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.