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.
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.
Since 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’.
I do love carving into clay. I wonder where it will take me next.