Cooking my clay

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The new kiln arrived shortly before the Midlands Rat Club Summer Show, so I had no opportunity to play with it until after the show. Then it needed firing in – taking up to temperature whilst empty of pots, but with the kiln furniture. The next job was to paint the base of the kiln and the shelves with kiln wash to protect them from glaze running off pots and sticking them to the kiln shelves. Finally, finally, I got to fire some pots. It takes about 24 hours to fire up the kiln for a bisque firing and let it cool enough to open up, and somehow I had accumulated three full loads of pots waiting to be bisqued. I guess that’s about a kiln load a month, which means the kiln is around the right size for me.

kiln

Currently the kiln is full of glazed pots from the first bisque firing, fired overnight and now down to just over 400 degrees Centigrade. I am so nervous to see what is inside. The Amaco glazes I bought can be quite runny, so each pot has a kiln washed circle of clay beneath it in the hope of catching any runs. I also have a test tile of each of my glazes just so I will have an example to keep. Future glaze firings will have layerings of glazes as well, but there is limited space so I will have to do a few at a time.

shelves

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Kiln Anticipation

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I’ve been and gone and done it. Ordered a kiln, that is. It’s the final admission that it’s time to have a break from pet rats for a while to pursue a hobby that lets me have time off. My Rohde Ecotop 60S¬†is on its way from Germany and we’ve spent the weekend so far making a space for it in the garage. It feels like a big investment, but it’s less than a year’s vet bills for 60 rats when I was breeding rats in earnest.

I just want to say, 60 rats sounds like a lot, but that can include two litters of 10 to 12 babies each and 30 to 40 resident ratties. As I have never re-homed my ex breeders (because they are my pets as well) and also as there are always rats who have been homed out but come back again due to changed circumstances, I found it very difficult to breed selectively with fewer than that. I’ve been up to a maximum of nine cages including nursery cages, which took me four or five hours an evening at half an hour’s freerange each. Urgh. Currently I only have three cages and 18 ratties, which takes me just over an hour and a half and leaves more time in the evening for visiting my mum and for pottery.

So, back to kilns. This one is economical to fire and will run on the current electricity supply to the garage, with two cubic feet of space inside for pots and kiln furniture. Two cubic feet means far more to me than 60 litres, but I have several 35 litre Really Useful Boxes, so envisaging just less than two of those also makes sense to me. We British have such a split personality with regard to metric and Imperial measures. (Does Metric need a capital letter, anyone?)

With a kiln on the way it’s time to start thinking glazes. I’ve ordered a selection because I honestly don’t know what I want to do, so there is much experimentation to come. I don’t know if the colour-blind thing is going to cause problems. Presumably I can find some combinations that look OK to both me and my husband and/or daughter and go with that. No good asking my son, he’s as colour-blind as I am.

Take care,

Annette ūüôā

tiles

Glaze test tiles ahoy!

 

Clotted cream

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I’ve started on a different batch of clay today. I’ve bought a load of clay described as ¬†Production Throwers Earthenware / Stoneware because it sounds nice to throw with. It is. It’s really lush, feels like clotted cream whereas the three bags¬†Buff stoneware clay I bought before¬†felt like more like velvet. It took me a couple of goes to make the transition, but I really love the stuff, especially as it’s not too hard to use straight out of the bag so I don’t need to spend time mixing it with wetter clay. Somehow it needs less water too, so it’s less messy. Good job I like it; I bought 20 bags.

yarnbowl

A very solid yarn bowl

This week has been a bowl week, although they take a lot of trimming because I need to make the bases really thick to avoid them collapsing. More stuff to learn.

Annette ūüėČ

Parsnip Pottery

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Predictably I’ve come up with a name for my pottery, even though it’s a new thing that isn’t really off the ground yet. Parsnip Pottery. No amazingly deep meaning – I’ve had a rat called Parsnip, a beautiful black Essex-marked boy who died fairly young, I also like roast parsnips very much indeed, yum, and the word has a good feel to it. Nicely hobbyish, not pretentious or too serious.

8ballsclay

I’ve spent most of the morning wedging and kneading clay. It’s actually an enjoyable task, taking my reclaimed clay, my throwing failures and the hard clay from the bag and mixing it all together to get set up for the next few days of clay play. I begin with the piles of different hardness and cut them into slices to make layers that let me mix them all together. Then I take the big block and cut slices across the previous direction, turning the slices as I pile them to get the maximum mix. The final step is to take 2kg lumps to knead, and as I knead it slowly gets less lumpy and sticky, becoming more plastic and almost silky to the touch. There you have it, eight amazing little parcels of potential. It’s making me smile just to look at the photo.

shelves

I’m starting to hit a storage problem right now. My shelves are already full of books and stuff, so there’s limited space for the pots. I’m going to have to start keeping just the best and recycling the rest. That’s probably a good thing for quality control. I’ve got the next week off work, so I need to start finding space in the garage for a kiln. I don’t think I can contain myself much longer without starting to play with surface decoration. Obsessive or what?

dampbox

Finally, we have a damp-box full of stuff to decorate and/or add handles to. More fun!

Take care.

Annette ūüôā

Pottering on

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The cat colouring book has been on sale for a few days now. It’s sold six copies so far, which isn’t too bad until you factor in the fact that I bought five of them myself. Not going to be rich this year then?

A few more photos today. First of all, here’s the ratty slab sculpture from pottery class that I promised to show you. I was going to stick a tail on the back but he got a little too hard to add anything to so I cut the tail into the back instead. Then I got carried away with the carving and scoring so he ended up decorated all over. We’ll see what he looks like once he’s been glazed.

ratslab

Last weekend I managed to get a fair handle on a cup, using my ratty footprint stamp to fix it on and then during the week I made another cup shape and a bowl. The second cup still needs a handle, the bowl got a line gouged in it so it got carved to hide the mistake. The carving technique needs a little refinement maybe.

smallcup

bowl

So today the project was to produce a decent pint mug with a kilogram of clay. Six attempts later I have maybe three shapes that I like. The first two were too straight, then I managed curved but too short, then it began to go the way I wanted. I guess can practise trimming and putting handles on them all and then decide if any are worth keeping. I’m cheating by keeping them on the bats for now so I can do the first bit of trimming while they are still fixed on.

pintmugs

I’ve had a go at putting a pattern onto a plate too. The plate was slab cut and then put on the wheel to shape the edges, following this video:

Then I copied one of my rat pictures onto it using the tissue paper tracing technique, tracing the image onto tissue paper and then drawing over it with a Sharpie so the line goes through the tissue onto the plate. I want to learn to do Mishima with wax to get the line drawings on, like this video from Jessica Putnam-Phillips. I’ve got some wax and some black underglaze on order. I think I can combine my colouring book drawing and the pots in that way.

I’ve been looking at kilns online, but although I have enough pennies put by there is nowhere to put the thing right now, so it really does need to wait.

Clay time

I’m still busy learning clay. Last week I used the plaster slab I had made to recycle some of my throwing scraps. I’ve now got a system of three buckets going, my throwing water, my scraps bucket and my recycling slip bucket. A potato masher seems to be just right to mash up the scraps into a nice thick slip, and then after standing for a few days it will pour out nicely a little at a time onto the plaster slab. Then it takes a few hours or a day or so to dry up, depending on the weather. This past week has been really hot, but humid too, so it’s taking a while to dry.

My throwing is slowly improving, with my pots getting a little more even now, although they are still rather thick-walled. We’ll get there – there’s plenty of time before I can get a kiln.

The pottery classes at college have ended until September, although I still need to pick up a bowl next Monday. Here’s the little pot I made at the beginning, slab rolled with a jumper and embroidered flowers for texture. It’s not as round at the top as it began; I’m not sure what happened there. I’ve made a little ratty slab sculpture too, but it looks like I forgot to take his picture. Later.

knittedpot

Thanks to anyone who is listening to my ramblings.

Cheers,

annettesig

A successful weekend

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This weekend has gone really well. I spent Saturday morning getting my tax return submitted and off my mind, as it’s been nagging at me since the end of the tax year. The colouring books have done slightly less well this year, but that’s possibly because there have been fewer of them and I’ve not been promoting them well. I’ve also been spending my pennies on books and tools for pottery, which I’ve counted as expenses. One hobby can pay for the other, it’s only fair, and I am hoping the pottery will eventually be an extension of the drawing.

Saturday afternoon was spent combining the soggy clay from my last play on the wheel with the too-stiff clay out of the bag, then eight more attempts at throwing a decent pot. One of the eight was good enough to keep and practice trimming, but I forgot to take a photo of it before breaking it up. I’ve kept the very first successful cup/cylinder from last weekend, as it’s my very first success. It is actually very slightly wonky, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. I forgot to smooth off the lines too, but I quite like that.¬†firstcup

Yesterday¬†(Sunday) Mark and I went round to Mum’s to continue working on her garden. The hottest day of the year so far – we had to send out for the factor 50. I really need to take a photo for you, as the garden looks really nice now. We went over on her birthday last Thursday with all three children to give the garden a good makeover, but there are still a few areas that need finishing and¬†are just the two of us to work on it now, with Mum’s help weeding wherever she can reach while sitting down. While Dad was ill and confined to his bed/chair my mum¬†wasn’t allowed out of his sight without him becoming anxious, but he passed away a few weeks ago so we thought a garden makeover would fill her birthday without too much space for sadness. Now I’ve just got to get over there in the evening whenever it doesn’t rain, to water all of her¬†borders and pots. Another reason to reduce my number of rats. It feels really bad when I can’t get over there to keep her company in the evening, but sometimes I’m just so shattered when I get in from work that I don’t feel safe to drive.

Dad was ill for a long time and although they say no-one should need to suffer in this day and age, it’s simply not true; pain and confusion were a huge¬†part of his last months and I have no idea how Mum coped with his constant needs and with all the carers coming in every day. So while his passing leaves the world a poorer place for his absence, it was very much a blessing for him to go and he managed to spend all but his last three weeks at home with Mum.¬†I think we all did most of our grieving while he was still with us (in body if not in mind). The prime concern now is to look after Mum. She seems very small and old¬†these days.

Today I made a plaster block so I can recycle my clay more easily, as I’m getting an ever fuller bucket of slip from washing, trimming and throwing. I’ve been puddling the bucket with a potato masher and it’s lovely and smooth, but it will probably be dry before the plaster block is ready for use. Maybe it will help with the next batch.

I’ve also had eight more attempts at throwing pots. Five of them are decent enough to trim later, I think, before they are recycled. Of the other three, one collapsed, one was a very odd shape, and one lump of clay didn’t stick to the bat properly and came adrift while I was trying to centre it. Never mind, it’s keeping me out of mischief. Once I can get a higher success rate I may even try branching out into bowls.

Take care

Annette x

 

Progress

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So. Progress has been had with the latest colouring book, Cats & Co Рdrawing 18 is complete, so just two more to do and I can publish the book.

cats16-pup7

As for the pottery classes,¬†I’ve now done four weeks. Loving it! I would love to learn to make¬†and decorate pots with my animal pictures on. That may take me a few years to attain though.

The first week of class we stamped out tiles and decorated them with textures using a splendidly random set of objects. I made five tiles in all. Not the fastest of workers.

In the second class we built cylindrical containers formed around tubes. Mine was textured using an old jumper and a selection of embroidery flowers. Because I misjudged the cutting it didn’t quite meet at the front, so I cut a panel and pressed buttons down the front to hold it together. I made a cardigan pot!

In the third class we had been hoping that the tiles would be bisque fired, but they were still in the kiln so we made a strange assortment of textured bowls by decorating them with the textural gubbins again and throwing the result onto the bench at an angle, then draping them into slump moulds. The cylindrical pots were trimmed and put to dry ready for bisque firing.

Last Tuesday we had the tiles back to glaze. We had a selection of oxides and stains to use, with the oxides then being covered with white glaze and the stains with transparent glaze. I painted my five tiles and also a few belonging to another class member who had far more and found the process of painting boring. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

On Wednesday it was my birthday. My present to myself was a little pottery wheel. I chose a Shimpo Aspire with hand control so¬†I can use it on a standing workbench, as my playroom is also my rat room and it seemed best to keep the wheel entirely out of the ratties’ reach.

I didn’t get a chance to try the wheel until Saturday, when my first two attempts at centring made me realise that the clay was too hard for me to learn with, so then I spent some time learning how to damp down and wedge the clay. Today’s attempts went somewhat better. Trying to remember to brace my elbows against my sides and rest my arms on the splash pan.

Attempt three and the clay was easier to work with as it was much softer, but I still failed to centre it. I am also a very messy person. Clay everywhere!

Attempt four started OK, but as I opened it out it turned into a plate that slowly collapsed onto itself.

Attempt five produced a cooling tower pot that actually ‘looked like a thing’, as my offspring¬†would say. On slicing it open I realised that I hadn’t cleaned up around the lower edge, so it was very thick bottomed and there was also an air bubble.

cylinder5a

Attempt six wasn’t much better.

cylinder6

Attempt seven I decided to keep and try trimming later on. I’ve got the base a little squarer inside with this one.

cylinder7

And attempt eight was an effort to make the pot as tall as I could, which inevitably collapsed. Then it was time to pack up and go to visit my mum for the afternoon.

cylinder8

I think I need to grab one of the wheels in pottery class and actually get some tuition, but usually all four are in use. Time to be assertive maybe? Or just watch more Youtube tutorials.