Yet More Pottery, end of 1998 to mid-1999

Late 1998:

I’ve just moved, so everything is a bit topsy-turvy, but I’m still doing pottery, and I think I’m about to take another quarter of advanced wheelthrowing at Seward Park Art Studio.

I haven’t had a chance to do much in the way of research lately, and it chafes at me; the last time I tried for more translucency in the whiteware it was a gross failure, and I want to try some other new things. I also want to make more of the last whiteware mix that really worked well (see photo link from previous page).

When I make too much that’s alike, I begin to feel that I’m getting stale. That’s probably at least partly a mistake (how do you get to be really good at something unless you practice?), but the feeling is very real nonetheless. This last autumn I made two dozen teacups, the first time I’ve really been able to make a set of anything, and that was exciting, but it was also frightening. Perhaps fortunately, they weren’t quite a matched set.


(...very slightly revised in March of 2001)

The lone wind blew dust over the prairie... no, that’s not right. How about “meanwhile, back at the ranch:”?

I’ve continued to study at Seward Park, and my throwing keeps improving. I think I mentioned on one of the preceding pages that K Zimmer told me it takes seven years to learn to throw; I’m entirely inclined to believe her.

Other things have changed as well. I’ve made a vaguely convincing teapot, and I guess that means that by my own criteria I am now a potter. I’ve made progress with glazes as well: not only is the glaze on the teapot and teacup one of mine, but I’ve also got the Rutile Blue glaze largely under control — I can now adjust the coefficient of expansion without losing the colors. (It has taken me two and a half years to reach that point... most of it was fun, but there were a number of rather frustrating moments.)

I’m also working on several other glazes: a transparent magenta-to-purple family (this may take me a while!); the satin matte I’ve probably mentioned earlier (just bought a jarmill so I can reduce the lumps of calcined kaolin to powder, ahem) and another set of opaque and more or less creamy things; various mildly fluorescent glazes (no, not day-glo; there are limits); and the spectral range from bright red to bright green, which is somewhat underrepresented in high fire.

Some of these goals are probably unattainable, but I expect to have a lot of fun playing with them. (It is possible that some are of dubious aesthetic value, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

[Note, added much later: I published an article on the fluorescent glazes in the May-June, 2005 issue of Clay Times Magazine, and I have also, as of late summer, 2005, been somewhat successful with the magenta glaze, finally; I hope to publish an article on that, as well, eventually.]

Meanwhile I continue work on the translucent porcelain, the flameproof porcelain, and a nominal throwing porcelain that vitrifies well.

One of the problems I have with commercial throwing porcelains is that the ones I’ve used have a nasty tendency to fire out a little bit porous. I wouldn’t mind that if the pores were sealed off from one another, but they don’t seem to be.

Here’s an experiment for you, if you’re a porcelain potter:

Throw an ordinary bowl. Put a glaze on it that crazes slightly. Doesn’t have to be a full crackle glaze, just one that has a slightly higher thermal expansion than the body. After you get it out of the kiln, rap it with a chopstick and listen to the ring. (If necessary, record the ring so you can refer back to it later.) Now run the bowl through your dishwasher ten or twenty times. Rap it with the chopstick again and note any difference in the ring.

Some throwing porcelains may be unchanged after dozens of trips through the dishwasher, but at least some of them (I won’t name any names here) will go “thuk” instead of “ting”, even if the glaze on them is not crazed. A fully vitrified and righteous porcelain piece that is covered with a glaze that fits will go “ting” even if you put it through the wash a hundred times. I am peevish enough that I don’t really want to put up with anything less, so I design my glazes to fit, even when they are fired at a full-tip production pottery where the kiln is turned off in the afternoon and unloaded the next morning. There is none of this “let it sit around for a day to cool” stuff, they don’t have the time for that. If my glazes won’t take that last rapid cooling from about 500 (Fahrenheit) to room temperature, they aren’t good enough.

As it happens, the Brunings routinely fire to cone 11 and a half or 12. There are some things I fire at Seward Park Art Studio by preference, because the kiln as SPAS is fired only to about cone 10 and a half. The glaze on the teapot and teacup invariably drips if I fire it at Bruning, but is almost always well-behaved at Seward Park. (No, I don’t consider that to be a defect. It isn’t really all that different from a glaze that crazes only if cooled too rapidly at the end of a firing; but such a glaze is likely to craze eventually anyway, whereas a glaze that happens to prefer cone 10 is a cone 10 glaze. No big deal, just fire it to cone 10 or adjust it for higher firing temp.)

Soon, however, I will be building a kiln, and I’ll have to make my own decisions about firing temperatures and atmospheres: it looks like I’ve got a summer job, and building a kiln or two is going to be part of it. (This seems like pure magical luck to me. I’ll probably write more about what happens when I try it, perhaps on the next page.)

At any rate, I’m still working on a number of fronts; I’m still tremendously enthused about this; and I’m still uncertain why I ended up in mud-pies rather than, say, glass... I guess it’s partly because with clay, I can put my hands directly in it when it’s soft. As much as I love the colors and the transparency you can get with glass, the direct contact I get with clay is something I seem to thrive on.

Also, in case I haven’t emphasized it enough, I really like the broad dynamic range from mud-pies and, well, fingerpainting —

    the solidly tweaky business of developing glazes. It is a nontrivial thing to work up a glaze, for a number of reasons, and it tends to be somewhat crazy-making; but it’s a pursuit in which I take considerable pleasure.

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Email:, where you can replace the a with my first name (only 3 letters!), and b with joss.

Phone: 301 SAPWOOD (that’s 7279663, if your phone doesn’t have any letters on it.)

Last modified: Sun Sep 25 02:39:17 EDT 2005