Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Gift of Really Seeing

As the year ends with Christmas shoppers hopefully buying lots of gifts of pottery I am wishing everyone success in their journey in clay. My aim for 2013 is to make better pots - especially in terms of form. For this I need to keep training my eye - need to really look at pots. Here is a cup that I bought about 8 years ago. I rarely make bright blue pots and so I guess that's why I sometimes buy them. At the time I thought it was not bad - not great but not bad. Years later I can see that it is a very bad handle and not a very stylish cup at that - not a good foot nor an inspiring form - so actually a pretty bad cup.
Cup with fly away handle - lacking a good foot and
uninspiring shape that I bought several years ago..
My mentorship with Steven Hill  really helped me to look critically at pots and actually see what I was looking at. I thought that over the past few years I had become much more adept at this - especially at discerning good form. I was quite disappointed recently when I bought a cup and totally missed the handle part of it. I bought it because of the colour - a rutile blue - which we have been trying to get in our gas kiln at the Guild with mixed success. It would be an example of what we would strive for. It was not until I brought it home and looked at it again that I realized how bad the handle was.

Handle all wonky - it would not have
 taken much for the potter to round out the handle at least.
Yet it was so obvious - I had been seduced by the colour. I was so disappointed in myself.. It just goes to show you really need to work at "seeing" a pot as a whole. So how can we expect the buying public to choose good design and a well made pot if an experienced  potter like myself can't see it sometimes. So here is wishing everyone  in 2013 the gift of really seeing - seeing good form, good function and making great pots.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fusion Mentorship - November Meeting

Well it was another great meeting - well worth the drive in iffy weather on partially snow covered roads. Fortunately at this time of the year and on early Saturday morning there was little traffic on our portion of the Trans Canada highway . At the October meeting I was last to talk about my work - so this time I had to go first. I was not able to glaze any of the pots as our gas firing was not until the following week so I just took bisque ware of my three themes.

One thing that stuck in my mind that Keith said and that echoed Steven Hills philosophy - you have to keep improving. If you make a great pot - next time make an even better one. If you keep on doing the same thing your pots eventually end up stale.

Well I had worked on the singing ladies/go-go-girls. This time I threw and altered them. It was fun to do - especially adding details - sort of like playing dress-up with dolls - though you would think I would be way too old for that. They ended up a lot fatter, with less movement that I had hoped - so I now have the Three Sopranos. They actually are functional with the hands being stoppers on spouts on the left and right ones and the heads are lids. Next time I will try for thinner and taller and a more youthful looking trio. I would also like the push outs to fit together better so when they are side by side they fit tightly.
The Three Sopranos - thrown and altered. (Photo by Judith Ingwersen)
The Bottom Billion again I had trouble with - I had a sketch which I liked better as the top had much more emphasis that what I actually ended up with. We've all seen aid trucks handing out food in Africa and all the hands reaching up to grab the food - that was what I was looking for. The fish dangling from the top represents the food - and only one fish - so little of it for all those people. The pot sits on an oil slick - representing the natural resources and pollution that is left behind when companies come in to mine the natural resources. The reason that all those countries are in the bottom billion is that they have corrupt governments and are rich in natural resources. That way it is easy for companies to bribe the government officials, so the companies get the resources at a bargain price, leaving the pollution behind while the general population does not benefit at all. I highly recommend the book "The Bottom Billion" which deals with why a billion people are living in 12th century conditions and what can be done about it.
The Bottom Billion - hands reaching up. A fish is supposed to
hang down from the round knob under the  top. (photo by Judith Ingwersen)
The hands need work and the shape of the pot needs to correlate better with the hands and the oil slick needs to be a much more integral part of the pot.

We all agreed that the top needed more work, with suggestions that the fish had biblical connotations and so maybe added gold luster to it would really add emphasis to it. Someone else thought the top was a book - but  it was just a top. Now that I think of it - an open book would be a good idea - more connection to the book A Bottom Billion.

The nuclear theme had me stumped for a while and I finally managed to come up with some ideas as a first go. The cooling towers for nuclear plants have a shape that is ideal for a cup - and I made a spoon that has a handle like a steam cloud that added a whimsical touch to a serious subject. Canadian nuclear reactors are very different from those used in the rest of the world - they do not use cooling towers. However due to the Three Mile Island accident in the U.S. in the 1980's, cooling towers have become synonymous with nuclear power plants,. Candu reactors have fuel in bundles that is quite attractive design wise. So I made a trivet out of the end design of a fuel bundle. So that is my source of heat. (After all - all that a nuclear plant is - the most complicated method we have a boiling water.) I was going to use this as trivets for each cup, but it is way too time consuming to make them, unless I develop a casting approach to them. So instead to using them under the cups I decided to make a coffee pot and put it on the trivet.
Candu fuel bundle
The term Rad on the coffee pot - has a double meaning - rad being a unit of radiation and also meaning fantastic, unique, great -. I called it The Coffee Set for the 45%. (45% is the % of the world population that supports nuclear power according to a Sept 2012 global survey.).) The cups I decorated with slogans like 100% carbon free and I made plain trivets for the cups with other slogans - like "Nuclear power or climate change?" and "Power to save the world!' - sort of hokey - but it's a start.
The cups do not match the coffee pot in design, so next time I will try a cooling tower coffee pot.
Coffee set for the 45%. (Photo by Judith Ingwersen)
I need a better method to transfer the writing to the pots. I used the gum arabic and linseed oil with stains and xerox copies as shown on Ceramics Art Daily.

The pots really need to be a soft leather hard to transfer the printing well - so I need to practice more or else come up with another method using silk screening or decals. It was suggested that I glaze them bright yellow with black lettering - that would really stand out but those are the colours used on nuclear hazard signs. So not an image that I want to project. I want to project an everyday, safe, industrial process.

I did not do any work on the rock wall forest vase for this meeting.
So I have my four themes - rockwall forest vase, the signing ladies/go-go girls, the Bottom Billion and the nuclear theme. Maybe too many themes, but I am sure that I will narrow things down as time goes on. Our next meeting isn't until the middle of January so hopefully should have lots of time to work on things.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fusion Mentorship - October Meeting

Well I had 5 weeks to ponder, to make and to fire my pieces for the October meeting. The whole meeting was sort of like Christmas morning with the opening of presents - each participant took their turn unwrapping and presenting their pots - it was so exciting as I couldn't wait to see what they had come up with! My fellow journey women all came up with brilliant ideas! I was totally blown away by some of the creativity - wish I had thought of some of those things!

There are several  themes that I decided to pursue. First I decided to continue with the stone fence theme from our farm. The huge fences remain as evidence of an earlier age when hard work was the norm. The fences are made from glacial granite boulders and as there were few flat stones building these fences was not easy. I often look at those carefully placed stones and imagine how the calloused hands of the farmer were the last ones to touch those stones over 100 years ago.

I thought I might start the stone fence and then turn it into a pot and then  turned it back into the fence again. However that prototype turned out rather ungainly and so I abandoned it, though I will think about it some more. I decided to do what I had done previously, the fence coming from just one side - so not very original but I think right now it is to get as many things out there and see where they will lead. I find the forest on our farm very magical - mysterious at times and full of spirits of the past as many areas of what once were fields have now returned back to the forest, with only overgrown stone fences cutting straight lines through the trees. It is certainly easy to breathe the air there - it is pure and cleansing. So I keep coming back to stone fences and trees. Some suggestions from the meeting were to extend the vase - add wings to make it bigger. That reminded me that I had really gotten into a rut with these slab vases - all basically the same shape. So will have to work on that.
Forest vase with stone fence at end
It was suggested that pot shape had
 possibilities without the stones - will try to
make bottoms more interesting,
So the second theme was to be based on a book that I had read - The Bottom Billion - about how a billion people today live in conditions that existed during the 12th century. I have been thinking of doing something with that idea for quite some time. I made a sketch but what developed was very different again from what I had sketched - it ended up sort of like forest spirits. Keith's comment was that it had lots of movement - with which I agree - however the overall idea that it projects is not very clear - certainly not people in need nor forest spirits.

Sketch - lots of faces with hands reaching out for a dangling fish. -
kind of representing the bottom billion.

What I ended up with - not sure what it represents.
The third theme that I decided to follow came from Keith's comment on some of my applique work - that I could carry it further and the pot would actually become the figure. Again I had made sketches of people pots but surprise, surprise - again diverged greatly from the sketch. It ended up a bottle that became a woman singing - it was done with slabs and when joined it was pushed out to round it out and to create the fullness of the body.
On left - the slab template was to be another stone fence theme.
On right  a singing lady from thrown pot

Trio of pots - trying to show lots of movement -
sort of go-go girls from the 1960's.
Slab pot from stone fence template - ended
rounding up the areas to fill them out. It ended up
rather stilted as the top stick up too stiffly-
I think thrown will give it more movement.
The last theme that I thought I would try to work on was some sort of connection to the nuclear industry. Deep River is the company town for Atomic Energy of Canada's Chalk River Labs - sort of the Los Alamos of Canada. Our town welcome sign says - Home to Canada's Atomic Pioneers.  Nuclear energy is something that I am familiar with as I worked for over twenty years in Public Affairs at Chalk River giving tours of the reactors. This theme will be hard one - as there is a lot of negative connotation to the nuclear theme - but of course that is not what I want to convey. This will require some serious thinking on my part - will need lots of alpha waves for this as I am totally in the dark on how I should start. As a result I did not do any pots for this one, but put in lots of thinking and research on ideas and  images on the web.
Nuclear? Be happy!
So next meeting on Nov 24 - so will really have to think, sketch, plan and work to pull something further from those themes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Imagine - How Creativity Works - Part 2: Unconcealing the Working Memory

In his book Johan Lehrer explains about the second essential tool of the creative process - the working memory. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where the working memory is located - this is where it connects all the ideas, experiences that we have had. It allows us to unconceal their connections and allow us to reject or choose the ones we want to express. The more things and experiences you are exposed to, the more unconcealing there is to do and the more you will have to choose from.

Once you have an insight, you need lots of work to refine it. You need persistence to fine tune that flash of insight. This is where the unconcealing of the working memory comes in. You need to be focused and you need to persevere in examining the problem - trying this and that to get the best possible outcome. This is where caffeine or amphetamines can be of use - they allow you to stay alert and to concentrate on unconcealing all those connections in the working memory. Also if you are unhappy, though you are less likely to have an insight, unhappiness can act like a small dose of amphetamines and you become more observant and persistent - so it helps in refining an idea. Severe sadness if often associated with creativity.

There is a third aspect to the creative process that Lehrer talks about - letting go. It means that we need to be able to make mistakes, we do not need to be perfect. The area of the brain called DLPFC  is associated with impulse control. It is the last area of the brain to fully develop in children and it stops us doing things like stealing, grabbing at food, etc. It acts like mental handcuffs. When we worry about making mistakes, about what people will think when we make art - those are the DLPFC handcuffs. Jazz musicians - once they start improv, their DLPFC becomes deactivated. Improve comedians at Second City are taught to do the same. Once you are free - so to speak - you now need to have something to say - art, song, jokes etc. - you need to start creating.

When do you know what kind of creativity you need - insight or unconcealing?
If you feel you are getting closer to the solution, then unconcealing is needed - so go get a coffee and mope over your bad luck as you work on the problem. If you feel you have hit a brick wall, then you need an insight so go do something different like take a stroll on the beach, listening to you favorite relaxing music.

So analyze your problem - insight or unconcealing and let go!  And do not worry about what people will think!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Imagine - How Creativity Works. Part I: Insights

The Fusion mentorship program has made me think about creativity and so when I came across this book in our library - 'Imagine - How Creativity Works', by Johan Lehrer,  I just had to take it out. What an amazing book! He writes that our most important talent is our ability to imagine what has never existed! 

It explains various types of creativity (that it is a catchall phrase for several distinct types of thought processes.), their the biological connections in the brain, how to increase your chances of having creative thoughts, etc, etc. and he gives lots of examples.

The first part deals with insight creativity - those moments of insight when out of the blue a totally new solution comes to us. He explains how those will never happen until you are totally stumped in trying to solve a problem and have given up and then - and only then, will you perhaps end up with an insight that will lead to the solution. Feeling frustrated is essential to the creative process.

Brain studies have shown that scientists can predict up to 8 seconds before a creative insight occurs - there is a huge firing of steady alpha waves in the right hemisphere and then, as well, just before the insight occurs the visual cortex often is silenced. (We've often seen people cover their eyes when thinking hard.). If there are no alpha waves in the right hemisphere then the problem will never be solved, even if people are given obvious clues to the problem.

How to increase your chances of insight? Be happy, (watch funny movies, shows), relax,  no caffeine, no alcohol or drugs, (which all dampen activity in the right hemisphere), day dream (but it must the right kind of day dreaming where you are still somewhat aware so you can capture the daydream,) lay in bed when first waking up (that is when your right hemisphere is most active) and let your mind wander (set your alarm a bit early so you do not have to rush out of bed in the morning). I wrote about this in an earlier post - the creative writing course students at MISSA were instructed to take a nap in the afternoon to increase their creativity. Also by adding constraints to how a problem can be solved you are more likely to get stumped and so need to become more inventive - have to look beyond the obvious - like in Haiku vs "usual" poetry. Inability to focus - where you are open to all sorts of ideas and possibilities also results in more creative ideas. Being surrounded by a blue background rather than a red one also helps - just thinking of far horizons (blue sky) or beaches (blue water) increases the alpha waves in the right hemisphere.

Trying to force an insight - relentlessly focusing on it - has the opposite effect. It never gets you to the creative insight. You need to go away and do something different, forget about the problem. Do something to get you to relax and into a happy positive mood.
So do whatever it takes and let those alpha waves roll in!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What if?

I often make a bunch of little kiln fillers that I don't spend a lot of time on - like small extruded vases and olive canoes - usually from a mixture of leftover clays. For the little vases I normally just paddle the tops to thicken the rims. Then I cut a circle slightly bigger than the tube and paddle it onto the bottom, paddling up the edge. Soon however Keith's voice from our first mentorship meeting started echoing in my head - "what if?" I decided then to use whatever bits and pieces were left over for the bottoms, as long as the piece was big enough to cover the it. Then when I paddled up the bottom edge, it made the bottom much more interesting and casual. Then I asked another what if ? What if rather then just randomly cut leftovers, what if I cut out a pattern? Another different look.

I had spent the late Sept afternoon working on these little vases on the porch of the little cabin that we had spent all summer building. It is up the hill from the wood kiln and overlooks the Ottawa Valley. As I finished each vase I lined up them upon the railing. It was a wonderful sight with the fall colours in the valley as a backdrop. It had been a glorious day to work with clay and to spend asking "What if?"
Not the best photo to see details of bottoms, but you can see the progression from the plain bottom on the right to more intricate cutout bottom pieces on left.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fusion Mentorship with Keith Campbell

Fusion - the Ontario Clay and Glass Association has offered its second Fusion mentorship program. It will run from Sept 2012 until the summer or fall of 2013. There are two mentors - Rita Redner in the Ottawa area and Keith Campbell  in North Bay. Since North Bay is only 1 1/2 hours away vs 2 hours for Ottawa and Keith is more inclined to do work that carries a message I felt that he was a better fit for me.
I could hardly wait until Sept 8 and 9th and to meet my fellow journeymen - or rather women in this case.. There are 9 of us - 4 from the North Bay area and the others from as far away as Sault St Marie, Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa and Deep River (me) and we are meeting in the ceramics room at Canadore College in North Bay.
We had a two day introductory session.  On the first day Keith explained how he creates - always pushing the status quo and asking, "What if - what if I did this or that?"   He is also the master of the stencil and spray gun - and his pieces are simply exquisite - with very detailed, and elegant craftsmanship.
Stenciled image using mouth sprayer and underglaze.

Stenciled image stretched.
An example of stretching your idea - both literally and figuratively is his idea of stretching the stenciled clay - it is amazing how it can energize the image, yet still remain recognizable. (By the way it is a photo of the Canadian Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson.)  So we all had lots to ponder over after the first day.
You can see some of Keith's finished work here -  As he says, his work  is "a fusion of ideas, form and communication".

On the second day we saw presentations of each others' work. Since most of us were strangers to each other we were really curious as to what sort of work we all do - and it was amazing - a wide variety - from functional to sculptural.
So this band of journey women with their fearless leader (Keith will be working along with us) have started on their voyage of discovery into the unknown - 10 different backgrounds, 10 different styles, 10 different goals which will culminate in an exhibition in the fall of 2013 together with the Ottawa program.
So on the drive home I had 1 1/2 hours to think about what direction I will be taking. - so many paths, so many choices and so many ideas that will all have to percolate in my brain for a while before I can tease something out.
As this will be my second time that I will be doing a mentorship program - the first was in 2008-09 with Steven Hill -  I hope that I will be able to rise to the challenges. I also intend to blog here this second journey again as I found that is was very beneficial as it not only helps to keep my ideas on track, but often by writing them down, it helps to generate new ideas.
Our homework - have three pieces finished for the next meeting on Oct 13th. Yikes!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Salt Soda and Wood - A Success - Part III

For my part I had to scramble to get pots that I really liked for the show. My last two wood firings at  the beginning of June and July were real disasters. (See the train wreck posts.) so I did not have the pots that I had hoped. However I did manage to put together 6 new pieces apart from the pots that I had saved from last year.
"A Bouquet for the 21st Century" - is similar to a piece that I had done for fun last year. It was one of the few carbon trapped shino glazes that worked out OK. The oil barrels got nicely burnt and aged with carbon trapping.

A Bouquet for the 21st Century
Another piece consisting of 4 egg cups also ended up OK, though I could not use the wood fired egg as it had cracked - so had to use an earthenware one that I had made for a similar piece two years ago. I called it "Homage to Rachel Carson and Silent Spring". Her 1962 book was really the start of the environmental movement and detailed how DDT found its way into the food chain. The DDT would result in eggs having very thin shells so that when nesting, the large birds especially, would end up cracking the eggs - resulting in a decline of many bird species- hence a silent spring.
"Homage to Rachel Carson and Silent Spring" - shino woodpecker
cups with wood block and pileated woodpecker chippings and earthenware egg

Vase with Rocks - woodfired. Shino with slips and glazes
On our farm there are huge stone fences that the first settlers in the late 1800's started building when they were clearing the land. Today they are slowly being overtaken by the forest and I have been trying to incorporate something about these fences in my pots. This is the second version of Vase with Rocks that I have made. I don't think that either of them were very successful - what I wanted was a seamless transition form vase to rocks - sort of vase turning into a rock fence. However it was fun to try and it was fun arranging the rocks as well every time I had to move the vase. I intend to work on that theme some more.

I also had several of my appliqued tree pots  - a couple which made it through the last two firings - so over all I think I ended up with a decent display and hope that I upheld to the quality that my co-exhibitors are noted for, though I think I will have to work some more on my seams and bottoms..

We also had a few large photographs of us firing our kilns with an explanation of each process, so it was not only an artistic experience but an educational one as well for the gallery visitors.
Many thanks to Anya Blake of South of 60  - who set up our exhibit and who does a superlative job of curating shows there. In just a few years she has turned the old railway station in Barry's Bay into a great resource and arts center for the area.
Woodland vase - MD Shino - woodfired

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Salt Soda and Wood - A Success - Part II

Dan Hill is one of the few potters that soda fires to cone 6. He is well known for the wide variety of beautiful functional work, and from time to time he also strays into purely artistic work with great effect.

Corner display with Dan Hill's "Time Capsule"
at the back and his two jugs - one wood and the
other salt (blue one)

Dan Hill's pitcher set - soda fired

In the show I especially liked his large covered jar - that had the lid wired down with steel wire and crimped shut - entitled "Time Capsule". His other large jar was very different - with a high iron glaze that results in small crystals that give the glaze an amazing amount of interest. He had three large, boldly designed jugs - each fired the three ways The blue was salt, the browny one was wood fired.( It just had a few dots of blue slip on bare clay ) and the soda one used his signature combination of white slip with blue and black slip trailing on the soda flashed bare clay. So totally different looks. However this time different clays played a role as well, as Dan fires just to cone 6, but the salt and wood firings were cone 9 and 10 respectively.
Dan's high iron glazed jug - soda fired
Dan Hill's wall plaque - Storm Warning - slip and soda
I loved his wall plaques which really stood out - both visually and artistically as he frames them on the back with a strip of clay that goes all the way around, but angle sharply inward so it really pops the flat surface off the wall. Also his surfaces remain absolutely flat - no sagging or warping during construction or firing..
Another very outstandng  piece which unfortunately was not given justice as it was displayed in the small cabinet and not on a plinth was a triptych. It had holes in the top holding long rods of clay that had flashed wonderfully in the soda. I thought he was influenced by the view from his studio which is at the top of a slope and overlooks a swampy area with bullrushes. You can see more of Dan's work as he is also on the Madawaska Valley Studio Tour on Sept 28 and 29.
Dan's triptych - wonderful flashing around the tops of the
clay rods.

Dan's squared canister set - soda.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Salt Soda and Wood - A Success! Part I

Well the show that I was participating in closed near the end of August - and by all reports was a great success - we even sold lots of pots! We (Tim Storey - salt, Dan Hill - soda and me - wood) have kilns all within half an hour of each other and work independently. This time, although we would use our own kilns, we would also put a few pieces in each others' kilns which was exciting and so we had a few representative pieces fired three different ways. As there were three different potters, three different styles and three different methods of firing there was always something for visitors to like!
(I have to apologize for the pictures - they are not the best - I always am too impatient when taking pictures.)

Below are pictures of Tim's meticulously crafted and very expressive wall birds for which he is justly famous - all roasted 3 different ways. Yum! Tim uses a mixture of metal oxides to colour his creations and in the wood the colours, especially the black on the birds ended more washed out, resulting in more brown and orange tones than in the salt.

In the soda, his bird ended up with turquoise blue colours around the head - we were not sure, but it possibly came from copper fuming . The best wood results I thought were on one of his mortar and pestle sets of which I unfortunately do not have a picture, but there were bright yellow and green flashs as well as the brown and blacks.

Tim Storey's Bird - salt fired
Soda fired
 and wood fired
Tim Storey's Gravy Boats - salt
Tim's regal ocean liner with 3 of his teapots and gravy boats - all salt

Tim's fish and snail teapots - salt.
I really liked his "gravy boats" - went great with his nautical theme of boat teapots. His stately ocean liner boldly held center stage. His reputation for attention to detail - needless to say - is well deserved! His seams are incredibly smooth and he incises a line all around the bottom of his pots, about an 1/4 inch fron the edge and it really makes for a nice surprise when you look at the bottom and also gives it a fine finished look that often handbuilt pots lack. Tim only does handbuilding - he's definitely a master handbuilder - no wheel for him!
For those that live in eastern Ontario and wish to see more of Tim's work he will be part of the Madawaska Valley Studio Tour on Sept 28 and 29.
To be continued.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ottawa River Pot - Black Sand and River Clay

The Ottawa River beaches around Deep River are striped by bands of black sand. Our children used to have great fun picking up the sand with magnets as the black colour is due to iron minerals.
small magnet picking out the black sand
Having seen Navajo sand paintings in the American Southwest this winter I decided to develop my own version of a sand painting. Instead of using glue as the Navajos do to attach the sand I use glaze. The black iron particles melt into the glaze creating a black pattern.

First I concentrate the black sand by picking and repicking the sand a few times with a magnet. Then to be able to paint with the sand I need a suspending agent - I could use wax but that will repel the glaze. I cooked up some flour, water and sodium silicate to a consistency to thick cream. The sodium is so that once the pots are bisqued, the sand will not readily fall off when handling or glazing. I find that using just a thin MD shino  with a top spray of soda ash gives me a nice orange colour that contrasts well with the black sand. I also tried stencils as the Navajo do but as I do not like using commercial ones, I need to make my own and that is very time consuming. So I mostly use brush decorations.

Mugs, tray and teabag rest with black sand brush decoration and shino/soda ash glaze. I also tried using stencils as for the fish.
For the mugs I glazed the inside again with a local material - clay found in the Ottawa River in Deep River. Although we are surrounded by sand - Deep River is built on sand dunes left from 10,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated and we were then on the edge of the Champlain Sea,- and our sand beaches rival any of those found in famous resorts, in a few places if you dig down in the river's edge there are layers of clay. When fired it gives a nice glossy brown. So that is the Ottawa pot and I sell them with an explanation about the sand and glaze - which helps them to fly off the shelves!.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Seventh Firing of the Train - The Wreck Continues

I'm trying to catch with my blogs - just too much to do in the summer!
The early July firing was my last chance to fire things before the Salt, Soda and Wood show that I am taking part in from mid July to end of August. In the front section top and bottom it was a repeat of the last train disaster - the 6th firing at the beginning of June. So it was not the hard bricks and under firing, it was not the fault of letting the pots with MD shino sit around in the damp and fog - it was something that was happening in the first part of the flame path where there is the most ash, flame and unburnt gases.

Also none of the blistered pots didn't remelt when I had put them into the gas kiln for another cone 10 firing. Even if reglazed with another glaze the bubbles and blisters stayed - so obviously the MD shino had the flux -  probably the soda - vaporize and so the bubbles could not smooth out.
So not sure what is making all the soda vaporize. Again this wood was mostly soft wood - white and red pine that has a lot of resin and probably somewhat damp for some pieces. Also all had bark on it.
Another possibility  - perhaps reduction cooling? Would the gases cause bubbles? In both firings I did not let the embers burn down that much before clamming up as in previous firings - both times due to just being too tired.

Still in the previous 5 firings any shinos in this front section were fantastic - in fact my favorite place for shinos. So I am pretty leery of doing another firing - will have to get other glazes for the front section.
It was a good thing that I had saved pots from last year for the show otherwise I would not have had many pots to put in.

The middle section was not bad, the white salt was pretty good. The tail end - still had some unmelted ash on the pots which when put in the gas kiln did smoothed out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Combustion and Creativity - Salt Soda and Wood

Well I can relax now that I have delivered all my pots for a show that I am taking part in with two other potters called "Combustion and Creativity - Salt Soda and Wood". The wood part is me. The salt part is Tim Storey who does amazing things with hand building - his creations - many with animal themes in his unique style are widely collected.    
The soda part is Dan Hill who does great things in cone 6 soda.
He also give workshops in soda firing using not only his large soda kiln but also a converted electric to soda kiln. So if you are in Barry's Bay, Ontario, sometime between July 20 and Aug 26 be sure to stop by South of 60 (railway station) and see the exhibit.
(Not sure why I am getting white sections in the write up - I can't seem to remove them even if I start over in a new blog section.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Another Step Up the Mountain - But Where is the Peak?

More from those old Ceramics Monthlies. The Feb 1994 issue had a super article by Steven Hill titled "Don't Put the Flames Out" where he talks about his inspirations and how important it is to continue to develop your work over a lifetime no matter how great your pots are - otherwise they will lose their vitality. Steven finished the article with, "A favourite analogy of mine is of a mountain climber slowly making his way up toward the peak, dreaming of the summit. I hope to never reach that peak, because from that point on, it's a long downhill slide".  My father who was Austrian instilled in me a love of mountains so Steven's analogy about making pots and mountains really hit home.

I've been thinking about Steven's quote for some time now - I seem at times to have lost the path to the peak as I tend to wander around a lot. Sometimes I think I am going downwards as I revisit past work but I think I eventually get back on the path - but the path is hard to see as my work seems to evolve in multiple directions and not always with success. However I think the important part is to always keep on trying.

It's a bit hard to see but on left - bottom corners paddled up a bit  Right - bottom corners left flat
I used to make all my slab vases had a flat bottoms. When I started making smaller ones, I would paddle the bottom and the side - with rounding up the sides a bit - giving the pots a lift - having picked that up in Vince Pitelka's workshop at MISSA in 2011. Now I started doing that on all my large slab vases as well and what a difference it seems to make  - more life, elegance, lightness etc...etc. Now it seems obvious yet it took a few years to work out and develop. Another small step up the mountain.

I think as well it is very important to get impartial knowledgeable feedback - so I like to conclude that analogy with this - like many mountaineers on the really big peaks - you can't do it alone. Fusion - the Ontario Clay and Glass Association is offering their second mentoring program and hopefully I will get accepted as I find that I really miss and need that help up the mountain.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Train Wreck - Sixth Firing of the Newfoundout Train

What a train wreck - and unfortunately there were few survivors! I had replaced the front 1/3 of the inner layer of insulating bricks with hard brick, hoping that this would even out the temperatures in the stacking chamber. Instead what I got was a wreck  - the front half of the kiln under fired and the tail end totally over fired. Cone 10 was down in the front section but cones are rather unreliable in my kiln where the flames are so unidirectional. In the tail end cone 11 ended up in a puddle.

The front section apart from a few pieces were loaded with MD shino and Wirtz shino as liner. The pots ended up blistered bubbled and cratered - both outside as well as inside!

MD Shino - super crusty disaster - top shelf front section
So what happened?

1. Did the flames over fire the shinos and cause the blistering? I didn't think that shinos could over fire - they seem to be able to take a lot of heat - plus some of the liner glazes were underfired in that section - indicating not over-firing.

2. Was everything under fired and so the glaze did not have time to smooth out? I did not think that shinos do much bubbling during melting - but I could be wrong as they definitely bubble over other glazes. But on some pots the side away from the flames had some smooth melted surfaces. I would assume that the side away from the flames would remain cooler.

3. This was the first time that I had used some calcined kaolin and ball clay to replace some of the clay so as to reduce crawling. Did that affect the glaze? Did I mix up the glaze wrong? I used the same glaze on other pots in the middle section and the shino there was good though still a bit underfired in parts so that was not the cause.

4. Did I over reduce? - I was trying for lots of carbon trapping - so threw in everything at the start to build up soot - lots of pine boughs with needles on them as well as lots of little twigs on top of the logs.

5. Did reduction cooling occur? - not sure what happens with shino in reduction cooling, but there was some reduction cooling I think as the ember pile was still huge when I clammed up the kiln.

The carbon trapped bowl on bottom right was glazed just the day before firing. The rest up to a week before and loaded about a week to 3 days before. All the same glaze - MD shino - except for one white liner that was a bit underfired.

6. The front section pots were placed in the kiln anywhere from 5 to 3 days prior to the firing and there was rain during that time. The pots were protected from the rain as the kiln is under a shed roof - however it is located high in the Opeongo mountains where we often drive up into the fog. The few sides of pots that were away from the flames were smooth and these would have been protected from the prevailing winds (moisture) as well. I think that the pots reabsorbed moisture from the moist air and the glaze blistered up very slightly - not enough to be readily visible - as I had repositioned some of those pots just prior to firing and I would have noticed that something was wrong with the glaze.
Something like this happened once before with a MD shino pot that I had left out in the open - it was very foggy overnight and the next day the raw glaze had bubbled up. I fired it but the bubbles did not smooth out and these pots reminded me of that same effect.
Tray in top layer for front section - MD shino - all bubbled .

Small smooth sections on two bowls - sections were facing away from the flames.
As well I had added more shino glaze on the outside of two pots (see above) just prior to firing and the side away from the flame was again smooth. This would have countered any blistering that could have happened due to rain/fog moisture reabsorption.

One of the survivors - a rock wall vase - but still in critical condition. The middle section with this pot in it was loaded just the day of the firing and no blistering occurred, though some of the rocks which bubbled were in the front section and thy were glazed at the same time.

So I think I will have to take out the hard brick and put back the insulating bricks and make sure that I load the shinos just prior to firing.
Pots I can make more - but the stack of dry wood was diminished and that is harder and less fun to replace.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Excavations from the Past

I love looking through old Ceramics Monthly magazines – even if they are decades old. Recently a former member of our guild donated some old ones to us and I have spent the winter months happily engrossed with images from the past. This photo of a jug by Sheila Casson from Sept 1993 caught my eye – very elegant and unusual. Not sure how it would pour - though with that long spout, probably very elegantly.

Jug by Sheila Casson - from Ceramics Monthly 1990's 
Individual Medalta creamer found in crawl space
When investigating a sink leak in the crawl space under the Potters' Guild, I found that our leaking plumbing had eroded some of the sandy soil and had exposed this little ceramic creamer. I remember the days before plastic creamers. It was always a little individual ceramic or metal jug of cream that was placed with your tea or coffee. The space where we have our Guild used to be a restaurant until about 1970 and so the creamer must have come from it – made in Medalta even!
So I decided to make some miniature ones –  little creamers but ala Sheila Casson - sort of. You throw a cylinder, cut away part of it in a semicircle and fold over the two ends.
My three small jugs ala Sheila Casson  - sort of.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Have Mug Will Travel

My husband and I always have a full travel mug of our favorite hot beverage when we set off in our car – milky tea for my husband and lately hibiscus tea with honey for me. Unfortunately I find that most travel mugs even if made of metal because of their plastic lids tend to impart their taste to the tea and I have long thought of making a ceramic one – but how to make a cover to stop the beverage from spilling? I do not like the look of the commercial plastic covers that you can buy as an accessory from ceramic suppliers - plus being plastic there is that plastic taste again.

When I was visiting a gallery in Banff a month ago, I was told about a potter who makes great travel mugs – located in Canmore a town near Banff. Unfortunately we were going in the opposite direction so did not get to visit, but the gallery salesperson brought up the website site ----- and they really did look great – especially clever idea for the cork lids and the little sippy holes.

Original design travel mugs by John and Katie Borrowman of the Cabbage and Kings Pottery
in Canmore Alberta.
A few days later we arrived at our son’s home in Kimberly, BC and in searching for some cups in his cupboard I saw that he had two of those travel mugs! I asked him how he liked them – well he did not use them as he never uses a travel mug. I never did get a chance to try them out in the car, but they handle well, though heavier naturally than the plastic or metal ones.
Great mugs -- so kudos to John and Katie Borrowman at