Monday, 5 October 2015

Speckled Stoneware Clay - Some New Pots and Designs

This year I've been using a speckled stoneware clay more often to make new designs. Some of these designs I make exclusively using this clay because they go together so well. When fired, this clay is lighter in colour than my usual stoneware and is best described as 'ecru'. It has a brown speckle throughout which comes from the tiny flecks of iron inside the clay.

As well as being a lovely clay to throw (it's very smooth and creates hardly any mess!) the speckle feature is very versatile. I often leave areas of pots unglazed to show off the natural bare clay. The speckle is great for this as it has lots of interest both visually and also to touch. It's a very tactile surface when fired and feels rougher than my usual stoneware but has a warmth to it too. It's great for making modern style cylinder shapes like my new large fruit bowls and salt and pepper sets (seen in the photos above).

I've also been using the speckle stoneware as a base for some new sgraffito designs (seen above). My usual stoneware clay is a bit too dark for this type of work, so having a lighter clay has allowed me to develop a new range of blue speckle ware. I've made just a few pieces in this style so far (some of which have been bought straight out of the kiln!) It requires brushing on a blue black slip onto the pot whilst still at the leather hard stage. Then I scratch (sgraffito) a design onto the pot. This reveals the light clay underneath giving a contrast. Finally I use a clear glaze over the whole pot to allow both the blue and the bare speckle clay to show through.

The lighter colour of this clay means that when I apply my usual glazes to it, these look very different too. This creates more versatility and options without having to create new glaze recipes. Most of the time though I prefer to use either clear glazes or an oatmeal glaze with this clay - both of which allow the natural speckle and ecru colour to show through. This style creates a very simple but modern feel which I really like.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the photos of some of my speckled stoneware pots! All the pots in the photos above are currently available in my Folksy and Etsy shops.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Packing and Firing a Glaze Kiln

Yesterday I packed and fired a glaze kiln. Above is a composite of all four shelves as I packed them one on top of the next - number 1 being the first or bottom shelf and number 4 being the top. These are what the pots look like when they've had glaze applied, but before they've been fired. In other words they should look different by the time I open the kiln tomorrow!

When I pack the kiln I use the same shelf pattern for almost every firing whether it's bisque or glaze. In other words I put the same height supports between the shelves into every firing, so the gaps or heights between the shelves are in the same arrangement each time. The reason for this is because the manufacturers put the thermocouple in an odd place, restricting where I can place the shelves (see old post rant here!)

But now I've come to think this was a happy accident! Sticking to the same layout is a great way to fire a kiln. It means I always know that the bottom and top shelf can take higher pots of a certain size while the two middle shelves take lower or flatter pieces of a certain size. Bearing mind that when I pack a kiln I have to lean over into it with heavy shelves and fragile pots covered in a delicate dusting of glaze, knowing in advance where the pots can fit nicely is a great advantage. So having a fixed shelf system has made planning and packing every kiln much easier.

Of course the hardest bit about firing a kiln is the waiting! And I've got another 24 hours at least before I'll be able to open it and see the results. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Candle Bowls

The women in my family have a thing for candles. A long time ago I bought my mum a candle in a terracotta bowl. I thought it was a lovely idea and I suspect mum did too - because she still has it on display in her house unlit after all these years! Back then I didn't know how to make pots - although of course I've always loved pottery. So when I started making pots, this idea kept popping into my head. Recently I thought it was about time I made some for myself. So here they are!

The thing I like about these candle bowls is that they are entirely handmade. I've made the bowl as usual - hand thrown on the wheel using stoneware clay. I chose to glaze on the inside only using a clear glaze so the natural bare clay shows on the outside. Then I've hand poured the candle too using quality soy wax from Aura. The great thing about these bowls is that once you've burned the candle you can clean the bowl and use it again. It makes them extra unique I think and gives them a life beyond.

At the moment I've only made unscented candles because I wanted to see the response. Already I've had a good reaction to them - so in the future I might consider using fragrances. In the meantime I'm also making a new batch of these candle bowls in a speckled clay and might consider colour glazes too. But I rather like the natural simplicity of them as they are now - they have a very calming feel I think. 

I'm really pleased with these candle bowls. They're lovely to have lit whilst meditating or doing yoga for instance and I've discovered they can be cupped in the hand and feel quite cool to touch too. They come with a little card to explain what they are and make perfect gifts for people who have a thing for candles AND pots!

These candle bowls are available in my Folksy and Etsy shops.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Spring Things - Making Bells, Jugs and Bowls

The kiln is on again. This time another bisque. It seems the only time I write a blog post these days is when the kiln is on! But I've been taking photos of some of the things I've been making this past month. Above and below are a batch of new bells or wind chimes I've made for an order. As you can see, each one is handthrown on a wheel just like a bowl and then the base is turned and rounded off. Then I attach little strap handles for hanging them up in the garden or for holding as a hand bell.

These chimes were featured in a great blog post on Remodelista back in March - so they've proved a bit of a hit lately (I've sold out at the moment.) These ones are in the kiln as I speak ready to be glazed hopefully in a few days time.

I've also been making a batch of large jugs for another order and a few one-off pieces including some low cylinder bowls suitable as fruit bowls or serving bowls. Everything was going swimmingly for a while and I made quite a few pieces when suddenly the weather changed. Spring arrived overnight and we had a very dry, warm spell which meant all the pots started drying out too quickly...

Normally during winter I can leave pots out in the studio uncovered and they can dry out nice and slowly in the damp atmosphere. But I took my eye off the ball and forgot to cover the pots overnight when the weather changed...and before I knew it, handles were cracking off and bottoms were splitting! Sometimes it's so easy to forget the obvious stuff. So I lost about four big pots: I had to hit them with hammers to break them up and put them in the recycling bucket. All very upsetting and disappointing, especially as I had to make them all over again!

Above are photos of the doomed pots! The ones that got away. I forgot to photograph the damage (it was much too traumatic). But I've remade all these now and fingers crossed they've dried out properly this time and they're in the kiln being bisque fired as I type.

Finally, here's some little porcelain eggs I made especially for Spring this year. They come in three colours: plain white, pale blue and sage green. Inspired by the little blackbirds I starting making last year, I thought I'd make some eggs to go with them. And because you can't have eggs on their own, I've hand knitted and felted some little nests for them too. These are made using a gorgeous soft Alpaca wool sourced locally on the Isle of Wight. The result is a very cute little set available in my Folksy and Etsy shops. Enjoy!