Sunday, October 25, 2015

Teapots, Once More

     Teapots have always been a test of my skills as a potter. In the beginning it was about making a teapot where they would look good without any flaws in the construction, and the lid would fit, the handle worked well, and the pot would not be overly heavy when full of tea. As time went on it became a matter of getting that spout to pour well, without dribbling, or spraying tea in a shower storm or without leaving a lot of drip when done pouring. Eventually, I got to the point where the teapots poured pretty well and all things worked.

Teapots have so much of a presence in literature and popular entertainment with personification and animation. How could anyone forget the animated teapots in Beauty and the Beast or Alice in Wonderland. Some of the ways of late that I have been altering the pot form with pressed decoration before shaping and cutting and reassembling the pot before adding spout has lead me to a more whimsical approach to the teapot, as can be witnessed in most of these.

I have included still images of these pots for those of you who do not want to download or wait for video,I can understand. However a video is a great way to see all of the pot.
This first piece is from an earlier load this Summer. The rest are from a load that came out on the 22nd of October.


This teapot is using pulled handle for the lid, and the body with no alteration. The neck of the pot was cut in a manner similar to those done in an earlier blog post that also shows the technique for altering the neck angle.

These pieces from the last load, are darker than what I would have liked originally, but the colors are rich, even and quite deep. The load over fired to cone 7 where I usually fire to cone 6. That is a 31F. degree difference, which in pottery is a lot. In this case though I was lucky, it worked out.

This is the only teapot without an altered neck in this batch. Decoration is done on the body with stamps before shaping.


I was throwing a series of mugs in early August that used a silicone hot bad that had a hexagonal texture on the surface with a hole for hanging. I had been experimenting with techniques to loosen up my forms. Pressing the hot pad into the cylinder before shaping warped the cylinder and gave me a nice surface texture that got distorted when shaping the mug. So I decided to try it for the teapots. This is one of the first with texture on the body, and pressed into the lid handle after pulling it.

That process led me to the following form with the whimsical alligator on the top of the pot. Lots of fun, with the texture from the hot pad on the body of the pot, the handle of the pot and the tail/handle on the lid.


I thought that the lid deserved a close up photo, and I was quite happy the way he turned out.

All of these pots pour very well, the handles are comfortable, the lids fit well, and have vapor lock release holes. The also have provisions to hold the lid on when pouring. Some of them also have a front tab to aid in balance while pouring. However, it is not really needed.

Aesthetically, I could go on with a lot of garble art talk about why and how that means little to so many. I will say that I like the use of the rubber stamps and the silicone texture before shaping. This texture then becomes stretched and distorted interestingly as the pot is shaped by only the movement of the hand inside. It takes a little practice, to not press so hard as to cause a hole when shaping. It also limits to some degree the amount of  volume you can add to the cylinder in the shaping process, again to not rip through the form with the texture. I do not like the idea of the texture over the entire form, it needs visual rest areas.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Recent work & Packing and Mailing Communion Sets

 It has been a long Winter here in Central Pennsylvania, with lots of snow, ice and cold to keep me from working in a garage heated by an electric heater. Electric bills are just to high to justify much time in the Winter. We had a break in this weather a few weeks ago, and as I had orders to get ready for shipping, time to work.

I had several pieces that had not been glaze fired, so I started work with some glazing of mugs, bowls and Communion Sets. I have not been entirely happy with the glazes that I have been working with, especially the white, as it never seemed to fit the pots right with some pinholing and other problems. So I have added a new white glaze, and a blue green glaze. I have also started working with a glaze program called Insight(Level 2) to help me understand more about my glazes, and modify intelligently the ones I am using.

 So here you will find some of the new Communion sets, and other items from the first load.
Many of my glazes were from Bill Van Gilder, a prolific potter that has been generous enough to post and publish his glazes online and in some books.
Cream Rust on the first coat is a Cinnamon brown, and  on the second coat is a creamy beige.

The pots above have been glazed with Cream Rust of his, and the new white based on a glaze from Mastering Cone 6 Glazes by John Hesselberth & Ron Roy. The glaze is Glossy Base #1, with an addition of 4% zircopax, and 4% tin oxide

The pots to the rt have used the same glazes with the addition of Caribbean Green, from the Mastering Cone 6 Glazes book.
 On the left the new white and the Caribbean Green.

The bowl below is using Rutile green from Van Gilder, and the new white and the Caribbean Green along with the Cream Rust. The mug next to it for size comparison is using the same combinations.

Over the years, I have several occasions to discuss how I packed the Communion sets for shipping. As I seem to be doing something different in the way of shipping, I will elaborate a bit here. Below are series of images that show the box getting prepared for shipping.
Bubble wrapped paten upside down on 3" layer of popcorn

The popcorn, Yes, popcorn is falling into the box from the dry popper.
When you compare the cost of Styrofoam  beads to the cost of popcorn, you will be astounded how expensive the beads are. True, the electric for popping is still a factor, but in the long run popcorn is cheaper. I will not send anything overseas in popcorn, but in the States arrival is within 3-7 days so nothing is a problem.
Chalice added after 4" of popcorn

No I do not double box the pots. I use 14"X14" boxes, and make certain the pots are wrapped with a layer of good bubble wrap for cushioning, and pack my boxes full.
Box nearly full, but popcorn will be added until doming 3" above box

The final secret to doing this well is compression. The box at the left many people would believe is sufficient to close up and tape closed and ship. I still will add at least two more loads of popcorn from the popper to fill that until it is peaked above the edge of the fold line on the box at least 3".

Box compressed, taped with mailing labels

I use USPS for my shipping, not any of the other shippers out there for basic reasons. It supports the post office, which I believe in. The post office is down the block from me-convenient. Sending many pieces out standard and priority are the same price, and priority includes $50 insurance.

In all the years of shipping, excepting the one year my son sent out the orders while I was away, I have lost none of my orders to shipping or damage in the shipping. All have arrived when expected, and in good condition. I don't change anything if it isn't broke!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chalices for Communion sets, my way

There are a couple of ways to make goblets and chalices that I have seen and tried. Some potters make goblet type cups by throwing a cup on top of a solid piece of clay shaped like a stem. These are usually heavy as they get larger. I have seen some of these where the potter will turn it up side down and trim out part of the stem by hand or while on the wheel. I have also seen and tried throwing a cylinder, choking it for a cup at the top and adding a small ball of clay into the cup to seal it completely. Other potters will throw the cup and the stem in two pieces, which is the way I have come to make the chalices that I have been creating for over 30 years.

So the first thing that has to be done in this technique is to throw the bowls, and the stems. I throw these off of a large hump of clay usually 15 to 20 at a time. I throw all of the cups first, then the stems.
This usually takes a morning to get them all finished up. Then they have to dry until what potters would call cheese hard. Cheese hard is a state where a finger will indent the clay, like cheese, and a slab of clay will be able to be held out by one end without slumping completely just slightly bending. It is just before leather hard where the clay is stiff, not able to be impressed with a finger, but a finger nail will. Usually pots are trimmed when leather hard. I start at cheese hard on the stems to make it easier to trim in the chuck for leveling the bottom and removing a little hole in the center of the stem base.
A few years back, I created a chuck out of some plumbing parts that works quite well with my Griffin Grip (gp). I use this to trim almost all of the pots that I make preferring it over the many other methods I have used in the past. These include thrown chucks, damp wheel heads, clay chocks on the wheel head an piece, and many others.
I start my trimming of the base with a good hack saw blade that has not had edges worn down. This helps me to level out the base. Then I use a needle tool to trim out the center of the base so as not to have a trapped air pocket. I do not worry about the piece blowing up from trapped air, but it does stress joins and could crack them.
I finish the stem with a signature and a letter stamp "R". Most of my stems have a base in them, but occasionally they will just be an open stem. Then turning the stem right side up add any decoration that might seem warranted. This is just rough trimming as the clay is still a little damp, but later the sides will get more cleanup and definition. I like contrasting areas of smooth and valleys for glaze to pool in as much more happens when they are there.
Once the stems have all been trimmed, usually two hours for twenty, I will move on to the cups.

By now the cups have set up to nearly leather hard so joining the two together is pretty safe without distorting the cups in the gp. An old trimjim tool is my trimming tool of choice but almost any trimming tool will work, I trim the cup with the stem diameter in mind so that the stem fits into a hollow on the underside of the cup, then I burnish the two together as the clay is still a little damp and the added water from the joining. I use magic water (1 gallon of water,3 table spoons of liquid sodium silicate, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of soda ash) to join these together added on with a stiff cone shaped brush. This will score the area a bit, and make a little clay mixed into the magic water to fill gaps.

Once the chalices have been completed they are left to set up until completely leather hard and then cleaned up by additional trimming and hand rubbing with a soft sponge. This will remove the nerds and ditties (little pieces of clay) from the sides of the piece and smooth up any unwanted gouges.

bats full of chalices
Chalices are ready for firing, but at the same time 20 of these does not make a load, just as a few bowls, some canisters and other pieces does not either, but altogether they will fill the kiln.
New canisters to be completed.

Kiln inside with bowl and bird bath
Here is a view of the inside of my L&L kiln that I have had for over 25 years. I fire with no kiln setter, just cone packs to check on the temperature of my firings. This does mean baby sitting the kiln for 12 hours usually, but I have been doing this for a long time. Kiln firing this weekend!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A little fun with some old back to school ideas

Pinch pot demonstration

Over the years, I have had to develop  small projects for introductions to clay, fun optional project and Marking Period exams, or projects, and then later what our district called Benchmarks. The idea behind any of these was to test the knowledge and skills that the student had acquired during the marking period.
I usually would start the marking period out with simple introductory project like a pinch pot followed a slab construction project that would allow me to present surface decoration along with joining techniques. Occasionally I would do a short simple project with slabs that would be a one or two day introduction that was kind of fun. One such project was the "Poison Goblet", so ugly or strange it looks like a film prop for the step mothers alter ego in Sleeping Beauty.
Poison Goblet-Decorated flat slab formed nearly cheese hard

I had 4 categories of decoration
  • incising-any cut mark in the clay
  • impression-any stamped or impressed mark in the clay
  • piercing-any cut or impressed mark that went through the clay wall
  • sprigging or added on clay
We started with the use of rolling pins and slab sticks to create slabs, and cutting slabs using sticks and cutting wire. I also taught the safe use of the slab roller, as we had an Amaco cable driven one in the classroom. First projects were required to have one slab(first slab) rolled out by hand. I explained to them that I would be remiss in teaching them if they could not create slabs without the machine as many studios did not have slab rollers.

I taught beveling slabs, explaining that the join was better than butting slabs together. I demonstrated and required the use of a fettling knife. By setting the slab onto the table at the edge and holding it down with one hand, placing the fettling knife on the table at 45 degrees drawing the fettling knife through the slab using the table edge as a guide. Once we had done a few slabs in this manner, I brought out the bevel tools that had been hidden away, demonstrating their use.Beveling was done only on the side of the slabs, not top or bottom as these joins were done by placing the wall on the base-no bevel.

To demonstrate joining I would show them my quick and easy: using a saw blade with a course tooth to scrape the area to be joined. Then I would demonstrate joining with slip, or later on with Magic Water.

So once the first project was done, and a few other things it would be time for the Benchmark. For this I used a simple project with fixed dimensions and specific requirements. I also had a handout explaining the project, and the rubric for the project. For years the project was a candle box, a simple candle lantern to be used for a small votive type candle. The following file is one created for the project this past week. I would not have had all of the illustrations on mine as I was interested in their solutions to the same problem.

Required options: Piercing, stamping, incising
I hope that teachers can use these ideas to help them develop some of their own short term projects for ceramics, either for testing, or for fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Glaze load reaches cone 6.5

Remake of Wedding Jar for Bowser family
The two wedding jars came out of the kiln last week after 36 hrs of cooling from the firing. The kiln reached cone 6.5, as cone 7 was bent at about 45 degrees. A little higher than I like to fire. However, I believe that the pots turned out well. The remake of the wedding jar for my art teacher friend, turned out much better than the first one did for several reasons.
  •     I changed the thickness of the slab sticks that determined the thickness of the slab wall 1/8 of an inch. This made the pot much lighter than the previous one.
  • The lid fit is much better than the first, and I believe the proportions of the lid and foot ring to be better for the form.
  • The glaze on the first piece was very dark opaque blue-green, and the corner areas had inconsistent glaze. 
However, I am still not as satisfied as I could be, I would have like to have seen more green on the piece(yes I did use lots of green glaze). Yet find the texture to be pleasant, and some accent of green does show. I figure another piece similar to this will lead to more greens and still save the texture of the slab inlays.
Stephanie & Bohb Striker Wedding Jar

The jar for my daughter, the new bride, could never match the beauty the bride, of the wedding ceremony, or the level of excitement of her reception. However, the jar did turn out well, quite light in weight, under painting came through well, and the glaze even though like the first not enough green, still I am pleased.

The wedding was held at The Arboretum in State College on a cloudy Saturday, August 23. The reception was held in Clearfield at the Race Street Brewery, a new endeavor by the couple, soon to open.

 I had at first believed that the green glazes used had burned out, but found that other pots in the load, some on the same level had green, and in places quite vibrant green. So that theory is not correct. I believe the big factor is that the green glaze requires a white underglaze to show up well enough.

Both of these pieces stand about 18" with handles included. Not so large as to take up a lot of space, not so small as to seem insignificant. I hope the happy couples enjoy them for many years to come.

As for the artist, never satisfied, I will be touching base with the ideas presented in these pieces, as I have some orders for pieces that use the pine tree texture idea. I also have some ideas for some of the things that I learned making the jar for my daughter. More to come.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wedding Jars revisited

 Last year, I posted a wedding jar that I was preparing for a new friend, and his wife. They had been married the year before, and I had not been around for their wedding, so late wedding gift. However, in the firing the first jar turned out way too dark for my tastes, so I have remade it using a lighter clay body, and hope to have a lighter pot all around with a more fitting glaze selection. Here is the jar, with some lid detail.

Lid of Wedding Jar with names & date
Top view of knot showing textures
Side view showing join to lid

 This particular jar has a difficult handle decoration in the form of a square knot using two different colored clays. The technique used was rolled coils using ripple boards. The brown clay uses a pineapple texture, and the white a rope texture. Tying the actual knot required damp well aged clay, thin coils, and  patience. The knot is actually tied, not really modeled.

One of the problems with making a gift for someone else to commemorate a life event is that you are never satisfied. The above jar should have been completed long ago, and the onus for the problem is all mine. I believe that the couple would have been happy with the first jar, but I really was not. It would have bothered me for many years afterward. This jar is lighter, better made, and hopefully will be the colors that I envision when completed.

This Wedding Jar is for my daughter, and even though the actual construction was easier and less time consuming, the thought involved in it was just the same. I couldn't be prouder of her, and this is one way of showing how I feel about her.
Her wedding is in August, so this had better get dried soon to bisque fire. I believe it will be finished next week.
I believe this fits their tastes well, and hope they will have many years together to enjoy it. This is the second version of the same piece, but the first version I was not happy with in the greenware stage so I remade it.
The foot on this piece is thrown on after the pot was at the leather hard stage. A large thrown ring was centered on the base of the pot as it was held in a Griffin Grip. The ring was pulled into a foot, and when leather hard a 2 inch diameter pipe was used to cut the opening. Then a hole cutter was used for the other hole in the foot ring. Incising was used to add the linear pattern.
White slip was used for the decoration on the side, and the name/date area on the shoulder ring.
The handle on this piece is made of two intertwining pulled clay rings that come from opposite sides of the lid. Again symbolic of the joining of two individuals.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Glaze Loads out of the Kiln

Mugs from the new glaze load

Award bowl for order
Back up award bowl for order
I have been working a bit more now that the weather has allowed the clay to thaw, and the shop to be warm enough to work with out using too much electric to heat it up. I have had an order of Communion Sets(16) and award bowl to make for a customer. As of today they are all shipped to various colleges across the country where new ordinands are graduating. These are for a special graduation award. 
 Chalices and Patens are something that I have been doing now for about 25 years. These are a sampling of the latest.

I throw the bowls for the chalice off of the hump, and the stems also. Then I trim the stems in a chuck I have made for the Griffin Grip, and the cups later. When each cup has been trimmed, and an added edge added in for the stem top to set into, I join them together right on the wheel and firm up the join with the wheel moving slowly. this allows me to make a strong join, and to make certain the stem is online and straight up.

 I join the two pieces together with a liquid called Magic Water. It is a combination of soda ash, and Sodium Silicate. I have had better luck with this compound than I used to have with plain slip or slip and vinegar. I use a stiff small bottle type brush to apply the Magic Water and roughen the clay at the same time.
 I have been having problems with the darker clay body that I had ordered as part of my clay this last order. I had never worked with it before, and so it has been a bit of challenge. It throws very well, and looks nice in the greenware and bisqware stages, but it had been taking glaze very differently than I had been used to.

I tried a new tack for these last two loads, that of applying most of the glaze with a spray gun. Layering the colors, and blending one into another has allowed me to come back to a glaze effect that is much better with this clay body.

 I sign all of my work now, and add in the date. I also use an old lead printing R as a chock for the bottom also. This is the bottom of one of the patens for the order.

It may be a little fancy for some, but it seems to finish the bottom of the piece, and these are for presentation. So a little more interest for those that might look at the bottom, and the owners of the Communion Set.

Mugs are something that I enjoy doing quite a bit, and these are some of the newer ones. These have been warped with a rib held at the side while the wheel is turning slowly. Then I reround the pot a bit leaving in the grooves and off centered areas in the form. After these are trimmed, I add a handle that I have pulled off of the mug and join on using the Magic Water.