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.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Good times

The workshop and kilns seem to be floating on a completely saturated sponge of mud and grass (or is that pond weed?) and a White Christmas seems a long way further north but the festive spirit is building - helped in no small way by my latest glaze test results.
Some may feel that glaze tests are not particularly festive in themselves but when they come out as well as these I feel myself reaching for the mulled wine and a rum soaked mince pie. Happy Christmas everyone and I hope 2013 is a truly great year!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Winter solstice

Ignoring the Mayan prediction and hopes of an alien spacecraft erupting from a French mountain, I decided to look to the future and celebrate the now lengthening hours of daylight by preparing for a test firing.
Much weighing, mixing and syringing later and the test kiln is packed and ready to go tomorrow for the last firing of 2012. These are lineblends of various Leicestershire Cambrian and Pre-Cambrian rocks - variations on previous tests and using some new ash that I collected from the Beacon Hill National Park rangers from wood that grew in the park. Fingers crossed for some good results (the last lot of ash was too full of earth) and no doubt this time tomorrow I will be toasting the kiln with a festive bottle of Fullers ESB.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Festive firing

No post for a while, no Caribbean holiday, just long cold hours in the workshop trying to prevent my feet freezing to the floor. I am also researching a couple of new places to study + went to Worcester University last week to discuss the geology of the Malvern Hills and begin the long process of getting permissions to collect samples. It is a fascinating area with the oldest rocks in England (at a cool 800-600 million years old)plus a huge variety of other sedimentary rocks.
This image shows two of the shale samples I obtained from the geology department fired in reduction to 1270C. Just goes to show that it's not only the clays of the East or the Triassic mudstones of the Midlands that melt at stoneware. The one on the left is a Silurian era red mudstone and the other a grey Carboniferous mudstone. Other than that it's making and remaking for the next wood firing.
It's always a long process making new forms. I liked the later pieces I made so much more than the precursors, so I reconstituted them and carried on making. Time for one more firing before christmas.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Splitting Thursday

The rain held off for around 12 hours - just long enough to get some wood preparation done. Andy came over + we spent the day sawing, carting and splitting waterlogged wood.
We are doing a joint firing next up and making it a longer one (three days and two nights) so need much more wood. Half of this is Andy's and it comes with a fantastic selection of mushrooms. Andy seemed to know which the edible ones were (some looked very much like oyster mushrooms) but we didn't risk it.
This is the nightshift stack + is finished. we have about half of the other wood done and piled up in the dry (no nice neat images to show you I'm afraid - not my style). Next week should see it all prepared and we can just hope for a dry spell to stop the mushroom taking over.

Friday, 2 November 2012

New exciting rocks

The grinding is all done and I have photographed all the successful pieces from my last wood firing. Having survived a truly tenacious cold that struck me down during the Oxford Fair, I have been able to start going through the work - checking codes and assessing what worked and where in the kiln.
This is glazed with one of the new rocks I tried out. It is a pink microgranite from Cumbria. I have been using a pink granite with a very coarse crystal structure from the same area, which gives very stiff glazes that can give a stunning soft chun blue in the wood kiln. From the geology reports I have read I was expecting this small crystal granite to behave in the same way but it is actually very different. It's much more fluid and gives a pale green rather than grey/blue. This piece was in a cooler spot in the kiln with thickly applied glaze and a good hit of ash during the firing.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Oh dear.....

....it's all been too much for these rough bowls. Cone 6 was just a step too far, which is a shame as the Oxford clay based glazed is stunning.
This was attempt number...oh I've lost count...trying to get something glazed made entirely from materials I collected at the Bronze Age dig at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. The body was based on a new seam of Neolithic era deposited river clay that had responded well in testing. Aaah well. Time to get the angle grinder out.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Quick snaps

Here are a couple of quick outdoor photos of pots from the firing.
This first is a little beauty from the front of the firebox, on the floor. It's glaze is based on Dartmoor granite but it has been heavily influenced by ash during the firing. It has a wonderful range of colours including a satin aqua.
The second is a piece from the shelf above, fired on its side with exposed clay and heavy glaze runs.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

It's a good one!

Heart racing + adrenalin coursing through my system I unbricked the firebox and side door.... and slowly and carefully unpacked.
This is a view through the firebox to the front stack. Each piece in the kiln is listed on a map and has to be coded as it is removed so that I know where it is from (what materials it is made from). I'm still going through the pots and there is a lot of grinding to do before I can take good photos but - it was an excellent firing with some real racers in there!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Cones down, beers drunk

The firing finished yesterday, was suitably toasted with Fullers ESB and is now still glowing red hot inside my lovely kiln. Thanks to Andy for his help and stirling night shift work.
I do love the firing process but this one was particularly pleasurable. It can be a bit of a struggle to get the kiln going on the second morning, after a long quiet gentle stoking night, to get the firebox crackling again. But this time was a dream. When I woke Andy had kept the temperature steady and built up a huge bed of embers that were cascading all over the front of the pack. I opened up the grate, closed down the primary air and burnt down the ember bed - a nice easy job that gave plenty of time to make tea. As they burnt down the temperature rose and the cones started gently melting on the front shelf.
The rest of the firing was a gentle climb to top temperature with only relatively subtle changes in the kiln settings. Cone 12's down throughout, which equates to a cone 10 or 1280C. Four days of cooling and imagining and anticipation.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

All set

The kiln is packed and the wood is split and stacked. Kettle, radio, ipod and food all in place. Celebratory post-firing beer waiting in the wings.
The fire will be lit first thing + Andy is over later to help out. Fingers crossed for no rain!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Packed and ready to go

Yep - after a flurry of glazing and wadding and prop making I was finally ready to pack the nice clean kiln this week. I decided to pack a little looser than last time - fewer pieces but more room for flame paths around the stack.
This is the (slightly wonky - me not the stack!) view from the firebox. A couple of larger pieces on the floor and the usual single shelf layer. This next photo shows the back of the rear chamber stack. There are 2 stacks of this size in the chamber. The next has only 2 shelves and some tall pieces up at the top. I'm interested to see how this effects the temperatures and flame paths during the firing.
It's all bricked up now and waiting until next week for the firing. I'm away for a lecture/slide show/demonstration and exhibition and hopefully by next week the rain will have stopped and the wind will be from a better direction.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The excitement mounts

I'm now well into probably my favourite time within a working practice that is, fortunately for me, packed full of very enjoyable processes. The biscuit firings are done, the rocks are finally crushed and ball milled to dust, the wood is (finally) dry in not so neat stacks and I am busy planning the pack for the next firing. The glaze book is open and I'm blending and mixing.
The image is of my trusty steel mortar and pestle. I use this to get the rocks down to grit size so that they can be ball milled. The last rock was a rhyolite from Langdale in the Lake District, which is a fine particled intermediate volcanic rock created from compacted volcanic ash. Despite calcining it is very hard + my shoulders are still feeling it. Even the ball mill struggled. The planning of the pack is very important. Some rocks need plenty of heat and action from the wood to achieve their best while others need protection and a slightly lower temperature. I can also adjust the recipes according to where the piece is placed in the kiln.
The kiln is all cleaned out and ready - ash saved and the floor carefully chiseled to remove setters and glaze runs. This image shows the view from the back chamber into the catenary arch firebox, showing the front grate, packing space and sidestoke grate. Two more days of glazing and then the packing starts. It's a time of real excitement, loaded with possibilities and anticipation.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Holidays over and summer is here.

It's been a long time since my last post and while I did squeeze in a holiday and a festival I've been hard at work preparing for the next firing.
Now the sun has finally come out I have been splitting wood + leaving it out in the sun to dry out. Some of the new wood I got 3 months ago has already started going mouldy due to the incessant rain, so though this is well over a year old, I'm not sure how high its moisture content is. I have some hornbeam left over from the last firing but most of this is oak and red oak. Should be interesting.
First biscuit firing is done and was successful. These are made with a couple of Devon secondary kaolins, which are extremely prone to fire cracking. As you can see they are still in one piece. The kiln is drying out another load and I am crushing and ball milling rocks ready for glazing.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Great firing weather

Finally all my tests dried out and I fired the test kiln up to cone 10, including the clay test bars from North Devon. Here they are in the glorious sun, weighed, measured and ready for boiling.
Boiling? Yes - key stage in porosity testing so that I can get a better idea of how they will behave in larger forms in a glaze firing. ND1 is the clay from Doug's place + sure it's a little overfired, but really surprisingly good. I also put some glazed test rings in to get an idea of glaze fit and got some absolutely spectacular shelling.
Also, now my grog is fired, I'm making some larger pots for the next woodfiring.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Testing times.

Cloud, rain, cloud rain, rain rain, sun(!), HAIL....etc ad infinitum. I've been trying to crush clay for grog but the weather has been against me. I've spent most of the time dragging buckets under cover and out again but did manage to make up all the shrinkage bars from the clays that I collected on my last trip to Devon. One of them is a clay I got from near Doug, which was by far the easiest to use. Very little residue and almost useable as dug. The others are highly compacted and often difficult to crush, but their plasticity seems very good.
The bars will be used to measure shrinkage (drying and firing) and also porosity once fired to top temperature. The test rings will be glazed to check crazing or likelihood of shelling. I think that some of the clays are very high in silica.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Trumpet blowing

Just back from the Art in Clay event at Hatfield this year and, despite the appalling weather, it was a great weekend. I did a presentation on my project, which was well received, sold some work, managed to enjoy the Saturday night BBQ without getting hypothermia and.....won the Peer's award. Every exhibitor gets to vote for someone at the event and this year it was me. I am very chuffed.
There was some great work on display over the weekend + it was good to catch up with everyone, including fellow bloggers Doug, Hannah and Andy. Free stand next year so it's already time to start thinking about 2013.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

More lovely clay

What a beautiful spot! On my trip down to Devon I visited Doug, to see him of course, and to get my hands on some of the clay he has been talking about. This image is of the small stream running along the valley near his workshop.......and here is the clay.
It's lovely and plastic with very little residue in it, but a seeming medium to high iron content. My initial theory is that it is a contaminated clay deposit that had its origins in the decomposed granite of dartmoor as it lies roughly along the Sticklepath fault. After this I headed further up the fault line to the north Devon clay deposits (past the sadly closed Meeth deposit (which is for sale if anyone has a spare £550,000). The clays here have travelled some distance from their Dartmoor origins. The clay particles have been bashed around more in transport, are smaller and therefore very plastic. This is an exposed face showing about 6 different seams.
Let the tests begin.....

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Excellent firing!

After a couple of days grinding I've had the chance to look more carefully at the pieces that came out of the firing. It doesn't seem to have been quite as heavily reduced as previously (less carbon trapping in the body away from the firebox) but there was good consistent reduction throughout the kiln. I adapted a few of the glazes after the last firing and most of these worked very well - slightly less fluid, so less shine and more crystal growth with the ash. Still plenty of chun development too, which I'm very happy about. This first is from the front of the firebox. All Dartmoor materials with heavily textured surface. It has some fantastic colour variations on it. The blue is from a partial glaze developed from dartmoor granite that has reacted well with the ash deposits during the firing. The second is also from Dartmoor, a bit further back in the pack, and a very low silica glaze that reacts rather like a shino. When it fluxes it can produce beautiful blue/green drips. The third pot has the same glaze but was at right up at the front of the pack. It was buried in the embers for most of the firing and has some remarkable alumina pinks and a highly crystalline surface. The fourth piece was from the main chamber. It is glazed with a combination of glazes developed from three different igneous rocks that I collected from Galloway in Scotland. It was the first time I had put these glazes in a wood firing and they came out way above my expectations. Generally quite high in iron (intermediate rocks) but one of them produces a lovely subtle pale green.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Unpacking day

Went up to the kiln early to check the temp and found the lock forced on my shed and my chainsaw stolen. I was hoping that this was not an omen for the firing and.........it wasn't!!!!! Quite a few new glazes and clay bodies in there, so quite a high potential for disaster but as I sit here typing this I am very very happy. Some absolute stunners in there and some good results from new materials. This is glazed with blends of rocks from Galloway, when I visited Hannah. The granodiorite is pretty high in iron, hence the dark colours, but luckily I found another lower iron igneous rock to soften the tones. This next one is amazingly blue - it's such a pleasant surprise when that happens. Most of the failures were one particular glaze, which I developed from Haytor KSpar (that I painstakingly separated by hand) and suffered truly appalling melon skin. Will take photos + post. Now a goos few days of grinding and cataloging and photo taking. Will post more proper images when I have them.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

You're fired!

Yes, the firing is done. Finished this afternoon and toasted with some quality ale.
I'm very happy with how the firing went, the kiln was really responsive. It stuck a little a couple of times but was pretty easy to get a good steady temperature rise in a constant reduction - thanks to the trusty blowhole there...
Thanks to Andy for all his help, especially with the graveyard shift and helping to coax down the cone 12 at the front. After 30 hours all cone 12's were down with the cone 15's still standing.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The sun is shining in a pure blue sky.....

....the kiln is packed and bricked up and ready to go.
This is a view from the firebox of the front packing space. The next image is of the side chamber just as I was beginning to brick up. Everything in the kiln is made from clays that I have crushed and prepared and glazed with mixtures of rocks I have collected apart from 2 lonely mugs (got to have a couple of mugs for Hatfield!)
It's taken about three solid months of work to get everything ready for this firing, whereas in the past, with prepared clays etc, it would've taken me about a month. As long as this sun and breeze continues the wood stacks should be good and dry for firing next week. hooray!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Well it's been ages since my last post.....I've been busy. crushing compacted clays and mudstones, blunging and ball milling, making my own grog, preparing clay bodies and finally weeks of making. Some of these clay bodies are pretty difficult to work with so far too tedious to film or write about. I've had far more success with them in the biscuit firings so the various grogs seem to be working. Then plenty of upper arm development with rock crushing and grinding and finally I am ready for glazing.
sadly no Leicestershire pots in this firing as these rocks do not like the wood kiln (it takes all sorts!) but some new additions from my trip up to Dumfries and Galloway. I'm really looking forward to see how they react to the firing. It's another slow painstaking process. Difficult to apply glazes and each piece needs to be coded so that I can draw up a map of the kiln pack and keep track of what's what. Hopefully firing the week after next so more soon....

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tests are out of the kiln

This is one of the test tiles fresh out of the kiln - as shown in the previous post. It's a series of lineblends of 5 different rocks from Galloway. The top two are very exciting (for me!). Collected from different places but the rock looks identical. It is an intrusion of very low iron granite. 3 and 4 are two different granites - 4 was intruded at the same time as the Lake district granite that I have on my website, but both are strikingly different. Much higher in iron and not, at first tests, that different from the very dark (when collected) granodiorite in 5.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Rock tests from D & G

I"ve taken a quick break from making and done some tests on the rocks I collected from Dumfries an Galloway last month. This tile is a series pf simple lineblends on 5 of the igneous rocks I found. Firing Saturday.

Friday, 6 April 2012

throwing and distorting

It's been a fantastic week. Solid making making making. Love it!
Here's a film of me making one of my new forms.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Making and burning

Is this the summer? Please let there be more after the traditional Easter cold spell.
With the sun on my face I've been crushing Scottish mudstone ready for the ball mill, crushing secondary kaolin and (far more enjoyably) actually making some work for the next firing.

This clay is the high carbon (coal) Devon clay that I pictured earlier. It's still pretty coarse and therefore difficult to work with - hence the burner. This piece is only about 40cm tall but needed to be made in 4 stages. Film coming.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The big idea

Here's a vid interview....

...me talking about the idea behind my new work.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Two posts in two days!

What's going on? must be the warm weather giving me a new energy.
The gas kiln is packed and ready to go - for a biscuit firing. the bottom shelf is full of rocks that I collected from Galloway.

Quiet a variety of rocks I collected from that quick trip. It'll be interesting to see how they react in a glaze firing.
This second photo is of crushed and sieved secondary kaolin that I'm making into grog. It is an attempt to stop these highly kaolinitic clays from firecracking so much. I will biscuit fire 3 of these dish fulls then assess the hardness + maybe stoneware fire it.

Definitely the hard + slow way of making clay!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Back from the North

The weekend at Kindrogan with the Scottish Potters was great fun. Absolutely beautiful place, seemingly miles from anywhere, and the weather was fantastic. Such a relief to feel some warm sun on my skin. The demonstrations went well - no major collapsing disasters and I didn't embarrass myself at the Ceilidh (I don't think).
Back home and it's straight into clay body preparation for my next firing. This is clay making the hard and slow way.

The clay I'm preparing today is a carbonaceous clay from Devon that is like a rock. I have to crush it first, then slake it with water. This softens it but fails to make it plastic, so I have to re-crush it later. It is too coarse to go through the pugmill - and I am making relatively small batches as I don't have that much of it. I'm not blunging and sieving it as I want the variation in the clay that its unground texture gives in the firing.

Sitting here after a few days of this I can hardly move my right hand (left hand typing!)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Way up north....

I'm on my way to Kindrogan to do a demonstration weekend for the Scottish Potters + stopped off for a couple of days with Hannah Macandrew to explore + collect new samples

It really is an absolutely beautiful area, plus incredibly geologically varied. There are some extremely old Silurian sedimentary rocks and igneous intrusions of granite, then various other increasingly basic volcanic intrusions. There are miles and miles of rugged mountains and a stunning coastline as varied as the geology: sandy stretches of beaches, rocky cliffs and desolate mudflats.

Pretty amazing lichen too.

It's great to stay with Hannah too + see her wood kiln + lovely pots.
Next stop Kindrogan....

Friday, 9 March 2012

Smashing fossils!

Working on my own it's a bit difficult to get some video or more informative photos done - but hopefully next week....
Taking advantage of the milder weather I've been outside getting various clays prepared for the next wood firing. It's certainly not as easy as opening a bag of readymix and slapping it on the wheel. Most of the clays I have collected are highly compressed, one is literally a rock and needs ball milling. Most need persistant repeated crushing and slaking, such as this one here.

This I collected from Devon and is essentially a secondary kaolin derived from the Dartmoor granite. The black marking in it is a fossilised plant that was trapped in the clay deposits about 30 million years ago in the Oligocene period of the Tertiary.
The clay is highly kaolinitic, with chunks of coal and quartz in it, with yellow strata of iron in it as you can see here. Interestingly for me it is highly refractory, unlike many of the Devon ball clays. Nothing is easy in ceramics though, and after all the crushing, slaking, pounding and making, it is extremely prone to firecracks. If it survives it is beautiful in the wood kiln though.