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My Big Pot March 30, 2007

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Home.

The Big Pot

I hope I get to take a ceramics course again this summer.  I’ve been taking it off and on since 2000.  Sometimes the guy that teaches it takes the summer off.  Click on the picture above for a good shot of a pot I made in that first class.  It’s one of the things I’ve made that I’m the most proud of.  It’s 18 inches tall, and about 14 inches wide at the broadest part of the vase.  It has a pretty uniform thickness ranging from 1/2 inch to 3/8ths.

I used two methods to make it.  The bottom part right up to where it flares out is all coil pot.  And yes, the coils were rolled out by hand.  We had an extruder that would make perfect coil ropes for us, but we weren’t allowed to use it for our first time pots.  The top part was done with slabs.  I built the central cylinder  out of a series of about three inch wide slabs.  One per night.  I couldn’t do it all at once, because the cylinder would be too heavy for the clay underneath to support.  Once that part was on I shaped and scraped it until it was as perfect and seamless as I could get.   I let it dry and harden up a bit for a day or two.

The next part was to put the triangular flare bits on.  I’d never done anything even remotely like this before so it was a bit of a puzzler.  I rolled out a slab, cut some pieces out and played with them for awhile.  I developed a game plan and went to work.  I got all six pieces on in one night and pretty well shaped up.  I let it dry for a day and finalized all the outside shaping.  I let it dry another day and then cut out part of the inner cylinder to open up the top.  The next couple of nights I worked on burnishing the outside and working on the small details. 

Finally, there was nothing else to do but let it dry completely.  This is the first real test of one’s craftsmanship.  If I didn’t maintain a consistent thickness, or changed thickness too quickly, or didn’t join a seem correctly, a crack could appear during this period.  Sometimes these cracks can be fixed, more often they can’t.  It passed – no cracks.  The next is the trial by fire. 

Finished ceramic pieces usually get fired twice.  The first is the bisque firing.  No glazes are applied – the raw piece goes into the kiln and is fired somewhere around 1900 degrees farenheit.  The precise temperature depends on what clay recipe you’re using.  The heat puts great stresses on the structure of your work.  Again, if you crafted the piece very well, no cracks appear.  Some pieces actually shatter during this stage.  Happily, neither of these things occurred, and I was greatly relieved.

Next step – glazing.  HOO-BOY!  This is a biggie.  You can make a beautiful work of art that will turn to crap if you mess up the glaze.  I thought long and hard about the glazing options open to me and consulted with the instructor.  Glazes are a subject you can study your entire life and never be absolutely sure of the results, particularly in a communal kiln.  Check out the glaze link to get an idea of the complexity here.

During my discussions with the instructor he made the point that my piece had a very strong design and didn’t particularly need fancy glaze work.  He also recommended that we go with a low fire glaze.  Low fire means lower temperature, so a great deal less stress.  Pieces that make it through bisque firing can still crack and even shatter at the high fire temperatures.  I agonized over the decision until the last day we could glaze and fire because the class was coming to an end.  I chose a streaky black glaze that showed the terra cotta color of the clay in the thin spots on the bottom portion that ran into a speckly greenish black glaze on top.  Inside I did a clear glaze that makes it water tight.

The above picture shows what awaited my delighted gaze a few days later.  Peacock tail feathers set off and complements the glazes and form beautifully.  My parents gave me some when they moved out of Las Vegas years before, and I just happened to think of them when I got it home.  We had a final night at the class and we all brought our stuff back for a final show and I threw the feathers in.  The instructor saw it and remarked that it looked like it was designed for peacock feathers.  

So there ya go.  The last couple of times I took this class, I’ve focused on learning how to do stuff on the throwing wheel.  The next class is going to be primarily oriented on hand-building larger stuff.


 Just googling around on maybe doing this stuff at home:  Home Raku.  Oh, sweet.  Raku can be tha shiznet.  It’s totally do-able, and not that expensive really.  It was the raku process that I used to create the sleestak Skull that I gave to a formerly frequent commenter.


1. S. Weasel - April 1, 2007

Nice pot. I could never do pottery the traditional way. Gravity and I are not friends. The large size of that one shows considerable skill.

I used to do various small sculptural things with slip casting, though. If you’re not taking a course, it can be very hard to get someone who will fire your stuff. If your thingie explodes, it can ruin a whole kiln full of other people’s stuff — very bad mojo for the merchant.

When the one guy in town who would fire my stuff retired and moved to Florida, I decided to put in for an arts grant. I don’t believe in arts grants, but hey…they’re there and I needed one. I had this idea for a series of sculptural figures, but I needed a small kiln.

So I get the application, and it says “please show us twelve examples of the sort of thing you hope to make with this grant.” Of course, if I could’ve made twelve samples, I wouldn’t need their goddamn grant.

First and last attempt to suckle at the teat of the state. I gave up ceramics instead.

2. Retired Geezer - April 1, 2007

Nice pot, Enas. I can appreciate the difficulty level. You don’t want to make it too thick or too thin.

Mrs. Geezer and my mom were taking a pottery class in Vegas. I dropped in one day and watched for a while. They were having trouble throwing pots on the wheel so I sat down and did a pretty good one first try. It just looked mechanical and therefore easy for me. It was just a little 4″ bowl.

They were amazed.

If your thingie explodes, it can ruin a whole kiln full of other people’s stuff

Oh yeah, that’s a clear and present danger. I bought Mrs. Geezer a small kiln. We haven’t set it up yet because I have to run special wiring.

And you’re right about the Glazes being unpredictable.

3. Retired Geezer - April 1, 2007

Hey that Raku kiln looks pretty good. It only requires 15 amps so you can run it on most (outdoor) home circuits. Ours requires 20 amps so I have to run #12 wire for a dedicated circuit. No big deal but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

4. Elzbth - April 2, 2007

Great looking pot! What do you want to make in this next class?

5. Enas Yorl - April 2, 2007

Thanks for the compliments! Y’all are too kind.

I want to concentrate on sculptural forms next time. The instructor for the class usually spends his time making large, abstract, complex sculptures simply by simply plopping one bit of clay on top of another and pinching them together. I guess it’s like doing coil pots, except he uses very short coils! Anyway, this method allows him to build them quite quickly. Last class I did one too and it came out very nice. Unfortunately, it got knocked over and broken in short order by accident. I didn’t even get a picture of it.

Sculptures! Masks! Rakus! Oh my!

6. Retired Geezer - April 2, 2007

Aren’t air pockets what you want to avoid? I seem to remember that if you have a pocket, it will cause your piece to explode.
The ‘pinching them together’ made me think of that.

7. Enas Yorl - April 3, 2007

Air pockets – ideally, yes. One interesting thing about the piece that got broken was that I got to see extensive cross sections of a finished fired piece. There were places that had very distinct gaps, like there wasn’t complete adhesion between a chunk of clay below, and the one on top. I dunno if these were air gaps, or gaps that opened during firing. In any case none of these interior gaps extended to the outer surface.

Each individual piece of clay that you place overlaps on both sides of the one below and overlaps to the one next to it. Think of curvy, stacking rhomboids and you’ve got a mental picture of the process.

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