Category Archives: resources

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.

High tech from the 1700s

A while back, I read an article in Ceramics Monthly about ‘kacheloffens‘, or tile stoves. The idea intrigued me of having a large massive wood stove that used the fuel to heat up the tiles and slowly release it back into the room. This is accomplished by burning very hot, and using a long fule/chimney that winds back and forth through the oven so that most of the heat from the fire and smoke is absorbed by the brick and tile. 

Then a few days ago, I ran into another article on Low Tech Magazine about the same thing. Apparently developed in Europe due to shortages of firewood, they are very efficient, more so than the metal stoves known here in the US. Metal heat up quickly, but cools just as fast, requiring continuous tending. The tile stove is only lit once or twice a day, burns very fast, hot and more completely, with less fuel, and slowly heats with a more moderate warmth all day or night.
Is there anyone out there using one of these 18th century marvels? 

Another day, another clay

I’d recently gotten a comment on my clay review post on Standard #563 from Curtis that it had been discontinued. Standard has replaced it with #240, another smooth white ^6 stoneware.

So when I went to buy new clay last night, and discovering they were out of my favorite Little Loafers, I got a bag of #240 to try.
It wasn’t bad at all. I’m still out of practice, but it seemed a bit easier and well behaved than the old 563. I’ve mainly been trying to have fun and experiment, but I’ll have to find out how well the new clay burnishes and polishes after a saggar fire.

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. 

New blogs and old friends

Google Reader had a suggestion of a blog I might be interested in

So I was browsing through and found this post about my long-lost first pottery instructor who moved to the other side of the country:
You never really know what or who is going to pop up out of the past on the internet these days. And if you haven’t given Google Reader a try yet, check it out. I really don’t know how I’d keep all the blogs I follow manageable without it.

Pottery section now on Alltop

For those of you that don’t know about it, is a nifty blog aggregator that groups blogs by topic or area of interest. They generally strive to have the most popular blogs as determined by their own ranking criteria.

Within each topic, they list their top blogs, along with the last five post titles in an easy to scan ‘magazine’ format.  Very easy to lose several hours exploring….
The Great news is  — They now have a Pottery Topic.
Congrats to Jen Mecca, Emily Murphy, and Bulldog Pottery for making the first cut! You need to go and get yourselves a badge for your blogs here:
Go check them out…  the more traffic they get from all us potters the better. It might get them to expand the number of pottery feeds in our section!

Words of wisdom for artists and other creatives

Here’s a little gem I found going through the old posts from the Red Deer College’sArt Blog
The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth:

Some of my favorites include 
4) Love your experiments.
6) Capture accidents.
34) Make mistakes faster
26) Don’t enter awards competitions – ‘Just dont. It’s not good for you’
Check it out for a goldmine of wisdom and sanity.