Friday, September 30, 2016

Making a large plant stand, one kilogram at a time!

In the past I would regularly make pots from 3, 4 or even 5 kilograms (5.6 - 11 lbs) of clay on the potter's wheel without any worries of straining something. Centring was not a problem, and I enjoyed the physicality of working large. After a shoulder injury the "landscape" changed dramatically, and I found new enjoyment and satisfaction in learning what could be done with 750 grams or so. That left me with a problem, how could I complete larger commissioned work? Some commissions I let go, but I was determined to find a way of making some plant stands that had been ordered, these were to be quite large, and each would require several kilograms of clay.

One day I happened to see a Youtube video of a Korean potter throwing a large bowl of around 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter on a traditional wooden wheel. The wheel looked a bit like a two tier wedding cake with the wooden wheel head supported on four wooden posts above a lower wheel of a similar size that was designed to be directly powered by the potter's foot. The wheel would have had very little power or momentum, but this skilful potter was able to make large work by a combination of coiling and throwing clay. I was fascinated and impressed.
I have used throwing and adding coils and throwing some more myself for large work, but would usually start with 5 or 6 kilograms (11 - 13 lbs) of clay, throw as far as I could with it, then complete the pot with 2 or 3 coils of clay that were added and thrown. The Korean potter started coiling almost straight away.... and this got me thinking!

A few days later I tried making a plant stand, one kilogram at a time.

I had to make several plant stands, so I thought I would take some photos as I made one of them.

I begin by throwing a 1 kilogram lump of clay onto a bat on my slowly revolving wheel and flattening it with my right fist.

 Once the first lump of clay is flat, I add another and flatten that one.

 And another...

 And another.....

 And another....

I check the thickness of the clay with a wooden needle.

It is about 3/4 of an inch thick, just right!

With the wheel turning slowly I use a damp sponge to compress and even out the clay, moving clay from the centre to the outside.

In the photo I am using one hand, but that is because I am holding a camera. In reality I assisted and steaded this hand with my other one.

I repeat this several times, until the clay is nice and even, and there is surplus past the edge of the wheel head.

 I trim off the surplus clay with a wire to tidy it up.

Then I smooth and compress the clay with a wooden rib.

 Around the rim of the clay I roughen it with a serrated scraper.

I make several coils of clay by squeezing the clay in my hands, then giving it a light roll on my work table.

With the wheel turning slowly I add a coil of clay to the roughened outer edge of the clay that is on the wheel. When working with fresh, soft clay it is not always necessary to add any water or slip to a join like this. In fact you really need to avoid adding much water, because it may cause the join to slide when you later throw the wall that you are making.
Make a good long scarf join where the clay merges with the other piece at a shallow angle. Wiggle the clay surfaces around as you press them together. You should feel the clay "grab" as the pieces join. Thumb off the excess clay.

I steadily work round the coil pressing the edges down inside and out with my fingers and thumb. It is important to make a good job of this, and to avoid trapping any air in the join.

Then I add a second coil of clay to the first. No water is needed for this because the clay is fresh and moist.

 I scarf in another length of clay to fill in the gap.

 I thumb the second coil down over the first.

Then I use a damp sponge and finger pressure outside the wall, and finger pressure from my other hand inside the wall to smooth out the coils and to grow the wall higher. I wasn't able to show the inside hand as it was holding the camera for this photo, but normally it would be in contact with the outside hand when doing an operation like this!

 The wall has risen to where I want it, and is now fairly even in thickness.

With the wheel turning slowly I trim off the uneven clay from the top with a wire.
I am working on this pot stand with it upside down, so this edge with form the "foot" of the pot stand.

I thicken the "foot" by bending it out, and carefully folding it down. You have to be very careful not to trap a pocket of air when you do this, so do it progressively expelling the air as you go.

I finish this decoratively by forming a ridge.

Two days later, when leather hard, I was able to cut out areas with a wire, and  add decoration with clay stamps. Then I turned it over, added a coil of clay around the edge, and pulled that to form a rim.

Here are 4 plant stands shortly after finishing. Making each one was a slow process, but I was very pleased to be able to make at all. In fact they gave my confidence a great boost! The largest pot stand uses more than 6 kilograms of clay.

Coming up in my next post will be a sequence of photos that show the making of a large owl that I completed last week.

Soon I will be having an extended break from making pottery, because I will be having an operation on my troublesome shoulder. ACC finally approved my claim and everything has happened with considerable speed since then. The operation is scheduled for 10th October.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Earthenware jugs and bowls.

Fresh from the kiln, new earthenware jugs and bowls.
I have had to reduce my hours in the studio and try to adapt to throwing mostly with my right hand, and using my left in a light supporting role, rather than using both hands equally as I would normally do. I find that I am comfortable throwing 700 grams of clay (about 1.5 pounds), and can make objects of this weight for a couple of hours or so at a time without worries of further aggravating the shoulder. If I think about it and remain vigilant not to add any power from the left arm and shoulder, I can throw larger amounts, but going above 1 kg feels like I am starting to take a risk. This limitation is frustrating in some respects, but interesting in others. There are rewarding moments to be had when a rethink of some technical problem allows progress, and it is stimulating from a creative point of view to try to find forms that are rewarding to throw that are around 700 grams.

I have always had a fondness for jugs, or pitchers, and 700 grams (1.5 pounds) of earthenware clay will make a nice jug that has a fired height of 140 - 150 mm (5.5 - 6 inches). 700 grams will also make a generous sized breakfast bowl, just right for porridge to help a potter get through winter!

Detail from the jug above.
My attempts with majolica decoration are making progress, and I get enjoyment out of improvising patterns with the brush and a restricted colour range. I know that there are stains that can be used to give a very full palette of colour, but I am very happy with cobalt carbonate for blue, copper carbonate for green, red iron oxide for brown, and the odd excursion into manganese dioxide for a slightly purple brown. I may branch out in future and include an occasional blob of red or yellow, but I like how a restricted colour palette seems to sit well with an object made of red clay. I also like the "watercolour" quality of these oxides, which is something that stains don't usually seem to have.

This little jug was intended to be taller, but got all "curvaceous" when I had a momentary lapse of concentration and nearly had the thing collapse. I salvaged things and was pleased that I did.

Most of my jugs have the "twisted handle" look. The twisted handles are made from a rolled, slightly tapered, slug of clay that has been rolled diagonally over corrugated cardboard, then slapped down hard onto a flat surface. I am finding this form of handle much easier to make than a pulled handle that would require me to hold a round sausage of clay up in my left hand whilst pulling down on it with a wet right hand (rather like milking a cow!). I still do a few of those, as in the jug below, but most handles are now of the "twisted" kind!

When my jugs were still at a soft leather hard stage, I added texture to some of them with little clay stamps that I made some time ago. I wasn't too sure if the majolica decoration and the stamps would work all that well together, but I quite like the way the stamps add a bit of textural interest that is waiting to be discovered.

I have shown mostly jugs on this blog post, there were some bowls in this firing as well that were also made from 700 grams of clay (1.5 pounds), but I don't want to overload you with photos, so this will have to do!

 I have some shallow bowls and a few more jugs that will be going in the kiln this afternoon to start their bisque firing. I hope to glaze them midweek, and might even feature them on the blog a few days from now!