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.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

New year. New start.

Despite my best intentions the frequency of my posts over the last 6 months has been rather low - not due to any lack of frantic activity at the workshop, but possibly because of my reluctance to take my expensive camera there to record my days amid the dust, damp and disarray. So, I now have a waterproof, shock proof (workshop proof) camera to record my process much better.

Most of my making is now over - managed this year without anything freezing and getting ripped apart by ice - and the next stages are well underway. My shoulder muscles are complaining as I type this, as I'm busy crushing rocks in my steel mortar and pestle down to 3mm grit ready for ball milling. This is a carbon rich limestone - one of the few rocks that I wet mill - drying out on plaster.

The second to last biscuit firing is packed and has spent the day on a very low burner drying out. There are some high carbon bodies inside, my milled sort-of-porcelain, and that difficult secondary kaolin body that needs it taken nice and even and slow to prevent firecracking.

The odd little red/brown shapes are setters to put the side fired pots on in the wood kiln.

And finally, for this post, a selection of clay body tests for the next wood firing. I always put a variety of tests in a firing - new clays and glazes - and this time I have additional tests from 2 research commissions I am undertaking. one of these is the coprolite project, and the other developing darker clay bodies using local British clays.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Talking sh*t

....specifically dinosaur dung....fossilised dinosaur dung. I get regular contact from people who are asking for advice and help developing their own glazes out of found materials, but this has to be the most unusual. I have been commissioned by a conceptual artist, based in The Netherlands to develop a glaze that is based on fossilised dinosaur dung - or coprolite as it is properly known.
This is a sample in cross section, showing the variations, seams and nodules in it. From reading up on it I believe that these represent the animals last few meals, remnants of these remaining in the fossil. Items found in dinosaur coprolites include fossilized bone, teeth, fur, plant stems, seeds, pollen, wood chips, fungus, insects, larvae, dung beetle burrows, fish scales, shells, and glassy marine organism microfossils 30 to 50 microns in size.

 This sample has been weighed and calcined to 1000C, reweighed and is then steeping in concentrated acid. I'm trying to get a better idea of what minerals are actually present in the fossil.
...and here are my first simple melt tests and lineblends - again designed to help me ascertain what potential glaze materials are actually present here. These results should tell me lot, including how hard or easy this project is likely to be. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Autumn with a vengeance

Where have the last weeks gone? The last thing I remember is enjoying our long late summer and the wonderful expansive East Anglian September skies, then the clocks went back and now dusk is beginning in the afternoon. It rained heavily all day today and the water butts are full.
As I write this the dark is rising and my feet are icy. It could be somewhat depressing but I find I have a workshop full of pots that are trying to dry and I am well on the way to having my first kiln load. My aim is to make enough pots for two firings in the large kiln, back to back, so that I have a good selection for Ceramic Art London and an exhibition I have in France next year.

 These are made with a couple of different very coarse clays, for the front of the kiln. They will be partially glazed at most. I have one more batch of grog to fire (all prepared and seived and in the gas kiln) for my final large pieces. The largest, at the front, is about 60cm long.
I've also been making a variety of new forms and building up textured layers od slips, from some of the many interesting clays that I have collected. these are for further back in the kiln, where they will be more protected.

I'm making the platters at the moment and then after that the final clay body - a kaolin based almost-porcelain. I'm currently ball milling quartz to go into it (nice and fine - around 120 -200 mesh), then next week it's the other igneous rock additions.
It's a slow slow process, so I'm hoping to fire early next year.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A lack of oxygen

I have collected a huge range of clays from various places that just won't stand stoneware temperatures. Some of these will only take an earthenware firing and others can be nudged up to midfire temperatures as long as the firing isn't too long. I've been trying to decide what to make with these and how exactly to fire them and finally made a decision over the summer.
I used clays from Leicester, North Devon and a river clay from mid- Devon, often mixed with quartz or crushed rock from the area they came from or homemade grog (!) from the same clay, to try and control the high shrinkages. I fired to cone 9, which in my experience is the equivalent of around cone 7 in a non-wood firing. A previous firing to this temp gave a uniform leather brown on everything that came out of the kiln, so this time I decided to change the habit of a lifetime and do a reduced cool. The small kiln drops temp. pretty quickly once the firing is over, so as it dropped to 1000C in about 2 hours, I stoked small pieces of wood and bark in through the sidestoke port fairly regularly, to maintain a nice soft reduction flame throughout the stack and just a small amount of smoke seeping through cracks in the top of the kiln.
Apart from a collapse it was an excellent firing and I began to see what reduction cooling can actually do. There was some wonderful colour variation, black carbon trapping, haloing around wads but most impressively a gorgeous lustrousness to many of the clays. Definitely a starting point for more experimentation.

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.