Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mistakes Firing other People's Work

Last Saturday I taught a workshop for Larson Gallery. It was my last class of 2013, since I will be on sabbatical in the fall and I don't teach during the summer. The class was called "Clay Bells Ring." I had five adults and six kids, plus my own daughter. In an hour and a half everyone made a bell and a few people made other stuff besides.

painting a tiny bell

My daughter was well-behaved and even helpful, though she was one of the youngest. She organized and set out some of the materials, helped me roll some slabs before class and then answered a few questions while I was introducing the project to the class.

rolled texture and sprigs 

The students made the bells by wrapping slabs around paper tubes. Some of the students rolled their own slabs, others used the slabs I had rolled ahead of time. All the students, adults and kids, seemed to really enjoy impressing the wet clay with stamps and rollers. They did this before shaping the bell and after.
stamped texture (on blue) and pinecone rolled texture (on white)

Students used stamps and rollers as well as sprigs (clay molds) and found objects. One of my favorite rolled textures (above right) came from some skinny pinecones we picked up that morning at my friend's house when we went to borrow her toilet paper tubes for the class.

decorating with underglazes
After they formed the bells, students decorated their bells with colored underglazes. At home, after the bells dried, I applied a layer of clear glaze to most of them before firing. 

sharing underglazes

The students seemed to have fun. Everyone made a bell, everyone followed the directions, and a few people even made mugs, containers. or other items after they finished their bells. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in firing the work, so not all of it survived.

finished work at home waiting to dry

At home I let the work dry for most of a week, glazed it and loaded it into the kiln. I set the kiln sitter (the automatic shut-off for the kiln once it reaches temperature) and closed the lid. I planned to fire it the next morning. In the morning, I woke up early and came straight down to the kiln and turned it on. 

fired work after glazing

Unfortunately I must not have been all the way awake when I turned on the kiln because I skipped a step. My home kiln has two dials to control the temperature of the elements that heat the kiln. The dials can be set to "off," "low," "med," or "high." The dials control the temperature, the kiln sitter controls the shut off. When the kiln reaches a certain temperature, a cone in the kiln sitter melts, dropping a metal piece which automatically shuts off the kiln. There is also a timer that will shut off the kiln if time runs out.

kiln sitter (off)

We have this same setup at school. I tell the students to turn the dials to "off" when they turn off the kiln or as they load the kiln even if the kiln sitter is not set yet and the kiln is off. However, I didn't take my own advice at the end of last summer or when I loaded the kiln this time around. I had left the dials on "high" from the last firing (in September). When I woke up early and turned the kiln on, I somehow forgot to check or adjust the dials. Instead of turning the kiln on low to preheat the work for an hour, then gradually turning up the temperature over several hours, I turned the kiln on high right away.


Apparently I woke up completely about 45 minutes later and realized that I hadn't touched the dials in the morning. I rushed in to the kiln to check and discovered that some work had already exploded. I turned off the kiln, removed the bits of clay that were too small to save and replaced the work that was still intact.


As far as I can tell only one piece was completely destroyed and one was broken into more than 4 pieces. Two pieces lost their handles and another piece lost its base. Interestingly, the only pieces damaged were either rather thick (coil handles, etc) or were knocked into something else.

Most of the work survived and fired just fine. Two pieces with handles lost part or all of the handle, but I fired them anyway because I couldn't find the handle pieces. I did some repairs to the piece that lost its bottom and the other piece that was broken into several sections. 

this guy lost his nose and handle

I was surprised that the pieces were so hard to identify after I removed them from the hot kiln. The underglaze, raw clay and glaze all looked the same when hot, though when I loaded the kiln, the underglaze color was visible and the glazed areas looked pink. It was hard to tell where the top or colored section of a piece was. Part of the reason I had to remove the work from the kiln after it exploded (rather than just continuing to fire) was that I didn't know which end was up. If the glaze were at the bottom of the explosion, it would melt and fuse to the shelf during firing. 

underglaze fired without glaze

repaired bell

I will take the work into Larson Gallery today but I am also including a note telling people they can stop by my studio and remake their work if they choose. The pieces I repaired look okay, but the repairs are relatively obvious and there were ones I couldn't repair. I wouldn't want people to feel cheated because I made a sleepy mistake. (On the other hand, I have always thought that a certain percentage of any given clay class population enjoys the explosions. When I used to teach kids classes, a few boys would always ask to blow stuff up.)


Monday, June 17, 2013

Tieton Mini Maker Faire

At the end of the month, on June 29, Tieton will be hosting a Mini Maker Faire in the Mighty Tieton Warehouse.

I am in the process of applying to participate in the Faire. I will be building my "pea pod" sculptures during the Faire and will have several on display to show the end results.

I think the "pea pods" will be a good choice as a demonstration piece because they are relatively quick to make and after they are finished are small, strong and portable.

As I went looking for pictures, I realized I have made quite a few of these pieces over the years. I used to have quite a few wood fired pieces and porcelain forms, but most of these have been sold or given away.

I'd like to make some to be used as part of my wall display for my show next January at Esvelt Gallery, so the Mini Maker Faire seems like a good time to get some done, even if I'm making with an audience.

I can make the forms with limited tools an in a small space. I only need my hands and one or two sticks to make the peas themselves. I don't even need a table for most of the forming, though I usually roll slabs for the pod.

Though I don't always work this way, I believe I will bring underglazes to the Mini Maker Faire so that I can apply them to the leather hard slab and pods. Applying the underglazes early makes it much easier to get even color inside the pods.

The Mini Maker Faire will feature lots of makers, of art and of all other manner of things. I know that one of my clay students, Grace Keller, will be there throwing pottery on her wheel. 

Admission for kids is free, adults cost only $8. The Faire runs from 10-5 on Saturday, June 29 at the Mighty Tieton Warehouse on Wisconsin Ave.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Parker Award

It's Friday afternoon and my grades are in, so I must be on sabbatical. Too bad I need to go back in next week to order clay. I just couldn't get my head around the idea of doing something else productive today. Mostly I just couldn't concentrate in my office. By next week I'll get a get a new audiobook so I can clean my office and place a materials order for the studio. Both are mind-numbing activities that will be more pleasant with a different soundtrack.

Last night was graduation (which kinda makes grading the next day seem pointless). 

photo by David Lynx

I received the Sherrie and Daryl Parker Award. Earlier this year my clay students wrote letters (or maybe they wrote one letter together) to nominate me for the award. Last night was the presentation of this and other faculty and staff awards.

The box was really huge and I was concerned that something was trying to escape.

Apparently the box was huge because the award was huge.

And shiny. It's really hard to photograph transparent glass in a messy house.

There was a nice biography about me in the graduation program. I took a photo but one can actually read it here.

At commencement I tried to thank my students for nominating me for the award but I was distracted by how strange the speaker for the microphone sounded in the stadium. It was also disorienting not to be able to see anything because the setting sun shone right in my eyes. I tried anyway.

I feel pretty flattered getting the award. It's nice to have recognition and kinda fun having everyone congratulate me all day. When I first heard about the award I was especially impressed that my students were motivated enough to write nominating letters. Besides all that, the award isn't just an impressive shiny trophy, but there is also some award money. So, should I spend it on a kiln or a vacation?

Well, I'm off to relax at the beginning of my almost-sabbatical summer, though tomorrow I will interrupt my relaxation for a short time to teach a clay class at Larson Gallery. In case you love clay, live near Yakima and don't already have plans, it appears we still have some space in the class. We will be making and decorating working clay bells. The class is listed for parents and kids, but apparently anyone is welcome to join us, with a kid or not. The class is at 1pm tomorrow in Larson Gallery. You can register today before 5 or just show up tomorrow.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Raku Firing, June 2

All my clay classes had a raku fire today, the second firing for the continuing students this quarter. I forgot my camera, as usual, but some students took pictures and a few may eventually be on our YVCC Clay Facebook page.

Cup and glaze by Alan, photo by Timer Harrison-O'dell
The theme of the firing seemed to be new glazes and mixed glazes. Colors were bright and more varied than our basic raku glazes. The firing went okay, but not as smoothly as the advanced group firing earlier this quarter. We fired from 9 to 2:30 which was a bit exhausting, but some students brought chicken and veggies to grill during the firing so we were able to maintain our energy.

Vase and photo by Timer Harrison-O'dell
We also fired two barrel/smoke firings, one with sawdust, the other with shredded paper and wood kindling. These kilns will not be cool until Monday.

Vase by Janice Buckler, photo by Timer Harrison-O'dell

Upcoming Events
This coming week is the last week of the quarter, which means firing kilns and finishing work. We loaded a bisque, fired a cone 04 glaze kiln and loaded our cone 10 gas kiln too today. This week we will fire the gas kiln twice.

Three of my students, Grace Keller, Shannon Hoptowit and Katie Schnieder, will have their work in the Emerging Artists Show at Oak Hollow Gallery. The show goes up early this week, but the reception will be Friday from 4-6.  Please consider coming to the reception to show your support for our talented YVCC students!

I and my students also have work in the Larson Gallery Guild Membership show that opens Friday from 5-7.

On Saturday Mike Hiler and I will have a booth at June Art Fest at Chalet Place. Our booth will be between Wray's and Oak Hollow Gallery on the cement.