There are a lot of pots out there, especially mugs, with text displayed on them. Quotes, slogans, pithy sayings, upbeat bits of advice, rude expressions: you name it, it’s been put on a mug and sold by a potter -- or Walmart or Amazon. I’ve generally resisted the idea for my own pottery. My thinking was always that it’s probably already been done, it can so easily look cheap, and above all, it’s a cheat to avoid making an artistic design. So that was my “not to text” position.
But a few months ago, I started wondering if there might be a way to use words creatively and intelligently as part of my clay work. After experimenting a bit, I realized that I would want any text on my pottery to relate to the piece. If I’m holding a mug in my hand, the words on it should refer to the mug somehow.
I started with Tall & Hot. It was a play on words, with the intended user being a tall attractive person enjoying a hot drink out of a tall mug. For the letters on these mugs, I used a rubber stamp on a small square of clay which I then applied to the side of the cup.
Next was the But First series. I don’t claim to have invented the But First idea, which I originally saw on a nightshirt advising “But First Sleep.” Cute, concise, and appropriate for the purpose of the item, right? Obviously, I didn’t think that up. However, I am developing my own take on it.
For example, I make the Do List mug, a typical list of unfinished tasks on one side and “But First Do This” (i.e. drink this delicious beverage) on the other.
The list itself is a lithograph print. The letters on the other side are either applique, as with Tall & Hot, or imprinted stamps – or a combination. (I always like having my decorations make use of all three planes: in, out, and flat.)
And then there is the Tea First mug. For this design, I printed a seemingly endless series of words that end in “ty” (pronounced as “tea”) -- things and concepts that the person holding the mug might feel in charge of or even overwhelmed by. Responsibility, accountability, feasibility, viability, manageability… You get the idea! In larger letters standing out from all those words, the mug advises “But First TEA.”
This mug also features my own design for a tea bag tether, a tiny slit in the rim just above the handle to hold the tab and string on the tea bag in place so they don't end up floating around in the hot tea.
Will text work only on mugs? I tried it on one of my shoes not too long ago, using a continuous print of nonsense Latin words. I named that piece Walking the Talk. And recently, I started rooting around in family collections for items written by hand. I also have a work in progress which is a plate printed with my mother’s recipe for Coconut Cookies. It’s heartwarming to me to see her handwriting reproduced in this way. Can’t wait to serve cookies on this plate!
All in all, I think I’m being converted to decorating with text! Not exclusively, of course. With clay working, one of the joys is the huge range of potential variations and techniques to try. It’s impossible to get bored. The choice is always where to go next…
So what do you think – text or no text?