Saturday, January 23, 2016

Firing the Kiln in a Blizzard

A foot of snow and the blizzard is only half over.
Although the space heaters do a good job of keeping the studio warm, the very cold weather this past week has been a bit of challenge. Fortunately, I was ready with a kiln load to help keep the studio warm and cozy.

I fire overnight to save energy and money. The power company has installed a meter that records our hourly electricity usage so that now we can schedule things like running the kiln or charging the Nissan Leaf during non-peak hours, saving money and reducing our impact on the power grid.
Bisqued pots ready for unloading

I ran a bisque load overnight on Friday, January 15th and had a very warm studio on Saturday. The week was spent preparing the bisqued ware and glazing. All the pots were cleaned and the feet waxed. Then came the glazing and again, some more careful checking and cleaning of the glazed pots. 

Loading the kiln always takes me longer than I expect it to. I enjoy the puzzle quality of loading and stacking shelves and pots in the most efficient manner. Like a lot of other things about making pots, it can be very meditative. Although this time I was more in the mood for rock and roll than meditation, so I happily danced around while glazing.

Pots washed and waxed, ready for glazing
I decided to throw caution (and worries about power outages during the *historic* blizzard of 2016) to the wind and ran a glaze firing last night (Friday, January 22nd). The kiln ran mostly after 10pm and the firing was completed at 1:30am. Opening the kiln probably won't happen until tomorrow sometime. But today, I can work in the warm studio and ignore the piling snow. No worries about cold hands and cold feet!

I make an awful mess when I glaze!
There's a foot of snow outside now (noon on 1/23/16) and it's supposed to keep snowing at least until tonight. The wind has picked up in the last hour. 

I am very grateful that I am in a warm house with a fully-loaded Kindle and a warm studio. I am grateful that my 5 kids and their families are also warm at home and the grandchildren are reportedly having a great time playing in the snow. Life is good!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mixing Glazes

My display at Manassas Clay
I visited Manassas Clay today. Fran Newquist and Jane Cullum have created a wonderful full-service pottery where you can take classes, rent studio space, fire your work, exhibit your pottery, mix glazes, and buy pottery supplies. Situated in the old city of Manassas, Manassas Clay and Tin Barn Pottery Supply has been going strong for over 15 years.

Today, I brought new work to replenish what had sold. I cleaned up my shelves and reorganized. It was also a day for mixing and buying glazes. I got 15 lbs of Laguna Satin White and mixed 10 lbs of Randy's Red. I also mixed 2000 grams of Variegated Slate Blue. 

The fully stocked glaze kitchen at Manassas Clay
The slate blue glaze has been giving me a very difficult time. Even with the new kiln, it continues to be a problem. I plan to mix this new batch in a brand new bucket using distilled rather than tap water. If it doesn't go back to the being the great blue glaze it used to be I will have to (sadly) say that I'm done with it and start looking for a new blue glaze. In December I bought four commercial blue glazes to try out but I'm not happy with any of them. I tried a cobalt blue from Standard which is okay and actually sold, but I don't really like how shiny and dark blue it is. The other two glazes I tried were Oasis Blue from Laguna and Pam's Blue from Coyote. Unless I made a mistake, which I don't think I did, these seem to be the same glaze. It's an ugly green when thin but more attractive when applied more thickly. I might return to the Oasis Blue and work a bit more with if I can't find something else. Finally, I tested Coyote's Mottled Blue, which I like but it's more gray than blue. I made the mistake of applying it a little on the thick side and had to do a lot of shelf grinding.

I also mixed test batches of two new glazes. One is Waterfall Brown from the Mastering Cone 6 Glazes book (p. 106-107).* I've been staring at it on the cover of that book for ages and it was just time to try it. The other is Matte Iron Red from John Britt's new book, The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes (p. 88-89). I'll be holding my breath because both of these mouth-watering glazes are a bit tricky.

Keeping the water warm on top of the heater
It was cold and sunny again: 20 degrees F when we got up this morning. The water in the bottle I forgot in the car was frozen. But it did warm up to 40 degrees later in the day. Drying in the studio are 12 brie bakers, a cheese bell, 6 mugs, and 2 cylinders for a very, very large lamp.

*Mastering Cone 6 Glazes by John Hesselberth and Ron Roy has been out of print for a while and I believe that there are no plans for updates or reprints. Note that this great book, that I bought for $39.95 when it came out, is selling for $163 on Amazon. A black and white version is available for $24.95.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bright, Sunny January Day

The window in the old part of the studio
 It was 46 degrees F when I went to the studio at 11:30am today: a bright, sunny day with a bit of wind. Inside the studio it was 56 degrees F with the heater on low overnight. The studio stays much warmer now because the addition that Chris built in 2014 has an honest-to-goodness door instead of the barn doors that were in the old studio. Those old doors let all kinds of cold air in. I am so grateful to Chris for having built the addition, not only do I have so much more space, but it's sunnier and warmer.

Old half of the studio with the new kiln
The "old" part of the studio now houses the glazes and work tables, with pride of place going to the new kiln I got last September. It's an L&L E23t-3 with a down draft vent; and I even got new furniture to go with it. I had my previous kiln, a manual Skutt, for 21 years. So I guess I deserved a new, programmable kiln for my 65th birthday. What a treat! I learned quickly how to work the computer and I'm delighting in how much simpler it is to get a good firing! 

The new air-tight door
Sunlight was streaming through the window and the glass front door today and, for a while, I was able to work without turning on the lights. 

I finished the last 3 Starry Nights lamps and made 6 brie bakers. It doesn't sound like much for a whole afternoon because of the time-consuming lamps. I figured out that carving out each stars takes one minute, and each lamp has about 45 to 50 stars!

Still carving lamps!

Friday, January 1, 2016

First Day of 2016

Hairy Woodpecker
It was 49 degrees F and overcast today at 1pm. Apparently the unseasonably mild weather will be ending soon. We certainly did enjoy it while it lasted. Chris has been painting his shed, and I went to the zoo w/ some of the grandkids on the day after Christmas. It was short sleeve weather!

 The bird feeder has been a great source of entertainment, as usual. A hairy woodpecker has been coming around to the great annoyance of the resident downy woodpecker. A local Cooper's hawk has decided to include our bird-feeders in its rounds and seems to have made a meal of one of the wrens as well as a mourning dove. The Coopers is a beautiful bird but I'm really unhappy that it's going after "our" birds. Chris has taken to shooing it away whenever he sees it.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Sales in my Etsy store left much to be desired this year. Among the many changes Etsy made last year was getting rid of "ceramics and pottery" as a category. Pottery is now found in "home decor" and "kitchen and dining" and it really gets lost among all the other stuff. Lucky for me (and many other Etsy potters), Amazon launched its Handmade on Amazon site just in time for the holidays. I opened an Amazon store in October and was really pleased with the results. In fact, sales on Amazon more than made up for the shortfall on Etsy. Also, I found that Amazon shoppers tend to buy higher-priced items.

People were out doing some serious shopping at the City of Fairfax Holiday Show in mid-November and the City of Falls Church Holiday Show in early December. I had my best shows ever this year. My ornaments and trinket dishes are big sellers. Although these are low-price items people buy them by the dozen and more. Several people bought between $60 and $100 worth of ornaments at one time. That's a lot of ornaments!

Cooper's Hawk
So all in all, it turned out to be a very good year. I ended up making a small profit even after paying for the new L&L kiln I got in September.

It was 64 degrees F in the studio with the space heater on low. I pugged 50 pounds of BMix5 together with about 25 pounds of Little Loafers reclaim. That got my blood flowing! Afterwards I carved two Starry Nights lamps. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get the two lamps done. That's a lot of work. I think I'm going to raise the prices again because, as it is, I have a hard time keeping them in stock. I still have 3 more blanks ready to carve.

This is happening in the studio today.