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Wednesday August 31, 2011

For myself, Pottery.About.com, the Pottery Newsletter, and the Pottery Forum have been an important part of my life.  But.... I am saddened to say that there are changes that will occur.

I have had to resign as the Pottery Guide for About.com. My health is just hitting me too hard to do the kind of job I expect from myself and that you and other viewers deserve. *sigh* It has been a tough decision, but a necessary one.

As some of you may be aware, my health is not what I would like it to be. I have multiple auto-immune dysfunctions and other problems that have kept me from working outside my home for years now. At this point, I need to focus on keeping myself as healthy as possible.

It has been an absolute privilege to be your Pottery Guide. Many of you have become good friends. Should you wish to, you can find me on my personal website, WingedBlue.com and at WingedBlue Arts on Facebook.

Happy Potting, Love and Hugs,
~~~ Beth

Mark Grids on Slabs While Rolling

Wednesday August 31, 2011

Do you enjoy straight-forward simplicity and brilliance in your pottery tools? Do you roll out clay slabs very often?

If so, I hope you check out my review of the ClayMat. Using the ClayMat, not only do you get all the normal advantages of rolling slabs on heavy-duty canvas, but also the added (and wonderful) dimension of being able to measure while rolling it.

Lalijin Ceramics

Wednesday August 31, 2011

A potter in Lalejin, Iran continues the city's proud tradition in ceramics.

Throughout the ages, the Middle East has been a region filled with rich ceramics and innovations in the ceramic arts and craftsmanship. This tradition stretches back over 7,500 years.

In the city of Lalejin, pottery was faced with near extinction due to Mongol invasion. Only seven potters survived to revive the work of their forebearers. And revive it, they did!

Today, Lalejin remains a vibrant center for the ceramic arts. Behjat Abbasi, the Deputy Director of the Hamedan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization, has said, "With 900 workshops and 3900 employees, Lalejin is the capital city of ceramics in Iran."

Read the rest of this fascinating article, then check out more photos here.

Disaster and Emergencies

Sunday August 28, 2011

No one likes to think about disasters. No one likes to think about emergencies that can happen. But, if we are to be able to handle these situations, we must indeed be ready. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods.... these and more are a part of living on our beautiful planet. They are a part of life.

We may not be able to chose what, when, or if disaster will strike us.... We can, however, be prepared.

As potters, many of us have clay spaces that include any variety of tools and equipment, some of which is quite expensive. What would you do if your kiln shed burnt to the ground? Or an earthquake destroyed all the pottery you made to sell?

We now have help in knowing what to do and how to prepare. The Craft Emergency Relief Fund + Artist's Emergency Resources (CERF+) has put together an invaluable tool: The Studio Protector. Read my review of it today. We cannot know what tomorrow will bring.

Q & A - Throwing Air-Dry Clay

Thursday August 25, 2011

Q: I was at a pottery store the other day, and the woman said I could use air-dry clay on the wheel? I was wondering if that's a good choice, does it have draw-backs?

A: You can use air-dry clay on the wheel; however, I would make very certain that you clean it up well before using regular clay. And I have no idea how workable any of the air-dry clays would be when it comes to throwing.

In addition, some air-dry clays can be fired, some cannot. Always check the package and read directions thoroughly to see what you can and cannot do.

Q & A - Burnishing Troubles

Wednesday August 24, 2011

Q: I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I am having regarding burning slips.  I am trying to make some pottery using similar techniques that the pueblo Indians use.... I created some slips using OM4 ball clay and iron oxides and yellow ochre oxide.... I sand the pots and then wipe off the dust and then apply the slip.  I have learned through experience that I can only do about 2 layers of slip or it gets lumpy and could flake....   I have problems with the slip sometimes rubbing off in areas.

A: Ball clay is very fine particled, but that also means it shrinks more. You may be having trouble because your slip is not matching your clay body as far as shrinkage rate.

I would use the slurry left over from making your pots as your base clay, instead. Allow the heavier, larger particles to sink down to the bottom of the bucket overnight, then carefully ladle, siphon, or pour the finer-particled upper layer off. If you need to, first pull off any water that is on the surface.

Also, I'd use red or yellow iron oxide. Black iron oxide has larger particles that will cause trouble.

Another thought is that you may be putting too much of the slip on. Try two very thin layers and see if that makes a difference.

And, in re-reading, I would also say make sure you aren't waiting too long to slip your pots. Apply the slip when the pots are at mid- to hard-leather stages -- not when they are dry. There is way too much difference in the drying shrinkage, as well as slips not bonding well with dry pots.

For more information, check out How to Burnish Pottery. If you have tips to share, please add them to Burnishing Pottery Tips.

Q & A - Which Clay?

Saturday August 13, 2011

Q: I just read some of your articles about selecting throwing clay. I was wondering if maybe you could help me. I have a pottery wheel and I need help selecting a brand of clay. The more inexpensive the better. I was wondering what brand you would use. I will keep looking as well but I am just a little lost. There is so many kinds of clay.

A: I totally understand where you are coming from. It can be confusing, if not downright overwhelming, to try and decide what clay is right for you. The good thing is, you aren't stuck forever with your first choice.

For myself, the first thing I have to decide is what temperature range I want to work in. In terms of cost, the least expensive will  almost certainly be low-fire. It simply takes less energy (ergo less money) to heat the kiln to the low-fire range. When considering this, however, do be aware that pottery that takes heavy use, such as dinnerware, really does best with the tighter, less porous maturation characteristics of mid- and high-fire ranges.  Low-fire dinnerware is possible, don't get me wrong! Just more fragile and likely to be damaged.

The next question I ask myself is, what color clay do I want to work with? I like red and brown clays for certain projects, for some things speckled clays are cool, and then again, I love working with white clay bodies. The white clays give the best results for my style of underglaze painting. All of this is personal preference, so I would suggest looking at different pieces of finished pottery and deciding from there what color you think will best suit you.  You can always change later!

The next step for me is to go to my supplier's website or catalog. (Generally speaking, the closer the supplier is to you, the less it will cost to get the clay to your studio --- whether you are going to them yourself to buy the clay or are having it shipped to you. Always take shipping costs into account.)  I look over the moist clays they offer in the temperature range and color(s) I've already chosen.  When looking for a throwing clay, I look for smoothness, plasticity, and shrinkage rate. For outdoor pieces, dinner- and ovenware I also look at the absorption rate. (The lower the absorption rate, the better for these uses.) I don't like throwing grogged clay, but then again, some potters don't mind it.

When buying a clay body that I haven't worked with before, I limit my purchase to no more than fifty pounds. That way, I'm not stuck with a lot of clay I'm not really happy with. (I can go through fifty pounds in a few hours when I'm working full steam at the wheel, and that gives me a good idea of whether this clay is what I'm looking for in terms of throwing.) When I'm in doubt as to which one I'll prefer, I'll also often buy smallish amounts of several different clay bodies. Just keep notes so you know how each clay works or feels to you.

Overall, though, I think my most fundamental piece of advice is not to worry overmuch about finding the "perfect" clay. Don't be afraid to try different clay bodies. Don't worry if you end up with several that you like just fine, or if you have several different clays you like for different types of projects. I've almost always had at least three different clay bodies on hand, even when I was firing in just one temperature range.

Blowing Up Is Hard to Do

Thursday July 28, 2011

(sing to the lyrics of the old Breakin' Up song) They say that blowin' up is har-ard to do; now I know, I know that it's true....

But is it?

Not if you are a potter singing about your pottery! In this case, blowing up is actually fairly easy to do: all you have to do is put wet or damp pots into the kiln to bisque, then heat them up too rapidly. As the water inside the clay expands into steam, pots are almost guaranteed to crack, split, and yes, blow apart.

Avoid the pottery explosions! Know how to ensure your greenware pots are as safe to go into the kiln as possible! Read How to Dry Pottery and Clay Objects.

On Perfection

Thursday July 28, 2011

Just as an aside, something a lot of us probably suffer with is an overly-restrictive definition of "perfect" / "perfection". We are used to living in a machined world, and forget how imperfections are what really make us love something.

Example --- people find others attractive when their faces show a strong degree of symmetry. However, a face that is too symmetrical is off-putting and can be downright disturbing.... In designs, pottery, and art "perfection" is almost always sterile.

From a potter's perspective, skilled craftsmanship is something we tend to strive for ... especially when we are just beginning our dialog with clay or are trying new techniques. This is good! This is as it should be! However, please always keep in mind that it is not "perfection"  to be able to mimic a machine's precision.

Perfection is often found through the allowance of what our machined, mass-produced world would consider "rejects". It is the perfection of the human soul, the qualities that make us human: the dings, the rough spots, the slight wobbles, the evidences of the fires we have come through, and so forth.

I challenge you to consider just what "perfection" means to you in your craft and art. I challenge you to stretch the boundaries of your personal definition(s) of perfection. Examine these concepts, then perhaps re-invent your own definition of Perfection.

Betterfly and Pottery

Thursday July 21, 2011

Have you ever wanted to take a class on pottery, work with a more experienced potter, or find a potter-mentor? Although there are classes at such places as community colleges, universities, art centers, community centers and the like, these don't often allow for the one-on-one instruction and mentoring a lot of us prefer.

What, then, is the solution? Taking out a "Potter Wanted" classified ad in the local paper?

The folks at Betterfly.com may have just the solution you are looking for. Betterfly's blurb is "Find the help you need to learn, look and feel better." That includes learning (more) about pottery and ceramics! Check out what I have discovered about Pottery on Betterfly!

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