Friday, September 29, 2006


I am glazing today--and tomorrow--and Sunday. But it is hard! I've spent most of the day setting up for glazing! That is hard--setting up outside to spray glaze--but the really hard part is trying to figure out what glaze or glazes to use and how and so on. So I take a few breaks! One of my favorite pastimes is reading posts on the Clayart listserve. Today there has been a little discussion about teabowls--stimulated by looking at the teabowls of Steve Harrison.

One of my most treasured pottery experiences was a trip to Japan with several other potters. Our little group of beginner potters worked for a week in a studio in Mashiko and at the end of our week we could select a few pieces we had made to have glazed, fired and then shipped back home. It took over a year for the work to arrive. I had forgotten what I had made! There is a 'set' of 6 small 'teabowls' and one slightly larger matching bowl (Lee called it my begging bowl.) They are clearly the work of an inexperienced potter--but I really love them!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

OK, I'm back.

That last firing did not produce great results--better but not there yet. Therefore, the silence. I just don't like to talk about the things that aren't going just right. But, in spite of it all, I'm pushing ahead--I am amazed at my determination in the face of much disappointment. But I am certain that somehow I can get over this hump--and by gosh I'm going to do it.

Today I loaded a bisque firing. And tomorrow I will set up outside to glaze, with the spray gun, some pots that are already bisqued. I seem to have had better luck with spraying glazes than I am having now with dipping in the glaze buckets.
Of course, the big challenge is that I want to participate in a craft fair that is scheduled for October 14--and right now I don't have work that I would be willing to put out for sale. When I signed up to participate I had no idea of the troubles that lay ahead.

I bought some ware racks from a friend who is no longer potting. They will be a great boon to my production process. They are in the carport where the kiln is located and where I set up to spray glazes. The racks give me places to put my greenware ware for loading into the kiln and then place for the bisqued ware to await glazing. Loading and unloading the kiln has required innumerable trips in and out of the house--this will cut down on lots of leg work. (Bisqued ware is on the left, greenware is slow drying, underwraps, on the right.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

with fingers crossed

I just started a glaze firing. It is not a full as usual--but I did try to spread everything out equally up and down. After MUCH reflection, consideration and help from some good potters I decided to fire this load slow and LOW. Up until yesterday I expected to fire higher, suspecting gasses from combustibles still in the clay to be the problem. But it was suggested to me yesterday that perhaps it is not pinholes I am suffering but blisters! Blisters from overfiring the clay--not underfiring. That was a big surprise. But as I thought about it and read about blisters vs pinholes I had to agree that I was getting blisters--giving a crusty feel to the affected areas.

I have also given a lot more attention to my glaze application this time. Not because of the pinhole problems but to unattractive patterns on the fired surface from uneven glaze thickness. So I spent 2 days glazing this small load of pots. I am as eager to see the results of this attention to glaze application as to the effect of the firing schedule change.

I have wondered, in the past, if I made a mistake not getting a larger kiln. Boy, am I glad I don't have a big kiln to have to load to run all these 'tests'. These days it feels like I need a smaller kiln!

I can see that all these challenges have a benefit--I am learning a lot. But I am really ready for some happy results! I've got my fingers crossed!

Monday, September 18, 2006

keeping on keeping on

I've learned somethings about myself this past week. I've learned how hard it is to 'blog' when your down! These problems with my clay and my glazes is very discouraging and I really don't want to talk about it. But it is the big thing going right now. I did refire all the pinholed pieces to see if they would smooth out or heal over. I did a very slow firing and fired a little higher--which meant it took lots longer to fire--but there was no improvement. I also put in a couple of pieces that had not been fired and were freshly glazed to see if they would do better with a longer, higher firing. But they also pinholed.
So now I am waiting for the end of a long, slow bisque firing to see if that is where the problems originated. The idea is that perhaps the ^04 bisque firing is not getting all the combustibles fired out and gasses still being released in the glaze firing is causing the pinholes. As soon as this firing ends I'll glaze and fire again to see if that was the source of the pinholes.
I am very discouraged, as can be seen! And it is hard to get up and going under the circumstances. But I've seen that if I am not motivated to get back into my clay work all I have to do is get into the studio and start straightening things up and washing them off. Then like magic I'm back into the swing of things. Sandy Miller had written that having an assistant do the morning mopping for her ruined the whole day. That is when she works out her day's schedule and without that organizational workout she is lost for the day. Funny creatures we are.
I've been playing with some paperclay this week. It has been fun. It is a change from the usual as it is hand-building which I never do--being so addicted to the wheel. I''ve been making sushi plates and have enjoyed stamping decorations onto them. Hope they hold up to the firing!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What an amazing group.

Last night, in the depths of disappointment, I wrote to Clayart (listserve) describing my unhappy experience yesterday and my confusion over how to overcome the current difficulties. Today I have received so many responses--some to the listserve many more to me directly--offering suggestions based on their own experience or practiced wisdom. How many groups are you connected to that are there, on call, to respond to troubled members that they don't know? I feel that I know many of the Clayart folk just from these generous sharings within the group. I have 'friends' in many parts of Texas, Colorado, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Canada, Denmark, England, Belguim--I am sure I am overlooking many 'friends' in other parts of this vast globe. I have said belonging to Clayart is like getting a degree in advanced ceramics. Such a wealth of experience available just for the asking.

Tomorrow I load the kiln and begin again, re-inspired.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What came out goes back in.

Well there was no good news for me today. (Perhaps I should not have scheduled to open the kiln on such a black day in history.) Everything is a mess. With few exceptions--those being test tiles and small test bowls--everything has serious pinholing problems. I have finally found a clay that is vitrified at cone 6--Cinco Blanco by Armadillo. But everything is pinholed. My friend Herb pointed out similar pinholes on bowls he had made with Cinco Blanco. The glazes are ones that I have used successfully on other clays--which, unfortunately, are not vitrified at cone 6. Maybe I am chasing the wrong rabbit--not everyone seems so concerned about using vitrified clay.
I spoke with Armadillo Clay about my experience. It was recommended that I refire and take the firing temperature up a bit higher as the common wisdom says pinholes are the result of underfiring. The conflict is that Armadillo Clay stresses that one must not fire Cinco Blanco above cone 5. I am getting a cone 6 touching in my current firing schedule. So I will reload the kiln and refire.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Where is my palette?

Friday I mixed up a batch of test glazes--still looking for 'my' palette. And today I spent the day glazing. Don’t think I really have a kiln full—but am going to fire it anyway. I really want to see what I have to work with. A couple of pieces I glazed have peeled up like happened in the last round of glazing. I am just going to wash off the glaze and start over on the next round. I think it was the Faux Ash again—and maybe it was on Touchstone again—but I thought I was doing something different. I hope after everything is fired I will be able to see what had the problem—have good notes but no markings on the pots. It was a long day. I have glazed all the test tiles and all the test bowls (minus the ones I will wash off) and all the mugs. Then I threw in a few other pieces—including the steamer and saucer which have bad cracks—but since they are lost anyway I will see what happens in the glaze firing—maybe the glaze will ‘heal’ the cracks!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

All fired up...

But not really. I loaded a bisque firing today. The pots have been ready for about a week—but I was not! I wasn’t because of all the kiln maintenance I needed to do! Several of my shelves were badly messed up in the last glaze firing. It was not just glaze running down the side of a pot and dripping onto the shelf—though that happened, too. One of the test plates deposited big blogs of glass onto the shelf in several spots under the plate! And a couple of the run-offs from the test bowls were so serious that the foot of the bowl broke off and stuck to the shelf! I’ve cleaned up glaze spills before but those were such that I could tap the glaze off with a chisel and hammer. But this time there was no budging these spills with the chisel. Jim suggested using the Dremel tool to grind the glaze off. And that is what I am doing (notice the present tense after 3 days work.) The glaze burned down into the shelf—through the kiln wash—so it does have to be ground out. In addition to this mess, other shelves were in need of a fresh coat of kiln wash. All in all a dreadful lot of work. But I got enough of it done so that I could start the bisque firing by noon today. I still have 4 shelves to do more work on before I can use them again. Fortunately, I recently bought some extra shelves that were on sale—they are a little smaller than my kiln’s shelves but they work and today made it possible to go ahead with the firing.

I am now more aware of the need to become a better observer. I know that some of my glazes ‘spit’—but I have not tried to figure out which ones are doing the spitting. And now after the bad flows and dumping of glazes I am making a real effort to know which glazes can’t be mixed—which was the cause of the worst problems in the last firing. On the test bowls I had dipped the rims in different washes or ash glazes to see what they would do. Where I let the overlap get too close to the foot I got the most serious runs—sticking the foot to the shelf and melting into the shelf. On the plates I was overlapping glazes to see how they worked together. The biggest mess was putting M&M Clear over Denim and Charcoal! That is the combination that dumped the big piles of glazes on the shelf.

When I unload a glaze firing I am so eager to see the results on the pots that I don’t take note of what has happened to the shelf under each pot. So I want to slow down and try to take it all in. I have gone back and figured out which pieces caused the mess that happened in the last firing. But I still don’t know which glazes are ‘spitting’.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Getting hooked on pottery.

Some potters can connect their love of working in clay to early childhood memories of clay-making with a parent, grandparent or in a youth class. I have no such memories but I do find an early connection to my clay-working addiction. Two, in fact. First, I have always been strongly attracted to ‘hand-made, home-made”—textiles and food, for example. I never feel more elegantly dressed than in some of the wonderful Mexican hand embroidered shirts and dresses that crowd my closet. (That is one in the photo under "About Me".) I love setting my table with the hand-made pottery that we bought in Dolores Hidalgo so many years ago and I love serving the food I make in stoneware cooking vessels. I can’t imagine a more beautiful bedroom than one with a hand-made quilt for the cover of the bed. Second, I am stuck at the two-year old level of wanting to “do it myself”. If I am treating someone to dinner it will be a dinner I have prepared myself! When I see something beautiful in a gift shop I want to figure out how to make it—more than how to have it! So it is no surprise that I love getting to make pottery. The big surprise is that it took me so long to discover that I might do just that! Perhaps I realized that with raising a family and helping to run the Montessori school we started I had not the time or the money to get into such an avocation. That was the surprise waiting for me at my retirement! And what a glorious treat it has been for this end of the journey. The challenges and the successes are constant joys. I consider myself incredibly lucky and fortunate to be doing what I am doing and to have the support of Jim, my husband.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The week in review:

I can’t believe it has been a week since the last entry! Some significant happenings:

I have applied (and been accepted) to exhibit at the Craft and Music Festival at Northwood Presbyterian Church mid-October. Cat is also planning to exhibit and we’ve been promised to be placed next to one another. The festival is just one day and that is more in line with my capacity right now than a whole weekend! I am enthusiastic about it now but know I’ll be pretty nervous starting around the first of October.

Herb Risch loaned me some tapes of the Bill Van Gilder TV show on pottery making. Each episode focuses on a different form of functional pottery. I am really enjoying watching the tapes. For one reason, I am as addicted to watching someone throw as I am to throwing myself! And I pick up some new clue or hint from each viewing—it is very stimulating.

I’ve been cranking out the greenware! I’m sure I have more than a kiln load now ready to be bisqued. But I have some awful glaze drips on my kiln shelves that I have to try to remove before I fire again. The last firing with all those tests produced some really bad flows down onto the shelves. I tried clearing them this morning using a chisel and hammer—but have some real stubbon spots. Tomorrow I will try using my Dremmel tool—then I will have to try to grind the shelves clean with a grinder. What a pain!

On a happier note, this evening we celebrated as a family of exhibiting artists! Jim has 4 small canvases hanging at La Tuna downtown near Blue Star and Ben has a piece hanging at Studio B not far away. Jim and I visited the gallery with Ben’s piece then we went to La Tuna to see Jim’s work where Ben joined us for dinner. Very pleasant evening—such a newly shared focus in our lives! Has Jim talking about moving into the downtown area instead of out to the country when/if our home sells. What interesting twists and turns life introduces.