Watch what I did with several of my “mutts” that I brought back from the Peters Valley Workshop:
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Watch the teasers:
Mutts. Duds. Clunkers. Everyone has them coming out of the kiln. What to do with them? Ceramic pieces are durable goods made from ingredients mined, mostly in third world countries. As a potter I never forget that and don’t take my choice of medium lightly. I try to make every piece count. Not every piece comes out of the kiln the way I want it, in fact, quite the opposite. Given that they are the product of my hand, heart and energy, AND durable goods, I try to give them the best shot at a long and useful life. Thus, I am famous for re-fires. My motto being, “fire it til you like it or it breaks!”
Here are the befores and afters:
Check out the bright blue bowl, the small vessel to it’s left, and the small bowl on the far right. These were my “almost but not quite” keepers.[/caption]
“Almost but not quite” keepers are definitely annoying. I scrub at them them, hoping against hope that what I’m seeing is something that is some sort of water soluble layer hiding something truly amazing underneath. But no, I rub furiously at it like an Alladin’s lamp, wishing, just wishing that my tired, filthy and sore body didn’t go through all that work for nothing. But, with a heavy sigh and heart I realize it just wasn’t meant to be and that glass of wine I reach for is for consolation not congratulations.
That blue bowl- yes, it’s an amazing color blue, for bowling balls, not for bowls. And those yellow patches where the glaze ran thin, can we just not mention them please? The little green vessel to its left- that one falls into the “close but no cigar” category. It’s a pretty glossy green but it was supposed to be satin turquoise blue damn it! What’s up with that, huh?! And that poor green bowl to the far right. Can we talk? The glaze was so thin the grog showed through. And can I confess: I’m sick of green raku glazes. (or at least I have so many of them at home that I don’t need another new one from a workshop, not to be ungrateful or nothing.)
There were also, not pictured because they are heart breaking, 2 large white stoneware bowls that were complete and utter failures. One just got a layer of flashing slip, but because it was raining so hard the humidity would not let the poor thing dry. I tried everything: I put it in the drying closet, hit it with a heat gun, blotted it with paper towels. I finally gave up and just stuck it in the shino kiln thinking that maybe it would get visited by the kiln faeries who would wave their wands and turn it into something amazing. Let’s just say they passed me by or were off that night or grounded by the rain because it came out a matte gray color what I imagine dolphin poop looks like.
The other was a tragedy. I carefully glazed it for the soda kiln and had what I thought was a real winner on my hands. Bruce looked at me sheepishly as I stared down at the matte brown and yellow mess in my hands as we unloaded the shino kiln, and confessed that it didn’t fit in the soda so he stuck it in there instead. What a pal. So I needed to see if I could work a little magic on those and learn a new trick or 2 while I was at it.
E voila! As they say in France:
This one is now a winner! Added a coat of “bowling ball no more” on top!
Still green, but now interesting copper red flashing and turquoise blue and a nice glow. Toned down the grog feel a bit too:
And my little vessel has more intrigue, depth and texture, especially on the bottom (that you hardly every see, this is my luck again)
So 3 are salvaged, phew! Big sigh of relief and high fives all around.
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Those 2 other bowls? Why no pictures of before or after? They fall into the “you win some you lose some” and “once a mess always a mess” categories. I added my most dependable clear satin cone 6 glaze, “Pauline,” from my days as a student at MSU and fired them in my electric kiln. All I can say is, the yellow one is less unappealing as the grey one and they are both now pressed into service in my kitchen, where all my problem studio delinquents wind up. My kitchen cabinets are like a pottery home for wayward children, but they are getting used.
It’s been a week since my return from Peters Valley and I’m still processing the entire experience. Workshops, for me, are more than targeted educational intensives. They are a chance for me to launch out of my usual orbit and experience fission of ideas and cosmic collisions with like minded creative travelers. They also provide me with an outlet to bust loose from my usual persona and show a different side of me that people in my daily life rarely glimpse, and focus on one thing and one thing only 24/7- making and firing work. In addition it’s good for me to get out of the house and on my own in a strange setting to make me appreciate how good I have it at home, how I’m loved and cared for by my husband, and how comfortable I have it.
I was extremely pleased with my accommodations! I had a large room on the first floor of a cute house. All the other bedrooms were upstairs so I pretty much had the whole floor and its bathroom to myself. My bedroom was to the left of the front door and my windows overlooked a little porch with chairs. I even had an air conditioner, and the room had 2 twin beds and hand made soaps! To the rear was a comfy living room with nice morning light and off that a huge kitchen with a coffee maker and even coffee (a very nice welcoming touch) and off that the bathroom. All in all a very nice place to crash in between firings at the studio a very short distance down the road and the mess hall an even shorter gambol through the bushes.
To every sunny side there’s a dark one and this time it came in the form of rain clouds. It POURED the entire time. It TEEMED and was unseasonably chilly and though I threw in my foul weather gear at the last minute I didn’t think to add warm socks, leggings, sweaters. The fact that one of the windows in my room was stuck open didn’t help, and it rained so hard that the water dripped from the gutters onto an aluminum leader constantly in a torture tattoo. At one point I felt like I was in the American remake of the Japanese movie Rashomon where the opening scene takes place in the pouring rain. The screens were faulty and all sorts of legged and winged creatures danced, flitted and jumped around my room at night. At one point a cricket the size of a mouse jumped on my head prompting me to knock everything off the night stand as I flailed around for the lamp, and I was treated to a solo light show performance given by a lonely love starved fire fly perched on top of the closet molding.
The workshop was given by director Bruce Dehnert
and instructor Steve Cook,
both of whom I know from hanging around the Peters Valley table at NCECA events. Bruce I’ve known for years, having taken 3 other workshops at Peters Valley and being there for the 2012 residency. Once in the studio I commandeered a table and set up my stuff. I had pretty much everything I needed and then some. My solar powered dancing devil was quickly pressed into service to protect the wood fire kiln and Pinocchio, despite being abused and over-wound to breaking point one night by a nameless shameless brazen studio interloper after I had left, did his best to clap for us as we fired up the raku kiln.
Besides Bruce and Steve, there were 9 of us students and 2 assistants, Cindy and Max. A merry band one and all. After introductions, a brief outline and lecture we set about glazing for a soda and wood fires, where I was introduced to flashing slips, something I’ve never used, and a wide variety of glazes. It was hard to pick and choose ware for each firing and strategize, not really knowing what to expect from my clays and the glazes, but it was fun to experiment, and especially fun to learn about wadding and use it as a decorative tool (my attempts were rather lame and ineffectual but it was fun anyway) The spots on these pieces were where the wadding left its imprint. To me the 2 on the right look like startled faces and the one on the left an upside down face of a cartoon bear. If I was more creative I’d have done a better job of it but better luck next time.
Once we loaded the wood kiln the soda kiln was next and after that the reduction shuttle kiln for the shino firing. Shino is something I had never done before but always wanted to try, I had some good success with the glazes despite my poor glaze application skills which were pretty much a quick dunk leaving finger marks behind (everything’s a test!) By this time the rain was so relentless that many of my pieces had absorbed alot of humidity which made the glaze application uneven and in one case the flashing slip never dried and I couldn’t apply the glaze coat!
The wood kiln was lit on night 1 of the workshop, the soda kiln the afternoon of day 2. I don’t really enjoy wood firing. I’m not good at sitting around in 3 hour shifts alternating between staring compulsively at a pyrometer and into the maw of a roaring firebox, picking through a pile of logs and throwing them just right so as not to bust out the back of the kiln or create a log jam so the door won’t close, all the while in the piss pouring rain, at night. But once it gets going great guns it really is a sight to behold, especially in the dark. Oh and the results are pretty great too!
During my morning shift on the 3rd day the raku kiln was fired up and things really got going for me as I’m a raku junky and am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Bruce picked up on this and asked if I wouldn’t mind being in charge of it until the reduction kiln was squared away. I was in hot-as-hell heaven! The kiln was a very simple efficient affair; once it got hot enough for the first pull the subsequent pulls happened every 20 minutes. Ware was placed in small metal cans with lids lined with small handfulls of straw like hay (damp of course) That morning was spent bouncing between the wood and raku kilns. It was physically very taxing and I was glad I had done alot of endurance work outs up to this point. Max was really great about checking up on us and making sure we were drinking enough water. Alot of sweating was going on. Here’s a picture of Jessie and Sharon doing their “Dante’s Inferno” re-enactment.
With all this going on it was time to think about pit firing. I brought videos with me to sell, and Bruce not only let me talk alittle about the Horsehair BBQ process, but he went out and bought items to make a smoke kiln out of a garbage can and let me run a firing!!! I was so happy and so grateful! I learned alot about pit firing, in particular the spray application of yellow ochre and copper carbonate and how to load it and use copper sulphate and aluminum foil to create colors and patterns. So the last night was spent literally sitting around the camp fires, fueled on jokes, camaraderie, music and tequila.
The final day was like Christmas. We all ran around discovering our pieces in the unloadings, jumping up and down, high fiving, scratching and shaking our heads, rolling our eyes, oohing and ahhing over each other’s work, grinding, taking notes, asking questions.
I was really really impressed by everyone else’s work, in particular, their forms. Mine were thrown together tiny things made in haste to serve as tests while everyone else’s were well executed, planned, large and took beautifully to the glazes and firing processes. Food for thought for next time! I hope to keep in touch with everyone now that we’re all home, and look forward to the next PV workshop, hopefully a 3 day raku/horsehair extravaganza with me as one of the instructors, but also another round of glaze formulation with wizard Bill Carty.
Miss me? We were in Cape Cod for 2 glorious weeks of sleeping, eating, biking, horse back riding, and lazying about in slouchy clothes. Naturally I set off for the trip bags loaded with all sorts of electronics so that I could WRITE, PHOTOGRAPH AND BLOG every day while away. HAH! Except for one torrentially rainy cold day, I didn’t even peck at a keyboard.
One thing I did decide to do on a whim just before we left was decide to enroll in the Peters Valley Workshop, “Battle of the Burn” given by Bruce Dehnert and Steve Cook. It cost a fortune and was immediately after not one but 2 trips and who in their right mind would go to a place filled with mosquitos and ticks with marginal accommodations to fire pottery outside 24/7 with a bunch of like minded fools? ME!
So before I left I e mailed Bruce to inquire if there was still room for one more student, and how much work I need to take with me. I figured the class would be full and I’d just go off to the Cape but NOOOOOO he replied immediately to say he’s delighted I’d take it could I please whip up about 40 pieces to bring. FORTY? FORTY!
So I became a one person pottery factory, banging things out as fast as possible, side stepping embellishments or anything creative or complicated and easy to break, i.e. blank canvas type bowls and plates. Bruce said to use raku clay or stoneware, ticking off how many pieces in which clay.
Typically my go-to clays are high fire stonewares from Standard Supply: S182 a nice smooth bright white, easy to throw and durable for gentle raku, smoke and luster processes, but also good for wood firing and salt fires; S239 a raku clay that’s very dependable but for my tiny achy hands hard to throw and a buff color that isn’t really my thing, and S108 a medium grog red stoneware that I recently discovered does wonderful things in raku especially when coated in clear raku glaze and spritzed with ferric chloride while piping hot fresh from the kiln. I hadn’t used the 239 or 108 in awhile but knew my 182 was just the way I like it in the way of soft and wet.
I had one bag of 239, hard as a rock, a tiny amount harder than desired but workable and several hard as rock bags of 108 but a bucket of reclaimed that I could make passable. And so, before leaving for the Cape I was able to bang out 6 plates, 9 chawan, assorted little tiny dishes and a few big bowls in 182 and 7 bowls in 239. I left them to dry for the 2 weeks and would fire them when I got back. I also left the hard as rock bags sprayed then wrapped in wet towels and crossed my fingers.
Once home the bags were still hard as rocks but I managed to get 16 one pound balls out of the reclaimed 108 so I banged out a bunch of chawan, 5 plates and assorted tiny things.
Typically I open flame fire very slow and steady which allows me to get away with minimal breakage, but when you’re in a workshop firings are hot and fast and all bets are off. If you don’t build your pieces durably or bisque low enough you wind up with a very sorry pile of broken shards or worse, everyone is pissed off at you because your pieces exploded and took out the rest in the kiln with them. I like to bisque fire my ware high, to Cone 1 (2028 degrees F) or 2 (2034 degrees F.) I just don’t like the open pore feel of high fire stoneware fired at low temperature and I find that those temperatures close the pores enough to keep me happy but still survive the fire and accept the smoke. Bruce warned me not to bisque too high so I decided on cone 03, 1987 degrees F. The 182 clay load came out fine but in the case of the red 108 clay bisque the kiln agreed with Bruce, and even though I didn’t change the programming from the 182 firing it fired to between Cone 06 (1830) and 05 (1870).
Add to the mayhem going on in the studio, my videos, Horsehair BBQ and Strike Firing Lusterware are finished! They are not yet ready for distribution on the internet, but Bill and Lin managed to make wonderful packaging, and my next door neighbor Andrew, a lawyer, drew up an ominous disclaimer (you can’t throw a rock in my neighborhood without hitting a lawyer, but don’t do it they’ll sue you) and Jerry added it to the videos. So voila! 10 of each are ready to distribute. In between rounds of pottery I tested each and every one on my laptop, desktop and DVD player (which btw I didn’t even know how to turn on until this adventure.) I am so sick of the sound of my voice, but I must admit they look pretty good, I just hope they are instructional and not boring as all hell. Bruce said to bring them and I’m really thrilled about that, THANKS BRUCE!!!
So armed with the materials list for the workshop and the suggested packing list from the facility I basically took my extra big go-to-workshops bin and tool box and threw everything that would fit in them. Clay tools, glazing tools and chemicals, fire safety gear, feathers, shells, horsehair, combustibles, spray bottles, turntables, even kiln saints, you name it, it’s crammed in the box. I’m a neat freak and hyper organized so things went into marked containers by category for intimidating fellow students. I also create a notebook, 3 ring binder, waterproof sleeves (a fellow student once borrowed my notes and spilled an entire jar of glaze on them the bastard) and all sorts of printouts, firing charts and schedules. This ritual, even if it’s overkill, somehow calms me down. God forbid I’d get stranded in a foreign ceramics studio without my blank firing schedule templates!
Forget about the templates, then there are personal things I suddenly will die if I don’t have while there like wine, chocolate, coffee and iced tea. You may say, “what, you can’t get them at Peters Valley?” to which I respond, “NO!” It’s literally in the middle of nowhere, and although the food is excellent and you get plenty of it 3 times a day, it’s the little things that suddenly become extra valuable like alcohol (for drinking discreetly by my lonesome outside the studio, or for trading for other more valuable rare items- not that I can think of any) chocolate and ice cubes.
There are essentials to remember like a pillow, fly netting, bug repellent, poison ivy medication, anti itch creams and flip flops to wear in the shower. I hear things are looking up at Peters Valley and that now one emerges cleaner from their showers than before they entered, but it is communal living at its most basic. I managed to snag a SINGLE ROOM WITH AIR CONDITIONING!! From the tone of the voice making my reservation, it may be in the next county so I am going to throw my bike in the car too. If I had a canoe I’d probably strap it to the roof, but for now one suitcase, a bag full of survival gear, a bike, helmet and bike shoes/clothes and a cooler full of wine, chocolate and caffeinated drinks, I think I’m set.
See you in July!!!!
Ok, glass fused jewelry making workshop- done. Firing for same- done. Delivery- made. Email notifications- sent. Phew.
Weekly glass class final session- done. Yowza those girls were glass factories! Grinding and firing (several) for same – done. Delivery- made. E mail notifications- sent. Ahhh.
The 2 commissioned dog funerary urns- done. OMG thank you Lord they came out great. Delivered yesterday- crossed off the list. Bing.
It’s been a wild couple of weeks and a big crunch (not a good word in a ceramics/glass studio) to finish everything and prepare to go away for a week. Plus I had to create, merge and update (by hand because I didn’t trust the computer and laptop to cooperate with each other) my e mail address books so that on the plane to Denver, either on the way or on the way back, I can write the text for the launch of my videos, and the official launch of this blog. (yey!)
Tonight I just have to view Horsehair BBQ on my DVR to make sure it works. Once that happens we can upload it, get approval, announce the launch and I’m in business. People can either buy a hard copy (in a very attractive case) to receive by mail or download for streaming (is that correct? I’m a dummy, I’m not sure, but to download to view on a phone or device.)
I’m tired, but happy, and feeling a little behind the eight ball because I still have to edit, add text and print out the photos from the Priest Project 2015 (more on that when I get farther on it don’t rush me) and get the videos done.
Plus there’s other minor details like getting the house ready for pet and house sitters, doing laundry, packing, you know that minor stuff you need to do before boarding planes. All I know is I will be happy once the plane takes off.
Hope to post some stuff on vacation, Bye
I’m a bit of a control freak in case you haven’t noticed. This is what I send to my students regarding pick up of their work. I show them exactly where it is (this time in the studio lobby.) It helps the studio manager and other teachers. The students know exactly where to go and don’t have to interrupt a class or find the manager, and the manager knows what’s happening.
Today was a marathon. Taught in the morning, raku’d in the afternoon. It was the last day of teaching my glass class. Usually, we have a party and do no work, but this time it was only a 4-week course so I put out all the glass and let them rip. They were like glass factories, I could hardly carry everything they assembled to my studio to fire. I have a feeling I’m looking at about 4 or 5 loads. By next Tuesday? OMG, I hope so. The good news is that the spoils from Sunday’s glass workshop have been fired, ground and delivered. One item to tick off the list.
Meanwhile, I raku’d a Lola urn. Lola was a very beautiful dog owned by Ann, who really really loved her. She hired me to make an urn to contain her ashes, using some of them as bone ash to a glaze recipe, which just so happens to be Steve’s Blue Raku Patina, and that means, raku. Ann gave me carte blanche to create an urn. She sent me a picture of Lola and she told me to have fun because that was what Lola was all about. I made an urn that was pretty representative of her head, but Ann wanted to go with one of my more classic wheel thrown urn shapes, so I did, so in this case she’s getting two.
I dragged trusty Beato outside and set her up and turned her on before I left for school, then come 4:45 it was ready to pull. Beato is great because I can do just one urn and a lid and be done and cleaned up by dinner time. Everything went really well except the lid touched the urn body in the reduction can and they stuck together. THANK GOD I was able to separate them without any breakage. PHEW. Oh and did I mention it was forecast to storm the same time I was supposed to pull? But all went very well!
I dragged Beato back in the minute she was cool enough and now she’s got the “head” urn inside for a fast cone 06 commercial glaze fire. What a wonderful little work horse. May the force be with us! Tomorrow is a glass day in Elmo, the Skutt 1027 and probably the next, and the next and the next…) such is life as a kiln wrangler in the kiln rodeo! I’m really really tired, a tad sore and a bit smelly, but whenever it got hard I remembered that when I was tearing my hair out at my desk job in NYC or on the table having surgery or getting radiation treatments when I had cancer, what kept me going was that someday I’d have days like this. FABULOUS!
It’s a kiln rodeo over here in the studio. Since Friday, I’ve been running the kilns non-stop- unloading one and firing up the other in a continuous cycle to keep up with my crazy schedule. In the immortal words of one of my students, “it’s all good!” Since I last wrote I taught a glass jewelry making workshop (Spring Bling!) for 7 students at the museum. It went well, all my students were wonderful and brought their own personal talents and enthusiasm and joy with them.
I’m always so amazed at how each student works so differently from the next. I have some who spend the entire 3 hours making 2 or 3 pieces, each wonderful in their planning, calculation and execution. Then I have my “glass factories” who sit down and crank out piece after piece with free and wild abandon, all delightful. I wish I were so free in my art making! This class had a wonderful combination of both.
I’m just about getting over my stage fright around teaching (took long enough.) Until these past couple of classes the energy exchange was always in one direction- out. I would feel so drained after each class. My mother, a teacher for 54 years who was teacher of the year once (it skips a generation) said she always felt energized and nourished by her students, and I made that my goal. All the teachers I ever had, Mikhail Zakin in particular always seemed so happy and jazzed by their students, always learning from them. I’m trying to be that free and open but it doesn’t come naturally. This time was better than the last, I fed off the happiness floating around the room. Many of my students get the class as a gift from loved ones, something they’d never give themselves, for others it’s the only time they have just to themselves to do something that doesn’t have to do with a family obligation. And some, to put delicately, I get the impression that they’ve been sent by family members to get them out from underfoot. I love them all and try my best to give them a great time.
Anyway, these workshops are always a trip. Students make dozens and dozens of little tiny pieces that I need to fire at least once in my kiln, sometimes twice. Usually too much for my little kiln and too little for my big one. This is the way my life works. But it’s way cheaper to run my little kiln twice than once in the big one so the decision was easy, at least in this case. The tricky part is trying to keep straight who made what, especially after the firing when everything changes shape and sometimes even color. Ayiyi.
I give my students each a tupperware with a lid and make them write their name on both. They put their work in and when I get to my studio I put it all on their lids with names visible and take a picture. Then I try to arrange them on shelves in patterns so I know where each grouping begins and ends and write it down. Then the fun begins because by that time I usually have a glass of wine in my hand and get great ideas about switching things around. OMG. After the firing using the pictures (cell phone works best cause I can enlarge the images) I try to sort everything and get them to the correct party.
Anyway, this class produced enough ware for 2 loads, 3 shelves each in the little kiln, the first firing went well and it took me an entire hour to figure out which was who’s and get them straight and set up for the next load. Hopefully the 2nd load will come out as wonderful as the first, which does not require a fire polish firing. PHEW!
Here are some pictures of the madness before loading the kiln.
Now that the weather is warmer and less damp, and especially now that I replaced my kiln relay and it’s working right, I can luster fire again. I use Beato, my trusty little Paragon Home Artist 120. She’s named after Beatrice Wood (long story for another time.) The chamber is only 9″ x 9″ but it has a retractable handle and wheels so I can wheel it outside whenever I need to. When I first got it I was so frustrated about its size, but it’s amazing the amount and size of work that comes out of her and I actually am more productive since I don’t have to wait until I have alot of ware to fill her up. Also, firing her is no big deal and I can do everything myself, no huge firing event extravaganza that goes on from the crack of dawn til the wee hours with tons of people tripping over each other and bickering over how to do things the right way. (or dropping and breaking a piece)
Really all I need is 24 hours of dry weather above 40 degrees F, preferably no wind, to stay up a couple hours past my bedtime to light the kiln and close the lid an hour later, and alot of coffee in the morning. I usually start the kiln at 10pm, close the lid at 11 then throw the sticks and mothballs in to finish by 8:30am the next day. Easy peasy.
Here’s Beato wearing her “Beato hut” as the kiln cools. Once it reaches 300 degrees F, I turn on the electric oven in my studio (very handy to heat ware to raku or slow cool it after firing btw) to 300 degrees, take the pieces out and put them in there quick as a bunny before they cool too much. After about 20 minutes I turn off the oven and let them cool to room temperature. That way I can put the kiln back inside so it doesn’t have to stay out all night. Leave no trace.
Here’s Beato in her hut and the ware still cooling in the kiln. It should be ready to come out in about an hour or so. Fire at breakfast, unload at lunch, look at me I’m doing dishes!
Hi! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Lisa. I’m an artist. I mainly work in ceramics and glass. I’m a mad scientist. I love to experiment, test, push envelops and take equipment and materials to extremes, “just to see what happens.” I also am a de-mystifyer (if that is a word, spell check says no.) Once I figure out how to do something I try to simplify and de-mystify it so that it is approachable and possible for almost anyone, particularly people who feel that their whole lives thus far have been taken up taking care of other people and doing things other people’s way. You know who you are. I’m talking to you.
I raku fire in between loads of laundry, luster fire before breakfast, and fire pottery in a BBQ grill, leaving no trace of my pyrotechnics (except for beautiful creations) the next day.
I also love to write. So far I’ve lived a pretty amazing and quirky life, snippets of which I hope to share with you. So far my art making has been quite the adventure, and I hope you will join me on this journey