Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another kind of potting

I've had my hands in a lot of soil in my lifetime.

This is by far the worst stuff I've ever used. Picked it up at Ace Hardware. I should have just taken soil out of the garden for my window boxes. This was a powdery substance that repelled water.

When I put it in a bucket and stirred it to work water into it, it took on the appearance of asphalt. What in the hoohah kind of "soil" is this anyway? I mixed it with everything I could find- last year's potted soil and garden soil to make it seem like something that would actually have nutrient value for the plants. I'm definitely not putting food plants in this stuff. I'm afraid to know what is in it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Results-The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Unloading, in a strange way, can sometimes be sort of anti-climactic.

After weeks and weeks of hard work - it comes down to this. A few pots. Some good. A couple really good. Some bad. Some just "meh."

Beware my commentary. I am my own worst critic. But don't be afraid to tell me if you agree or not.

I was not unhappy to see my big baking dish. But I was more excited about it before it was fired. I guess it rates a "meh".

This teapot is kinda cute. I thought I would hate it but I don't.

I love how these green lines look against the Hamada Brown Black glaze.

I also love this glaze. I wish it would look this good on every piece. But my kiln has hot and cold spots. This was in a hot spot. Thus the nice finish.

All the dinnerware, bowls and cups, came out fine. An assortment of colors.

"Dahlia Bowl" One of the very best pieces to come out of the kiln.

Out of four bowls in this series, one of them got a stress crack on the rim.
Yes! I get to keep one!

So here's a little of "the good, the bad and the ugly."

Good. But...

It's doubtful that anyone will buy this though this flaw does not weaken the handle.
I guess I'll get to keep it after all!

The jury is out on these.
What do you think? Good? Bad? UGLY??
Maybe I shouldn't have done the green knobs?

I haven't had a crack like this in years!
It doesn't go all the way through. The jar is still functional but not salable.

And drumroll.......

Mountain Wall Plate....

Again. Not sure. Not what I had in mind which is always a problem. My mind that is.
My biggest beef is that the sky is not blue!
That glaze didn't do what I told it to do!
Not sure what happened.
It looks like Mt. Hood though!

Bad. Here's a Mt. Hood plate that was in a cold spot so the glaze decided to get an ugly blistering disease called pin-holing.

For any potters checking in: Yes, I know about all the reasons pin-holing happens. I have read what the remedies are. I have tried them all. Here's an example of my frustration with this problem:

Lovely. I like it. I love how the glazes transitioned to each other. Nice effects.
This side of the vase was facing one of the burner ports.

Now turn the vase around.

Gahh! Come on. A cold spot on the other side of the vase?

This glaze did this consistently in this firing. I only used it on a clay body that I thought wouldn't have a problem with it. I am convinced it is something with the rutile. Rutile is the culprit isn't it? And I have a whole bucket of it now.

I'm sorry. I'm talking to myself. I didn't mean to bore you. I have issues. Glaze chemistry issues. Inferior kiln design issues. Lack of education issues.

So to cheer myself up, I will make a post with pictures that I really like of pots that I really like from this firing. That post will be on my studio blog Hearth and Home Studio. Please check it out and feel free to tell me what you think. Objective feedback is very helpful.

Had to Peek

This morning the kiln is 366 degrees F. Cool enough to open but not cool enough to unload.

The old saying among potters is that the pots are ready to unload when your skin doesn't stick to them when you touch them. Heh, heh, heh.

But it's hard to resist at least taking a peek to see if everything's okay or if there was some major disaster...

...Like a pot blew up and chards of it are fused on to all the other pots. (This actually happened to me once as a student. I had made my first lamp base and some other student's pot blew up and there was one chard ruining my lamp. )

...Or the kiln over-fired (got too hot for too long) and all the glazes over-fluxed and sheeted off in puddles on the shelves. Heaven help me.

...Or the kiln under-fired and the glazes didn't flux and are dry and flat and uninteresting. Done that. Tried to learn my lessons.

So I snuck the camera into the warm kiln and snapped this:
Looks fine except I'm really not too happy about how that cone melted and dripped down on the edges of the shelves. That is something that won't ever come off. Or will require an amount of grinding I am loathe to do.

The long red piece is the deep baking dish. Looking good!!

This looks interesting!

I stuck my arm in the top of the kiln and snapped this. By now my camera was starting to feel warm. Notice how much the pots have shrunk. Maybe I didn't say that before. Clay shrinks between wet and fired. Every clay body is different and shrinkage can be between 10-15%. The tall vases on the right had been close to the brick so they shrunk it looks like a good three or four inches in height.

I have appointments in town this afternoon so I won't be able to get to this until later. I'm (as always!) anxious to unload!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

High Fire

Here's a video from the end of yesterday's firing.

Now I am waiting for the kiln to cool. When the temperature inside the kiln gets down to about 300 degrees F, I will crack it open and take a peek inside.

That should happen Wednesday and I'll post pictures here!

It'll be exciting to see what's inside!

Good, bad or ugly!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Earth and Fire

It's late Monday night and here's what I'm doing.

I'm almost to the end of the firing right now. It's going slowly because I'm such an amateur and I have no one to tell me what I should do. But so far so good. The kiln is at 2250 degrees F on it's way to 2300+ F

And my camera battery is dead so I can't update the video.

But check it out! Raw clay is being transformed into stone. I made this around 4:00 this afternoon.

Loaded for fire

Loading the kiln takes me hours and hours.

After wrecking my back a few times, I've gotten smart about it and I spread the job out over several days a few hours at a time. This loading went pretty well.

It starts with the shelves.

These babies weigh over twenty pounds each. I start by cleaning them. They have to be coated with a clay mixture called kiln wash that will keep stuff from sticking to them during the firing.

But after a couple firings the kiln wash can flake off and start sticking to glazes. The shelves have to be scraped and have a new coat of kiln wash. This is the number one most disliked pottery job for me. This is the one thing for which I really want an apprentice. I would be a happy potter if someone would take over this mundane muscle job and keep my shelves smooth and nice.

These are the shelf posts of varying heights. They are used to stack the shelves in the kiln.

Loading the kiln is very much like putting together a puzzle when you don't know what the final outcome will look like. It takes a lot of thought, meditation, cogitation, contemplation, lip-chewing, planning, reworking, ruminating, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding and sighing.

The pots of like height go together. I try to load pots tightly, filling as much space as possible. The pots have to go as close together as they can without touching anything else.

I am so excited about my big baking dish. It is BIG. It will be so awesome to cook for a crowd in this deep-dish. I can just see it with bubbly scalloped potatoes or army sized macaroni and cheese! Except, of course I will try to sell it. But if it doesn't sell it is mine!

But because of its size, it wouldn't fit well on the shelf and I had to break some rules to get it in the kiln.

So I got the back stack of shelves in after a couple hours of work. I had these two tall vases to figure out how to include. The problem was there were only two and they left a lot of open space in the back of the kiln. This would not be good. I only had short things to put on the shelves on each side. It is important to fill as much of the volume of the kiln as possible for an effective firing.

So, because I pre-plan so well, (not!) I took out everything on the top two shelves and started over. This was followed by some more cogitation and teeth-grinding.

And I came up with this arrangement. Much better. It took only.... oh... an additional hour or three. I deliberately left the open space to the left of the tall vases and above the short pots. In order to see the cone packs in the glow of the 2000 degree heat, it helps to have space behind them. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of this ahead of time.

Next I loaded the front stack of shelving. Same thing. I had to measure and figure out which pots were in the same height groups to load together. And lift a twenty pound shelf, balance it over the stacked pots to place it perfectly over the shelf posts. If it's not in the right spot, lift (using my wobbly biceps) to hover the 200 pound shelf over the pots and into the right spot on the posts.

Take a break and look up massage therapists.

These are pyrometric cones. Each one melts at a specific temperature in the kiln. With these I make...

...cone packs that I place in the kiln behind spy holes in the door. During the firing I can look through the holes at the cone packs to watch how they melt. This helps me know what is going on with the kiln temperatures. The front row of cone packs show how they look at the end of a firing. They melted one by one starting at the left to the right.

I have to place these cone packs in exactly the right spot behind the spy holes so I can see them during the firing. This also factors into how the shelves are stacked so that the height of a shelf will bring the cone pack to the height of the spy hole. Keep in mind the heights of the pots are also involved as well as a couple other considerations I won't get in to. Get it? COMPLICATED.

The finished load. As always I had exactly the right number of pots. Like I planned that. Right. Don't ask me how that works out but it seems to.

These are the cone packs in place where I'll be able to see them through the spy holes.

This is the view through the spy hole. Only during the firing, there will be flames shooting out towards my retinas when I look.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Peanuts and Crackerjack

This weekend was dizzyingly busy.

I mean whirling dervish crazy.

I'm so glad it's over.

Saturday I was working hard to load my kiln because I had to be gone all day Sunday and I have to fire Monday.

Mid-afternoon we paused for the little boy's opening baseball game. The first one of their careers. And according to Hoyle's rules for Little League Baseball games (or is it Robert's Rules of LL Baseball?) , it was chilly enough for a blanket on the bleachers. But the sun was shining just enough to burn my face.

Coach pitched baseball means everyone gets up to bat every inning, no outs are counted and I don't think runs are either. No pressure but lots of comedy since most of the time the kids aren't sure what to do with the ball when they get it.

Sam is a natural athlete. He drove a couple balls in a straight line down center, grazing the coach's earlobe as it went past the pitcher's mound.

Pete is a natural flower enthusiast and story writer.
But he managed a couple good hits too.

Sam got to wear the catcher's gear and assume the position.
But that didn't mean he knew what to do.
So we yelled a lot. Giving him clues.
"Pick up the ball! Tag him! The runner! Tag him! With the ball! Tag him!"

And no matter what, even when Mom says "no" (Dad says "here's a dollar...")

The game isn't over until...

there are snow cones dripping in the car.

I can see my countertops again!

There are times that I have wished Mr. Dirtywrench was a dentist.

Other times I thought it would be nice if he were the CEO of a car manufacturing company rather than a little ol' car repair company.

But most of the time, I am happy that he is so good with a wrench....and a pliers....and a screwdriver.

(Really- it's his magic wand that he can wave to fix anything- but he doesn't like me to talk about that.)

Like when the dishwasher needs a new motor. He knows what to do and gets 'er done.

And doesn't charge me any labor.

Now I have a place to hide the dirty dishes again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It makes a mother proud...

The culmination of months of rehearsals...
Driving to town every day for weeks...

It was so worth it...

The kids had a blast and it's something they'll always remember.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Most BEAUTIFUL Time of the Year

I love living here.

In the spring, I especially love living here.

One week ago, at Blossom Festival, I posted this photo. We had no blossoms.

This week:

One week ago:

This week:

The first time I visited this valley I was a tourist and it was April and blossom time.
That was over twenty years ago.
I've lived here now fifteen years.
But in April, I still feel like a tourist.
I drive around the valley just to look at blossoms.

I start in the residential areas downtown. The variety of blooming ornamental trees is spectacular. This one, and many others like it, was grafted to have two types of blossoms.

Taking a walk through the city is a joy when you love flowers like I do.

The red dogwood is my favorite and this one was the first I saw in full bloom. I've learned the phases these trees and flowers go through from so many tourist trips through the neighborhoods. First are the daffodils and forsythia, now the tulips and candy tuft are blooming with the flowering crabs and cherries. Next are the magnolias and dogwoods in whites and pinks and reds. The lilacs in many colors and shades finish out the spring season with the azaleas and rhododendrons. A positive orgy of flowers.

I stopped to photograph this charming yard with the picket fence and the tulips. It was so orderly and well kept.

As I was swooning over the dogwood I spotted this little lady getting her daily garden therapy. I asked her if she was responsible for all this beauty. She said she does all but the mowing. I hope that when I am her age I am doing as well in the garden as she seems to be.

The boys and I continued our loop through the orchards along the east side of the valley. We know the right roads to take for the best views.

Peter shares my enthusiasm for the flowers. He always has.

This yard was a riot of tulips. You can see the rose bushes between the tulips. In the summer there are countless roses of all colors.

These blooming orchards are all pears. As these finish the apple orchards will open their blossoms and perfume the air with their scent.

I love living here.

Don't you wish you lived here too?

Of course you do.