Thin Blue Line Appreciation Event

I am so proud to be a member of Art on the Plaza!  One of our members brainstormed this idea about 4 months ago.  We wanted to show our appreciation for local law enforcement who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.  Members volunteered to make a small gift (in their medium) for police and deputies to pick out.

Check out this spot on the local news about the event: http://kimt.com/2017/01/26/thin-blue-line-support/

I’ve been a member of Art on the Plaza for just over a year now.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with each of these fabulous women while getting to know them better.  It’s a group of creative and kind minds.

We are open Wednesday through Saturday, 12-4.  The address is 11 South Federal, Mason City, Iowa.  The Law enforcement appreciation event started this Wednesday, 1/25/17, and will continue until the end of the month.

You can also find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Art-On-The-Plaza-artist-gallery-583582505012376/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

And on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artontheplaza/?hl=en

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Porcelain, My Recent Muse

As I have written in a previous blog post, I studied with a 3rd generation potter in Japan. In my two last two lessons I was given the task to throw porcelain. I was throwing the smallest and simplest of forms, a sakazuki (a small saucer-like bowl for drinking sake) and a rice bowl. I was only allowed to throw these two pieces after all my lessons in stoneware were completed because it is considered much more difficult to throw. My Japanese experience with porcelain was just a tiny taste of what was possible, I hoped to explore this fabulous material more fully when I returned home.

It’s been 20 years since I was in Japan. I’ve been a full time studio potter the entire time. I’ve dabbled a bit with porcelain over the years but kept busy making stoneware pots. I had bills to pay and orders to fill. When there were no deadlines and I had some down time, I dove into the 50-100 pounds of porcelain I always kept in my workshop. I would sell a small amount of it at shows, but stoneware was my main source of income. As the years passed, my urge to make porcelain pots grew.

While working with porcelain over the years I’ve learned a few things. There are big differences between porcelain and stoneware. Porcelain is stronger than stoneware (chips less), shrinks more and is more vitrified. Porcelain has a pure white body, which makes a great background for glazes, making them brighter. Porcelain is also translucent where the walls are thin. Some stoneware bodies are developed for whiteness but are never translucent. And the white is different. Only porcelain has this blue-white color (is that even a color?) which can only be achieved in a reduction firing. I found that I wanted to accentuate the intrinsic whiteness in porcelain using only a clear glaze and make use of it’s most unique property, translucency.

Last year I decided to make porcelain a larger part of my inventory, I wasn’t sure how my customers would respond. I would be changing my palette drastically. It might be a bit of a shock to them. I didn’t know if I could sell enough (yep, still gotta pay the bills). So decided to move my inventory gradually over to porcelain. By my last show of the year in December almost half my inventory was porcelain.

I also recently read a book, an entire book, about porcelain (yep, I’m a clay nerd), written by Edmund De Waal. The book is called “The White Road”.  I knew when the book arrived in my hot little hands that it was going to be a great read. The dust jacket is cleverly done so the words appear as if through a white translucent sheet of porcelain. I learned all about the history of porcelain from it’s first use and discovery in China, to the search for similar materials in Great Britain and America, to it’s modern day use and production, very inspiring. Thank you Mr. De Waal. I highly recommend this book to any clay nerd (I know I’m not the only one) wanting to learn more about this fabulous material.

                  

I have found that working with a particular material influences inspiration. And… the more I work with porcelain the more I want to work with porcelain! I keep dreaming up work with translucent designs.  I have so many projects that call for porcelain now.  I’m hoping to work entirely in porcelain for the rest of the winter.  Keep your eye out for these on my website and Etsy stores.   I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

https://squareup.com/store/tombo-studio-2

http://etsy.com/shop/tombopottery

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Mystery of the Fire

The most difficult part of making a pot is the final step… firing the kiln.  The glaze firing will test my pots.  If there are any hidden weaknesses they will be revealed.  There is always some parts of the pottery craftsmanship process that are out of my control, but the firing is the most so.  Pots can be ruined by so many things.  Being in the path of the flame (causes blistering on the glaze), a hidden “S” crack appears, not enough reduction, too much reduction, iron blowing around in the kiln from an unknown source causing blemishes, warping, too much heat, not enough heat, glaze just doesn’t look right, glaze runs ruining a design (some people find these pieces are the most beautiful, but that is a topic for another blog).

I’m not sure about everything that goes on in there.  I mean, I know, generally, but I am still mystified by something every firing.  Opening the kiln is like getting to open Christmas presents, every time.  It’s that exciting.  Though after I open the “present” I’m not always pleased.  It can be as great as getting a pony or it’s not what I wanted at all.  When it’s the later, I feel like quitting my job and slitting my wrists.  Don’t worry, I recover from this pretty quickly.

There has been so much work and time invested in the pots by the time they get to the kiln.  The kiln holds about a months worth of work: here’s a picture of pots ready to be loaded:

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That is 9 boards filled with objects that are precious to me.  It doesn’t look impressive but it is a huge investment of energy and resources at this point.  Each pot started as a lump of clay that I had to wedge.  Then it was thrown, trimmed, handles added as required, bisque fired (which requires loading, an 8 hour firing and unloading), waxed, glazed and decorated.  Now I must load it into the kiln and blast it with 360,000 BTUs of heat for 10-11 hours until it reaches the point where it turns into a softened glowing 2360ºF mass.  In ya go guys.  Good luck on your journey.  Hope I see you again.

I fire in a reducing atmosphere which means I starve the atmosphere of oxygen.  This makes carbon monoxide, which wants to become carbon dioxide.  To do so, it grabs an oxygen molecule where available, from the glaze or the clay.  This causes glazes with copper to go from pale green to rich red and boring brown iron is reborn in lovely shades of pale green and blue (celadon).  It makes my porcelain whiter than white with just a tinge of blue.  Sometimes reduction is good. Sometimes not so good.

I judge the amount of reduction by the color of my flames, sound of my burners, amount of back pressure and temperature rise.  Quick increase of temperature indicates oxygen which is what the fuel needs to create energy.  Very slow rise of temperature indicates reduction as there is not a lot of oxygen to burn fuel.  A very un-scientific approach to a very scientific process.  Most of the time, it works.  I take detailed notes EVERY firing.  If I get a great firing I try to reproduce it exactly, down to how the kiln is stacked.  Here’s a picture of the kiln well into the reduction phase.  The temperature is about 2000º F.  You can see the flames exiting from the spy holes.

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After the 10-11 hours of firing I still have to wait another 15 hours or more before I can open up and see the results!  I usually finish firing in the evening and a night of sleep greatly reduces the amount of time I am impatiently waiting to crack the kiln.  In the morning I take the plugs out of the spy holes and peek in with a flashlight just to get a small glimpse.  Sometime after lunch I finally get to open my “present”.

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There they are… transformed by the flames.  A lot of the pots will look how I thought they would. Almost 20 years of repeating the process has taught me what to expect.  A few will surprise me.  If I am lucky, it will be a happy surprise.  The pot will surpass my expectations and will have extra bling.  And I will be grateful (for I had not much to do with it).  Most will be cleaned up, priced and packed for my next show (http://www.collegehillartsfestival.com/festival_info/).  Some, sadly, will not meet my standards and will not make the cut.

What goes on in the kiln during the firing will always be remain somewhat of a mystery.  Maybe one day I will fully embrace both the happy and not so happy accidents.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I’ve been told.  Now I must go price and pack pots.  Heading to Cedar Falls on Friday morning for the College Hills Art Festival.

 

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Japanese Techniques: Pros and Cons

Looking through a box of photos recently I found pictures of my Japanese Sensei at the wheel. He was a small man with forearms like tree trunks. He threw pots sitting cross legged on a small pillow as did I when working in his workshop. He managed to stay spotlessly clean even though he threw pots 8 hours a day. I certainly didn’t.  And still don’t.

The techniques I learned changed how I worked, and how my work looked. It was my most formative training (so far). I learned to throw off the hump and make my own tools for each piece in my repertoire. It’s so efficient for smaller pieces… cups, bowls, mugs. His approach allowed me to “explode”. I went from throwing a dozen clunky pieces a day to 50-60 well formed pieces.

Unfortunately there are pros AND cons to these methods. Namely, throwing of the hump. I have a few issues stemming from this process. The dreaded “S” crack (it’s usually shaped like an “s”) and warping.   Here’s a picture of an “S” crack:

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I have managed to lower the “S” cracking to a very small percentage but the warping still plagues me. And there is so many variables that cause warping: height of pot, thin walls, cutting the piece of straight, setting it on the board, the boards themselves, uneven drying, kiln shelves… argh. But mostly it is the clay.

The clay body I am currently using warps easily. If at anytime in it’s different stages from wet to bisqued, it deviates from it’s first curve off the wheel, it returns to this shape when in the glaze firing. Potters call this “clay memory”. I’ve used other clay bodies that were much more forgiving but I really don’t want to change to a different clay body. I love so much about this clay, it’s yummy smoothness (no grog please!), its whiteness when fired, its ability to blush at the edges of the glaze.

Even with the problems throwing of the hump, I am not willing to give up this method.  I’ll keep slogging through and trying different solutions.  I will also continue the hunt for the perfect clay body, with all the attributes that I crave without such a sensitive “memory”.

I am so grateful for all that I learned while working with Sensei Iwamoto.  He freely taught me the tools I needed to become a professional potter.  It was a privilege to be able to enter his workshop every day and work by his side. To be immersed in the over 2000 year old tradition of making excellent functional pots was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

 

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Creative Process

It’s fascinating how the creative process works. Some days I will be in the workshop twiddling my thumbs wondering what the heck I am going to do with all that clay. Then there are days (or even weeks!) when there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete all my ideas. This last week was one of those. Ahhhh.

I’m not sure why it happens this way, maybe my subconscious is busy fermenting away even on those thumb twiddling days. But when it comes I feel so relieved and grateful. Oh, I am a potter.

I think one of the reasons this was such a productive week for me was reading this fantastic blog: http://finemessblog.blogspot.com/

I was searching for techniques to make stackable pots and found her blog and website. I didn’t end up using her technique this time but I might at some other date. Thanks for sharing! Also while perusing her highly entertaining blog (lol-ed a number of times) I found her technique for making oval butter dishes.

OMG it seemed way too simple. It would never work. But guess what? It did. And it was simple! Thank you again Lori Watts. Here’s the butter dish I made using Lori’s method:

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And I was finally successful, after many failed attempts, at making the stacking pot. Whew. Super excited to have completed three of them and dreaming of how I will glaze one. Here’s a picture:

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Many thanks to Lori Watts of Fine Mess Pottery for her generous and  humorous thoughts and ideas!

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Well Hello Blog World

I think I have finally figured out how to blog!  It only took 3 years.  Oh well, you know what they say… “Better late than never.”?

I love spring.  I feel so re-activated.  My mind is spinning with all the ideas I have.  My workshop is my favorite place to be these early spring days.  I am busy throwing work for an upcoming show the first weekend in June in Iowa City.  I didn’t make it to this show last year because I was traveling and so am excited to return.  Its usually close to my best show all year.

Here is a link to the show: http://www.summerofthearts.org/festival-menu/arts-festival/about.aspx

I love using nature themed motifs in my work.  I am really liking the feather.  Also have been using moths, beetles, groundhogs, bunnies, ferns, owls and trees.  Am thinking about adding hedgehogs, goats and woodpeckers.

Here’s how the feather motif is rendered on a bowl: EmilyKiewel-Clay1 copy

 

OK.  Time to head out to the workshop.  Later.

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