May 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wednesday was intended to be a day of experimentation in the glaze room at Kirkgate Studios. It did turn out that way but not quite as I had intended.

Since looking at the work of Gary Wood, which I mentioned in an earlier post, I had thought that I would like to try a white interior and coloured exterior. For these five pots, I thought that I would stick with one exterior colour and apply it in different ways – dipped, painted, poured. So, I started to rummage through the buckets of glaze, with their attached test tiles, initially to find a white. I looked and looked but in vain. I discovered on asking the lady who runs the pottery room that there was only one stoneware white, which she showed me. It wasn’t what I wanted at all. It was translucent, speckled and a kind of grey/white. I wanted something smoother, more shiny and opaque. But I thought, what the hell, it’s a white and at least I would get to glaze something.

I didn’t expect to get the reaction I received from her. “I just don’t understand people who spend so much time making something, investing time and effort, and then go and throw the first glaze at it. If what you want isn’t there, make it yourself.” She was quite forceful but, of course, she was right. She told me to find a recipe and said that she would show me how to make it. Picking Emmanuel Cooper’s book of glaze recipes off the shelf, I ended up making 100g of glaze for 7 different whites and applied them to test tiles. I couldn’t believe how straight forward it seemed; I never thought I’d be able to make my own glazes. I didn’t have to just use what was there, I could try out different glazes and use the one that I wanted. That’s quite a realisation and writing this now it gives me a little adrenalin rush. So, I did the same on Thursday afternoon and made up 100g of 8 other coloured glazes – 2 different midnight blues, 3 greens and 3 deep brown/blacks.

I rushed to finish them because I knew that there was to be a firing on Friday. Unfortunately, they are still waiting to go into the kiln, as I was told by the man who loaded the kiln that they couldn’t go in on Friday because I’d only cleaned the glaze off the bottom of the tiles and not enough up the sides. “You’ll learn”, he said. My face was a picture (I was so excited to see the results) but I have learnt. I can’t go in this week anyway, as it’s half term, and I was told that there will probably be another firing on Wednesday.

I’ll hold my breath until then…



May 23, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about glazes recently and the second part of Daniel Rhodes’ book ‘Clay and Glazes for the Potter’, as I suspected, is a knock out. It builds beautifully on the first part about clay and goes into some detail regarding all aspects of the glazing process. It’s a revelation and rather than being scary it’s furnished me with an excitement to get stuck in. Three bowls and two small cups came out of the kiln tonight, so I have the opportunity to experiment on Wednesday.

The little cups/bowls that Scout and I made last month came out the kiln a few days ago. She hasn’t seen them yet and I hope she will be pleased. I know that it is belated but I don’t think it’s too too late to give them away as Easter presents… Maybe we can wrap them up over the weekend and find them suitable homes.

These last few weeks I have been trying to practise throwing by just repeating the same form over and over again. The size of the clay balls has varied between 300g, 250g and 200g but the shape of the form has remained the same, a tapering cylinder. Attempting to control the clay and repeat a particular form rather than allowing the clay to develop any which way it pleases has been a real challenge. Each day, a mountain of clay piled higher and higher with squished, deformed pots and my exasperation steadily grew, along with the swearing under my breath. But gradually, gradually I feel progress is being made with the last time I was on the wheel a pure delight and a surge of adrenalin in my chest. Below is a selection of the better ones kept from the last few weeks.

A visit to the Contemporary Ceramics Centre on Saturday, while my girlfriend delivered a workshop on natural dyeing, has given me some inspiration (and throwing targets) for the week.


May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last week I managed to spend some part of three consecutive days at Kirkgate Studios: Tuesday afternoon, all of Wednesday and an hour on Thursday.

The privilege was to have the days consecutively as that meant that I could use the second day to turn anything made on the first. This opportunity is a rare occurrence, as usually everything has to be finished on the day. Although, thinking about it, pots do dry quickly at Kirkgate being in the same room as the kiln, which is often running, so I could, I imagine, throw some bowls in the morning and turn them towards late afternoon. But the magic of last week was the mindset of knowing I was going in two days in a row (the Thursday was an added bonus). It’s such a small thing but to someone who practises little, and who wants to do more, it means much.

I kept five of the bowls from Tuesday and learnt a valuable lesson.

Drying bowls appear hard but actually are very fragile! I was in the habit of picking the bowls up by the lip in a carefree manner and picked one of them up one too many times snapping a large chunk out if it. It was frustrating, as the bowl had come out reasonably well, but it was a good lesson to learn. So, now four remain, which I am looking forward to glazing. I am thinking of a smooth, shiny, white interior and a matt exterior, maybe white or leaden grey (there was a fantastic sky this evening before the rains came).

Reading this month’s Ceramic Review I saw a beautiful row of cups (looking at his website they might be shots) made by Gary Wood and spent the hour on Thursday being inspired by them. I love them and will keep practising until I get somewhere near. If you haven’t seen his work I urge you to take a look at his website. The palette he uses and textures he creates are stunning.


May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

It was my birthday last week and I was delighted to receive this collection of books.

The two that I have made most use of so far are: ‘Clay and Glazes for the Potter’ by Daniel Rhodes and ‘Pottery on the Wheel’ by Elsbeth Woody. They have been invaluable. ‘Clay and Glazes…’ is the best book I have found so far on the technical side of clay, the chemical composition and physical nature of the clay. It is detailed without being turgid and I have benefited immeasurably from a greater understanding of the substance of clay, which has deepened my relationship with it. I am anticipating a similar reaction to the chapters on glazes when I get to them. The Elsbeth Woody has been a fantastic accompaniment to the other Daniel Rhodes book I have been reading, ‘Pottery Form’. It is a step-by-step guide with clear and plentiful pictures, including numerous cross-sections through pots with Woody’s fingers in place to illustrate exactly the details of the process. There are 13 pages on centring alone, so what more could a beginner want…?

The next book on my wish list is Tanya Harrod’s ‘The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century’. Glenn Adamson, in the ‘The Craft Reader’, describes it as setting a new standard for craft history, providing “a subtle and unillusioned narrative of debate, disappointment, possibility and radicalism”.

And there are two quotes I have found recently that I like very much. I can’t remember where I found this one but it was attributed to Adolf Loos from 1908, who saw in the act of making a pot “chance, passion, dreams and the mystery of creation”. The second is from the Introduction to Woody’s ‘Pottery on the Wheel’: “Even though throwing is a manual skill, it is not the hands alone that are involved. The whole body and mind are used. The area of contact between the clay and the potter may be less than a square inch, but the position of the body in relation to the clay, the position of the arms, the tension that permeates the body from the toes to the fingertips, are all important”.

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