Friday, 27 September 2013

Bad firing

Well, it comes with the territory - getting used to disappointment. I'd really hoped for a lot from this glaze firing, but ended up disappointed. I included a few pieces made from the keuper red clay that I posted previously, alongside a load of Jen's porcelain favours and decorations. I'd also popped in a couple of the soup bowls with the hare design. These had been thrown in a white stoneware and then decorated with brown slip.
Anyway, the keuper red ware all bloated really badly - rendering it unsaleable. The white stoneware bowl decorated with brown slip fired ok, but the brown slip vanished! Did it run? I really don't know - I know that it's meant to be a semi transparent slip, but to completely disappear? These hare bowls were therefore not as I'd wished and I really wouldn't want to sell them.
I guess , from what I've read, that the keuper red bloated because it was over fired. I was told that it was ok up to stoneware temperatures even though it's labelled as an earthenware clay. Clearly not the case. I'm happy to fire to lower temperatures, but the only issue is that Jen makes porcelain ware that needs firing to higher temperatures, so sharing a firing is more sensible. I'm waiting for advice from potclays at the moment.
It really is disappointing. You just think you're making progress and then you feel like you're taking steps backwards.
I still have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


As the title says, I'm really fired up about the possibilities of the work that I'm doing at the moment. I'm working furiously to try and get the work ready so that we can get a firing in at the weekend. It's frustrating that I have to spend my day working in the real world. I could get my pottery done so much quicker if work didn't eat up all of my time! So, I'm spending every evening until 11pm in the studio. I just wanted to put a blog post on, as I'm aware that blogging seems to be done in fits and starts and I'm determined this time to post regularly.
Last night I managed to slip 8 bowls inside and outside, slip and handle a set of my new style mugs and then add names to them with some small printers stamps. I also managed to slip two large vases.
I did have a bit of a disaster at one point. In my rush to get on I grabbed a pot of slip off the shelf and immediately gave it a really good shake to mix it up. unfortunately the lid wasn't on properly and me and the studio ended up covered in cobalt blue slip! Fortunately, all of my work was under plastic and most of the slip hit me and the wall!
When I have had time to look online I've been scouring the web for ceramic decoration that appeals to me. I really loved the work of Terri Kern as it reminds me a lot of the type of illustration work that I loved when I was at university.

Crazy chicks want to get their noses into everything, I keep having to chase them out of the studio before they manage to get their beaks into anything.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

New decoration

Here's the lidded jar that I threw with the Keuper red clay the other day. I brushed slip on and then gave it 15 minutes to dry very slightly. While it was drying I sketched out some ideas for the decoration.
I'd had an idea at work the other day of using seahorses in the design. Seahorses have a special place in my heart, as I remember buying the dry bones of one when I was on a primary school trip to the zoo. I took the seahorse home, delighted with my souvenir. When I got home my dad went mad that I'd wasted my money on such a pointless item. There was a big row and I remember being really upset by the whole thing. I think my dad felt bad about the whole thing, because he later apologised (maybe mum had had words!). It's one of those childhood incidents that seems to have resonated through the years in our family. Whenever any of the family make a dubious purchase, the story of the seahorse surfaces again.
Anyway, my initial idea had been to have the seahorses face to face, forming the heart shape, with their tales entwined. I soon realised that there wouldn't be enough space on the pot without making the seahorses really tiny. I then thought about just getting the heart in. After a few sketches I managed to complete the design by incorporating the entwined tales as a filler between the hearts.
I'm please with the finished design and feel confident that I can improve it in future pots, given that this is sort of a prototype! It's going to be bisque this weekend and then glazed next week. I'll post a picture of the finished item then.
I'm so motivated at the moment and have more designs in my head than I have pots, or time to make them. They're all going into the sketchbook though and maybe they'll eventually see the light of day.

Monday, 16 September 2013

New clay

After speaking to Potclays (who are always a great source of advice) I've now bought some red stoneware clay (Keuper red), which I've been advised will help me to achieve the results that I want. I came home tonight really keen to make some pots that I can get dried in time for bisque firing at the weekend. However, I first had to clean up all the evidence of the white stoneware clay that I'd been using until now. I didn't want the new clay getting contaminated with the old clay. This turned into a bit of a mammoth task. I must have spent 2 hours scraping and washing the wheel tray, surfaces, bats and tools. It made me realise that I need to work in a more organised / tidy way. from now on I'm going to make sure that after every throwing session I wipe down the surfaces and remove waste clay from the wheel tray.
Eventually, I did manage to throw a simple jar and lid. I'll get this trimmed and slipped in the next couple of days, and then decorated at the end of the week before firing at the weekend. that's the plan at least!
The clay was a little softer than my previous batch of white stoneware and I was able to throw it easily. It felt smooth and very maliable, but wasn't too sticky. I'll keep you updated with how I progress.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Which clay? I'm confused!

Yesterday was spent milling about and checking the kiln every hour or so. The firing took around 12 hours and reached cone 10 at around 11:30 last night. I'd previously had problems getting to this temperature - the kiln always seemed to stall at around cone 8 or 9. I ended up emailing Simon Leach, who advised me to raise the bottom shelf off the kiln floor and create a little 'tunnel' to improve the airflow around the kiln. This seems to have worked.
I wasn't as excited as usual about this firing, as it was through necessity. I'd promised a customer a set of soup bowls and the original ones hadn't fired well and so this was attempt number 2. To ensure success I made twice as many as she'd ordered. As a result the kiln was full of these and very little else. 
The bowls were ok...I'm not delighted about the firing results, but it wasn't a disaster. The thing is, I'm getting bored of using the same glazes. Over the past few weeks I've subscribed to a few potter's blogs and they've really inspired me. I want to make my work more attractive and I really want to do more sgraffito and slip decoration. To get the results that I want I'm going to have to change the clay that I use. I've been using a white stoneware clay that's great for throwing. It's smooth and very plastic and over the past couple of years I've learned it's limitations. To achieve the results that I now want I'm going to have to change to a red clay. I'm beginning to feel a little bamboozled by the options available. Do I need a terracotta clay? Should I change to earthenware? Will I need an electric kiln?

A lot of the potters that I admire - Doug Fitch, Margaret Brampton, Hannah McAndrew to name but a few (...there really are loads), use red clay, which I assume they fire to earthenware temperature? If so, are their pots porous ie. are they functional? I'm relatively new to all this and I'm having to learn fro the snippets of info I find on the web. It's a slow process, with lots of mistakes, and lots of trial and error.

I need please!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Savouring the moment

No matter who I speak to nowadays, on the whole the story tends to be pretty similar. Everyone's too busy! Regardless of the job they do, or their personal circumstances it seems like we're all just expected to squeeze more into a day to maintain an average standard of living. As a result, the opportunities to stop and smell the roses become fewer as we rush through life.
Last weekend, I was watching Anna play on my wheel. She was completely absorbed by the feeling of the clay in her hands and I could tell that at that moment nothing else mattered to her other than achieving the shape that she had in her mind. I could completely empathise with her. Making pottery (for me at least) requires concentration. Even when I'm making a large repeat batch of pots, each one needs that focus, or before you know it you lose the form you're aiming for or even worse the pot! It's that level of concentration that makes it so appealing. You just have to switch off from everything else. After an hour on the wheel I always feel refreshed. I seem more able to relax and can put the rest of the day's stresses into perspective. It really is a good way of drawing a line under the day.

Anna concentrating and loving it!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

September sgraffito!

I feel that my pottery has taken a turn into a completely new direction this month and It's a long time since I've been this excited about something!

Saying that making pottery is a time consuming business really is an understatement. So, anything that speeds up the process has always been a bonus in my eyes. This month however, I've come to the realisation that maybe trying to speed things up isn't really allowing me to get the best out of myself and really reach my potential.
So, what's changed? Well, Jen suggested I decorated some plates with some hares and moons. I really liked the idea and began to think about how I could realise the image that was in my head. I knew that what I wanted would be difficult to achieve by painting on glazes - I did a couple of tests and wasn't happy with the results. The thing is I've always been good at drawing (I worked as an illustrator after university), and I wanted to use this skill. So, I decided to apply some brown slip to some white stoneware bowls that I had and then scratch it back to create the image (scgraffito technique).
The process is very time consuming. Funny thing is I got so engrossed in what I was producing that I didn't really care. By the time I reached the fourth bowl, several hours later, I'd really refined the design and felt that it was of a good standard (the image below is the first of the 4 bowls - I'll post pictures of the later bowls when they're fired).
As I scratched away I really began to feel that this was the beginning of something. Ideas for future designs began to flood my mind. I've been jotting them down in my sketchbook all week. I really can't wait to share them. Jen is trying to restrain my imagination, saying that I should develop the hare and moon design. She's absolutely right of course, but I'm keen to explore all my other ideas too. For the time being I'm going to stick with hares and moons, varying the design according to the pot. I'm doing caddies next, and maybe cups and saucers.
As for this being a time consuming process, well I've had to factor that into the price of these pots. Maybe they'll sell and maybe they won't, but I just hope that there are people out there who appreciate that a quality hand made item takes time to produce and has an associated cost. I'll try to keep the costs down, I really want people to enjoy these pots as much as I enjoy making them.
Keep checking in, there's a lot more to come!

This is the first bowl I used the scgraffito technique on. It hasn't been glazed or fired yet. Pictures to come next week.