Yesterday was a beautiful day and a good day for getting pots into the garden for glazing. My techniques involve layering glazes and slips so the pots are getting repeatedly wetted and a good sunny drying day makes this work less taxing. As each dip dries back I can get on with the next one and it’s easier to keep track of what’s going on. Because glazes and slips are often difficult to recognise one from the other I usually resort to bits of paper to keep track of what’s going on. As the pot is dipped what lies underneath becomes invisible so it is easy to lose track. I use 3 slips a white, a dark iron and a white crackle. Some of these slips go onto the raw pot before the first biscuit firing. Others go on to the bisqued pot. The shino glaze is used in varying thicknesses and is often brushed or dipped several times. I have 2 shino glazes one a little darker than the other. I also use a wood ash glaze. I try to plan what I will do with each pot before I begin the glazing.
Shino can be very variable and it takes time to learn its moods but it is this very quality of shino that appeals to me. There is always the possibility of something unexpected happening in the kiln that makes each firing an adventure. I need that in my work to keep me interested.
There is a motto which was given to me long ago by a colleague which I have found to be very true ‘Shino first or you are cursed’ . Shino does not like to be put over another glaze. If you put shino over an ash glaze for example the fluid ash glaze will bubble through the stiff shino leaving a very unpleasant surface.
Some years ago I experimented with high temperature saggar firing. A saggar is an unglazed clay pot into which a smaller pot is placed. This practice came about when potters of old wanted to protect their wares from the naked flame of their kiln. This was especially important with the porcelain kilns of the Far East as a small piece of sand/grit could easily spoil the piece. The saggar firing technique is often used nowadays by low temperature potters. Combustible materials such as sawdust vegetation, salts, metal carbonates or sulphates are placed with the pot in the saggar. A vaporous atmosphere is created within the saggar which leaves its imprint on the pot. Using this technique at higher temperatures runs the risk of burning off these imprints. I had experimented with putting raw unfired pots into the saggar and firing straight to top temp skipping the conventional biscuit firing. I got some intriguing results but did not follow up on the experiment.
Closeup of clay degradation on saggar-fired pot
I intend to revisit this technique and have prepared a group of teawares for that purpose. I’ve made saggars from a rough crank clay with perlite added. The teabowls will fit snugly in these and I will be able to stack them thus obviating the need for shelves and all that business. Some of the saggars will be sealed while others have windows cut in them to allow for flame flashes. I’ve also placed combustibles, oxides etc in some.
Saggars with their teabowls inside.
I have rehearsed the stacking on a table to make the stacking easier later on. This rehearsing allows for a more considered placing of the wares. The pots will be fired in the little wood fired train kiln and I intend to fire to 1300deg.C and soak for 1 hr.
Rehearsed stacking of kiln on table
Some teabowls from the saggar firing. Mixed results but lots to ponder and work on. Some promising leads that I need to follow through on and refine.
Naked clay from lidded saggar.
Naked clay fired in closed saggar.
Ash glazed and fired in closed saggar. No combustibles
Celadon glaze over slip fired in open saggar.
Apart from Christmas day when the family get together over the turkey I’m not a great enthusiast for all the for the palaver that goes with it. I look forward to the new year which is always a good time for planning my pottery activities for the coming year. Anticipated highlights for 2015 will include great firings with Marcus’s anagama, getting to grips with my little train kiln and making some larger scale raw fired slipware pots. My pop-up shop went well and I even managed to sell a few of my boxed teabowls which was encouraging.
I’m also looking forward to visiting the International Ceramics Festival at Aberystwyth in Wales. This biennial event is always a great opportunity to hook up with other potters and provides a nice break from the workshop in mid summer. I usually travel over with a group of Irish potters who are members of Ceramics Ireland.
My year will kick off with a few weeks of slip and glaze testing. It seems that humanity is divided into two groups i.e. those who like brown pots and those who prefer bright colours. I belong to the former and past attempts at blues greens etc. have not excited me. I cannot make work for commercial considerations alone. But there are some potters using bright colours in slipware whose work I do like e.g. Nigel Lambert or Patia Davis in the U.K. If I do make such work it has got to be mine and it has got to come from somewhere near the heart. That’s the challenge.
Towards the end of the month I visited my mate Marcus and give him a hand with firing the Glencairn kiln. It’s always good to get out of the workshop and connect with like-minded people. Already I am looking forward to 2015 ( probably not the best of ideas at my age). I’ve always had a hard time with the dark days of Winter and love when the garden begins to stir. So far we have had a very mild Autumn with a fair degree of blue skies. Aberystwyth International Ceramics Festival takes place on the first weekend of July and is a great opportunity to connect with the pottery community and watching others handle clay is always interesting.
As I write I am showing work in a pop-up shop in Carlow. I am part of a collective of local craftspeople (Carlow Made) who exhibit a few times every year. It works well and is always supported by the buying public who appreciate good craft locally made.
Wood-fired water jar.
The second firing of my little train kiln has produced some good results and I am encouraged to work more with the kiln. Hopefully each firing will be instructive and the surfaces will get closer to what I am aiming for. The kiln is very efficient in terms of wood burned and there is very little smoke even when reducing, important for a suburban potter.
Wood-fired guinomi or sake cup.
I have recently built this ‘train’ kiln to experiment with high temp. woodfire. It looks like a pile of bricks but it’s well ‘designed’. It has a large firebox to the left and it is connected to a large chimney on the right which also serves my regular woodfired slipware kiln. This kiln is designed to maximise the effects of wood ash on the pots which are exposed to the full blast of the ash laden fire. I have fired it only once and it behaved very well. Because it is small I will be able to fire it often and will get to know it well in time. Train kilns (named as such because of their shape) have become popular with wood firers in recent times. The fly ash from the fire leaves the firebox through very open flues and travels in a straight line through the pots to exit at the other end. This allows for maximum fly ash effects on the surfaces.
This little unomi or teabowl has been brushed with a ‘shino’ glaze which has turned a lovely red under the ash. I like it very much.
This ‘hanaire’ or vase, lightly brushed with shino, has taken a lot of ash because it was closest to the exit flue from the firebox. It has developed a beautiful varied surface typical of this kind of firing.
I am looking forward to working with this kiln into the future and I am hoping it will bless me with many gifts.
May, summer and warmer days. I’m afraid I have been neglecting this blog mainly because I keep getting the feeling that I’m ‘talking’ to myself. But it’s good to have these internal dialogues as it often helps to put things into clearer focus.
I’ve been busy making since my last posting. Carlow Arts Festival which opens early June is always an opportunity sell pots so I’ve been building stock. Yesterday I enjoyed making these little jugs with applied coils and little balls of clay.
On others I’ve used leaves from the garden as resist. Making things in small scale is interesting. You seem to get a sharper perspective on the form and it’s good to line them up and evaluate the subtle differences. I can decide which I like best and then upscale that form later.
I’ve also been finishing a commission for framed plaques depicting our Town Hall. This is something I have not done before but the buyers are happy and the money will buy a few bags of clay/glaze.
In April I visited London and went to the Ceramic Art London (CAL) show. It runs for 3 days and features lots of high profile potters/ceramicists. It was an opportunity to meet up will old friends and see what’s going on in the wider world of clay. I attended a very good demonstration on slipware techniques by Patia Davis and acquired a small piece of her lovely work. I also went to the Contemporary Ceramic shop on Russell St. and bought a small dish by the slipware potter Nigel Lambert. While in Russell St. I popped over to the British Museum to take a quick look at some wonderful slipware.
Before I left London I made time to visit Somerset House to view the wonderful impressionist paintings at the Courtauld Gallery. While there I saw a cabinet of 16 wonderful Italian maiolica pieces. The virtuosity of the painting and the use of lustre on these 17Cy pots left me breathless.
Back from two good days at Lismore where Kieran, Marcus and I finished off the structure of the Glencairn Noborigama. The door of the second chamber will be constructed of HTI blocks ( 4 bricks cemented together). Some cosmetic tweaking now with insulation and it’s a ‘go’. A May firing is penciled in and now it’s down to some serious making. It’s going to take a lot of work to fill this baby. I hope to make a small contribution. Happy days.
At last Spring has come to the Barrow valley. Blue skies and sunshine. Pots are drying at a more normal rate. The nights are still very cold so the woodstove is still my saviour. The peacock butterfly warming itself on the brick is optimistic in it’s early arrival. I wish it well.
I’ve been getting in a new batch of timber fresh from the sawmill. It will take all summer to dry it off. I finish off the drying in a small glasshouse. I will not use wood unless it is really dry. I will know by the weight and sound of it when it is ready. Firing my small kiln on good wood is a leisurely 8 hour task. My mind has been playing with the thought of a firing soon but in keeping with my new SLOW strategy I’m in no hurry. Let the anticipation build.
In the workshop I’ve been making small bowls with random pours of slip. Also some jugs for applied decoration and some dishes.