One way to gauge the productivity of a studio is how messy it is. Everything falls by the wayside (and onto the floor, against the walls and on every available surface) when a series is in process. There is just no time to dilly dally on such frivolities as cleanliness or organization. Work just has to get DONE. Add teaching, firing student work, delivering work, attending opening receptions, deadlines for upcoming shows and life in general into this mix and soon enough you can’t swing a cat in the studio without causing an avalanche. My studio (lovingly referred to as the clown car is no exception.)
I have the great fortune to have been invited to submit new works into two upcoming shows, The Montclair 10 Returns and the Montclair Art Museum Annual Faculty Show. I also have been blessed with having work selected in several group shows: Sacred Spaces/Holy Places at Nails in the Wall, Art Connections 12 at The George Segal Gallery, and Viewpoints at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art. In addition to this and my regular teaching gigs at the museum, I will be teaching a 3-day raku workshop, Raku Rodeo at Peters Valley Craft Center during the weekend of June 3 – 5, with a 1-day teaser demonstration there on May 1, 2016 both of which I needed to make ware to fire, and do a few raku firings for practice. I’d better get cracking!
In my last studio tour post I had just embellished and altered forms in porcelain and raku clay off the wheel for firing. After painful consideration I decided to multi-fire the porcelain in oxidation and raku fire the raku clay forms. At the time, the thinking was more from self preservation than aesthetic calculation- just in case all the raku ware blew up or failed I would still have enough finished ware from the electric kiln to meet my exhibition obligations.
Pushing the Envelop:
My firing processes always have an element of risk. I am constantly pushing the envelop way beyond what is good for me and my ware. Whenever I hear a fellow potter, especially a mentor say, “Never do this, it won’t work” I take it as a call to arms. Bruce Dehnert, the wizard of the Peters Valley ceramic studio told me never to bisque fire my raku ware above cone 06. It will explode in raku. It just won’t work. Bill McCreath, my uber mentor professor from my masters program at Montclair State bisques raku ware even lower, to cone 08. This bothers me. Raku ware is stoneware that can go up to at least cone 6. The logic is it has to be fired low to keep its pores open enough to absorb carbon and withstand thermal shock. I get that. But I can’t stand how porous it is post firing. It leaks and sweats if filled with water, has an unpleasant feel about it and makes a nasty low pitched “ping” when tapped with an index finger. I want a finished piece that is as water proof as possible, doesn’t leak or sweat and has a nice substantial vitrified feel and sound when tapped. So I bisque fire to cone 1. (gasp)
Unleashing the Gremlins
Firing the Porcelain:
As I loaded the green ware and programed the kiln to cone 1, a little gremlin of doom appeared on my shoulder whispering, “gonna fail, gonna fail!” over and over until the damn ware came out of the kiln. As I mixed up the cone 6 glazes the little bastard said, “glaze won’t stick, glaze won’t stick!” While grinding the dichroic glass I selected into frit to fuse in the next firing he said, “all gonna fall off, fall off!” This torture continued until after the luster firing (I had to do a few of the pieces twice which made him really happy, the jerk.) I must say I am very pleased with the results. It isn’t often that things come out as planned.
The Raku Event:
The gremlin was dancing a jig as I dragged out the kiln. “Not enough propane! Not enough propane!” he giggled as I hooked up the tank, not remembering the last time I used it or filled it. The first load were vases with my favorite raku glazes. “Bottoms blow off! Bottoms blow off!” it squeaked as I stacked the first load, “Gonna drop ’em, gonna drop ’em!” as I pulled each one out. “You’ll burn down the house! Burn down the house!” when a stray ember went down the driveway (I stamped it out.) For some reason, all pieces in this load (each placed in its own can) was covered in a yellow tar like residue similar to the nicotine that covers the walls of old French cafes. This made gremlin boy really happy but it was nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t cure.
Since I used my luster glazes on 3 pieces, I decided to put those in a separate 2nd load and “steam” them in a “smokeless raku” process, where instead of placing them in cans of combustibles, I stood them each on a piece of paper then wrapped them in a wet newspaper covered with a wet towel until cool. “Won’t stand up! Won’t stand up! You’ll burn yourself, haha!” Happily, these came out just the way I wanted them. Nyah nyah nyah little gremlin!
Now that they are all done I have the happy quandary of figuring out which one goes into what show. I love this kind of problem.