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 21 2011

Ups and downs of firing

Just catching up here. Didn’t I just finish talking about things that can go wrong just as one’s getting ready for a show…? Perhaps I jinxed myself.

From 2 weeks ago:

Woke up this morning ..well I didn’t actually wake up, I was still up.. I wasn’t feeling too good about how the day ahead was shaping up to be. Thanks to the mega storm system blowing in from the west yesterday (tornadoes actually touched down not 15 miles north of us), the kiln didn’t get lit until mid afternoon, much later than I had planned or anticipated.

Propane tank freezing upThis firing cycle, the multimeter I’ve been using as a pyrometer for the last 9 years finally decided to bite the dust just as the kiln temp hit around 1200 degrees Celcius and it started to stall. Great. Felt like I was firing blind. Not only that but I was running out of propane..just 7% left in the tank and it was starting to freeze up. (You can see the 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick layer of ice toward the bottom of the tank in this picture). Its at times like this I get envious of people who fire electric…

Bleary eyed, I dragged the hose around and started a water trickle on the tank to hopefully gain back some of the gas pressure I was starting to lose. Took a breather, made coffee, headed for the phone, sat down and waited for the Amerigas office to open.

Amerigas manThank goodness.. By some miracle, the gas company informed me that they could come out and bring me more propane that morning. Not too happy that the same amount of propane was going to cost $70 more than it was last year, but under the circumstances, now was not the time to quibble. I was just happy to know I’d be able to finish this firing.

Went back out to check on the kiln and cone 8 was starting to bend on both top and bottom. Phew! An hour later, I hear a familiar beeping sound of the propane truck coming down the drive. Total relief.

Porcelain Curio case with dogwood relief design in celadonYou just never know for sure what you are going to get until you unbrick that kiln door. Despite my misgivings and struggle to keep the kiln lit, the firing turned out better than I had anticipated and I actually did get some decent reduction. Here is one of the porcelain pieces you saw in my last post, now glazed in celadon and fired. I love the way this kind of glaze feels and pools, giving a carved design more depth.

Ah yes.. my pyrometer. As an aside, picked up this new multimeter at Lowe’s for $21. It measures both in both Celcius and Fahrenheit and is a good alternative to more expensive pyrometers, like Fluke, out on the market. Thermocouples are available at most pottery suppliers, but I managed to find a group lot on eBay at a really good price a few years ago. I like this one better than my last, actually, as the screen is bigger and easier to read. pyrometer2.


Dec 5 2008

Bending cones and The Frozen Tank

Webb decorated bisque ware I love the look of pots all laid out whether they be green ware or pots  waiting to be loaded in the gas kiln, as these are.   The mugs almost remind me of a regiment of soldiers, or a tightly packed school of fish all swimming in the same direction.

I’ve been finishing up a gas firing this morning, busily trying to keep the gas tank from freezing up until the propane truck finally makes it here this afternoon.  We’re cutting it pretty close though.. down to less than 5% in the tank and I have the garden hose dribbling some water on it so I don’t lose gas pressure completely.   Thankfully though,  cone 9 is bending evenly top and bottom so we’re in the home stretch.

I made a little adjustment to the way my target bricks were positioned this time (an experiment) in hopes of making the firing more efficient.  Evidently it has had some effect because the last time the kiln was stacked similarly, I had a good cone or 2 difference from top to bottom .   I guess I’ll only know for sure once the kiln is opened.

Looking forward to this kiln opening. I have several pots in there with clay from our new clay deposit I mentioned in my last post.


Nov 17 2008

Even the big boys have disappointments

Ontario Clay and Glass AssociationSeveral years ago, when I was *very* new to clay, I attended my very first clay conference.    It was really my first introduction to the clay community.  I remember it being a wonderful and unforgettable experience.  I got to try rakuing for the very first time at the preliminary workshop hosted by Ottawa Valley artist Leta Cormier in her, as I remember, extremely immaculate studio.  I also got to take part in my first mug exchange in which I remember receiving a lovely salt-glazed mug by potter Jackie Seaton.  My name was even drawn and I won some nice oriental brushes. But that was not all (and this was the pinnacle for me), John Leach, of  Muchelney Pottery, was the main presenter.  His pots were like nothing I had seen before (I told you I was new to clay) and I was impressed by what a real person he was … very gracious, generous, and down to earth. He left a lasting impression on me.

I recently discovered John’s brother Simon Leach has posted a series of videos on YouTube over the last year or so, showing demos, kilns, visits back to England and to friends’ studios, his philosophies, etc etc.  What I like is he presents things face on and shares his victories and disappointments, the good and the bad,  taking it all in stride.  I don’t think a lot of people are aware how hard it can be to be a potter and that things, quite beyond your control, can go extremely wrong after many, many hours of hard work, and all for naught.  Here is the 2nd of 2 of Simon’s videos taken while unloading Seth Cardew‘s kiln:

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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.


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.