They're finally starting to trust me at the school I use as a studio. They let me scrape the kiln shelves and apply kiln wash this week. While I was doing this a woman who in the "class" I am in came up and commented on how valiant I was for doing this thankless task. I was stunned. Maintaining kilns shelves isn't a thankless task. It's required. Poorly maintained kiln shelves can damage your ware. And cost money to replace. I was honored I was able to do this.
The encounter got me thinking about the process of ceramics. Ceramics is a process. I treat it as such. Every step in that process contributes to the final piece. I mix my own glazes because glazes are part of the finished product. Putting a store bought glaze on pot I threw is using someone else's work and calling it my own. It's plagiarism, cheating. The process for me doesn't end when I set my piece out to dry. The process is scraping the kiln shelves, ensuring the kiln shelves have the right thickness of kiln wash. The process is mixing and testing glazes until I have the glazes that match my mind's eye picture of each pot. The process is loading, then firing the kilns, unloading the kilns. The process starts when I buy the clay and ends when the pot has been glazed fired and is cool. I want to own every step in between. If I could dig my own clay and extend the process I would.
Maintaining kiln shelves is as much a part of ceramics as learning to center a ball of clay. If you don't embrace the process you should. I firmly believe the more energy you put into things like maintaining kiln shelves the more joy you will get out of ceramics.
I will be traveling out of country again this Summer. That means I will not be doing any pottery until mid-July at the earliest. This time I have already made arrangements to ensure I have a studio when I get back. Last time I left the country the studio was sold while I was gone. Hope everyone has a great Summer!
One of the most frustration things for me associated with working in ceramics is the lack of control that I have. Setting up a pottery studio where one can have total control is tremendously expensive. I hope to set up my own studio one day but until that day comes I like so many other people will have to share equipment with others. As a result of this sharing you lose a degree of control. In my current situation I have no control over the kilns my work is fired in. I can't even choose which kiln my work goes into much less anything like a firing schedule. I had previously mixed up over 20 new glazes to account for the new and slow cooling kiln at the studio I go to. So my nearly 30 test tiles of these new glazes were fired in a much older kiln that cools super quick. Many of the tests were completely wasted.
While I am frustrated I have learned a lesson. I am going to abandon glazes that depend on specific heating/cooling profiles. With no control over which kiln my work goes into I will not chance a piece I like using a glaze that will be ruined if it goes into the wrong kiln. It inevitably will. This means no more iron reds, crystalline glazes, oil spot glazes. Ash glazes will have to be reformulated. I am going to use only glazes that are stable if they are fast cooled or slow cooled. So far I am thinking of some matte glazes, crackle glazes, a bunch more. But no more primadonna glazes.
My frustration aside the tests yielded several new gems. Not one but two matte black glazes and a stunning gloss black. I will post recipes and photos tomorrow.
One test that was an utter failure though not due to the kiln selection was a test of two copper reds using silicon carbine. They were terrible. I will post photos of those as well.
Glaze and kiln issues aside the throwing is going well. I have bisque ware stacking up waiting for glazing. Some good vases, bowls, a few nice platters. I hope to start glazing this week.
The first is a cone 6 snowflake crackle from John Britt/ Hard to see it in this phone camera pic but it really does have a nice crackle. I didn't get the snowflake effect but I suspect it wasn't thick enough.
This one is a cone 6 oil spot with a cover glaze, again both are from John Britt. This turned out great. I just used 11% zircopax as a colorant. I have test batches mixed with crimson stain and copper carbonate.
Speaking of tests... this was my morning. All are different base glazes or existing glazes I have used in the past. I want to get a baseline set of tests then start tweaking from there. There are 4 different iron reds in that picture. A number of ash glazes and some strontium matte glazes.
Glazes don't travel. It's a truism for ceramics. Ingredients are different, kilns are different, clay bodies are different. There are just too many variables to accurately reproduce a glaze someone else developed.
I had developed a small palette of glazes that worked well with my chosen clay, in the studio I worked in. I was content. Then I took a long break. I started back into ceramics. It was getting back on a bike. I had no difficulty throwing again. In fact somehow during the break my throwing improved. I now throw noticeably better. No idea why or how.
What I forgot was that glazes don't travel. I threw about 12 nice bowls. I glazed them using glazes I had used for a long time with success; an iron red, a black, a cone 6 ash glaze. I have used all with no issues many times. But I was firing in a new kiln. All 12 bowls were ruined. The glazes came out horrific. The iron red came out a very nasty tan, the surface completely matte due to iron crystals. The black glaze, same thing. Completely matte due to crystals. The ash glaze had been very well behaved at cone 6. Nice webbing but not too much running. It ran everywhere and ruined several shelves.
By looking at the results I got I assumed this new kiln cooled much slower than I am used to. Indeed I found that the kiln is programmed to cool very slowly just in case there are platters. Seems they had an issue with platters cracking in the past so now they cool super slow.
While it means that I ruined some bowls it's also a great situation to be in. I am firing in a new kiln that cools really slowly. Time for more glaze tests to get glazes stable in this new firing cycle. I am hoping to use some crystalline glazes.
I haven't posted pics of my first two glaze tests in the new kiln, a crackle and a cone 6 oil spot. Both came out great. The crackle is completely unaffected by the slow cool and the oil spot is improved by it. Pictures will be posted next week. Really.
So I have been out of the ceramic studio for almost two years. I am back at it. I have made one major change, I moved from porcelain to stoneware. I love porcelain I really do. the feel when you throw it. The whites you can get. it's just a beautiful clay. But it has it's down side specifically it's tougher to throw than other clays.
As I was coming back to the studio after a prolonged absence I wanted to not embarrass myself with a simple bowl that had walls 1/2 an inch thick so I decided to start with 50lbs of stoneware. Well like riding a bike throwing came back to me in about 0.1 seconds. The pieces I threw were some of my best ever. Thin, light. Well shaped. Because I can do in stoneware some of the things I can't do well with porcelain. So I am sticking with stoneware for awhile.
I have a batch of glazed ware that should be coming out of the kiln this weekend. Using tried and true recipes. I have a couple of test recipes as well, a snowflake crackle and a cone 6 oil spot. Both cribbed from John Britt. Will post pics if they don't suck too hard.