Saturday, December 31, 2011

Celebrating Human Spirit

Freshly carved runner

I've got a good start on the awards for the Uwharrie Mountain Run 2012. This year's awards are decorated with a simple runner carved into Highwater Clay's Little Loafer's Glory and glazed in a copper green.

I do about 500 pieces for this every year, so I start making them by the end of December. The pieces themselves are a relatively easy form to make. The most time-consuming aspect of the making is writing "Uwharrie Mountain Run 2012" stamping "20 miles" (and 40), signing my signature and carving the runner on each piece.

I still enjoy making them after 20 years. I always feel I'm helping celebrate the human spirit. It takes quite a bit of spirit to run this race. It's a tough trail - up and down steep hills, over creeks, rocks and sticks....

My current workspace

The runners

I like my newest loop tool

Stamp for '20 miles' and 'From the Ground Up,
drill bit for head of runner, small loop tool for
writing on bottom, larger loop tool for carving
runner, and peeler for smoothing down edges of
bottom of jars when they're too dry for finger smoothing

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Glazing... and Patience when Potting

Waxing the bottom of a mug to resist the glaze.

Yesterday was a long day of preparing pots for glazing and glazing and loading the electric kiln for the last firing before Christmas. I always have a few pots promised to some customers this time of year that I try to squeeze out at the last minute. But in order to fire a few pots, I need to fire a whole kiln.

Levi created a wonderful bunch of plates and platters, carving some intricate designs (picture at right) into a porcelain slip on top of a brown clay. I've been putting off firing some of them because they require quite a bit of clean up.

This particular bunch of plates had a lot of nasty sharp edges that needed to be cleaned up before glazing (picture at left). I had tried to clean some up when they were just greenware (unfired) with a little scrubby, but I found myself scrubbing too much slip off the designs.

So, I opted to bisque fire them and carefully clean them up with a bit of sand paper. The problem with sharp bits of clay on pieces is that they can become razor sharp after they're fired to high temperatures, and somebody could cut their finger on a piece.

The secret to getting clean lines when carving is using the right tool and working on the piece at the right time. If the clay is too soft, the tool will end up pushing clay aside while cutting and you'll get sharp edges. If you wait until the clay has dried just enough, the tool can cut through the clay cleanly and you end up with much less cleanup involved.

There's a lot of waiting involved in making pottery, and depending on what you do to a piece before it dries, you've got to keep a lot of pots from drying out too fast. The top of a pot left exposed to air will dry out faster than the bottom of a pot, so sometimes you have to lay a piece of plastic on top of a row of pots to slow down the drying.

You might be mentally ready to decorate a group of pots - or put handles on them - but they're not ready. So, you cover them up for the night, and uncover them in the morning, and wait for them to dry a bit more.

Now, I'm waiting for that kiln to cool, so I can see the results from a day of hard work in the glaze room. I glazed Levi's plates with a blue ash glaze - a light spraying of the glaze on the two plates - and I'm hoping for some dramatic results.

Friday, December 9, 2011

We're Working

I hope I haven't lost too many readers since the last time I posted. I apologize for the lapse. We're staying busy here at the studio, getting ready to start making awards for the 2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run. I've made several hundred awards for runners of this local race across the Uwharrie Mountain Trail for the past 20 years. We're waiting on the okay from the event's organizers to go ahead with this year's design. I do something different every year.

Some ideas for 2012 Uwharrie Mountain Run

Levi's been busy on a special order for one of his tall vases, so he's making several. We'll be firing them in the wood kiln, as they're too tall for a electric kiln. Levi's been making these tall vases by sections, joining them after stiffening the clay on the bottom piece before adding the top piece.

Levi adds last section to his tallest piece - about 42 inches tall.

Finished piece

My daughter, Chelsea, is home for a couple of months, and she'll be helping out with the awards. Meanwhile, she's been making a few bowls for me, as well as some sculpted birds for the electric kiln and the wood kiln. She also made the little jars in the first picture for prototypes for the award pieces.

Chelsea smooths down the outside of one of her birds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stacking a Little Different in Firing #21

Lots of shino glaze in this kiln load. Levi made a series of pots from large to small, and we decided to glaze them in a shino glaze that we've had success with in the past. With the larger ones, we dunked them on their side into half of a blue plastic barrel filled with the glaze.

We stacked this kiln pretty tightly, and in the very front we decided to stack shelves to the left and right of a couple of big pots in the middle, something we've never done. I'm thinking a lot of the flame will be traveling down the middle of the kiln to start with and around the big pots in the middle.

We'll see how it works.

'Rita' wanted to see the progress.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Few Tree Vases

Here's some of my latest tree vases:

Highwater Brownstone clay, red iron oxide stain
12 1/2" tall by 8 1/2" wide, electric kiln, $195

Highwater Brownstone clay, red iron oxide stain
9" tall by 10" wide, electric kiln, $195

Highwater Brownstone clay, red iron oxide stain
8" tall by 8 1/2" wide, electric kiln, $150

Hand-dug local clay, natural ash glaze and patina
12" tall by 9" wide, wood-fired, $250

Hand-dug local clay, natural ash glaze and patina
10" tall by 9.5" wide, wood-fired, $195

Hand-dug local clay, natural ash glaze and patina
11 1/2" tall by 8.5" wide, wood fired, $195

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Road Trip to Pensacola

On our way to Pensacola, we stopped at
a rest area in Alabama. Mary connected
to her roots.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Firing #20

We fired this kiln load in 14 hours, using hardwood at the beginning, pine in the middle and scrap pine and hardwood at the end. We reached cone 11 in the front and cone 8 in the back, maintaining as much of a neutral atmosphere as we could as I had a lot of high-iron local clay in the kiln.

The bottles and bowl above are made from the
clay I got from a friend in Columbia, SC.
Several pieces cracked during the firing, so
I'll be adding something to the clay next time
to strengthen it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sneak Peek

We fired the wood kiln yesterday. Here's a sneak peek at the front of the kiln:

It's been busy here lately, getting ready for our first three-day show in Pensacola, the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, Nov. 4-6. My mother and brother live in Pensacola, and we decided to apply to the festival and combine the trip to visit with a trip to work as well.

I've got a lot of local clay in this firing, and several pieces made from some gray clay from Columbia, South Carolina that someone brought me. The pieces to the left and right of the big tree vase in the picture are the gray clay.

We'll unload tomorrow, and I'll share some pictures.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Clay Painting - How to Display?

For the latest fundraiser for the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove, I was asked to draw, paint, sketch or otherwise adorn a 12 by 12-inch canvas. About 100 potters have been asked to create a hanging work of art like this, and the pottery center is giving them to the first 100 people to sign up to attend the fundraiser, held Oct. 28 at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary.

I opted to make my own paint out of some sources of clay I've acquired. I googled "how to make clay paint," and found a sufficient recipe (here) to follow. It uses wheat starch and chalk added to the clay. I had fun mixing it up in the kitchen.

I created five colors using four types of raw clay either I or someone else collected from Seagrove, Ohio and South Carolina, and a white porcelain clay from England. I'm ready to take it to the pottery center for display, but I'm wanting some input on how to display it. Here's four shots, each one rotated differently than the previous shot.

Which do you prefer?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Successful Firing with Local Clay

This piece was fired next to our side stoking area and got some nice effects from the embers.

We succeeded at keeping our latest firing in the Manabigama kiln away from a lot of reduction, hoping this would help prevent bloating in the clay. We had very minimal bloating, but we did reach nearly cone 12 in the front. We wanted to keep it at cone 10. Most of the clay in the this load is my local clay, high in iron and it tends to bloat at high temperatures and when the kiln has a lot of reduction.

We were very pleased with the results, and look forward to firing more local clay in the wood kiln. It was a slow firing, maintaining a rate of increase of 100 degrees an hour for most of the firing. The kiln didn't seem to want to climb faster than that, even when we tried to.

It was an overcast day, and it's been raining much of this week.

We think we'll continue with the side stoking, but not put a low shelf between the ember bed and the back of the kiln. This seemed to keep the flame from side stoking all going out the bottom exit flues.

More pictures can be viewed at my Facebook page.

Local clay pitcher, natural ash

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Enjoying the Quiet

There's a lot of noise during a wood firing: metal door scraping against brick, the clanging of the metal rake against the metal bracing around the kiln, chunks of wood thudding against the fire grate, popping and crackling of wood exploding in the firebox....

And there are quiet moments. I enjoy both, but I especially enjoy the quiet moments:

5 a.m.

11 p.m.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Firing #19 - Local Clay and Side-stoking

Lots of local clay in this load

Side-stoking area between Alphi (rooster) and
the middle stack

Got up at 5 a.m. today to start the kiln. Levi and I loaded yesterday, adding a small area between two stacks of shelves to accept small sticks loaded from a small hole in the side of the kiln, hoping for some increase of temperature in the back of the kiln and some ember effects on some nearby pots.

We loaded this kiln with mostly local clay - high in iron. I've decided to fire a little lower in temperature for this firing and try to keep away from a reduction atmosphere in the kiln as much as possible. Reduction - lack of air producing heavy smoke (stating it simply) - likes to produce pockets of gas in my local clay.

I better get back out there.

Hope to see you at the R.D. Mahan Turkey Roast and Kiln Opening this Saturday at our place.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Long Day but Successful Day

It was a long day yesterday, getting up at 5 a.m. and heading over to Winston-Salem to set up for the West End Artsfest, a one day juried art show. We had a great day in spite of both Mary and I suffering from cricks in our necks. Our pots won a "Juror's Choice" award, a nice compliment with which to end the day.

Festival Co-chair Kathy Stanley presents award.

Check out the limb from a nearby oak tree
that adorned our booth.

I had to get a shot of a fellow artist (wood carver
Bob Stuart) who was resting his "dogs" after
setting up his booth.

Where's the Energizer Bunny?
We drove past an Asheboro dry cleaner business after
stopping to grab some dinner on the way home. I had
to turn around to snap a picture of our bunny. Energizer
Battery Company has a plant in Asheboro.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Jug, a Mug and a Platter

We've been building up quite a bit of bisqueware here at From The Ground Up, and we just keep on making pots. I've got to fire again soon.

Here's a few pictures of some favorite pieces we're working on:

Tree jug, local clay - for the wood kiln

Simplicity of form and function - a mug, local clay

One of Levi's platters for a cone 6 electric firing