Monday, August 18, 2014


I made some cups.

Then some turned into mugs.

I do not hate this handle.  We are making progress, folks.

The children helped.  Including this one making her own handles, of which she was quite proud.

Then I decided it was absolutely imperative that I attend an upcoming Soda / Gas firing workshop at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Maine.  This required 1. Calling the husband home from his contract halfway across the country.  2. Making three cubic feet of pots.  3. Acquiring the necessary cone 10 clay to make said pots.  4. Hooking up the bisque kiln and hoping like hell it works.  5. Firing said bisque.  In seven days.

I can do this!  Ghita Levin was kind enough to help me with clay.  And I did, indeed, make pots.

Some of which are dandy.  Others are not.  (Some of the curvy pots are too heavy, I had a particularly bad late-night handling session.  Pooh.)  But there's no time to toss now.  I'll just put the crappiest of the crappy at the bottom of the box, and maybe there won't be room in the kiln for them.  Maybe.

In any event, my hope is that, after this workshop, I'll be closer to eliminating one of the factors contributing to Big Anthony's current Dead status:  my inexperience.  My fingers are crossed.

Oh yes, and one of my dear classmates delivered to me the pots I made in Fredericton.  They were, for the most part, complete crap.  But I think these are sweet (not "Sweeet.  Awesome, Dude!" sweet, but "Awww, isn't that sweet" sweet) - my daughter's little set.

The single-parenting-and-still-working thing has been fun.  Easy because it's summer and the neighbourhood children are about.  Easy because they all visit the shed to play with me.  Easy because no one cares that I eat chocolate chip cookies, bacon, and beer for dinner.  Or that the house and yard are wrecks.

Now.  It's about getting the last of the big bowls trimmed, dried without cracking, and fired in the next four days.  I may have gone a bit overboard today with my speed-drying attempts, cranking electric baseboard heaters while running a dehumidifier full-tilt.  Time will tell.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Good Things.

Hey, look where I just spent a full week!

[This here is where you're meant to see a clear photo of the endless pottery studios
That is, if I had actually gotten my crap together and taken said photo.  
As I did not ever get my crap together, and as I can find no helpful images on their Web site,
you'll have to just imagine.  If you will.]

But look!  I did, indeed, get a photo of my superb classmates and instructor.
  These are good people.  Peeps, even, in the lingo of the week.  But yes, good people.  Although perhaps a bit deranged, I decided, after they considered my handles good enough to emulate.  (Golly!  I believe that's a boldface exclamation point I'm wearing!)  (!) (!!)

We made lots of cool stuff.

I was particularly excited about the crispness of these fellas, although I'm absolutely prepared for my expectations to be shattered in the firing process.

This is Chris Colwell.  He's awesome.   Wait, and that's Brenda.  She's awesome, too.   Awesomeness all around, really.

Kim blew us away with her designs.

I, ah, didn't quite have that kind of creativity in me.

We even got to hang out a bit with Melissa LeBlanc and learn about her process.  Um ... Wow.  

Peter Thomas made a surprise appearance, during which he declared he would travel to see Big Anthony fire.  Which completely caught me off guard.  How can I fire I dead kiln?  Ah.  Perhaps he can breathe some life into him.  Perhaps.


They have a difficult time believing it, too.

Arriving back to my own shed, full of the giddyness that accompanies anyone returning from summer camp, I decided to dive into this whole electric-kiln thing.  Damn it.

I spent the entirety of two days, no breaks, emptying every shelf, drawer, and cubby of my little shed; moving things about (technically, asking the husband to move the heaviest things about - which included partially de-constructing my wedging table); moving things about again; cursing; moving things again; and finally getting things back into order.  Actually, even into better order than before.

Including turning over a new leaf.  A clean leaf.  A non-silicosis-causing leaf.  I'm really, really hoping that facing my wheel toward the wall, and constructing this little barrier behind it, will keep trimmings on the floor to a minimum.  Oh, do I ever hope.

Although I did figure out today that a drywall filter in a Shop Vac works.  Works perfectly, in fact.  (And how many years have I had my own pottery space?  Honestly.)

All right.  I'm ready now.  Let's do this thing.  Eh?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Poor Big Anthony

I believe I've lost count of the firing attempts of this little kiln o' mine.

Wait, let's pull out the firing notes.  Ah, yes.  Eight.  Or sixteenish.  That's eight full attempts, and somewhere around eight aborted attempts.  And I believe I am further from my goal than I was with the first firing.  In fact, after this last one, I declared the fella Dead.

Not him, really, but the burners.  They backburn, immediately upon ignition.  A thin blue flame travels most of the way down the throat.  (And I've been instructed to just use them this way.)  This creates an incredible amount of heat - even the gauges and valves radiate enough heat that I'm convinced they're damaged.  Far more heat comes from this system than the kiln walls.  I'm certainly not going to fire those burners again.

I added two more 100-lb propane tanks this time (so now running on four), which got me past the 1974° wall I was hitting before.  However, this time I still topped out - at 2175°.  Was able to reach anywhere from cone 4 to cone 6, but oh it was s.l.o.w. going there at the end.

I'm convinced, without a doubt, the chimney is the issue.  The heat (oy, is that chimney hot to the touch!) and soda (I doubled the amount I sprayed, and there's absolutely no evidence of this addition) are both being sucked out.  But what the heck do I know?  As I have been told, I'm trying to learn to drive a car by reading a book.  I need someone here who knows.  However!  These firing helpers are impossible to find.  Impossible.  Oh, the far-reaching ideas I've had of someone - anyone - coming to help.  Oh, the people I've begged.  Nope.  Not happening.

So I figure my choices are these:  1. New high-pressure Venturi burners and re-built chimney  or 2. Throw in the towel and build a real kiln, from tried-and-true plans, in the country.  In fact, bring the kiln designer up here to not only build it properly, but fire it once, too.

The first option is an incredible gamble - there's still no formula for the proper size of the chimney.  And oh, the money to spend on burners, for such a gamble.

The second ... Well, you need to have land in the country in order to build a kiln in the country. Oh yes, and $12K-$15K or so for said kiln.

BUT!  How about a third idea?  (There are always more options, if you dig deep enough.)  How about switching to power burners?  And/or redesigning the kiln to be a proper downdraft?  And, with power burners, won't the chimney be far less of an issue?  And there might even be some formulas for how to size it properly?  And didn't someone mention to me, many months ago, that I could perhaps build my own power burners?  On the cheap?

I'm working on this third option.  Nine months and eight (or sixteenish) firings later, I'm still full of hope for this little kiln.

In the meantime, I did admit defeat on some levels.  The electrician arrives this week to hook up Helga, the computer-controlled electric kiln.  This initially made me kick, scream, and cry.  But I'm thinking now it will come in quite handy, both for one specific project and as a bisque kiln (tumble-stacking might even work then, eh?).

Also in the meantime, my pots are slowly becoming a bit better on their own, outside of firing.  These three I do not particularly love, but they did come out of the kiln properly fired.  The rest are dry and white, having not reduced and not received a lick o' soda.

August will hopefully bring good things.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Handles, Handles, Handles


I'm currently firing the kiln.  Inside are 40 or so mugs.  I tried to play around with forms - not as greatly as Emily Murphy showed us a couple years ago, but I did play with a few different shapes.

More importantly, I focused on handles.  My handles have, historically, sucked.  There were varying levels of bad, really, but usually they just sucked.  I had no idea how to make them better, back when I did this years ago.  However, now I have the power of Ye Olde Internet.  Scary, really, the time I've spent staring at other people's handles, scratching my head over just how did they do that?  Made a little Pinterest board of fine handles, even.  Turns out there are as many types of handles and methods of forming handles as there are potters - and I'm trying to nail down just what I want to make, and how.
  They're very much not yet where I want them to be, but ohmyword are they lightyears above what I was making eight years ago.  Phew.

Also in the kiln are a handful of bowls, some bottles, a few hand-built plates.  And these here test thingies.  Coloured slips.  I'll have more on this when I open the kiln.

And - wonder of wonders, without any warning, I decorated a plate one Saturday morning!

No, I really did.  Unbelievable, yes.  All previous attempts at deliberately decorating the surface of any pots has failed miserably.  But here I'm trying it again.  My drawing abilities are ... poopie.  (Hi, I just said, "poopie.")  But this here just is a test.  If this concept - areas with flashing slip, other areas not, black stain atop either/or - works at all, I'll be employing the services of one Husband Fella.  Husband Fella is absolutely talented with a stack o' pencils, pencil crayons, and markers.  If I can make the process work, I'm certain I can take some of his art and transfer it to pottery.  Fingers crossed.

Fingers very tightly crossed, yes.  Made a few changes to the kiln.  Out to check on it now.  Full report on those changes, and the firing, coming soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Shed Visit

This week, Peter and a group of his ceramics students from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design made a trek over this way to visit some potters.  And they stopped to see me, too!

As my pots are just in their infant stages, they primarily asked me questions about my shed.  And I asked gobs of questions of Peter about my kiln.  (He suggested a higher/tighter bag wall and a more substantial target brick.  Okay - this I can do!)  It was a quick-ish visit, really.  But then I tagged along for the rest of their tour.

Three studios and one cafe stop later, I was chock-full of ideas, inspiration, and even a wee bit of frustration (Oh, how I envy the time these students have to spend on their pots!).  And I even got to finally meet Mr. Tim Isaac.

Who was nice enough to take hold of my camera so I could jump in, too:

Thanks (for the 80th time, I know), Peter and ladies!

Time to get to work.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Big Anthony's Third Firing: Getting Closer!

Well.  Thanks to a well-timed phone call from Peter Thomas, who not only explained what I needed to change to achieve reduction (close the primary air), but why (no matter how many times I've read it before, it only made sense when he spelled it out for me in 15 seconds flat), and most importantly talked me down from my high level of stress that comes when I cannot get the damn thing to reduce ...

It worked!

  • The flame was much happier this time from the burners - blue and strong, with a good sound.
  • I did get the kiln to cone 6 without using a single piece of wood.
  • The firing was quite even, compared to previous efforts (range of soft cone 5 to hard cone 6).
  • I did get some reduction, albeit on one shelf.
  • I did get lovely soda, albeit on the same one shelf.  (Because I didn't clog the sprayer - finally!)

It took 16 hours or so.  (All but one piece had been fired before, so there wasn't the need for slowness at the beginning.)  This really helped, to assure my brain still worked by the end.

Marc Ward has told me it takes between five and eight firings to figure out a gas-fueled kiln.  But I've read elsewhere it takes some folks years.  Having never fired a gas kiln (besides my own two small ones) before this, or even witnessed someone else fire theirs, I'm very, very happy things are starting to look up already, after only three firings.  I credit it solely to an awful lot of help from afar.

So, here's what I need to work on:

  • The burners were maxed out hours before the cones fell.  Things were very, very, very slow at the end.  It's perfectly fine if this is the way it's always going to go, but it just makes me nervous that it won't work if the kiln is more tightly stacked, or it's less windy, or if I stand on one foot too long, etc.
  • The flame came into the kiln hard and fast, hit the bag wall, went straight up.  I had no way of seeing the flame at the top, but further down the kiln I had a hole where I could see that it was now very, very soft and licking, and it had gone over the bag wall, through one shelf, then down, under another shelf, and out the flue.  This one shelf the flame touched is the only one with any reduction, and it received most of the soda, as well.  (I'd like that soft flame to make its way throughout the entire kiln, not just one shelf.)

  • A couple of the pots (all on that one shelf) have some small cracks.
  • Reduction is still a mystery.  I'm attempting a body reduction from 1623°F to 1800°F, and I believe I was not able to achieve it this time.  Although the last few hours of the firing it was in reduction the entire time - and I couldn't make it not reduce.
  • I have to fire with the damper open only half an inch or less.  This just doesn't seem right to me.

And!  Here's what I hope will help answer these questions:
  • Peter.  He's bringing a group of his students to the area next week, to visit a handful of potters.  They're coming here first, and I have high hopes I can bribe him with cookies for some detailed kiln help.
  • Apparently I need target bricks in front of the burners.  And hopefully Peter can explain why!
  • I had very few pots on the kiln.  Partly because I figured it wasn't going to work and didn't want to ruin more pots, partly because I just don't make enough.  But packing it more evenly, and tightly, should help.

In any event, folks.  This here is what the kiln looked like when I opened it up:

This is the top back shelf, the one that saw the least soda/flame/reduction (D in drawing above).

The two creamy white pieces on the right were glaze with Malcolm Davis' shino - this is what this glaze looks like in reduction.

Next to it, the top front shelf, which did receive some soda (C):

Bottom back shelf (B):

The shelf that saw all the action (A):

The two mugs on the left were put into the kiln completely dry on the outside - no slip, glaze.  The three you can see on the right had a couple different slips on them.  Both of these slips, throughout the kiln, actually repelled soda (which was not my goal) and left some colours behind, depending on the clay body and the placement in the kiln.

Some of the better pieces, mostly from that shelf:

Yes, I'm aware the photos above aren't exactly professional.  Neither is my setup.

Although it's handy to have a banjo case hold up your light reflector thingie.  And who doesn't need an accordion in their photo studio, really?

Did a Spring Cleaning of the workshop yesterday, hoping to do the same for the kiln shed today.  Photos coming soon.