Saturday, November 5, 2011

What I've learned (in the clay studio) this quarter

I asked my independent students to write about what they've learned this quarter.
I thought it would be interesting to think about what I've learned, too.

This week I forgot to go back to shut off the kiln. Well, I forgot to do it when I was supposed to. I did eventually remember. (My high school art teacher, sometime after I graduated, apparently forgot an electric kiln for a full weekend. She evidently did not have a kiln sitter, computer or timer on the kiln. I saw the remains of the kiln hanging in Paoli, WI when I went to pick up some materials for grad school. It was impressive, a melted, compacted layer of shelf fully fused with the bottom section of the kiln.)

My kiln (this week) was on schedule for cone 10 to be bent around 6:30pm. I usually reduce a bit more at the end. Once I turn off and close the kiln, cone 10 usually continues to come down.  But since I was firing on Monday, we'd just gotten back from trick-or-treating at 6:30. I made dinner and forgot about the kiln until 8pm. When I went back, the temperature gauge said 2200. The bottom cone 10 was bent, on the top, cone 11 was bent.

The next afternoon when I went in to open the kiln, I was pleased to see that the results were good. We had good reduction on most glazes, the Midnight Black glaze was matte and irregular but only three pieces ran significantly and I suspect the issue was more thickness than time and temperature.

The other thing I learned, was actually something I read but have yet to test. This summer in the clay studio, I attempted to transfer a slip design on paper to a piece I was making. This week I read about the process in Pottery Making Illustrated. One of our adjuncts went to a conference and picked up some extra issues. I haven't had the studio subscribe to the magazine in a while and should probably start again (if our budget allows).

Anyway, the article was Slippery When Wet by Jason Bige Burnett in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue. He demonstrated a technique for transferring slip paintings on newsprint to leather-hard pots. I can't wait to try it myself. I think I had the right idea in the studio but my pots were dry and my paper was too thick. In my own work I do a lot of layering of underglaze. On my sculpture the surface texture usually determines the design, but my thrown functional work has less obvious guides to follow for the color and pattern.

Besides an accidental firing lesson and a clarification on a slip decoration method, I had a few little lessons about life in the studio. Not all were shocking. I discovered that having a program assistant whose job includes helping me advertise and prepare for the clay sale means that I actually advertise and prepare for the clay sale. We used to do this, but budget cuts last year eliminated this position (temporarily, as it turns out). This quarter clay sale attendance was probably up from last quarter because people knew it was coming.

I also learned that getting glaze materials orders in early is better for the studio. Ok, so I didn't learn this. I already knew it. But I usually get this done during convocation. This year we didn't have convocation so, despite my best intentions to place the order during the first week of classes, I didn't. I placed the clay order and didn't got a good list of glaze materials until we started missing them.

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