Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shoulda Shouldas

While the glaze load is cooling I find myself reflecting on a few clay mishaps I've encounter recently. The only difference between my early years working with clay and now, is, in the early years I had no idea why something didn't work. Now sometimes I think I know why, but after the fact. I hope some day I'll be able to analyze the process and instinctively know in advance what I should do or shouldn't do, instead of looking at a piece and thinking shoulda shouldas. I wonder though if that's possible. It seems that clay is always a process, a constant process of learning.

Oh, the photo above are a couple of brush holders I quickly made with some scrap clay. I've always wanted a ceramic brush holder to use on my work table. I saw a Simon Leach video some time ago and I remember he demonstrated making a brush holder. Sometimes it's fun to fiddle around with small bits of clay thinking of useful things to make. There's always spare room in the kiln where a small piece can fit.

The first mishap is a spirit jar made from cassius basaltic clay. The piece has no opening but an offering bowl on the top. I put two holes for gases to escape on the side of one of the appendages, but the piece cracked just under the offering bowl and there is a small crack in the bottom too. Why? I suspect the reason is this black clay has a lot of impurities and I think the holes were too small for the gases to escape. One of the appendages fell off while it was drying and I slipped it back on and it held. This is the first piece I used local Florida clay slip on the outside. I will fire this for the final firing to see if the slip stays the orange color at a higher temperature because this orange will be a nice contrast against the ebony black the clay will be after the final firing.

It took me hours to hand slip this vase with all the little dots, which are now covered up with the clear glaze. As I was sanding the bottom before the bisque load, I rubbed too hard and a piece of the bottom sprig broke off. I patched it with slip and fired it and it held, but then broke again when I took it out of the kiln. The pieces which broke off are sitting there ready to be repaired by glazing on. I patched it again and it is firing in the glaze load now. It will never be acceptable because the break is right in the front and the cracks of the broken sprig will show. I fired it anyway because I want to see how it will turn out with the glaze over the slip. Why is it that the pieces that take the longest, break the easiest?

The next mishap is another slipped bowl with hundreds of dots. I noticed a crack in the rim while it was drying. I think I removed it from the slump mold too soon. I patched the crack but this won't be acceptable in the finished piece. I don't even know why I bothered with it. Trying to assuage the bad feeling I had for the loss of such a time consuming piece for a bit longer I guess.

The next mishap piece is a large square box, a very large one. This was going to be a mixed media piece which I made a special size just for that purpose. It cracked along one seam and up the side of one seam while it was drying. I was so proud of myself for making this piece with seams which were almost invisible. I think it cracked because I moved it a couple of times and I dried it on a ware board instead of drywall. I have since gotten some wall board. I'll be putting my greenware directly on wall board from now on and I won't be photographing my greenware right away, but will wait till the pieces are completely dry which should help with the stress cracking.

Do you have any tips to help with these problems? Do you have any shoulda shouldas you can share? If so please let me know. I think the more shoulda shouldas I know the better off I'll be in the long run. The glaze load is cooling down; I hope the kiln gods have determined these four shoulda shouldas are enough for now. Ha.


  1. Gosh, that has to be frustrating. No answers here as I am a non-potter. You really have to have patience but you also have to own a mind that enjoys learning.
    I guess the constant learning and experimenting keeps it from ever becoming a job and remaining an art.
    Keep learning and keep enjoying.

  2. You and I have been thinking alike. It is always something. The only way for me not to make mistakes is to never try anything new. I can't do that so I guess I will always have a few mishaps. At least we learn from them right?

  3. I'm not a potter, as you know, but you make me wish I was, just to have this kind of passion and ongoing love of the process, the learning involved. I guess I do that, to some measure, with my writing, but you are an on going inspiration to develop my own creative process. And, thank you, so much, for the Frank A. Clark quote. I needed to hear that.

  4. I put ALL my work on newsprint (unprinted from end rolls from newspaper office). The paper shrinks with the pot while drying--moves right along with the pot. That's my big offering! (I like your black bamboo pitcher.)

  5. You are always taking risks with your work, trying new forms, clay, glazes...They will all be learning experiences. I suspect you have a thirst for knowledge as much as a thirst for creativity, so keep experimenting. That's my advice.

  6. Not a potter but like the comment above i have to admire your persistence! No pain no gain right?

  7. Hi Patti, thanks, yes there is always something new that's for sure.

    Hi Cindy, thanks, you are right, if we didn't try anything new there would be fewer mistakes, but that takes away all the fun doesn't it.

    Hi Teresa, thanks, I am so thankful I have found something I am as passionate for as I was for plants and gardening. I still miss my flower and vegetable gardens, one of these days I hope to have some raised beds again where I can dabble in them.

    Hi Gay, thanks, what a great tip, I will check with the local newspaper to see if I can get a roll of paper, every little bit helps with the drying. That pitcher was one of the last things I made in my Cone 10 reduction days, the teadust and celadon glazes really turned out nicely. It's too big for using as a pitcher, but a houseplant fits right in and sits on my kitchen table that way. I really need to try that design again with cone 6 thanks for the reminder.

    Hi Lori, thanks, yes I love taking the risks and learning, I do have a real thirst for learning new things and am eternally curious, keeps things interesting for sure.

    Hi WNCmtnliving, thanks, so right no pain, no gain. ha, there's a lot of pain in pottery.


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