glaze

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According to the internet, where truth reigns ::sarcasm:: the color blue is the favorite child across gender, ethnicity and culture. In one survey conducted in 10 countries over 4 continents, blue came out the overwhelming winner every time (brown, not so much)

I like green. I don’t dislike blue. It’s just that green has so much more to offer…like, yellow (see what I did there?) Compositionally, green is an Everyman; holding it’s own, yet plays well with others. Green has the ability to function in the foreground as well as the background…because, yellow.

My love of green has never been a secret (neither has my annoyance with the overuse of blue) I’ve been known to base a decision solely on the availability of green. And then…and then in the ceramic world there is celadon (ah, yes) A traditional celadon glaze is characterized by a soft gray-green color resulting from firing iron oxide in a reduction atmosphere*.

In my forth semester as an undergraduate in ceramics, our assignment was to design, create and fire dinnerware for eight, including service pieces. The set would require at least 50 some-odd pieces and a lot of prayer to finish with enough surviving work to complete the assignment. My first solo firing of the kiln would be the culmination of this semester’s work – with my entire dinnerware set inside (eek!)

I went about making my dinnerware with an iron rich, toasty clay decorated with a white slipped rim that just cried out for celadon.

Some of you are already ahead of me, here. What was I thinking?

My first solo firing.
The kiln loaded with my entire semester’s work.
I chose a glaze that is dependent on a specific firing atmosphere.

When you don’t know what you don’t know, you occasionally find yourself in a pickle. More often – no…most often, novice potters focus on the making rather than the finishing (there’s your pickle)

I’m a little beyond novice these days. Still love celadons. In fact, I’ve recently committed to develop a family of celadon glazes for my functional work. Firing in oxidation**, celadon really just refers to green(s) since oxidation eliminates the mystery of the iron-in-reduction-resulting-green. My hope in developing related celadons is to approximate the beauty of the subtle surface variation I saw when I opened the door of my first solo firing.

* reduction atmosphere = creating a surplus of carbon in the firing kiln
**oxidation atmosphere = preventing a surplus of carbon in the firing kiln




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move on

casseroles_72

baking dishes

With a little over a week till the start of the fall semester, a visual inventory of my summer accomplishments leaves me wondering what the heck happened?

Outside a busy summer exhibition season, a turn-around trip to catch up with family, and the chance to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean in celebration of a milestone birthday almost two years in arrears; I’ve not got much to show for the hours spent in the studio (except, um…the floor needs a good mopping)

~detail: espresso set

~detail: espresso set

Sometime in May, I became dissatisfied with the very controlled compositional elements of my functional work. It was a long time coming as I’d been tolerating bad behavior from previously obedient glazes. While looking for some resolve to the glaze situation, I became restless. Move on.

During my research and testing I was also creating several clay drawings for upcoming exhibitions. I remember thinking, “I’d really like the surfaces of my functional work to reflect the looseness of the drawn pieces.” (yeah…)

However, a change in surface – particularly one that moves to such an opposing process – generally demands a change in form (…and away we go!)

inspiration from clay drawings

inspiration from clay drawings

I’ve spent weeks throwing cylinder forms until I thought I found a beginning and ending (lip and foot) that I was interested in pursuing. Then, I’d move on to bowl forms only to discard the week’s worth of work. This cycle has played out on repeat all summer long.

Seizing every opportunity to learn from the process; I took risks with the pots destine for reclamation, discovered marks that I want to keep and many that I’ll avoid. I’ve eliminated several compositional possibilities, left room for a few more and worked through firing processes on paper. Once I commit to a form, I’ll send a few pieces through the fire to prove the glaze/surface chemistry.

Until then, my shelves will be empty while the reclaim bucket overflows.


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When my husband and I bought our first house, we saw nothing but possibilities. We were young and inspired (maybe naive is a better word…or stupid)

Our new-to-us home was a mid-70’s ranch-like fixer-upper tract home. It sat adjacent to a house positioned as the street made a near 90 degree turn. Our address was prefixed by south; their’s by west. The neighbor’s house had a minuscule pizza-slice front yard and generous backyard. Our lot caught a bit of the westward curve, creating a wide lot with a surplus of yard (mostly dirt) front and back.

reel-mower-repair

One Saturday we ventured out to a few second hand stores looking for anything…and really nothing at all (entertainment for the financially strapped) We thought we scored a great find that day with a old reel mower. When we went to pay for our treasure, the man at the register commented, “Looks like you just bought yourself work.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, our endeavor wasn’t motivated by some noble cause like reducing our carbon footprint or an even less noble cause like taking advantage of the physical nature of pushing the mower. Nope. We were just thrifty (not necessarily saving money as much as not spending what we didn’t have…and, we didn’t have much)

However, it wasn’t long before the Bermuda grass we’d planted grew so dense that the reel mower became near useless. By the following summer, we discovered just how much work we’d bought.

100_1498A few weeks ago, fellow ceramic artist Jeremy Briddell (jeremybriddell.com) was clearing out his old studio and needed to unload a small glaze spray booth. I was happy to help him out. As Jeremy tells it, the spray booth was a broken down refugee from ASU he rescued from surplus and rebuilt to usable once again. He’d bought himself work.

My process hasn’t demanded much in the way of spray applications. Usually only functional pieces that don’t fit in the glaze bucket get sprayed. I’ve really tried to avoid it because spraying involves: loading the car with my work, glaze and tools; heading to the house; setting up a workable glaze situation in the backyard with a portable compressor, two inverted five gallon buckets with a long ware board laid across; spray away, clean up and then haul it all back to the studio. If it’s hot out, I have to work fast to keep the waxed areas from softening too much for handling the piece. It’s not fun.

So, the way I see it, unlike the reel mower (which really was work), the spray booth is more about the possibilities.


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an anthology

The 2nd Occasional Cup and Mug Sale

BethShook_300

Let me start with a huge thank you to all those who came out to spend a little hard earned cash on a mug and donate a backpack for a junior high!! Also, thank you to all the artists that participated in the sale – couldn’t have done it without you.

Our goal was to collect new backpacks for a local junior high by creating a big tadoo about cups and mugs. Here’s the Cliff Note version of the sale weekend: 32 participating artists, 576 mugs and cups, ¼ of our inventory sold in the first hour of the 10 hour sale, awarded 8 mixed sets of cups and mugs to drawing entrants, and (this is the very best part!) collected 55 new backpacks for one grateful junior high school.

That was fun!

Dear John, you left so soon

On the morning of October 13, 2014 my studio-mate from graduate school passed away. He was 54.

John's studio space, 1989.

John’s studio space, 1989.

John and I shared a divided 500-600 square feet of studio space during grad school. He always had parts and pieces scattered about (drove me crazy). Somewhere in his process all these parts made sense.

I considered him a friend. Graduate school creates a special bond – cemented by stress and lack of sleep. We tried to provide practical support for each other. For instance, John helped document a large site specific piece for me and another grad student. By document, I mean – he ran along the Mill Avenue bridge at the break of dawn for three consecutive days photographing our progress as we worked to draw from the shadows cast on the dry rocky bed of the Salt River. I bought breakfast.

On one particularly cold morning, I rid the studio of the black widow that made her home under the wall heater, next to the switch. (John had grown considerably weary of arachnids after sleeping with a scorpion on more than one occasion) He bought me lunch.

And so it went….

John seemed to lose his way a bit during grad school. But, I’m confident he was drawn back before he left us so soon for home.

A Conductive carbon

I’ve been working on what seems like the longest continual commission ever – that, from this day forward shall be referred to as ‘the dinnerware’. My progress has been stymied by an unruly class schedule, a cup and mug sale, kiln repairs, and a clay problem.

With my class schedule under control and the sale a thing of the past, I’ve only got the kiln and clay issues to solve. (which are really linked…I think)

It seems in my attempt to squeeze the last red cent from my turnip, I inadvertently doubled my trouble.

The setting:
I’d been keeping an eye on a sagging element near the bottom of the kiln. If I could just get one more firing in….(that went all wrong) After a slower that normal bisque firing, I checked the elements before reloading and noticed the sagging element touching itself on the return. All the current was running through about six inches of the element (yeah, yeah…replace the element and get on with it)

The conflict:
A month or so later, I’m unloading a glaze and notice micro-bloats* on the work – actually, only the mugs. (geeze, just in time for a mug sale. perfect.) After considerable research and a few impromptu interviews, I’ve come up with a theory. A theory that may well violate one or more laws of thermodynamics, but….

Lichtbogen_3000_Volt

The foil:
My fuzzy science suggests a few things (and some stuff I actually know…like, actually)

  • • the clay I’m using has been known by ceramic artists to bloat. The manufacturer disagrees, but suggests firing the bisque to cone 04 as a means to remove all organics. (not sure what’s in this clay that survives 1860°F…but, okay)
  • • during at least one bisque firing, the second to the bottom element shorted itself; creating a smaller circuit with half the resistance.
  • • the mugs were loaded on the bottom.
  • the shorted element would create uneven heat in the kiln – a cooler bottom.
  • (here’s the fuzzy part) the shorted element would create a voltaic arc, releasing a conductive carbon into the kiln’s atmosphere; meaning there was some localized reduction going on.

The moral:
A penny saved isn’t worth the price of that turnip.

*bloat: the permanent swelling of a ceramic article during firing caused by the evolution of gases. (sounds a bit like too many chimichangas, eh)

 



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~detail: workshop tile

~detail: workshop tile

A few weeks ago I conducted a clay drawing workshop at Phoenix College. I always enjoy the workshop setting. The students are invested in the topic and the process; there’s an opportunity for spontaneous dialogue in a relaxed atmosphere. There is chatter and laughter and goodies. Always goodies. That’s a pretty regular thing for clay folk. I mean, if you’re gonna make plates you should be filling them.

I have an etiquette rule:
Never gift a handmade ceramic plate/bowl/food-appropriate-vessel empty. Fill it with something wonderfully delicious!

I had great fun at the workshop. I certainly hope the students found it as enjoyable.

I always want to introduce what might be new options for the students. Generate ideas. Whether or not they fully grasp the process, I am most concerned with getting students thinking differently about what they are doing…or maybe it’s, doing differently with what they are thinking…either way, different happens.

When discussing the creating of drawn images on clay, I emphasize the importance of good note taking. Get in your sketchbooks! Run through your ideas on paper where it’s cheap and easy (well…easier). Keep track of glazes, percentages, and order of application (not to be confused with ‘order of operations’, that’s a math thing). If you ever want to repeat your success or avoid another terribad* result, you must take good notes (*terribad = a former student’s contraction of ‘terrible + bad’ to describe a disastrous glaze situation).

glaze notes

glaze notes

With a Boy Scout’s mindset, I went about my drawing demo. Referencing my notes and application order for the drawing, I gathered my glazes, washes and tools. The students had a list of glaze recipes I planned to use. We talked a bit of chemistry while I stirred a particularly slushy ash glaze. Then, with a cupped hand, I scooped up some glaze (careful to avoid the the clump in the bottom of the container). Eyeing the image on my tile, I configured my approach and swiftly slung the handful of glaze onto the ceramic surface. I heard someone comment, “I can’t believe you just did that.”

Boy Scout’s motto: Be Prepared.

I’m familiar with the mark a brush will make. I know how the glaze will react thick and thin on my surface. I was anticipating a different edge and perhaps a lovely errant splash from the seeming reckless application.

My methods appear to contradict the thoroughness involved in research and notes. Indeed, it does look a bit loose (even sloppy…wear protective gear if necessary). Preparation permits me to do what I need to do, which isn’t always what’s expected. The time spent in my sketchbook allows me to apply glaze with abandon.

 

**also worthwhile
Cub Scout’s motto: Do Your Best


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