Insta-updates

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vases Galore!

Hey there folks!  I'm all done with potting for this year of 2010, I think.  There is the very odd chance that there may be a little something thrown next week, but not likely.  Anyhow, here there be the representations of what I got up to this week.
A boatload of little white vases!
Been working on some large vases.  It's pretty fun!
And another.
I'm pretty excited about this big boy!
And here's a bowl that was fun.
Have I mentioned these little beauties?
Anyhow, that's the news from me.  More in the New Year, certainly, including perhaps the year in review, and maybe this year I'll actually get my best music of 2010 reviews up!  In the meantime, thanks for following along and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Test Fire CPLT!

That there - "CPLT" - that's kiln-speak for "complete."  The premiere firing of my kiln went off without too many hitches.  And for what hitches there were, thankfully the kiln is smarter than I, and loaded with plenty of error messages and interpretive notes in the manual.  Namely with regard to the polarized lead cables on the thermocoupler not being clearly marked and, therefore, connected perhaps slightly in reversed position.  I mean, you know there's something wrong when you turn on the kiln and the temperature display drops into the negatives.  That can't be good.

But, as mentioned before, my little kiln is much easier to negotiate with than the Millenium Falcon - no Artoo unit required at all - and it was pretty short work to look up the proper error code and correct the problem.  All in all, a delay of about 15 minutes.  Loaded the kiln up with shelves yesterday afternoon and turned it on at about 10:00 PM (10:15 for the firing that actually took) to have it ready to swith off around the time I woke up.  It's quite recommended that, even with these automatic kilns, you be present at or near the time the kiln ought to shut off, just in case.  That way, I suppose, if it happens to  not shut off automatically you can power it down before it melts a hole in your foundation, I suppose.
Empty kiln, save for furniture.  Shelves, stilts, armoirs - the usual.
Anyway, all done.  Relatively foul smokey smell lingering (normal for the first firing, as you burn the protective coating off the elements so they can oxidize properly - that's what the Skutt manual says!), but it wasn't present in the house, so that's a plus.
Above you can see a capture of the three alternating displays on the kiln post-firing.  On the left, you see "CPLT" - this lets me know that the kiln reached the programmed cone range.  The center display is showing me the current temperature inside the kiln in degrees Farenheit.  This photo came about 4 hours after the kiln shut down, so it's alread cooled off quite a bit.  It would have been more impressive, I suppose, if I'd snapped the picture first thing in the morning when it was reading closer to 1600, but it was early, I was tired, and there was snow to be shoveled.  I wondered if I should be concerned that it cooled so quickly - normally it takes a good 12 hours, if not longer, to get a kiln into the range where you could consider unloading it (under 200 degrees for sure - closer to room temp, the better).  A firing that cools too quickly can spell trouble for your glazes and lead to unwanted cracking and pitting.  But, I note that it is an empty firing, and the pots that would normally be cooling inside will normally also be contributing to the kiln temperature.  I'm willing to assume that the cooling at this rate is the result, primarily, of being an empty kiln.  But I'll be looking for some information to back up that hypothesis. 

The final display, on the right, lets me know how long the firing took - in this case reading seven hours and twenty minutes.The firing time is present to alert you to any problems that you may have encountered - if your firing was supposed to take 8 hours and actually ran for 12, you obviously are having some issues.  Similarly, if you know your firing should run 12 hours, but the kiln reads that it was completed in 6, you might have a bad thermocouple that reads the kiln hot and your pots  probably aren't finished.

So that's firing one.  Uneventful once we got off the ground, so that's good.  The next test fire will come after Christmas and will involve evenly distributed cones around the kiln to make sure that it is in fact firing accurately in all areas, and not just right on top of the heat sync.  If that goes well, firing #3 will follow as a full bisque load, and firing #4 will, optimistically, be a full glaze test load. 

As for today, I will enjoy being snowed in on my last day of gainful unemployment.  I will, most likely, be making more pots, as well as taking care of some other general studio duties.  Take care, stay warm, and try to enjoy this Monday as best you can!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A very happy Saturday morning to all!  Not a whole lot to report, at least not as far as my camera can show for.  And I'm feeling a little too lazy to head into the basement to shoot what I've been throwing this week, so you'll just have to live with this photo, proof of my prepping the kiln shelves for firing. 
Shelves, washed.
For best results, shelves should be coated with kiln wash, which is brushed on.  In this case, the wash is a silica based solution that coats the shelves in a nice protective layer so as to prevent any pots/glaze from sticking to the shelves.  If glaze does drip or run, it can be easily removed from the shelf, taking the layer of wash with it, as opposed to an unwashed shelf where glaze drips and runs could only be removed by taking a layer of shelf with.  Layers of wash are much easier and cheaper to replace than layers of shelf, by the way. 

So that's it for now, I guess.  I have been throwing, and there will be more throwing, at least until the holiday break.  And after that the throwing will be less daily on account of a new job!  Thank you, Santa!  And, have a delightful weekend, preferably bundled up inside someplace warm!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kiln!!

It is late, and I am want for sleep, but I did want to post a brief update to share that the electrician came out today to give us adequate power in our garage to plug in the kiln!  Hurrah!  
Kiln! I don't think you can see it, but the display screen is flashing "IDLE."  Well, it alternates between "IDLE" and displaying the temperature inside the kiln.  Which was 33 last time I looked.  It'll have to get a whole lot warmer than that to fire any pots, that's for sure.
After a little shimmying here and there, I even managed to fit our car back in the garage, too!  You can see that there is clearly room to spare on either end of the vehicle.  Good thing, too.  She was starting to get a little mouthy about sleeping outside every night.  I'll be glad when that finally blows over...
I've also been up to just a little bit of this.
  
And this.

And a couple more of these.
 Good night!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Time to Recap a Few Days

Well, it's Monday.  I guess that doesn't really mean much, except that I do have a few days worth of studio-ing to recap.  I actually ended last week on a bit of a sour note, which was too bad considering I actually had a pretty constructive couple days of throwing in the middle there.  Wednesday afternoon (after my last post!) I put in a good spell that gave me some nice vases.  I felt pretty good about it, and that's my story.

Wednesday afternoon vases.
Thursday I stayed out of the studio, working on some other stuff around the house.  I was however delightfully surprised to receive a delivery in the afternoon with some more supplies for my studio.  As part of a promotional rebate for purchasing a new Brent wheel, I got to order a certain amount of free glaze from Amaco.  I'm very excited (hopefully soon!) to get firing and discovering my new glaze palette, although I now have perhaps a larger palette than I really might know what to do with.  It may have been prudent for me wait until I had explored the Amaco glazes I already have and then just ordered a stock of my favorites, but I don't see how that could have been as much fun! 
More new glazes!  They came in the mail!  It was like magic!
Friday I got back into the studio for a little bit of fun, namely taking those Wednesday vases and putting some mountains on them.  After that I thought it was finally time for me to try out the second clay body I got to throw with - a white B-Clay stoneware mix similar to the B-mix I used at the Guild.  And that's where the fun ended.  Basically, it went very poorly, and I found myself severely discouraged.  Went through a decent spat of clay with not much to show in the end.  I guess I had to have my first unproductive day in the studio at some point.  Bummer!
But at least these mountains are pretty, right?
Fortunately, the discouragement didn't last too long.  Krystal's on the road for work, so I was able to head back to work for several hours of Sunday throwing.  Had to get back on the horse, so to speak, and took my white clay back to the wheel.  It was a much better outcome this time around, which is good.  Good to know that I didn't make some horrible mistake in stocking up on some clay that I couldn't throw. 
Look what I did!
On top of that, I threw myself a few more vases that will probably be in need of mountains, and another bowl with the blue interior.  One of these blue bowls I threw last week ended up with a crack in the bottom as it dried, so it had to be thrown out.  Won't be long and I'll need to start recycling clay again!
See my nifty scale in the back there?  One of my nifty new  clay toys.  It's great!
That's the scoop, folks.  Not a whole lot else to report from here.  Where ever you might be, I hope you're staying warm.  It's been a pretty bitter cold weekend in these parts, but at least it's been sunny, which is more than most of the country can say right now, apparently.  Have a good night!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More bowls! + More Music Thoughts, I guess.

It's a brisk winter day hear in South Dakota, so that makes it a good day to stay in and take care of a bit of pottery and a bit of bloggery.  I've been back at it, so to speak, this week.  Took the weekend to let some things dry out and firm up a bit while I spent my days staying warm and eating too many Christmas-y treats.  I'd feel guilty, but completely un-committed weekends don't seem to come along that often around here.  So there you have it. Monday I got myself back into the basement to tackle the trimming and decorating of Friday's bowls.  All in all a painless process, and maybe even a bit of fun.  Shocklingly enough.
One of those blue bowls.  Slip was still a little wetter than maybe it should have been for such decorating, but I forged onward regardless.
The outside of the above bowl.  Ornamentation inside, outside, upside down!
Friday's bowls from the hump.  Working with the brown slip.  Still hard to tell if I have it mixed dark enough, or if it's going to be too similar in tint to the clay body.  I think I'm in the clear.
I spent most of Tuesday not on pottery, but instead tackling urgent matters of graphic design and layout.  I'm volunteering my time and services to produce a top-notch Annual Report for publication for Krystal's organization.  It's certainly fun, occasionally, to "do art" in a medium that doesn't require extensive clean-up afterwards.  Namely, this digital medium.  Actually, it may be the only medium that doesn't leave my fingers dirty.  Clay, paint, charcoal, pastels, cut paper, printing, sculpture.  Actually, I'm pretty sure it's the only clean art form.  Weird. 

Anyway, that's what I was on most of the morning, but I did get around to throwing a few more bowls.  I've now reached my goal of 30, but I'll probably add another batch in for good measure.  I have to make sure I have plenty of bowls for trying out my glazes.  I worked from the hump again yesterday and I think it may actually be my preferred method for attacking the small bowl question.  I think if I were pressed to make a matching set I would probably go back to throwing individual pieces, but for unmatched small, fun pieces, it's the way to go.
12 pounds of clay gave me 8 bowls...
...and a decent-sized vase.  I'm thinking there may be some mountains in this vase's future?
Next up on my agenda: a system of storage between drying and firing, because this (see below) is getting out of hand.  Once the greenware is completely dried, it's really wasting space on these shelves.  I may, at some point, simply need to put some storage in our garage (near the kiln, once it's set up) to hold pieces for/between firings.  In fact, that's probably the most likely thing to happen.  But until that time, this is the problem I will need to address.
All sorts of dried bowls - and more to come!
In the meantime, I must confess that I like my little studio.  It's a little cramped for space, and every once in a while I discover that there is a tool I should really like to have, but I don't.  But generally, I really like it.  And it's mine.  Here ends the pottery.  Keep going for non-pottery, namely music.  Thanks!

One of the things I've been enjoying about having the studio in-home is my ability to take advantage of our home wireless network and tap into our complete music library from the basement via our netbook.  Now, Krystal and I recently made the shift to iPod and, likewise, iTunes, as a media player.  Now, six months later, I'm willing to lay aside (what I perceive to be) the many faults that iTunes has and simply share the things about it that make me smile.  Well, at this point, basically the two things that have made me smile:
  1. Home Sharing Made Easy: basically if you open iTunes on two computers on the same wireless network, you can share media libraries.  It's fast and brilliant.  There are features that would make it better, but it works pretty slick.
  2.  Album Shuffle Mode: Some days I guess I do really want to listen to a steady stream of randomly selected songs, and that's when I pop open the library (or my list of top-rated songs) and shuffle them all.  Some days it's fun to get your Bob Dylan/Rage Against the Machine//Johnny Cash/Red Hot Chili Peppers on.  In that order.  But sometimes what I'm looking for is a little bit of consistency within the randomness.  That's where Album Shuffle comes in.  Rather than playing individual tracks in random order, it will play complete albums - in random order.  If I'm honestly not in the mood for whatever comes up next, I can get up and change it.  But, being a potter, I'd have to be pretty opposed to listening to something to get up, clean my hands, and change the track.  As such, I've been able to listen to some stuff that I probably wouldn't have chosen off the top of my head.  With that, I wanted to leave you with a brief smattering of some albums that have come up at random and turned out to be quite delightful.

    Get Behind Me Satan
    Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes: After opening track "Blue Orchid," Jack and Meg put away the crunchy guitars and discover piano, glockenspiel. Groovy in its own old-timey way. I don't often find myself in a White Stripes mood, but I'm rarely disappointed when they come up.
Get Born
Get Born, Jet: I didn't even know we owned this album. Aside from their breakout hit "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" I've generally panned Jet as being pretty forgettable.  And, actually, they are.  But the 70's-style riffs and kick-heavy beats ept me satisfied the whole time it played. They probably even left me wanting more.  But I don't really remember that.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon: Like the White Stripes, I don't normally go looking for Spoon, but they're always worth it.  This is my favorite of their albums, and it's probably their most accessible too.  Groovy indie rock with frequent, and totally awesome, use of horns.  "Don't You Evah" and "You Got Your Cherry Bomb" are tracks worth checking out.
Stockholm Syndrome
Stockholm Syndrom, Derek Webb:  Best known as founding member of Christian acoustic act Caedmon's Call, this recent offering from Webb is a departure into hip-hop-laced, synth-driven technofolk.  I think that's how I'd describe it, musically.  Lyrically, he stirred the waters quite a bit with an album that is sure to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  Derek Webb helped launch, and is also regularly featured on, Noisetrade.com.  I highly recommend you check him out.
  That's all for now.  I'll be back, hopefully sooner rather than later!

Friday, December 3, 2010

End of the Week + Dromedary Potterary.

Happy Friday, everyone!  I'm going to make this a brief as possible, for my own sake.  Because while Friday doesn't mean much to those currently underemployed, it does mean something to my wife.  So, I'm going to type really quickly (as quickly as I possibly and accurately can!) and you read it really quickly and I'll try to use a spare amount of short words, rather than the usual copious verbosity I tend toward.  By doing all these things, we'll be done in no time at all.  Ready?  Let's go!

I hunkered down into my studio for a few hours this afternoon to get back to work on my test-bowls, etc.  But perhaps I should rewind for a moment, and share that I spent some time in the studio yesterday, too.  I actually didn't do any throwing, but I did trim all my little bowls fom the other day.  I also committed myself to the grueling task of making slip.  Painful, but necessary.  So that's (mostly) what happened in the studio yesterday.  Trimmed, slipped, trimmed, slipped.  I was able to come back to the bowls in the evening after the slip had dried and carved them while finishing up Season 2 of Lie to Me on Netflix with my darling.  It's awful nice to be able to do that sort of multitasking.  I think there may be more of it in the future, as long as Krystal allows it.  Also, Lie to Me is brilliant, if not a little too intense for regular enjoyable viewing immediately before bed.
Note blue-slipped bowls in there.  Fun, huh?
Let's track back to today, now.  Before I got all messy and clay covered I committed a little bit of time to making my own little basement corner studio a little bit more comfortable.  I've got some nifty little cork boards with pictures of friends and family and pots and stuff like that.  It's much more pleasant than staring at the whitewashed foundation.  So maybe it's also a little sappy, but I like it.  And that's what matters.
So much cozier now.
Then it was time to get back into the throwing.  Of course, a kiln full of testwares wouldn't be any good without a few of my interior-decorated bowls, so I made a few of those.  I may add another three to the mix, just to make sure I get a couple results for each glaze tested on them.  
Blue slip!  Feels like home.
Two more for the road.
 After that it was back to the little bowls.  For efficiency's sake I went back to throwing off the hump on today's batch, and I remembered to document it, photojournalist style.  I now present to you Dromedary Potterary a.k.a. Camel Pottery a.k.a. Throwing Off a Hump.  Get it? 

To begin with, the basic idea of throwing off of a hump is this: rather than centering a new ball of clay for every piece, you start with one larger amount of clay (the hump) and throw smaller pieces from the top portion of said hump, cutting them off and recentering as needed until all the clay has been used.  This works very well for some things (small bowls, for example) and not so well for others (large platters and floor vases come to mind).  Follow along with the pictures to see it in action!
I started today with a little over nine pounds of clay.  I've already thrown a few bowls at this point.  While it's helpful to have the bulk of the clay mass well centered, you can be a little more lax with it at the start, as the only clay you really work with at any one time is the bit right at the top.
To start a new bowl, I centered the top bit of the clay - roughly the amount I think I want to work into a bowl.  By collaring in a pretty narrow amount, it helps to make sure there's not too much clay in the foot when it's cut off the hump.
After centering the top "bulb" of clay on the hump, I proceed like normal, opening, pulling, and shaping the bowl.  If you'd like to see the entire process of throwing a bowl, you can check it out in this post I wrote here.
This is just me ribbing out the bowl, from a different vantage point.  Note the nice shape of the foot on top of the hump, much as it would appear right on the bat.

To remove the bowl from the hump, I use the dull edge of a knife, cutting off enough clay to put a reasonable foot on the bowl.  This step comes as about the one piece of technical pottery advise my Uncle Tim ever gave me, was to use a knife to get pots off the hump.  I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to do it, but Tim told me that a very dull knife was the best tool for the job.  I cut in while the wheel turns, easing the knife toward the center in so as not to displace too clay matter.
 
Voila, a bowl on a knife! Ready to be set aside to dry for trimming!

Today's bowls.  Nine pounds yielded ten bowls today, which is a pretty good ratio.
There you have it.  It's not a perfect method.  The transfer on the knife blade is a little touchy - much more likely to end up with a warped rim, or just not quite round bowl.  But the efficiency in production sure makes up for any effort that might be lost on a piece that doesn't turn out just right.  It's a hard balance to find, but that's the way it goes sometimes.  In the meantime, it's a perfect method for turning out dozens of little bowls for testing glazes on. 

That is officially it from me for this week.  I shall catch you on the flipside.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hey, look! A pottery update!

I've been easing back into the pottery this week, and it's been wonderful, like reconnecting with an old friend over hot drinks in the back corner of a bustling coffee shop.  In this case, my friend's name is Brent, and he happens to be a mustard yellow B-Series wheel, and instead of hot drinks we're sharing a cold water dish.  Delightful.
Readers, meet Brent.  Brent, readers.  Now you're introduced.
Please note, also, the short stack of brand new, never-before-used, spotless bats.  Beautiful, aren't they?  I've been experiencing quite a bit of giddiness this week, breaking into all my brand new toys.  Brand new bats.  Brand new banding wheel.  Brand new scale.  Spotless.  Sparkling.  Beautiful.  At least until they get used for the first time.  In any case, the point is that up until now I have always been working in shared studios, with (predominantly) shared equipment.  It's always been a struggle to find a bat that isn't warped, or that isn't so used it wobbles around on the wheel.  I feel like the little kid who just got his first brand new (i.e. not hand-me-down) whatever.  Bike, bed, snowpants, shoes.  If you're a little brother (or sister) with a big brother (or sister), you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Anyway, I've been easing back into my work.  And by easing, I mean really cranking some stuff out in the few hours I've actually been able to get myself on the wheel.  I'm still spending a good bit of time job-searching each day, and apparently running a household (even of only 2!) is just about a full time job, too.  A couple hours on the wheel each day isn't too bad at all, with that in mind.

I'm in the process of throwing a small army of bowls to test my new glaze palette.  Eventually I'll also get to throwing some more small, vertical forms for testing things out too, but I thought I'd start with the bowls.  I won't bore you with the math, but I figure to test for the results I'm looking (for) I need about 30 bowls.  Monday I sat down and threw these 1.5 pound bowls to get started.  After a couple hours drying in the evening, I wrapped them up for the night.  I unwrapped them first thing in the morning (Tuesday) and they were ready to trim by mid afternoon.  Home Studio Perk #1: No time commitment to let pots dry/firm up.  I have a feeling that I will appreciate this exponentially as I start recycling clay.
Bowls!
Post-throwing the bowls (Monday) I decided to warm up on my vase forms.  Wasn't quite perfect, but I think it'll pass.  Needs a little more trimming and shaping (still a little foot-heavy), but I'm  not too disappointed at this juncture.  Like riding a bike...
Vase!
After trimming my bowls on Tuesday, I was ready to get some more going.  For the purpose of trying out my glazes I think that the 1.5# bowls are still a little bit bigger than what I'm really looking for, so I shifted to 3/4 - 1# bowls.  Tuesday's batch I also went ahead and threw from a hump, rather than as individual pieces.  This is something that might be better explained in pictures than words, so it'll just have to wait.  The end result was 7 little bowls from 6 pounds of clay.  Just cute little things.  They'll definitely give me a sense of the glazes, but I'm not burning through all my clay just on a test firing. 

That's about all the studio related news for now.  We've been getting ourselves in the Christmas spirit up here, and Krystal was very excited about our first Christmas tree in the new house.  Namely in that there's more room for a tree to breathe without having to move all our furniture out of the living room.  Sadly, having more room for a tree doesn't necessarily translate to higher ceilings, so our "little" balsam fir had to be trimmed slightly to fit the angel atop. 

A Royal Tannenbaum!
On a related note, trees in the 6-7 foot range are surprisingly heavier than a tree in the 5 foot neighborhood.  Also, they may or may not actually be secured in the same tree stand used for the last several years.  And just because your pretty string of multicolored lights worked last year doesn't mean it will work this year.  All this to say that it took 48 hours and multiple unplanned trips to Walmart before our tree was up and decorated.  Well worth it, clearly.

Also, I am obligated to post a retraction concerning my previous post: Krystal did not, in fact, abandon me to unload my kiln by myself.  She did in fact tell me to come get her when I was ready for help, and I forged on alone.

Finally, it wouldn't be a complete blog post without a note about music.  While I have had many musical thoughts to share as of late, I would like to mention a little band called Sleeping at Last.  Sleeping at Last have been a part of my listening library since 2003 when I caught them as one of the opening acts on tour with Switchfoot.  They released their third LP last fall (a delightful little affair - heavy on the ukulele and piano for a beautifully effected album), and this summer decided to undertake a project titled "Yearbook."  They talk about it in much more detail here, but the gist set out to release a 3-song EP every month over the course of the year.  Today marks the release of December, to which I am listening as I write this - it's superb.  I highly recommend checking them out.  They currently have a 6-song (FREE!) sampler available over at Noisetrade.com, or you can purchase or subscribe to Yearbook direct at SleepingAtLast.com. 
Click on the beautiful artwork to check out Sleeping at Last!

That's all I got for today.  Have a great night, and keep warm!