Saturday, March 30, 2019

Raku Winter 2019

Raku vase by Amber Ryan
Most quarters, now that we are in the new building on the south side of campus, we do a raku firing at the end of the quarter. This quarter we had to shovel first, so we wouldn't be standing in snow. During the firing, students asked me what the bucket of salt was for, thinking this might be related to a salt firing. The uninspiring answer was that the salt was for the ice on the ground. We had a lot of snow and ice this year. 

Extruder bowl by Malea Esqueda

The raku firing process is lots of fun, but also fairly exhausting. We fired on Monday for the hand-builders and again on Tuesday for the throwers. It snowed on Tuesday morning, but not enough to stop us. About half the hand-builders were involved in the process on Monday. In fact, I was a little bit concerned about some of their pieces making it through the firing.

Raku vase by Austin Peart

The raku firing is a pretty intense process for the pots. We fire them up to temperature rapidly, then remove them, with tongs, when the glaze is molten. We take the pots out of the kiln and put them into a bucket of combustable materials (shredded paper, dry leaves). The materials light on fire and we close the top of the bucket to trap the smoke inside with the pot. As the pot cools, the exposed clay absorbs the smoke from the firing, turning any unglazed sections black.

Raku bird jug by Malea Esqueda

Some students took advantage of this effect and used wax to protect sections from glaze. Malea waxed the branches of the tree on her press-molded bird vase. Amber waxed what she says look like cow spots on her white vase and lines spiraling up her blue vase (the first image in this post). The contrast between the dry black clay and the white or blue glaze is striking.

Raku cow vase by Amber Ryan

Some of the students used copper based glazes. The copper in the glaze reacts differently when there is or is not available oxygen in the firing. With plenty of oxygen during the firing and/or after in the reduction bucket, the copper tends to turn green or blue. Without oxygen during the firing, the glaze tends to turn red. In the post firing reduction bucket a combination of reds and metallic coppers can show up.
Faceted vase by Ruby Mayo

We have several copper raku glazes in the studio. Two tend to melt to a glossy finish. On of those, the one we see in Amber's first piece tends to stay a teal blue with not much change to coppers and reds. The The other on Ruby's vase above goes green, red, blue, and metallic copper.  Our  third copper glaze does not melt to a shiny surface, instead it stays rough and even a bit crumbly. This is the glaze used on Ivy's small cups and lidded sugar dish below.

Raku tea set by Ivy Shearer

Several students chose to use a horse hair raku method during this firing. These pieces have no glaze on them. We fire them up with the other work and remove them when the other glazes are molten, but we don't put them in the post-firing reduction bucket. Instead, we take individual pieces of horse hair and apply them to the hot surface.

Horse hair coil piece by Anjela Sevilla
Since the pot is so hot, the horse hair begins to burn immediately. As it burns, the smoke is absorbed into the clay just like it would be in the bucket. Students can control how much horse hair they apply to the surface. The horse hair is burned off by the end, but the smoke from the burning hair is a permanent part of the pot (until it is fired again, or until it sits in direct sunlight for a few months or years).

horse hair extruder jug by Jennifer Martinez

During this last firing I was amazed that Jennifer Martinez's extruded jug survived. The pots go through pretty serious heat shock as they are cooled from 1800 degrees Fahrenheit to the outside temperature (about 30-40 degrees on the days we were firing). This heat shock, as well as the fact that we have to move the hot pots using tongs, can cause the pots to crack during firing. 

Horse hair coil piece by Anjela Sevilla
Angela Sevilla's horse hair pot is entirely black on the inside. That is because while she was applying horse hair on the outside she put some shredded paper inside and set a ceramic biscuit on top. The fire and smoke were trapped inside and had the same effect as the smoke inside the buckets for other pieces.

Pit fired and painted coil piece by Raquelline Llaguno

Raquelline Llaguno was the only student this quarter to choose to fire her work in a pit kiln. In fact, she was the only students in about the last 4 years to pit fire on campus. We set up a metal trash can with a few holes in it, loaded it up with shredded paper with her pot buried in the middle. Then we lit the paper on fire. It fired for several hours and created a variegated smoky effect on her burnished clay surface. Raqui then painted the yellow and red on the surface after the firing.

Extruder bowl (top view) by Malea Esqueda

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ninja Junior Crawl

Lidded Jar by Adela Arciga. The Ninja Junior Crawl Glaze is used only on the lid, where it was applied over a copper/cobalt glaze that caused it to melt.

The quarter ended last week with final critiques and final photos of work. In my clay classes the last week before finals are spent glazing and firing kilns, so that by the end of the week most students are done working and are just waiting on kilns. I also have them all take photographs of their work on a nice clean backdrop and put them in a folder shared with me. The work looks so much better on a backdrop and I like them to get the practice of taking good quality photos of their work. Even if they never do pottery again, they have this record of what they made. All the photos shared in this blog were taken by the students themselves (I did crop some of the students' photos).

Mug by Amber Ryan. Ninja Junior Crawl was applied over a cobalt glaze that doesn't run or flow too much. The dark spots on the side and handle are where the NJC glaze fell off before firing.

This quarter's wheel and hand-building classes were particularly strong. One indication of this was that all students had all but two of their works glazed and finished on time for their last critique. This probably shouldn't be a surprise, but it isn't unusual for hand-building projects to break before or during firing and it isn't unusual to have a few students who just don't get their work glazed in time to be fired, or at all.

Lidded Jar by Lauren Coffey. Ninja Junior was applied on the lid over a  fairly think coat of a semi-transparent glaze.

This quarter I was firing lots of kiln loads at the end of the quarter, but I didn't have really any abandoned student work to deal with after finals were over, meaning the students either took their work home, loaned for the Spring Student show, or donated it to the studio. On the other side of the equation, both final critiques were lots of fun and the students had great work. 

Bowl by Amber Ryan. This bowl has NJC only on the bottom, again over the blue glaze she used on the mug above.
In the throwing class in particular, there were some trends I noticed as far as the forms students chose to make. I'm not sure if a glaze choice can be a trend, exactly, but during their final critique my throwers spent a lot of time discussing our Ninja Junior Crawl glaze. This is a glaze recipe I developed in graduate school and brought to the YVC studio during my second year (while I was heavily pregnant). It was named after my daughter's tendency to kick fairly hard before she was born. I remember throwing for class one day and she kicked so hard she moved my arm.

Tiny bowl by Taelynn Loyd with just NJC
The conversation during the critique focused on students' preferred methods of applying the glaze. Ninja Junior is a crawl glaze, meaning it is designed to have some thickness and pull away from itself (or crawl) on the surface of the pot. When applied alone, as in Taelynn's tiny bowl above, it has a matte texture and cracks in the surface. The edges are linear and the edges can start to peel upwards. With thick applications, it can fall off before firing, or even peel up so far during firing that it barely seems attached. If it is applied excessively thickly, it can start to melt, but it will still pull away into separate pieces.

Lidded Jar by Lauren Coffey with NJC on the lid over a runny copper glaze

When this glaze is applied over another glaze, the other glaze can impact the texture and the shape of the NJC glaze. The reaction of the two glazes together lowers the melting point of the combination. This is sometimes called eutectics. A glaze that melts during firing, but retains a more satin texture will cause Ninja Junior Crawl glaze to also melt a bit, rounding out or flattening the individual sections of the NJC glaze over the top. A glaze that melts to a high gloss finish and also moves on the surface of the pot when in the kiln will cause NJC to start to move and mix with the gloss glaze during firing. In the images shared here, the dark blue glaze melts the least. The red glaze melts the most.

Bowl by Taelynn Loyd
Of course the thickness of the Ninja Junior Crawl glaze also matters. In Taelynn's bowl above, she applied the blue fairly thin, but the NJC is fairly thick, causing it to look different from both of Amber's examples earlier in the post. The NJC on blue in Taelynn's bowl is divided into large glossy blobs, whereas Amber's mugs and bowl with the same blue glaze show smaller and more geometric divisions of the NJC, mostly because NJC was applied thinner.

Underside of bowl by Beau Filbert
Beau Filbert created a thick texture with several glazes, simply based on his application. In the bowl above, he applied a Copper Red glaze, which melted enough to create even drips all the way around, but not enough to drip onto the shelf. He used a think coat of Ninja Junior Crawl on the rim. Though is is a thin coat applied in a small area, we can see how it acts differently on its own and over the copper glaze.

Mugs by Beau Filbert
Beau did lots of experimentation with drips on the sides of both bowls and mugs. In the photo above, the mug on the far right has drips that similarly get thick at the bottom but don't melt off the piece. This glaze combination does not involve NJC.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Donuts and Teapots

Donut teapots by Kaylee Bays
One of the neat things about a good clay class is watching how the students influence each other. I've always observed that a few hard working students in the studio tend to encourage other students to also work hard. This quarter was unusual in that I started and ended the quarter with a full class of 16 students. And all students were doing all the work through to the end of the quarter.

Tea set by Kim Hansen

This quarter I had three advanced students meeting at the same time as the beginning level Functional Pottery class. The advanced students were, of course, working on different projects than the beginners. And in at least one case, the forms that were being made by an advanced student influenced what some of the beginners made later in the quarter.

Donut Teapot by Lauren Coffey
Lauren Coffey, in the advanced class, started her quarter by making three donut teapots. A clay donut is a hollow form thrown on the wheel with hole in the middle. It is a more complicated form to make than what we usually do in the beginning class. It also isn't really an essential form, since there aren't a lot of forms that just NEED to be made with a hole in the middle. I usually introduce this form in the second quarter Intermediate Wheel class and even then, just for fun. The donut is thrown on its side and is often set on end to be turned into a teapot or vase.

Donut Teapot by Lauren Coffey
Lauren's first project teapots were made with thrown lids and lid attachments, thrown spouts, and added feet and handles. Seeing these forms at the start of the quarter and hearing Lauren describe the process during critique got some of the beginning students interested in the form. Kaylee Bays ended up making three donut teapots for her first project, one of them decorated in the most delicious manner as a frosted donut with sprinkles. During critique she showed us how she could also drink out of it as a mug. 

Lidded Jar by Taelynn Loyd

Taelynn Loyd, also in the beginner class, took a very different approach to her donut and cut it in half. Her original idea was to make a half donut teapot, which neatly solved one of the major problems with donut teapots: instability. She ended up not attaching a spout and handle, but her lidded container is a sweet little form and not one I remember any other students making in the past. The piece is quite small and her glaze application a little heavy; the picture above was taken before she cleaned up the glaze drips.

First Puzzle Jug by Lauren Coffey
For her last project, Lauren returned to the donut form but used it in a different application.  She created puzzle jugs using skinny, hollow donut forms for the rim and handle. Lauren followed instructions by Michelle Erickson (see the video below) on how to make the puzzle jugs work and she was able to demonstrate them during the final critique.

When Lauren blew into her jug without covering all the holes, we heard nothing. But when she blew into the jug with her finger covering the holes, she created bubbles in the water in the bottom of the jug. It was an entertaining demonstration to watch, even for those of us who could hear but not see the bubbles. Lauren's presentations during critique are usually full of details and entertaining. During this one she made students guess where the hidden hole might be (hint for blog readers: see the video above).

Second Puzzle Jug by Lauren Coffey
Lauren's first puzzle jug was a simpler design with just one hole. She used it to try out the process, which is fairly involved and requires the potter to throw two donuts, a vase or jug form, and at least one nozzle. She then needed to attach all these parts together and line up the hole in the bottom with the handle hole and make sure nothing leaked.  The proportions of the first jug aren't as elegant as the first, but in person the shine from the gold luster makes the piece more engaging generally. Lauren's second design is more complicated, with three spouts in the rim and a hidden hole besides.

Teapots by Amanda White

This was an excellent quarter in the clay studio, but I'm optimistic for next quarter, too. I have four students returning in the intermediate class and we've finally gotten the 3D printer working again (it was in some state of being repaired or waiting for repairs for nearly all of Fall and Winter quarters.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Loading Lots of Kilns for Class (and Back Pain)

Egyptian inspired sarcophagus and coil vase by Isabella Johnson, before glaze firing.

I have three strong clay classes this quarter. The hand-builders I've written about once this quarter, and when I get my act together, I share some more of their work from this quarter. The wheel class is unusual in that the class started full and ended full. Most quarters, a few students drop after the first day or two, once they realize what the class is about. I'm not sure if they go away because they find it too difficult, their schedule changes, or they don't want to get dirty, or maybe there's something I'm doing that they dislike. I usually lose these students so early that I try not to take it personally.

Wheel thrown mug by Beau Filbert, the pink glaze was misbehaving that day.

This quarter I have 16 throwers total in the beginning level functional pottery and the advanced wheel classes, which meet at the same time. The students laughed at me the first time I said we would need to hurry through critique because the class was so large. They're used to thinking of 35 students as a large class, not 16. (I enjoy working at a college where a large class is 35, not 100) With 16 student wheels, that's the most I can fit in a class without some kind of wheel rotation schedule (I like the pun, I'm leaving it in).

One of four full carts of finished work this week. This batch was unloaded from the cone 10 reduction firing.

Last week was the last week of classes, with three days of finals next week. The last week is often crunch time for firing and finishing work, but the crunch gets worse (or better) with more students, especially when those students have more work. Since all three classes this quarter are composed mainly of hard-working, motivated students that just means there's more work to fire. 

a look into one of the oxidation firings as I was unloading it. Just one real drippy piece.

Monday was meant to be our last bisque firing, but with both bisque kilns completely stuffed, we ended up needing to fire again once those were unloaded. In fact, we ended up firing two more loads. On Wednesday we unloaded the super last final (really, I mean it) load and then later that day the super uper duper last (now I really mean it) bisque loads. Because so much wasn't bisque fired on schedule, we didn't have a chance to fire our gas kiln (cone 10 reduction) twice last week and only fired it on Thursday. 

This little bird on above the handle really caught my eye as I was unloading. I'm not sure whose work it is.

I had started having some back pain the week before, but I figured I just overdid it at boot camp or maybe had been sitting at a desk too much. My usual response is to walk or stretch or exercise it away. I also haven't really had back paint before. But by the end of the day Wednesday my back was really hurting and though I'm still not sure about the initial injury, I think the kiln loading exacerbated the pain. It probably didn't help that I was unloading hot kilns and that the one kiln is very deep.

I might have hurt my back trying to lift this big girl.

Because of the late bisques and late gas firing, after the "super last" bisque loads were done on Thursday, we needed to load the equivalent of more than a full gas kiln load in the electric kilns. The hand-builder critique is on Monday morning, so I knew I needed to get their work into the kiln last week. I mostly unloaded and loaded both kilns (all four loads) myself because students were glazing, one of my studio assistants was ill, and the other had to leave early. I usually load with more help, so that I might lift out the heavy shelves from the large kiln, but then hand them over to someone else. 

Isabella's Sarcophagus and vase after firing. Some thrown work and a woman's head are also visible.

I loaded these kilns carefully, since the hand-builders' work tended to be fairly large. In the large kiln, I put in the tall work at the bottom, but there were a couple of pieces that weren't ready when I loaded the bottom of that kiln. I saved room at the top of the smaller kiln and loaded the remaining large pieces as soon as the student finished glazing. Since throwers don't critique until Wednesday afternoon, I figured I could load and fire the remaining cone 10 work on Monday/Tuesday.

Here's something unusual that we found when unloading one of the last bisque loads. This foot had popped off an inside was some crumbly white material that felt a bit like styrofoam. If you look closely, you can see the shape of the foreign object that got lost in the clay.

My back was starting to hurt pretty bad, so I was relieved not to have to unload and load again without help. (On Monday I should have plenty of support from students and work studies and assistants.) Then, I walked out of the kiln room and looked on one of the work tables. There were two hand-builder sculptures glazed, ready to be loaded, but not on the glazed work shelf. I could tell they were meant to be loaded, and one of them was very tall. It wouldn't fit in either kiln without unloading a serious amount of work. 

We think that a silicon end of a "rubber tip" blending tool fell off, got lost in the recycled clay, then turned up in the middle of the student's clay slab. Since it was small, she didn't notice it until it caused problems with the fired ceramic piece.

So, that is the story of how I ended up coming in on Saturday (with a sore back) to unload two full electric kiln loads and then reload two full electric kiln loads so that all the work could be ready by Monday's critique. (I neglected to mention that I also needed to fire a low fire kiln load with hand-builder work, but there were only about 6 items so that load was pretty small and easy to load--once I had unloaded the cone 10 stuff). I anticipate a fun, interesting critique tomorrow. And no more kiln loading for me until next quarter.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Solid Built Portraits & Snow Days

Sully from Monsters Inc, sculpture by Jaxx Brown. On critique day Jaxx's hand hurt from applying the fur texture the night before.

My Hand-building class recently finished their solid portraits. For the second year in a row, the flipped hand-building class solid built projects have been really successful. This year, the students had an extra challenge added to their project: snow days.

The snow has been beautiful, but also bizarrely disruptive (picture of snowflakes on my car).

During February Yakima Valley College had an unprecedented three class days, two weekend days, and one evening where the campus was canceled because of snow. We had something like 30 inches of snow and at least once we officially had blizzard conditions. Our typical average snowfall is only 2-3 inches for February. If anyone was wondering, this IS what climate change looks like

Isabella Johnson's dog was one of the sculptures in pieces on Wednesday. That, combined with the thin legs and complex fur (really the first is excellent!) made me very concerned about this piece.

Students in Hand-building only lost one actual day of class time, but they also lost two full work days, both at inconvenient times. The first snow day cancellation came on a Tuesday. The day before I had told the students they needed to have their solid built sculptures dried to leather-hard on the surface so that we could cut them apart during class on Wednesday. Usually this would be achieved by leaving the sculptures uncovered from Tuesday afternoon until class time on Wednesday morning.

Raquelline Llaguno redid the eyes and mouth each 3-5 times on this sculpture of her brother. Each time the eyes and mouth got better and better. I would love to see what she'd do with 3 more days. 

Since they couldn't come on campus on Tuesday, about half of the sculptures weren't ready on Wednesday. Luckily no students had left their work uncovered Monday afternoon with the plan to cover it again on Tuesday (because that would be too dry). Unfortunately some students were planning to work on their projects during the day Tuesday or the previous evening. A number of people left campus earlier than planned on Monday because of the snow.

Malea Esqueda took on a seriously challenging standing form. This could have broken or cracked in so many different ways just because of where the weight and balance are positioned.

On Wednesday, we had to adjust our plans. Some students were on track because they had taken care of drying on Monday. Others were a day behind. On Friday some students had their pieces hollowed out and put back together, but others had their sculptures in pieces. I instructed those students to keep the work tightly covered over the weekend with the plan that we'd have everything put back together on Monday. That weekend was the start of the blizzard, and campus was closed again on Monday and Tuesday. 

Samantha Reynolds didn't want to finish the face, but eventually pushed herself to do so. Her attachments of the thin slabbed sections was careful and patient.  

I was pretty worried on Tuesday that we'd show up on Wednesday to a room full of bone dry pieces too dry to put together. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when we came in Wednesday morning to find that everything was wet enough to put back together safely.

Samantha Sugihara chose an expressive position for this portrait of her daughter.  The thin arms and hands worried me, but not only did this not crack during drying, it was dried and is the first solid sculpture to come out of the bisque firing.

All the students ended up getting their sculptures put back together in time for the critique at the end of the week. All the pieces were in one piece* for the critique. Of course several pieces were not as "finished" as the students had intended. Some surfaces were a little rougher or simpler than originally planned, but with only 10 weeks of class time, we didn't really have any room to absorb three missed days. During critique, I often write some prompts up on the board for students to discuss. This time I asked "What would have done differently with 3 extra work days?"

*All the sculptures were in one piece except for this standing dog sculpture. The artist, Isabella Johnson, was working on the sculpture when I realized we'd better measure the length. With the tail attached, the dog would have been too long for our electric kilns. Isabella ended up keeping the tail separate and we have plans to attach it later with epoxy.
I was impressed with the amount of effort and patience the students exhibited for this project. Most of the students were disappointed that they had lost time, but they all seemed to adjust to the disruption fairly well. We had a few pieces with minor cracks, two in the base and a few on features, but so far I haven't seen any serious structural cracks. Last quarter, my Intro to Clay class had some real struggles with cracking, mostly because they didn't do any work outside of class time. A number of sculptures were riddled with structural cracks caused by trying to attach dry clay to wet clay or dry clay to dry clay.

Jennifer Martinez chose to create a portrait of a mask wearing character from a parade in Mexico. I've very unfortunately forgotten the name of this subject, so I'll have to ask her again on Monday.

This quarter's class is a delight. I often find that students who work hard have a ripple effect through the entire class. Students observe their classmates coming in after class, working hard, and being successful, and it influenced them to work hard as well. A bit of a competition gets started in the classroom and students also begin to share recommendations about techniques or ways to improve.

Ivy Shearer created a standing portrait of a muppet from The Dark Crystal, whose name I've also forgotten. Ivy's sculpture broke into more pieces than intended during the hollowing out process, but she patiently put it all back together a did some major repairs before critique,

Most of the sculptures for this class have not yet been fired so it is possible that some cracks will develop or we will discover that a piece was left too thick, risking explosions in the kiln due to hidden moisture. However, I was able to feel most of the pieces of most sculptures this quarter, so I am fairly confident that nothing very thick is hidden in any of the sculptures.