Category Archives: books

Pottery books for Christmas

Ive been enjoying reading one of my excellent Christmas presents:

I’ve checked out Robin Hopper’s videos on form and proportion from the library before, and was happy to see much of the same material expanded upon in this book.
This book covers all kinds of kitchenware, plates, mugs, bowls, goblets, butter dishes, pitchers, teapots. He also covers proportions and esthetics of form, along with praticalities like center of gravity, weight, and making things ‘fit’ the human body for use.
He also has a broad definition of ‘funtional’ pottery that isn’t just dinner service, but includes decorative ware that serves as objects of beauty and contemplation. 

Saggar Firing – Lessons Learned

After going over the test results of the experimental pieces I did at the last saggar fire, I learned a few things. Some are probably obvious to those more experienced than I.

For any color at all besides black, some kind of metal salts/oxides are required. I probably should have realized this, but I was hoping perhaps some of the trace minerals in certain organics would be strong enough on their own, trapped under the aluminum foil. They weren’t. Their main function seems to be to influence the colors/shades of any major metals already present. Ferric chloride, copper carbonate, and copper sulfate are all good starting points.

Pieces of broken off pinecones give a nice dark black. If you want good blacks, pinecones and needles are a good bet. It also doesn’t take much, start conservative.

Brushing on ferric chloride works just as well as spraying. And it’s a LOT safer, in my opinion. Airborne ferric chloride is just bad news. You still want to wear plastic gloves and be very careful. It’ll also ruin your brush, so use a cheap one, foam works well. I want to experiment with building up varied layers of diluted FeCl in the future.

Wrapping potsTinfoil saggars are the way to go, in my opinion. Comparing with other work from clay saggars, and pit firings where some was wrapped in foil the same way and some not, the colors just seem to come out more intense. You can also achieve good results with much less raw material since you don’t have to fill the space between the saggar and the pot. That’s just my personal taste. Some people like more delicate, muted coloration and that’s cool too. And despite reading in several places warning about not firing past the melting point of aluminum (1100F), I’ve never seen or heard of a problem with it. The aluminum foil doesn’t melt, it simply burns away. I think the regular weight stuff works fine, but experiment with some heavy duty and see what you like.

Terra Sig takes the color just as well as burnished or unburnished clay. I thought that maybe since it is a tightly packed surface of smaller platelets it would be less permeable to the smoke and fumes, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Your clay, however can make a big difference. Earthenware bisqued to cone 06 is much less permeable than a mid/high fire stoneware bisqued to cone 06. The colors are still very nice, but are lighter and more delicate. Again, lots of room to experiment.

More detailed instruction is available in Alternative Kilns and Firing Techniques by Watkins and Wandless. It’s chock full of ideas, many of which can be mixed and matched between the different techniques. This one will really get your imagination flowing.

For more posts about saggar firing, click on the SAGGAR tag below.

Getting Things Done

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ that needs to be done? I know I do. Sometimes the stress of it all leaves me drained and not able to access the inspired, creative side when I finally get some studio time.
Do you ever have all these fantastic ideas and new things to try streaming through your brain…. when you’re in the middle of something else, headed out the door, or otherwise occupied? Then when you get to the studio sit there trying to figure out what they were? Me too.
Do you own a day planning calendar, and use it (or not), but still have the feeling of ‘there’s GOT to be a better way?’

Since I have a full-time job and do pottery in between, it’s a challenge both finding the time and making the most of it when I do. But time management isn’t the end of it, otherwise we’d all have a calendar and everything would be perfect.

About a year ago I found a different way of looking at the problem, called Getting Things Done, or GTD. Pioneered by David Allen, it picks up where Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits and the Franklin Planner leave off.

One of the principles is that every task/idea has a Context. This filters your todo’s and projects so that when you’re near a computer, you look at your @Computer list, and don’t have to sift through a big list of unrelated tasks. Or if you’re in the mood to do some phone calls, you look at @Phone. A few of my contexts are @home, @work, @studio and @PC.

Other principles address the need for a 100% idea-capture system, a simple fast filing system for all those ideas, and a reliable follow-up system. He contends that keeping all your thoughts and ideas in your head leads to stress and forgetfulness. If you can capture them into a system where you know you’ll find them when you need to, it frees you to give your’ full attention to whatever you’re doing.

I’ve been using GTD for a while now, and although I fall off the wagon for periods of time, it really does help better manage my time. And when I’m not, it doesn’t take very long to notice and get back on track.

Photo montage

So this weekend I finally got around to taking pictures of my past and present work so you can see what the heck I’m talking about. I’m also going to backpost some of these into my previous posts for future newcomers.

Naked raku


These are from my one and only attempt at this. It was in a class at the art center and there wasn’t much leeway for experimentation. I like the overall effect, and I can see the potential there, but I’d like to try some different masking slips to see if I can get a larger crackle pattern.

Saggar firing


These are more recent, using the tin-foil saggar method described in Alternative Kilns and Firing Techniques. Great book, full of ideas. It covers raku, sagger, pit and barrel firing, with dozens of variations.

Works awaiting the flames….

These are a few of the pieces I have waiting to be saggar fired next Saturday. The orange is the first attempted application of red terra sig. The shinier ones have had white t.s. applied and been polished. This is the last look at them before they’re wrapped in aluminum foil in a cocoon of plant materials and metal salts.

Alternatives (pt. 2)

So what else is there, if glazing isn’t your thing?

LOTS.
You might want to explore Naked Clay by Jane Perryman.

I found it almost liberating once I took glazing off the table. It was as if the whole time I was wedging the clay, throwing the piece, shaping, trimming, drying, I was worrying ‘How am I going to glaze this??’

My first expedition into the unknown was Naked Raku. It was a 7 week class taught at the art center that gave a great overview of the process as well as advice and guidance in what types of forms may or may not (there are few absolutes) work well. Most of us used an actual raku clay body, meant to withstand the shock of being pulled out of a 1700-1800F kiln into the air with tongs, and sometimes even plunged into water to cool! We weren’t quite as hard on our pieces, but it’s still amazing what clay can survive. The raku clay gave the pieces a somewhat rough texture.

Then I took a class on burnishing and saggar firing. I really loved it. We used regular white stoneware and burnished the leather hard pots with a stone. After firing, they were scrubbed clean and waxed with a hard floor wax. The burnished surface is silky smooth, yet still very natural.

Lately, I’ve been playing with using terra sigillata for an even smoother surface with less fuss than burnishing. I’m really liking the results. I can’t wait to see how these pots take the color of the saggar firing in a couple weeks.