Friday, April 9, 2010

A Potter's Alchemy

When I first started making pots, I got some very sage advice from Bill Klock (at Plattsburgh State) and later from Dick Schneider at Cleveland State University, don’t be limited by technology. For me, this translated into understanding glazes and continuous testing of glazes and new materials. As the tech at Cleveland State, I had unlimited access to 2 updraft gas kilns and a bunch of electric kilns. The ranges varied from Cone 06, 01, 6 and 9/10 and at every opportunity, I had glaze pods or test bowls in each and every kiln. I was able to develop a palette of clay bodies, slips, underglazes and glazes for most temperature ranges and in oxidation and reduction.

Testing is the key to my moving forward. Having a wide range to draw from, I have been able to adapt to whatever clay body or temperature range that was available. This has been exceptionally important as we have moved all over and I have had seven studios and new suppliers each time. Adapting to what is at hand has been a mantra. In trying to adapt successfully to new clays and new suppliers, I have left 95% of my old recipes behind and have taken what little I have learned about formulas and materials and have come up with simple, few component recipes, many of which don’t need to be weighed to the gram.

Since my last move, I have concentrated on very simple glazes, preferring Oribe influenced glazes, temmoku and ash glazes. These are all 1/2/3 glazes and are simple to make. I work in a common cycle where I throw for a week, tool my pots, bisque and then glaze fire. I try to save at least a couple of hours a cycle to make up glaze tests to go in the glaze kiln when I fire it. The constant testing has resulted in my new “Karatsu” style glaze which uses unwashed soft wood ash without any colorants. It makes for an amber toned glaze when thin and a droozy greenish ash glaze when used thick. Both like to cool slowly. I am constantly testing new ash batches and trying to come up with new glazes that have a rich Japanese or Chinese appearance as well as those of medieval pottery.

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