I’ve been a severe sluggard when it comes to nursing this blog along- a weighty shame that I aim to rectify.

(Mind you… blogs are such an exercise in self-gratification that maybe my laziness has simply been a function of creeping humility? Or can you even entertain this question without deep-sixing the premise?)

Anyhow, I’ve been reminded by a couple of people that this blog is, in fact, linked to a business site… and that I’d better try to at least dance around the ceramics theme on a semi-regular basis.

Therefore- from now on, I’m posting an entry a week, even if it’s a un-annotated photograph of an ash-tray.

I will, however, reserve alternating weeks for the weird and the off-beat. This is where you’ll see me professing love to my bouzouki, or arguing with myself about the relative merits of Firefly episodes.

('Ariel' is the best, by the way. Yes- 'Out of Gas' is awesome... but I've got to cut against the grain on this one. Sue me.)

For today, I’ll talk a little bit about the quest for the perfect mug design.

There are a limited number of objects in the world that perfectly fuse functionality and beauty. The best of these have deep, deep roots. The canoe is one such objects (the great Bill Mason famously referred to his 16-foot chestnut prospector as ‘the most functional and beautiful thing ever created by man’.

I won’t argue with Bill, but I think that a good mug is one of these basic, Platonic objects as well.

I say ‘good mug’ because there are many more bad mugs than good ones. I’ve made more than a few myself. Take this gem, for example. I keep it in our cupboard as a constant, muse-channeling irritant. 

(Mind you- I also feel a certain weird affection for the thing… sort of like our wretched, grumpy, ankle-biting cat).

Honestly though…  it’s got a warped foot, a mal-proportioned body, a hideous, elephant-ear sized handle… and it weighs about 50 kilos.

The surface decoration is unbalanced and uninspired, the attempts at alteration are clumsy... the only thing I could have done to bollox up things further would have been to glaze it with a combination of Lead Bisulfate and Uranium.

Mrrriaorwww!!! Your ankles! Let me bite them!!

(It's the internet. Cats are obligatory)

The scary thing, however, is that equally mutated specimens regularly rear their heads at Ren fairs, farmers markets, and online.  I won’t post any pictures for fear of getting sued…  but trust me. (The picture on the left is another one of my personal failures... although not as heinous an example as the 'Ugly Mug').

Without diving into the epistemological quicksand of aesthetics, I’d argue that there are some basic ‘rules’ for a good mug.

-       The mug’s lip should channel your beverage into your waiting maw without spilling down your fly.
-       The foot (or lack of same) should flow from and contribute to the overall shape of the vessel.
-       ‘Strength’ is good (and emanates from good lines). Chunkiness is not.
-       The handle should be married to the overall form.
-       The handle should make your hand feel like the mug is an extension of your arm.

I won’t even touch on the whole questions of surface treatment- that’s a separate topic.

So- here’s a wildly popular design that I’m personally not very fond of. These ‘hand-warmer’ mugs have been propagating like e-coli… I suspect that there’s an unpainted pottery warehouse the sells the basic forms. Apparently, you’re supposed to slot your hand into the cleft. It’s a moderately intriguing idea… but I find it hard imagine that a properly scalded cup of Java wouldn’t fry your hand. Even if you’re working with a high vitrification, low conductance clay body, I don’t really see a place for a counter-grip. We’re given an opposable thumb for a reason.

To be fair-I did dabble in ‘radical’ mug designs early on. I like playing with extreme handle shapes, but none of these retain the kind of balance and ‘grippiness’ you need in a working man’ (woman’s) mug.

My basic working design, for now, can be seen below. Nothing extravagant, but eminently functional.

I do have one newer design that I’m pretty happy with. It’s a play off the classic Germanic ‘stein’ form, and well configured to house a liter of that cold barley pop we all love so well.  You’ll note that I’ve dialed back the whacky handles from my early designs, but retained the idea of a ‘trigger’ addition within the handle.

There’s something to be said for a little added leverage when you’re slinging a pint.

(This is a raw version obviously... currently bathed in fire within the bowels of my kiln).

The design I’m currently struggling with is a ‘tea steeper’ mug. I like the idea of a lidded globe- the form appeals to me aesthetically, and evokes a pair of lovely Korean mugs that inhabit our front room.

The problem is that globular forms are fiendishly hard to formulate on the wheel (at least compared to cylindrical forms). The inward curve at the apex of a globe is architecturally weak, and doesn’t cooperate with any kind of rough handling. Thus- adding a ‘sill’ for a lid is a dicey prospect.

And then there’s the question of fitting a handle to a round form.

Most of the round mugs I’ve seen (they seem to be popular with the local baristas) have little pinky loops, rather that proper handles. Fitting a fist-sized handle to a concave surface is almost impractical… at least if you want to retain any degree of balance.

I hate to give up on round forms; however- I find them uniquely pleasing. I realize that I’m opening myself up to all manner of Freudian interpretations here… but I defy all of you black hearted rogues.

Here’s an example of the pinky ring modality. Not bad to look at, but lacking the 'fist-full-of-mug' burliness that you need for soccer hooliganism and singing sea chanties on the deck of the Titanic. However, when you consider a couple of drawings of alternate handle styles, none of them really ‘work’ either.

So… it’s pinky rings for now. Interestingly, a Google search on ‘handmade mug’ didn’t yield many examples of round forms. So- I guess I’m not the only potter to grapple with this.

The search did yield a squawking parade of mal-proportioned, ungainly ducklings, however. Man- there are some bad mugs lurking about the internet. Once again, I’ll refrain from posting photos…



Leave a Reply