Art and Industry
Australian artist and English manufacturer.
“I have always valued the opportunity to get my pictures on to a variety of everyday items outside of the gallery wall. We did something similar with the Manfredi cup project 20 years ago and they were well received. It was a pleasure to work with one of the top manufacturers in Staffordshire England and have my images applied to their high quality durable fine bone china.”
Fine bone china was developed in by Josiah Spode in the early 1790s, in Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, England. His intention was to exceed the highest quality porcelain products being imported from China at that time. His fine bone china clay (or “body”) was made with a blend of bone ash (44%), feldspar (30%) and kaolin clay (26%) to give the product an exquisite translucent appearance; yet it was found to be stronger and more chip resistant than all other porcelain products available. The Reg Mombassa mugs are made using a premium grade fine bone china body following the same principles, in the heart of Stoke-On-Trent. This area, now referred to as ‘The Potteries’, is where the same traditions and skill sets that have been in place for over three centuries continue to this day.
The mugs start out as lumps of very fine clay.
Making the mug body is much like making a piece of pottery on a spinning wheel. A clay ball is pushed to the sides of the mould as it spins, creating the mug shape. The top of the mug is then brushed, to round, soften, and smooth off the rim.
The mug handles are cast from a mould. Wet clay is injected into a plaster mould which absorbs the water content of the clay. The handles are then individually and finished and connected to the mug body.
Wet slip clay is used again as a glue to make the natural material connection between the handle and the body. A machine attaches the handle to the mug to ensure the process is accurate and precise every time.
The mug’s first firing in the kiln is known as the “Biscuit Fire” At this stage the mug is complete but unglazed and undecorated. After the first Biscuit Fire the mugs shrink by around 10–14%.
Each biscuit-fired mug is tested for flaws and weaknesses in the body. A fine bone china stick is tapped against the mug to check that the sound is right. This identifies any weaknesses.
Because it’s much finer, bone china can suffer from a phenomenon called “Thermal Shock”, where a slight knock or extreme temperature change causes the mug body to expand and contract to the point where the mug will break itself apart.
The biscuit-fired mug is then hand-dipped in a vat of glaze. This is an art, still done by hand by an artisan maker in the factory. The specific technique performed requires the glaze to be evenly spread over the body with no air bubbles or runs. The bottom of the mug is then wiped across a running belt to remove the glaze from the bottom rim. This stops the mug sticking to the bottom of the kiln.
The mug then goes back into the kiln for a second firing where the glaze is bonded to the mug. This is the first time the piece actually starts to look like a proper mug! The coloured glaze in the photos above becomes clear during the second fire, allowing the soft white bone china beneath to show.
After the second firing, the mugs are ready for decoration. This begins with printing the artwork onto water slide transfer films, using specialist inks. Each transfer is then carefully cut out and applied by hand. Great care is needed at this stage to make sure the decoration is correctly positioned as once the mug is fired there’s no going back!
The mugs then go back into the kiln for the final firing, bonding the printed transfer into the glaze, resulting in the finished product.