Friday, May 29, 2009

Workshop Complete!

I'm so overwhelmed that I'm not sure I can find my way out of a paper bag, but if you let me talk in slow motion, I'll bet I can explain the Unity Molecular Formula to you. I must admit that the geek in me wants to work out UMF for my cone 10 glazes to see if they'll work in cone 6. Then Marian who was sitting next to me suggested just dipping some tiles and firing them. Where's the fun in that?

Now that the workshop is over, I have almost 200 test tiles to analyze. VC 72 is what I've been using in electric. the tiles next to those are SDSU Texture. It's pretty groovy. John might have better pictures on the Clay Club blog.
We made tiles in sets of 10 in 3 different clay bodies for 3 different firings. I am relieved that my testing at home will never be that complex. I'd say nearly 75-85% are destined to be thrown away or stored out of sight. That leaves plenty to work with for next weekend's firing. I'm probably going to mix up 3 or 4 full buckets and then as many new tests as I can stomach. There are several glazes I would like to line test. I think I bisqued around 75 tiles this week so I'll have to stop somewhere.

Thankfully, I have to travel across the state tomorrow, so I can take a break from all this glaze theory and clear my head.

For those of you who have the inclination, I would highly recommend one of John's glaze workshops. He is an excellent instructor and a super-nice guy. He didn't make anyone in our class cry.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another busy day in class

I got to John's early this morning to help load our second cone 6 reduction load. We loaded it to the top and started it up by 9 am. Yesterday we unintentionally deviated a bit from our planned firing schedule, so we really weren't sure how good the results would be. At first glance the tiles looked pretty good, but there was a chemistry lesson first before we could examine them further.
Below is my set from the first reduction firing, one base, ten color tests, three clay bodies.

Below, the set of tiles on the left are my favorite cone 6 oxidation glaze. A few are good. I really like the finish, a fatty matte, but most of the colors did not impress me.
Meanwhile, John was firing the oxidation load. I'm clueless when it comes to programming firing schedules. When John mentioned ramps, I immediately thought how clever I was to know that ramps are a mysterious root vegetable somewhat like an onion that folks find growing wild up here in the mountains. Then I realized that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. My Evenheat has 4 on/off switches, a kiln sitter and a timer. Then John digressed into a discussion about how he does not trust his electric kiln and other firing horror stories. My pulse quickened and my stomach got a little tight since I had left the house this morning preheating a bisque.
Another student Lauren and I commandeered the reduction firing and went 100% by the book. She's very meticulous and we were relatively confident we were making changes at the right time. We'd make the change, report to John who would shrug and reassure us that it's all real. We followed the schedule and the kiln reached temperature and was shut off at 3:50. It's going to be interesting to compare Wednesday's tiles with Thursdays: identical tiles in 2 different firing schedules.
When we realized yesterday's screw-up, John appeared relaxed as he calmly told us, "That's bad. That's bad." Not the words you want to hear when you're looking for a controlled study. I'm hoping I'll keep my cool like that next weekend when I take the Bailey for its first cone 6 reduction spin.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What am I thinking?

I'm too tired to say much about John Britt's glaze class but apparantly not too tired to come home on Monday and mix a batch of my favorite cone 6 ox base to test in reduction. Nor was I too tired enough tonight to make 75 test tiles.

I really do need some small stuff to fill the bisque later this week, but I rarely make test tiles. I am truly so tired that I can barely type. I am having to proof and correct this meager text often. I have 20 or so pages to read for homework, and I need to be at John's early to unload and reload the glaze kiln. I am learning so much my brain can't even hold it all in. Otherwise I would probably be in bed asleep by now.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Much to do as the school year nears its end

I am so excited to be taking a cone 6 reduction glaze workshop with John Britt this week. The timing is perfect since I was planning my first ever cone 6 reduction firing in the coming weeks. This workshop is going to save me countless hours of testing not to mention fuel. I know my cone 6 glazes in oxidation but really have no idea what will happen to them in reduction. And since my gas kiln is so big (18 cubic feet), it takes me 6-8 weeks to make enough work to fill it. I could easily have ended up with a lot of wasted work.

So I wake up at 5:30 this morning wondering how many bisque loads I have to fire before the glaze fire. The answer is at least 3 and since I won't be home during the day, it means firing at night. My runt of a kiln has no computer so I must actually be awake to flip the switches. So I'll be moonlighting in the studio this week. Potters do it all the time.

My best laid plans generally don't include the little unknown events, like needing to go to my grandmother's this weekend to pick up some furniture or all the little end-of-year activities that our school has planned. This happens to me every year so I have resigned myself to my steep learning curve. I could probably recycle this post next year.
I could actually be busier. This time last year, I was making chess pieces with my daughter's 4th grade class. 20 students made 32-34 pieces each. You do the math. My thinking cap was on, and with advice from my college studiomate, we slipped half and single fired them.

I'll try to post some pictures of the workshop and my current activities. I've been sick and then spent the weekend trying to tame the weeds in the perennial garden without getting poison ivy again. I'm claiming success this time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

You Know You're Living Rural When...

Yesterday afternoon, Allison and I were hanging out on the office side of the partition dividing the gallery from the rest of the house. I heard a "thunk" at the glass door, but didn't think anyone was there since I had not heard the driveway alarm. After a couple of minutes, I decided to take a peek. Standing on the steps right outside the gallery doors was a wild turkey. The gate to the entryway was open, and the turkey just came right on in and up to the door.

It was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. I just wish I had a picture. I was simply too stunned to even think about getting my camera.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Public Education

Here I go again. I've been proctoring for the EOGs in a fourth grade class this week. While I have diligently been performing my duties: sitting, standing, looking around, I have been thinking about whether this school is best serving my children. I really can't believe I'm going down this path again.

Allison is finishing fifth grade and loves school. This has been a trying year though. Her teacher is not very nurturing, is uncommunicative with parents and has appalling grammar. She does not assign much homework, and for that she rocks in my book. I just read a Facebook post from a friend whose fifth grader who was up late typing a paper. A paper? Allison hasn't had any sort of paper to do. She had a much larger project in fourth grade at our old school before we moved. Quite simply she is not challenged.

Ben is finishing third grade and is not a big fan of school. His teacher is very kind, friendly and knowledgeable. However, she assigns way too much homework. Math sheets, spelling homework, reading sheets and up until this week's tests, EOG practice reading sheets every night. The math sheets are repetitive, tedious and lengthy. I don't happen to find worksheets all that creative and if you want to keep a kid's interest, you've got to be creative.

So while Ben is busy gritting his teeth over these math sheets, he's not learning his multiplication tables nor practicing cursive since they have no time for this during the school day. He's so worn out (and so am I) by the time we have fought it out to get the math sheet done that there is no time left. He still needs time to be a kid, doesn't he?

Third grade is a tough year for teachers since it is the first year for standardized tests. Last year's third graders scored only 50% at or above grade level in reading. Scary, huh? So, as I have a moment or two with the fourth grade teacher this week, I ask her about next year for Ben. One word: writing. Fourth graders have the EOG writing test. No wait, that's actually 6 tests. SIX WRITING TESTS? Are you kidding me?

Ben hates to write. So I am envisioning a wretched year for him as they cram sentence fluency, grammar and writing prompts down his throat. As if he isn't already starting to hate school, this will do him in. Me too.

So I feel like we have to make a change. I guess I can go to the elementary school down the road and see how they handle fourth grade, testing and so on. Then I can check out the tuition at the Montessori school in Spruce Pine compared to the cost of homeschooling. There are online homeschooling curricula which could work well for us. I could continue to work in the studio while he does his online schoolwork. Then supplement that with some homesteading projects and field trips. It's really going to change our life.

I'm feeling terribly guilty about considering homeschooling since his schooling would be completely different from Allison's. She wants to go to middle school though, and I have high hopes that he will too. I guess if middle school turns out to be a bust, I will have had some time to adjust to alternative schooling.

We had children to try to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, NCLB and public school seem to be working against us. There's always time to be a full time potter later.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finishing up the Cone 6 wet work

I'm trying to finish up my dwindling supply of Desert Buff and Little Loafers. I have too many clay bodies around, and since I'm going to start firing cone 6 in reduction, I want to re-examine which clay will be best. Here are some baskets waiting for the handles to dry.

The handles are drying across the arms of the thinking chair.

These are some casseroles. I've made some smaller ones in the past which have not been great sellers. I made these heavier and larger. They are all unique but similar in size. If I had to guess, I'd say they'll hold 5-6 cups. I really like to bake in them.

A close up of the one on the left.

I bought some bamboo to enhance the chi in the studio. Five stalks for wealth. The sponge on a stick is not part of the arrangement. Just one of those tools that I had to have and never ever use. I'll bet you have one somewhere in your toolbox.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wild, Wild Life

The kids reminded me of our other snake encounters up here. Last summer, Allison made the shocking discovery of a grater snake in her water shoe. We loading up to go to Granny's Beach and she dropped the water shoes she was carrying on the floor of the van. When she dropped the shoe, the snake stuck its head out. Ben and I heard a shriek, and Allison flew out of the van like a shot! Luckily, Allison was able to herd it towards the back of the van, and we scooted it out into a bucket.

We also found a dozen or so baby ring-necked snakes in the house over the course of last summer. No idea how they got in or what they were looking for. Ben tried to keep one as a pet but set it after realizing we couldn't possibly catch crickets small enough for it to eat. Did I say "we"?
From here on out pets are the kids' responsibility. I gave Allison permission to buy 2 hermit crabs this weekend after making sure she understood that I was in no way going to take care of these things. Jay just rolled his eyes. We have already decided that our next "pets" will be chickens.

This one's for my sister

Around our house when any of us run into the house yelling enthusiastically for everyone to "come see", it's generally a creature of some kind. Yesterday, Jay came upon a large black snake sunning itself on the driveway. As we're all responding to Jay's calls, the snake was headed for the trees next to the garage. We're all looking round the base of the trees when all of a sudden we see its head sticking out of the branches about 5' up.

The snake stuck around for at least 15-20 minutes checking us out. Although the pictures wouldn't turn out, you could see its body on the other side of the tree along the trunk.

As a child, a snake sighting meant a rush for a shovel or hoe and the subsequent horror show as my Mom or Dad chopped up the offensive reptile, no matter how small or what kind of snake it was. To this day, my younger sister is terrified of snakes. It's no wonder. This guy was pretty cool though.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Earth First

I am an environmentalist. My husband is too. We bought this house knowing there was/were improvements to be made. It is more environmentally friendly to remodel an existing home rather than building from the ground up. Okay, I can't afford the PV panels for the roof or the wind turbine yet, but we make every effort to conserve energy, from fussing at the kids to turn off the lights to simply being cognizant of the energy we are consuming.

And while I love my red wine in bottles, I sometimes drink boxed wine. While I don't necessarily want to believe I am a non-bottled wine drinker, I embrace the idea of the greening of the wine industry. Since boxed wine uses significantly less energy to bottle, I wanted a way to imbibe without the stigma of being a cheap-o. Introducing the carafe. They hold an inexact amount of wine, but look delightful on your table. They can be disreetly refilled in the kitchen without disrupting the wine connoisseur atmosphere.

Anyway, like I need to justify my wine drinking. Here are some carafes. Maybe they'll come in handy sometime and make me feel more sophisticated while I'm lowering my platelets.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Feng Shui

Since we started remodelling the basement, my studio and kiln room have become the dumping grounds for all the extra stuff we have. This is all personal stuff with little monetary value whatsoever. I don't want to attract any thieves with pictures of the inside of my house and my priceless belongings.

There are open, rifled-through boxes, tubs of outgrown kids' clothes and let's not forget the doors that will eventually get delivered to the Habitat Store.

The lawn chair is supposed to be there. It's my thinking chair.

I suggested a small storage unit down the road, but since we actually relocated a small family of mice into our house the last time we used such a place, Jay wants to find another solution. His is to move everything back into the still unfinished basement area, so that we can move it somewhere else when we decide to erect the stud walls. The electric slab roller (so kindly left behind by the last owners) is piled with books and magazines and is jammed up against one side of my work table. I'm looking forward to using that slab roller some day.

It might be easier to move the kiln than to find a home for all the other stuff. Notice the large appliance in the foreground, delivered this Monday and due to be installed next Monday, replacing a non-working one. I sure hope they take the old one away when they go.

I'm not much for cleaning so I guess I'll just keep on making pots like nothing's in the way. Now where am I going to put them?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

See, I told you I've been in the studio

Here is some of what I've been working on. I'm using cone 6 clays: Desert Buff and Little Loafer's. I've said before that my garden pots are Riverside Grit, and I could fire multiples in the gas kiln rather than just one per electric firing. So I'm gong to attempt a full cone 6 reduction firing next weekend. I got the link to John Britt's CM article on cone 6 reduction and am intrigued at the idea. I like the idea of saving fuel, time and wear-and-tear on the kiln. I really like my cone 6 glazes and could be very happy firing most of my work to that temperature. I can always throw in a couple of cone 10 firings a year for my beloved shinos. Jay thinks I should stick with one temperature and master it before moving on to something else. I told him I was an accomplished multitasker.

A wareboard of heart bowls drying on the Lockerbie.

Wine bottle coasters and baskets.

More baskets.

I'm excited about the baskets. I've started pulling the handles instead of using cut cylinders. It gives me more options and opens up the creative possibilities. I'm also excited since we have a compressor now and I can spray glaze on these. Harbor Freight has a spray gun on sale, but I'm not sure it will work for glazes. One more research project.

On a happy note, I found my cone 6 glaze notebook which had been misplaced during last year's move. I was much relieved and slept well last night.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Taking a little break

As deadlines loom, I've been breaking my back in the studio, working most of the weekend. I'll post pictures later today unless I'm still working until 9 or so like last night. I'm having a good time, but since it's been raining so much, the work just isn't drying as fast as I'd like. When the humidity reached 81%, I was forced to turn on the dreaded dehumidifier. I have little panic attacks when it's on because if it dries the air too fast, I run the risk of my seams cracking. So I was up at 4:45 this morning checking on the pieces.

Over the weekend I took a little break from work to play with the kids. I was feeling guilty since this was our first weekend without Scout to snuggle with, and Jay was busy fixing the truck (a side note: it actually is fixed this time! Thanks to Lamar's diagnosis and an O2 sensor! Yippee!). But the kids did not desire my presence, so I headed out to the perennial garden. The weeds always require my presence.
And look what I found hiding in the weeds...



Bleeding Heart


And of course, Poison Ivy. I thought I was being very careful, but still managed to get some on my arm. Check out the Celo Photo blog. Perhaps I should have tried the folk remedy?

Friday, May 1, 2009

In the Shadow of the Giant

I just fired another bisque in my little Evenheat. Besides last fall's gas firing in the Bailey, this is the only kiln I've used since college.

I bought it in extremely used condition in 2000 for $175. Jay has replaced some switches, and the extra ring was beat to hell a couple of moves ago, so I no longer use it. It looks like a well-worn time capsule, and since I have to remove the lid completely when loading or unloading, I expect the lid to fall apart in my hands anytime now. The handles have rusted off, as has the screw to keep open one of the spies. The only time it failed to reach temperature was when a screw holding the control panel on rusted and caused a short. That scares me a little, but I really love this kiln.
I'm banking on it being secure enough in our relationship not to be intimidated by the Bailey.