Low-tech clay reclaim system

One of the things I like about having my own wheel at home is having control over my clay scraps.  At a community studio, you don’t always have the ability to save your trimmings and slop easily, and I found that a lot of my clay went to the scrap barrel.

Here’s what I’ve set up to reclaim my scrap.  First, everything goes into a 5 gallon bucket to wait until there’s enough for a batch. Then it goes into my homemade ‘filter press’ I made from several old cat litter pails that are the perfect size for me.

I start with one unaltered bucket:


Then a second bucket that I’ve drilled a bunch of 1/4″ holes in the bottom gets stacked inside:


Some day I want to try cutting larger sections out of the bottom and putting in some hardware cloth to hopefully improve drainage.

Then a double layer of fabric cut from a plain cotton bed sheet goes inside:


After mixing up the slop well, in it goes. I’ll usually mix it well with an impeller attachment on a drill a few days before, then let it settle. I pour off the clear water that comes to the top just to minimize the time it takes to filter, and also make sure it will all fit into the pail:


I’ll usually let it set like this for a few hours. I’ll periodically empty the bottom pail of water by just lifting out the top one and putting it into another one.  The cotton also helps remove water by wicking.

After about a day, I’ll fold over the fabric:



And then put another pail on top with weight (clay, water, cat litter).



After the clay sets this way for a few days, the sheet will be less drippy and just damp.  That’s when I pull it out of the bucket system and start drying it either on the concrete floor, or the wedging table – still wrapped in the sheet like a burrito. I turn it over twice a day to get air on all sides. The sheet will continue to wick moisture out of the clay.

Soon, when you open the sheet and lift one side, it will roll cleanly away from the sheet.  It’s still very soft inside, but I remove it from the sheet at this point and continue working with it until it’s firm enough to throw again.

Keepin’ On

Just a quick update.
– I’m making steady progress just using what time I can find. Sometimes it’s just 30 min., sometimes more.
– Concentrating on the past few firings in the gas kiln, while beautiful, have reminded me why I had turned to more primitive low-fire techniques.  I need to find time for both.
– I tweaked this site to be more mobile-friendly. I added a mobile theme for anyone coming here via smartphone, iPad, or such.
– I’ve also been working on a corresponding Google+  page. If you haven’t already, head on over there and check it out. I use it more for shorter, quick updates and pics of works in progress. Just click the ‘Google+’ button on the sidebar to get there.


Lessons Learned

I read about Meagan Chaney’s 30 Minute Challenge today and thought I’d give it a go. I normally don’t have a lot of studio time after work anyway, so I thought I’d find out what I can really get done in just 30 minutes.

Not counting setup and teardown/cleanup, I made 3 small guinomi / tea / wine / saki cups, and one large 11″ bowl.

What I learned was:
1) Loafer’s Glory is a little less forgiving than Little Loafers. I clearly need more practice time with this new body.

2) Doing a time challenge with a new clay body you’re not used to is clearly a bad idea.

3) Even with the difficulties, I was happy with what I got done, and had a lot of fun too!

So, if you’re not up to Mr Kline’s 12 by 12 challenge, give Meagan’s 30 Minute Challenge a try!

Tech Tuesday – Feed Readers 102

Almost a year ago I wrote a post on Feed Readers 101, so it’s about time I posted a follow up.

I found that once I started using a feed reader, the number of blogs I subscribed to grew fast.  (over 300 and counting…) Using a reader definitely helps you keep up on many more blogs than you ever could by visiting them one at a time, and I’ve figured out a couple things along the way to keep myself organized.

First – Instead of keeping all my feeds in one big list, I use Folders.  I have a folder for Pottery blogs, one for general Art, one for Business oriented blogs, etc. This gives me the ability if I’m in a hurry to just click on the particular folder I’m interested in, instead of All Items, which is the whole gigantic list of unread posts. This also gives me the ability to selectively ‘clear the slate’ by just clicking on a single folder and hitting ‘Mark as Read’.

I also make extensive use of Tags. Over time I’ve defined a set of tags that help me find posts I may have read months ago, or if I’m researching a particular topic, like glazes, clay, or studio tools. Google Reader makes it easy to tag posts as you read them, then you can search by tag later.

At the bottom of a post, just click on the Edit Tags, and type in a tag or keyword. If you want several tags on a post, just seperate them by commas. Once a tag is entered, Reader will remember it, so next time you won’t have to type in the entire tag.

After some time, you may notice that some blogs either don’t interest you anymore, or may have gone dormant, or been abandoned altogether. I have a special folder I move these in to called Inactive. I can then seperate them from the other large folders and keep track of them, evaluating whether I want to stay subscribed or not. I only very rarly ever unsubscribe to a feed. For one thing, if I’ve tagged or marked any posts in that feed, if I unsubscribe, they’re gone. So I think carefully about whether I think I’ll need any info in that feed before unsubscribing.  Another reason is that sometime you just don’t know why a blog has lapsed, but the author may return some day. I know I’ve been guilty of this a lot the last couple years myself!

That said, a good way to find inactive blogs is to change your reader from [Unread Items] to  [All Items] in the top left of the reading panel. This will show both Read and Unread posts, which is what we want here. Then go to the left column under Subscriptions, open a folder, and start clicking on the individual blog feeds. Now, look at the post at the top and see what the post date is.

I usually look for a blog that hasn’t been updated in about a year.  When you find one, move it into your ‘Inactive’ folder and keep going. You can do this by either clicking the little down arrow next to the bolg name in the left column, or click Feed Settings at the top of the reading pane. I sugest for the time being, just -add- the blog to the Inactive folder or whatever you’ve named it. A blog can be in more than one folder at once, and for the time being , that’s fine. The reason I say this is that if you remove it from the folder it’s in, Google Reader will jump to the new location, and you’ll loose your place! Once you’re through all your blog feeds, then you can go to the Inactive folder, click through each one, remove it from it’s original folder, and decide what you want to do with each one.

Sometimes you’ll find a blog that moved to another place that you somehow missed the first time. Or a blog you don’t remember why you subscribed to, that’s just taking up space. I’f you’re sure you don’t need them anymore, you can just unsubscribe and clean up your feed list a little.

End of year reflections

There are a lot of these posts out there right now, so bear with me as I add my year-end thoughts to the pile –

This summer, I got my butt in the studio (BISHOC!) and proved to myself that I still had the touch after mostly 2 years of recovery.
I was able to do a few experiments with terra sig, and also worked on improving my lidded pieces. I still find making a well seated lid a challenge, but I’m getting better.
I’ve made progress on improving the photo setup, and just have some details to work out. I love my new graduated background. Check out my first test shots in the slideshow on the right, or on the Gallery page.
I made my goal of getting this blog/website moved to it’s own domian and migrated to WordPress (just under the wire!)

In the coming year, I’ve so far targeted a couple of workshops to take, and possibly a clay conference.

I’ve been researching/designing a small propane fired kiln in my head and it’s about time for that to become reality.
I’d also like to get more consistant time in the studio, and make more efficient use of the time I do spend there.
The blog is up to 3346 visitors from 85 countries. This is remarkable considering my intermittant blogging behavior of late. Since I find it difficult to blog when I’m not doing much in the studio, I’m planning on this taking care of itself once I get back to a regular studio schedule.

Welcome to the new blog!

Welcome to the new home of Brian Fields Pottery!

I’ve moved all my content from my old Blogger hosted platform to this shiny new WordPress site with my own domain name. The new platform should give me a lot more flexability and options for growing my blog/website this year and in to the future.

Take a look around, and let me know what you think!

Thinking about kilns

I’ve been reading a few books on kiln building lately, trying to figure out something that will work at home without having a full-blown kiln yard in the backyard. Ideally portable, easy to set up, (fairly) easy to fire. Since I tend to make lowfire work, looking at smaller more primitive alternative kilns has given me a few ideas. Mixing that in with modern technology, materials, and know-how should lead me to come up with something. I’m leaning toward a ceramic fiber cylinder (or possibly cube), fired with a propane gas burner or two. Ideally, I’d like it to be able to do a low bisque, and be capable of tinfoil sagger, raku, or horsehair firings. It might end up being a single base with different interchangeable chambers, I don’t know. I’m just getting to the point of actually trying to run the numbers and calculations on heat output and retention.

Coincidentally, I ran across this video of an archeological team that found an old kiln site in France and decided to try firing it. The audio is in French, but it’s just interesting to watch and follow along as they rebuild the walls and fire it.
The Google translated link so you can read the text is here.


Tech Tuesday – Using GIMP to prep a photo for CaFE entries

Today I’m going to look at how to get your images ready for electronic submission. I’ll be using a free, open source graphics program called GIMP. I find it to be capable of doing just about anything you could want do in Photoshop. You can find the website and download it at:


For the purposes of this post, I’ll assume we’re posting to Call for Entry aka CaFE.  CaFE wants images that are square, and 1920×1920 pixels.  The other major electronic entry site, Zapplication, also requires at minimum an image that is 1920 on the longest side. If it’s not square, they will square it and add the black bars during projection. Personally, I’d rather just do it once and know that I can send the image to either place without worrying about it.

Click on the ‘Show all downloads’ to see additional download links for Windows and Mac.

After downloading and installing GIMP, launch the program and open the photo you want to prepare.

There are two possibilities here. If you’re lucky, and your work is fairly symmetrical, you might get away with simply cropping your image to 1920×1920.  If your file is less than 1920×1920 to begin with, I wouldn’t recommend enlarging it, because that can degrade the detail.
The other technique is adding black bars to fill out the image to the square format, since most cameras shoot rectangular frames. It’s a bit trickier, but GIMP can handle it.

First, the crop method:
I load my image, and the top bar on the image window tells me it’s 2592×3872, so I’m good to go for a crop.
The top-leftmost tool in the toolbox panel is the rectangular select tool. Choose that, then scroll down to the section that says Fixed [Aspect ratio], check the Fixed box, and click the dropdown next to Aspect ratio and select [Size].  Enter 1920×1920.

Now, when you click and hold the right mouse button over your image, a 1920×1920 crop box will appear that you can drag around until the image is properly framed.  If you accidentally release the mouse, or don’t like your selection, undo by either clicking outside the image, or pressing [Ctrl][Z].

Now go up to the Image menu, and select Crop to Selection


This is a nice, close up image, ready for the jury. But if I decide maybe a 1920×1920 crop is a bit too tight and I want more breathing room around my vase, or maybe I have a tall skinny piece, or a low wide bowl, using the black bars might be a better way to go.

For the black bar method, we need a little more effort. This is for rectangular images that have either been shot that way straight out of the camera, or cropped to get a nice close shot.

First, we want to scale the image to 1920 on whatever is the longest side.  After opening the image in GIMP, go to the Image menu and select [Scale Image] and enter 1920 in whatever is the largest dimension. Press [Enter] and you’ll see the other dimension change to keep the same aspect ratio. Then click [Scale].

(After scaling, you might need to zoom in a little. Go to View > Zoom to do this if necessary.)
Now we need to enlarge the actual image size, called the ‘canvas’, to 1920×1920.

Select [Image]  [Canvas size], and click on the chain icon to the right to break the aspect ratio lock.

Then, make the size 1920×1920, click [Center], then [Resize].  You’ll now have your image with a checkerboard pattern indicating the actual canvas size.
Now we need to add the black bars by putting a black layer under this one.

Add new layer by clicking the new layer button on the Layers panel.

Make sure it’s set to 1920×1920, foreground color (which is black).

GIMP will create the layer on top of the image layer. Just click and drag the new black layer down under the image layer in the Layers panel.

And we’re done!

When we’re ready to save our new image, just click [File] [Save], [Export] — this flattens the image into a single .jpg file.

I hope this tutorial gives you all
a feel for some of the capabilities of GIMP.


It’s been a good summer. Except for a couple weeks when the schedule just wouldn’t allow it, I’ve been able to get my ‘butt in studio’ and keep my schedule.  It feels good to make a schedule and keep it. It’s taken a while, but the skills and speed are slowly returning. Not that I’m a fast, production potter anyway, but man was I SLOW when I first started back!

Blogging regularly, however, has been more of a challenge.  I’ve been working on some things behind the scenes, but my posting has suffered for it.

One of my next projects is to put together a photo setup so I can get some new photos of my work posted and out there.

Terra tests and bat issues

Over the long weekend I finished preparing my terra sig that I started in the garage way back in January. It’s been settled and siphoned off 2 or 3 times so should be extra fine. I got my test pieces prep’ed and ready for firing. Keeping my fingers crossed for good results there.  Next I want to do a batch of white terra sig. Maybe this time it won’t take me 6 months to get it made!

So far so good on studio time. This will be week 3 of getting in the studio consistently. It feels good. I’ve missed it.

I tried throwing on a hydrastone bat yesterday. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped for a couple reasons. First, I’m not used to throwing on bats. Isn’t it true we tend to continue the way we were taught? I learned to throw on the wheelhead and that’s just what I do now.  Second, I had some stiff clay. Just not helpful when learning something new to be fighting your clay.  Third, the bat seemed very ‘grabby’ – sticking to the side of my hand as I was trying to center, etc. I did try and wet the bat down with my sponge, but should I have maybe soaked it?