Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting ready for Idyllwild !!!

I am all giddy ! I cannot contain my excitment ! Every year the Idyllwild Arts department has a very busy Summer program, open to anyone. Ceramics is one of the subject, aptly called Hot Clay. I signed up back in February for a week long class on Salt and Soda Firing with Richard Burkett and Joe Molinaro. I kinda forgot about it until late May when I realized I had to bring a few bisqued pieces. One bisque load next week and I'll be ready !
Oh yeah, did I mention it is an entire week ?!!! Throwing, handbuilding, altering, stamping, name it. All clay, all day. And in an absolutely gorgeous setting too ! In the mountains overlooking Palm Springs, surrounded by conifers and pure air...I am ready to get dirty !
You know what, they may have some spots left. Go check it their website, you never know:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Perfect time for another barrel firing - Part 3

...or two days later !!!

It actually took 24h for the embers to turn completely cold. Which means a very slow cooling period, allowing plenty of time for the colors to evolve before the final colors settle. For a 50-gal drum that's considerable. It must have been the wood. Go oak !
Of course, waiting for two days was excrutiating. One day is hard enough, but two raise the anxiety level a few notches."Are my pots intact?" "Did I get good colors?" "Did I get ANY colors?" After spending countless hours making, trimming, burnishing, prepping the pots, they become a piece of you, and the separation anxiety is simply killing you. You just want to be reunited so that you can spoil them with even more care and attention.
And so, on day 3, Nancy and I drove back to Rose's with mounting anticipation. Once there I practically dove into the barrels, picking out the pots gingerly for any signs of flaws. What a fool ! It was a perfect firing. I could already tell, under the layers of ashes, that the pots had wonderful colors. A quick rinse with water and a soft brush confirmed it. After drying the pots in the sun for an hour, we proceeded with a final waxing session, with a big smile on our faces. For a job well done.

Surprises in barrel #1

Surprises in barrel #2

Ashes all washed away

Final touch with love from Rose

Nancy loved her pieces

 And here my pieces, waxed up and ready for their close-up.

11"x6" Vase
copper sulfate, copper carbonate, red iron oxide,
salt, miracle gro

11"x6" Vase
copper sulfate, copper carbonate, red iron oxide
salt, seaweed

11"x3" Squared Vase
copper sulfate, copper carbonate, red iron oxide,
salt, copper mesh

7"x6" Vase
aluminum saggar, copper sulfate, ferric chloride, salt,
sugar, corn grits, wild rice, raffia

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Perfect time for another barrel firing - Part 2

Part 2 of our barrel firing week-end. All our wood was ready, neatly piled by wood sizes, from kindling to oak. Pots were all wrapped up, some in newspaper, others in aluminum foil. Time to stack the barrels!
Kindling and straw provided our first layer on top of which we proceeded with a layer of pots, followed by more straw and kindling. A little sprinkling of iron oxide, copper carbonate, and salt, then more pots, repeating layers until we reached the top.

Time to load !

Bottom layer

Layered pots

Top layer

A little pow-wow
 A bit of kindling, some lighter fluid, and gentle fanning was all that was required to get the fires started. One of the barrel produced a lot of smoke initially then subsided once the straw was all burned off. We surmised it was still a bit wet from the late rainy weather. We continued feeding the fires for about 2 hours, by adding bigger and bigger wood. Ultimately we used up all our stacks, with medium size oak logs put last for a slow burn. We moved a pyrometer around checking out the temperature at the base of the barrel where holes had been drilled for air supply. Not surprisingly, we noticed big variations while the wood was burning, with embers falling down inconsistently here and there. Readings were between 600 and 1200F ! But that was ok, because the top temperature is reached more evenly when the wood has all turned into hot embers surrounding all the pots. That was when we added sawdust on top to act as a plug, thus creating a reducing atmosphere while the embers are slowing cooling down.
It is fascinating to watch the fire dance on the logs. Once it gets hot enough, some chemicals are starting to melt and burn off, releasing streams of colors, notably various greens and some deep blues. That's when the magic of the firing is starting to weave its spell...    

Starting the fires

So pretty !

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Perfect time for another barrel firing - Part 1

At last another barrel firing at Rose's ! Bad weather and scheduling conflicts have been conspiring to prevent our little troupe to get together for our second barrel firing, but we finally caught up with each other and timed it perfectly with a beautiful day this Memorial Day week-end. We have learned much from our first firing, and we were ready.
The day unfolded in a regimented manner. First things first, we had to prepare our pieces. Under a large old pepper tree, we installed our chemical station, with large plastic tubes and grilles for pouring solution on top of our bisqued pieces. Our choices today: copper sulfate (4 tsp/gal) and ferrous sulfate (3 tsp/gal). Solutions were poured 3 times, letting the bisque absorb the liquid in between. Some pieces got both solutions poured on. Then they were let to dry in the sun for an hour. Some pieces also got an extra layer of commercial ferric chloride solution brushed on (Radioshack etchant solution), leaving the piece yellow.

Rose and Myra treating their wares

Nancy pouring Ferrous Sulfate

Rose and Myra applying Ferric Chloride

Drying downtime

Once the pieces were relatively dried (an hour in the sun), the fun really started. A teaspoon of copper carb here, a teaspoon of iron oxide there, some dried seaweed, oxide-soaked corn husks or cloth strips, a sprinkle of sugar/polenta/wild rice mix, salt, copper wire, whatever was in the boxes in Rose's studio. Get a few potters together in a room and creativity takes over. The energy was high, the anticipation ever higher. "What would happen if I...?" "Let's try it !" "We need more seaweed !"
Nancy's pieces, mostly thin slabs, were quite fragile. Bill kindly built nice little cocoons of chicken wire to protect them from the weight of burning logs. It is a great trick that has served us well, including lids and other small parts that would be too hard to find in the ashes.

Time for packing

Nancy in a creative moment

Bill on caging duty

Myra and Jim getting into it
Rose's studio turned into a burstling factory. Wrapped pieces were piled outside by the drums. Pieces treated with ferric chloride were wrapped in aluminum foil instead of newspaper, due to the corrosive nature of the chemical. We prepared those pieces in an analogous manner to the "baked potato" method of Eduardo Lazo (see February posts). However, the Lazo's method calls for a firing temperature of 1400F in a gas kiln. The wild temperature variations in a barrel were a big unknown. Will we get similar effects ? Different effects ? Anything exciting or plain dull ???
Well, the stage was set, with piles of wood of different sizes, starting with kindling and ending with big oak logs. I'll cover firing and results in my next posts ! 

Almost there !
The stage is set