Thursday, March 28, 2013

Firing a load... pins and needles

I am firing my first full load of glazed Lizella pieces. I'm on pins and needles and will be until I open the kiln. I have some pieces in there that I really love. I'm concerned that the glaze may have seeped too far into the clay, that I might not have let it dry enough between glaze coats, that the glaze may not interact with the clay the way I want, that I may have the glaze on too thick in areas...


I'm not a worry-wart type so I'm not going to spend the next few days fretting and worrying, but it's going to be in the back of my mind.

Every kiln load is a learning experience. I don't want this one to be a bad learning experience!

It's kind of funny. I can remember when I first moved from paint to clay. I was so timid. I felt like every little scrap of clay that dried out was money down the drain. The cost of glaze seemed prohibitive. I was amazed at the cost of kilns, brushes, tools, books, classes.

If a piece didn't turn out well I was bummed. I saved my mistakes thinking maybe I'd figure out a way to fix them someday (ha ha).

Now I have a pottery garden comprised of plants and all those mistakes, broken pieces, pots with pitted or runny glazes and other strange experiments I simply didn't like. I reclaim clay when I can and add it to the soggy area next to the studio when I can't (it's amazing how long a piece of dried clay will retain its shape!). My glaze collection, along with all the additions, is extensive and I only think about cost when I do something stupid like drop a bottle or forget to put a lid back.

Lizella is making me feel like a first time potter again. Who'da thunk it would be such a big learning experience?

This first load is low-fire. I'm working on finishing up the next load which will be mid-fire.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Breaking the clay rules

I typically stretch or completely break all the "rules" when playing with clay.

I remember one of my instructors over and over correcting my tendency to paint rather than place glaze on pieces. "You PLACE the glaze, you do NOT paint the glaze" she would say in horror. I think if she could have slapped the brush out of my hand she might have done so.

I grew up painting with acrylics, oils, water color. The idea of NOT painting with glaze was completely alien to my nature.

It still is. I paint, I don't lay my glaze on pieces. So there.

Another one I was taught and ignore is the idea that you let your glazes dry between coats. Three even coats, blah blah blah. It makes sense when you're working on most pottery creations. You want even coats, you don't want thin areas, weak areas, blobs.

However, I blend and paint. I want my glazes to mix. I want uneven results. I often use 10 or 12 or 20 glaze colors to achieve the look I want. Of course, most of the time I make sure that there's plenty of coverage to protect the finished piece. Sometimes I want the clay to peek through so I deliberately expose or scrape off some of the glaze.

I don't dip my pieces. I paint and get into every little crevice with a brush or some other tool. It's painstaking sometimes but I don't want a solid color anywhere on any of my pieces. Sometimes I miss a spot because I use a lot of texture and layer my clay so there are often little areas that are hard to get into.

At times I look at a difficult piece before I attempt to glaze it I tell myself I have to think more about the glazing process when making a piece because getting into all those little creases and hidey-holes is going to be impossible. I don't listen to myself.

So now I'm working with Lizella, a Georgia clay, as I wrote about in my last blog. It is not a clay that lends itself to my penchant for glazing wet layer upon wet layer. The clay is more brittle than many (OK, all) I've worked with and it absorbs the glaze, weakening the clay. I've already chipped off some pieces while glazing because the edges were saturated with glaze and weak.

I'm learning. Luckily the pieces that have broken off weren't important to the piece and I was able to sand the edges and blend. And no, I'm not telling you which ones I chipped! You'll never know when looking at them.

I'm glad the breakage happened where it did as I can tell it would be fairly easy to have a piece break in half! Especially the way I man-handle everything when I'm glazing. I get so totally into what I'm doing that I don't think about things like fragility when I grab a piece and flip it over.

I've also had some of the additions, like the little balls I add or the flute, come off when glazing. I stick them on when making the piece with clay mixed with magic water. For all the times I've made pieces with other clay I've never had anything separate or not stick.

With the Lizella some of the pieces fall off and separate during the firing process. Some drop off when I'm glazing when they get too wet. Again, aside from one piece I'm puzzling over, all have been fixable, or leaving off whatever fell off doesn't affect the end result.

Today I'm heading back to the studio to finish up some glazing. I had to let some pieces dry overnight as they really were getting too wet to handle.

I'm not sure I'm going to survive my Lizella experiment! I love the idea of using Georgia clay, I love the way the clay is so versatile when it comes to range of firing temps. I think if the end result makes me happy I'll probably learn to adapt.

Keeping my fingers crossed that the pieces hold up when I glaze fire! I'm doing a low-fire load first, then moving onto all the pieces I made for mid-fire.

Photos: All the pieces pictures are glazed and await their final glaze firing. We'll see. The one that looks pink & gray is royal blue and black tulip --- there were a whole lot of tiny, tiny crevices and pockets so I'm kind of expecting to have to refire it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Playing with new clay

I finally got around to experimenting with some Georgia clay, Lizella. I have some favorite clays and have, over time, adjusted to their peculiarities. I had moved from mid & high fire to low fire years back because I like glazing the bottom of pieces. With higher temps you can't put pieces on stilts when you glaze fire as they slump over the stilts.

While Lizella lends itself to a wide range of firing temps from low to mid-fire, I like the darker brown-toned clay that you get when mid-firing (cone 6). I grabbed a bunch of high fire glazes when I picked up the Lizella with the intention of firing high.

One of the biggest adjustments I'm having to make is that I've grown accustomed to making low-fire pieces that can be glazed on the bottom. My designs flow down under. I keep looking at a finished wet piece and realizing I won't like it without glaze on the bottom! Habits. Ingrained.

But I do like to stretch myself so I'm sticking with it.

To semi-force myself to stick with it (cause I know I'll ultimately adjust and like), I bought a bunch more Lizella, more glazes and a couple of other mid/high fire clays last time I was up at Davens. Now I have to keep going!

Luckily for me, Lizella has a great firing range so when I "goof" and make a piece that simply MUST be glazed on the bottom, I can still fire it at a low enough temp to do so. However, I'm working hard to remember when I'm in my creative mode so I can make some mid-fire pieces.

I posted on Facebook a week or so ago that I was playing with Lizella. My FB friends are great --- a number of them who use Lizella added comments, gave suggestions and even posted some pieces for me to see. Art people are some of the nicest people in the world!

I just pulled out my first bisque fire load and will be glazing pretty soon. I learned that Lizella doesn't adhere to itself when wet as well as the clay I was working with... I have to re-fire one piece because part of it didn't "stick" to the other. That's part of the frustration and the fun of working with a new clay.