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.