Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Spring Cleaning in the Studio

Snowdrops in the garden

January is nearly over and it looks like Spring is on its way already - as you can see from the lovely snowdrops in my garden.

I've been doing a bit of Spring Cleaning. I've got a few custom orders to make so it's nice to start the New Year fresh with a clean studio. I'm quite a tidy potter (I clean as I go!) because I find it difficult to work when things are messy. So the floor, shelves and wheel needed only a wipe over to get them back to feeling brand new.

Pottery Tools

I also like to clean and sort through all my throwing and turning tools once in a while. I keep them in an old vintage wooden cutlery tray which has a handle in the centre for moving them about in one go. This box normally sits right next to me on the wheel so the whole lot gets covered in splats of clay during throwing.

As you can see in the photos, they've all been given a good clean and are (obsessively?) arranged into separate sections - throwing tools, turning tools, wooden modelling tools, kidneys, knives... I know some potters might think this is unnecessary. But I find it helps enormously to always know where the right tool is kept and also that it's going to be clean and ready to use when you need it.

Throwing Tools and Turning Tools

Once the studio has had a Spring Clean, I find it useful at this time of year to do a complete stock take. This means checking through everything I need for the pottery business including things like glaze materials, stationery items and mailing supplies. And it's also a good time to get up-to-date with all my reclaim clay which can easily build up. So now all my slop buckets are empty and ready for throwing new pots.

As for finished pots, I'm pretty low on these at the moment. Most of the pots from my last glaze kiln (which I fired on Christmas Eve and opened on Boxing Day!) have already gone to local galleries and suppliers as New Year stock. So my on-line shops are currently very sparse. But I've made a long list of pots to make - most of which are my standard ware. As you can see in the photos below, I've already made a start throwing a small batch of jugs, but I'm keen to try some new pot ideas too - hopefully you'll get to see them soon!

Small Batch of Jugs

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Christmas Stock: New Ceramic Bells and Star Tea-light holders.

New Star Cut Out Tea-light Holders

Christmas is officially back on track! In my last post I mentioned I was having kiln issues. Thankfully these were resolved after fitting a brand new isolation switch. The new one is more robust than the last one - which burnt itself out. Hopefully the new one should do a much better job and last longer too.

I was very lucky that nothing else seemed to be wrong with the kiln. I ran a small test firing to check the controller and thermocouple were behaving themselves by programming in a simple ramp of 30 minutes to about 30 degrees. All seemed well. So I spent a week glazing all my pots ready to fire two separate glaze firings.

Un-packing Glaze Fire 

After packing one of these kilns, all I could do was cross my fingers, turn on the switch and hope it all worked! Luckily it did. In fact I had two perfect glaze firings - one of which you can see in the composite above. Some of these pots have already gone out to galleries or for orders. But the rest are available in my Folksy and Etsy shops.

Ceramic Christmas Bells

So now I have a new batch of ceramic hand bells in stock. They come in two glaze options: plain white, and blue and white. And I also have a new version of my tea-light holders with a star shaped cut out. I think they work really well - and I wonder now why I didn't think of making them years ago!

Christmassy Star Tea-light Holders

Events News:

I'm going to be exhibiting at Quarr Abbey again this year for six days beginning next Thursday. So if you're on the island please do pop in. Here's a listing with all the details.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Kiln Issues - A Problem with a Bisque Firing (Christmas on Hold!)

Christmas Bells Drying in the Kiln Room

I'm currently in limbo and don't know yet whether Christmas is cancelled or not! Last Sunday I packed the kiln full of pots for a bisque firing. Most of the pots are Christmas stock ready for the busy season and include a batch of Christmas Bells (see the photo above).

Everything was going well with the firing and seemed normal right up until about 550 - 600 degrees C (which was when I went to the kiln room to put the bungs in). I noticed an odd smell, but thought it was probably just an excess of steam and vapour coming out of the vent. Now the seasons have switched over, my pots are taking longer to dry. So I thought maybe some pots were a bit 'damp' when I packed the kiln, and this was causing the fumes.

Christmas Stock including Star Tea Light Holders waiting to be packed into the Kiln for Firing

It wasn't until I went to turn it off at the end of the firing a couple of hours later that I realised something had happened. Opening the kiln room door, I could see the kiln was glowing orange but the controller and electrics were dead. At this point my heart sank.

I checked the trip switch but that was fine. So something must have happened further down the line. It was evening and I'm always tired on firing day, so I felt pretty down. I was also frustrated with myself for not checking in on the kiln every hour to see progress. So I had no idea what temperature it got to before it went kaput. But the fact the kiln was glowing orange suggested that it might have got close to bisque temperature (which in my case is 1000 degrees C).

BEFORE: Four Shelves of Pots Packed for the Bisque Firing

Pottery is mostly a waiting game, so there was nothing I could do except leave it to cool. This would take at least a day and a half before I could risk cracking it open. In the meantime I must have gone through every possible scenario: explosions from damp pots, collapsed shelves, burnt out elements, frazzled electrics, mice chewing through the wires... I was preparing myself for losing all of my pots (that's a month's worth of work) and having to start again.

Finally Tuesday morning came and I opened the kiln. And this was the result (below). Unbelievably all the pots had bisque fired perfectly! Or at least it seems like they have. They all feel and look like I expect a bisque pot to be. I haven't tested any yet to see how they take on glaze, but I'm pretty sure they're fine. So I'm absolutely chuffed and relieved.

AFTER: Success! Bisque Fired Pots (against the odds)

I also discovered that my isolation switch for the kiln had cracked and a part of the plastic casing has melted. Probably this was the source of the smell. Everything else 'looks' fine (elements, thermocouple, wiring) so I have all my fingers crossed that it was just the switch. I have to wait again though (until next week) before I can get a new isolation switch fitted and have the kiln checked out. So the saga isn't over.

But I now have a new appreciation for my kiln! I suddenly think it's a legend for doing so well and getting all my pots safely through to bisque. I've decided as soon as I get the kiln running again I'm going to make something in thanks: the kiln gods need an offering...

Friday, 18 August 2017

Studio Update: New Shelves

For many years my studio has been populated with odd bits of second-hand furniture and shelves. Building up a studio from scratch often means adapting items you already have. I've always re-used and re-purposed old pieces of furniture that were 'down-graded' from the house and given them a new lease of life in the pottery. And when I needed something extra, I looked in second-hand shops for something to fill a gap.

The trouble with second-hand items though is while it might be cheaper than buying new, they don't always maximise the space. And my new studio - although bigger than the last one - somehow wasn't working out well using my existing kit; I was constantly tripping over stacks of stuff on the floor, whilst there was loads of unused space around the walls.

So I decided to get myself some new shelves. I needed tall, heavy-duty shelving that could withstand quite a lot of weight. I've never been keen on drilling holes into brickwork and didn't feel up to the challenge of designing a whole wall of twin-slot bracket shelving (way too daunting!) So I chose a brand new, self-standing, easy-to-assemble and adjustable metal shelf unit instead - delivered to my door.

It slotted (fairly) easily together and took me half a day with a mallet to bang all the pieces into place. It has five shelf boards (unfortunately chip) which I painted with a few coats of emulsion to seal them and make them more waterproof - a must in a pottery. I would have preferred real wood, but no where seemed to offer it.

As you can see in the photos, I've managed to get quite a lot of stuff onto these shelves with some room for more in the future (weight permitting). The tricky part was deciding where to place the height of each shelf as the 'adjustability' was only before assembly (once hammered in, there's no going back!) So I had to carefully plan where items would go so everything would fit in the best possible way. As a last minute brainwave I chose to fix the bottom shelf quite high off the ground allowing me to slide some heavy buckets underneath - and I'm so glad I did!

So far I'm very pleased with them, they seem fairly solid and I quite like the way they look too - which always helps!