Sunday, March 23, 2014

Waiting is killing me, but I need the rest

Peeking in the kiln is addictive
I'm sitting here, and I've been sitting here off and on all day, exhausted after firing my wood kiln for 15 hours yesterday. I've peeked inside and I see a lot of potential for nice pots, but I see some potential for not-so-nice pots. It's kind of difficult to tell when peering into an 800-degree F. kiln. I've got a lot of local clay in this kiln load: some high iron clay from my land that I love to throw because it stands up so well on the wheel and still can be swelled out with ease; some clay from my land that comes out of the ground grey with streaks of iron through it and behaves a bit thixotropically (becomes less stable the more you work with it); some yellow clay from my land that behaves terribly when trying to form a pot on the wheel; some local clay from Cameron, NC that threw beautifully once I got some of the sand and grit out of it; and a couple of processed local clay bodies from STARworks Ceramics, one of which can develop pockets of gas that expand and develop bloating if fired to too high in temperature in my wood kiln.

My kiln fires unevenly, so I loaded the kiln such that the clays that don't like as much heat are in the back of the kiln and the clays that can take the heat are in the front of the kiln. Basically, the high-iron clays don't like as much heat, so they are in the back of the kiln, but a few made it toward the front of the kiln as well. The middle of the kiln is mostly a clay from STARworks called Okeeweemee 10 which is a dark clay body which has bloated in the front of my kiln before but seems to take more heat than my local high-iron clay. But there are a couple of pieces in the front of the kiln made from Okeeweemee 10. I think some of us potters like to take chances.

My wood kiln is designed to produce a lot of melted ash and flashing effects on the pots. Flashing is when you get subtle colors of sheen that develop on the outside of the pot. The way you load a kiln affects the way it fires, and with a wood kiln, it affects where the ash deposits occur and the flashing. It's one of the main challenges in loading a wood kiln such as the one I fire. I decorate some of my pots with trees, vines, etc. so I have to think about these things.

I put a small cup made from some of my high-iron yellow local clay right up front in the kiln when loading it, where it would likely get blasted by flame and ash. You can see it to the right of the tall vase at the left. It might have bloated, but it appears okay. I'll be checking it out tomorrow some time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Iron-rich Clay and Trees for Wood Kiln

I've been busy with trees lately - incising them into a variety of my indigenous iron-rich clay, through a fine layer of white clay. I'll be firing them in my wood-fired kiln next week. This iron-rich clay is dug locally, some of which is from my own property. I've got one batch of some of my own clay from a new source on my property and I'm excited to see what it looks like when fired. I'll be firing this load of pots to a lower temperature and doing a slow reduction cool at the end of the firing, something I haven't done with the iron-rich clays. So, I'm excited about that as well, although there's always a bit of anxiety included when doing something ew. These tree designs - especially the more intricate designs - take a lot of time to create. When you subject them to a kiln atmosphere which can produce heavy ash deposits, you've got to arrange them in the kiln such that the designs stay away from the heavy ash. Otherwise, you'll end up obliterating all that intricacy. Here's a few pots I'll be strategically placing in the kiln next week:
Large covered jar
Medium-sized soul pot
Another soul pot with triskele design
Some teapots
Dinner-sized plates
Some pitchers
Upside down vases
Incising with a dull needle tool

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Working Toward another Good Firing

Decorating another large vase for wood firing

I've got an upcoming show in Pensacola Florida the first weekend in November. The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is held Nov. 1,2,3. I'm firing the wood kiln next weekend, and I've been busy drawing trees and vines on five large vases I made last week.

These vases are somewhere around 20 inches high. The trees are the most labor intensive. I work for several hours on these. I'll be placing these in the wood kiln and firing in such a way as to maximize what we call flashing, and minimizing ash buildup.

Closeup of flashing on a pot
Flashing is where subtle coloring occurs on the surface of a pot due to the interaction of the clay surface with the volatile compounds of the flame. Too much ash buildup obliterates the color.

Placement of the pieces in the kiln is important, as well as how the kiln is fired. Placing a pot behind another pot protects it from too much ash buildup. If I decorate a piece with trees surrounding the entire pot, I will try to protect that pot from ash. If I decorate a piece only partially with trees, I can arrange the pot in the kiln such that the decoration is facing the back of the kiln so that the design isn't blasted by the flame and ash.

The picture below shows placement of pots in the front of the kiln. Top shelf for some reason doesn't get a lot of ash buildup in the very front of the kiln. Pots on shelves below it get a lot of ash, so the tree designs are facing the back of the kiln. The large pot at the top has three other large pots directly behind it, somewhat protected from the ash.

Front shelf

Ash buldup can be seen on left

Three vases ready for firing

Friday, October 11, 2013

Feedback Inspires

Wood-fired vase, 18 inches high

The picture above got a lot of attention when I posted it (along with a host of other pictures from the latest firing) on Facebook: 48 shares or more, and more than 100 likes, as far as I can tell, and I'm still getting feedback.

Nothing like positive feedback to inspire. I unloaded this pot during our annual kiln opening Oct. 5. I fired the kiln a little different this time, with a long "reduction cool" at the end. I let the temperature drop to 2,000 degrees and sealed it up, then stoked small fresh pine branches - a few at a time - for five hours as the kiln cooled to somewhere between 1,600 and 1,500.

I'll be repeating the technique during the next firing in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I'm having fun with some new shapes. These are two-piece pots. The base is 10-12 pounds, the top, 4-5 pounds.

I'm including a few pictures from the last firing.

Three vases drying in studio, 18-20 inches high
Getting ready to lift one off the wheel
small bottle
Three small vases
Small vase
My high-iron local clay
My local clay
Three small jars

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Come by and Take Part in the Unloading

Normally, I'd be up in the morning today to begin unbricking my wood-fired kiln, but this weekend I'm giving my customers the chance to experience seeing the pots for the first time. I'm unloading Saturday morning beginning around 9 a.m. - the start of our annual R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast here at From the Ground Up (Oct. 5 and 6).

For me, unloading a kiln is significant, especially the wood kiln, since there is so much labor involved, and so much that can happen which is beyond my control. I enjoy spending time with each pot as it's removed from its place in the kiln. I think about why it looks the way it looks, what it might have looked like if it got more ash, was behind another pot or other such things.

"This one got a bit more reduction...."

"I like what the ash did here...."

"Nice color on this one...."

Of course, there's disappointments, too, and I usually take a moment to mourn the loss of that pot before moving on to the next one. Pottery making can be frustrating. Pots collapse, crack, warp. Glazes run, crawl, shiver. Kiln overfire, underfire. So, when a really nice pots come out of a kiln, it's very satisfying.

Come on by Saturday morning and take part. We live and work at 172 Crestwood Road, Robbins, NC, 27325. Ten minutes south of Seagrove, NC. See you then.


Looking in from the back of the kiln
The pots at the front
I really want to pick up that one at the far right.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast

Come celebrate with us at our annual kiln opening this coming weekend, Oct. 5 and 6, all day long. We're unloading the wood kiln Saturday morning. It'll be filled with a variety of pieces created with my local clay, a rich dark clay body. Many of the pieces are adorned with my trees and tree limbs. It's up to the flame to decorate these pieces.

We're serving organic coffee and scones for breakfast, leek and potato soup and roasted turkey, as well as Mary's colcannon, an Irish potato dish. We'll be demonstrating on the wheel throughout both days, and the studio is stocked with new creations by Michael, Levi and Chelsea Mahan.

Michael has been busy incising trees through a slip

Two large vases for the kiln

Some small vases with trees

Solar drying some last-minute work - plates are a special order

BC says she's excited (NOT)

Friday, August 2, 2013

New Shape from Ireland

Old milk tankard in Ireland
We're back from Ireland and I couldn't wait to get on the wheel and make some pots. I found myself influenced by an old rusty milk churn or milk tankard I saw in Ireland at my brother-in-law's house. Mary grew up on a dairy farm, and back in the day, they used these tankards to carry the milk by horse-drawn cart to the creamery. I suppose I could call these "milk jugs." What do you think?
Four 'milk jugs'
I like this one best