Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bowls, Bowls, and More Bowls

I was able to get out to the studio this afternoon for a solid 4 hour block of work. It's amazing how much more productive one 4-hour session is vs. two 2-hour sessions. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I only have clean up once, as opposed to twice. Because it's a co-op studio, I don't get to leave my mess from day to day, but have to clean everything up each time. That means giving the wheel a decent cleaning, putting all my tools/junk away, and mopping my area. For some this was a normal part of taking a pottery class. Not how I roll. I really enjoyed my studio style at Luther where I put forth a sincere deep-cleaning effort once a semester.

Today was mostly spent trimming and decorating, with some throwing mixed in. I finally made it to the bottom of my Empty Bowls donations - they're all nicely trimmed with good clean feet - and they are now drying in prep for their first firing. It's important that things be dry before they're fired, otherwise the water in the clay will expand with greater force than the clay can handle, kind of like putting an egg in the microwave (or so I hear...). When that happens you end up with little pieces of bowls in your kiln, rather than little bowls. Believe me, it's a bummer when that happens. I once blew up an entire stack of plates. It was not fun.

After trimming and applying some decoration to the Empty Bowls pieces, I moved on to finishing the Red clay pots I started this week. They're decorated with a blue slip (liquid clay body with colorant added; cobalt oxide gave me what will be a lovely shade of blue) which I then carve through to reveal the clay body underneath. It's kind of like drawing on a frosted window. Kind of. This technique is called "sgraffito" and it's a particularly nice effect on the red clay - strong contrast. These also have nicely trimmed feet on them, and are now sitting on a shelf to dry for firing.

The trimming and decorating when the clay is "leather hard" - it's firm enough to hold its shape, but still is soft enough to carve into and has some "give" to its shape. When it dries to the point where it's ready to fire, or bone dry, it is considered "greenware." This is its most fragile state in the process. Some terms that may be helpful to know.

Anything not yet fired is still salvagable if something goes wrong - as long as the clay is still raw, if a piece isn't working out right, or it breaks, or cracks, the clay can be recycled and nothing but time has been lost. Clay recycling can be done many ways, but the simplest and cheapest way is to soak in water until the clay has been reconstituted as a sludge, and then spread it over a drying surface, such as a plaster slab, to let the moisture out. When the clay has firmed up on the slab, it can be removed, wedged/kneaded, and used again. Voila, more clay!

I recycled this batch of red clay scraps today. Scraps from trimming pieces, wet slop from throwing, and pieces that don't meet my standards find their way into scrap buckets to be recycled.

Finally, once I was done with all of the trimming, decorating, and recycling, I got to throw some more bowls. They'll be ready to trim and decorate later this week. They were a lot of fun to throw, not too much drama involved.

On a sadder note, the vase that I began work on last week did not survive today's studio visit. A series of poor choices on my part led to its demise. It was cut from the wheel, wedged, kneeded, and thrown again. I think one of the bowls in the picture used to be a vase. It happens.

So, that was it for this Sunday. I'll be back in the studio this week sometime to trim those bowls up and maybe do some glazing too!

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