Sunday, November 18, 2012

YVCC clay events: Raku and Clay Sale

This was a busy week for clay at YVCC. We had a clay sale and raku firing, started a Facebook page and unloaded our first glaze kiln of the quarter. And this was a short week with a holiday on Monday!

Clay Sale
Thursday we held our biannual clay sale. We had lots of work, due to prolific Spring and Fall 2012 classes, but I hadn't advertised the sale well, so we didn't have great attendance or sales. The quarter got away from me and I didn't get posters made or e-mails sent or advertising done online.

I had lots of help from students on the day of the sale and I probably should have looked for a way to get help from the students in the advertising for the sale. However, If I had had room in my brain and my scheduled for formulating a request for help, I probably could have just advertised the show myself.

At the request of my students and based on suggestions from sale patrons we will be having another sale around Valentine's Day. I already have reminders in my phone for what needs to be done ahead of time to advertise and prepare the sale and I've even started some of the preparations.

At the end of the sale we had plenty of time and lots of work to box up, so students packed similar work together for storage. Our usual approach is a mad rush to stuff everything into boxes and storage before all my student help needs to run to other classes. This time we grouped the mugs and plates and bowls together. We collected the bad work examples that made it into the sale so we can fix or remove them from future sales and we also collected the lidless pieces and the spare lids.

The clay sale is composed of my work and student work that has been donated to the sale. Some of this work is intentionally donated to help the studio raise money. Some of the work is donated because it isn't wanted by its maker and some of the work is donated halfway into the next quarter when those students haven't come to pick it up. The result is that some of the work is high quality and some is, well, left-overs. More often that I would anticipate, left-over clay work means lids without bottoms or vise versa.


Besides adding some reminders to my notes and my phone's calendar and grouping work to be repaired, eliminated and presented together next time, I also thought that an increased social media presence might be useful at this stage, both for the clay sale and for the clay studio and clay students in general. I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends but also to advertise and talk about my work, post updates on this blog and I am an administrator for the Larson Gallery Guild Facebook Page. The LGG Facebook page has a great deal of "likes" and people can find out about shows and events through their regular feed once they have "liked" the page. The YVCC Honors Program also recently created a Facebook Page for similar reasons.

YVCC Clay Facebook Page
Yesterday I created a new Facebook page for YVCC Clay. Join us for updates on clay events, classes and clay sales. I am hoping that students will "like" the page so we can stay connected in an official class way and I will have an appropriate and quick place to post updates. I usually put links up for them on the Quick Links for Clay Classes page of this blog, but they don't necessarily check this page all that often and I have to remind them that the links are up there. The links, videos and information on the YVCC Clay Facebook page should show up directly in their feed sometime during the thousand times they obsessively check Facebook between classes and after school. (And I'm not trying to pick on students, I know faculty, including myself sometimes, who check Facebook over and over each day.)

Students can post their own pictures of events like the Raku firing and clay sale or post pictures of work they want to share with classmates or with me. We can also encourage community members to "like" the page to receive updates about our clay sales and other events.

Raku Firing
It was raining when I woke up Saturday for the scheduled raku firing on campus, but being Yakima, a forecast of rain all day doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means in Wisconsin or Iowa or Michigan or Seattle. Yakima rain might be an all-day on-and-off drizzle. So I packed up the stuff and went in to the studio.

When I arrived fifteen minutes early, several students were ready and waiting to go. I thought they might be leery of the rain, but the hard-core students were anxious to start and throughout the morning we had about nine students show up.  They also brought sustenance. Somehow we weren't going to starve during our 4-hour firing with two boxes of donuts, two bags of bagels, bananas, Little Debbie snacks, nuts, cheesecake, a veggie plate, coffee, juice and cider.

We started the smoke firing barrels and began loading the cone 10 glaze kiln while waiting out the rain. After loading a few shelves of the big kiln (inside), the rain had let up to just a sprinkle and we decided to hope for the best. We attached the fiber blanket insulated top of the counter-weighted raku kiln and put some kiln shelves on top of it to try to protect the fiber from the rain. We discussed a better option, though, honestly, this is Yakima and rain is not going to be a persistent problem.

We did the first firing with shelves on top, but rain had basically stopped by the second firing and we proceeded as usual. The first firing went well. We unloaded five pieces with no damage and good glaze. 

I didn't bring my camera, thinking we might not fire, and my phone storage filled up quickly, so I have limited pictures of the work. I'm hoping my students might send me pictures of the work I didn't capture in my five photos. We had two clear crackle glazed pieces--they look white because the clay is white when fired and they have black lines in the surface where the glaze cracked after firing and the smoke was absorbed into the unglazed clay--and two copper glazed pieces. The copper glazes react to the reduction atmosphere in the kiln and in the post firing reduction chamber and turn green, red, blue and a coppery brownish color.

I also had one student use commercial underglazes underneath his clear crackle glaze. The results were bright orange and black with crackle lines, but I don't have a good picture of that piece.

I had imposed a new rule this year that work needed to be glazed by Friday afternoon before the Saturday firing. This rule was added due to explosions from wet work being fired too quickly in previous quarters. If fired work has absorbed moisture from applied glaze and hasn't had a chance to dry before being loaded into the raku kiln, the water inside the piece expands when heated and causes the piece to break or explode. This potentially damages other pieces in the kiln. 

Everyone who had work in the first load had followed this new rule, unfortunately, every who had work in the second load did not follow this rule. We loaded the second batch while the raku kiln was still hot. The wax on the bottom of people's pots caught fire and created some dramatic flames inside the kiln before we lowered the top of the kiln and relit the burner. Then the moisture inside the two pieces farthest from the burner caused them to explode.

An explosion inside the kiln is immediately evident. It sounds like several pops and everyone outside knew immediately that work had exploded. We shut off the kiln and opened it to remove the damaged work. I reminded students why the Friday afternoon rule was imposed and we tried to find work that had followed the glazing requirements. Other late-Friday work was put into an electric kiln inside to preheat for an hour before being loaded into the fourth (or fifth--if you count the explosions) raku load.

The second and third (or third and fourth) batches of work in the kiln included some pieces that were not glazed. These pieces were fired using a horse hair effect. The pieces were heated with the rest of the work, removed when red-hot, like all the other work, but instead of being put into a reduction bucket (a bucket filled with leaves or shredded paper) to smoke, these piece was set on a shelf and horse hair was applied to the surface of the naked (unglazed) pot.

Upon contact with the hot pot, the horse hair starts to burn. Where it touches the pot, the burning hair leaves a trail of carbon or smoke permanently absorbed into the clay. This is the same principle as the post-firing reduction buckets (or, indeed, the smoke firing barrels) but instead of having burning material completely surrounding the pottery, absorbing into any exposed clay, the horse hair method leaves most of the clay unaltered and smoke-free. The contrast of the smoked lines from the hair and the raw white clay body creates the beauty in these pieces.

The advanced student who was using this technique was using hair from a horse that had died. The late equine's owner had commissioned the ceramic pieces to commemorate her horse. One of my students posted a video showing a snippet of the process on the YVCC Clay Facebook feed. You can also see more pictures of the horse hair raku process in this raku firing blog post from November 2011.

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