Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tis the Season: Raku!

It was raku week at Portland Pottery, at least in my classes. I'd actually been planning these firings for a few weeks, but I always build in time for unexpected obstacles: in this case, the bisque schedule, some brutally hot weather (Al Gore was right!), and my own Lyme Disease diagnosis - more on that later.

Here's our Instagrammable moment:

Many thanks to students for great camera work:
It begins.
Got my good side!
Ooo fire!
Almost done!
The process is fun and exciting, and I try to do it with each class during the warm months, because in a communal studio like Portland Pottery, students get very little experience of firing. There are racks where they place their work to be fired...then the pots go away for a while...then [something happens, who knows what]...and the pots come back changed. I'm exaggerating a little - I talk to my students a lot about firing (too much, some might say!) and when the kiln is firing I bring them in to look into the spy hole. It's not the same as loading, keeping an eye on the firing, and unloading, though. Raku allows student to participate in each step, and to be responsible for the outcome.

Speaking of, we got some great outcomes:
Terra sigillata & horsehair




Portland Pottery (and your so very truly) will be offering a raku workshop Saturday, September 14th! Bring 4-5 bisqued pots of an appropriate claybody, and wear long pants, closed-toed shoes, and cotton clothing.
You can use a claybody that's specific for raku, or any groggy stoneware will usually be fine. High grolleg porcelain performs surprisingly well also! To register call (207) 772-4334.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

C is for Slab Building

I have some students who are exclusively slab builders, so I have been searching recently for new techniques to show them. Found this one described online, do I decided to give it a try.

It starts with a rolled slab, about 3/8s of an inch. I find a very common mistake among students is to roll their slabs too thin! In addition to being much harder to build with, an overly-thin slab results in a flimsy pot that chips easily and, to my mind, feels cheap. I can think of reasons why you would make a thinner pot - sometimes you can use daintiness in an aesthetic way, for special-occasion pots, in which the very fragility of the piece proclaims the specialness of the occasion, or makes clear that this is a decorative, not utilitarian, piece. But if you mean to use it regularly, give it a little substance!

But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes, the slab. Once rolled and thoroughly compressed, cut two concentric circles. This will create a ring of clay, one circle being the outer diameter and the other the inner. The difference between the larger and the small of the two will be the height of the walls. The greater the difference, the harder this will be to build. To minimize any such difficulties, you want tgive this slab a little while to firm up. How long depends on the air conditions; 15 minutes is a good starting point but on the humid day I built mine that was not nearly enough. Building on a drywall board is helpful, too, as it allows the slab to dry from both directions.

Save the circle bit from the middle! It will become the bottom.

Now we're going to cut a wedge out of the ring, which will make a "C" shape. The wider the wedge, the more vertical the sides will be; a shallower bowl will be harder to build and may need to rest in or on a mold.
Like this one! This bowl is not especially shallow, but I lost
patience waiting for my slab to dry in our humidity. 

I found a wedge of at least a quarter of the ring made a good, useful shape.



Now we're going to bend the slab so that the edges overlap. There will be an opening in the middle.

Scoring & adding clay slurry (or magic water, or vinegar, or whatever your attachment preference) is going to be key in holding the seam together.

Now for the bottom. The circular bit that was cut out at the beginning is a little bit drier now, let's use that.

Optional, of course, but I like to put a texture on it.


This textured circle becomes the bottom - TWIST! - from the inside. Score, slip, etc, then:

There is, of course, a lot of smoothing, paddling, and other futzing - especially on the bottom! - to make it look nice. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hi Google, Fix Please!

A few folks have contacted me to let me know that some older posts here redirect to some widget-server thingy. I just noticed it myself, yesterday, and I have no idea why it's happening or how to undo it. I'm told it's something to do with the html, a long-forgotten widget I installed maybe, but since I can't get to the post, I can't edit out the widget, or even verify that there is one. 😕

I have contacted Google to see if they can help, but in the meantime, I have to beg your forbearance. Older posts will (probably!) eventually be available again, but it might be a slow process of finding the individual dead links, tracing another path to the post, and editing the html of individual posts to remove the offending code.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Few Stems

My perennial garden is a source of recurring joy for me. Crocuses popping in March remind me that the drear Maine winter will, eventually, end; watching for the late-spring splashes of color gets me through April & May. June is a riotous festival of blooms, as peonies with their big showy heads blossom in tandem with irises, lady's mantle, yarrow, and wild asters.

It's true that whichever one is happening at the time is my favorite, but I do take a particular joy in the blooms of July, the month of radial symmetry" daisies, brown-eyed susans, echinachea. Just a few cheery stems brighten a room.

I made some little vases with this bloom-season in mind:

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

An Urn for Traveller

I never take custom orders. I find them very stressful, and as a result put off starting the project until it looms over my head longer than it would have taken to make it. I usually make 3 or 4 or whatever it is, to increase the chances of success, so it takes 3 or 4 times the resources - materials, time, fuel - that it would take to make a similar piece spontaneously. I am left with a couple of oddball pieces that don't fit my usual body of work, and nothing to do with them except maybe sell them as seconds.

Also, they aren't fun.

I did make an exception to this rule, though, for a friend who wanted an urn for a dog who had passed. He wasn't her dog; he belonged to a friend of hers. I had met Traveler, though, and it is no secret that I have a soft spot for animals.

I agreed to this custom order for a couple of reasons. Barbara is a friend - I 100% would not do this for a stranger or a slight acquaintance. She used to own The Artisan's Barn, a craft gallery in Readfield, and carried my work for several years before she retired, so she is well familiar with the concept of handmade variation; and she was willing to let me make ALL the design decisions - color, shape, handle, all the details. My mission was just "make a nice urn" that would fit the cremains of a 110 pound dog.

I did a bit of math to determine the size: with pet cremains, figure one cubic inch per pound of living weight. The volume of a cylinder is
π
r
2 x h
[Pi (3.14 etc)] x [the measurement of the radius, squared (multiplied by itself)] x the height
For ceramics we need to figure in shrinkage; I usually multiply by 1.15 to accommodate 15% shrinkage. 

Even so, I made three. One was too small; one was, idk, it was fine but I didn't love it. One was, to quote Goldilocks, just right.

I think of Traveler, sweet boy, and feel glad that I can honor his life in this small way.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Morning in Belfast

I don't know if I've ever done an art fair in a more beautiful location that Belfast, Maine. It was insufferably hot yesterday, so we didn't get a lot of visitors, but today promises to be sunny and 70s - the perfect Maine summer day.

As often happens after an extremely hot day, we got some thunderstorms last night. I didn't take my tent down but I did remove all the pots from the shelves & put them in crates on the ground. That turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as winds did not get about 10 mph in Belfast last night! Still, better no to take the chance.
As always, I worried about the display; in particular if I would have enough pots to fill it. I do! Hopefully at the end of the day I will have none. 😉



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Murphy's Law is Not So Bad!

If I didn't clarify before, my last firing was only a Murphy's Law firing if Murphy's Law was about screw-ups. Everything that went wrong in this firing was something I did wrong or failed to do! It's something of a pattern: I have a few super-smooth firings in a row, then I get over-confident - or maybe lazy is the word I want here - and make things harder for myself. For example:
  • The cone pack exploded because 
    1. I made the packs just a few hours before lighting the burners
    2. I didn't poke vents in the clay of the pack with a needle tool, to allow the water vapor to escape more easily; and
    3. I turned up the burners too quickly
  • The burner fluffed out repeatedly because the thermocouple was failing. That's nobody's fault - thermocouples don't last forever - but usually I have extras around. 
  • I forgot to buy wood shavings and soda ash ahead of time
  • And, as I was reminded when I unloaded, I forgot to do my basic kiln hygiene and knock the stalactites off the underside of the arch! These turn into ugly, lumpy grey-green drips in the firing, and I lost some pots on the top shelf to them. 
All in all, though, I have to say I was incredibly lucky. The soda glass is evenly distributed, the colors are rich and clear, even the exploded cone pack didn't damage anything! Most importantly, the steins that I need for Watershed's Salad Days event came through beautifully. (Enough of them, anyway! One was lost in the bisque to a separating handle, and two got the aforementioned ugly soda drips on them. that still leaves more than I need!)
It's 87° today, so I am going to take a bit of a break from the heat. I still need to grind a few bottoms, then sort, price, and pack the pots for Belfast Arts in the Park.

Some of these pots should be available online after the 13th. 

I'm gonna make some notes here about the firing schedule that worked out so well so I can refer to it for future firings:
  • Lit one burner on 1# pressure at 9 pm
  • Lit all burners on 1# pressure at 10 pm (TOO FAST - Cone pack exploded)
  • Tapped burners up just a bit at midnight
  • Went to bed!
  • 4 am - red heat, turned up burners
  • ^012 falling at 7 am, turned up burners & pushed in damper
  • G-D f*ckin burner went out about 4 times between ^012 & ^3
  • ^6 falling at noonish - started adding soda mix
  • Kiln stalled for over two hours at ^6. Stopped adding soda & put kiln in lightest possible reduction
  • ^8 falling, resumed soda. Finished soda maybe an hour before the kiln went off
  • Had only one cone pack, in the typical hot spot, so I laid ^11 down to make sure the cool spot got to ^10

Monday, July 1, 2019

Belfast Arts in the Park

Wow, it's July already, and only a few days away from Belfast Arts in the Park. I'll be in Booth 111, with the hopefully-wonderful pots from the Murphy's Law firing! Come see me.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Murphy's Law Firing

My last firing was smooth sailing all the way - a high pressure day, a steady climb, body reduction by 7 am, all the pretty cones falling evenly. The universe demands balance! So this firing takes Murphy's Law as its inspiration. A cone pack explodes! A burner fluff out, twice so far! Ooops, I'm out of wood curls! Pelting rain last night right when I had to adjust the burners!

It's not promising. I'm tempted to turn it off & try again on Wednesday.

But that's silly! There's no reason this annoying firing can't produce beautiful pots. and firing on Wednesday would put a squeeze on an already-tight timeline for my upcoming fair, Belfast Art in the Park. So I'll just keep an eye on that f*cking burner, send Doug out for wood shavings, and hope for the best.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Week 1 Skill Challenge: Throw a 1-lb Cylinder 6 Inches High

I do these weekly challenges with my students. This session I am tying each one to the week number; week 1 we have a one-pound challenge, week 2 we'll have a 2-pound challenge, and so on.

They wouldn't be challenges if they were easy, but they are doable! You will need to get all the clay up into the wall for this to work - no extra thickness at the bottom! Some tips:
      • The centered hump of clay should be relatively tall & narrow, with a flat top, before you open it. About 3" at the bottom, 2" at the top.
      • Open with your thumbs bent & pointy. 
      • Establish a flat interior bottom before you begin pulling up 
      • Make sure you begin your pull with your outer fingertips right against the wheelhead. 
      • At the beginning of each pull, press in with your outside fingertips (for me that's my right hand) to make a little ridge of clay that you will bring up the wall. 
      • As soon as you begin pulling, move your outside fingertips so they are putting pressure a little bit higher than your fingertips inside the pot. This will prevent the wall from spreading outward. 
      • Pull as many times as you need 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Always a Silver Lining


I've been working like a mad potter for the last few weeks, toward a firing to provide work for the Belfast Arts in the Park , happening July 6 & 7, and immediately after that, Watershed's Salad Days, July 13th. Briefly coming up for air to check what happens after those events, I realized the answer is...nothing.

I mean, not nothing-nothing; I'll still have stores to supply and the online shop. But, since I didn't get into the Common Ground Fair, and was only wait-listed for the Portland Fine Crafts Show, I've got no big events coming up for the rest of the summer. That's not ideal, of course, and suggests that I should review my application images - hopefully I can do better! But a good show is always going to be in demand, and unless you are, idk, Bob Briscoe or someone, sometimes you are going to jury out. Even knowing this, I didn't make any "safety" applications, because honestly I'd rather do no show than price, pack, schlepp, unload, set up, stay all day, then do it all in reverse, for $250.

Well, I got my wish...sort of! My real wish would have been to get into the shows, of course, but failing that, I kinda...have the summer off! Or half of it. I mean, I'll still teach my classes & supply the aforementioned stores but I'll have no big deadlines pressing on my mind, or my time. OH THE PLACES I'LL GO

I have brains in my head
I have feet in my shoes

I can steer myself any direction I choose!*

*With apologies to Dr. Seuss




Sunday, June 2, 2019

Steins for the 'Shed

So, you know about Salad Days, right? If not, I've been remiss! Salad Days is a huge lawn party to benefit the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. For $40, you get a handmade plate, designed specially for the event, all the salad you can eat, and a day of bluegrass music with all your potter and potter-supporting friends on Watershed's 30 rural acres. This year it's happening July 13th, a Saturday. (The "Days" part of the name is something of a misnomer, referencing the expression which means "the days when you could only afford to eat salad," itself somewhat odd, since - these days anyway - salad is kinda spendy! But I digress.) The event happens from 10-3.

In addition to the famous Salad Days plates, designed & created by a different artist every year, there's a Salad Days Stein Sale. Click the link, go on, I dare ya! WHOSE POTS ARE THOSE, RIGHT THERE AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE?? That's right, Yours So Very Truly! I was super excited to get the invite to make steins for the event. I got a start on them last week.

Like, whoa! Those look ginormous. I weighed out 2 1/4 pounds of clay, and they are about 7 1/2 inches high. which our old friend arithmetic tells me will shrink to 6 1/2, not at all an absurd size for  a stein.Trust the math, right? Math don't lie.

And anyway they look a little less silly-big with the handles on:

They've asked for 10-12; I made 15, for safety, but that means that (hopefully!) even if you can't make it to Salad Days, there will be a few Salad Days steins available. Actually, I'm enjoying them so much, I think I might make a few pilsner shapes as well.