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!

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