Well! Here we go.The whole Internet thing is totally amazing to me. I have always steered well clear of computers and they still worry me. This is a very new idea to me, so I am sure we will make mistakes along the way. I hope that you will enjoy sharing a little of the making experience with me in my workshop.
Week one of making:
The bright red clay I am using here, comes from the Meeth quarry in North Devon. It's the same place as the well-known Hyplas ball clays come from. Unfortunately, it was closed almost 3 years ago, now. I can't get any more of this lovely clay. The Meeth red is used as dug and is very demanding clay to throw with, as it is full of stones and lots of iron, etcetera.
After throwing the main body, I paint a thick white slip and then dry it a little with the gas torch.
The pot is then shaped with pressure from the inside and because the clay is full of stones, it begins to crack and split. I like to push the pot until it is on the verge of collapse! Then more work with the gas torch. I repair the splits and holes by putting a little clay over the hole on the inside.
The wood firer's face is almost as red as the clay being used!
The pot drying in the autumn sunshine.
Taking advantage of the rare drying days
Week two of making:
I hope that you enjoy The Clash as much as I do. They are one of my favourite bands to work to at the moment. I am making a jar using a coil throwing technique.
After the base is thrown it is firmed up using the gas torch. On this picture I am adding some clay to allow a good join with the new coil.
The coil to be added is around10lb of clay .
Feeding on the coil on to the base.
Centering and pinching the coil.
Throwing the coil into another section of the pot.
What a picture! The final coil for the rim.
Very often after throwing, I find that the pot is too centered and round. Because the gas torch has been used, the pot is too dry. In this picture the pot is wrapped in wet towels until it is soft enough to be beaten with a paddle into a softer off centered shape.
The finished pot with lugs!
Week three of making:
Well, another week goes by! I have just fired the kiln for the oxford ceramic show.
Life as a potter can be very demanding with many deadlines to meet and a very energetic and absolutely gorgeous three-year-old daughter.
Family walk with flying horsey.
Lichen and moss on granite.
The firing went very well, although it's always a task to find enough help.
Both Svend Bayer and I tend to use the same firing crew. Over the years I have made many good friends whilst firing the kiln. After a while of course they go their own ways, so just as you feel you have the ideal firing crew, they bugger off!!!
I really admire these people, who are prepared to sit up half the night and help for free to fire my pots. Good people!
The firing crew: Andy, Brian and Nic
I haven't had a great deal of making time this week. So I thought you might like to see a few snap shots of my surroundings:
Incy wincy spider house next to my wheel
Kiln stacking furniture
Pots drying nicely on the Rayburn.
Pots in the yurt.
Week four of making:
Well, that’s Oxford done. After a frantic week of firing, cooling, unpacking and my favourite job of cleaning the pots. Oxford was very successful. I was very worried with today’s economic doom and gloom.
Although I only sold a small number of pots, they were all major works.
After Oxford I need a couple of days rest and I have to sort out the mess in the yard after the firing.
I am now about to start making again, ready for the online exhibition firing.
This week, I hope that you will enjoy seeing my large jug being thrown.
I start with two 7 lb lumps of clay to throw two thirds of the jug.
I have found, that the shape of this Baluster jug is extremely difficult to throw because of its height and narrowness. So, the pot is thrown part of the way and then the gas torch is used, to firm up the pot. I, then add a further amount of clay, to throw the rest of the form.
Fitting "doughnut" about 3lb of clay
Fixing the "doughnut"
Throwing the top
Pulling the lip and shaping the throat
I love handling big jugs!
I adore this form. It’s such a difficult shape to get right. As a ceramic student at Derby, I had a trip to Nottingham castle museum and because we were ceramic students, we were allowed to handle these absolutely beautiful English medieval pots.
Week five of making:
It’s coming towards the end of the making cycle, as next week will be the packing of the kiln.
This week there are videos of a bottle being made, using my doughnut throwing method. The music is: The Fugs, The Clash and New York Dolls.
Brushing on white slip
Well, we have arrived at the firing.
It’s been a crazy week as Sabine, my partner has fired her kiln on Tuesday and Wednesday, and so between firing shifts and looking after my daughter, I was behind my schedule for one day. On Tuesday, I went to Exeter to pick up Antonia, who has come from Germany to help with the firing. So typical of British rail, her train was cancelled. Her first time in England and not speaking much English, must have been an awful experience. So after travelling to Stansted and sleeping in the airport, she arrived very tired. We sent her straight to bed for a few hours and then she did the graveyard shift (from two till six in the morning) on Sabines firing. The other members of the crew arrived yesterday (Thursday) and the firing has started.
Queing for signature
The Dartmoor pixies load the kiln in one and a half minutes, to some groovy music. It takes me two and a half days!
All bricked up and ready to go.
"Come on baby light my fire."
Cool dude, Andy on first shift.
So, a day late on starting the firing. Lucky for me the firing crew was able to stay on another day. As I get a little older I realize how much I am in debt to these people, who are willing to sit up most of the night to stoke the kiln.
With experience, I have learned, that the most important times of the firing are the beginning and the end. As it is so easy to make the wrong decisions, if you are exhausted. I make sure that I am not tired for the last day.
The firing seemed to go very well, I didn’t use the pyrometer until the last night of the 4-day firing. I think that if you have helpers, who have not had much experience, then it is better not to be panicked with electronic devices. Without the pyrometer it is much more relaxed and firers rely on their senses and the good old clock. On the third night of the firing, when the pyrometer was turned on, the temperature was around 1230 and soon after cone 9 began to bend. Early in the morning on day four, my good friend Brian Dickenson arrived to help me; Brian is another ex Derby student. We took the kiln to top temperature with cone 12 flat and then reduced for several hours. The firing ended at 3 pm with a short oxidation to clean up.
The videos are of the side stoking sequence to build up embers and ash on the tall bottle placed uder the stoke holes.
My kiln Dog
Antonia feeding the fire
4 am day four
Well deserved beer
Sneak preview. Oooooh!
PERFECTION DOES NOT MEAN BEAUTY
So, I am very pleased with the firing. I have chosen my twenty pots and I now need to take my time cleaning them. Very often mistakes with the cleaning will ruin some of the best pots, just one slip with the grinder and there it goes. I am particularly pleased with the large jar from the firebox and I can say that is one of the best I have ever had. The pot was half buried in embers for most of the 4 day firing, with the ash melting and running around the pot and then with jet black carbon trapping contrasting with the deep orange red shino and of course the fossilised sea shell scars, a truly scrumptious pot.
I am very proud to display all of the marks and scars from the fire, indeed that is what I am looking for.
It’s never been an easy life as a potter but it’s one that I choose. Sometimes I see my work being described as: Rustic, Naïve, Careless or Roughly thrown. Well, I guess if I were looking at them from the outside, then I too might think the same. To me my work has developed over the years in an unconscious manner. By that I mean, that my work is where it’s at by gradual change, influenced by what the kiln offers.
When I first started making pots for the first 7 years, I sought to make well-thrown and affordable domestic wares. I still strive to fulfil those requirements of well-made and affordable pots. I have done a lot of soul searching over my work and sometimes wish I could go back and make pots, which are easier to sell. I have realised that it is impossible for me to do that. I could if I wished make pots, that were more commercially viable but my heart won’t let me.
My best pots have a part of me in them. I am not quiet sure how to put it into words, The good ones surely have a little of my soul in them. I love to play with the clay, using the softness, pushing the clay to its limit. Little mistakes and impurities are all of what in my eyes makes a good pot.
I like to compare my pots with interesting people. I find that as we all go through the trials of life, and all the ups and downs leaves a stronger and deeper character, not unlike the journey of the wood fired pot in the turbulent 4 day firing. Like a beautiful and attractive woman, just like a wood fired pot can be wobbly and carry the scars of life. After all perfection does not mean beauty.
I hope that you have enjoyed joining me briefly in my workshop and packing and firing a kiln as much as we have enjoyed it. I owe many thanks to my partner Sabine for all of her hard work with the “technical” things. And my good friend and fellow potter Doug Fitch for his support an encouragement with daily phone calls. My thanks also to an excellent firing crew: Brian Dickinson, Andrew Douglas, Sally-Anne Hadfield and Antonia Weber.
I wish the Dartmoor pixies would do the washing up.