I started calling myself a potter with confidence 🙂