First of all, thanks again to all of you who read my blog, and welcome to precious new readers. Making pottery is isolating work, and I am a curmudgeonly old thing these days who likes to toil alone. But I do like to compare notes with other potters, and writing about my process helps me make sense of things that I do habitually, and set down and preserve the things I learn with each firing. If you are interested in hands-on forming process, there is lots more at my original pottery blog, http://gingersteele.blogspot.com/.
Just about everything I learned from others or of figured out for myself is on this original blog. I’d like to get it all together and make a small hand building book to publish notebook style one of these days, but that lies ahead. This blog was supposed to be just for writing practice… but it does usually meander back to clay work. If you haven’t been there, there is also a lot of my work and some of the process blog posts at my Insomnia Pottery website, http://insomniapottery.com/.
Anyway… I took most of this past year off from pottery making to host my daughter’s wedding here at the farm the first weekend in August. I also skipped the Edmonds Art Festival this year to attend another wedding in LA in June, and didn’t jury for several other shows I regularly do. So I have only fired twice this year, first in early March and then again Thanksgiving Weekend. It was the first time that Steve was able to be here when I am firing. Here’s a favorite pot from this firing, claimed for Christmas by my kid Madeline months before the firing.
My boyfriend Steve is a take-charge kind of guy with a lot of practical skills. When we met, he had a beat-up Shimpo wheel marked #4 in his kitchen; just the kind of thing a potter woman likes to observe when first visiting the home of a man she has met and finds interesting. We’ve been seeing each for about a year and a half, and it’s been good. His home is in Washington, 157 miles to the northeast.
I had the load painted when he arrived for Thanksgiving Dinner, but pots were not yet wadded. Friday we started in to get everything ready for an early Saturday start. The load was hard to evaluate for volume, because it was mostly small pieces… lots of cups. Ultimately, there was about 1/3 of a load of painted and unpainted bisque for next time when all was in, but you don’t know that when you start loading.
I was eager to see some trial pieces of a new clay, Appy, that is from Clay Art Center in Tacoma. I’ve been using their Welches clay, but find it less than delightful to throw, and am bugged by a grit material that works its way to the surface at trimming time and drives me nuts. Welches is a very open clay body, which makes it serviceable for ovenware. This also means that it dries very quickly and I have to be careful to get it at the right stage for carving. If you haven’t done a lot of incising on pots, you may not appreciate how much the state of dryness of the pot changes the quality of the line you incise with your tool. I like to use a few stamps with the line work sometimes, and can never seem to catch the Welches pots wet enough for effective stamping.
I am always surprised when people think that I stamp the imagery on my thrown work. Hand built work in process is perfect to stamp; the clay blanks lie obediently flat on my work table and await every mark. It’s very hard to aggressively stamp a thrown piece and still retain a tight form.
I like the Appy clay. It’s very pleasant to throw and carve; smooth at trim time. No problem with handles, so I must just see what the color is like. Here’s a nice pot, thrown from Appy by my potter friend Steve Provence, Steve #2.
The warm brown clay surface in the cotton bolls (aw, you recognized them, right?) is the natural surface of the Appy clay in my kiln. I used to paint all my pieces with flashing slip made from Helmer and EPK, but stopped doing it a couple of years ago. One less step! It was essential for B-Mix, another superceded clay, but less essential when clays have more iron in their body.
I like most of the Appy pieces! Surface color is warm… nice distributed orange peel. The edge bleaching – one of the chemical mysteries of salt firing, along with where the heck the iron goes, is all as once might wish…. I am not so pleased with an open bowl from the top shelf. My usually reliable Oatmeal Skyline glaze is pocked and warted, ugly! I am not sure what is up with that – the top shelf is usually reserved for higher value vertical pieces which relish the extra vapors up there. I seldom place an open piece there. I’ll have to think about that…
This is Georgie’s Cannon Beach cone 10, which I used for years, and now only use for pieces where there will be no thermal shock. It’s a great handbuilding clay. These three pieces are all exactly the same clay and slips, and all were fired within inches of each other. Vaporous cobalt from my black slip flashes the gold slip green, I like it….
The whole load is rather dark, though good salt deposit is evident; and there was heavy reduction throughout. After 18 firings, I should know this kiln better, but it can still surprise me. I believe there are two reasons for the properties of this particular load. First, there is a control which regulates the quantity of air entering into the back of the burner that is part of the burner. Using this control, I did not allow as much secondary air into burner itself as I have done at other times. I was getting a good temperature rise each hour based on records from prior firings, so I just left it a bit tighter than normal on each burner.Have you ever seen a gas kiln at top temperature with flame licking of every tiny gap in the bricks? I have seen such moments, even on my own kilns. There are almost always small tongues of flame shooting from gaps during salting, when the damper is closed down to 1” to contain the vapors as long as possible. We see those interstices, those gaps when the damper is closed, but I have often wondered how much air they admit to the kiln when the temperatures are climbing in oxidation, or light reduction.
The use of an Oxyprobe of some sort could answer a lot of questions for me, but I haven’t seen fit to purchase one. At any rate, during the last firing, my kiln was tighter than it has ever been. Steve, who is a professional machinist and skilled woodworker, took on the task of laying up the door, and did a more precise job of it that I have ever done. I have a 12” wet saw about 6 feet from the kiln, and a big pile of scrap brick. That door was tight! There was almost no flame out, even during salting, and possibly much less air in during the firing.
Now, this is dark…. like a small, precious rock.
My farm and nursery have been for sale now for over a year, and for the first time I have some prospective buyers. Information has been going back and forth via my realtor, and I am starting to get serious about looking for a place to move. One of the first things that I consider when I evaluate a piece of property is whether or not I might be able to build a salt kiln on the site. For months, I have been looking at homes in southwest Portland and Beaverton. My daughters would like me to move closer to the city; to them and their partners and my hypothetical grandbabies. Those girls are 33 and 35 now, time’s a wastin’. There would probably be a studio in a basement, and terra cotta clay again for electric process. Howl!
As for the locations of my life, I’ve never lived anyplace since I was a kid where there have been trick-or-treaters , in other words, I’ve never lived in town. My dog barks at night, my boyfriend wants to bang on metal late at night, and I like lots of room to grow things. I’ve always wanted to build my own house, and have built a 32’x96’ office, a number of barns and outbuildings, and exactly 63 greenhouses as designer and general contractor, sometimes as operator of transit or spirit level. When I was building the nursery in the late 90’s, I spent so much time at the Washington County building department that I felt like I lived there. If I decide to build a home, I will hire an engineer make my plans acceptable to the county, and get started.
But today I am buying cuttings and seeds and putting a crop together as if I will be a bedding plant grower for another 40 years. There will be at least one more beautiful crop here at the nursery on Susbauer Road, and a few more loads of pottery as well most likely.
Among the lessons from this load, foremost is that the pieces built in play, for fun, are the best work. This little soy bottle, and the plant waterer pictured above, were both build from scrap on a day when I didn’t feel like throwing.
I don’t think I feel like throwing today.