Monday, 20 February 2017

Brand new ruins

 The first photos of finished work are usually taken on top of the washing machine. The kiln is near it, and it's a great place to set warm work while I figure out where it goes next.

Here are the first of the ruins. Back when we lived in the UK, we would sometime go for walks through National Trust properties. There was one to the east of us that was acres upon acres of woods and trails, and somewhere in there was a derelict stone building. Too small for what I would consider a house, shelter that had ceased to be shelter because the roof was missing, a few people could still crowd in there to get out of the wind. Whether walls of crumbling stone could still protect would depend on what the dangers were.

   It also got me thinking about the effort we put into things. Sometimes beautiful or valuable things, but without maintenance, without nurturing, it all goes away. Whether it's a career, friendships and loved ones, a country, a home, a reputation, it needs to be looked after to be useful.

I put fireplaces or shines in a few of the ruins, so I also made them some little dishes and cups to abandon as well.

Over on the work bench, new herds are beginning to gather. I'm doing Silicon Valley Open Studios in May, and I need a few more herds than i have. They're fun to make, but very (very) time consuming.

I paint each spot of underglaze twice, bisque, and paint them all again before glazing and re-firing to cone 10. And yes, they're freehand.

There are also some new sheep herds in progress, but they are a photo for another day.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Fitting, in a way

 Hello there, neglected blogspot of mine! It's a new year and I'm full of good intentions. That seems to have translated into getting into the studio and making things that have been on my mind.

Here we have some small stone huts, which are in ruins. I'm still making one a day, and expect to continue with that until I'm sure what they're really about.
 I think they're about the effort we put into creating things. Safe spaces. Shelter. Refuge. Reputation. Relationships. Anything, really. Those things all need to be maintained, or they crumble and go away. These shelters are no longer safe places to be.
 I started with rounded "stones, as might be found near a river. Worn smooth by the water before being selected as building blocks.

Moving on, the stones are naturally split to flat, but have a lot of crumbling inclusions. Weather is not kind to these structures without care and maintenance. 

Some of the ruins have small shrines included. There is no one around to tell us what they were for, or why they were left behind.

 I made some miniature dishes for the shrine on this one, but they didn't make it into this photo.

But back in the real world, we have a puppy, and we need some new dog dishes. Also, I sold some herd pots and need to make a few to replace them for future shows. 

 I've also rolled out some mixed clay bodies to make the multi-colored stones for the next few ruined huts.
I managed to get a bisque firing going after running a candle kiln last night. Soon we'll know how these huts take their glazes.

Not a bad start to the new year, which apparently started in late December 2016 this year rather than January 2017.

Perhaps the ruins are telling me not to neglect the things that matter in my life. Don't give up on important efforts. And stop neglecting the blogspot!

Thursday, 12 November 2015


I've been working really hard and getting ready for my first California show with new work. I'll be taking Vertical Herds, which play with the idea of fitting in, safety in conformity. At the same time, there is some individuality going on.

I have too many pots here. I imagine 1/3 or 1/4 will go on the display, with another 1/3 under the table for restocking if anything sells. And the rest either in boxes in the car or at home to wait for their next show opportunity.

 A few close ups. Here are some fish herds (I know, I know, just go with the herd thing), and some elephants. The elephants just joined this party a few days ago.
 These giraffes nearly didn't exist. They presented dozens of really hairy technical problems. I have loads of failed pots that cannot be sold. Each one takes 5-15 hours of painting because every spot has to be painted three times or they just look bad. I really hope these go to homes that love them.

 Zebras. Still a lot of painting, but not quite as many headaches.
 A long shot of the contenders, waiting to be priced and packed up for transport.

 These are so much fun to make. I call them Crackpots. Sodium silicate and stencils with coloured slips.

I'm going to take along some Face Plates that I made in the UK, and some new mugs made here. The mugs are not from my kiln, but I haven't got facilities for reduction here. They were fired at Higher Fire in San Jose.

Come along to Art in Clay at the Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto this weekend if you get a chance. 14-15 November 2015, 10am-5pm. Admission is free! So is parking!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


I made some pots at Higher Fire, for that is the studio Child and I chose to join. I was pretty torn, but he was clear that he felt he could create there, and, well. Reduction. Who can resist those copper reds?

I have my coloured porcelain slips that I wanted to test on the local clays. I have a few new texture tools. I have a pint of sodium silicate. Off we go!

I'm afraid all the photos in this post are pots in their greenware state. That's because none of my pots have made it past the greenware state yet.

 This one is pink and orange slips on Black Mountain clay:

 Yellow and teal slips on Black Mountain clay:
 Blue and green in back, purple and yellow in front. Both Black Mountain clay:

I was going to go in and trim those, but Child got ill and I thought I had better stay close to home. Here I've switched to B-Mix.  I had some cardboard shapes cut out already, so I am testing the sodium silicate and slip combo with a broomstick pot and a slab pot. Here they are with shapes, slips, and sodium silicate, just waiting to be dry enough for processing.
 The pink and red one got touch-dry first.
A light roll starts the cracking and reveals the shapes. The making of these shapes is the best use for Child's empty cereal boxes.
 Expanded yet more with increasingly large dowels. Because I'm rolling from the inside, the cracks are not getting deep here. They compress under the pressure of rolling against the table.
 Going oval. Because I can.
 Off come the cut-outs. Because there was no sodium silicate under, there are no cracks under. There is also an exposed spreading area around the cut outs with minimal cracking.
 A rolled slab for the base. I set the pot on it and traced around with a needle tool.
 Turned over, a little water, and tapped (pounded) into place with a rolling pin.
 I do like feet on things. Three feet are unlikely to let the pot wobble.
 I do like a rustic look to my pots. But you knew that.

Just waiting to dry now. Once fired, I will be ready in case anyone sends me Valentine's Day flowers. Gotta plan ahead.

Ah, but what about the rolled out one? Slips are blue, teal, and chrome green. I rolled in all directions to keep the cracks from being overly directional. The cardboard cutouts split when soaked for so long.

 I did take off as much of the underneath layer as I could because no one wants to smell that burn. But it's only a tiny bit left now.
 Foot rails, and a bit of drying while inverted over a water bottle.

Now it's just got to dry and be fired. I think I'll glaze this one all clear so it can be used for food. Celery sticks. Cupcakes. Something.

And that is the state of the expanding clay as of today.

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Why the months of silence? I'm packing up the pottery, the house, the whole life, and plan to resurface in California some time later this year.

I do have a few projects left to do here. Even more to do once I get over there. Patience, please. It's not over, just in transition.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

It's a learning thing: clay gun hollow dies

Some time ago, I bought a clay gun from Top Pots. It's a small, hand held thing, but it's good for small jobs. It came with a set of dies, but none of them were hollow dies. My metal working is not up to scratch, so I had a go with a material I know. Clay.

All of this is very seat of the pants and trying to learn a little each time. This is just my first attempt. Mistakes were made. Successes were had.

My main concern was whether the dies would stand up to the pressure of the plunger. I used Valentine Clays B17C-grogged stoneware because it's what I happened to be using for a different project at the time. I rolled out slabs and marked circles with the end of the clay gun barrel. I cut slightly larger than the mark to account for the shrinkage of the clay.

The inner shape is set back a bit, not flush with the outer ring of the die. The clay has to go around the supports inside and re-join on the other side, so this, I hope, will give it a better chance of doing that.
 I'd just reclaimed some terra cotta that was stored outside in a bin for a few years. Not the nicest of clays, still sporting a few small bits of leylandii. Some of the failures might have been down to that.

 I started to push the handle, and waited for the loud crack. Or the quiet crack. No crack. Just clay coming out in a tube.
 Several tubes, in fact. Not long tubes because this is a clay gun, not a giant motor-driven extruder. It only holds a small amount of clay.
 And lookie there. Intact.
The successful die poses here with its progeny.
 So I tried the square one. Alas, the fit was not so good. It was hard to screw the end cap back onto the barrel and have it stay attached during extrusion. It took some force to wedge the die down into the cap, and the cap blocked the corners a bit. I found that it had shifted a little (in firing no doubt, I couldn't have made it wrong, right?) so that one of the four sides was thinner than the others. Live and learn.
 But it wasn't a total loss. The die was hard to get out again, but it did come out with a little gentle leverage from the front.

 Once removed, the square could be trued up again with minimal effort. The die seems completely unharmed, and taught me some of the things to avoid when I try again.

There is one more die I made, but I'm going to try it another day. Possibly with nicer clay.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Paperclay patches on bisqueware

Several months ago, I wrote about paperclay patches, mostly on greenware. In that piece, I made mention of using paperclay patches on bisqued work as well, but didn't go into much detail.

I recently had a group of kids (and some of their parents) over to play with clay. Alas, someone made a piece that exploded in the kiln, taking two pieces of kid work with it.  Disaster!

Young artists do need to learn that sometimes things happen, sometimes things don't work out, but this was not to be one of those times. I seized the opportunity to both save their work and show you what I was talking about.

The slip itself was made of a 12-egg carton (post egg), water, and roughly a litre of the same clay I intended to join. In this case, we used terra cotta. I used the stick blender to pulverize the slip quite well, but I didn't sieve it or anything like that.I just ran my fingers through it to be sure it felt smooth.

The flat man (something from some computer game I know nothing about) had a fairly clean break right across the eyes.  I dipped both halves of the break in the paperclay slip and let them dry slightly before smoothing over with more of the slip. The man is pretty delicate at this stage, so I put him on a cardboard bat to minimize stress on the join until he got into the kiln.  I treated the join on both sides, letting it dry a bit, then adding more as the drying slip receded into the hairline gap.

Also a casualty of the shattered piece was a turtle. Both the front arms came off, and none too cleanly.

Again, both sides dipped in the slip, then smoothed over the outside a few times to make the join stronger.

Although I have occasionally used this patch technique on my own work and glazed the pieces straight away, I decided to re-bisque these. The creations of children and beginners gets special handling over here. Raw joins are just too delicate for beginning glazers.

I think it's probably best to re-bisque, even if not strictly necessary.

After being re-fired, the joins are vaguely visible to those who are looking for them, but the kid who made this had no idea it had broken until I told her later, after the finished, glazed piece was in her hands.

Both the turtle and the flat man benefit from being fairly rustic in their intended surface. It is possible that my joins here are actually too smooth be part of the original textures.Perhaps there is enough natural variation that I was able to get away with it.

Here is the back of flat man's face. The join is a bit more obvious here if you're looking for it, but it was not a problem for the artist, who was glad it had been given a second chance.

If I had been patching pieces  with precise and smooth surfaces, I would have taken more care to build up a slight excess and then sand the join down again post-re-bisquing.

Once glazed, both pieces had the ring of an intact pot to them when struck with a metal tool, not the dull thud of a cracked piece.
 This is lovely. I would never look at this and wonder if it had ever been shattered into multiple pieces. Our little secret.

Flat man is all set to be displayed on a wall somewhere, ready to do ... whatever it is he's meant to do.  His maker is very pleased with the results.

I can't promise this technique will always work. Clay can be fickle. There are times, though, that it's worth having this trick in your arsenal, just in case there are no other options.