Thursday, February 27, 2014

52 Form Project- Week 8

The 52 Form Project 

What is it?
My 52 Form Project is devised to help me stretch my creative muscles, explore new forms, or finally get to making forms I have been wanting to try for a long time. I am planning to make a new or modified form for every week of this year.

How can you help?
Your input on the forms, their shape, decoration, appeal, and function would be greatly appreciated. Some forms, if they seem like they may do well in the market, may become a part of my regular production.

Week 8

Sorry for the delay in getting this post out for last week's form. I wanted to wait because I was able to tuck a few of this form into the recent kiln firing. I was very excited about their results and waited to post and share!
Last week's form was a double bowl, made by basically squishing two wet bowls together. I made them with about 1 1/4 pound balls of clay (for each bowl). The first step was the make a few bowls and put them on a dry bat or board (as seen above).

Wet the bat

Slide the second bowl into the first bowl
Then I  put a little water on the bat in front of the other bowl, threw a second bowl, and slid the two together. Because the walls are wet, they make a good adherence to one another. Simon Leach also has a good video on the basics of putting a double bowl together with this video:
Leach puts a strap handle over the top of the piece, but I went for a different approach.
Bowls together with pulled wall

Pulled walls like a pitcher lip

Much like pulling a spout or lip for a pitcher, I grasped the wall between the two bowls and pulled upward to make a little arch. The wide rim on the bowls helped add some clay to the wall and made this process a little more possible.
Feather cut out

Smooth edges with fingers
Rather than waiting for the bowls to set up, I cut a feather shape into the wall between the bowls, and then smoothed it out, making a little handle.

Squeezing the sides to level the bowls
On  few of the sets the walls dipped in at the juncture, and I found squeezing the sides of the bowls put them back into basic level with one another.

Where that didn't work out to my liking, I fluted the edge, also like turning a pitcher lip over, and created a decorative edge on the bowls.
Row of bowls

Smaller double bowls or the double-dipper condiment dish!
I am rather fond of this form, and have also tried it out with my little condiment dishes to make double-dipper condiment dishes! Here are some photos of the finished pieces from the kiln firing:

I stamped the front side of the bowls with "Liberty Stoneware"

Monday, February 24, 2014

On the Farm and Kiln Firing

Blue skies!
It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a kiln firing yesterday! Everything was all loaded up, the overnight preheat went well, and other than some strong winds that wreaked havoc on the pressure in the kiln, it was a good firing! When the wind is strong, it keeps the chimney from drawing quite as well, and plays around with the fireboxes, but we did not have a lot of stalling out or holding at one temperature, so that was nice.
I cannot say it was a successful firing until tomorrow when I open it up!
The draw rings, as seen above, which are pulled when I am salting the kiln, looked nice. I put about 10 pounds of salt in, then drew some of the rings out. The first round of ring were not quite as salted as I would like, but the blue slip color looked nice. I added a little more salt and then pulled some more draw rings.
Greenhouse under construction
Yours, truly, volunteered today to help the Farmer with some projects at the farm while the kiln cooled. No rest for the weary! We worked in the morning on pulling dead plants from the garden beds and getting the lining on the raised beds in the new greenhouse in place. Here are some photos of the lining going in:

The lining will keep the grass from growing up from beneath the greenhouse and (hopefully) help keep the weeds down.
While weeding the garden beds this afternoon I came across some lovely worms, which excited me to no end. Our farm was historically used for tobacco and then hay, which can deplete the soil. Earthworms are not present in large numbers where the is depleted soil. When we first started putting in the gardens, we saw very few earthworms. Now, they are all over the place!  This means we are getting lots of good organic matter into the soil.

I also came across a very tiny little frog. Can you find him in the photo above? If not, check out this photo:
We have been enjoying the tiny frogs' return to the creeks and ponds near the farm. Their chirping sounds are such music to my ears!

Of all of the things we did today (which also included bonding over cutting potato starts in the evening), feeding greens to the chickens was perhaps the most entertaining thing of all.  Above is a photo of the chickens eating on a random plant of kale I pulled from the garden. Here is what it looked like after a few short minutes:
Death to the kale plant
The chickens love their greens! I am happy the daylight is getting longer as that means we are getting more eggs from our chickens, so we have a few more options for kitchen adventures! Speaking of the kitchen, I highly recommend trying The Palate magazine's recipe for Brazilian Chicken Stew. We used one of our farm chickens we processed last year, sweet potatoes from the late fall harvest, and tomatoes canned last summer. The flavor of peanuts (I used peanut butter), tomatoes, coconut, and sweet potatoes was fantastic! I also love that it was described as "a kindred spirit to the many aromatic one-pot meat dishes that followed the spice trails and trade winds from the western coast of Africa, to the eastern coast of South America, up through the Caribbean, and into the deep ports of the colonial South."

You might be thinking, "Brenda, where is your 52 Form Project from last week?!" For you who are wondering, I hope to have a surprise from the kiln firing tomorrow about last week's form! Stay tuned! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


The illusive cones now sealed behind the bricks
I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and a thought rushed through my brain, "Brenda, you forgot to leave an open brick to see those cones in the front!" After a pause this thought was followed by, "AGAIN!" Bricking up the front of the kiln is usually at the end of the day, likely just before dusk, and I tend to rush it. This is not the first time I have not left a peep hole to see the cones in the front of the kiln. The cones in the bottom left of the above photo are now invisible until I open the kiln. I suppose, on the bright side, they will still tell me whether that corner made it to temperature!  C'est la Vie. At least I remembered to put the tube in for the lower pyrometer. Another "oops" for this week was discovered when I was loading the kiln and I saw this on a flowerpot:
Upside down "stoneware"
I have been waiting for the day when this made it to the kiln stage. I've accidentally stamped upside down while demonstrating, and have chuckled over more than one piece of historic ceramic with upside down letters or names, but did not even realize I had done this until it was getting ready to go in! If you want some other great "oops" stories, check out Radiolab's show on other "oops" situations.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kiln Loading

This whole week has been pretty much swallowed up by kiln loading and various errands. On Monday, we worked on the greenhouse at the farm and got the raised beds finished. Here's a photo of the raised beds in construction:

I've been posting photos on Facebook as I went along with the kiln loading, but I thought I would share some thoughts with the photos and about the process since I just finished yesterday.

Do any of you fine readers remember the game Tetris? I would liken loading a kiln to the game Tetris in which you have different shaped blocks that fall and you have to rotate them in order to fit into the blocks below them. Luckily, in loading the kiln, the blocks don't implode or disappear when you fit them together, but I sometimes wonder if I would go insane if I listened to this theme music all day:

First, the pots had to make it to the farm. We're working on building a barn to get my studio and a workshop out there, but for now, I move the pots from my house to the farm like this:

In other words, I move them VERY CAREFULLY because they're thin, raw clay pots! I've been pretty good about taking photos this week at every level of the loading. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember to snap a photo before throwing another shelf on top (which I did in a few instances), but this will give you the general idea of how it works.

The first couple of rows seem to be the hardest for me. Not only do I have to try and fill as many spaces as possible, but these shelves tend to hold my smaller items, so there are more to deal with! Dishes take up a lot of room. The rims are deceptively wide and they need some tending to in order to get them in the right position. I've been trying to be better about making things like the smaller dishes in the photo below to fit below larger dishes in order to maximize filling the spaces. 

 A few more rows:

 I shifted my front shelves around for this firing and decided to put this stack of flowerpots there in front of the firebox. My theory is that this layout may provide for more airflow and make the kiln more evenly fired. We'll see!
 Kiln halfway loaded and here is what I have left:
 First row on the front stack:
 I purposefully made the first two levels of this stack very tall in order to encourage some air flow. Typically this front left corner is pretty cool in temperature, which is also why I put the flowerpots in the corners.
 Sneaking in a few more dishes:
 I had to take the lid off of the compost crock at the front and put it on top of the stack of dishes in the back left. Otherwise, it could have touched the ceiling, which would not have been a good thing. Top part of the final stack:
 This is the final view of the stacks before I put the bricks up in that opening, making a solid wall across the front.
 And here is what was left at the very end:

I will do a gas preheat overnight on Saturday to keep the pots from freezing since it will be cold and to give us a leg-up on the firing. The preheat puts the kiln at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday morning and ready to roll. I do what is called single firing, which means that the pots are raw when they are loaded into the kiln (no bisque firing). When we were not doing a preheat, the firing took 17-18 hours, and now with the preheat it takes about 16 hours total. Because I salt the kiln I had to build it out of hard brick, and a double layer of hard brick is a lot of thermal mass to heat up! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

52 Form Project- Week 7

Our chicken ladies
The 52 Form Project 

What is it?
My 52 Form Project is devised to help me stretch my creative muscles, explore new forms, or finally get to making forms I have been wanting to try for a long time. I am planning to make a new or modified form for every week of this year.
How can you help?
Your input on the forms, their shape, decoration, appeal, and function would be greatly appreciated. Some forms, if they seem like they may do well in the market, may become a part of my regular production. 
Week 7
We have some lovely ladies on our farm - ladies of the feathered variety! Fresh eggs are hands down one of life's great pleasures- the richness of the yolk is always alluring, and the flavor cannot be surpassed by any grocery store eggs. So last week's endeavor was to make a few chicken waterers for potential use. Stoneware is a great material for chicken waterers because especially in the summertime, it will likely keep the water cooler for longer periods of time.
Live Auctioneers
I really enjoy the form such as the historic chicken waterer above, and also the waterers that are in the shape of a jug with a cut at the bottom. That form is probably easier to make in a lot of ways, but I have some hesitations about it.
A two-part chicken waterer I found at an antique store
In experience with waterers, I know they have the potential of making algae on the inside. This could perhaps be deflected by glazing the inside of the one-piece waterer, but it seems like you would likely need to bleach it, and that could transfer to the chickens (not good). I think the two-part are much more conducive to being cleaned and easier to maintain. I hesitate to make forms that may be rendered impractical and just put away after it gets too frustrating to use it.
Initial conical shape
 I made a 7 1/2 pound conical shape that when it set up, I threw a handle on top of it
Dish with interior lip
 I made a dish to match the base of the conical shape.
 The trick with the waterer is that the hole cannot be above the rim, so that it can glug water out on its own through gravity. Basically, as the water in the exterior channel depletes, the little "glug hole" releases more water to fill it. 
 So the hole at the base of the conical shape is very short and small.
 I put some white slip at the top and plan to decorate it a little bit.
The dish also has a cut on the interior channel to release water from the inside. 
Stamped chicken waterer
I stamped a few of them around the top. One of them says, "CHICKEN GOSSIP AROUND THE WATER COOLER." These won't make it in the upcoming firing, so we will have to wait until March for the final result! I am loading the kiln this week as we head for 70 degree weather!