Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bee Bowl

In earlier posts, I walked you through the making of, and the trimming of, a large bowl.
Now I'll show you how to add details to it, and the finished product.
First, You take your leather-hard, trimmed bowl, and decide what types of details you want on it, where, and mark them lightly with an "x".
From there, score the bowl with a needle tool, or other pointy object.
Now you put a blob of slip where you scored the bowl, so the detail you add will adhere snugly to the bowl.
From here you can either make handles, decorative pieces, or in this case, bumble bees, to stick to the side of the bowl.

Now take this little guy, and press him firmly, but gently (so as not to squish him) into the slip.
And Voila'! You have a bumble bee on the side of your bowl!
now do that same step over and over and over again until you reach your desired look.
Cover for one or two days with a plastic bag, and let dry completely.
Phew that was quick!
If you rush the drying process, and don't allow newly added details to sit under plastic for at least a day, you run the risk of them falling off. Letting them sit ensures the two different types of clay (wet, and leather hard) to become the same consistency.
Once the bowl is bisqued, glazed, and fired at cone 10, you come out with this fabulous result:
I'm sad I haven't used this glaze more often. I love the gold flashes in it.
Until next time,

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The 7 Stages of Clay

Clay can be classified into seven different stages. So here's your Pottery Vocabulary lesson for the Day.

Stage 1) Raw Clay (Earthenware) -
This clay I dug out the side of a hill in the San Rafael during the summer. Clay is easy to spot once you know what to look for. Basically, it's dirt that doesn't have anything growing on it. Utah clay is everywhere; and is lots of different colors (red, purple, black, gray, etc.). This particular clay is a red, low-fire clay.
There's also clay that comes pre-mixed, free of air bubbles, and ready to go. this looks something like this,
and is what I prefer to use; because it's easy, reasonably priced, and doesn't involve hiking in the desert with a shovel and 50 pounds of dirt to acquire.

Stage 2) Slip - This is Clay that has enough water in it to make it smooth and runny. I use slip to attach handles and decorations to pots, mugs, lids, casseroles and other projects. Slip can also be dried out on canvas and reused. We call this, "ABC Clay", because it's 'Already Been Chewed' once. Here's a picture of a blob of slip sitting out to dry, along with Blob-Man, the temporary class mascot.

Stage 3) Plastic - This is the stage of clay that most of the work is done, like throwing it on the wheel. Plastic clay is soft and easily workable.

Stage 4) Leather Hard - This is the stage of clay that a pot is in when it's half-way dry.
Although it's still wet, it is strong enough to support itself, and strong enough to keep it's shape when pressure is put on it. This is the stage where trimming a foot on the pot takes place, handles and decorations are put on, and carving out holes or detail work can take place.

Stage 5) Bone Dry (or Green) -

This stage is when the clay is in it's most fragile state; a tiny nudge could potentially knock the lip off of a bowl, or the handle of a mug. The most common destruction I see is when people pick up their pottery by a lip edge or handle and it breaks. Bone Dry clay is when the pot has been exposed to air and all of the water has evaporated out of the clay, and it is left completely dried out. This is the stage in which it is put, very carefully, into the bisque kiln.
Stage 6) Bisque - Bisqued clay is clay that has been fired in a kiln, but it is still porous enough to absorb water. In this stage, no additions can be added to the pot, and it is almost complete. This is also the stage that you add glaze to the pot to prepare it for it's final firing.
Stage 7) Fired - After your pottery has been Bisqued, it needs to be fired again. There are lots of different types of final firing. Here are the three kinds I use:
  • High Fire - This is mainly for functional pottery, like dishes and bowls, and is fired at approximately 2300 degrees to make the glaze harden to a hard glass coating. The entire heating and cooling process of High Fire takes about 3 days. The results of this type of fire are usually pretty predictable, unless you're experimenting with glazes like I often do.
  • Raku - This process is done in a small outdoor kiln, and the pot is heated until it glows red hot (approximately 1800 degrees) and then immediately taken out of the kiln with tongs and either burning horsehair onto it, or placing it into an enclosed area like a garbage can filled with newspaper, pine needles, sawdust, or any other type of combustible material. This process only takes an hour or so, and always comes out different.
  • Pit Fire - This process involves digging a hole in the ground, placing your pots in it with wood and sawdust, and lighting it on fire. It takes about 5 or so hours to let the pots get hot enough to turn rock hard. Chemicals can be added to the sawdust to make them turn colors, like Iron Oxide, or Cobalt. These pots always come out different, and sometimes need to be fired a couple of times to achieve the type of coloration you desire.
Each firing process results in a completely different product, but either way, from there, your pottery is complete!
Until next time,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh the Humanity!!!

It's tragic! Those of you with weak constitutions turn away now!

It's time for...

#'s 1, 2, & 3

It's a horrible feeling really... You work so hard on a piece of pottery and in a blink of an eye, it's destroyed... luckily, I've only had a few losses, just three have been caught on camera.

Unfortunately for me, all three of these disasters were all part of one ill-fated project.

The picture below is of a 3 tiered cake stand set I was making. As you can tell, the smallest stand started warping from the beginning and turned mostly into a candy dish.
The middle stand sort of did the same thing, but not as badly, so it was still tolerable. The base stand, and largest of the 3 stands was perfect in every way, and I loved it.
Then the Pottery God struck me with His wrath... and this happened...
Cracks!The base shrunk and pulled my favorite platter apart-
ripping and tearing the clay like wet tissue paper... a tiny piece of me died that day...

The next day, while mourning the loss of the fabulous cake stand that could never be, again the Pottery God smote me.

Another students creation had an air pocket deep inside one of it's extremely thick walls, and exploded (violently, I might add), while being bisqued; obliterating my small cake stand, and everything else on that particular shelf.

With two down and only one to go, I figured nothing else could possibly go wrong. Right?
About a week later, after reassuring myself that I'd never had a problem with glazing before, and that the last remaining cake stand was going to be perfectly fine and beautiful, I took down the kiln wall and discovered (now, I'm actually a little embarrassed to post) this:

The single most hideous glaze job I've ever seen in my life. It looks like something that may have been half-digested by "the Blob".

This is awful. The 3 tiered cake stand idea was doomed from the beginning.

But that, my friends, concludes the first (and hopefully last) edition of:


I'm going to go to pray to the Pottery God now.

Until next time-

Friday, September 12, 2008

How I Love My Little Piggies...

After running out of creative ideas, I decided to create a few piggy banks.

This picture is of them drying out waiting for their trip through the bisque.
These started out as small, wheel thrown pots. The eyes, ears, feet, tails, and even their little bums are all hand made elements, making each of them unique and one of a kind.
And where do the finished piggies go you ask?

These little piggies go to market!

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


After you've finished making the pot, it's time to trim. Trimming has a couple of different functions. Not only does it allow you to put an attractive foot on the bottom, but it also allows you to take off a lot of excess clay to make your pottery lighter. Also, if trimmed correctly, the groove you put above the foot catches glaze that may run down during the final firing process, and keep it from sticking to the kiln shelf.

Here's a sample pic of the tools you need to do pottery.
Trimming mainly involves the 2 loop tools in the center.

Trimming is pretty simple, but takes a little bit of practice to get it right. First, you need to make sure your pot is leather hard, or half way dry.

Then you place it upside down on the wheel head and using 4 balls of clay, secure your centered pot to the wheel head. Then you're ready to start trimming. I use the square end of the small loop tool most.
Using the loop tool to slice away strips of clay, you can trim away any excess clay you don't want weighing down your pot. Bowls usually take a lot more trimming than a regular pot, because a good bowl is trimmed to the same shape on the inside, as it is on the outside.

Make sure the bottom is smooth so your bowl sits flat on a table.
When you're done, the bowl should have a nice rounded shape on the inside and the outside, with a sturdy foot to rest on.
The next step is to let the bowl dry out slowly, so it can be bisqued.

Until Next Time-

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Process.....

I decided I would take my camera to the lab, and show you the process of making a bowl!

First, you start out with a ball of clay. Throw it down on your wheel, and squish it down on the sides so it has a good seal to the wheel head.

Then you center it. You do this by using your body weigh to push the clay up into a cone and smash it back down again. Lot's of water is used in this so your hands can slide easily over the clay. You can tell it's centered when your hand doesn't move back and forth on the clay. If you've ever seen a wood lathe work, it's sort of the same concept.

This is obviously a bigger piece of clay, but it's all centered the same. To start making a bowl, I slowly work the centered clay down into a flattened dome, approximately the size I want the base of the bowl.

From there, I open up a hole in the center of the dome and move the clay from the center out; leaving a 1/4'' to a 1/2'' thickness on bottom.

Then, using either a wet sponge, or my right knuckle I pull the walls of clay up into a cylinder, making the walls about a 1/2'' thick.

Then I start to shape the cylinder into a bowl. I continue to pull the walls up and out until the shape and thickness is how I like it. I like to leave the lip edge a little thicker, because there's more stress put on that edge throughout the life of the bowl. And...

Tada!! After a few last touches, the bowl is the right shape and size! From here I cover the bowl in a plastic bag for a day or two, and slowly let it dry half way out.

In the next post, I'll show how I trim an attractive and functional foot on the bottom of the bowl.

Until next time,

Monday, June 23, 2008

These are a Few of my Favorite Things...

As promised, I've gathered up some pictures of pottery that I've made in the past year or so. The earlier stuff, such as 20 pound bowls, 15 pound mugs that only hold 2 ounces of water, and other unusable things I didn't ever take pictures of because I either gave them away as gifts, threw them at walls, or attempted to blow them to smithereens at the gun range (fortunately for them, I'm a lousy aim).

This particular item was nicknamed "The Monstrosity", for obvious reasons. It was an experiment really, but ended up being a really neat and original planter. The Dean of Arts at the college bought it and put it in his office, which makes me feel really good about it.

This is by far my favorite piece. It's a vegetable steamer! You put your veggies in the pot and then rest the entire pot over a pan of water and put the lid on so the steam from the water goes up through that hole in the middle and steams your veggies perfectly. It sold almost immediately, which makes me sad that the other one I made that was tan and sage green, had a slight incident, and ended up breaking. It was a tragedy.

This next picture is a bad one, so ignore my fingers holding it up, and the dog toy in the back.
This plate was supposed to have others to match it, but I never got around to it. Maybe I'll make a complete set one day - until then, this is my only plate that hasn't sold.

I don't make non-functional things often, but this is one of my favorites. The glaze really puts this one over the top. I love the copper and the fact that it never comes out the same way twice.
This is called a Raku Fired Pot. I'll walk you through the whole process in another post.

This is another Raku Pot. It has a crackle glaze on it, which cracks when you take it out of the kiln hot and blow on it.

Raku Pots are considered non-functional because you can't eat out of them, and they are still able to absorb water. They're just used for decorative purposes. Most of mine hold dried flowers, or catch spare laundry room change until I'm able to sell them.

This is a strawberry pot, which also started out as an experiment. I'm pretty proud of it, mostly because the glaze that's on it is my own creation. It's even named "Karin's Fabulous Yellow". I'm still making slight tweeks to the recipe, but I love how it looks rusty in places, and isn't perfect.

This is a set of handled soup bowls I made. They're descending in size and all say "Soup" on the side. These two glazes together make one of my favorite combinations.

Bowls are my favorite to make. I call these "Wiggle Bowls". The wiggly edge adds just that extra pop of character that regular bowls don't have. This glaze is also one of my favorite combinations. It's tricky to get it to turn out right every time, and sometimes the glaze crawls away from parts of the bowl, but once I figured out how to get it just right, it's the most gorgeous color sage.
I put the wiggly edge on all sorts of bowls, casserole dishes, pie plates, and even platters.

I love experimenting with glazes. They never come out the same twice, which makes it more fun pulling them out of the kiln. It's like Christmas morning every time!

Until next time,