First, and totally, completely unrelated, and not at all germane to this post, don't you hate those blogs that are all, "Look what I made, aren't I cool, I am so much cooler than you!" I like a blog in which the author admits to being a fuck up once in a while. Don't you?
Onto our regularly scheduled post, already in progress:
During the firing yesterday? I ran out of propane.
I am still not sure quite how that happened. I think I misremebered when the fuel truck was last here, and therefore how many firings the tanks had already served. I do know how it could have been avoided, however: there's a handy-dandy gauge provided for that very purpose, which a person who is not a fuck up might have checked.
Rest assured that I am past the self-castigation & am laughing, now, because it isn't the worst thing that could have happened; the burners started losing pressure around 012, so I put it into the deepest reduction I could get, given that there wasn't any fuel, and then shut it off and closed it up tightly.
I had an firing buddy loading with me yesterday, and she stayed for the early hours of the firing. Special message for her: DK, it's gonna be longer than I thought, to get the pots back to you; but they will still come out well. And thank you for your help.
Anyway. Delivering work to Portsmouth & Portland today, hopefully with a sales call in Kennebunkport of Ogunquit. Before I go, I need to ge ton the phone with the porpane guys to get a delivery before Wednesday, with I attempt this firing again.
You ever have one of those days when you just can't get out of your own way? Today is sort of like that. Or more like the universe is making my to-do list for me.
I did manage to unload the kiln. This load was heavy on classic turquoise oribe, a dependable glaze for me. I also tested a green oribe, which was darker and moodier, with some gunmetal lowlights. This was successful enough that I think it will become a part of my palette. Note to self; the upper right hand corner of the kiln was pretty dry, like the soda didn't fully reach it. Might be better to put more heavily glazed pieces in that area; alternatively, I might push the damper all the way in during the soda application, to force the vapor to circulate around the kiln longer before rushing out the stack. (Will that work? I don't know. I just made that up.) It might help in another way; this load seems a bit underreduced, which is no problem for cobalt & oribe, but the flashing slips are quite pastel. Doing back to back firings this time: Next load goes in on Saturday.
The pots here are headed for Portsmouth, NH, to a fine kitchen goods shop called Attrezzi.
I have a confession to make. (Well, not a "confession;" it's nothing awful, but I am a little embarrassed about it.)It requires a preface:
From 1994-2000, I was a full-time potter. I taught classes through the Bloomington Art Center and the Northern Clay Center, but I did and do consider teaching an important part of being a potter, for me; it keeps me fresh in a host of ways. In 2000, my first marriage ended after a long and painful struggle, and I moved back to Maine. I got an office gig to stay afloat while I figured things out. I always thought it would be temporary, and it was.
Here's the confession part: I quit that job in 2001, to be a full-time potter again...and I failed.
I failed due to lack of discipline. I had some money from the sale of my home in St. Paul, and it allowed me to just sort of noodle around, making pots here and there, but mostly drinking, eating out, boating, dating, hiking and biking, and just generally not working. Or at least, not doing the un-fun parts of self-employment: planning, budgeting, and selling. Because I didn't need to sell pots, I didn't try; my inventory built up, and there's nothing that discourages production like over-full shelves.
That was all fun, and I told myself I deserved it, as I had earned the money fixing up that St. Paul house. I almost can't say I regret it, as it was a healing time. But.
By 2002, I had just enough money left for a (small) downpayment on another house, so I pulled the plug and got another office gig, and I have had one ever since, until now. I am determined not to do that again. Not that I expect to be tempted; the money now is totally hand-to-mouth, so the temptation to fritter away time is far, far less. Here are a couple changes I am implementing to help keep me on track.
My Timer: I have long used a time to help me stay organized with household things. I have a big(ish) old house, full of pets, and I like things to be neat. I'm not a neat freak, exactly, but mess makes me stressed, and I can't concentrate if the litterbxes smell or there are big wooly dust mammoths under my desk. I could spend days at a time cleaning and still not feel done. So, I got a timer. Thrice a week I set the timer for an hour, and clean until the timer goes off, and then I stop. This prevents cleaning from taking up my entire day, although once in a while I just have to sacrfice a day to housekeeping, because three hours a week is only time for the bare minimum. Now I am using my timer to keep me in the studio when I am tempted to wander away and repair the hose, go grocery shopping, order flea drops online, call my congresswoman, tell all my Facebook friends what I am doing; or any of the other million things that might need doing. I set the timer for two hours at a time, and give myself half-hour breaks in between. This happens in four cycles; any work I do beyond that is bonus.
A student offered this good suggestion: I am committing to two studio-only days per week. I get up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast, and then head into the studio. I don't take care of anything else first. Otherwise, too often, the other project leads to anther, and the another, and I am lucky if I get any studio time at all.
I plan my sales trips in advance, and treat them as non-negotiable. Otherwise they get put off and put off, until -- oops, too late! The season has passed.
And, there goes the timer! I am glazing and loading today. Back to work!
Kathy King creates narrative imagery using black slip on mid-range porcelain (that is, cone 6ish) and a technique called sgraffito, a subtractive method of decoration in which the slip is scratched or carved away to create the image. Kathy is giving a workshop at Portland Pottery in August!
Talenti Gelato come in plastic jars with screw-on lids, in a 1-pint size: perfect for mixing test glazes.
When I was a graduate student, I used to purchase those plastic tubs of frosting for this purpose; also because I did and do love frosting. I am still scraping it out of my arteries, not to mention the 15 pounds that it took literally years to lose.
Still, it's a hot day here in Maine, and I've got a lot of work to do; one little pint can't do much harm.
Apparently it's my modus to go to radio silence when big changes are in the wind. I did so last year just after I purchased the kiln bricks; this year my big news is that I have quit my day job. There's another piece of all this that isn't quite nailed down yet, so it's probably best not to discuss it publicly; but one thing that is sure, for the next few weeks, I will just be a potter. I can't tell you how excited I am about this! The IPTOG was fine, as jobs go; but like any office gig, most of the time it felt like a distraction to my real calling. Another reason I have not been blogging much: I have been potting! I have orders to fill and I have been making and glazing like a mad bastard. The photo above is through the window of my summer studio; I had to install more shelves to accommodate the additional ware. In other news: I bought a laptop. I was astonished how cheaply one can be had. My original intention was for road usage, when I am out selling, but of course once I had it I had to go get a wireless router, so I can use it at home as well. In my experience, one piece of technology often leads inexorably to another. Anyway, that's my news. What's new with you?
June Perry Oribe I Custer Spar 30 Talc 6 Whiting 10 Strontium Carb 11 Ball Clay 15 Silica 20 _______________ Copper 6 Tin 4
June Perry Oribe II Custer Spar 15 Neph Sy 15 Talc 6 Whiting 10 Strontium Carb 8.75 Ball Clay 15 Silica 20 _______________ Copper 6 Tin 4
This oribe is rumored to stay a nice, bright green, rather than turning turquoise as most do. Not that there's anything wrong with turquoise! But I already have a good turquoise oribe. Both of these recipes have been modified to flux at 8-9. I hope.
Guest blogger Douglas Watts writes:Lori asked me to explain in a fairly simple way what clay is, where it comes from, and how it got here. So here's an attempt at a non-technical explanation.
Clay is feldspar rusting. This is an analogy, but not that far from the actual process. We all know what happens if you buy a nice, shiny piece of cast iron from the hardware store and leave it outside in the sun and rain. It quickly rusts. If you leave it out long enough, it turns to almost all rust. So what is rust?
Rust is primarily the minerals limonite and goethite, created when iron combines with oxygen from the atmosphere and oxygen in water. We all know that iron things tend to rust faster when wet than when dry. Moisture hastens rusting.
Feldspar is not iron. Iron is one element, iron. Feldspar is a large family of minerals made from oxygen, silicon, aluminum, sodium, potassium and calcium. Feldspar does not form on the Earth's surface. It only forms miles beneath the Earth's surface, where solid rock is naturally in a semi-liquid, molasses-like state.
Feldspar is only released from its 'natural' home and to the Earth's surface either when it is forcibly ejected from a volcano as lava or when, after hundreds of millions of years, the 2-3 miles of solid rock above the feldspar is eroded away, leaving the feldspar nakedly exposed on the Earth's surface. This is usually in the form of granite, which is a rock made of feldspar and quartz and some mica.
To add another analogy, just like a piece of fine pottery on the edge of a shelf 'wants' to fall on the floor and smash, feldspar 'wants' to turn to clay when it is exposed to the Earth's surface. The agent for the pot on the shelf wanting to fall down and smash is gravity (in outer space, pottery does not break, it orbits). The agent for feldspar wanting to turn to clay is a bit more complex, but similar in design to iron rusting. In both, the agents are primarily air and water.
In the presence of air and water at the Earth's surface, the most natural and restive state for feldspar is to re-align its molecules into clay molecules. Clay is a mineral, just like quartz or feldspar. It has a very regular and ordered crystalline structure, like a diamond or a cube of salt. The three predominant clay minerals are kaolinite, illite and montmorillonite. With a scanning electron microscope you can get pictures of very nice, well formed, plate-like clay crystals growing right next to a crystal of feldspar.
Feldspar becomes clay by slowly bringing water into its crystal structure, like a sponge left in a puddle of water. This water becomes part of the very fabric of the feldspar; like how iron becomes part of your blood cells. The feldspar wants the water. It likes it. Which brings us back to rust.
What we call rust is the natural state of iron on the Earth's surface. Iron readily combines with oxygen to make rust. It wants to become rust. In fact, we have to do all kinds of crazy things to prevent iron from becoming rust. We coat it with oils, with paint (like Rust-Oleum) or galvanize it with zinc, all to keep the iron from contacting oxygen in the air and oxygen in water, sort of like teacher chaperones at a high school dance. Left to its own device, feldspar becomes clay because it wants to; that is its most stable and natural state on the Earth's surface. Like a thrown ball 'wants' to come back down, feldspar wants to become clay. Clay is rusted feldspar; and the actual chemical reactions are not that different.
In Maine, where I live, from 1880-1930 there was a flourishing industry where large feldspar deposits were quarried and mined for use as ceramic pottery glaze. This was feldspar that had not yet had time to weather into clay. It is still solid enough to make a house foundation. But if you crush into a fine enough powder, it works beautifully as a glaze ingredient. Most of the feldspar mined in Maine was shipped to pottery works in New Jersey as a basic glaze ingredient for everything from fine plateware to toilet bowls. It was an 'industrial mineral,' as the saying goes.
The only reason Maine does not have deposits of natural, 'primary' clay is because for the past million years Maine has been scoured by successive, mile high glaciers every 100,000 years or so, which like a steel plow on a snow-filled driveway, scraped away all the clay and softened rock right down to hard bedrock and dumped the residue in the Atlantic Ocean. In the U.S., you have to go south of the line of glaciers, ie. Kentucky or Tennessee, to find clay deposits still intact and near where they were first formed. What we in Maine call 'marine clay' is actually the finely ground-up residue from the glaciers' scraping and grinding that has partly altered into true clay minerals and is on its way to doing so, give another 10 million years. That said, it is still perfectly usable as a slip or a low-fire earthenware body. Be patient, Maine !!!
I've been obsessed with dessert pots lately -- cake stands, sundae cups, banana split boats. I got the first of the series out of today's kiln load, and immediately had to try it out. The dessert, a Mississippi Mudcake, was exactly what I envisioned when I made the piece. I often say that functional pottery is artwork that is only complete when it is in use. I was glad for the chance to finish this one off.
Here's what the loading looked like. This time there are some student pots in the kiln; it's the first firng that I've finally felt sufficiently confident of a good result to do so. In the three-quarters full photo, you can see some tiny pieces occupying the spaces between pots. These are refrigerator magnets. After I realized how very expensive propane was going to be, I started trying to figure out ways to increase the yield of the firing without raising prices. I may still have to raise prices but it does help to turn each little, inevitable space into a three-dollar bill. Or something like that. You can also see a couple of re-fires; I'm not enamoured of refiirng, generally, if the problem is just that you don't like the piece, as in my experience a second glaze firing will do little to improve it. In this case the problem was only that the pieces were a tad underfired, but I could see that they were good pots, with nice color & sheen. Just needed to get a little warmer.
Anyway. I am off to clean house & walk dogs, so I can get to #3 on my list. Most of the pots in this kiln already have destinations - how nice! photos later.
Lori Keenan Watts (aka me) is a potter, gardener, and avid reader from Augusta, Maine. Though I started my university education in surface design for fabric, clay quickly grabbed me by the heart and redirected my creative impulses. I have been a potter for over 25 years -- hard to believe. The most valuable years of my ceramic education were spent in graduate study at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, under the tutalage of Dan Anderson and Paul Dresang.
My aesthetic is guided by my love of the material itself. What fascinates me and makes a pot compelling for me is the clay-ness of clay: the squooshiness that becomes the adamantine solidity. I also like patterns, unexpected proportions, and when the flame comes along and dissolves part of my careful decorating efforts! I am obstinate about this aesthetic, to a point which might be called pig-headed, but hey, if you don't like what you make, why bother?
My happy little family also includes my husband, musician and photographer (and author of the book Alewife) Doug Watts; five cats; and a turtle, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another.