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 😉

 

 

 

 


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.


Jan 25 2009

Upcycling and A great damp cupboard

Old Refrigerator filled with pugged claySometimes the best tools are right in front of you.

Here’s a picture of an old defunct refrigerator that we use in the studio.  It still had a good seal on the doors, so instead of sending it to the landfill, we upcycled this one to serve as a receptacle for some freshly pugged clay.  Its not pretty, but it works brilliantly.

We also have another old fridge which is used as a “damp cupboard”.  It houses pots that perhaps we can’t get to right away to trim, carve a design into, or add attachments. A little cup with water in it, left in the fridge, does the trick keeping the air inside nice and damp.

You can make the unsightly outside of the fridge zippy painting it as wild as you like, and since its a giant magnet board, its also a handy spot for photos, calendars, etc..


May 28 2008

Well Who knew?

The Shimpo Aspire Tabletop Pottery Wheel.

This little wheel weighs 25 pounds, goes on a tabletop, and is supposed to center 20 lbs. Yeah right. Looks like a toy doesn’t it?

Shimpo's table top wheel for beginner to advanced throwers

Well I tried it out and here it is. No toy.

The proof is in the pudding.I don’t remember how much clay I used, but the pot stands 13 1/4″ tall. Not bad. Like any Shimpo I’ve used, (and despite the fact that this one is belt driven vs direct drive) it handles clay without breaking a sweat. Very quiet as well. I like the fact that despite all that strength, its very light and I can easily pick it up, stick under my arm, and go. I’ve tried a Soldner tabletop model (made by Bluebird) and it was great.. sturdy and strong, but very heavy.

Anyways, I was impressed not only by its ability, but by its exceedingly reasonable price.


Oct 29 2007

Favourite tools to have at the wheel

When you first start learning how to make pottery, you follow your teacher’s lead. You follow the same techniques, use the same tools, and emulate your teacher as best as you can. You take what you learn with you throughout your potting career. Lowell’s favourite thing to say to students as they start out is “First you learn the rules, then you learn there are no rules”. Sure, there are other ways to do the same thing, but as with learning a language, getting a good foundation in the fundamentals is important.

Over time and with experience, we all come to find techniques, tricks, or tools that work better for each of us. Its always fun visiting other peoples’ studios. I’ve noticed over the years that no 2 potters work in exactly the same manner. And potters, while for the most part a kind and friendly lot, are pretty quirky. The longer they work alone in their studio, it seems, the quirkier they get too. …but that’s another post for another day!

Right now I am throwing on an old Creative Industries wheel. I had been throwing on an even older Soldner wheel, up until August when, unfortunately, the 35 yr old motor finally bit the dust (hoping to repair it after this next show).

The chair I use to sit at it is actually an old stool from a yard sale, cut to height. The front legs are cut 2 or so inches shorter than the back legs which makes it less of a strain on my back when leaning over to throw. A low-tech and inexpensive way to work smarter and save your back.

There are a few things I like to have around the wheel:
– A straight sided 2 or 3 gallon water bucket – rim ideal for scraping excess slip off of my hands; clay particles settle nicely in bottom and don’t get stirred up each time I moisten my sponge.
– an old cup to hold my main throwing tools – pin tool, sponge, wooden knife
– a plastic rectangular container for ribs – not pictured, but is an recycled old baby wipes container . The size and shape is just right as was the price
bats – on the left side of the wheel table there is usually a stack of 7″ Creative Industries square bats that I use for smaller items. They have 2 sets of notches molded on the underside to fit different bat pin spacings for both this wheel and the Soldner. Also have 12″ & 14″ round CI bats, and a few Plastibats (which are actually superior, very sturdy and don’t bend, but are unfortunately more expensive). Nice thing about these plastic molded bats is they never rot and seem to last forever. The drawback is they are more expensive, limited in sizes (nothing more than 14″ in diameter). The Creative Industries ones have a tendency to bend when pots being taken off the wheel, so you have to be extra careful.
– a kitchen scale – for weighing pieces of clay out for throwing
– a mirror – (not pictured) helps with seeing the contour of pots while both throwing and trimming. I threw for 2 weeks without one, bending to the side to see the profile, and not only did it kind of slow me down and make my neck/back hurt, but my pots looks different too.
– big table – (the one pictured here is an old door on sawhorses with canvas stretched over it). I will throw a series and when the table is full, get up and move the pots to ware racks.

There was one time I had bins of tools. (Can you have too many tools??) Well, I still have them, but I have narrowed it down to a few that I actually use regularly at the wheel:
– a pin tool;
– a wooden knife;
– a sponge (a medium sized natural sponge; cellulose sponges also work great in a pinch);
wooden ribs (a small kidney shaped and larger one, both Kemper);
2 Sherrill Mudtools – soft/red & hard/green (I like these because unlike a rubber rib they don’t break down and have so far kept their smooth edge; rubber ribs tend to break down within a few months in this climate);
a long metal rib;
– a chamois on a fishing bobber – stays floating in bucket so I don’t ever lose it and its easy to see; cutoff wires of different thicknesses;
– a metal scraper from hardware store;
– a Bison trimming tool
– a Giffin Grip
– a Grabber pad attached to one of my plastic bats mentioned above
– a 16″ square piece of plywood (very low tech) for trimming larger bowls and platters on.
– many sets of metal calipers for fitting lids