Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kiln Opening!

I woke up with a start at 2:30 am today thinking that I had forgotten to turn the kiln up to high before going to bed. I guess it's the potter's equivalent of worrying about whether or not the stove is off when you leave the house. There I was in the wee hours of the morning with my flashlight making my way out to the studio. The good news was that I had remembered to turn the kiln up to high and it had fired properly.

The bad news was that I forgot to close the top peephole. This is not so terrible, but it meant that the kiln took longer to get to cone and the pieces on the top shelf that were glazed in Pharsalia Blue were more tan than blue. (I like this glaze for exactly that reason, but most customers like the deeper blue.) One tray (on the far right of the photo) was more tan on the side facing the peephole and blue on the side farther from it, while another that was to the left of the peephole was dark blue because it was not directly in line with the source of cooler air.

I unloaded the kiln this afternoon, after spending a perfectly lovely morning glazing with Jane, Jennifer and Lynn. I don't usually use the words "lovely" and "glazing" in the same sentence; glazing is definately not my favorite endeavor, but any chore gets done quickly in good company!
I should have waited a bit more to unload but, as usual, I am impatient to see the results, especially since I had some new items in this load. Things don't usually go well when I'm impatient and that was the case this time. As I was removing the last shelf, one of the kiln posts got stuck to the bottom of it (this wouldn't have happened if the kiln had been cooler) and, of course, came off in mid-air, crashing down on one of my new pieces and breaking it. Not too happy with myself about that!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Raku, Pit Firing & Post-fired Finishes

As I mentioned earlier, the raku/pit firing workshop was a lot of fun! I am especially happy with the raku results. The vase and the mask were the first two I pulled out of the fire. Then came this wonderful little surprise:
I put the glaze on too thickly and the result was this beautiful bubbly "mess." This is just such a cool little bottle vase! But not everything turned out this well. My last little bottle vase was a big disappointment. I think I know what happened to it: I covered the can too quickly and the combustible material didn't have a chance to really catch fire because when I opened the can most of it was unburned.

Pit Fired
Pit firing was an afterthought. I had focused on making a few pots for the raku fire and did not focus on the pit firing. As a result, I neglected to make suitable pots using a smooth clay body such as B-Mix and I also neglected to burnish the pots. All I had was a couple of vases and a small box that were made using the same clay I had used for the raku firing. No matter, I decided to go ahead and try them out in the trash can "pit." All three pieces turned out really nice: smoky black w/ patches of white where pots touched each other and no smoke was able to get to the clay. Also, a pattern of white dots developed on the pots.

Post-fired Finishes
The last piece was the small box. It came out of the fire looking just lovely: all smoky black with just one area of white. I decided to experiment with post-fired finishes and used metallic gold acrylic paint to embellish three areas on the box where the clay was impressed with a pattern. I also used a clear non-fired glaze on the box. I loved the outcome! However, all is not success stories in my studio. I have an unfortunate tendency toward clumsiness. I dropped the lid of the box and the beautiful impressed knob shattered. Here are the remains of my lovely box:

Another experiment with acrylics turned out a lot more promising. I kind of like the look of this box! I made it following Pam Eisenmann's dry brushing techniques. I have not decided how or if to use a non-fired glaze on it since a previous attempt on another piece yielded a milky look. We'll see what eventually comes of this, but it certainly was a lot of fun to experiment!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Charan Sachar's Color Feature

Charan Sachar is a spectacularly creative potter from Seattle, Washington, who makes pieces inspired by the colors of his native India. Check out his Etsy store and you'll know what I mean. His dancing diva wall sculptures seem to have been taken directly from a Bollywood movie! And the color dance doesn't stop there, even his salt and pepper shakers dance!

His fascination with color has prompted Charan to do a "Color of the Week" feature on his blog. This week's color is buttery cream and Charan has featured one of my platters. Do visit Charan's blog and Etsy site, I promise that you'll be bookmarking them!

Thanks Charan!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Raku and Pit Firing at Pig Pen Pottery

What can be more fun than a bunch of women (and one fellow!) playing with fire?

Last Saturday I joined a group of potters from the Kiln Club for an afternoon of raku and pit firing at Hidden Springs Farm, a pre-revolutionary farmstead that is home to Laura Nichol and Pig Pen Pottery. Laura choreographed our dance around the raku kiln while Mia van Zelst showed us her terra sigillata technique for burnishing pots for sawdust firing.

Our raku dance was a sight to see as, on Laura's cue, we each pulled our red-hot piece out of the kiln and placed it in a can with flammable material to begin the reduction process. Flames shot up as the hot piece touched the material in the can and we threw in more sawdust before covering the can tightly. Thus starved of oxygen, the fire pulls the chemical oxygen in the clay and glazes before consuming itself. We had great results! I am particularly happy with a mask and a vase that show all the effects of the fire.

The sawdust firing was done with cedar chips in a metal can. I had two vases and a small box in that firing. All three came out beautifully: dark black from the smoke with ghostly white shapes where the pieces touched each other and were thus protected from the effects of the smoke.

At the end of the evening we gathered on the gallery of Laura's house to share a delicious potluck supper (potter's are such great cooks!). My only regret is that I didn't take more photos, but I was too busy having a wonderful time! I got home late in the evening, dirty and smelling of smoke, but very happy with my four raku pots and three pit fired pots. More importantly, it was great to spend an afternoon enjoying the company of such generous potters and partaking of the view and the great food. Oh yes!, and I also brought home a dozen farm-fresh eggs from Laura's chickens.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Manassas Clay Window

I've always said that potters are very selfless, caring and giving people and here's another example: I was supposed to do the window at Manassas Clay during May, but I had been under the weather the month before and was unable to do it. Enter my wonderful friend Jennifer Dinkelmeyer, who was doing the June window. She invited me to share the window with her this month! If you're in the area, please visit Manassas Clay and check out our window!