Glynnis Lessing

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Wedging: it’s not about air bubbles!

Wedging. Who writes about wedging?

Isn’t it to get the air bubbles out? (NO!) And wedging is one of those zen practices that supposedly take 3 years to learn to do right?

Or, is it, in my experience, to get an internal coil going in your clay so that when you are throwing and you start to center on the wheel, your clay doesn’t fight you and centers up easily?

Why we wedge is something many potters know or have known throughout time but is still something I think should be discussed again; especially for art educators out there.

For years and years – and still! I have wedged “Japanese style”; spiral wedging (pointy end under my left hand, right hand on the fat- butt-end) with the spiral – at the fat end of my clay- running counterclockwise. That is, if you looked down on the fat end and imagined the spiral turning, it would spin into the center going counterclockwise.

Yes, I painted on the clay to try to show the spiral direction- which is counter clockwise when the fat end is pointing up- but when you put it on the wheel- it’s going clockwise!

Then I  plopped that fat end of the clay down on my wheel-head and proceeded to throw American style with the wheel running counterclockwise (and the internal spiral going against that- clockwise) and I would very frequently have to battle my clay a bit to get it centered.

So often,– and especially after I got really consistent and more skilled at throwing– I noticed my clay would just refuse to totally center. It would get this little blip- a wobble, a part that seemed like it simply refused to settle down and let me get the clay all-the-way centered and I knew I was doing everything else right. Even if I coned it up and then brought it down just right, there would be that little blip again that I would end up trying to work around. Or, after I got the walls pulled, I would wonder why my pot would suddenly get some sort of odd wobble in it for no apparent reason.

Why did my un-wedged smaller lumps of clay behave so much better? For a while I gave up wedging anything that came straight out of the bag but for large pieces, it was pretty tiring getting it centered.

Finally, overhearing another teacher at Lill Street mention offhandedly something about the spiral helping to center the clay and, at some other point, after beating my clay into submission yet again and feeling like I was not going to always be this strong, a careful examination of the direction of my coil came the realization that the way I wedge was Japanese (the wheels in Japan go clockwise) but my throwing is western ((American wheels spin counter clockwise)

And it takes a fair amount of visualizing to figure out which way the internal coil in the clay is going once you’ve popped it onto the wheel. The fact of the matter is, it was pointless to wedge my de-aired, pugged clay if I was going to put the internal coil going against the spin of my wheel!

note!!!!

I don’t know how many countless people, students, educators, etc, have asked me, “don’t we need to wedge the clay to get the air bubbles out?” The answer is an emphatic NO!

 

Air bubbles in and of themselves are not a problem! It’s only the moisture* they hold that cause explosions. If something is properly dried, you will rarely have explosions.

So please don’t waste your time or your students’ creative-time wedging clay that has been already de-aired in a pugger- i.e. any commercially made clay- clay you would buy in a box.


This clay has been de-aired in a  pugmill. There are usually no air bubbles in it!

In fact, improper wedging will more often add bubbles and you’ll just dry out your clay in the process.

Simply make sure the pieces get enough drying time and have no plaster mixed in with the clay- that IS a sure recipe for explosions.

So why DO we wedge?

When it’s for throwing**, it’s for getting an internal coil in the clay so it’s easier to center the clay. I do not wedge anything under 2-3 lbs if it comes straight out of the bag,I save that effort of wedging in an internal coil for larger pieces of clay when I would be wrestling to get a piece centered.

Here’s how I currently work: any clay straight out of the bag under 2.5 lbs doesn’t get wedged.

It’s airless and too small to matter. 2.5 -3 lbs get wedged the “new way” trying to train my poor hands to reverse their roles and anything over 3.5 lbs is wedged the “old way” and then flipped over.

Did I find it easier once I flipped my wedged clay upside-down onto the narrow point but with the internal coil now “tightening” when my wheel head went around?……Immensely.

All those old problems disappeared and it was much easier to center. Just recently I forgot to flip a wedged piece, began to center it, felt the blip and realized what I’d done and so I actually cut it off the wheel and turned it over and then it was just fine. What a great illustration of what I’d been learning.

 

And yes, I mentally slapped my forehead for not figuring this all out years earlier!

Oh well, better late than never and since I didn’t figure it out for so long, I thought I’d share what, in retrospect, seems like an obvious fact with all you out there who may have also missed it.

*Why is moisture a problem? Once the clay hits the temperature of water boiling, any water will, in fact, boil and turn into rapidly expanding gas which has no space to expand. The result? An explosion as the gas pushes the clay “out of its way”.

**There are just a few uses for wedging when you hand-build. Chiefly it would be to “even out” clay that had been stored a long time- say one side is a bit drier than the other. When I hand-build I use it to make sure my slabs shrink back evenly in all directions- but just take a look at my blog entry on throwing a slab vs. slab rollers for an explanation of that.

***

And while I’m on the topic of de-aired clay, I had a batch of reclaim that I took to a friend’s house and used their Soldner mixer to get it back in shape. I ended up with 300lbs of porcelain filled with micro-bubbles. I slam-wedged it quite a bit but I could never get out all the millions of tiny bubbles so I tried throwing with it. It was very interesting! I could throw a lot taller with it, The clay was stiffer and a bit shorter. “Shorter” in clay terms means that it is less plastic, it won’t stretch as much. Clay is always a balance between wonderful elasticity and not having floppy collapsing clay. In porcelain, I feel that line is even more delicate.

It was great to make a lot of tall and large things out of grolleg porcelain and I simply avoided pulling handles from it or bringing down wide rims or even making a pitcher spout with that particular clay. I used my regular clay to make handles and they fit the mugs I threw just fine. My other concern was a lumpy surface and I did 2 things; I ignored it and the bubbles seemed to flatten out in the firings and I also took a serrated rib and ran it over the whole surface while I was throwing and then smoothed it again. Neither method was perfect but I used up (and sold the end products) of all 300 lbs.

When I discussed this batch of clay with my friends who had lent the mixer, he had also mixed a batch of porcelain with similar results, a stiffer clay. He quoted a old potter who said “pugging ruined clay”

 

 

This is one of those posts where I would very much welcome comments from potters who will know more about this than I do.

So what are your thoughts and opinions on wedging?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 1 year, 4 months ago at 2:05 pm.

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Hand-built plates by Kip O’Krongly

Just a few of the women potters of Northfield were able to gather at Kip O’Krongly’s studio this past week to watch her demonstrate how she makes her wonderful handbuilt terra cotta plates.1 kip's finished plates

My first caveat in this tutorial is that Kip works with Terra Cotta and additionally, it is a custom recipe of hers. That said, I do believe most any Terra Cotta will work and possibly stoneware. What I’m really not sure about is if you could do this with porcelain! Those higher fired clays tend to get a little slumpy at cone 10. I plan to try this in the spring and will post results (eventually!)

 

What you will need:

A file folder or other heavyish card stock for templates

Cutting tool like this8favorite tool or a needle tool

Rolling pin and 2 ¼ “ thick sticks or a rolling pin like Kip has with rubber washers that set the depth or maybe a slab roller

And an extruder that looks like a calking gun. I’m sure you could try the whole thing out with just a coil  but if you were going into production, you’d probably like to have the extruder.

Banding wheel(s)

Scoring tool

Water

Yellow rib

A beveling tool with a rubber tip

Here we go:

Kip took about a pound of clay and began to roll it out with her special rolling pin- I think she said she got this from a kitchen supply store- it comes with various sized removable rings- what a great clay tool, right? (*If you Google “Fondant rolling pin” you can find them for sale in many places)2 rolling pin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had a tip for rolling it out- just roll up to near the edge – not over the edge and then work that lump outwards until it rolls under and becomes the edge.6 shows spot where you stop -trick to rolling

Lay your plate template down- she made hers from a  file folder and laminated them. Her template for dessert plate fit right inside her dinner plate template!9 templates for dinner and dessertThey will eventually wear out.

Cut around the outside edge, lightly trace the inside circle.10 cuts around template11 does NOT cut through inside ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because Kip makes about 10- or 20 of these at a time there are points at which she makes a bunch and lets them sit. This would be one of those points- she would cut out quite a few of these and let them sit until she was ready for the next step… which is

Extruding the foot.  16 extrudingThis is her extruder and templates.13 extruder templates

Kip has used old credit cards or 2 thicknesses of yogurt container tops to make her templates but she finally had these made. This is the one for the foot.

14 custom templateThey are beveled to enhance the compression. She has marks on her table for the lengths she needs for the various sized plates she makes. So smart!15 lengths marked on table

If she is doing a lot of these, she will immediately wrap each one in plastic. It’s a lot of surface exposed and it can dry up fast plus it needs to be flexible!17 extruded piece

She curves her extrusion a bit while she is scoring the plate bottom along that line she traced earlier 19 scoringall the while, dipping her scoring tool in water. She then scores the extrusion and begins attaching it. 21 applying footWhen she reaches the end, she does not leave an overlap.

23 abbutted- no overlap

She scores the ends and butts them together, compressing and smoothing with her finger. 25 abuttedShe presses the foot on very gently with her finger while turning the banding wheel.

26 smoothing

 

Now she will pay attention to finishing the attachment area. First she brushes it with a damp paintbrush and

27 smoothing joint wiht burch

then uses this tool

28 a THE TOOLto go in on the outside to clean it up and compress it

28 b smoothing joint with tool

and on the inside and make a bevel that will aid later in curving the plate.

30 adding bevel with tool

This is another stopping point. These flat plates will be set on top of plastic 32 waiting to be leatherand let dry to leather hard. If Kip is making a dinner sized plate, she would have set it on a bat instead of directly onto the banding wheel but the dessert plates are small enough to lift fairly easily.

31 picking up to store- this sits til leather hard

 

Once the  plate has set up, Kip works again on the banding wheel and in front of a mirror.

33 working the leather hard with a mirror

The mirror is invaluable in helping her see the rim and plate and keeping it even as she gently curves it,

36 using mirror to keep it even

she goes around the rim pinching and thinning it out toward the rim.

35a pinching out ward to rim35 pinching out ward toward rim to thin it

She also pushes down the center gently  with a yellow rib. If you want a more dramatic dip and differentiation between rim and plate, you can really go in there and push down.37 using a yellow rib

She cleans up the rim with a sureform type file and angles it slightly in. She also scores it with her pronged scoring tool.41 filing edge

42 scored rim

Then it is time to extrude the rim.39 extruded rim piece being cut

She immediately coils this up to make sure it doesn’t crack later. She sets this piece on a smaller banding wheel next to the banding wheel with a plate on it.40 coil it up immed. so no cracks

 

 

 

 

 

The rim of the plate is wet-scored and then the rim is wet scored with a ridged rib all at once.43 scoring actual rim  with serrated rib

44 scored rimKip then attaches the rim.

45 technique for putting rim on- 2 spinning banding wheels

This time she does leave a slight overlap but47 leave an overlap she abuts the pieces48 abut and work it in compressing and then compressing, and working it along, she moves that part of the rim in and attaches it. This is to keep the rim from cracking- it has to do with attatching a slightly wetter piece to the leather hard- at this point the rim will shrink more than the plate body.

She goes around the rim now; first with a damp brush, then a wooden tool and then the beveling tool which she uses to make a line. 49 the tool beveling againThis makes the application of her latex easier and she fills it in later with slip- the latex keeping the rim clean and bare.54 finished rim to compare

On the underside, the rim must also be smoothed and beveled and then a crack that inevitably forms when the curving is done must be addressed.55 this cracks here from the curving process A wooden tool and then finger do the job.52 then this stick tool and the beveling tool is used again.51 bevel again


Another natural stopping point, the plates could be wrapped for days until kip is ready to latex them. I will do a second post talking about Kip’s decorating process.

For now, you are left with a  super lightweight plate that looks thrown!

 

 

Posted 4 years, 12 months ago at 12:20 pm.

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Mata Ortiz Workshop

I have been a huge fan of the Mata Ortiz pottery ever since I learned of it through a children’s book quite a few years ago.  It’s mentioned in my earlier post about Mata Ortiz  where I write a bit more about the story of this small town in Mexico; I received some pots for my birthday one year I enthusiastically wrote a post  about it.

So, when an opportunity to attend a workshop taught by Eli Navarette was offered at the Northern Clay Center, I was thrilled to attend.

finished pots

Some finished pieces by Eli Navarette

Eli was a really nice guy, open, knowledgeable and helpful. He taught the class in Spanish with a translator. My Spanish was good enough to understand him, ask questions and help translate occasionally.

He started out with a plaster “puki” which is a bowl-like mold that really helps hold the pot’s bottom shape. He made a large, fat “tortilla” out of his own clay, which  he brought from the Mata Ortiz area.

While he did that, he passed around the clay which was very different in feeling from the clays I am used to working with here. It was very plastic and yet, somehow drier and also very strong. He said he mixed 3 types of clay together- his own recipe- one for weight, one for strength and one for plasticity. It was a very effective clay for the kind of handbuilding he was doing. He explained how he and other potters get all the clay from that area and how they prepare it. Basically , they dig it up, mix it with water in a 5 gallon bucket and let the heavy particles and stones and other things fall to the bottom. The excess water rises to the top which they pour off and take out the middle part to use.

They also get all their colorants from that area.  More on that later.

After he had pinched the fat pancake up into quite a large part of the pot – and it was not thick! -he added a coil.

1 Eli adds a coil to his pinch pot

I was amazed because I though he would have to let that bottom part set up for a quite a while until it could support the weight and the action of adding another coil.

2 coil smoothed

But I was wrong, the clay, under the skilled hands of Eli, had no problem supporting the next coil.  After adding that coil he smoothed the inside with a blue rubber rib3 scraping the inside and scraped the exterior with a piece of hacksaw.

4 scraping the outside

thencut the rim off to be even again for the next coil.

5 coil added, top trimmed

Then another coil7 completing coil

 

and voila!  a really sizeable pot all in a very short time.8 finished form drying

While he was working he chatted about how he came to be a potter.

His grandparents were living and working in Mata Ortiz but he was living in Chihuahua (the city) he can remember since he was about 7 years old seeing them working with clay  but it wasn’t until a visit there when he was 22 and had already trained as an electrician that he decided he could  and wanted to make pottery. It took him about 3 years to learn how to do it and now he lives with his wife (also a potter) and 2 children in Casas Grandes about 15 minutes from Mata Ortiz- if you take the new road. Both his brothers are potters, the youngest having started doing it first. He said there are now 3 generations of potters, 600 in all! They’ve been making the pottery there for 50 years. And there are young kids already learning about and working in pottery -that would be the 4th generation.

 

Next up was decorating the pots. He told us he sands the bone-dry pots with 3 grades of sandpaper, ending with the finest grade. I asked him about what precautions he takes to avoid breathing in the dust, a health hazard, and he said he works outside and/or wears a mask.

He then takes manganese mixed with clay- so, technically a slip, not an oxide- and applies it to the entire surface using a scrap of velvet. He said if you don’t mix the manganese with clay it doesn’t “stick” to the surface. Then after that had dried- a matter of a minute or so, he applied a solution to help with the burnishing.

His recipe  for this burnishing solution was very interesting. He puts  5% finely ground Graphite and 5% baby oil into kerosene (90%) and applies that with his hand over the black manganese slip. There was some discussion about using just baby oil or baby oil and graphite and also soap- both of those work but leave considerably more streaks.

Then he  takes an agate, highly polished –sometimes they sand them- but this looked like it was out of a rock tumbler and he said they used that too and begain to burnish.

9 burnishing w:stone

Immediately the surface was a brilliantly shiny black.10 burnished surfaceHe said he puts 3 layers on burnishing each layer and by the 3rd coat is wearing cotton gloves so as not to put any oils from his hands onto the surface. You can see how reflective it is in the  photos. You can also see that there are some streaks- that is why he does 3 layers.

Next he revealed (from under a cloth) a piece he was working on.13 pot in progress He apologized that the black surface was only 2 coats and began to paint some lines with a brush that looked like just a few hairs but quite long. 14 long brush in action he painted on very fine lines. Here are his brushes!12 his tool set

He brought small amounts of his colors with him; white, orange and red in addition to the black.  These are also slips because they are colored clays.

Despite being so shiny, the surface is still absorbent. After he has put on the lines he goes back in with a much shorter brush and fills in  15 filler brushWe all gathered around him to watch him paint, it was mesmerizing.

He told us it takes 3 days to make, dry and sand a pot, 3 days of polishing and at least 3 days to decorate the surface. I think the polishing days are not 8 hours of continuous polishing (though I could be wrong) but that each coat is applied, polished and left to dry. He was very clear about the surface decoration, 1 full day to paint on the lines- with just a few breaks for eating, stretching, etc. another day to fill in all the spaces and a 3rd day for corrections- that is where he takes a rounded tipped  stick and gently rubs off lines that are mistakes.

So each pot is a considerable investment of time.

 

Then we made our own brushes! He had just a little hair for us to use16 brush parts but we were very lucky in that one of our participants was willing and generously allowed some of her beautiful straight hair  to be snipped off and distributed.17 hair donor

Here is how you can make your own brush (and I’m sorry I didn’t take more photos- I was making brushes!)  take a stick, like a small dowel or a fat skewer and sharpen it to a point. Cut a straight groove running out to the point to lay the hair in. The hair –which should be about 2” long at least can be dipped in water as often as you need to make it stick together! Lay it in the groove, overlapping the stick about an inch and wrap sewing thread tightly around it, binding the hair to the stick. Leave out a bit of thread sticking out to tie a knot when you are done. When you get to the tip, do one loop just around the hair to keep it together and then wind back down around the stick, now laying the thread right next to itself, covering the stick end completely. When you get back to where you started and left that thread sticking out, tie a knot. You can use nail polish or epoxy to seal the thread and hold it in place. We used roughly about a yard of thread.

We all made at least one brush and used them on tiles to practice some of the techniques he showed us. I will add a photo of my tile when I get it back.

Lastly we talked about firing and how he fires and how the Mata Ortiz potters used to fire.

In the early days, they would be out in the street and set their pot on an already fired cylinder then cover the pot with something like a large ceramic flower pot or a metal garbage can or something that just fit over the pot to protect it from the fuel. Then they would stack wood all around it, completely surrounding the makeshift saggar and on top of it and light it up. They managed to generate enough heat this way to get the pot hot enough to undergo what is called Crystal Inversion which is when the  clay permanently changes and is unaffected by immersion in water any longer. Before crystal inversion, a pot can be recycled and turned back into a lump of clay just by getting it wet.

I confess it was not clear to me whether Eli currently uses gas to fire his pots or an electric kiln. What was abundantly clear was how amazing his clay was in that it could be heated up quite rapidly and cooled incredibly fast. He had a pot (which I now own!) made by his wife (who was ill that day and could not teach with him)  that we popped into an already warm kiln. The kiln was taken up to 750 degrees centigrade (that’s Cone 012-  1382 Farenheit), left at that temp for about 15 minutes and then cooled within an hour and a half to where we could handle it!18 firing fastWe took it out of the kiln when it was at about 450 and stuck it in front of a fan!  The pot was fired in about 3 hours!  Nothing exploded or cracked or showed any signs of stress at all! Interestingly, the colors were dull when we pulled out the hot pot19 dull colorsbut they brightened as the pot cooled.

 

I think what I love about the Mata Ortiz potters – besides their spectacularly beautiful pottery is that they are working much as their ancestors did. They use simple methods that they discovered themselves. They are always trying new things and sharing knowledge. They work completely locally, using the materials at hand and in doing this, they have dramatically raised the standard of living in their area!

 

 

 

 

Posted 5 years, 1 month ago at 10:07 am.

7 comments

Terra Cotta “Fossil” Paver Tutorial

These “Fossil Pavers” are so named because you are inlaying the lighter clay into the larger Terra Cotta paver body. This is a fun and useful project for all ages and can be a lasting decoration for your garden or house (provided you have access to a kiln!)

9 finished paver

I taught this class a few years ago at Lill Street and again recently at the Northern Clay Center.

At Lill we did it as a family workshop and what is great about this project is children as young as 3 or 4 can help lay out the design. You’ll need something round to trace- about 12″ across.

We used 2 kinds of clay. Continental Clay’s Terra Cotta will fire nicely to Cone 1 which is what we did so that the pavers would be essentially non-porous for wintering outside and also extremely dense for the strength needed to be able to step on the pavers.

2 laying out the paver design

Start with your light colored clay (porcelain, light stoneware or raku clay) and make your design. Make it as fine as possible as it will spread out when you flatten the terra cotta over it. When rolling coils, if they are drying and consequently cracking, roll them on a little patch of dampened table- a canvas covered table is ideal. If you are cutting out leaf shapes, make the clay as thin as you reasonably can- that means less than 3/16th of an inch! More like an 8th of an inch or less. The reason for this is so that your paver won’t be lumpy and the white clay not fully integrated into the surface of the paver. These leaves are a little too thick and caused a bit of trouble getting them to fully integrate.2 paver design

Lay out your design on a piece of board or paper! We found it helpful to draw the pattern on a piece of paper and to trace our circles so that we knew the boundaries of the paver and could lay out the design well within it.2a laying out design

***IMPORTANT NOTE!*** Words must be laid out in mirror writing. This may seem really hard but you can lay out the word and then simply flip it over. You can see we have the world “Welcome” backwards here.2b writing backwards

Also important to keep your white clay pattern moist- spritz it before you set it aside and again before you put the terra cotta over it. Make sure it does NOT sit in water! That will make it too soft and it will smear.

And before you throw a slab and shake the table, MOVE your layout! Several layouts were shaken to bits before we caught on!

Next, throw a thick terra cotta slab and then roll it to about a ½ inch thickness. You can do this using two half-inch thick boards on either side of your slab. You will need a long rolling pin though! We needed about 7-8 lbs of clay to make a 12 “ circle.

4 tc slab

Before your lay your finished and smoothed terra cotta slab over your design, wipe the surface with a sponge and spritz your design.

5 dampening slab
Then starting at one edge, lay your slab carefully down over your design and using the flat of your hand pat/smack it down firmly over your design. You can also go over it gently, firmly and evenly with the rolling pin. It’s okay if it gets thinner than ½ an inch- but not too much!

It is important to lay the slab over the design instead of vice versa to give you a very uniform flat surface where the clay pushes down to the level of the light clay’s design.

Now you can flip it over by sandwiching it between 2 boards or simply picking it up and flipping it over.6 before cutting circle

If your design is still sticking up, you can gently go over it from the front with a rolling pin too.8 rolling front

After that, lay your circle pattern over the slab, covering your design and cut around it. 7 tracing circle Go over the edge with an dampened sponge to soften the corner and get rid of sharp chip-able edges.

Let dry thoroughly and fire to Cone 1!1 picture fern paverHere is my fired fern paver example from Lill. I was working very fast to make the example as I had young kids waiting to work! I’ve had it for years now, left outside in the winter many times and it’s still intact!

 

Posted 5 years, 6 months ago at 11:22 am.

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FAUX BOIS

This is just a quick tutorial on how to make a “Faux Bois”  (fake wood) texture on a slab.

It is my impression that Faux Bois is all the rage and if Martha Stewart has Faux Bois wrapping paper, clearly, to be able to make a dish or box using it, it’s a GOOD THING™

It is also a good thing to do all the steps and do them in the right order.

Start with a slab that is about 1 inch thick.1 slab

Paint some slip on there or even underglaze in a fairly thick coat. I’m using chartreuse to make it particularly hard to see in my photos.

2- chartreuse slip painted on

Take sheets of newspaper to “dry” the slip. Just lay the newspaper on there and watch as the moisture begins to show through the paper.  When you pull up the first sheet, you may end up pulling off some of the slip-

4 some slip comes up

just set that piece aside and keep drying with successive pieces of newspaper until there is no moisture being absorbed by the paper.

3- drying the slip

Here, I’m rubbing the paper down to aid in the moisture absorption.

At this point, if you wish, you can try to re-apply the peeled up slip. If you can get it to stick down to your now dryish surface, you may have to dry off the new bits with one more sheet of newspaper.

You are wondering why we need to “dry” the slip?  We are going to stretch the slab under it. If the slip is wet, it will just stretch nicely with the slab and we won’t get any of the cool effects we’re trying for.

When your surface is not tacky or shiny, take a sharp tool like a needle tool and draw in the wood pattern. Basically you draw a few knotholes and then draw vertical lines that bend around them when they encounter the curve of the knothole.  Take a look at some wood grains or Faux Bois wrapping paper  for reference.

5 drawing the faux bois

Don’t go too deep! You only want to pierce that dried slip  layer. Also, draw it smaller and closer together because this pattern is going to

e  x  p  a  n  d  .

6 wood pattern

Next, begin to throw out a slab. This is a little tricky as you shouldn’t hold the slab on top and you can’t flip it over, you have to throw it with the slip side facing up the whole time.- my action shot of this did not turn out.

As it stretches, the faux bois pattern will become spread out and more proportionate.7 all stretched out

I’ve found that if it has really sharp edges, once it is all the way thrown out, you can go over it gently with a rolling pin but I would avoid that if you can.

Then you can let it harden to leather hard and build something with it like a box, or you can drop it into a mold and make a dish.8 dropped in a mold

Obviously you are going to need a transparent type glaze on it like clear or a celadone or even a shino depending on how dark your slip or underglaze is.

Have fun!

 

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago at 11:10 am.

7 comments

Re-wetting and repairing an already carved Oval Casserole

Recently, I constructed 4 oval casseroles that I was quite pleased with. I was inspired by some casseroles that Nate Pidduck had made that I  really liked.

The construction is fairly straightforward: I first threw some ridged (not rigid) discs about 3/4 of an inch thick on a plastic bat. I set those aside while I threw 4 almost vertical—they tilted inward– walls with a gallery at the top but no floor; also on plastic bats.

By this time, the discs were set up enough for me to wire them off and throw them out on the canvas covered table, stretching them into ovals.

At this point, I also threw out several slabs for what would eventually be the lids. You want all the clay involved to be about the same dryness so that it is all shrinking at about the same rate.

The timing on this altering of pots is crucial.

Too wet, the walls tend to cave in or flop around and the oval is at best, overly controlled by your hand, at worst, a total asymmetrical failure.

Too dry, and the rim cracks as you try to force it beyond what it was once willing to do. If you get it right, the clay chooses its own curve; a delicious, aesthetically pleasing curve that the clay knows so well how to do. You see this curve most often in handles.

 

Back to the walls which had I wired off and, making sure they slid easily on the slippery plastic surface of the bats, gently –squeezed is not quite the right word–“encouraged” them to be oval as well.

Once this oval sets up, you can set it on the (now)oval disc base and trace around the inside.  Score outside that line, then turn it over using a second bat and score the underside of the base of the wall, wet it (I used magic water) and then set that on top of the scored disc base to join wall to it, trimming off any excess on the outside and sealing it by going over it with a soft rib- you can also use the soft rib to give a curve to the edge of the base.

Once this is sufficiently set up- wet-leather hard, you can turn it upside down on top of your slab and again trace the oval (the outside this time) to cut a lid. Add handles to the sides of this casserole if you like and drape the now oval slab inside the opening of the top- separated by a piece of plastic.

Once the lid is medium leather hard- holding its curved shape, you can refine the edge so it fits precisely inside the gallery and then add a handle to it.

At this point, before it is any drier, I coat the entire thing in black slip. When the slip is also leather dry, I carve.

These had a lot of surface area and the carving took a considerable amount of time. Of the 4 I did, 2 came out beautifully, the lid of the smallest one warped in the glaze firing  but it’s the 4th casserole I want to tell you about.

The last was quite nice but as it dried (and I dry them slowly under a loose cover of dry-cleaning plastic) the walls were proportionally too thick compared to the floor and they pulled away leaving the floor cracked on the sides. I discovered this when the pot was pretty much bone dry.

There was really no way to realistically repair it- especially since the entire outside surface had been delicately carved. I certainly could not spray it down- the slip design would have run and been destroyed. I was pretty upset about this until Dave Trost, a fellow teacher at Lill, told me about his method of re-wetting.

He told me to take one of the slabs of plaster –they have many at Lill for drying slurry and clay scraps- they are about and inch and a half thick; and to soak it in water until no more bubbles rose off its surface. Then to take my pot and set it on the plaster and wrap the whole thing tightly and let it sit.

Well, I had nothing to lose –I had already invested at least 4 hours in the pot-so I did just as Dave suggested and then double wrapped it in plastic and let it sit on the shelf for at least two weeks maybe more.

When I finally got back to it, the clay was back to a pliable leather hard consistency!! I was able to push the walls back in, reinforce the bottom and repair it.

Then to slow down the drying of the floor this time- to keep it a little more pliable should the walls pull on it as they were drying- I waxed the entire bottom inside and out and then waxed all the handle joins just to be on the safe side and set the piece to dry lightly covered in plastic again. This time the piece made it to the bone-dry stage and is being bisked as I write this. I will keep you posted.

Sadly, I did not take photos during construction. If I make more (and these were popular) I will post them.

Addendum: Okay, the casserole made it safely through the bisk, I glazed it and waited on pins and needles to see if it would split apart in the glaze firing and it did NOT! It came through intact with a few cosmetic cracks but is fully functional! Here are some photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verso

 

 

 

 

Interior: there are reflections that look like cracks but really, the whole thing held together perfectly! 

Posted 7 years, 3 months ago at 1:36 pm.

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Double Pinch Pots

First Time Hand Building

Class 1 Double Pinch Pots

 

I may have written about double pinch pots in the past- but this is for a first time hand-building class.

I did not know what level students would be at so I decided to start with the most basic skill.  Yet double pinch pots can take you just about anywhere as evinced by the work my wonderful class made that day.

It is a pretty straight forward process; you start with two balls of clay of roughly equal size and make them both into pinch pots.

A really good tip here is to keep the rim thick by not squeezing it directly. It works quite well to squeeze below it.

After the pots are as evenly thin as you are able to make them,  try them  out “mouth to mouth” and see if they are the shape and size you need.

You can add a coil or two to one or both of them to make a larger hollow form. Eventually you will need to join them to each other.

Or not. Matthew decided not to join his two pots together and so he has a terrific lidded jar.

If you find it is collapsing, you can stuff newspaper inside. The paper will burn out in the kiln.

Once it is completely sealed and the air is trapped inside, you can roll it on the table almost as if it were a solid piece of clay to smooth it and shape it. Then parts may be added

The shape doesn’t even have to be round.  Nan made a turtle!

 

But if you decide to make a little sculpture like that or like Randy’s Owl here-


make sure you put a discreet hole in it somewhere so the air and moisture can escape and not blow up your piece!

If you decide to make a piggy bank like Kathryn’s
(this pig is clearly worried by the economic situation!)

or a chicken bank like Pam’s

or a Monkey jug like mine,


then the openings are built into the form and no little hole is needed.

The possibilities are endless- here are two pieces I’ve made in the past: a jar and a teapot.

What is good about this form is that it is inherently strong, the form lends itself to so many possibilities and beginners are able to make something that has quite a bit of volume.


 

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 4:20 pm.

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MAJOLICA – a very brief introduction

I recently taught a workshop as a brief introduction to Majolica.

I used the word “creamy” very frequently. It really is the best word to describe the basic white glaze that defines the category and gives Majolica its distinctive look.

First of all let me say that most of what I know I learned from Kelly Kessler and I still find her work inspiring, thought provoking and beautiful.

I brought out some pieces by her,

two small boxes I’d bought in Italy, sitting next to an Angler Fish mug by Karin Kraemer

and a couple of old pieces of mine.

I wasn’t sure how long it had been since I really spent some time making Majolica work but the date on the bottom of the bowl was 1994!

Basically, Majolica was Europe’s response to Chinese Porcelain.

People were crazy for all that pristine white-ware coming out of China. This was eventually answered with a thick white glaze (made with tin)and colorful pigments that sink into its surface. This first began to happen during the renaissance in Italy so Italy is most famous for it’s Majolica but Spain, England and Mexico all have similar ceramic traditions.

Majolica, as it is practiced most commonly now is on terra cotta low fire clay which is dipped in or sprayed with a base coat of a  creamy majolica glaze.

At Lill, we use a nice recipe from Linda Arbuckle (http://lindaarbuckle.com/index.html )and commercial pigments from Amaco™

After that dries, you can then apply your pattern or images. Some people draw very lightly on the surface with pencil- I’ve been known to use a highlighter even  but for these I just had some sketches and applied it freehand. Good brushes are key. You need something that you can load up but will make a fine line. I like long thin brushes.

For the “sea weed” on the underside of my octopus bowl, I scratched through  to thewhite but not down to the clay body.

after firing

Karin Kraemer uses this technique to good effect on her Angler fish mug. Also on her mug, you won’t see any of the white undercoat except for the belly of her fish. She painted the entire rest of the mug with a tomato red.

I also did a bit of scratching (sgraffito) on the octopus

Here  it is fired. The main thing to know about majolica is that it’s not very forgiving of mistakes when one is painting on the colorful pigments.

You can see it is a lot more transparent- more than I wanted actually. Every brush mark shows so you really have to be careful how you apply the pigments- you can not just make an outline and daub it on to fill it in- it’s best to have some direction and grace in your application. Here is the underside:

This was fired at around cone 04.  That is low fire and so the clay body won’t be as dense and therefore as strong as a cone 6 or 10 pot- but these pieces do hold up! Another student brought in commercially made terra cotta pieces: flower pots! and decorated those.

With Majolica the possibilities are nearly endless and it’s particularly great if you like bright colors.

But, as you can see in this Roberta Massuch piece, it can also be used to get a kind of pen and ink effect and it also doesn’t have to cover the entire piece. She’s used it selectively and contrasted it with texture on other parts of her pot.

This is terry’s test- she’s wanted to see how it works in dots!

I also copied one of my own pieces -what I call my “willow pattern”. Here it is before and after:

So there you have it, the very briefest of introductions to Majolica. What I like about it are the bright colors and the endless possibilities of surface decoration coupled with the near instant gratification of low-fire. This is not something that needs to be coddled along- you pop it in an electric kiln and voila!  Something lovely, useful and sturdy.

If you want to look at more contemporary majolica work I suggest you poke around Arbuckle’s site and also that of  Karen Kraemer or just google Majolica! I know there are countless more talented Majolica artists and you are welcome to put them in comments.

Posted 7 years, 10 months ago at 6:53 pm.

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Garden Gnomes

GNOMES!

I have to say, Garden Gnomes could easily fall into the “too cute” category but we had a blast in my Garden Gnome workshop.

My class was wonderful- I had at least two people who had never really done anything in clay before and they all came out great!

We had a very short discussion on what your standard gnome looks like and we did look at this book which may have had undue influence; but I stressed to everyone that the gnomes could look like anything, be any gender and wear any type of clothes. That said, I think we all liked the way the book (and example) looked. Perhaps because these are supposed to be Garden Gnomes, we wanted them to be recognized as such.

I started with the body being a double-pinchpot construction which turned out to be ideal for him. To make double pinch pots- you take two balls of clay roughly  the same size make a sturdy pinch pot of each one- pinching below the rim so the rim stays thick and attaching them to each other, making sure to seal them completely so the air trapped inside keeps them from caving in when you roll them to smooth them and get the shape you want- I rolled mine along the table to get a “waist” . Then set him up on two sturdy legs that were hollowed-out cones.

the tips were bent over to make his feet. I put a flange on the top of the cones for ease and security of attachement. Here is the body on the legs

IMPORTANT: any trapped air needs a small hole to let it 0ut, we pierced all our sealed air traps after we were done.

I have a little neck knob there but it turned out I didn’t need it- we made the heads as a single pinch pot with maybe a coil or two added to get the height right. here is Shawna’s head with the beard on it- the beards were made using a garlic press. you just have to remember to press all the little hairs against the body so they don’t break off.

I foolishly put the head on next and the beard before painting slip on his jacket.

After that my students did it the right way, painting the coat before adding the head. We added a little skirt around most of them to make it look like a long coat, blending the top edege into the body .

To make the “stitches” I had brought a notched wheely tool that is often used in sewing. Note also that Shauna’s Gnome is wearing clogs.

Above, you can see Jennifer’s body and legs awaiting belt, head and arms. In the background, Rich’s body rests atop curly-toed boots and already has the belt.

Next we attached the heads- Krissy’s guy looks a little like the muppet version of Uncle Fester but later he got hair. He is also sporting a super-fashionable spotted belt.

The arms were pretty simple and most people chose to copy the pose in the book where he has them clasped behind his back. Here is one of my arms:Veronica put her Gnome’s arm to good use, bearing arms!check out his great ears too!

Belts were also added after painting the coat- we used slip for the colors since we will be high-firing these so they can be outside all year ‘round. What I’m missing are photos of how to make the hat. We just made thin slabs, rolled them up with a point at one end and cut away the rest- they are only one layer thick- we attached the edges to seal the hat and tried them on the gnomes- cutting off clay around the opening and shortening them until they fit.As soon as he’s fired, he’ll be ready to move into my garden!

Here are some more finished but unfired Gnomes:


Finally, here are some photos of the finished gnomes!

the hat color comes from Cohen’s Red glaze and the body is covered in clear. I left the face just raw, unglazed clay. The gnome on the right, above has no glaze on it anywhere.

And here’s my little guy

Posted 8 years, 5 months ago at 10:10 am.

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First Time Potter Week 2

TRIMMING

This week we first learned about trimming since we started with bowls last week.

It’s always a toss-up;   bowls are easier to throw but you really should trim the bottoms. Cylinders are harder to throw but you can make them so that you don’t have to trim them.

The first step in trimming is often forgotten.  You should take a really good look at the inside of your pot- I’m going to say bowl here because that’s what we’re trimming. Take a look at the shape of it, try to feel the thickness of the walls and bottom and then turn it over.  The reason you are memorizing the shape as best you can is that you will be trying to make that same shape on the outside so that your bowl eventually has even walls and the foot should be like a little ring of clay sitting on the bottom of your bowl.

Next, center your upside down pot on the wheel head. Many potters can “tap” their bowl into the center- this is a huge mystery to me.  I have never mastered this amazing skill.

Instead, I hold a pencil steady and where it makes a line, I slightly push until it’s even all the way around. Then I press clay down around the bowl taking great care not to deform the rim- press against the wheel head, not the rim.

Now tap on the bottom gently, Eventually you will be able to “read” the resonance as to how thick the bottom is.

Now look at the curve of your bowl. You want to continue that curve. you don’t want your foot to be so wide that the curve doesn’t have a chance to get started. You also don’t want your foot so narrow that you have a super-tippy bowl. There is a lot of wiggle room here- it ranges from  mixing bowls that have nice wide sturdy feet, like sensible shoes all the way to little rice bowls which have delicate feet like party pumps that you can dance in.

Draw the circle that will be your foot on the bottom and then

choose a loop tool you are comfortable with and begin to carve away the rest – do not touch inside the lines that delineate the future foot! Remember you are trying to mimic the curve that is going on inside your bowl. this picture is a little confusing because I am holding two tools but only using the big loop tool  at that moment. Sometimes I alternate between the two so often that I am holding them both while I trim. I am not using them both at once!

Once you have the shape you can use a wider loop tool or even a metal rib to smooth it  and also use your fingers or back of your nail to smooth any rough edges on the foot- you don’t want to scratch your mother’s coffee table!

Cathryn did a great foot right away!

Adrienne did too- and it’s one of those delicate feet.

The two most common mistakes are not trimming enough and

trimming too much as one of the students found out to her chagrin:

Steve needed a foot thrown on so I demonstrated that- I did a post about that some time back….

CYLINDERS

Then we tackled cylinders. I started by making a pitcher with a curved floor (as opposed to a flat floor).

You start this like a bowl but then bring the walls straight up.

After you collar it in, use a tool handle to make a simple spout.

Cylinders, because of centrifugal force, inevitably want to get wider. it is helpful to collar in at the top after every pull as well as compressing the lip to keep it strong.

Next I did a vase with a flat bottom inside- The trick to vases is to get them as tall as you can and then instead of just choking it in at the top, you must coax it inwards, keeping the wall arched for good support- just like a cathedral!

the finished vase shapeLater, I will trim the bottom a little but I will trim it while it is right-side-up on the wheel so that I don’t have to use a chuck.

Lastly, the simplest and most realistic cylinder for beginners to make is a mug. A mug takes about 1lb to 1.25lbs of clay and is a great way to practice vertical pulls and later, attaching handles!

Special thanks to Melissa for taking the photos and also being pretty darned funny!


Posted 8 years, 5 months ago at 9:32 am.

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