Friday, December 17, 2010

Pitfiring, Interrupted

Foiled by the weather ! I was all ready for a pit-firing today in Alpine. I had to work hard and fast to have 8 pieces ready for bisquing on Tuesday. Fired the kiln on Wednesday. Took the pots out on Thursday. And...big storm is moving in all over California. In fact, rain started as I am typing. Blahhhh !
It was going to be my first pit-firing, I was so looking forward to it ! Now I have to wait until after the end of year festivities...
Well, I have my pieces ready, at least. I followed instructions by Linda Keleigh in Watkins and Wandless's book "Alternative Kilns & Firing Techniques". They were intriguing, but guaranteed a smooth finish. Basically, I quickly sanded the pieces, then applied baby oil all over, let them dry a few minutes and wipe them with a humid sponge. I used a river stone to burnish the pieces. That took forever ! Once burnished I applied a layer of terra sigillata and buffed the pots. They were shiny and pretty ! Even after the bisque at cone 08 they maintained their shine, though they don't feel as smooth.
Now the wait...
Burnished, Bisqued and Ready !

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunday Raku Firing

I finally had a chance to take some good pictures of my last Raku firing. I am so happy I can fire so often, weather has been good to me. Cold enough that the neighbors keep their windows shut, yet sunny for an enjoyable day. Even though I am using a portable Raku kiln, it is still a lot of work to set up. Moving refractory bricks to a good spot, carrying all the reduction materials, bringing out the 30-lbs gas tank...I don't set up unless I have enough pieces to do at least three firings.
I had seven pieces to fire on Sunday. Four were a variant on the Euclidian series that I prefer to Raku. They are wheel-thrown then altered by folding parts of the vessel unto itself. It breaks the symmetry of the circle to provide an interesting shape for further design. In the four pieces below, I tried to take away the vision of a ceramic vessel by imparting a more metallic quality, especially copper, or a leathery finish. Finish is what appeals to the eye, it is important to spend time on it until you are satisfied with your design. Those four pieces turned out great !   

Copper and Black Leather Vessel

Copper and Mother of Pearl

Brown and Black Leather Vessel

Buttoned Up !

Three other pieces were more Naked Raku experiments. I wanted to try out terra sigillata on a piece before applying the resist slip. At this point I only had bisqued pots (cone 08) available, so I took three and lathered them with terra sig, buffed them a bit then applied the slip resist, followed by the glaze, all in several days to allow proper drying between applications. To make it more interesting, I even spent an extra hour or two carving bamboos on one. And on into the kiln ! Well, let's just say my sophomore debut wasn't as successful as the first try. Call it beginner's luck I guess. This time around the eggshell did not fall off as expected. At all in fact ! I ran the kiln a bit hotter than I should have, trying to get a handle on that "orange peel" texture that indicates the pot is ready. I suspect I did not apply a thick enough coat of slip resist, as well. Scraping off the eggshell was a huge ordeal ! I vowed countless times not to repeat the same mistakes, among other expletives ! I mustered enough courage to unveil the bamboo vessel, but I stopped short at the second vessel after injuring myself with the metal rib/scrapper. Oddly enough I like that second pot. The picture is almost indecent, as if we were peeking at an intimate moment of undressing. Here I thought I failed miserably and wasted a nice pot. But I guess failure may just be a matter of perspective. There is beauty and art in that second piece, because it elicited a response, an emotion in me. Beside anger at myself, of course :)  

Bamboos Unveiled

Caught in the Act of Undressing

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shows, shows, shows !

Another sign of the Christmas holidays approaching: crafts and arts shows and ceramics studio sales are keeping the holiday shoppers busy every weekends.

On Friday night, I was at Clay Associates' opening night for their December studio sale. A nice crowd of people showed up to get first pick on the Associates new work. All senses were pleased, with complimentary food, beverages, and live music. A great way to spend the evening ! I went back on Monday to have a quiet tour and check out the work by students. Oh and I picked up a bowl by Eric Wood, I had my eye on it since the opening. Lucky me, it was still there!
Some of my work is for sale at Clay Associates until Dec 19th. Porcelain teapots, big platters, decorative vases. Some Dry Earth orchid pots. Some new Raku pieces (bottles, folded vessels, jars). The Raku work is selling quick, half of it was gone by Monday ! I have more at home though. My door is always open for a private tour !

On saturday, I got up early to go to a small but incredibly well attended art show, the 47th Annual Winter Carmel Valley Artists Show and Sale, at Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens in Sorrento Valley. Was it the myriad of fine craft offerings, or the complimentary finger food and mimosas that drew the crowd ? Likely both. It was packed and people were pleased, shopping and sampling to their heart's content. Two of my fellow potters were there with their collection. I managed to say hello and snap a few pictures between customers. Great job, Cindy and Karen !

Cindy Teyro's whimsical ceramics

Karen Fidel's display
I love her fishes !

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My inspiration for Naked Raku

I have to give my friend Lee full credit for getting me started on Naked Raku. Sure, I have seen many pictures of absolutely gorgeous black and white pots in my pile of ceramics books. But that little Raku session Lee and I did three weeks ago was the momentum I needed. Watching her plunge the hot pots in water and witnessing the eggshell falling off was like watching a magic show, with ooohs and aaahs. It looked so easy, effortless. Let the kiln and smoke do their tricks, dunk in water, and the ugly duckling becomes a majestic swan. I was blown away ! Luckily I captured the moments on camera. Judge for yourself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My first Naked Raku !

It was more than the turkey that got cooked for this Thanksgiving week-end. I took advantage of the cold weather to set up my portable Raku kiln in the backyard for a little firing session. I was antsy to try out some "naked raku", with a resist slip/glaze recipe my friend Lee got from Watkins and Wandless book "Alternative Kilns & Firing Techniques" !
Just to be clear, "naked raku" does not mean I was dancing around the hot kiln in newborn attire imploring the kiln gods to bless the firing. Hmmm, way too cold for that. No, "naked raku" is a technique where the applied slip+glaze combo is not decorative but serves as a resist to prevent smoking. The slip is designed to not stick to the pot while the glaze is designed to shrink upon cooling and fall off the pot after smoking in the reduction chamber, thus taking the slip with it. When the glaze shrinks in the reduction chamber it creates cracks all the way to the body, where the smoke can get absorbed. From what I observed in the firing, the thicker the slip layer the fatter the cracks. Fascinating !
I was happily surprised when I took the two pots out of the kiln. Usually, the slip/glaze layer expands a bit creating an orange peel-like texture when it is ready to take out. With the recipes (Wally's resist slip) I used, that occurs at cone 016-014. My friend Lee said no more than 1375F. Well, I kept watching for that famous peel texture, up to 1500F ! It was a bit irregular, but nothing dramatic. I took them out and placed them for reduction. Ten minutes later, I opened the metal cans. The eggshell was almost all gone with beautiful black cracks. Oh I was so happy I almost cried !!! It worked !!!
But I did learn a lesson. Silly me, I used pieces that were neither burnished or treated with terra sigillata, and it showed big time ! You can see all the marks and crevaces on the surface. Even more pronounced after waxing the pieces. 

Naked Raku

Naked Raku

Besides the "naked raku", I had several bottles that were treated with Hasselle's Copper Matte. I fired them a bit cool (1730F) and reduced them with isopropyl alcohol-soaked wood shavings. They turned out kinda blah. But then I played with them a bit with a torch, and voila ! Peacock bottles :)

Peacock Bottles (Copper Matte)

So much fun ! Next Raku firing is on December 5th, weather permitting. I started making some terra sigillata. More naked raku on the way !