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.


Mar 28 2014

Its a frog strangler

I’m sitting here in my studio looking out the window a deluge of rain. Someone told me that when it rains here, its “like a cow peeing  on a rock”. Of course that’s not exactly the wording he used, but its a fitting Southern colloquialism.    It is what one would call “a real frog strangler”.  I had to navigate around 5 inch deep puddles, balancing my umbrella and my coffee cup. Feet and shoes are soaked. Gross. Pretty depressing when you know you’re supposed to be loading the truck to do go out of town for a show.

Thankfully, (hooray!!) I realized this afternoon I have another week before our next show, not this weekend!  Yes! So we will be heading to downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana for FestforAll on April 5th and 6th!  Maybe we’ll see you there! :)

 

http://www.artsbr.org/FestForAll.html

 

 


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

 


Jun 17 2013

Hot enough to boil a monkey’s…

The weather here has finally changed.  Summer is officially here. The Heat index the other day was a grim 100 degrees F.

We redid my workspace this past year and one of the genius additions, besides windows and doors that actually close properly, is an air conditioner. I finally caved and put it on 2 days ago and, oh my goodness, its pure luxury.  Its so much easier to concentrate without sweat dripping down and stinging my eyes.  I truly love it and am thrilled at the fact that I will be able to work comfortably all summer. So here I sit in coolness sipping hot coffee!

Now the bad thing about a/c. Artificial cooling and heating plays havoc on the drying process of clay. I’m working on a custom mug order using a high fire white clay (somewhat more finicky than native clay) and, despite draping plastic over the pots at the usual stage, I  had handles and sprigs pulling off the pots. Oddly enough, the attachment was fine and strong, but where they didn’t dry evenly, and clay shrinkage was happening at different rates, cracks occurred in the area around the attachment, not the attachment itself.   This is pretty rare. While I do have some loss, its not usually because of this.

Upcycled Refrigerator used as Pottery Damp ClosetGenerally when I have pots with attachments I use an old delapidated refrigerator as a damp closet (turned off and unplugged, of course). I’ve mentioned this previously. Not only is it a great tool for keeping pots damp and for clay storage, its a great way to recycle an old fridge or freezer instead of sending it to the landfill.

So keeping pots damp isn’t too difficult. While some people put a small cup or container of water in the ‘fridge’, I usually just mist or spray the interior of its compartments to raise the humidity, then its ready to use. So when I am doing mugs, for example, I put them in the old fridge and keep them there for at least 24 hours or until the pot and attachments are all the same consistency, then I can take them out and let them dry.  Has worked great so far.  Maybe I need to inspect the door seals and see if they’re toast.  Another possible option I may have to consider doing to prevent this cracking is to work in smaller batches. Well we’ll see.

As you may be able to see in the picture, these old fridges make for a convenient dry erase board (I use it, for example, to keep track of how many pots I’ve made for orders on the go, and at what stage they are at, how much clay I currently have on hand, or a list of glaze ingredients that are out and/or need to order ).  I have these fridges in the same part of the workspace where we I glaze, mix glazes, store ingredients and clay, and keep the electric kilns. Since they’re right by the kilns, they’re also a handy place to keep a cone chart, quick reference info re how to program the kiln controller and a list of custom programs I use, as well as a firing record. While I’m fine with just using magnets or tape for this stuff, I suppose you could paint the door or sides with chalkboard paint. Lots of possibilities!

The workspace, fortunately, is large enough to accommodate these fridges under cover. I used to have to keep one outside just because it was too cramped inside. It still worked for what I needed it for, though.  Pots never froze if the temps dropped outside (it actually does get below freezing here in late December and January) and they never dried out even in the most sweltering heat, but it wasn’t the most pleasant thing having to add and remove pots from it  particularly when it was raining, or having to navigate stairs and a doorway in/out of the building. Not exactly ideal.

I know lots of people for whom an upcycled fridge damp closet just isn’t an option, for a number of reasons.  To get around that, they’ve been forced to be a little more creative, wrapping shelf units in plastic for makeshift damp closets. I’ve known other people who take Rubbermaid containers and set an inch or so of potters plaster or hydrocal in the bottom, dampen it and use that to keep pieces or attachments damp. I was recently at a workshop where the presenter used a plastic container as well, only instead of plaster (which he said was really heavy and harder to transport), he took a piece of canvas or towel, spritzed it with water to get the humidity up in the container, put his pots in and tightly closed the lid.  I tried this while there to keep pots in a working consistency, using a container I brought and it worked great. My only complaint is the dampened fabric developed a serious hum and over a period of just a few days, smelled pretty rank. The pots still smelled fine though 😉

 

 

 

 


Oct 22 2011

Clay

I like this time of night, after everyone has gone to sleep, I can slip out to the studio and do some late night throwing.  I’ve been working on a fairly big order of mugs, and I’m over half way there.  Some mugs are in the bisque kiln as we speak, and the rest line the shelves waiting their turn.  I have to shift gears now and throw some other things. I’ve found that the gas kiln just filled with only mugs (my kiln at least) doesn’t make for a very good glaze firing.  I have to fill the kiln with pots of a variety of sizes and shapes so the flame has different paths to go, for the kiln to fire off best and most efficiently.   Spent a good chunk of the day wedging clay, weighing out balls, and prepping my wheel for another throwing cycle.  I’m ready. In fact, I am boiling the kettle right now so I can warm up my throwing water and get going.  Its so much easier to get into a groove with no interruptions.

Clay MixerThe week before I went to Canada the last time, we mixed some new batches of native clay. As you know, we use a 1915 dough mixer to do the actual mixing, but we also use a converted concrete mixer to help make a smooth clay slurry or slip.  Clay that we have ‘slaked’ down (dry clay is added to water breaks down into a slip or liquid clay) or turned into a slurry goes into the mixer first, then dry ingredients are added.  Just as when mixing bread dough, as the clay gets mixed and becomes dryer, it starts to pull together and away from the mixer walls, then its a matter of finding the right consistency you’re looking for. I like the clay to be plastic, yet still moderately soft when it comes out of the mixer.  A rough gauge to determine this is to take a small piece of clay out of the mixer,  roll it into a little coil, then twist it. If the coil breaks easily, the clay is what is considered ‘short’, and needs to mix longer. If the coil twists easily without cracking, its just the right consistency.  If mixed correctly, again, like dough, the more the clay is mixed, the better the consistency; it gives the particles more of a chance to align and become ‘plastic’ (or ‘elastic’ in consistency, in the case of bread dough).

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Its loud and can be treacherous work, if you’re not careful. Its dusty (silica dust) too, so its important to wear a mask with a NOISH approved air filter. If you don’t have your wits about you and mess up and reach into the mixer for some reason while its going and the mixing paddle (for lack of a better word) is rotating,  before you know it, it can grab you and pull you right in. Really.  That puppy is strong and you can lose your arm or worse (!).  Sickening thought, isn’t it?  Kind of like using a pugmill. You never stick your hand in the hopper while the auger is moving, or you can say goodbye to your hand.  So much for that peaceful zenlike impression you had of making pottery!

Its a lot of work mixing your own clay, but the process doesn’t end there. After its mixed, we haul it inside where it ages some in a barrel, then it gets run through a pug mill, then I wedge it. I’ve found that despite being very careful to screen the clay, there is still a little junk left in the clay, so after it comes out of the pugmill, I wire cut the clay, pick foreign matter such as wee rocks or other undesireable bits out, and slam wedge it on my table.  Slice, pick bits out, slam the two pieces of clay down on the table.. slice, pick bits out, slam. And so it goes until the clay looks right.  Its a bit of a process, but I’d rather pick bits out now than when I’m throwing/finishing a pot, or worse yet, find popouts on pieces coming out of the kiln.  The slam wedging also helps to work air bubbles out, and helps to make the clay easier to work (easier on my wrists) when I do my final spiral wedging.  If I were just making brick or flowerpots I might not be so particular, but when the clay is going to be used for functional ware, I find its well worth the extra steps.


Feb 22 2011

In the studio today

Well the conference is over, the weather is fine, and I’m finally back in the studio. Yay!

Bas Relief on porcelain

Continuing to work on carving some bas relief designs on porcelain pieces I had thrown before the weekend. Its a bit of a leap of faith.. you commit all that time carving a design and hope for the best that they come out fine in the firing and all the glazes do what they’re supposed to be doing. ..on to the bisque firing they go!

Dogwood relief

Well on Saturday, despite the greatest of intentions, I didn’t end up taking very many pictures at all, but here are just a few more shots from the conference for you, this time of the three presenters: Chris Gustin, Misty Gamble, and Christa Assad.

Chris GustinMisty GambleChrista Assad

(fyi Next year’s conference will be in Birmingham and run by Scott Bennett)

It takes a few days to fully digest what one has seen at any workshop or conference. Sometimes you come away just brimming with excitement, inspiration and ideas, and are just rearing to go! Other times, well,.. it just takes a bit longer.

I have a question for you now.. If you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect/like/want to see? What would you like to take away from the experience? Any dislikes…? Please comment


Feb 6 2011

Moved the showroom today!

Today with the help of our neighbour and a John Deere tractor, we’ve moved our showroom :) Pulling the building

When we first got this little outbuilding a few years ago, the most accessible place to get a truck in to put the building, was up toward the front of the property. Its been really convenient up there for some things. It was an easy place to pull up the truck to load up for shows, and for customers so they didn’t have far to go up our driveway (which has been known to be somewhat treacherous at times). When we were not doing shows, I would sweep it out each spring and set up the show display in case a customer wanted to drop by. Prior to getting the building I would have to set up the display spur of the moment on the deck, for when I knew the customer would be arriving and then have to take everything down after they left. It was a bit of a crazy scramble. Having the building made all this a lot easier.

HelpersThe plan has always been to finish it, add lighting, a permanent display just for the showroom, and do some landscaping around it, all to give it a more enticing appearance. Its been about 4 years now and, for one reason or another, we haven’t made a great deal of progress, short of rudimentarily putting in a few windows. Running power the two or three hundred feet from the pole was going to cost a bit and it was just a bit too far to even run an extension cord to work on it. Sooo this spring we tossed around the idea of moving the building.

Now the building sits a lot closer to the studio, in the spot where I had my garden last year. It looks much happier there (if a building could look happy). There will be enough room around it to put a small porch and do some gardening. But before that, we need to level it, stake it into the ground (in prep for hurricane season), and then start fixing up the inside, of course. beforeAfterBuddy and Shino


Apr 18 2009

Coming up for Spring Air

Red Geranium FlowerpotDo you ever feel like time folds?  I was reminded again yesterday that it was spring when I drove past the usual fields on my way to Fairhope,  and I noticed all the pecan branches finally leafing out (a sure sign here in the South that cold temperatures are past).

May is just around the corner and this winter/spring, I’ve revamped our web site, had 2 shows, had 3 waves of illness blow through here (and been knocked on my ear 2 of those times), finished the taxes, did a major studio clean out and reorg, survived spring break,  and had my wheel die.  I can’t believe its been a month since I’ve posted anything here.

Lowell's test kilnHere’s a picture of a little gas test kiln Lowell is building out of spare bits we had laying about, including some homemade burners.  It will be used mostly to test glazes, but if all goes well, it will be a good size to fire a last small batch for an order or before a show when we don’t have quite enough to fill the other kiln.

I mentioned earlier my wheel died.  Its really frustrating especially considering we replaced the motor and circuit board a little over a year ago. Also frustrating because I finally got my little throwing area just the way I want it.  So now I am flip flopping around the studio, dividing throwing time between an electric kickwheel and that little Shimpo Aspire tabletop wheel I’ve mentioned in other posts.  My friend Marilyn Farrell (from New Brunswick) once said “never get too dependent on one specific tool or piece of equipment”.  Boy those are pretty shrewd words.  I hear her saying them every day lately.  I am having to stand up to throw on the Aspire, then its a different posture altogether working on the kickwheel.  While I appreciate being able to adapt like that, I much prefer a regular electric wheel to work at on regular basis.


Mar 13 2009

A New Workspace!

For the last 2 yrs or so, the studio has been in a state of absolute chaos. It has been part construction zone and part dumping ground for all sorts of non-clay related stuff… well, yes,, there was some clay in there somewhere too.

Eventually I got to the point where I threw up my hands, moved my wheel into the house, and set up a little work area in there. Not the ideal situation either, what with clay dust, etc, not to mention the challenges of proximity and navigation to the kiln with pots (doors, stairs, etc). After a while I would only venture to the studio when it was time to glaze a kiln load.  Each and every time, I had to spend valuable time reorganizing, clearing surfaces, finding tools, etc., which was frustrating, before I could even get started. It kind of takes a toll on you after a while and doesn’t do a thing for your productivity or state of mind.

work spaceWell this week I have finally moved my wheel back into the studio. I now have my own dedicated  section of the studio to throw, where all my tools are within reach and laid out so they’re easy to see and find. The addition of shelving and some pegboard makes it so much easier to keep organized and my work surfaces clear and instantly usable.

Behind my chair I have a bookshelf that holds bats as well as other small tools that I occasionally use.

work table and slab roller

Here in another section of the studio, is a waist high handbuilding station/table, right beside the slab roller.  Again a pegboard mounted above gives a place to hang related tools instead of cluttering up the surface .  (I haven’t tried it yet, but the table is  also the perfect height for throwing on that little tabletop Aspire wheel as well.)  Buckets of glaze sit under the table and out of the way.

I was surprised at how much more productive I have been this week and how much calmer I feel overall.  Its so much nicer to walk in in the morning and cuz I know I can start working right away and I’ll be able to find what I’m looking for.


Sep 30 2008

Candling with No Wind

stoneware bisque waxed and ready
This photo was from last night before I started glazing.  Oh yeah, there’s a ware rack outside the shot besides this lot as well.  I am glad to say its now all glazed and in a lit kiln, finally.  I’m relieved.  In the morning I’ll load another bisque load, now that things are finally dry, and probably fire the gas kiln again Wednesday night.

The weather is fantastic tonight.  Clear skies, 73 F, and (a rare occurance) no wind blowing across the clearing toward the kiln (and burners).  How nice for being out by the kiln and firing!  This is a relief after a summer of incessant rain. I was getting so tired of having to wear my muck boots seemingly everywhere to trudge through orange mud and puddles, not to mention having to deal with the headaches of trying to navigate my car strategically up our driveway without getting sucked down into a pot hole and stuck!  Anyways, everything is drying up nicely and I am back to wearing flips and birks.

Recycling tradeI’ve mentioned before that we’ve been working on expanding the studio for a while now.  Its actually been an ongoing project for a long time.. scrape together a few dollars, buy a few more boards and nails. I would just love to be able to have all the materials on hand and get it done in one fell swoop so I could get back to some sense of order and normalcy, and maybe take on some students again, but for now, this is the way it is.   This afternoon Lowell headed off to the recycling place in town to trade in some cans and metal stuff that was lying around, to clear up around and get a little pin money, I suppose. Well evidently he ended up having more than I thought because he came back with these.  “These will look great in the studio upstairs!”, he said, with a big silly grin across his face.