Monday, March 21, 2011

Glaze Day

Today was spent glazing all my new pots. And boy! Were there a lot of them! I've been having so much fun working on refining my porcelain bottle forms. These bottle will make up most of this next firing in a whole array of colors! I have found the challenge of tapering the wide bellies into teensy little necks to be a welcome task. While the forms look simple they are in fact the result of concentrated efforts and extreme focus.

I am amazed that this extreme focus is becoming less and less intense with each passing day's practice, but there were times I will admit that I found it completely necessary to hold my breath to further steady my hands. Can you imagine that just the slight movement from my expanding chest on an inhale could easily ripple down my arms to my finger tips and completely knock my pots off center just a few weeks ago! I know I'm getting better simply because I am not becoming lightheaded as often as I was before!

I've been mixing my own glazes recently and have found two primary base gazes which I use to create all my colors. Here you see my clear glaze in the red bucket which is used to formulate my turquoise, aqua, chartreuse and gray glazes. This glaze is perfectly suited for greens and blues and even for some warmer yellows, but the Zinc Oxide in this glaze makes it impossible to use with any shade of red, pink or purple. These red colors are especially tricky to work with as their chemical composition makes them very sensitive to additional ingredients. While blues and greens are completely unaffected by Zinc poor reds in the presence of Zinc shrivel away to the palest shade of mauve despite the incredible amount of colorant added! 

With all the experimenting I've been doing with my new colorants and glazes I haven't ever gotten around to mixing up a truly huge batch of glaze. This is on my list for this upcoming week. My beautiful pearly clear is here to stay. Not only does it work well with the pretty green and blue shades I so frequently use but it is absolutely lovely on its own! I will be mixing up an entire bucket full and will then have the easier task of dipping my pots in the glaze, rather than the pouring method I am now doing. Dipping will be easier and faster and maybe even a little less messy! My little apron is probably more fun to wear than anything. As you can see I still managed to get pretty dirty!

Believe it or not all these pale pots are now glazed. Their chalky appearance results from the dried glaze which is very much like watered down clay. Slightly thinner than the consistency of pudding this wet mixture almost immediately dries when it is applied to the absorbent bisque fired pieces. Imagine spilling water onto a brick. Within moments the porous brick has absorbed the water completely. This is precisely how glazes work! The glaze goes on wet and dries to a matte chalk finish in minutes. It is always best to wait several hours (and I prefer at least a day) before putting the newly glazed pieces into the kiln. The extreme heat then interacts with the minerals in the glaze to create the glassy colored glaze surfaces most of us are familiar with! What a process from start to finish!

Luke just loves to be a part of everything I do. He particularly  felt his input was needed at this moment when I am drying off my hands. Perhaps he is telling me to get back to work? No, I think he knows this means work is done for the day and it is finally time for his puppy walk! Silly guy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunny Side Up?

Oh the joys of glaze mysteries! I have been working on these new glazes lately to try to freshen up my work a bit, and to also make my work distinctively mine, start to finish. I've never cared for commercial glazes. In fact I always felt like I was cheating when I used them. Since leaving school where we made our own clay, even buying pre-made clay feels like I am somehow cheating the system. But, then I look at the prices for clay mixers and I feel totally content simply driving to the store and picking up my hassle free 25 pound bag in my favorite variety.

With no expensive equipment to dissuade me, I have wanted to get back into mixing my own glazes for several years. Knowing that several common glaze ingredients are toxic or may cause severe health complications, I have reasonably felt uncomfortable about taking this plunge without the supervision of my ceramics instructor. Then I realized this: The information is out there. If you want to mix glazes you can. If you want to be extra cautious about the minerals you use you can. Whether in books that haven't been checked out in ten years, or on a random website eighteen pages in on a Google search, or stored away somewhere in a  colleagues memory the information is out there. If you want to know something learn it. That is what the last few months have been about for me.

I've written about my glaze crazing issues extensively. This was easy because I had extensive crazing and I did extensive research to learn how it happened and how to avoid it. I also made a lot of mistakes and learned first hand what works and more so what does not work. My quest for pink has been an epic adventure in my kitchen/glaze laboratory. And after a lot of research and reading I found a glaze that seemed to work. This still required testing and an incredible amount of trial and error but I now have a gorgeous bright pink glaze in my studio unlike any I've ever seen before. I'd say the hard work has paid off with that one!

Now, today's post is a little less celebratory. The background I just outlined is important because it is promised reassurance, for my readers, but even more so for me that I will figure this out too! I recently made a beautiful pale buttery yellow glaze. This glaze is seen on the first two images (two candle holders) in this post. I used this glaze on a few pieces and was thrilled with the soft feminine shade I achieved, without even really trying! Well, now I'm trying and things are looking, well, like I'm not. I am not sure if it is the increased colorant percentages throwing off the stability of the glaze. Or, if this glaze is better suited as a liner glaze covering only interior surfaces, or what! The glaze may be more yellow, but that is the only part of the new yellow that is working as planned! The glaze is running like egg yolks right off the pots and dripping on my kiln shelves (and other pots)! The glaze has tiny pin holes and is very brittle, cracking and crazing all over the surface. In some areas the glaze appears to have even peeled away during the firing!

The first step towards a solution is to note any variables. The bowl was fired cone 6. The vase cone 7. Both are incredibly runny, so the increased heat from cone 6 to cone 7 seems an unlikely culprit. Both the bowl and the vase are the results of a very high 6-9% colorant ratio. This is an example of when I should have measured more precisely. The little pale yellow candleholders are flawless. These were fired to cone 6 also. These only feature the yellow on the interior and the percentage of colorant is low, roughly 3% to the total formula.

In my next glaze firing I will be testing this same brighter yellow again at cone 7 as a liner glaze. I will be using this high colorant percentage mix to analyze any possible changes. Thickness of glaze coat may also be worth looking into. I'm leaning towards the colorant percentage as I've noticed with a few other glazes they tend to run a bit more once they pass 5% or so. I will certainly keep you posted! For now, I am choosing to see the future solution and the new learning this challenge has to offer me!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life in Full Bloom

Its Spring! Its Spring! Its Spring!

I always experience an explosion of creativity at the first sign of spring. I have been busily working from my studio, which is currently in my bedroom, garage, kitchen and dining room. I can't seem to decide which space will best accommodate my messy work. The garage seemed like a good choice but because it isn't well insulated my clay is not drying. I'm already very impatient about the turn around time with clay from idea to finished product, so keeping my work in the garage is hardly an option. So for now only my dry dusty stuff is in the garage. I haven't found it in my heart to move my wheel from my bedroom. I ache for it when it is not close by, and who knows when inspiration will strike.

I love being able to flip a light switch and throw at 2 am if it strikes my fancy. The spill over to the other rooms is solely from the sheer volume of work I've been creating. With this burst of creativity I am finding little time to rest. Having my wheel in my bedroom is probably not helping with that either. Without even realizing it I really needed a break from my work. Kim surprised me with a trip to Charlotte, NC to a secret location. She told me only on the way there that she hoped that this place would bring inspirational renewal and a calm sense of peace, and that I needed both. 

Sometimes it can be difficult to accept that I work too much. My work and play are the same thing, so I rarely ever feel completely bored or burnt out by my work. That does not mean however that the risk of creative burnout is non existent. In fact this is a big worry when I stop to think about it. Taking breaks takes time, but this is an important part of staying passionate and interested in your craft.

After sitting through a tremendous amount of traffic which turned a ninety minute trip into a four hour journey I couldn't have been happier to arrive at the destination! Weaving through the historic neighborhoods of Charlotte, NC we arrived at Wing Haven. Immediately the air became thick and fragrant. I was filled with giddy excitement from the eccentric details of the gardens and the scampering wildlife!

Basically, Wing Haven is the real life version of my childhood Secret Garden fantasy! Every inch of these gardens is filled with curving brick paths, cold black wrought iron gates, green ponds, fountains and weathered Saints silently gazing out from their carved niches. Thousands upon thousands of plants thrive here in this home to many happy birds and bunnies!

If you have a moment please take the time to visit the garden's website: for more information on this three acre non-profit garden and bird sanctuary.

On our way out Kim purchased me a little rose plant propagated from one of Elizabeth Lawrence's original roses. This little token is the perfect reminder for me to spend time outdoors. And perhaps most importantly to take creative breaks from my creative work! I feel completely rejuvenated and incredibly excited to work on my new projects!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Bajillion Bottles

Today began slowly. I have recently abandoned my coffee addiction, and drink it now only socially rather than compulsively each morning. I mention my social coffee drinking in attempt to maintain my friendly invitations. I am however not waking up and going immediately and groggily to the cabinet to begin my brew, hating the world until I have that first sip. Instead I have been making tea each morning and find this slower process a better way to begin the day. Today though, I didn't even want to get out of bed to fill the teapot. This slower process seemed too slow and did not make me want to get up. After spending time checking in on my Etsy shop I finally pulled it together and quietly made my way to the kitchen to brew my Morning Thunder. Yes, that is the name of the tea I drink! How intense, right?

Warmed and caffeinated I decided that I needed to have a task for the day. I have really been trying to be more productive and goal oriented lately. It is so easy for the hours to slip away when you work from home. There are so many distractions and staying focused without someone telling me to has been a difficult part of my switch from a payroll to working for myself. I have really been making an effort to be more regimented and structured lately, without losing the beauty of the laid back life I love. This balance is taking some time to master but I feel that today was a success!

Intent on finding direction for the day I began looking around my studio and found that I have been making a lot of bottle forms recently. I studied and critiqued my previous attempts deciding I am no where near done exploring this form. I just love the simple elegance of porcelain bottles. They can be brightly colored, patterned or left pure white, either way they are classically beautiful.

I spent hours today working on my wheel creating a variety of bottle forms. Now these are not completed, so no fun colors yet but I wanted to share with you the pieces that made the cut... or that I didn't drop on the floor. Sadly, I lost a really funky vase this way today. A few other pieces crept in, such as a bowl and a large vessel but for the most part this day was about considering bottles of all sizes and shapes.Just a little technical note-- Tapering the top of each bottle in from a very wide belly is the trickiest part, and while they may look like simple forms these are some of the most challenging wheel thrown pieces I have made.

The plan for tomorrow is to make more bottles and to continue working on a few orders. Happily I will be firing the kiln tomorrow, with a glaze load! I am looking forward to adding some more color to my shop!:

Thank you for visiting!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bogged Down

Today was a wet, rainy, murky sort of day. I felt confined to the indoors and restlessly so. I spent hours pacing back and forth throughout the house halfway accomplishing several meaningless tasks. I felt just as gray as it appeared outside. I was able to work through some of my self pitying attitude by glazing a dozen or so pieces and packing up a few orders. 

Before I go any further I should mention that I hate cardboard. I have grown actually, quite conveniently to hate every imaginable packing tool/ material. On my growing list is: scissors, tape (two different kinds), cardboard boxes, styrofoam peanuts, inflatable air bags, crinkled packing paper, tissue paper and bubble wrap. I despise the entire process of packing. No clue why, but suddenly I loathe sitting down and packing my orders. I am still just as careful, don't get me wrong there, but it just feels like such a waste of time! I have even tried to have a zen like "this is meditation time" approach, but I end up muttering words Buddha would rather never hear instead of even getting close to a glimpse of enlightenment.

It should be no surprise then that on this cold wet day when I was already feeling drained and disappointed at both nothing and everything, packing up boxes may not have been the best use of my time. My mood completely plummeted. I switched back to glazing and went downstairs to my basement to begin loading the kiln. Imagine my shock when I descended the steps and found an inch of standing water covering nearly the entire basement floor! The worst part was the cord to my kiln had fallen and was now sitting in the puddle. I picked it up, shook it off and tried my best to dry every exposed part of it. I think it will be okay! For those of you still worried, the absolute worst case scenario would be that I need to buy a new cord. The kiln was elevated and was not exposed to any of the water. I can calmly throw in the disclaimer now, but earlier this calm reasoning was no where to be found. I was incredibly upset. And certain my life as a potter was over. A bit melodramatic yes, but it was one of those days.

Then on cue Kim suggests we take a break from the indoors and take a walk.. at the bog garden. Wet and water was the last thing I wanted to see more of. Besides, it was still drizzling. Instantly the rain stopped and the sun began to peak out for the first time all day just hours before setting. I realized, this was a glass half empty or half full moment. While I had been experiencing all of the negative rainy day moments since waking up this morning, I now had the opportunity to explore the beauty of the damp and watery wilderness. Positive thinking winning I grabbed my jacket and set out to enjoy the day!


"Nature often holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, renewal and transformation in our lives."
Mary Ann Brussat

I was so excited to see the reddish tint to the water and exclaimed "Look how red! There is probably all kinds of clay in there!" Even out in the woods, it is still all about clay!

Being outdoors on this cold rainy day could have been by many standards unpleasant, but I found such joy and beauty seeing the glories of nature which depend entirely on this wet ecosystem to thrive. I returned home with a new sense of patience and understanding for every part of the creative process; even the parts involving cardboard and bubble wrap. These unpleasant pieces are a part of my thriving lifestyle! I feel much better now, even about the possible kiln cord replacement. For my clarity I have the rain and wet bog to thank!

Thank you for stopping by! Have a wonderful week!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Silk and Porcelain? Yes, please!

I am very happy to finally be sharing a project with you all that has been in the works for nearly a month now. I love jewelry and accessorizing but for some reason this love has not transferred over into my pottery as I would like it to. I want my work to have a clear connection to me and my personal interests. I have been thinking quite a bit lately about how to make my work more personal. I wrote about making my blog more personal not too long ago, so this is obviously something that has been on my mind. I want to be sure I am leaving a trace of myself on my work and that I am not mindlessly just making cups and bowls and such.. honestly, that is what machines are for. 

I admit it, in many ways my job can be done by a machine. In even more ways I admit that my job could be done better by a machine. But, it is the unique human influence that makes my job existent. Sometimes we want that reminder that we are capable as a social whole. Picking up a cup that is slightly warped by the potter's touch is a clear reminder that we are not finished creating things. In times especially when life feels out of control I find great comfort in man made objects. I may not be able to conquer my immediate obstacle, but these hands can create and problem solve the complex issues of handle/mug attachment. For some reason that may or may not have been just explained, I find reassurance, compassion and motivation in the imperfection of the handcrafted.

(I look especially mischievous in this picture! Wonder what I was scheming!)

I am working now to develop a series of pieces with a cohesive feeling. The forms may be varied, (and I hope they are!) but I desire for a strong sense of design and a sense of myself to be infused in each and every piece. This necklace is the beginning of my new jewelry projects. I will likely be working on bracelets and rings in the near future, maybe even buttons and drawer pulls, which brings me right into my interior design interests. Lots and lots of projects coming up here shortly! I am going to be working with classic, luxury and comfort materials to try to introduce a greater sense of texture and variety to my work.

I hope you will enjoy the first of my new necklaces! Made from pure white porcelain, each bead is handmade, fired and hand sanded to a smooth matte finish. The pretty pink ribbons are recycled sari silk ribbons purchased through a Fair Trade vendor who utilizes skilled workers (primarily village women) without the use of child labor. I am researching possible charities I would like to work with to donate a percentage of each sale to the betterment of women's lives worldwide. If you are familiar with any charities in this category please feel free to pass along the information. I will be doing extensive research before committing to a particular organization. I am very excited about branching out in this new direction!

Thank you for stopping by!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rose Colored Glasses

Excellent news! I finally found a stunning, bold pink glaze at cone 6! I am so thrilled! Developing a pink is no easy feat! I found some very helpful information online over the last several months. Condensing all that information down and selecting which formulas I would try was a headache. But, it was worth it because I finally found a glaze that works!

I tried this same glaze a few weeks back but ended up with a really funky dry texture instead of the rich, glossy texture I expected. I revisited the formula and decided I would try adding an additional 10% silica. In the past I have earned that silica can help to create a very high gloss, up to a certain point. At that varied point the additional silica does the exact opposite and creates a bumpy, rough almost concrete like surface. I am sure there is an in depth and highly scientific explanation for this, but honestly my mind is too fried on pottery to make sense of all those numbers and equations. Yes, I use math every day. Blah.

After experimenting with the silica in three previous firings I decided that this time around I would create tests which showed the gradual increase and decrease in silica, hopefully revealing the transition from dry to glossy and back to dry.  I made one test with 50% of the required silica, 75%, 100% and 125%. Surprisingly, this time all four variations produced gloss! The only thing I changed in this firings was to do a pre-programmed slow firing instead of the fast cycle I often use. Now, I find on the mason stain website they recommend slow firings for pinks, so that may have been my issue all along. Either way, when I unloaded this kiln load I found on the bottom shelf my test tiles shining back the color of sweet raspberry sorbet!

Interestingly, I tried using my normal clear formula with the same percentage of stain which barely held any color during the firing! This tile is the lightest shade of the three and shows just how temperamental pinks usually are. I am still learning about the troubles of pink glazes, but I have learned all these issues occur because of the unique chrome and tin combination used to formulate these pink hued colorants.Finding the "what" was easy, but the "why" is a little harder. Basically, what I have learned is that the chrome and tin combination is very sensitive to the other ingredients included in a glaze. In order for the formula to work the calcium content must be high while zinc and magnesia must be as low as possible, or completely avoided. For more in depth information I found this website to be extremely helpful:

I mixed up a new batch of my yummy raspberry glaze this evening and will begin to glaze with it tomorrow. Now that I am finally caught up with the studio after the move, holidays and my trip to NH I plan to post much more frequently than I have been lately! So, please check back in soon! Thanks for visiting!


p.s. Huge Sale in my shop right now: