Mar 17 2015

New Direction part two

In my last post, I showed some of Lowell’s facejugs from the wood kiln. I had a few pots in there, but most were from clay bodies I wanted to test and see how they acted with our clay and glazes in this particular kiln.  More testing, more testing.

Wood Kiln stoked and cooking

I really like a wood kiln. There’s a rhythm to the firing, more so than a gas kiln, that I find appealing. Once you hear that unmistakable low and rumbly whoosh of the flame blow through the kiln shortly after stoking, its very easy to be hooked.

Wood firing down here on the coast has had a burst of popularity in the last several years. Marty and Brenda Stokes, long-time potters from Navarre Florida, deserve a lot of credit for this, since starting their non-profit organization called The Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society. They have been  instrumental in raising awareness and promoting wood firing. Kiln Walk also holds a biannual wood fire conference in Pensacola some 40 miles from here (its so nice to have something going on like this in this part of the world for a change). When I first came down here 15 or so years ago, there were just a couple of potters with small wood kilns, but that has since ballooned to at least 11 wood kilns, that I can think of off the top of my head, within a couple of hours drive from here, and half of those are anagamas, which is pretty mind boggling if you think about it.

Before we built this kiln, I had my trepidations. While I have enjoyed the wood firings I’ve been able to take part in, I also remember how long it took to recover. Exhaustion, sore feet and muscles, are all things that have stuck with me. There’s no doubt that wood firing, while exciting, is pretty physical and demanding. It can also be heartbreaking when a firing does not go right after you’ve just invested a lot of time, labor, emotion, and money just to make a firing happen. I just wasn’t sure I was up to that.  As I get older, I have a growing appreciation for predictability and consistency and ‘work smarter’ seems like a good mantra. While I like anagama pots, its not the aesthetic I am going for in my work, especially since there are so many people around here that are. So I looked around and spoke with a lot of people and most agreed that this ‘manabigama’ is not hard to fire, gets good results, is a manageable size, fires efficiently and in a manageable amount of time so two people can fire it quite easily. I conceded.

Beside dreams of wood pottery, I continue to explore carved designs on pots. I had been carving designs into raku pots but I was really looking for working exclusively in the high fire. I was getting tired of always smelling like a campfire. Doing raku for production may seem romantic to some, but is not nearly as fun as just doing it now and again.

Porcelain Dogwood Bas Relief Vase by Anne WebbSince I was using a grogless clay for my functional ware, I carved a few bas relief designs with that clay and thought that it would be really nice in porcelain. Its not a fast process, but  its very cool to see the design emerge as I carve away the different layers in a design.

Last year I also started to explore sgraffito. I was doing a demo of the technique for a student and had an ‘ahha’ moment and could see definite possibilities for this technique on pots and tiles. I continue to explore.

 

I used to watch and love a show on PBS called ‘Connections‘ years ago, hosted was James Burke. If you remember it too, you can probably appreciate that no new idea comes from a vacuum. I think Mr Burke called it ‘The Trigger Effect’.

Flare bowl with sgraffito carved fish designI do love carving into clay. I wonder where it will take me next.


Aug 6 2013

Summer

Kids head back to school here in just 2 weeks. Another summer has whooshed past.  While we had a beautiful spring, we’ve had so much rain here this summer that I feel like I live in a bog. About the only creatures happy about that are frogs and mosquitoes. My garden, which started out great guns, is waterlogged and pathetic, and have little to nothing to show for all the effort.   The figs on the tree over ripened seemingly overnight, and the weeds have taken over. And pots.. well, it has been a struggle to get anything to dry.

All has not been a loss though. We’ve been working on building a wood kiln – a ‘manabigama‘ kiln modeled after the one featured in Ceramics Monthly a few years ago. Its been slow going, but we’re almost done now. Kiln is now under cover, the final layers of ‘stucco’ material is over the arch, and now there’s just the metal frame that needs welding. Hoping to complete that this week.

Building Progress - Manabigama wood kiln

 


May 14 2008

Firing Smarter by Upgrading

When we originally built our kiln in 2000, we used all recycled brick and built it around the size of shelves we already had. It was a flat top, built mainly of stacked arch brick for the walls and a fiber (ceramic blanket) and heavy sheet metal roof. Not fancy, but we had a kiln and didn’t have to spend much money to put it all together.

Cordite shelves beside new flat nitride bonded shelfIt took at least 7 years of painstaking tweaking and firing before I really got to know its ways. About 5 years ago a dog we had knocked over the entire stack of old brick we were using for the kiln door, breaking most of them!! (..sigh) Long story short, it has been a struggle from the get-go to achieve reduction with any reliability, if at all.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, the old kiln as it was is no more. The flat roof – gone. The danger of fiber bits falling down into pots if you accidentally brushed the roof of the kiln with your head when stacking/loading – gone. The flat top was replaced with a retrofitted sprung arch and we finally were able to get new brick for the door. Extra fiber and roofing tin wraps the outer walls now as well.

The other exciting change made was replacing the old severely warped cordite shelves in favor of 6 new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves. As you can see in the pictures, some of the old shelves were warped an inch and a half to two inches in places (I put one of the new nitride bonded shelves beside the stack of old shelves to show the difference in thickness and flatness). As with a wood or soda fire, loading typically involved painstakingly “wadding” each and every pot for the firing with a mix of 60/40 china clay to alumina hydrate. It was the only solution I could see to prevent warping. I have several potter friends who have those zoomy Advancer shelves that run about $100 a shelf in the size I was looking at. The nitride bonded are a step down from the Advancers, but are a lot less cost prohibitive, costing maybe $20 or so dollars more than a comparably sized cordite shelf.

Thin, flat, and light nitride bonded shelf

These new nitride bonded shelves weigh all of 11 pounds (the old cordite shelves in comparison weighed 44 pounds!), so loading the kiln takes a lot less of a physical toll on me and I can load it independently. I still do wad some – little teeny wads – (vs using kiln wash or sprinkling alumina hydrate on the shelves), especially on those clay bodies I might be firing that might be a bit tighter than our native clay to prevent sticking, Loading takes a fraction of the time as does the preparation of the wadding itself. Now that I have flat shelves, the wads can be glued on in advance as well.

The new arch in combination with the new flat shelves gives me at least, I am guessing an extra foot of stacking space. Not only that but the kiln now reduces and fires more efficiently using about a third less propane per firing. With the rising price of propane ($264 for 75 gallons this last delivery), the upgrades to the kiln and shelves couldn’t have come at any better time. (Better for the environment as well.)

As an aside, we got our new shelves and brick from Larkin Refractory Solutions in Atlanta. Wonderful customer service and knowledgeable staff.


Nov 15 2006

Pottery: Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society video clips of the Anagama

Further to my last post, and upon searching upon the newly updated Kiln Walk web site, they have four or five great and informative video clips about their 35 ft long anagama kiln and the firing last year that are bound to get your woodfiring juices flowing – the construction, bricking it up to fire, as well as other tidbits from Brian Harper and Don Reitz.

Brenda and Marty Stokes have worked very, very hard in the last 4 or so years at getting the Kilnwalk Society going (including donating a piece of their land for the project), and I can’t personally think of any better ambassadors for such an endeavour. This is one of the most exciting things that has happened to our part of the Gulf Coast potterywise and its open to everyone, not just academics.

(Remember their second anagama firing is coming up in just 3 weeks.)


Nov 6 2006

Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society, Anagama Firing, & Masterclass

The Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society, out of Navarare, Florida, has some pretty cool and exciting things coming up this fall, including the second firing of their 32 foot anagama kiln which they built and fired for the first time last year.

Mr Masayoshi Shimizu from Iwade City, Japan, will be arriving November 27th to orchestrate the firing which will take place the first week of December.

Events relating to the firing include:

  • Dec 2-4 – Glazing and loading of the kiln
  • Dec 4 – The Ceremonial Lighting of the Anagama Kiln
  • Dec 16 – 9:00 am Kiln opening
  • Dec 16 – 9:00 am – 4:00 pm – 1st Annual Woodstoke Pottery Festival

While the deadline for members to submit a piece to the firing has passed, its a great opportunity to and see a master at work and find out what the excitement of an anagama firing is all about.

Mr Shimizu will also be holding a master class and slide presentation at the University of West Florida on Wednesday, Nov 29.

As per the Kilnwalk calendar, please note that all events are free and open to the public. Please click on the links above or call 850-939-2744 for more info.

Hope to see you there!


Jul 18 2006

So about our Webb Raku & Stoneware Pottery…

Raku Bottle with Peacock Feather Motif, by Anne Webb,2006

In the past few months, I’ve posted pictures of some of our pottery here on the blog and on our web site, now here is a little info about it.

All our raku vessels, are individually formed, carved, brush-glazed, and fired, using an American variation of the Japanese firing technique known as raku.
Lowell covering a red-hot piece just taken from the kiln, with sawdust
A glazed pot is heated to approximately 1825 degrees Fahrenheit. Its then taken from the kiln while its still red-hot, gently placed in a bed of pine shavings, and then covered (as you can see in this picture, we use a wheelbarrow or on other occasions in a metal wash tub as our pine shavings receptacle). When the oxygen in the air surrounding the pot is depleted by the flame, the flame then looks to the glaze for more oxygen molecules to consume. A chemical reaction may take place in the glaze, causing spontaneous and random flashes of color and metallic lustre. As the pot cools, a random crackling (or crazing) of the glaze occurs as the clay and the glaze expand and contract at different rates. What also happens is the carbon from the burning shavings fuses to all the unglazed surfaces and cracks in the glaze, turning them black. The piece, still hot, is then extracted from its bed of shavings and is quenched (or rapidly cooled) with water. Doing so not only cools the pot to the touch, but sets the colors before theglazes have a chance to reoxidize. Some of the results can be quite spectacular and its easy to understand the allure of pottery fired in this way. No two peices ever turn out completely the same and every one, in its own way, is one-of-a-kind.

Lowell Webb Digging native Alabama clay from local depositsThe majority of stoneware clay we use for our functional pottery is from abundant native Alabama clay deposits, usually found within just an hour’s drive of the studio right here in Baldwin Country. The deposit Lowell working on here is right along a local roadside. The clay that seems to work best is whitish or, better Native Clay Gallon Pitcher with Iris Brushworkyet, almost a bubble gum color. It fires the highest and has the least amount of impurities which is perfect for durable functional ware. Our functional pottery is individually formed, most of it on a potter’s wheel, is individually decorated, and then high-fired in a propane fueled gas kiln to approximately 2400 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ll have to cover in future posts some of the primitive-fired pieces we do as well as the ongoing journey of the building of our small wood kiln using recycled materials…