Tuesday, March 6, 2018

February that was!

Summer has officially ended, the evenings are drawing in and it is getting more of a challenge to rise from bed in the morning as it is dark outside.

I completed some pots for a wood firing in February, took photos for the blog with the intention of posting something interesting, and on the morning of the 15th of February, whilst the kiln was just passing through 600 Celsius, Laura had a message from her parent's doctor to say that it would be a good idea for her to travel up to the North Island as soon as possible, because her father was "fading". He had been in care for quite some time and not at all well, so this wasn't entirely unexpected. Travel arrangements were hastily made, Laura would join her brother and sister in law in Christchurch and they would fly to the North Island together the next day. As I had started the firing at 3.25am, I was able to get it finished by early afternoon, and Laura got packed and ready to go, but news came in the early hours of the next morning that Laura's father had died. Laura hopes to be back here tomorrow after a very busy time helping sort out the things that have to be done after someone dies, and spending time caring for her mother.

Laura and her mum and dad when they visited us in 2003

Unfortunately I was not able to travel up to the North Island myself, so have "held the fort" down here and kept cats fed and the gallery open most days.

 Laura's father, Andrew Todd, will be greatly missed.

Sadly, on the day of the funeral, Brian, the black cat that was making himself at home here, got run over on our busy main road. His twin brother, Smaug, was very upset for the first day at the loss of his brother (he probably saw it happen), but seems to have settled into a new routine here. Nigella Stopit doesn't approve, but she will get used to Smaug eventually!

Smaug and Brian playing together on our shed roof.

As you can see, February was a rather sad month for us, however there was also much to be thankful for. It has been good to have our little gallery, and some really delightful people have dropped in and have made life enjoyable. A lovely couple from France, with their very young daughter, bought a teapot to take back to their café.

A mug by Sebastian on his first day at the potter's wheel!
Sebastian, a young man from Germany spent a day here learning to use the potter's wheel for the first time and made a very nice mug after a few hours of learning how to center clay and make cylinders. A fellow potter from Christchurch who had seen my work on this blog, visited and we were able to talk glazes, kilns, and other potting related things. I have also met potters from Canada and the USA. I have received mystery gifts of yummy food left at our back door on two occasions from caring people in our village, and good friends organized a film evening that got me out of the house where we watched a movie and enjoyed a shared meal.

We are lucky with family, friends, and those that we meet through our gallery.

Here are a few of the pots from the 15 February wood firing.

I like this runny ash glaze over the white matte glaze.

A large, heavy bowl for bread making.

The ash glaze on its own looks nice on this thrown and modified bowl.

Copper red two person teapot.

Copper red two person teapot. (Holds 3 standard cups.)

The 15 February wood firing was OK, some good pots came out of it. Some failures too, but any failures were mostly due to a glaze recipe that I foolishly "adjusted" rather than anything the kiln did wrong. The kiln actually behaved extremely well, and we had very good control of temperature rise and atmosphere. The kiln used about 7 or 8 wheelbarrow loads of firewood for a 9 hour firing with much of it in reduction.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Knowing when to stop! A good Firing. Urns.

I find the last few minutes of a firing the most stressful, the Big question is knowing when to stop. I like to plan for the last hour of a firing, and think about how long glazes will need to mature, and how fast or slowly the temperature in the kiln should be rising. I try to think it out before the firing begins, but firings are dynamic, and firing with wood is something of an art as well as a science.

It would be nice to be able to open the kiln door and examine the pots like pies in an oven to see if they are "done", but the kiln is holding an atmosphere, white hot with just a faint yellow tinge, that is almost as bright and as deadly as the sun. Inside may look inviting, but it is not a friendly place, there are no happy aromas of hot pastry, braised beef, and sautéed onions!

Through welding goggles I can carefully peer at cones that are incandescent with heat, and await their bending and fall. I can sometimes glimpse the curve of a pot, the frozen D of a handle, but a glimpse is all. So I consult my graph paper log of the firing, noticing the dotted steps of each temperature reading as hour by hour the temperature rises. I time the fall of the cones, and I try to even the heat from top to bottom of the kiln, pushing in the chimney damper a little to slow the passage of heat through the kiln to the minimum needed to maintain a rise in temperature and an atmosphere in the chamber that is a little starved of oxygen.

Eventually I have to make the call to stop stoking. The top of the chamber gets hotter than lower down, so there is a compromise. If I try to get the lower part of the chamber up to an ideal temperature, than the top can be over fired. If I stop when the top is only just up to temperature, then the lower pots will be under fired. I have made some allowance for the expected temperature difference by selecting glazes that will love high temperatures for the hot part of the kiln, and ones that will tolerate lower temperatures for the cooler areas, but each firing is a living thing, and requires a judgement call.

I have some important pots in the upper part of the kiln, one is a commissioned piece, and there are some related pots as a back up in case the commissioned one turns out badly and we need a "plan B"! When the top shelf gets to cone 11 half down, I have to stop the firing for the sake of those large pots, even though the lowest pots will be under done. I know that I can re fire the pots that haven't quite got there, but it is hard to salvage a badly over fired pot!

The kiln was ready to unload on the third day after the firing, and Peter Watson, the friend who gave me my first lessons in potting and encouraged me along the way, stopped by to see the kiln unloaded.

The neighbour's -not quite our cat- cat who had helped me fire the kiln also watched with some interest.

Urn. 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches (292 x216mm)
The commissioned pot is a funeral urn. It was quite a responsibility to make such a special thing, and I wanted to make it simple and thoughtful. On an overcast day, the glaze seems sombre but there is a great deal of beauty when the sun lights it up.

Urn, detail of the lid.

We were very pleased to see that the urn was a success and it was well received by its owner when he picked it up yesterday.

There were some under fired pots as predicted that will go back in the kiln, but there were some treasures amongst the ones that got to temperature. In all it was a good firing!

Bowl with copper red glaze. 6 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (165 x88mm)
Copper red bowl detail.

Vase. Ash glaze over Shino. 5 1/2 x 5 1/4 inches (140 x 133mm)

Vase. Detail. Note the crystals over the ash glaze.

Urn. Ash glaze over Shino. 11 x 6 1/2 inches (280 x 165mm)

Urn. Detail of lid.

Breakfast bowl. Tenmoku glaze with rutile over glaze. 5 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (140 x 70mm)

Breakfast bowl. Detail. Note the pollen-like sprinkle of golden crystals.

Breakfast Bowl. 6 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches (158 x 70mm). Same glaze combination as the previous bowl.

Urn. Thrown and altered. Rutile over Tenmoku glaze. 10 1/2 x 10 x 8 inches (267 x 254 x 203mm).

Urn. Detail.

Urn. Rutile over Tenmoku glaze. 15 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches (387 x 190mm).

You may have noticed that there were several more urns! When someone commissions me to make something for them, I usually make several related pots. I think with my hands, and prefer to try to give the pot form in clay from the beginning. Other potters are happy to draw out ideas on paper, or even use 3d software on the computer to solve design problems. Really we need to find our own way to solve these things, paper or technology is good for some, clay for others, we are individuals!

Enough for now! I will be getting back to the wheel again this week. Hope to make coffee mugs, pouring bowls, a large mixing bowl for baking bread, and .... maybe some little tiles.