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.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Delight is in the detail

All the grinding is done and I've started taking photographs of every stunner that came out of the kiln, so I thought I'd share some of the details that show why this was such a special firing.

This is from the front of the pack, where the ash deposits are heaviest.

The image on the right is underneath the crawled piece at the front of the kiln.
 I got some stunning watery blue/greens from my new glazes from Malvern rocks.
They are very stiff glazes but react well to plenty of ash.

...and from Eskdale in Cumbria....

This dark glaze is coloured with haematite that I found high in the Eskdale hills. It's a deep blue/black glaze that gives a dusting of gold crystals with ash.

And finally - some electric blues.

Monday, 16 December 2013

An early Christmas present for me.

It was with some trepidation that I started scraping away the mortar from the bricks of the stoke hole and side door, as during the firing I had seen areas of glaze apparently lifting off the surfaces of some of the pots at the front of the kiln and by the sidestoke hole. When this has happened previously the glaze has landed on the kiln shelves, melting there, and leaving bare scars on the sides of the pots. In contrast to my usual contemplation of the pack and firing while I waited for the kiln to cool down, imagining the results I might achieve, I tried to put it out of my mind.
The first view I had was of the front. Apart from an obviously crawled piece to the right, the setting looked surprisingly good. As I unbricked the side door and began unpacking the back chamber I realised that, for the most part, it had been a very successful firing. My excitement grew as I realised that I was unpacking some of the best pieces I have got out of a kiln.

The ashing was good throughout, and though there seemed to be less obvious effect from volatiles (potassium) on the work, there was a good sense of drame through most of the pack.
This quick pic shows one of the pieces from the front of the firebox, with heavy ash runs and some stunning colour.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

All wrapped up ready for christmas

The kiln was lit yesterday morning at 7am, before dawn. Svend Bayer drove over in the fog to help me with the firing + experience the relatively short firing.
It was a beautiful firing - slow rise to red heat, reduction started at 3pm and a steady climb to 1250C. Cone 6 was over by 7pm and cone 8 was over at the front by 9pm.

By midnight cone 9 was over front and back and cone 10's were soft. Svend took the 3am shift and by the time I got up cone 10's were down throughout and cone 11's were looking soft. Often the morning sees pretty concentrated work nudging the kiln out of its overnight slumber and coaxing it up in temperature, but today it was lively and raring to go. Cone 12's were down by 12.30pm, the embers were raked away from th front of the pack and the kiln soaked for an hour. By 1.45 everything was clammed up and it was time for a celebratory ale to toast the firing.
Fingers crossed for equally good results! It's going to be a long weekend......

Friday, 6 December 2013

Just in time....

.....before Christmas and (hopefully) before the real cold weather arrives. The kiln is packed and bricked up. All wood cut and split, with this lovely big pile of finer stuff to start off and to use if the temperature rise sticks.

The starting day is Wednesday, so fingers crossed for reasonable weather. Svend Bayer is coming to help me fire, which is great - especially as he likes the 3am shift (my least favourite).
I have a whole pack of new forms and plenty of new glazes. Many of these are from the last place I collected from - The Malvern Hills - using the oldest rocks in England. I also have some new variations of Galloway glazes that came out exceptionally well in the last small kiln firing.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A hint...

Just a hint of new work that will be going into the next firing.

Layers of darker clays and pale slips that will hopefully provide a varied backdrop to the glazes that will go on top.

These are a very coarse body that I
make up using a secondary kaolin that has derived from Dartmoor granite, and is particularly prone to cracking in the bisque. Solution, fingers well crossed and a very slow bisque firing with lots and lots of ventilation.

Everything is now made for the firing, including the setters, so now comes rock crushing and milling in preparation for the glazes.

Here is the little test kiln filled with rocks, ready for a quick heat up to around 700C to calcine them, amking them (slightly) easier to crush.
My shoulder muscles are going to get a real work out over the next few days. Everything needs to be down to grit size (aroung 3mm max) before it can go in the ball mill.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

What to make?

The issue of what to make is something that I have been grappling with since starting this project. The forms need to help illustrate the qualities possible with the wide and varied type of materials that I have collected. This is complicated by the fact that many of the clay or clay type materials that I am using are extremely difficult to use in conventional ways. size and complexity of form are often limited, but it is within the limitations I have set myself that I am managing to produce a startling variety of colour, texture and surface depth.
Considering the time that needs to be spent preparing these rocks for use and the fact that I often have pretty small amounts of them, it was obvious that I was not going to be making ranges of functional pots. The problem then is what will be the underlying structure of the work. The easiest option would have been to make the forms that are usually associated with woodfiring - vessels with a strong sculptural element, such as teabowls or tsubo. These forms come accompanied by a wealth of relatively well known references, which provide an easy entry point to view and understand the pots. The references are, however, from a culture different from my own and I am extremely wary of superficial cultural appropriation.
There is no tradition of high fired ceramics in Britain (pre-industrial revolution) for me to draw on. Rather, the pots that I am making are a representation of a ceramic landscape that might have existed if history had followed a different path. The forms that I am using to express these ideas are personal to me and have developed from my experience of the materials themselves, the places that I have collected from and what it is about ceramics that inspires me. They don't, however, come with the accessible baggage of well known ceramic references that help draw the viewer in. this is essentially what I have been working with over the summer.
And now, I have a workshop full of drying work, only one clay type still to use and the rock crushing has begun.
These tests are lineblends of rocks from the Malvern area, including red Triassic sandstone, at the top - and bottom an initial lineblend of materials from the Gog Magogs, near my home.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Long time no post

It's been a strange summer. Too good perhaps, you might think, for me to do any work - just spend my days enjoying the sun in leafy beer gardens. But, between beer garden visits I have been working very hard indeed, though this has been a cycle of making, assessing, breaking, recycling and making again. The crux of this frustrating sequence is the problem I have of how best to use the materials I have collected, and how best to illustrate their qualities. Complicating the matter is the fact that I have a wide range of interesting materials that will not allow themselves to be used in the same way. The rocks need high temperatures to form beautiful glazes, but not all respond well to woodfiring. many of the clays that I have can exhibit lovely qualities but at a range of lower temperatures - temperatures that prohibit glazing.
The test firings I have done in my new small kiln have been interesting and gave me some indications of what to do with these lower temperature clays. The last high firing was also useful - many tests meeting straight with the hammer, but a few stunners and some ideas for forms. My aim is to produce a cohesive body of work that spans firing temperatures and firing types and best illustrates the idea that forms the basis what I am doing. No mean feat I can assure you - hence the seemingly endless making and breaking. Finally, though, I appear to have a workshop almost full enough of pieces to fill my larger wood kiln. Some time has gone by since the first of these was made and, despite repeated looking, they are still in one piece.
So, the plan is for a stoneware wood firing with these new forms, followed by stringent assessment and (hopefully) a series of other firings at lower temperatures and in the gas kiln. I will blog again with some images when I am feeling more confident and less superstitious.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Second time lucky

Despite no blog postings, it has been a busy summer. I made a variety of test pieces from ideas of form and glaze that I have been developing over the last few months, mostly concerned with how best to illustrate the qualities that I am getting from the rocks that I am using. After the disappointing maiden firing of the new small kiln I was reluctant to post anything until I knew the results - partly just going with the flow of concentrated effort and partly superstition.
By mid August everything was made (and often broken up and remade), the wood was good and dry....
...rocks were crushed and milled and blended. I packed the little kiln last weekend and started the firing on Wednesday morning at 7.45am.
This time I was much more gentle with the move from hearth to hobs and managed to escape the cracking that occurred last time. It is only a short kiln so the distance between the initial fire and stack is not great.
Once the fire was fully inside the temperature really wanted to shoot up so I took it very slowly over the last 100 degrees to 1000C. I took a look at the weather vane and the wind had changed direction - blowing directly into the village! Dammit! Gritting my teeth I started heavy reduction but to my amazement, as the kiln is short, the chimney had heated up well in that last soak + with the air being drawn in through the passive damper in the chimney base, there was very little smoke. It wasn't very long before flame was shooting out of the top of the chimney. No matter how hard I stoked the blowhole failed to show any flame so I blocked it off + had to rely on the flame (and view inside the chamber) to assess reduction.
The rest of the firing seemed to go well - taking 19 1/2 hours in total to reach cone 12 almost down. A nice clean clam up, no late reduction, and I left it to cool.
By Sunday morning the temp was around 60C so, heart in mouth, opened up.
It was a test firing and at laest half of the pieces that I made did not survive the firing process or the unpacking, however....I got some real stunners out.
This is one of the best - glaze from Galloway rocks
There was a fair temperature variation in the kiln, but this is something that I can exploit. The top shelf didn't get that much ash but for a 19 hour firing I managed to get some wonderful rich surfaces.
This is based on igneous rock from the Malvern Hills - the oldest rock in England.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Peer pressie

I've just returned from Art In Clay at Hatfield after a fantastic show. Not only was it blindingly hot with cloudless skies and long pleasant summer evenings but I was presented with my prize for winning the Peers Award.
The man in the hat,  presenting my prize is Alan Ault from Valentines Clays, who sponsor the Award and the pot in my hand is a beautiful lidded jar made by Fleen Doran, who was apprenticed and works with Micki Schloessingk. Wood fired salt-glaze..
It was also good to meet so many people who read this blog + thus reassure me that I am not just posting into the void.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The maiden firing approaches....

Well....here it is! My lovely little new kiln. Finished and ready to go.

Today I biscuit fired all the work that will go through its first firing. A bit of a stressful bisque really - and very slow. There's a real range of clays in there, from smectitic Fen clays (like the Buttery clay), high silica Leicestershire glacial clays and Malvern Carboniferous era ball clays. Some of these are carbonaceous too, but the most problematic is the green clay. It's very fine, beautifully plastic, but not sticky, but very prone to bloating in the bisque as the sulphur that is bonded to its iron content burns out. It is already dense at 1000C so I did a long soak at 700 - 800C in strong oxidation. Fingers crossed.
Packing Thursday, firing Friday.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Arch and sticky sticky clays

The cloudless skies have re-energised me and I've got loads done this week. the kiln is really taking shape - chimney finished (8ft from chimney floor, which seems short but it's a small kiln) and the arch is in place.

Still quite a bit of cutting to do to fill in the side wall of the chamber, then cover with secondary insulation + finish the firebox roof. Next week I'll measure up for all the metalwork.

Alongside this I've been working with many of the non-stoneware clays that I have collected, including local Fen clays, for an 1150C firing in the new kiln. I have managed to use some successfully, with homemade grog additions, but there's been a lot of cracking going on, with a very late sudden shrinkage that indicates highly plastic smectite clay minerals. My reading confirms that this is often the case with these Fenland clays, making them very difficult to work with. I have found one seam of sandy clay that is quite useable as it is (fantastic!) but only have a small sample of it + the area I got it from has now been quarried out.
This will give an idea of some of the new forms I am making - made from a boulder clay collected at Beacon Hill National Park in Leicestershire.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The pit is opened

It took a couple of days to burn through, but today we opened + unpacked the Pit. Not bad for a first attempt with some good pinks and yellows from the seaweed and some colour from copper and soda, as well as the balcks.
I spent the rest of the day on the new wood kiiln. It now has a sturdy shelter (seemingly pointless in this fantastic sunshine) and only 2 more feet to add to the chimney. Arch tomorrow, along with crushing Triassic sandstone to add to my very fine Carboniferous ball clays from the Malvern Hills. More on this and my new work later.....

Monday, 3 June 2013

Sun, sawdust and the Pit

Almost eight months after first planning to do this, instead of rain the sun was shining beautifully and everyone from my morning Throwing Classes turned up with assorted bags of sawdust, straw, bicarbonate of soda and dried seaweed for the now legendary Pit Firing.
It's been dug into the ground, lined with old and now unusable kiln shelves from my dismantled salt kiln and built up with bricks. If we get enough temperature I'm hoping the kiln shelves might fume + add to the flashing?

It was filled up to the top of the kiln shelves, covered with sawdust and woodchip + then a raging bonfire built up on top to get a good bed of hot embers.
Then it was covered with corrugated iron + left to burn through. It's nearly 6pm now + still very hot + smouldering.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The sun is shining and everything is beautiful

Yes, it's glorious to feel the sun on my pallid skin at last and spend some time outdoors, taking a break from blunging, sieving and stiffening various lower temperature clays that I have collected. I've started making from them but am reluctant to post images until the ideas have coalesced and a firing is imminent.
All my bricks are now trolleyed up the field to my kiln site and I've been able to take the corrugated iron off my kiln base and get working on it.

The three sections of the kiln are now visible - firebox, chamber and chimney. The most difficult thing has been allowing for the discrepancy in sizes of all the bricks I have been using. The base was made up predominantly of previously used 25mm thick heavies (that I got cheap about 10 years ago). It turns out they are shorter than 23mm in length, not by much but enough to cause a slight overhang with my lovely new clean bricks. The chimney section is all being built from other second hand heavies that are pretty variable too.

This image shows the firebox section interior, with hobs and a grate in the floor. All the new clean crisp edged bricks are now being laid dry (without mortar).

...and this is the chamber. On the right you can see the large open throat (with central pillar) towards the firebox, and to the left a chequered flue system to the base of the chimney.
More tomorrow, including making the arch former. The arch an side wall are 26 grade insulating bricks. Once I get that and the firebox finished I will measure up for the metalwork.....oh yes, and the roof.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

To the floor

Making the most of this good weather and am interspersing preparing new clay bodies with more work on the kiln. Here it is....
......up to floor level in the chamber. Dinky little thing isn't it? The firebox has a slightly lower floor and I haven't put the grate bricks in yet. The chimney will have a slightly higher floor so front to back it's on a slight rise. Next thing is to build the small arch that will lead from the firebox to the chamber. I'm thinking of making a small catenary arch for that - three bricks wide so there's little restriction between the two. The plan has been rather fluid up until now, so I need to decide exactly what comes next, how I'm going to do it and how many more bricks I am going to need. I'm going to put an arch over the chamber instead of making it a top loader. It does mean that I will be unable to change the chamber height but also that I don't have to much around with kiln shelf lids or welding a steel frame for a fibreboard roof.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Laying down base

Well well - look at this first image. Blue sky! In Britain! I'd quite forgotten how beautiful it is.
I've laid down a 50mm concrete paver base on a bed of sand and set out the floor plan of this kiln.
It's slightly raised from front to back to allow for a grate in the firebox and a small rise to the chamber and then the chimney. As you can see it's quite a small kiln. Large enough to make it worthwhile firing but small enough to allow me to do frequent differing firings.
The corrugated iron arrived today so the next think is to extend the kiln shed.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

'Raking all over'

Oh dear - bad pun. It could've been worse but luckily I've been listening to The Who Live at Leeds, which is always good inspiration.  I've been thinking long and hard about what to do with some of the materials that I have that will not cope with a high temperature wood firing, such as the fenland clays from Cambridgeshire and have started the slow process of transferring ideas into 3D forms.
Surprisingly the relentless drizzle of the past 12 months has stopped for quite a prolonged period of time, so I've started preparing for my new kiln. This photo is after quite a lot of work (seriously!), clearing old elder and raking up the ivy that chokes everything round here.
This is how it looks now - pretty much levelled off and ready for post hole digging. I'm going to use steel this time to make the frame (far more sensible), then make a good solid pad to build the kiln on. It's going to be a shortish stumpy train kiln with a Bourry type firebox on the front and a single 69cm width by 69cm length chamber and I'm going to use it for more experimental firings. I intend to fire it alone, for up to 20 hours and will start off with some mid range temperature firings.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Thank you and a fond farewell.

Thanks to all of you who came along to CAL and made it such a fantastic show for me. It was heartening to hear from people who read my blog and enjoy it and came long to see my work in the flesh. It's bittersweet to sell the things that I make. Good to sell and see them going to an appreciative home but a rather sad farewell. Here are images of some of the pieces that I bade a fond farewell to this weekend. This piece from dartmoor, with various granite based glazes on a secondary kaolin and ball clay body.
A disc glazed with a variety of glazes derived from Langdale slate and Eskdale granite from Cumbria.......

 .....and a piece from Martley in the Malvern Hills glazed with a variety of rocks that comprise the Malverns complex.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

All packed for Ceramic Art London 2013

Plinths painted, boxes stacked, bubblewrap cut and nervous anticipation. I have a lot of new work, which is fresh out of kilns and just waiting for this weekend. This is a wall mounted panel - Dartmoor Blues. Various granite based glazes on secondary kaolin and layered ball clays. If you are reading this and in the London area from tomorrow to Sunday, please come along. Ceramic Art London 2013

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Farewell old Salty

It's STILL cold and it was snowing again today. I've totally forgotten what it feels like to feel warm and not have to go outside wearing every single item of clothing I own. In between getting everything ready for Ceramic Art London and while I am firing my last few things I've been dismantling my salt kiln. I haven't fired it for a long time and, considering the price of gas, it is far too expensive to fire. It's been coming apart much more easily than I thought it might. Only the lower arch bricks are too corroded to be reused. Most of the bricks are these strange 1 inch thick slivers I got cheap when I returned to the UK. My plan is to build another wood kiln - different design + smaller volume - for doing some more experimental firings. I'll need quite a few new bricks but there's a start here. I will use the salted bricks for the flue + back up and the other way round.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Misty Galloway palette

The preparation for Ceramic Art London continues with yet another firing still to do. I unpacked the kiln today and this test tile was among the goodies that was awaiting me. The photos doesn't really do it justice, but there are a gorgeous selection of smoky, misty whites, greens and blues from a variety of rocks that I collected from my trip to Galloway. The lineblends represent a quite detailed focus on small sections of previous tests and came out surprisingly well.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

New website page

Just a quick post to say that I have a new page on my website - a shop section, where I am going to list work for sale with multiple images. Click here to see it.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A couple to tempt

After a couple of days cleaning up and grinding I am now photographing all the successful pieces from the last firing. I thought I'd post a couple of images of pieces that I will be taking to Ceramic Art London in April. The kiln was full of very new work - mostly quite experimental. Photographing everything carefully is a good opportunity to look closely at new work and evaluate it. If you would like to come to Ceramic Art London and see my new work in the flesh please see here for details.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The light of day

So, after an excruciatingly long wait we opened the kiln yesterday. It was cool enough to unpack on Tuesday but I was flying off the Belfast to do a 2 day Masterclass and public lecture at the University of Ulster. My first visit to Ireland + of course had to sample the true Irish Guinness. Had an excellent time and Belfast seems like a great city. Anyway...back to the firing.... This is a view from the firebox. As you can see cone 12 didn't go down at the front though it did throughout the rest of the kiln. Overall it was a very good firing. As it was longer than usual I used a selection of much stiffer glazes to allow for the extra ash deposits + time, however the results were very similar to my usual firings. the grate was surprisingly low in ash so I think that the quality of the wood we used limited the amount of ash + volatiles flying through the kiln and negated the extra hours we put in. I did get some absolute stunners out of the firing and am currently looking very long and hard at my new work to see what I make of the results. Photos soon.

Monday, 11 February 2013

I can't believe I'm packing in the snow!

It's true. Mixing wadding with a blizzard flurrying around my kiln. My hands have been numb all day.
Here's the front - firebox section. I'm sharing the kiln with Andy - my firing friend - who has recklessly decided to attempt raw firing in a big way. Fingers crossed.
We are doing a longer firing than the usual 2 dayer - an extra day, or as long as the wood lasts! Starting Wednesday so wish some decent weather for us.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

All melted

Glad to see the snow and ice go but not quite as chuffed to see my lovely plastic Devonian freshwater deposited clays come out of the kiln like this.....
Cone ten is clearly pushing them too far - and thus continues my poor success in finding local clays that can withstand a temperature high enough to allow a glaze to be fired on them. Strangely clay 3, which was the black one that bloated severely and seemed very dense at 1000C, has actually done the best and could probably be used as a slip. Clay 6 looks unpleasantly like cat shit and the others are puddles of varying volcanicity. Time for some lateral thinking in what I am actually going to be able to make.