Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cleaning the Studio : The end and the beginning

There's a rhythm to the work of pottery that, for me, culminates with cleaning the studio. It's always an exciting time because it speaks of a new throwing cycle just around the corner.

The first part of the cycle is coming up with new ideas and watching them become reality (or not!) at the wheel. But making a form is not all there is to it. Forms need to be refined during trimming, and many items require additional alterations such as attaching feet or handles or carving designs. This is what I love most about pottery: feeling the wet mud between my hands turn the shapes in my head into real pots.

I need to make enough pots during this part of the cycle to fill up my kiln. Once I have enough pots and they are bone dry, I go over each one and lightly sand all the burs out before loading them into the kiln.

Loading the kiln is also one of my favorite tasks. I like to stand surrounded by pots of different sizes and shapes and try to fit them into the kiln in the most efficient way. At the stage of the first (bisque) firing this just means trying to get all the pots into the kiln. But when the second (glaze) firing comes around it becomes a more exacting dance. I know going in that I won't be able to fit all the pots because glazed pots cannot touch each other or any surface (if they do they will become fused!). In addition, I have to bear in mind where each glaze has the best results since the kiln does not have an even temperature all the way through. So some glazes do better in the hotter parts of the kiln, while others prefer the cooler parts. Finally, I also have to keep in mind that I want the hot air to be able to flow around the pots. So, filling the kiln (particularly the glaze kiln) is like doing a giant three-dimensional puzzle.

But I got ahead of myself! After the first firing I check every pot for small burs and crumbs that need to be evened out using a small sanding stone to do the job. Next, I dip each pot in a bucket of water to wash off all the clay dust. Once all the pots have thus been cleaned and washed, I wax the feet and bottoms of each one. I do this to make sure that no glaze will come in contact with the kiln shelves during firing. If this happens the pot will get stuck to the shelf.

And once all the pots have been cleaned, washed, and waxed, it's time to glaze. I have several buckets of glaze that have to be moved out from their storage space to the middle of the studio where I can stir them or sieve them again if needed. I glaze by dipping the pots into the buckets. Once all the glaze has been absorbed into the pots, I wipe any excess that may remain on the bottom of the pot and start to fill up the kiln.

I clean the studio while the glaze load is firing. By this point I have made quite a mess and I've got everything out of place (which is a huge issue in a small studio!). So I start by moving the glaze buckets back to their spaces, putting other things where they belong and wiping down all the surfaces as I go.

Here are some pictures of the results of the current firing cycle. I'm ready to start again!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Becoming Environmentally Friendly

To reduce our energy use, our family decided to take advantage of our electric utility's renewable energy program. We pay a little bit extra every month, but all our energy comes from renewable (solar and wind) sources. This makes me feel a lot better about running the kiln to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit or running it overnight when I need to candle load of bisque! Check with your electric utility to see if they have a similar program.

Another way of saving energy is to drive a hybrid vehicle. I have 2005 Prius that gives me an average of about 50 miles to the gallon and I usually only need to fill the tank twice a month. Although the car might look small, it is actually very roomy. I have no trouble packing it with all my tables and boxes when I go to shows.

This year I invested in a pug mill to make it easier to reclaim and reuse all the clay from trimming pots and from the slop bucket. There is no wasted clay going into the landfill!

When it comes to paperwork, I use 100% recycled paper from my office supply store. And for shipping my pots, I get bubble wrap and peanuts from our local organic market, helping them recycle it and keeping it from the landfills.

At home, we also compost and have changed all the light bulbs to more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. We have also invested in a hybrid water heater, which uses significantly less energy.

I'm sure that I'll continue to find more ways to be more environmentally friendly both at home and in the studio. I'd love to hear what everyone else is doing to run an environmentally friendly studio.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Helping the Potters of Mashiko

Destroyed Hamada Platter
Destroyed Kiln in Mashiko

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan had a devastating effect on the potters of Japan. Information from Mashiko is that nearly all of the Nobori kilns have been destroyed. Damage to the Hamada Reference Museum has been very severe with priceless national treasures lost.

Donated Sushi Set
The Etsy Mud Team are working together to raise money to aid the potters of Mashiko. Members will donate 100% of the proceeds from sales of specific items to the relief fund set up by the internationally known Leach Pottery which has a long history with the village of Mashiko. (For more information: http://www.leachpottery.com/What-s-On/News-Feed.aspx). You can view and purchase the donated pieces here: http://www.etsy.com/people/theEtsyMudTeam/favorites?ref=pr_faveitems_more 
Donated bottle

Below are additional links for anyone interested in donating directly to  help rebuild the potteries.

Now is as good a time as ever to become acquainted with the work of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (http://craftemergency.org/) and think about your own emergency preparedness. The website has important information for artists, including the Studio Protector, a tool that provides information for preparing for and recovering from emergencies, including fires.