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!


Linda Ellett said...

What a great looking kiln load!!

julie cavender said...

You said it all very well! Nice glaze load in the pictures.