Welcome to my blog. I will attempt to make it much more than just a pitiful list of the relentlessly mundane minutiae of my daily existence but if you feel that I have failed try to imagine all the stuff that I haven't posted.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A quick one before he's away

Back from Australia and I was full of ideas of what I wanted to do next. Not in terms of long heavily reduced firings, but developing where I am going with the forms that I am making and doing a short stoneware firing, packing the kiln  more in relation to temperature variation and seeing what I could achieve. Within a few weeks I had enough pieces made from a variety of bodies I mixed up, some of which are difficult to work with and very prone to cracking.
This being a good example - a body based on Dartmoor kaolin that is lacking in plasticity and has a very high fired shrinkage.
The firing started at 7am and went on till 2.30am (19.5 hours). being a small kiln the transition from firing from the front to inside the firebox is rather tricky and stressful, however after that it was the smoothest firing I have done in the small kiln. This was certainly helped by the stack of cut to length branches that enabled me to fire it like a true Bourry Box.
There is a relatively large temperature gradient within the smallish chamber, but careful packing resulted in a much much better firing, with good pieces throughout the pack.

This was right up the front, partly buried in the ash + has some stunning colour variations on it.
This was further back and fired on its side, but still has dramatic ash interaction with the Malvern Hills rock glaze.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

.....the great unpacking....

...and here, as requested, in the last post from the Edge Of The Shelf conference, are some images of the work that came out of the kiln.

Here are Kirk Winter (left) and Daniel Lafferty (the organiser) inspecting unpacked pots.
Masaho Ono with one of the multi-form communal firing 'sculptures' from the collapsed front stack.

Chester Nealie got some of the best pieces out of the firing. This was the large jar up the front.
Mahito Kudo proudly displaying a Robert Barron jug..
...and finally, a piece by Michael O'Donnell, from New Zealand.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

.....the firing as performance

....so, the kiln was ready and the pots, dry and wet alike, were taken over for the big pack. The back section was packed through the 2 side doors and the rest through the front. I did say wet, and I mean it. A couple of the bigger pots got knocked on the way in and were carefully molded and repaired once in place.
This image shows the back section, just behind the side arches, under the hump of the 'whale' kiln. In front of this stack went 3 large jars, then 2 more stacks before the firebox. Packing took 2 days.
This image is the view from the front stoke hole - Scott Parady's large jar resting on Ray cavill's prawn bowl (for people who really like prawns!). 2am the kiln was lit with a very gentle flame, curling into the chamber through the grate holes. This was maintained for the next day and night to try and dry everything out. The kiln was steaming, but hard to tell what was pot water and what from the cow dung.
The firing schedule was very different from mine - a slow rise in lightish reduction/neutral atmosphere till cone 8's were going. At this stage it became apparent that something bad was happening with the floor or props as the front stack began to teeter and lean forwards. Cone 8's went at the front sidestoke and sidestoking began, bringing the temperature up slowly throughout the kiln.
After around 24 hours at stoneware temps the front stack collapsed into itself and the stoking space behind it. Emergency caesarian was carried out to free up the stoking space, pots being removed with raku tongs. Some of these were rather good with a surprising build up of ash on their surfaces......ash and....salt! Yep, looked like a salt firing. It seemed that perhaps the wood that had grown at the site, being next to the sea and a large saltwater lake, had high sodium levels.

Day 5 was spent overstoking and building up large ember beds in all areas of the kiln - constant heavy reduction. Finally, spectacularly, sacks of charcoal were funneled into the whale's hump and back of the kiln. The temp in the kiln had dropped somewhat by now but the temp at the bottom of the chimney was crackling white - maybe cone 14 - 15.
3 days and some early brick removal later and the kiln was opened.
Amazingly, for a performance piece, with untested clays and slips, glazes, wood and kiln, there were some rather beautiful pieces in the firing. Even a few survivors from the collapsed front stack. Further back it became an almost unrelenting expression of grey, but even here the sidestoke areas yielded some interesting results. Did it make me want to explore reduced cooling? No....but there were some packing and firing techniques that I'm sure will find a way into my firings in the future.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Making with the unknown

I rarely post photos of me.....but here goes.
The first week we each grabbed a wheel and a table and got to grips with the range of clays that were stacked up at the end of the marquee. With little to guide us but colour and texture we set about preparing blends and mixes with the fat sand (that was being used as mortar for the kiln) and the white quartz filled kaolin from a nearby brick pit.
Pretty soon the racks were filling up with an exciting variety of work. Liner glazes and slips were mixed up by volume (with fingers tightly crossed). Within four days or so the kiln was finished, the packing and firing dates set and the race was on to dry everything out as much as we could. The atmosphere was buzzing - it was so different from my usual solitary making process - no competition, just pure enthusiasm.
To break the routine we got taken out on a variety of excursions, overtaking the local pub, fish and chips in Beramgui and an unforgettable climb up a nearby granite hill, with an aboriginal guide to a sacred site.

The hill stands high over the surrounding countryside and formed the backdrop to many of the places we visited, such as Daniel Lafferty's home and Tilba beach, where we went fishing and I (honestly) caught a shark.

 The sacred aboriginal site at the top of this hill was truly awe inspiring, with stunning, softly weathered, beautifully surfaced granite sculptural forms rising into the forest. Each had it's own story, as part of the dreaming for that place and within creation. Nature always does it best!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Back Up from Down Under

Aaaaah......jet lag. It's been a long time since I experienced falling asleep standing up. I flew in yesterday from a truly unique experience at the Edge of the Shelf Woodfire Conference in Mystery Bay Australia. The location was stunning - on the edge of a saltwater lake, right next to the ocean.
Those clouds soon disappeared and we had 3 weeks of glorious blue skies. Unfortunately for my blog, the internet access was extremely limited so I wasn't able to post live. Instead I will put up a series of posts that illustrate the event.

There were 21 demonstrators from around the world - France, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, US, Brazil, Nigeria and the UK, invited by Aussie woodfirer Daniel Lafferty and his team. The venue was originally built as a yoga retreat, with a central venue, individual yurts and cabins on acres of beautiful coastal land, that is now often used as a wedding venue. Luxury!
A number of marquees and tents had been erected, one being our 'studio', with racks, tables, wheels and pallets of clay. The first week was taken up with demonstrations, everyone working hard to make enough work to fill the kiln that was being built at the same time. Fueled by great food, excitement and Coopers Pale Ale, the making sessions went well into the small hours - it was almost like being at college again. Seeing the variety of making styles and work produced from the same materials was inspirational.
The arch of the kiln was finished by about day 4, then it was covered by a fireclay, sand and cow dung mortar. I counted myself lucky not to have to mix and apply this but it was impossible to escape the smell of it cooking as the kiln warmed up during the firing.
Most of the clays supplied were commercial but there was an interesting local clay brought in by Daniel, and I made up a glaze from pumice that I collected on the nearby beach.
More to follow soon........

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Beauty and loss

It's been a tense few days. Despite the glaze peeling off some pieces during the firing (again!) it really was an excellent firing, with some truly stunning pieces. Some loud and brash and some quiet.
The glazes are on quite thickly and I am using all unprocessed, self collected materials so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to get a selection of faults, but it is heart breaking to hear and see beautiful pots crack apart. There were no pots this time that failed in the firing and met the hammer on the way out but a few have since bitten the dust as they acclimatise to the outside world.
Hopefully the rest will continue to survive.

Now more relaxed I can enjoy the positives, but I have to think about the negatives to plan the next firing. I've never had dunting before and also a weird fault where the glaze seems to craze not only down to the clay but within itself, so that ash crystals on the surface feel rough and lift off in a little shard of glaze. Very sad that this has happened on an otherwise gorgeous piece.
Some new glazes include plenty from the Malverns. This is a dark semi matt glaze based on the Precambrian diorite and Triassic sandstone there.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Stoked, soaked, clammed and toasted

March and the beginning of April seem to have vanished in a puff of busyness in preparation for me trip to the On The Edge Of The Shelf woodfire conference in Australia. The last major event on my 'to do' list was another firing in preparation for my return.
The kiln was lit early Tuesday morning - nice gentle rise to 1000C by 3pm, then reducing to cone 8's down by about 8pm. Overnight it is held at this temperature - all pots are becoming shiny and sticky and receptive to the ash in the flames. Cones 9 and 10 slowly drop and the challenge is to resist the kilns desire to rise in temperature. It didn't thank us for this and 8am next morning sees it full of embers and sluggish. A change of settings and the embers are burnt away and time is spent getting some decent heat in the firebox, signaled by a lovely crackle from the wood as it is stoked. A combination of front and sidestoking and cone 12's are going over throughout. I raked the embers away from the front floor level pots then soaked for an hour or two till at 3pm the kiln was slowly bricked up, clammed up to seal the gaps and left to cool slowly.
Thanks to Andy for his great help in firing, cooking bacon and toasting the firing!