Sunday, January 23, 2011

I just about opened the kiln last night, but it wasn't cooling quite quickly enough - it was still sitting at a toasty 280 degrees about 10:30 PM, which is, incidentally, aslo my bedtime.  So I wen to sleep instead.  But, first thing this morning I did get out to the garage to take a peak at my little treasure chest.  Here's what I found:

This was actually the middle shelf of the kiln, but it's sort of the same effect for every shelf.  Top shelf merely got unloaded before I got the camera out.  Here are the pots that were at the top of the kiln:
Overall it was a pretty good test firing, and I guess I have to keep myself in check of the fact that a test fire is all I needed it to be.  That is to say, there were more disappointments than excitements, I think.  Or more, one big disappointment: turns out I'm not so sure I like my clay.  I really enjoyed working with speckled clay over the last couple years, so the Mid-Range Clay with Manganese Specks was an obvious clay choice for me, but apparently these specks are pretty pervasive, and not in a particularly pleasant way.  There were a few other glazes that also just didn't perform very well, period.  But that's the way it goes, and that's why I didn't stock up on 20 gallons of anything.  I'll check back with further thoughts after I've lived with these pots for a few days -I'll likely have a more positive outlook later, but no promises.  I don't have a whole lot more to say, specifically, but here are some more snippets/snapshots of some of the pots from this load. 
Most of the loot.  Got some pretty nice blues and red/brown tones going on, so that's nice.
Some vases.
More vases.  I like the bleed/interplay of the glazes around the lip of the bud vase on the right.
More blues and reds.

Apparently I need to use 3+ coats of rouge red to get anything more than a ghost of color.  Good to know.
Big fan of: the way the glazes play together in the bowl on the left.  Not a fan of: mild dalmation bowl on the right.
Trying out my glazes for the inside of these bowls.  Guess which one I like?
That's the firing in a nutshell.  I guess it's back to the wheel to crank out enough pots for another load.  I'd really like (optimally) to get another load of test pieces before I make a move on firing any of my mountain vases.  I'm thinking that maybe a batch of mugs would be good - something that doesn't nest well, so as to buff up the usage of space in the bisque firing, or a bunch of really bulbous vases.  Bulbous pots also take up a lot of space.  More reaction later perhaps.  For now, pretty decent first firing, I guess, with some negative surprises but also a fair share of pleasantness.

That's it from me - have a great week!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's Been a Busy Week(s), Part II

Well, I had this past week all to myself after Krystal took off for some work travel.  And what, pray tell, did I do with my week at home while wife was gallivanting in our nation's capitol/capital (both are true)? I'll give you a hint: it's something you do with bisqued pots and it's not my favorite thing in the world!

That's right! Glazing!  Please forgive my Dora the Explorer moment and watch this video.  You won't regret it.

Blurgh. That about sums it up. I'm quite prone to glaze-related performance anxiety. All the work and love and effort and energy you pour into these pots and it could all be wasted (irreversibly!) if the firing doesn't go swell. It's even worse when it's your first time trying glazes, cause who knows how any of it will turn out! Add to it that I can't even just do two or three things to try out and then see what I like - I have to glaze enough to fill the kiln! Oh, the agony! The humanity! The indignity of it all!
It all starts out innocently enough: neatly stacked bowls, tight rows of vases, just waiting to be waxed and glazed. Even preparing the glazes is an adventure - stirring the water into your chemical mixtures, all in great big five gallon buckets. It's like mixing your own magic potions. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...
Toil and trouble is more like it. Before you know it your entire work area is triage center for bowls and vases just begging to be dipped, brushed, and wiped. There's not enough organizational skill in the world to keep a clear record of which is what and who is where. You wanted to try this bowl rust red on the inside and fiesta blue on the outside? Too bad, you didn't label it as such, it was in the no fly zone, rust red too closely resembles albany slip brown, so you inadvertently paired the "albany slip brown" with rouge red - which might have been lovely, but now your shades of red will clash in such a Titanic manner (referring of course to both the ship-iceberg incident and the Titans-clashing incident for such a double whammy of clash-ness that even Joe Strummer couldn't possibly handle it!!!


All that to say, the glazing was just a little bit more stressful for me than normal, and just a little less fun, but I finished it up, and I used every single one of my glazes, and I think I got a decent rate of overlap and mixing and matching and blending to really get a sense of how the glazes will interact with each other.  However, there's also an off chance that I mixed my glazes wrong and didn't apply them thickly enough and so everything will come out brown, or I applied them too thickly and I'll discover I giant pool of murky glaze mess on all of my kiln shelves, in which case I'll be out six shelves and have a buttload of clean-up ahead of me.  You see where the anxiety gets the better of me?  No good at all.  But I finished them up, loaded the kiln, and fired it last night.
Kiln finished up the firing this morning - Cone 6 slow fire for 14h27m.  Last time I checked I was down to 1500 degrees or so.  I should be able to crack the kiln by later this evening.  It will be exciting.  And then either extremely elating or devastating.  Either one.  Maybe both, like Round 1 of American Idol, which is the only round I've ever been particularly interested in, actually.  But there you have it.
Anyhow, Krystal's flight made it in at 11:40 PM last night (2 hours past my bedtime) and she had to turn around and go back to work today - on Saturday, I know!  While I'd much rather be enjoying a lazy Saturday on the couch (like the last 3 snowy Saturdays?  Yes, it's snowing again today...) it has given me the chance to catch up on all the throwing that didn't happen this week because I was glazing.  So, anyway, I did some throwing. 
Bowls+Arizona.  Going to try something new on that one on the lower left!
Vasey-vase.  I've got a plan to trim this one down once it firms up a bit.  Needs to lose some weight, be less pear shaped.  Or, at least, less Sooki-shaped.
I was back to work with the iTunes album shuffle mode this morning and had quite a delightful blend of music to throw pots to.  Here's the playlist from the morning, with brief comments:  
Beauty of Simplicity
The Beauty of Simplicity, Telecast: So, this one wasn't random, and it wasn't for pottery, but it did get my morning off to a great start.  A beautiful and simple (get it?) debut album from this (worship) band with Coldplay-ish influences.  Unaffected, unpretencious, honest music.  Musically it's not particularly original, but I really don't mind one bit.  One of my favorites.  Lead singer Josh White recently released a solo album that's in the running for my best of 2010 .
Hold Time
Hold Time, M.Ward:  The first shuffled album of the day.  You may know him better as Zooey Deschanel's counterpart in She & Him, but this solo effort is worth the listen.  Indie music that doesn't sound like it's indie and warm guitars that could have been recorded at Chess are reasons why I like listening to this blues-folk-singer-songwriter.
In the Name of Love
In the Name of Love, Various: In 2004 a bunch of CCM artists got together to cover U2 to benefit Bono's DATA Foundation.  It's 50/50 on the quality scale, as most cover projects are.  While some of the songs are uninspired mimics of the originals ("One" and "Pride") or just don't work (hip-hop "With or Without You" anyone?), a few artists struck cover gold in their takes.  Highlights: hard rock heavyweights Pillar beef up "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Jars of Clay go bluegrass with a stripped down "All I Want is You," and Sixpence None the Richer haunt their way through "Love is Blindness."  Apparently you can get it for $1.95 on Amazon right now, so go check that out.
In Your Honor
In Your Honor, Foo Fighters: A knockout double-album from 2005.  The front side is as good as it gets from the hard rocking Foo Fighters, followed an entire set of (acoustic-ish) ballads including a guest spot from Norah Jones.  They rock your face off and then tenderly put it back together again.  Blistering and beautiful, I highly recommend it (both sides!)
Songs For Silverman
Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds: I only got a few tracks in before I had to take a lunch break, but as someone who doesn't normally go looking for Ben Folds (especially anything particularly recent), I really enjoyed listening to this one.  Not particularly rocking, it's high-quality more-of-the-same from everybody's favorite piano wrecker.  It came on a few weeks back while doing some heavy-duty cleaning and was really good then, too.
Well, that's definitely all I've got for now.  Krystal tells me I need to start a new blog that's exclusively music writing.  I can't tell if she's being supportive of my music writing, or if she's sick of reading it in this blog.  Either way, I may be acting on that so you can read more/less about music, and we can stick with the pottery over here.  Anyway, should have new pots before the end of the week.  I'll try to be back sooner, rather than later, as I'm really excited to share these with you!

It's Been a Busy Week(s), Part I

Sorry to leave you with the massive cliffhanger (not Stallone's) with regard to my last firing.  But as I say so often, life happened.  I was especially non-ceramic last weekend, which was a three day weekend, on account of when you have a three day weekend it's important to spend it relaxing and lazing and reading and watching movies.  Especially when your wifey will be out of town for the following week, which means more pottery time then.  So we had a wonderful sort of lazy weekend.  Between, of course, backing our car into three-quarter-ton Silverado's, snowdrifts, and garage doors.  But that's another story for another time.  I will say that Krystal and I share blames in these incidents.  No, I will not share how they are divvied up.

In any case, the bisque firing (completed on Monday, January 10) came out just fine; everything was pink and quite bisquey.  Here's the top portion of said bisque load. 
While I didn't devote too much time to pottery last week/weekend I was able to sneak in a few hours here and there to take care of a few things.  Mostly trimming (bowls that I guess I threw Mon/Tues the 10/11?) and decorating some of my Arizonas.  The results of that work would be below.  Beyond "would," they are, in fact, completely below, and quite thrilled about it.  Enjoy!
One Arizona, trimmed, carved, and drying.
Two Arizona, trimmed, carved, and dried.  I really like the shape on this on, and the more prominent lip.
Some bowls, part of a special order.  Wanda: these bowls are for you!
Some spare bowls to go with the above order.  Because you never know what might happen between throwing and completion!
Serving bowl, also to go with the above order.
This one's a mystery bowl.  It's on my camera, but I don't seem to have this bowl anywhere in my studio.  Bizarre?
So that brings you up to speed on last week.  Stay tuned for Part II. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quick Firing Update!

I just wanted to pop a quick update here to announce my innaugural bisque firing is complete!  The kiln cooled down pretty nicely yesterday afternoon and so I was able to get to loading up the kiln around 4:30PM. 
Krystal thought she should snap another picture of me and my kiln.
Here's the bottom level - not quite done loading it up!
Turned the kiln on before we headed out for a date night (dinner+"True Grit").  Speaking of, I have been quite impressed by Jeff Bridges lately.  He was phenomenal in "Crazy Heart" (just a well done movie, with country music I could get behind) and did a great job in "Grit."  "Tron" - not so much, but whatever.  And, really, he was very impressive in "Iron Man."  I mean, really, that should have been the Oscar right there.  I guess maybe I was thrown off his trail cause I never understood what was so great about "The Big Lebowski" (besides, of course, "The Dude abides), but I've really enjoyed where he's been at the last couple years.  So, well done.

So I fired up the kiln around 6, set on slow fire mode just to make sure I baked out any last bits of moisture hiding in those vases before the the temps really cranked.  Woke up this morning around 5 (painfully) and we were at about 1850 degrees, climbing toward 1950ish.  Took care of my morning routines and came back with the camera shortly after 7 for the completed firing. 
12h32 minutes to fire to ^04.  Cooling to 1735 at 7:30 am.
It's just about cool enough to unload, so we'll have pictures of fresh pink bisqued pots (tomorrow?).  Not nearly as exciting as opening a fresh glaze kiln, but you take what you can get.  Krystal's out of town for the next couple of days so I have free range to spend as much time potting as I like.  Which means I'll probably put in a couple hours tonight, read for a little bit, throw/trim a couple more pots and head to bed by 10.  Apparently I'm like all boring and adult, but that's the way it is.  Besides, bad things happen when I'm in the studio past my bedtime.

One last parting thought from one living up towards the topperly portions of the northern hemisphere: I got off work at 5PM tonight and went outside to find the sun shining.  Can you believe it?  The sun!  At 5PM!  Shining!  Spring is on the way, folks, spring is clearly on the way.  Nevermind that it was only 3 degrees out (Fahrenheit).

Have a great night, er'body!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Firing #2

Hello all!  It's another blizzardy weekend here in South Dakota, so I figured I'd better fire up the kiln and warm things up a bit!  I received my special delivery from Continental Clay this week that included, among other things, my box of pyrometric cones so that I could run my second test firing.  Using the cones will give me a clear idea of whether or not the kiln is firing as true as the computer thinks it is.  Due to life in general, I kept forgetting to prep my cones for firing which, in turn, left my firing delayed, but I finally got them up and going and fired last night.
My army of cone packs!
Pyrometric cones are designed to melt at a designated temperature - and by melt, I mean droop appropriately.  If your goal cone is melted completely away it means you have well overfired.  If the tip of the cone hasn't drooped at all, you're quite a bit under-fired.  It has to droop just right.  But before you can throw the cone in the kiln you have to get them set up on little clay bases.  Generally these are called cone packs: in a gas firing, for example, you generally will pair three cones per pack - the cone that you're trying to fire to as well as one cone lower and one cone higher (i.e., if you're trying to fire to Cone 10 (^10) the pack will include a ^9, ^10, and ^11.  You can then judge during the firing (by taking a peek through one of the peeps - ideally the cone pack will be line-of-sight with your peep) where you're at.  Obviously the ^9 will drop before ^10 so you can use that as a guide for how close to being done you are.  It's a little more complicated than that, but there's the jist of it. 

Because I'll be doing exclusively electric firing I don't have to use the cones as a guide for the firing process, but rather just as periodic ages of how accurately the kiln is firing.  So I threw a few cones in my kiln.  These are ^04 pyrometric cones, which is the range I'll be firing my bisque to - roughly 2000 degrees fahrenheit.  I spaced the kilns out around the kiln, shelved at three different levels, to find out if the kiln is firing evenly all around.  When the kiln has cooled off a bit I can check them out.  If they're over or underfiring there's probably some sort of calibrating that needs to be done.  In that case, I'll need to get on the phone to somebody who knows more about it than I do.  Here's hoping that all is well!
Cones in the kiln!
The firing went on a normal schedule; fired a medium (speed) firing to ^04 that completed in 7h38m.  Two hours post-firing we were down to 1300 degrees.  Two hours later, down to 800.  This is, I think, the combined result of being in the garage (average winter temperature: 32F/0C.  On average, I think.) and being an empty kiln - a kiln full of pottery that also fired to 2000 degrees will hold its heat much longer, as pottery retains heat much more tightly than air.  I think.  That's my hypothesis.  Anyone who may know better, just let me know. 

In the meantime, I did have to do some decorating and trimming in the studio at the end of last week. 
Here's a bowl.  I made it.
A couple pieces drying.  This my favorite stage in the process - the leather-hard clay is so soft and smooth, and the colors are so rich, the brown and blue.  I wish there was a way to capture the pots in this stage.
Keep reading for a musical digression:

I enjoyed, again, an interesting mix of music while in the studio by keeping my iTunes on album-shuffle.  Among the selections that came up was jazz/pop singer/pianist  Jamie Cullum's debut album, 2004's Twentysomething.  Cullum has a very unique sense of style with regard to pairing original songs with covers and standards.  All I'm saying is that I've never heard anybody else cover Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix only to give you "Singin' in the Rain" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" - and make it work.  Anyway, this is one worth checking out if that sounds interesting.  I wasn't horribly impressed by any of his follow-up work, but this one is solid. 

Speaking of music, NPR has been one of my favorite places for finding "Best of 2010" lists this year.  I found my way over there after I started listening to NPR's All Songs Considered podcast which, I think, features probably the most eclectic and well rounded, collection of topics and musics.  Favorite episodes from this summer included "Best New Dance Music" (featured new music from Kylie Minogue and Outkast's Big Boi, plus a dozen obscure house, trance, and electronica DJ's.  And yes, there is, apparently, a difference between house, trance, and electronica - amazing!), "Odd Pairings" (Missy Elliot + Nelly Furtado = unlikely but delightful.  Bono + Frank Sinatra = what were they thinking?), and "Music to Get you Through Your Teens" (talk about transgenerational: Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, REM, and Nirvana all made this episode.  Kinda think they should've included one of their interns on the discussion for the opinion of someone who was a teen in the last 15 years!).

But back to the point, NPR has a whole lot of lists, including: NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums of 2010 (multi-genre, and alphabetical vs. heirarchical for an interesting blend!), Intern Uprising: The Songs Our Bosses Missed (Have never heard of anyone on this list.  Begs the question, does obscurity make bands better, or am I a clueless popularist?  Jack Black in High Fidelity might have written this list.), and voted on by the listeners of All Songs Considered, Listener Picks for the Best Music of 2010 (This list is a pretty good finger on the pulse of popular alternative music ranging from rock to hip hop to atmospheric to dance.  And I still think Arcade Fire is overrated.).  You can check out all their lists here.  It's interesting reading, and most of them include full-length songs or videos to sample each album.

Anyhow, I enjoy keeping up with lists like this - sometimes because they reaffirm my own opinions, and then I feel special.  Often it's a great place to find something new to listen to - if you find that the majority of a list is music that you already enjoy, then there is a good chance those items on the list that are unfamiliar to you might be enjoyed too.  Other times it's just nice to find a critical review that doesn't think Kanye West released the best album of 2010 (really Time magazine?  Et tu, Rolling Stone?).  But mostly they're fodder for someone who can't get enough of the music, and keeps me thinking about my own tastes and why I do (or don't) listen to what I do (or don't).  Still soaking up some late-arriving music to round out our additions to 2010.  I may have opinions within the week.

In the meantime, if all went well in my firing, I may have a bisque load to fire this week!  That's all from the frigid north country - you stay classy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

Yes, it may be a couple days late, but I certainly hope you have started this year off on the right foot!  This is the part where I normally would go back and review the happenings of 2010, but I covered most of that back in November when I reappeared after my extended hiatus.  So it's mostly just on with pottery as usual here.  But first...

Rather than spend Christmas in the beautiful, snow-covered midwest (where Christmas ought to be celebrated, right?), dreadfully balmy week in Phoenix, Arizona, where Krystal's folks have relocated.  It was pretty rough, actually, getting on the plain in sub-zero temps to arrive in a 70 degree desert environment.  The worst part was when we ate our Christmas turkey out on the patio under the garish light of the sun.  I mean, isn't it, like, sacrilegious to be running around in shorts on the eve of our Savior's birth?  But I digress.  Here are a few things that happened down southwest way:
Paid a visit to Taliesin West, the "summer camp," studio, and school of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  It was pretty nifty.  Although, this time of year, paying a visit to the original Taliesin in Wisconsin would have been much more agreeable.  You know - with all the snow and ice and stuff.
Met up with friend Katie, who lives in Tucson, to visit Casa Grande National Monument ruins.  They were looking pretty ruinous.  Did you know they were the first federally protected archaeological site?  I didn't, but I do now!
Casa Grande's museum featured some jars grande that have been dug up, too.  That's one jar grande!
We got all dressed up for Christmas Eve church, and took our family photo.  Aren't we lovely?
Here you can see how effectively the temperate climate incapacitated my Krystal.  Unbelievable.
We went to the zoo and met a tiger.  Somebody hid his dinner in the tree.
We also got to hang out at the Desert Botanical Gardens for their Holiday Lights celebration with live music and lights and cacti and other assorted succulents.  The DBG informed me, via interpretive sign, that a cactus can be defined most accurately as "a plant that is a member of the cactus family."  You can't make that up. 
Anyway, that was my Christmas break.  Our plane landed in South Dakota to a much more reasonable 35-degrees and sunny climate.  By the time we made it home from the airport the temps had dropped at least another 15 degrees and I found myself back in the appropriate holiday spirit.  On a related note, I shoveled and/or chiseled ice from our drive way for five consecutive days, as we apparently had yet to use up our quota of snow for 2010 - hand leave any flake undropped at the turn of the year, you know.  So we started the New Year with a veritable white washing, the proverbial "snow-covered clean slate," tabula rasa, mi casa su casa, cabasa y cabana, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...
Blizzard above.  I know it doesn't look that impressive, but I'd like you to note that there is a four foot tall retaining wall hiding somewhere underneath those drifts.  The heap at the foot of our driveway is now taller than me.  And I'm not particularly short.  So there.
Needless to say, when I wasn't shoveling, chiseling, and salting, and could cease for nursing my poor shoulders (my kingdom for an ergonomic shovel!), all that snow sure made it easy to stay hunkered down in my studio.  However, I actually had a lot of waking hours committed to the above activities, and of course it was hard not to just snuggle up on the couch with my darling and finish Netflixing Season 4 of Psych (awesome!), not to mention starting a new job last week.  But I did do some pottery work.  But only some. 

Here's two of those vases from last week.  Got a little creative with them.  Not so sure if that's a good thing or not.  They're drying upside down because the bottoms have a harder time drying than the lips.  Kind of like babies. 
Again, I've got the lip covered to keep it from drying out significantly faster than the rest.  The reason you want them to dry evenly (or as evenly as possible) is that as the clay dries, shrinkage occurs.  And uneven shrinkage can like to warping and, more catastrophically, cracking.  Horrible!
Look, it's a big bowl with blue slip in the middle!  Quelle surprise!
Time to get back into this shape - I call it an Arizona, due to its resemblance to the traditional southwestern shapes - see jar grande above.

And another Arizona in progress.
So that's the news this week.  Those vases are the first pieces dated 2011, so hurrah!  I've been listening to a lot of new music in the studio this week, because that's what happens after Christmas: any new music that made it onto our Christmas lists is either gifted, or we get it for ourselves post-mas.  Because you can't safely buy anything for yourself after Labor Day.  Or is that wearing white?  Either way, being unemployed wasn't helping me out there either!  In any case, 2010 was certainly a year for looking into new artists, or at least just new to me.  And expanding our horizons as well.  While it's still too early to get my critical verdict to stick too tightly to anything, I've really been enjoying new albums from The NationalBeach House, and Sleigh BellsMaroon 5 also delivered a delightfully irreverent album (I've never heard anyone write so many bouncy happy songs about being miserable!), and I'm not too proud to admit that Kylie Minogue hit a home run with Aphrodite.  I have no idea why she doesn't dominate the charts in this country.  Also, all of these are on Amazon for download for $8 or less, for the time being.  So go check them out.
High VioletTeen DreamTreatsHands All OverAphrodite
Happy New Year - there's plenty of more pottery to come in 2011 - thanks for coming along for the ride!