My process, from creation to completion takes about 3 months. Each of these steps is important to final results.
My work is made of stoneware and porcelain clay bodies sourced from a blend of commercial, native and recycled scraps from my work and other potters. These different sources and combinations of clay gives me a slightly ever changing clay body. I use this approach to my materials to keep me on my toes and to save money for my retirement.
Most of my work involves a combination of wheel thrown forms and hand-building techniques.
This is the process of forming clay on the potter’s wheel. The wheel is a tool that enables the potter to create forms quickly and uniformly when a certain level of skill has been attained, usually many years.
This refers to forming clay without the use of the potter’s wheel, instead using a variety of other tools, simple (rolling pin) or more complex (slab roller).
Decoration & Glaze
I decorate my work using texturing tools when the clay is soft and slips (watery clay) and glazes when the clay is hard and dry.
I use a combination of commercial and native materials in my glazes and have designed them to work with a range of clay bodies and to be used on greenware. This means I do not use the unnecessary and wasteful step of pre-firing or bisque firing before glazing, saving time & fuel.
Because I glaze on greenware, it enables me to use decorating techniques that I wouldn’t be able to with pre-fired or bisqueware. I apply glaze by dipping ,pouring or spraying it on the piece
I also use a soda glaze effect, in which a a brine of salt or soda ash is sprayed into the kiln during the firing process.
I consider my kiln one of the most important tools in my bag. It is a three chamber brick kiln I built in my backyard on the banks of the crow river.
Preparing for firing the kiln takes weeks of work. In this time I have to make sure the kiln is cleaned out and ready for a new batch of work. Cleaning out the ashes from the previous firing, making routine repairs to the kiln, cutting, splitting and stacking wood and mixing wadding.
Because a firing requires around the clock observation & stoking, I gather a crew of fellow potters and hobbyists to help with the event. Last, but not least, I need wood. Presently, I get my wood from a person who takes my work in exchange for the wood and delivery. Unfortunately this is not a permanent arrangement. When all of his daughters are married off and there is not a need for dinnerware sets, I will need to begin to use cold hard cash for the fuel. And then, only until the supply of wood lasts.
Each chamber of the kiln has a specific purpose, so we need to load it accordingly. The first chamber is loaded with unglazed work so it will receive the most ask and flame effect. Next the second chamber is loaded with glazed work. Finally, the third is loaded with a mixture of glazed and unglazed. This is the chamber that will receive the soda glaze mist during the firing.
Each piece must be placed on wadding. This is a special mix of clay and refractory materials that keeps the work from fusing to the kilns silicon carbide shelves.
Nearly all of my work is wood fired, a process all it’s own and one I very much enjoy. It is an event that requires cooperation, concentration and celebration.
The first and largest chamber, approximately 120 cubic feet, will be fired for a total of 36 hours. This includes a 12 hour pre-heat where the temperature won’t rise above 400ºF. After the pre-heat the chamber is stoked to a temperature of 2300-2400ºF, at which time stoking ends in this chamber. Because the heat of the first chamber has pre-heated the second chamber, it is now stoked for 4-6 hours until it is at a temperature of around 1800ºF. The process is repeated in the next chamber for an additional 2-4 hours until it is at a temperature of around 1800ºF Once all of the chambers are up to temperature they are watched and stoked over the next 12 hours to ensure they stay at temperature. I don’t fire for great lengths of time to build up layers of ash that melts into a glaze. I admire pieces that turn out that way but I don’t strive for it.
I like to end the firings with a large stoke and soda with the chimney damper completely closed for five minutes. This is very dramatic with rich black smoke and flames exiting the kiln wherever it can. After a ritualistic toast with aquavit, the damper is opened again and the kiln cools rapidly for 45 minutes. Clean up follows and the damper is totally closed for the next three days until the results of three months of work is revealed.
Time to celebrate with food and drink.