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, 31 January 2014

Heading to the dark side

Drill out! Whizzing up buckets of slaked crushed secondary kaolin and covering myself with it as well. It turns to slip pretty well after I fish out the larger stones. Then it all goes through at 60 mesh slip to remove the bits of limestone that are unfortunately part of the grit that's in it.
Then plenty of its own grog added, plus grit (mostly quartz with some mica chunks) from degraded granite, stiffened up on plaster batts and, after extensive kneading, it is ready for action.

I've been making a few different forms from it, including some larger composite pieces. It's not that plastic but OK to throw as long as I don't attempt anything over around 30cm.

Most of the pieces that I am making at the moment are starting from fairly simple forms like these.....

....and getting altered and cut once they have stiffened up.

You can see the iron in the body and fired in the wood kiln it tends to come out a dark burnt chocolatey colour with orange flecks where more protected. It is a great contrast to pale glazes as can be seen in this piece. It is also very good with a fluid type of Dartmoor granite glaze, where the iron bleeds out of the body into the glaze with quite spectacular results.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Wet as a...well, a Sunday in England.

This is the view from my windows and it is relentless. the ground is saturated and slippery (full as it is of smectite clay crystals) making the walk to the kilns with a board of pots rather perilous. It's also interfering with the outside work I have to do, such as crushing clays and rocks. Only one more clay body to make up though - a dark firing, highish iron body from the East Dartmoor secondary kaolin. It is quite difficult to throw and extremely prone to firecracking in the bisque, so I have made a good sized bucket of grog to add to it and will take the bisque very slowly, especially around 300 - 700C.
Tomorrow, though, a long drive as I'm off to the Malverns to collect some more mudstone samples and give a short talk to the Teme Valley Geological Society
I 'm taking samples relevant, to the area including this...
Fired up in the front of the kiln - you can see the base was sat in the embers - it is glazed with a relatively refractory metamorphosed, high silica, felsite.
The mudstones I'm collecting are among the oldest clays I have got hold of and I will be using them for a high earthenware firing in my small wood kiln.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Wet, green, moss and ivy covered wood

One good thing to come from the recent high winds, for me at least, is that a few trees have come down and I have had a delivery of logs. This very wet pile is cherry, sycamore and some elm. I've stripped it of most of the ivy and will cover it so that it can season for next year. It seems strange to be thinking of 2015 already, but I have to plan my wood supply well ahead.

After a few weeks of planning, drawing, writing and taking photographs it is a REAL pleasure to get back in the workshop, making for the next firing. After so much time spent in the abstracted world of thought my immersion in the physical world of matter and action is startlingly refreshing. In my workshop with my hands in the clay, music playing, alternating sleeting rain and low slung sun dazzling through the windows, I couldn't be happier. That must be why I love woodfiring. So much in our lives is abstracted away from our direct experience or done by machines that we risk losing touch with our relationship to the Earth. This whole process that I work with, making things from clays and rocks that I have collected and processed myself runs contrary to that, and woodfiring insists on total commitment to the physical here and now.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Winter sun

It's a beautiful winters day - clear blue skies and above freezing - so hopefully the ground and my woodpiles will start drying out so that I can start sawing and splitting wood.
I'm back in the workshop having finished the article I'm writing for Ceramic Review on my firing with Svend Bayer.

 I've also finished grinding all the successful work from the firing and have taken photographs of it , so I thought I'd put some up here.
This large platter is glazed with rocks from Edinburgh, including Arthurs Seat basalt.

This one is glazed using the oldest rocks in England - over 700 milliion years old. They are metamorphosed igneous rocks and Silurian limestone from the Malverns in Worcestershire.
The rocks seem to be quite weathered + so much more refractory than I would have expected. This glaze needs to be placed in  the  hot spots of the kiln.

This piece is glazed with rocks from Cumbria. I'm aprticularly pleased with this as it has captured the somewhat fleeting qualities that can be got from these rocks really well. The glaze is highly varied: aqua, electric blue and purples with white crystallisation.

These last are made from Dartmoor materials with a very dark body made up from an impure secondary kaolin.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Smashing New Year Grog

Ignoring the weather, battening down hatches and sheltering the burner with kiln shelves, I'm hitting the ground running in 2014. I have one of my clay bodies made up ready to use but am still working on some of the others, most of which have to be opened out with grog. This is smashed, crushed and seived from a high alumina refractory clay I have.

I fire this up over 1000C - just enough to bisque it, remove all plasticity and calcine any stray pieces of limestone that are (unfortunately) in it. As long as this happens the pieces teun into calcium oxide and do their expansion and crumbling up when they are added to the wet clay (rather than when glaze fired!)

A lot of the clay I use is highly compacted and very hard. This is one of the few clays I have found that I can use almost as it is, with no additions - though it needs a lot of work with the hammer before adding water to slake it down. I have managed to dry out these clays, which makes them easier to slake - no mean feat in British weather!

The final Clay For Today is this unpromising gravelly looking stuff. It is a crushed and slaked carbonaceous ball clay that actually fires quite white when all the carbon burns out. At the moment it feels completely non-plastic but with a lot of kneading it becomes quite a reasonably useable clay.