Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Shipwrecked': Classical-Style Amphora Collection

This is a group of some of the amphorae I've been working on over the last few months....made out of local Dunedin terracotta clay which I dug up and processed, and fired to 1050 degrees Celsius in a gas kiln.  They're based on  photos of authentic ancient pieces which I found on the internet and scaled up to 3-D proportions. I threw them in three segments, joined them together, and then added the rims and handles.

I love the look and form of these ancient vessels. Used to transport oil and wine all over the classical world, they have been found in their hundreds in ancient shipwrecks, lying forgotten on the bottom of the ocean. There's something so human and natural about their strong, rounded shapes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recent Work - Terracotta and Raku

We've had a busy week in the studio now that the weather is hot - Katherine and I did two raku firings over the last two days, with mostly successful results. For the first one, we used long dry grass for the reduction - you can see the pattern it left on my white crackle pot here:

We also used a couple of green copper-based glazes which gave some great 'copper penny' colour flashings. For the second firing we used dry pine needles which put out a lot of dense smoke and turned the unglazed part of the pots a deep black:

I've finished two large terracotta amphoras now and have started on another two - these ones have a rounded shape, including the rims and handles:

One of the great things about working from home at Brighton is taking your lunch break at the beach! Here I am yesterday checking out some of the rock pools and natural swimming holes on the coastline, just a couple of minutes drive away:

More photos on our Flickr photo stream, here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bees, Birds...and Big Pots

We had to stop potting for the afternoon yesterday when a bee swarm showed up out of nowhere. According to this fascinating article in  Wikipedia, 'the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle' but I wouldn't want to test it - they sound intimidating enough. It's incredible the way such tiny animals can communicate with each other so effectively that they behave like a single organism.

The swarm buzzed around the house for a while looking for a way in (fortunately we remembered to shut ALL the doors and windows) and then settled in a branch of a tree above the woodshed. They stuck around there in a big humming ball until lunchtime today, when they swarmed off again in search of their new home... but where did they go?!?

Katherine also took a photo of a white-faced heron this morning, trying to blend in with the buttercups:

We get a lot of interesting birds out here in Ocean View, from introduced English species like swallows and magpies, to natives like bellbirds, tui, Paradise Ducks and even a couple of  kahu, or harrier hawks, which have been circling each other high in the air lately, doing their courtship dance. An amazing thing to watch.

To get back to the pottery theme - here's a photo of a couple of big planters I've been working on. They are made with local terracotta, in a combination of coiling and throwing techniques:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Clay Preparation Videos

I put up a video on YouTube here of the process I go through when making my own terracotta clay body, using nearby clay. (Apologies for the quality, the video was filmed on an old digital camera, but you get the idea!)

First, I dig up the clay, dry it, break it up with a sledgehammer and seive it through an old bed frame. Then I put it into buckets and saturate with water.

I 'blunge' it with an electric drill attachment and seive it again through a mouli seive. Then I pour off the excess water once the clay has settled. I put the clay on plaster bats to dry, then process it through a pug mill. (You could also wedge it by hand if you want). Finally, I store it in plastic bags.

Another YouTube video I like:  The Potters of San Marcos, showing a more traditional method of preparing clay from raw ingredients, by the potters of San Marcos Tlapatzola in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Glenfalloch Potters Cottage

We went for a trip to Glenfalloch Gardens on Saturday for a family celebration, had a wander about while we were there, and took some photos:

The old homestead is no longer lived in, but the gnomes seem to have the garden under control

Another gnome, by the fountain...
A mysterious package....
The gallery has a lot of nice crafty stuff for sale

The Potter's Cottage runs classes and sells work by nine Dunedin artists. Note the gorgeous old terracotta urn on the porch

Just some of the work for sale in the Cottage - a good range of well designed, functional pottery with a genuinely New Zealand feel  - definitely worth a visit
Filtered sunlight on a nikau palm

A Japanese style pond

A canon dated '1914'

The ride home along the Peninsula road is always an adventure....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Raku Firing

On Monday we tried a raku firing. The sun finally came out, after a week or two of wintry weather (very strange for late September!) and we took advantage of it. I decided to make miniature bottles as test-pieces for 6 test glazes and threw, glazed and fired a load of work in the same day, which was a lot of fun.

12 test pieces before firing
'Raku' means 'pleasure'. It is the Japanese art of quick-firing pots (usually tea-bowls) at a low temperature and taking them out of the kiln with tongs while still red-hot. They are then buried in sawdust to finish off the reduction, and dunked in cold water. The process is fast, risky, and exciting, both to watch and take part in. Usually one person opens and closes the kiln and sawdust bin, while the other person handles the tongs. Glazes on raku ware are often irridescent and brightly-coloured  in a way that you can't always get at higher temperatures. Because of the heat shock there is often a high breakage rate. Results are random and unexpected - but that just makes it more addictive - you get instant results, and you never know what you might get.

The four best pieces, after firing
This one is my favourite - I like the crackle effect around the rim.

Cat-to-pot ratio... to give an idea of the scale...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kiln opening

Here are the results from the gas reduction firing we did on Thursday. The pieces were glazed in two classic Chinese reduction glazes - Celadon and Copper Red. They were fired to 1300 degrees C (Cone 10).  A 'reduction' means that the oxygen is shut off to the kiln, creating a smoky atmosphere, starving the glaze components of oxygen.

The iron that gave the celadon glaze a pink appearance before firing (see the last post) is transformed to a beautiful pale green, and the copper- which would turn bright green in an oxidised firing - is a deep red, hence the name: Copper Red.

Here's a short video we made showing the kiln just after opening the door - you can hear the celadon making little 'ting' sounds as the glaze cools down and cracks. Days later, the pieces are still going 'ting!' from time to time as the glaze continues to develop its crackle effect.

And a You Tube video showing the traditional techniques of Longquan celadon in China:

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Spring has arrived here in Brighton. We spent the afternoon yesterday glazing a load of bisqued stoneware out in the sunshine:

Bisqued ware waiting to be glazed.

Pouring glaze into the inside of a bowl


Glazed forms, waiting to be stacked in the kiln. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

From the Ground Up

For the last few months, I've been working on finding and preparing my own clay bodies. Like most things, the price of clay has skyrocketed in the last few years, and knowing that I can throw as much clay as I want without worrying about the price has really freed up my creativity.

Dunedin with its ancient volcanic rock is a good source of plastic, terracotta clays - from weathered basalts up North East Valley to schists around Brighton. Each clay has its own personality, and using local clay gives a pot its own unique character, grounded in space and time. It can be refined, but is also really nice used raw with all its impurities.

Most how-to pottery books give the basics on finding clay. Road cuttings and creek beds are good places to look, sometimes local history and place names can hold clues as to where to start digging. Here I am prospecting in North East Valley, where I found a very nice terracotta:

And here I am digging behind my studio in Brighton, where I found another terracotta, also very good on its own.

Once dug, the clay needs to be tested for plasticity, shrinkage and firing range. A little minigama kiln is perfect for test-firing small amounts - and you can get some sauce dishes and beakers out of it, too. The local clay I've found so far seems to be good around Cone 02.  Here's some terracotta bowls I fired out of the first batch of NEV terracotta, with my minigama:
Minigama kiln and test pots

Processing the clay takes around two or three days. I break it up and dry it in the sun, crush it, sieve it, then put it in buckets covered with water and blunge it with an electric drill. I then pour it into a clay bath to settle, dry it on plaster bats, and  finally put it through a pug mill and into bags. (We're working on putting together a You Tube video which should show the whole thing). It's a messy business but not too hard once you get into a system. Not all that much different than recycling clay.

The next step for me will be to develop some Cone 02 glazes for my clay body, but in the meantime, the terracotta also looks gorgeous on its own.

It's perfect for flower pots and planters, which look great on a windowsill but will only get more beautiful the more they are left outside:

Rustic flowerpots

I also used it to make some amphorae and West African style pots, which I fired to Cone 02 (1120 Celsius) on Thursday:


Opening the gas kiln, after work at NZ Post

Some African-style pots in front of the stack, sitting on the planters, amphorae in the background.

 North East Valley terracotta amphora

Close up showing the coarse natural texture of the clay

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shine a light

Put up a video on YouTube here of me putting the 'roof' on one of my Chinese style lanterns.

I first started making these back in art school..They're based on an ancient Bizen piece I saw in a magazine in the Bill Robertson Library -  a six-sided slab piece with hand-cut designs, attached to a slab base with a wheel-thrown pagoda-style roof on top. Here's one of mine,  in red:

.And here it is at night with the candle lit:

Some of the geometric patterns were taken from a broadcast on China TV (like the one above) and others were based on swallows flying over foxgloves in the garden - something we see a lot of out here in in spring. Here's a photo of foxgloves from a summer or so ago, and the unglazed lantern beside it: 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Potter's Co-op

We've put up a page of links to some of our favourite local galleries and other arty things, here.

One of our favourite pottery places is the Stuart St Potters Co-op - situated near the historic Court House, the Railway Station  and the Farmer's Market. A great place to shop for local pottery at very affordable prices. Owned and run by a great group of local ceramic artists, they also generously host Guest Potters from time to time. Here are some photos from an exhibition I had there in September last year:

Some of my salt glazed bottles and jugs in the window

Opening day - my salt-glazed lantern, ash-glazed bottle and copper red vase are in the middle of the shop
Street view.

The large ash-glazed urn, just after coming out of the kiln.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pottery on YouTube

YouTube is a great place to see other potters in action. Whatever project you're working on, someone else has probably uploaded a video of it.  Here are some all-time favourites (I think this might turn into an ongoing series...)

Isaac Button, Country Potter 

A great black and white movie about a lost way of life (no sound on the original either). Traditional English potter, Isaac Button, doing his thing. More info on Isaac Button here. Make sure you watch all the parts of the movie

Shoji Hamada, 1968

A black and white throwing movie of the influential Japanese potter. I love the way he doesn't worry about the wobbles in his pot - it all works out in the end.

Bernard Leach: A Potter's World (Extract)

It's Bernard Leach...probably the best known and most influential British potter of the 20th Century, he travelled to Japan to study Shoji Hamada and the 'mingei' aesthetic, and then re-introduced the art of making simple, handmade organic pottery to the Western world. Author of  'A Potter's Book', known as 'the potter's bible' in the 60's and 70's. Here he is at the wheel...

Michael Cardew, Potter

The first apprentice at Bernard Leach's St Ives Pottery in Cornwall, 1923, Michael Cardew  also spent twenty years building up potteries in Ghana and Nigeria, before returning to England.

Kim Young-Ho, Korean Onggi Potter

Amazing, large coil-thrown pot made by an 8th-generation Korean potter - using a kick-wheel.

AND finally got round to uploading some pottery videos of my own at the weekend...

The first vid  shows me finishing off the arch on a small brick kiln, using a wooden former template, with a layer of straight bricks, covered in a castable refractory cement mix. It has to be strong and withstand temperatures exceeding 1300 degrees.  And it helps to have a piglet keeping an eye (or snout) on things....

The other one shows me throwing salt into a salt-glazed kiln,. This happens right at the end of a 12-15 hour firing , I throw the salt in when the temperature reaches 1300 degrees.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A walk on the beach

Went for a walk on Ocean View beach yesterday afternoon to recharge our batteries. It's a beautiful white sand beach, with interesting schist rock formations:

Just out to sea is Green Island: