Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Before and After

Do you remember these "faceted" mugs?

This is what they look like now, hot out of the kiln.

And this plain jar that I dressed up with some sgraffitto on the lid?

I had some fun with the glaze technique on this and thought it came out well.
It'll hold a good dozen or two of cookies.

I did a post showing how I made these textured rims on plates and bowls.
I used a piece of bath mat!

I think they would look well in a country cottage kitchen.

I made a number of vases with carved surfaces.

They kind of have an ancient or native feel to them.

The vase on the left ended up with tooling all the way to the bottom.

And this is how it looks now. Just a simple white glaze.

I love this view the best. I would display it this way if it didn't roll off the table.

Please tell me what you think- did you enjoy seeing the process of how pottery is made?

Not much. You?

The kiln didn't reach temperature until 4:00 a.m. after which I got four whole hours of sleep. Needless to say, I was dragging my tail all day yesterday. Came home after a coffee date to find that red Ukranian egg dye had been spilled on the wood floor. I proceeded to ignore it so that I wouldn't have a nervous breakdown in my sleep deprived state.

Today is a new day.

The baby goat kids are hopping, skipping and jumping in the goat pen. Those critters are so stinkin' cute.

I'm warming the oven to bake some jalapeno cheese sourdough bread. I'm trying to perfect the artisan bread technique. Surprisingly, no one seems to complain about all this fresh bread in the kitchen.

After bread I'm going shopping. I need to find some Easter clothes for the boys. Nothing like the last minute to get things done.

When I get home from shopping I'll see if the firing was a disaster or a success. Film at eleven.



What are you doing today?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Firing Log

Note: I will be updating the firing log throughout the day as the kiln fires.

6:30 a.m. It's just getting light and it's raining. Kristin and I (still in my p.j.s) head out to the kiln studio to light the kiln. Kristin has his camera with plans to make a video of the firing process. I place the cone packs in position in the kiln. Using a candle and a book of matches I light the "ring of fire" that lights the eight burners under the kiln. The burners will not stay lit. After several attempts we notice the thermocouple for the safety shutoff is out of place. Even after repositioning the thermocouple, the burners will not stay lit. After consulting with Mr. Dirtywrench we determine to replace the thermocouple but have to wait until the hardware store opens at 8:00 a.m.

8:12 a.m. Kristin returns from the hardware with a new thermocouple. He installs it for me (what a good son!) and I attempt to light the burners again. The wet breeze from the hard steady rain extinguishes every match. Finally, with my very last match, my candle stays lit and I light the ring of fire again. With a whoosh, the burners softly pop with flame. I wait a few seconds and let go of the safety switch....success!! The burners stay lit. I adjust the propane gas pressure as low as I can make it, prop the kiln door open and let the kiln warm slowly for an hour. With this late start it's going to be a long day and a late night.

12:30 p.m. This firing isn't starting out very well. After shutting the door and slowly warming the kiln to take it easy on the cold kiln bricks and furniture, I turned up the gas at 10:30. By 12:30 I was still only at 500 degrees F which was no change in an hour. I should be getting a 200 degree increase per hour. What in the world is going on? I don't know if it is the weather or something with the gas or what. I turned up the fuel gauge again and the temp jumped 60 degrees in five minutes. I had to back it down because we don't want to go too fast.

It's a rainy day and I've been told the barometric pressure on a rainy day is right for a good reduction firing. My experience is that the best firing I've ever done was last summer on a clear, sunny July day. I'm so ignorant and inexperienced that these things really frustrate me. At the rate this firing is going I'll be up with it until 2:00 a.m.

7:30 p.m. Finally, the temperature has reached 1600 degrees F, the first cone in the pack is down and the kiln is ready for body reduction. At this point I slightly close the damper on the flue to restrict the air going into the kiln. This air reduction causes the fuel to be starved for oxygen and to look for it elsewhere. The atmosphere inside the kiln begins to build pressure and to draw oxygen molecules out of the clay bodies and glazes. Drawing oxygen out causes color changes in the clay and glazes. For instance, a reduction atmosphere changes copper from green (oxidized) to red (reduced).

The firing is a good three hours behind the usual schedule. Two hours are due to the delay this morning, the other hour due to a really slow advance of temperature all afternoon. At this rate there is no doubt this firing won't reach final temperature until 3 a.m.

Not happy about that.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pottery: Cone packs

I've been working long hours in the pottery studio. I finally made enough pottery to fill my kiln, bisque fired, made the glazes, glazed the pottery and loaded the kiln. I'm ready to fire!

I've been experimenting with textures and carving patterns in the surface of the clay. The vase on the left became this...

....after the bisque firing (the low fire that hardens the clay for glazing).

Do you remember these?

I glazed each one in a different color.

Glazing these carved and textured pieces was a challenge. I had to make educated guesses about how the glazes would look. It will be exciting to unload the kiln and find out what the fire does to the glazes on these surfaces.

To find out how the loading of the kiln is done, check out another post I did when I was preparing for a firing.

When I fire the kiln to 2380 degrees, I rely on pyrometric cones to help me know what is happening inside the kiln.

Each cone is made to melt at a very specific temperature.

I make "cone packs" with a lump of clay to hold the cones lined up in the order that they will melt.

I place the cone packs behind holes in the kiln door and I watch them melt during the firing.

At the end of the firing they look like this. The lowest temperature cones melt into puddles. The later melting cones bend in the higher heat. When each one begins to bend I can determine the temperature of the interior of the kiln. When the last cone bends it is time to turn off the kiln.

I also have a digital pyrometer which measure the kiln temperature but these cones tell me much more than the modern technology of the pyrometer.

The challenge is to see the cones during the firing through the peep holes in the door.

The firing takes fourteen to sixteen hours. Stay tuned for a video of the kiln firing.
After cooling the kiln for two days, I'll be able to unload and see the results!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sherried Tomato Soup

I'm in charge of making and serving a luncheon on Saturday for the artists and board of the Gorge Artists Open Studio Tour. About 35 people. The menu is soup, salad and bread.

I just made Pioneer Woman's Sherried Cream of Tomato Soup.

Wow. It is DIVINE.

If you love tomato soup you will swoon over this easy, delicious, semi-homemade version!

Next up- Curried Chicken Potato Soup and Asagio Cheese Sourdough Bread!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Voice from the Past

Five years ago I went to Michigan to be present for the birth of our first grandchild. After that important event had come to pass my daughter and I, with the new baby in tow, made a few fun little trips around the area. One of the places we went was a large antique store. The store had a wall size old library card file. This large wooden piece had many rows of small drawers. In the drawers were old postcards that had been cataloged according to their subject. Food, flowers, cars, tractors, fishing, hunting- any subject that had ever been on a postcard were in those drawers. There was also one drawer for each of the fifty United States. I spent a lot of time digging in the Oregon drawer and ended up buying nearly every card in it. I think I bought forty or fifty Oregon themed antique postcards. I took them home and sold most of them at a local gift shop for twice what I paid for them.

But I did keep a few special ones for myself.

This is a picture of our valley, a view we see nearly every day.

This is the Hood River bridge that crosses the Columbia River to Washington state. We've driven over this bridge countless times.

This is a scene just up the road from our place. It's a paved highway to the mountain now.

The famous Multnomah Falls, before the development and bridge...the postmark on the back of this one is 1906.

...and another from after the walking bridge was built.

This is one of my favorites, but not for the picture of the gorge and the well known Crown Point on the front.

I kept it because of the sweet love letter on the back. It was written by a lonely soldier during World War II who was stationed in the Northwest, far from his midwestern home where his wife waited for his return.
3-29-42 11:30 a.m. Sunday

(Notice this is almost exactly 68 years ago!)

My Darling Mummie, Just a week ago today is when I received the letter you wrote on the 22nd. Gee Mummie I get awful blue, when I don't here from you. Mail don't mean much if you don't write. I walked Guard 8 hr a.m. awful tired, got off at 9:00 ate + shower + shaved + was in church at 10:00 was a splendid sermon, was thinking of you Continuously was praying for all + especially you my Darling Wife. They have silent prayer + Mummie, I prayed you'd be O.K. + we'd get together safe soon + never be parted again. I Love you Darling true blue as can be. Later in the week, you'll see why I went to town. I couldn't buy anything, but sure sent my Love and Kisses with what I did. I received a letter from "Al" I sure was surprised, but I thought it was from you, when I heard I had one I came off guard + looked up the sgt. and was disappointed it wasn't from my Mummie.

Such aching emotion. I'm sorry I don't have the card that was written following this one that may have had his name.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pottery: Mixing glazes

Pottery making is so much more than sitting at a wheel throwing clay into shapes. The steps from raw, wet, malleable clay to finished functional bowls, vases or birdbaths are many. The work can be back-achingly hard, dirty and even dangerous. There is good reason that the occupation of potter has traditionally belonged to men. In the old days clay was dug from the ground and refined before use. Glazes were likewise procured from the earth and kilns were fired with cords and cords of wood over many days.

Thank goodness for modern advances!

But even with electric wheels, ready-made clay and digitally monitored kilns, the work is still hard and dirty and even dangerous.

Don't ask me why I do it. I often wonder myself.

Oh yeah. I'm addicted to clay.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon on one of the back-aching, dirty chores. Mixing glazes from raw chemicals.

It starts with a glaze recipe or formula. This is where I always lament that I didn't do better in high school chemistry class. Glazes formulas are calculated by gram weight. If I want to decrease or increase the amount of glaze I have to watch my numbers. Each raw chemical or element serves a very specific purpose in the glaze- opacifiers, fluxes, colorants, etc.- and each is present in very careful percentages for certain effects. It's a science. And I'm a kindergartener.

Elements in their raw, powdered state are a health hazard. I have to be careful when I store and use them.

Plastic containers with lids work best.

Nevertheless, safety equipment is a must when mixing glazes.

I have an ancient gram scale on which I weigh all my chemicals.

I weigh out each chemical according to the recipe....

This iron will color this glaze a nice brick red. Iron strongly influences colors in glazes from blue to green to brown to black.

I put all the chemicals together dry in a bucket...

...carefully stir them together without creating too much dust...

....and add them to warm water. I do this outside to avoid the hazardous dust it creates.

After mixing I strain the liquid glaze a couple times through a strainer. After a day of mixing and carrying buckets of water and glaze around, my back starts to complain. I've learned to not over-do it. Someday, maybe I'll have a studio assistant for this stuff. Yeah. Right.

After mixing half a dozen glazes and straining the others that had frozen and thawed over the winter, I'm ready to glaze a kiln load of pottery for the next phase of production.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Days of Wine and Chocolate

Our son is back from Europe. I told him before he left Switzerland to be sure and pack plenty of dark chocolate for his mama. The stock and supply that I brought home last September is gone already!

He took the instructions for "dark" chocolate very seriously.

Since the last time I shopped for chocolate, the Swiss have gotten more hip.
Fair trade organic chocolate??

My son also brought me wine. Good wine. Better wine then anything in my wine collection, including the last bottle I brought home from Italy five years ago. The bottle which I cannot bring myself to open. It's probably spoiled by now but that's the way I am. I need a really special occasion to open my very last bottle of hand-carried Italian wine. Now that I have wine even more special than that, maybe I can open it now.

But what will entice me to ever open this twelve year old bottle of French wine?
Maybe to toast the birth of a new grandbaby!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Few Things

Random. No particular order. Things rattling around my brain....

This week I served on a jury for a trial. After two and a half months being on call for jury service, phoning every weekend to see if my number was up, I got summoned to the courthouse. I was chosen for the jury and made the foreman. I can now cross this activity off my Bucket List. If I had a Bucket List. If I did, I would have had serve on a jury for a trial as one of the items to do before I die. Why? you ask. I have just always wanted to witness our justice system at work in a more participatory way and certainly serving on a jury facilitates that.

Jury duty was an interesting and educational experience. It also completely fried my brain for two days. Sorting out the facts and witness testimony and making a good decision at the end required every brain cell I could manufacture. I was amazed by how I went from one decision about guilt or innocence at the beginning of deliberations, to the opposite position by the end. I was impressed by the judge and his astute handling of the lawyers, the jury and the process of trial. I am still processing it but I am not convinced that a jury trial is always an entirely "fair" or "impartial" way to have a matter settled.

Let me just say that with the way information is manipulated for the consumption of a jury I have to wonder if it ends up being entirely fair. There were so many holes in the presentation of events, witnesses not heard from, questions unanswered, that making a fair decision was very difficult. I am satisfied with the decision we made with what we were given, but maybe if we had been given more it would have been different...Someone knew that and that is why the information was strictly controlled. Why is that?? Is that fair? I know there are good reasons for some of the holes but I'd like to know more about that. Anyone else have similar experiences with a jury trial? I'd love to hear about it...


It's spring. Officially. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing.

I should be over-joyed but I'm not completely. Yes, I get to leave my dark, warm hovel and emerge into the freshness and light. Except, after emergence, I discover the overwhelming burden of garden chores waiting for me with the aftermath of winter.

Pruning: roses, grape vines, fruit trees, blueberry shrubs.
Weeding and cleaning: strawberry bed, numerous flower beds, raised garden beds.
Raking, trimming, sweeping, burning, composting, mulching. The list is endless.

The Open Studio Tour is looming in the distance. A pre-show at a gallery for the month of April looms closer. I need to finish making pottery, glaze, and fire. I have ten days to finish this project before the gallery show hangs.

I can't even use my kiln studio before I give it a spring cleaning.

Barn swallows took up residence in there last summer. At first it didn't bother me until I found out that when they make themselves at home they proceed to rain their doo-doo all over the premises!

There are bird droppings everywhere in my glazing and firing studio.
I don't have enough to do. Let's think of more chores so I don't get bored.

My cake business is suddenly booming. Brides are calling and emailing. I have to answer them, help the women plan their cakes, make samples for them, write contracts and do some kind of book-keeping.

I have to make some changes in my kitchen and get the state inspector here.

It's Lent and will soon be Easter.

For the first time in my life I am seriously considering hiring someone to come in and do some housecleaning. That's radical.

I never thought I would ever say this, but....could we just have one more month of winter? Just a few more weeks. I'd like to stay in my hovel a bit longer.