Sunday, March 29, 2009

Glaze Fire Results

I hadn’t planned on posting on here today, but the weather is less than great, canceling both my roofing plans and my barrel firing plans, so… This morning I did get to unload the glaze firing I did yesterday. I have been having some problems with firing my kiln to cone 6, so this was kind of a test firing.

I never really realized how small my kiln is. I got done unloading and thought, “Wow, there was hardly anything in there!” I knew my kiln wasn’t huge, but man, it is small! Now I’m always going to be self conscious about my kiln size. Actually, between the realization about my limited kiln space and its recent chicanery with glaze firings, this would be a good time to look into hooking up my “new” kiln. (My wife’s cousin recently moved and gave me all of his old pottery equipment, including a kiln and wheel!)

So here are the results. There were a couple of grow pots (planters), some tea bowls, a few mugs and a number of glaze tests. I was fairly pleased with how everything turned out, especially the toasty color of the clear glaze over the tea bowls. The color doesn’t come through too well in this picture, but it is nice…or at least I think so. I still have to go through all the glaze tests, but I think they will yield some good information.

This is one of the mugs that I have been working on. It has a light underglaze wash and clear glaze on it. I have a few more that are textured like this, but I am not sure about finishing them the same way. Would a colored glaze be better? Do I need to do something with the handle? I don’t know. Any comments or suggestions would be more than welcome on this.

And finally, the over firing issue. This load was over fired, but only slightly this time. I set up a witness cone so as I could keep an eye on it throughout the firing, but apparently I didn't watch it quite close enough. After running through the firing schedule for about seven hours the automatic shut off had not dropped on the kiln sitter, but the witness cone was bent so I turned it off. When I unloaded this morning some of the work was slightly warped, but not terribly so. And then there was this…

You can see that the cone is bent slightly more than it should be (at least I think it is), but the bar for the kiln sitter is hardly bent at all! What?! So the question; is there a problem with the kiln sitter or did I somehow get a bad batch of bars? Both puzzling and frustrating.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sleepy Sunday Morning

So this morning I get up kind of late because I had a fire call at 2am (I am a volunteer fire fighter, by the way) and didn’t get back to bed until 3:30 or so. As I stumble around groggily I says to myself, I says, “I know! I’ll start some coffee and when I get done unloading the kiln it will be piping hot and ready to go!” How’d that one work out? Not too good! I came in from unloading the kiln to find my counter tops covered with freshly brewed coffee. Apparently the filter broke, and the pot got clogged with grounds sending the brew everywhere but in the coffee pot. Since then I have been sitting around smelling coffee but not being able to drink any because I am too stubborn to make more.
Anyway, another fairly productive week this week. Aside from teaching a couple times and helping my neighbor tear of his roof, I was in the studio most of the time. I was able to run a couple bisque loads through this week, which was cool, but I still do not know what is going on with my kiln. The firings went off without a hitch, which is a good thing; but I don’t know what will happen when I try another glaze firing. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Bisque load #1, featuring glaze testers, larger bowls, Christmas ornaments and failed canisters...

...and bisque load #2, featuring the beginning of the 100 mug challenge, more Christmas ornaments and low fire glaze tests. I don't usually do low fire work, but I had some glazes laying around from a few years ago and I was just given a box of 50 or so more, so I figured I'd test some and maybe use them on ornaments or sculptures or something. The vases in the back are not mine. They were made by my wife's cousin about ten years ago and have been sitting around unfired ever since. Now they are fired and ready to be glazed!

The mugs are rolling pretty good. I have 30 in either green or bisque ware. Now I have to start worrying about glazing…Ugh. It would be easier if I had some test tiles to go by, but if you read my last post you know how that went. Well, I have lids to work on, mugs to glaze and I guess more coffee to make, so I probably ought to get to it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Burnishing my balls on spring break

That title is a double entendre, by the way. It has one meaning which is rather innocuous and one which is...not. Keep reading to find out which way I meant it!
So this past week has been a good week, with the exception of Wednesday which was a little demoralizing. It’s never fun having someone tell you that what you are doing is little more than a glorified hobby, especially when it is what you are trying to turn into a career.
But anyway…it was spring break this week so I didn’t have to worry about being interrupted by teaching. The only thing that took me away from the studio was applying for a job at the SIU library. Sure, it is not exactly what I would like to be doing, but it would be nice to have a steady income for a change, and I would still have plenty of time to get in the studio. Here’s hoping that goes well. In the mean time I got a decent amount of work done. Not as much as I would have liked, but decent.

In order to keep myself motivated I have decided to take the 100 MUG CHALLENGE! (doesn't that sound like something you would hear on Oprah? "Next time on Oprah, the 100 Mug Challenge and how it can change your life...") You can check out the inspiration for this at the Fine Mess Pottery blog. I do not have a deadline or show set up for my 100; I am doing it more for the practice and to build inventory. I started this week and have 13 green mugs thus far.
These are a few more of the mugs and a couple canisters I made as tests. Man, those were a trip! I didn't realize how long it has been since I made lidded jars. The forms are close to what I was looking for, but I had quite a time getting those lids to fit properly. There are definitely a lot of flaws with these canisters, so they may end up being used for saggars or just in the scrap heap. Maybe my next project should be 100 lidded jars.

12 glaze testers. Since my last glaze testing went horribly awry I had to make more pieces to retest. I decided to make things that could actually be used, though instead of just little tiles. So...bud vases! And they were pretty fun to make to boot.

And finally, bowls. I have been wanting to try some bigger stuff and bowls seemed like a good place to start. The walls might be a bit thick, but even. They would work well for mixing bowls. Now I just need to get those handles figured out. It is the first time I have tried that type of handle and it was troublesome getting something I was half ways ok with. The balls inside the bowls are more christmas ornaments like the ones I talked about earlier. They are all burnished (hence the title) and ready to go in the kiln. I guess that is all for now. Back to the studio and moving a kiln.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh the Irony-or-This IS a real job!

So I wasn't really planning on posting on here today, but after reading a great post and comments on the blog this artist's life by Whitney Smith I decided I had to, but more on that in a bit. First...

What is wrong with this picture? Nothing much on first inspection; maybe these are some pendants or earrings or something. But then there is that "Oh shit" moment when you realize you just opened the kiln and these are supposed to be the witness cones and kiln sitter bar. I'm not entirely sure what happened, other than the kiln over fired, which made the glaze tests that were in there completely useless. Most everything was scrap except for a few things that didn't have hellacious bloating in the clay or weren't slumped beyond salvaging.

The few things that did come out were actually kind of interesting. These are a few keepers. The three cups in the front and the two blue cups had slip sprayed on them and should have turned out matte, but with the over firing the slips appear to have melted into a satiny glaze. Of course this isn't exactly what they were supposed to look like, but hey, you take what you can get out of something like that. The really ironic part is that I put the witness cones in this time because I was afraid the kiln might have been under firing. I can definitively say that is not a problem. Now if I can just figure what went wrong...

And now for the really great post. Ms. Smith talks about the trials of being a professional artist in her blog, and in this post in particular she talks about the crap we often get from other folks about not having a "real" job. It seems to me that most of the people who look down on being an artist as a profession are people who have a JOB. And by JOB I mean they do not get any sort of satisfaction out of work other than the paycheck at the end of the week. It seems some people think that if you enjoy what you are doing it doesn’t really count as work. Thus artist, who enjoy what they do for a living, don’t really work and do not deserve the same level of respect as people with jobs that do work. Why can’t people understand that being an artist is just as valid an occupation as anything else? Some people choose to be lawyers; some people choose to be plumbers; and some people choose to be artists.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just let me get back to my groove...

I'll tell you what, when payday rolls around having a real job is nice, but otherwise it is just a pain in the ass. Earlier this week I was really on a roll working in the studio. I was getting stuff fixed, getting stuff organized, getting stuff done! I was ready to start digging into the new batch of clay I just got (500lbs of B-mix and 50lbs of black/brown, good stuff) and totally stoked to be getting down some nice designs for sgraffito stuff. Then the call came...Don't get me wrong, I don't mind substitute teaching; sometimes I even enjoy it. But when I am all ready to get going in the studio it messes up my flow being called in to work. It is tougher getting back in the studio groove after teaching all day than it is getting to it right away in the morning. Anyway, enough of my belly-aching. Here's what I did manage to get done before life reared its ugly head.

I finally got my wedging table fixed. It worked ok before, but it was kind of wobbly and I had to lean against it so it wouldn't bang against the wall while I was wedging. Now it's solid as a rock! It also has a concrete top that I ground smooth and covered with canvas so there is a better surface to work on.

These are a few replacement cups I had to make to finish out a bourbon set. I guess you could call them yunomi if you wanted to be all fancy, but I am none too fancy so I just call them little cups. The set is actually going to be up for auction through Art Lovers Trading Company and the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, both in Carbondale, IL. So that is kind of cool.

These are some Christmas ornaments I am working on. I talked to another potter at a craft fair in St. Louis who made ornaments & I thought I would try my hand at them. These have actually already been trimmed. Now they are waiting to be burnished, bisqued and barrel fired at a later date.

And finally, a few pieces of sgraffito ware. The plates are small (6 inches across) and will be accompanying a larger plate I made last year. My wife confiscated the first plate from my stock and requested two smaller ones so she could hang them as a group. I will definitely have to use this ribbon motif again, though.

The planter was my first attempt at wheat. I was really happy with how it turned out, but I think I cracked the bowl while I was carving, so this may turn out to be a test piece for a new clear glaze. If all goes as planned I will fire the kiln Saturday, so I might have some pictures of finished work next week.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Good weekend...

So I turned in my grad school application Friday. I was told that the professors check pretty frequently for new applications, so I might hear something in two or three weeks. I guess it is in the hands of the faculty and grad students of SIUC now.

On a less nerve wracking note, I have been having a pretty good weekend thus far. I went up to St. Louis to help my brothers with some drywall work, which was a good time in and of itself. On top of that, though, I also got to pick up seeds for the garden, which I will be working with later today. On top of that I got to go to the pottery shop up there (the closest to southern Illinois I've been able to find) and pick up some much needed supplies.

I have to say, Krueger Pottery in St Louis is an outstanding store. Every time I go there it is a great experience. And I know this sounds like a staged sales pitch or something, but rest assured I am in no way affiliated with Krueger Pottery. I don't work there; I don't have any friends or family that work there. It is just a genuinely good store, which is a rare thing these days. Yesterday, for example, I went in to pick up some clay I had ordered. Even though I am not what you would call a frequent customer (2, maybe 3 times a year) Ryan, the owner, recognized me and helped me with everything I needed. They are always ready to help and offer their sage advice to everyone from beginning hobbyists to studio potters. It’s just a darn good place.