Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christmas Bells and Chimes

For this Christmas season I wanted to try some new decoration ideas. Coming up with ideas that feel new and fresh isn't always easy. Sometimes it can feel like everything's been done before - and it's tempting to just dust off the remainder of last year's stock and hope no one will notice! So to look for inspiration I thought back to more traditional Christmas themes - and struck upon the idea of bells.

Bells used to feature much more in Christmas decorations than they do these days - or at least so it seems. Along with candles, yule logs and ivy. But rather than just make some decorations in the shape of a bell, I decided to make the actual bells themselves. 

Each bell is hand-thrown 'upside-down' just like a small deep bowl. Then the 'bases' are turned and rounded off to form the top of the bell cup. I decided to add small hook handles on each of the bells. This gives them flexibility; they can either be rung by hand as handbells or hung up by a cord to chime in the breeze.

I'm very pleased with the results. Each bell is one of a kind - each slightly different in shape, glazing combinations or handle style. And of course each bell chimes differently too! I think they make lovely gifts - and the best thing about them is, that they're not just for Christmas. They're perfect for decorating the home all year round and even for the garden in Summer too.

Available now in my Folksy Shop and Etsy Shop

Thursday, 3 October 2013

How to Make a Wood Ash Glaze

Glaze Mixing
Over the summer I've been doing lots of glaze testing, and one of these has been to find my own Wood Ash Glaze recipe. It's not an easy process. I gathered together several recipes found in pottery books. All of them had a different take on the process - and sometimes conflicting ideas! I tried out four of the recipes with varying success, but now I think have my own version.

Wood Ash

The first thing I had to do was get a source of wood ash. You need at least a kilo of good grey/white ash with as little rubbish in it as possible: the sort you get after a long hot fire. Luckily my sister happened to have some. This came from a mixture of wood species (Cherry, Eucalyptus and general woody plants from the garden) that had been pruned and burned over the previous summer in a chiminea. This meant the ash was very clean and without contaminants like soil, which you might get from a ground fire. Anyway, my sister had collected all this ash in a bucket with the intent on using it to mulch the raspberries; but instead I jumped in and she very kindly let me have it!

First of all I had to clean the ash. This I did by sieving it to get rid of any last bits of twig, stone, carbonised lumps, leaves etc. I sieved it twice using the same sort of sieve as a normal kitchen/household size rather than a glazing sieve: and I wore gloves, goggles and a mask by the way as this stuff isn't too good for you if inhaled. The photo above shows the powder that was left. As you can see it looks very clean. I decided it looked good enough to use just as it was. Many books talk about washing the ash by soaking it, rinsing it and then drying it back to a powder. But this sounded obsessive and unnecessary to me! Instead I decided to use this powder as the dry ingredient in a recipe like any other.

Sieving The Glaze

After lots of little test batches, I decided on my final recipe. This is based on one found in Stephen Murfitt's The Glaze Book. The main ingredients are:

Wood Ash 38
Feldspar 30
China Clay 20
Flint 12

Although I've also added a percentage of Red Iron Oxide. 

After measuring out the ingredients precisely using an electronic scale, I put everything straight into a bucket of water. Then stir! Simple really. Although it would be if I wasn't wearing goggles, a mask and gloves (the donning of which always seems to bring on fits of sneezing...) The pictures above show just a few stages of making up the glaze mixture, which include sieving it at least three times using a 60 mesh glazing sieve. The result is the lovely rose-pink colour of the raw glaze mixture in the last photo.

Dipping Pots

And then it's just a matter of glazing some pots. Above are a couple of photos showing me dipping a jug into the freshly made Wood Ash Glaze. And below are some photos of the latest batch of pots in their raw glazed state, ready to be packed into the kiln...

Jug with Wood Ash Glaze
Glazed Pots Waiting for the Kiln

At the moment I have no idea if these pots have worked. As I type, I'm actually waiting for the kiln to cool down enough so I can open it and see the final results. It's a bit of a nervous waiting game: it could go either way. Below is a test tile of what the glaze looked like during the testing stages. As you can see, it's a very nice simple wood ash glaze fired in an electric kiln. But tests are only tests, and glazes can behave completely differently when put on a pot. So we'll just have to wait and see...

Wood Ash Glaze Test Tile

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Garden Labels: Ceramic Plant Markers

Talking of gardens...! My last blog post was all about my wild flower meadow garden. But I forgot to mention I also grew a few herbs this summer too: some thyme, lavender, mint and marjoram. These I grouped together in pots on the patio. As I was planting them out it crossed my mind that the perfect finishing touch to set them off would be some plant name tags. And this inspired me to make a set of ceramic herb markers - an obvious idea really!

As you can see, they're a simple rustic design. I made them using stoneware clay and some letterpress stamps which I pressed into the clay when still soft. I selected ten of the most common garden herbs and used a plain white glaze to highlight the lettering. They should be quite hard-wearing even in cold weather - and reusable of course. And they look so pretty against different shades of green foliage. 

You can see a listing for these markers in my Etsy shop. I'm hoping a few gardeners will like them, and I think they make a lovely gift set too. I'm planning to make more markers with the names of popular vegetables and summer salads on them as well. All of this is probably a bit summery just as autumn comes around the corner. But autumn is also a time for shed-clearing, seed-buying, tool-cleaning and general garden planning of next year's crop - so I'm just way ahead of myself for once!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wild Flower Meadow Garden: for the Bees!


Today I thought I'd show off some photos of my summer garden. I don't normally go off-topic on this blog and although it has nothing to do with pots or painting, I've been so pleased with our garden this year I just had to share the results. Shockingly, I also realised I haven't blogged at all throughout the whole of July: so I hope these photos of last month's garden display will make up for that.

In the past five or six years ceramics have taken over most areas of my life: and one of these areas has been the garden. Long ago, before any kilns were installed or bags of clay took up space in corners, I was growing some vegetables and summer salads in my garden, happily pulling up some decent sized parsnips and even having a few successes with mushrooms or the odd little chili plant. But all this greenery requires a lot of attention, weeding and watering which in the end had to go by the wayside in favour of making pots. Pots are very demanding things!

Busy Bees!

By the end of last year the garden had fallen into serious 'disrepair' to the point that one day (inspired by the thought of some exercise) IC decided to pull up every single plant and thoroughly dig over the entire ground. The plan was to have a very low maintenance garden that needed no work at all but which still looked good. So we decided to plant a meadow full of wild flowers especially for all the bees.

Corn Marigolds and Corncockles

This was incredibly easy to do! In fact, once the ground was cleared and most of the weeds pulled up, all that remained was to rake it over a bit and sow the seeds. I purchased the seeds from an Internet site that provides wild flower meadow seed mixes. I chose two mixes full of native plants suitable for all-summer colour and perfect for bees and butterflies. Not all the species made it through to flowering, and probably our original 'home grown' grasses bullied some of them out of a space altogether. But bearing in mind how little preparation we made and how casually I cast the seeds (from a bucket one afternoon in April just before a downpour) I have to say it has been absolutely fabulous.

Secretly I feel it's been our best garden so far - even better than when we grew vegetables. During the whole of the summer drought I didn't have to water any of it, it looked fantastic for weeks, it changed constantly with different species coming through daily and best of all it was full of busy bees!

Corncockle with Corn Poppies in the Background

Here's a link to the site where I bought the seeds by the way. And although I've said this blog post has nothing to do with pots or painting, I have a feeling that this year's garden has already had an influence on me and inspired some creative ideas.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Pots That Pour: New Pouring Jugs and Bowls

New Pourers

Just a quick blog about pots that pour! I do enjoy making pots with pouring lips. There's something about adding a lip to a shape that instantly transforms it into a pot with purpose. It seems to say 'look, you can pour stuff out!' and that makes people identify with them, and imagine all sorts of ways of using them. Also, a pouring lip gives a pot a sense of character - a bit of personality.

Above are my newest pouring jugs. These are a variation on my 'tip jug' - in other words jugs without handles. These are a bit taller and straighter in design and measure about 6.5cm high (that's about 2.5 inches or so). Dispensing with the handle makes using these jugs an even more tactile experience - they feel so nice in the hand and they're easy to grab and use. Sometimes handles can actually get in the way of function; because you have to turn the jug around to get at them. These little jugs are just grab and go! They're available for sale now in my Etsy Shop.

Freshly Thrown Pouring Bowls

And here's my latest 'pots that pour': some new pouring bowls. These are a larger size to go with my drizzle bowls and 'medium' pouring bowls. As you can see they're freshly thrown in the picture - still on their batts. Since then I've turned the bases and they're now drying in the studio. But in the meantime, here's some photos of my smaller sized pouring bowls. I took these recently for listing in my Esty and Folksy shops. Hope you enjoy them!

Pouring Bowls, Drizzle Bowls

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Packing Kilns and Thunderstorms

Kiln, shelves, mask, tongs, gloves and packed pots.

I wonder how advisable it is to pack an electric kiln during a thunderstorm? This was my exact thought on Friday around 7am during a very atmospheric summer thunderstorm that lasted most of the morning.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled around in the distance or crackled close overhead. And I was out in my studio under a flimsy wooden roof, packing a bisque kiln. This requires leaning deeply over into it headfirst to place pots on the lower shelves. An electric kiln remember, encircled by elements made of coiled metal wires and encased within a metal jacket. Like a huge circular toaster…

I finished packing the kiln and closed the lid. Wearing a more sensible hat, I decided to leave firing the kiln until much later in the day when all threat of thunderstorms was over. So now perhaps I should add another safety check to my list when packing kilns.

Bisque fired pots ready for glazing.

Here’s my kiln-packing safety checklist:

  1. Make sure the kiln is switched off. Obvious perhaps, and in fact my kiln has a safety feature which cuts off the electricity supply when the kiln lid lock is opened.
  2. Clear all the space around the kiln. So I don’t trip over anything.
  3. Wear a mask. My kiln has a lot of ceramic fibre around the top rim, which is an irritant, and harmful if breathed in. (Yes, thank you manufacturer for warning me!!) It’s horrible stuff so I wear a P3 mask, an old long sleeved shirt and even gloves so it can’t irritate my skin. I also drape an old tea-towel on the kiln edge when I lean over it to minimize brushing any fibres up into the air.
  4. Mind your backs. Here’s the dilemma: trying to carefully lower a heavy shelf down into a deep kiln with only a narrow gap for fingers and without breaking fragile pots beneath or damaging the sticky-out thermocouple at the side. Oh yes and without any possibility of bending the knees! The answer – do yoga.
  5. Remember the pots. Pots that are ready for bisque firing are brittle like chocolate eggs and sometimes the mind starts to obsess about placing that last extra pot into a tight awkward space. It’s easy to take a chip out of pots this way or make a crack. I use my tongs (which I bought a long time ago!) to place small tricky items lower down in the kiln or between gaps.
  6. Don’t load a kiln during a thunderstorm.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Painting: Mediterranean Still Life

My Pottery Studio - with Easel and Paints!

The kiln is on again today. It’s the second glaze firing, so fingers crossed. But since I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing recently as my last blog post (making more glazes, bisque firing, glazing pots and packing the kiln) I thought I’d blog about something a bit different today.

Remember how my blog is called Pots and Paint?! Originally when I started writing this blog back in 2009, painting was supposed to be the ‘main’ thing I was doing. Ceramics was a newly discovered obsession of mine that I’d only been dabbling in for a few years. But it quickly became obvious that pottery was taking over. In fact about two years ago I said to myself, ‘You know what Jude, I think you’re a potter…’

So the painting got left behind. But the good thing about that was I no longer felt guilty for not painting. In fact, as soon as I made the decision to focus on pots, the pressure was lifted and the idea of painting became more enjoyable. Which is the point after all!

Anyway, recently my sister Sue asked for a set of small paintings for her kitchen: something simple on a Mediterranean theme. And so I thought I’d blog about this latest one I painted for her a couple of weeks ago (I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing it!) As you can see from the photos it’s a simple still life in acrylic, featuring a bright ripe tomato and single clove of garlic.

Finished Canvas

The canvas is very small - about 6 inches by 4 inches with a deep edge – and I’ve continued the background onto all four edges of the painting so it has a slight three-dimensional feel when viewed from all angles: which makes sense I think when you’re sitting at the kitchen table!

So I was quite pleased with the results – and luckily Sue was too! I think it's actually good for me to paint now and then; as a kind of ‘holiday from pots’. The process seems to use a different creative mind-set and momentarily stops me thinking about pots all the time…

By the way, here’s a link to my sister’s blog.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Glazing and First Glaze Firing

Glazing Bird Bowls

Making Glazes and Glazing Pots.

Since my last blog post I’ve been busy making glazes ready to test them out in the kiln. I prefer making my own glazes from scratch using raw materials rather than buying them ready-made. Knowing what ingredients go into each glaze gives me a certain amount of control over the results. It’s also very satisfying knowing you made the glaze entirely yourself: it feels more personal.

The photo montage above features a batch of my bisque-fired pots being glazed ready for glaze firing. Most of the pots shown are my bird bowls in two different sizes (small and large). As you can see the glazes are quite odd looking in their raw state: in fact they’re often completely different in colour to the final fired result. One is my standard white matt glaze - which happens to look pure white in the raw state. But the other one – shown here highlighting the bird-tail handles - has a rusty colour at this stage, which changes to glossy blue/black when fired.

Once all the pots have dried out for a few days they can be glaze fired.

First Glaze Firing.

Actually, I can’t believe I haven’t already blogged about this yet! I did my first glaze firing in my new kiln about three weeks ago. Long story short, it was an incredibly stressful day. Not least because about eight hours in I made the mistake of fiddling with the control panel and accidentally turned the whole thing of! Luckily I somehow retained enough composure to quickly tap in an emergency program to finish the firing before the temperature started to drop. But the less said about that the better…

Well, next day (a full 24 hours after switch off) the temperature had cooled down enough to risk ‘cracking the kiln’. Bearing in mind the ludicrous mistake I made the day before, I was simply incapable of calling it. I decided either it was going to be a complete disaster (glazes running everywhere, pots ruined – the works) or a total success. Luckily it was the latter! In fact I unpacked the kiln muttering to myself over and over that I couldn’t believe it had worked. Every single pot came out perfect! Both of my glazes worked beautifully and I was incredibly pleased with the results. But I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t be fiddling with the control panel ever again!

Cracking the Kiln!

Today I took some new up-to-date photos and listed some of my small white bird bowls here in my Folksy and Etsy shops. Hope you like them!

Small Bird Bowls

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Candleholders Revisited

The kiln is on again today – another bisque. It was infinitely easier to pack this time round and for some reason seems to have taken no time at all to fire. Such is life with pots! But anyway, while the kiln is clicking away in the background I thought I’d catch up with some blogging.

A theme seems to have developed over the course of this year so far. In January I blogged about a small batch of hand-thrown candleholders I was commissioned to make. These also popped up in photographs I took of my first bisque firing in my kiln: both as pre-fired and post-fired pots. So it seems only natural I should blog about them again as a finished product.

I hope you’ll agree they’ve come out beautifully! I decorated them in two different glaze styles. One of these was using two glazes on the same pot: a deep honey brown glaze for the body with a small highlight of blue/grey on the handle. The other style was an all-over design using an olive green ‘wood ash’ glaze. I’ve already sold all the brown ones but the ‘wood ash’ ones are available for sale in both my Folksy Shop and my Etsy Shop as of today.

As I suspected, I ended up keeping one of these candleholders for myself….

Thursday, 21 February 2013

First Bisque Firing

Some little oxide/slip test tiles drying ready for the first bisque.

A few weeks ago I did my first bisque fire in my new kiln! What a big day. Although it actually it took three days…


Packing the kiln wasn’t as easy as it should have been. If I had to make a complaint about my (otherwise lovely!) new kiln, it would be the placing of the thermocouple.

The thermocouple is the device that records the temperature inside the kiln. It sticks out beyond the inside kiln wall (which is normal) but for some reason it’s been placed quite low down (where ‘logic’ would suggest it should be placed at least a third or half way up). Well anyway, the really annoying thing is the positioning is in EXACTLY the most inconvenient place for putting shelves!

Kiln shelves or ‘batts’ are supposed to be positioned away from the thermocouple – at least 2.5 cm above or below - because if placed too close they can damage it when they shrink and expand. Shelves also interfere with the temperature reading because they retain cold and heat more than their surroundings.

Shelf supports and three of the four shelves packed. The offending thermocouple can be seen in the top right photo.

Now here’s the thing. The shelf supports I bought as a ‘kiln set’ come in only two sizes: one short and one a bit taller. They can be stacked on top of each other to get different heights between shelves. So far so good. I currently have only four shelves (one of which is slightly thinner than the others!) and it was recommended to me not to exceed four because of the sheer weight of stuff in a firing. Shelves also have to be placed in a way to give pots enough room 'above their heads' so to speak. Also, for my first bisque I only had enough pots to just fill a kiln: and most of these were fairly similar heights...

Anyway, long story short and taking into account all these little variables (not to mention how heavy and awkward everything is!), let’s just say that Maths, Physics and the Universe were against me: because WHICHEVER combination I tried I could not get my first shelf packed without that infuriating thermocouple getting in the way! Either I had to make a tiny, low shelf at the bottom that could only take flat pieces (which would leave half the kiln empty above the top shelf) or I had to make a ‘huge’ gap on the bottom shelf that teetered on a long column of supports.

In the end I packed the kiln TWICE in two totally different ways, eventually plumping for the ‘huge teetering’ design - even though it made me feel really nervous because of all the weight I had to stack on top. I can only conclude that manufacturers never use the stuff they make…


I can tell you that I was way too tired to turn the thing on after all that! So I just closed the lid and decided to get up first thing next day to do the firing. Being a brand new kiln, it’s better to kiln-sit a first bisque to see how it behaves; which is why I decided to fire during the daytime (rather than put the kiln on overnight for a cheaper electricity rate). You can imagine that most of the day was spent popping in and out of the ‘kiln room’ to check the temperature and see if I’d programmed the controller properly.

Bungs and temperature on control panel (not long after end of firing).

At around 500ºC to 600ºC is the usual time for ‘putting in the bungs’. There are three holes in my kiln: two are vents and the third is a chimney (which I don’t use). These holes let out the steam generated from the last remaining bits of water being burnt off from inside the pots.

My kiln came with two ceramic bungs to plug up the holes, but I had to make a third one from an old piece of firebrick to block the chimney vent. I picked up a tip off the internet (or read it somewhere) that placing a mirror over a vent will help you to check if all the moisture has gone. Well I did this and I was still getting LOADS of condensation even after 700ºC.

Maybe this was because one of the shelves was new and hadn’t been ‘first fired’ yet. Or maybe there was just loads of moisture in the pots or generally in the kiln room (it had rained forever in the weeks beforehand). As this was my first bisque I really didn’t want to risk pots exploding everywhere so I waited until 770ºC when there was absolutely no steam at all before I put in all the bungs.

For anyone interested, my firing schedule was as follows:

First Ramp: 100ºC/hour to top temp 500ºC
Second Ramp: 200ºC/hour to top temp 900ºC
Third Ramp: 100ºC/hour to top temp 1000ºC

In other words I fired up to 1000ºC in 8 hours. Started at 7am and ended (everything switched off) by 3pm.


I thought I would be nervous, impatient or over-excited waiting for the kiln to cool. But by the third day I was pretty blasé about the whole thing: probably because I felt exhausted! Also I suppose I knew there was nothing I could do about it but wait and see.

I left the kiln to cool for exactly 24 hours: so at 3pm I checked the temperature. It was 60ºC - which is easily cool enough to risk cracking the kiln!  So I opened the lid…

Open sesame - top shelf of bisque pots.

And success! The top shelf looked perfect. All the little pink pots looked back up at me, all intact, and all looking like they were supposed to look. There was a bit of a crack in the kiln lid however and some kiln brick had dusted down onto one of my pots. This may prove annoying in the future come glaze firing…however, otherwise all looked well.

I emptied the kiln in stages, letting each shelf of pots cool for about an hour in-between, as they were still pretty hot the further down I went. I was also feeling a bit tired and wanted to unload carefully in case I dropped anything or did my back in leaning over the kiln! So by the time I had everything out it was getting dark.

I’m happy to say ALL my pots and every single piece I put in there (58 pieces in total) came out looking and feeling perfect – no blowouts or breakages at all – which is excellent news. Since then I’ve been glazing them too and they’ve all been soaking up the glazes properly. I’ve yet to see the results of a glaze firing, but all in all I’m very happy with my first bisque. And aside from the ridiculously annoying thermocouple and that little crack appearing, I’m really pleased with my kiln so far too.