Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Potters do on Sundays!

There is a time in the morning, on a Sunday morning, when it is peaceful.  That peace is welcome, and, as is the habit of peace, it arrives without a fanfare.

 Test tile with dark blue glaze and chun overglaze

The Sunday peace has something to do with an absence of noise, a lack of motion, a sense of not much going on.  It could be that point in the weekend where shoppers have "dropped", where party goers have "crashed", and people making a journey "away" for the weekend have finally got "away", for a few hours anyway, before making the drive home again.

 Test tile with Hoheria leaves

The peace could also be the legacy of Sundays past, The Lord's day, where washing was not hung out, where lawns were not mowed, where children behaved, and where the servants sometimes had a half day off!

The Peace described above would seem to be rather bound up with the idea of doing without, with stopping something, or with silence. Fortunately, as I am a busy person, I have found that there are times when there is such a thing as "Active Peace", a Peace that comes by doing something.  I frequently find that variety of peace when making a pot, or a series of pots, on the wheel.  The act of centering clay, pulling the clay up, thinning, and shaping it, is a bit like slow, controlled breathing.  There is some physical effort, then the effort is gradually changed into a controlled gentleness as the pot rises. As the hands reach the top of the revolving clay, they are most lightly removed, so as not to disturb it.

Last Sunday morning you would have found me sitting quietly on the veranda of the little hut that I built.  Either side of me were lined bisque fired bowls that had just come out of the kiln and were needing to be got ready for their glaze firing.  And I sat in the winter sunshine carefully rubbing down any rough, sharp, or dubious bits from the bowls with a little bisque fired piece of clay that I find useful for this job (a Christmas decoration that I started to make one year...).

As I worked I enjoyed the sound of the birds, and the movement of air, feeling the fresh chill of it on my skin, I thought about many things, about friends, about the blog, about potting, about people in church, and about some perceptive and sensible words from the Apocrypha that I came across many years ago.   "..the artist and the craftsman"...."when they do their work, it is the same as offering prayer." Ben Sira 38:27,33

A potter, who wants to try and scrape together some sort of a living, has to work nearly all the time, it is the same today as it was when Ben Sira was written.  Clay is a living thing, and kilns can seem to be too, with their own rhythm and pace.  Sometimes, to keep up with an order, long days are necessary, or even an all-nighter!  Sunday turned into a 12 and a half hour day, followed by an almost all-nighter firing the electric kiln which was going so slowly between 1.30am and 3am that I was out in the kiln shed at 2.30am testing kiln elements to see if one bank of them had failed.  An anxious and wakeful night with a kiln that contained many hours of work, and a commission that had to come out right.

Happily we did have an evening off on Saturday night... we were invited out to our friends Mark and Rhonda, who had two lovely friends staying with them.  The evening was to be a shared meal followed by.... Karaoke!  Now, I have consumed many shared meals in my time, and love them, but I have never tried Karaoke..., and the thought of grabbing a microphone and, um..., singing, was just a little terrifying.

As it turned out.. it is amazing how much fun and laughter 6 people can have with a couple of microphones, some music, and lots of gentle humour.  Some of the singing was even really good...!  We should press a clay record or something... I even was persuaded to dust off my ukulele...

photo by Rhonda

I am so thankful for our friends, and for laughter!

I am happy to report that the set of iron red bowls that I was making as a commission have turned out well and were sent away by courier today.  On the way to completing them, I learned some interesting things about iron red glazes and the way that the colour of the glaze can be affected greatly by managing the cooling of the kiln.  Certainly, a temperature hold for 45 minutes at 950 Centigrade (1742 F), really did assist the development of a good red colour in both iron red glazes that I fired this week.

 Six bowls awaiting dispatch!

The six bowls were glazed with Bailey's red (recipe in my previous post).  The glaze behaved itself very well, and achieved a better red than before.  In the previous test this glaze tended to come out as almost equal little dots of red and green, almost looking greener than red when put on a bit thin.  The 45 minute hold at 950 Centigrade (1742 F) that I added when the kiln was cooling gave time for the iron in the glaze to re-oxidise, and for iron crystals to grow slightly larger, whilst still leaving a few little dots of green that kept the glaze lively.

Bailey gives a nice red, and some extra interest around the rim with a darker tone coming through.

PTM, great rim, ... interesting, but some problems at cone 9.

PTM (recipe in previous post) was rich and interesting, but had some problems at cone 9, being happier on the slightly cooler bottom shelf of the kiln.

 PTM from the bottom shelf.

The change of colour at the rim of the bowls was dramatic, but the bowls that were hottest tended to develop too much of a pool of darker glaze in the bottom.  This was visually just about OK, but I have noticed that the glaze has started to craze in this region.  Probably this glaze would suite cone 8, but can certainly be dramatic at cone 9. For this firing I cut back the Dolomite in the PTM recipe, so it is 8 percent rather than 11. To fire a bowl at this temperature, you would have to make sure that the inside glaze was not allowed to get too thick when it was applied.  The glaze would be really good on the outside of things that have some texture as it "breaks up" well.

A foot note.... (I wonder what sort of a note does a foot makes??  Traa...Laaaa..!)

The Apocrypha
Sometimes I am tempted to think that the best writing is to be found in the Apocrypha rather than in the Bible. The Apocrypha is a collection of books that roughly cover the period of time between the Bible's Old and New Testament.  It does also overlap them somewhat. For reasons which are quite varied, these books are mostly left out of the collection of books that form the Bible, (Apocrypha means "hidden away").  Some Christian denominations include these books, some disagree as to which ones to include, others ignore them altogether, which is a shame really.

Artists such as Rembrandt were clearly very familiar with the stories that are in the Apocrypha, and several of his paintings are based on them.  Tobias and the Angel, being one. Whoever wrote the apocryphal book Ben Sira, really understood craftworkers, and their long and difficult hours.

Tobias and the Angel at the River Tigris by Rembrandt.  (Image from here.)

"It is the same with the artist and the craftsman, who work night and day engraving precious stones, carefully working out new designs. They take great pains to produce a lifelike image, and will work far into the night to finish the work. It is the same with the blacksmith at his anvil, planning what he will make from a piece of iron. The heat from the fire sears his skin as he sweats away at the forge. The clanging of the hammer deafens him as he carefully watches the object he is working take shape. He takes great pains to complete his task, and will work far into the night to bring it to perfection.  It is the same with the potter, sitting at his wheel and turning it with his feet, always concentrating on his work, concerned with how many objects he can produce.  He works the clay with his feet until he can shape it with his hands; then he takes great pains to glaze it properly, and will work far into the night to clean out the kiln.  All of these people are skilled with their hands, each of them an expert at his own craft.  Without such people there could be no cities; no one would live or visit where these services were not available." "Their work holds this world together.  When they do their work, it is the same as offering prayer."  Ben Sira 38:27-33 Good News Translation.


gz said...

The chun over the blue looks very interesting.

Active peace. yes indeed.
Can be better than rest doing nothing when the mind can just churn.

Peter said...

Mmmm, churning minds are no fun at all, that is where putting handles on 20 mugs can actually be therapeutic! The chun over blue was stunning really, it made the blue so blue that you could "free-fall into it"!

Judy Shreve said...

Really great post, Peter. Sunday mornings in my studio are my favorites - you've described 'why' so beautifully.

Would have loved to be at that karaoke-laughter party! -good picture of you two!

And your iron red bowls are beautiful. I used to use a variation of the Bailey's recipe (RAD RED) quite a bit. I also found in addition to slow cooling the iron reds like a lot of oxygen when fired - so I would open the top 3 peep holes.

cookingwithgas said...

oh lovely post and lovely iron red- I love a bit of the dark throughout.
With ours we sometimes get a firing that we call leopard spot because of all the iron trapping in the glaze.
Peace and goodwill Peter.

Tracey Broome said...

Wonderful post Peter. I do love my quiet Sundays, I get up very early before anyone else so I can have the quiet all to myself. WE noticed while we were in Maine that it was so quiet there, no traffic, no crowds, just us and the ocean, bliss!

ang walford said...

working away peter and you do crank out a good yarn!! I like that story and seriously nothing as good as a rembrandt sketch, so loose and yet marks that say so much!!!

Pat - Arkansas said...

A lovely post, Peter, in many ways. I do like the red bowls; am very glad the firing went well.

Our denomination uses the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which contains (some of)the Apocrypha, and passages from those books are read several times a year. However, I've just looked and Ben Sira is not among them. A pity; that's a really lovely passage.

Peter said...

Hi Judy,
"Rad Red" sounds interesting... have you still got the recipe?? The slow cooling of iron reds is really fascinating, and I hope to do lots more experimenting with it. The opening of the peep holes whilst firing them is a good tip too, thanks for that. If you are ever in this part of the world, I am sure we could arrange a Karaoke party! Hope you're humming along to the radio practising some songs! :)

Hi Meredith,
Leopard Spot glaze sounds just the thing for our cat dominated home... I'll have to see what I can persuade my kiln to come up with!

Hi Tracey,
Maine looks like a wonderful place to be, for the scenery, the old wooden buildings, and for the peace. It has been nice catching a glimpse of it from your holiday photos.

Gidday Ang,
I was thinking that the "yarn" was rather long this time around, but was too tired last night to edit it before posting! Rembrandt, just lovely how a few lines and a little wash can say it all, and with real humanity.

Hello Pat,
When I was putting the post together, I was a little concerned that I might have had the Ben Sira name wrong, as it was not how I remembered it, but last night I couldn't lay my hands on my copy of the Apocrypha (there has been a recent, devastating... re-organisation of our book collection! A case of, we have more books than our current collection of bookshelves!). I got the passage on line somewhere, but my resident librarian was able to find the missing volume this morning, a New English Version, and the book is called Ecclesiasticus in that and will most likely be under that name in your NRSV.
I notice that there is "Or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach" below "Ecclesiasticus", and I imagine that the Good News translators have decided to use the alternative title (just to make things confusing!!!). I would have liked to have started the passage I quoted from verse 24 of chapter 38, "A Scholar's wisdom comes of ample leisure;" which I find both vaguely amusing, and true.. , but it made things too long for the post.

Angie said...

That was a fantastically interesing post ...loved every section. Your evening sounded such fun ...I used to love that sort of thing but sadly the occaisions never arise nowadays.

I absolutely love the tile that you used the Hoheria leaves on ... to me there is a retro feel to it.xx

Peter said...

Hi Angie,
Lovely to hear from you, it sounds like a world door to door Karaoke tour is call for! The glaze that I used on the Hoheria leaves is slightly crystalline in places and it looks like there is pollen in the "atmosphere". I like the way the leaves appear and disappear depending on the glaze thickness.

Angie said...

Just popped back to say comment on story book..... 'The life and times of Ginger ...a potters companion'.... he could write it . ...his post made me think of

Linda Starr said...

The hoheria looks like a fossil, lovely. Early mornings and late evenings here are peaceful most any day of the week, but Sunday does seem to be an end and beginning type of day, and a day of reflections and planning. Would loved to have heard the karoake.

cindy shake said...

Lovely post Peter :o) I really love that blue tile too AND the photos are poetic.

Peter said...

Hello Angie,

"Life and Times of Ginger a potters companion" ... what fun! I will have to talk with him about it. You never know, his furry wisdom and good humour might just spur me into action.

Hi Linda,
Our karaoke group are going to have to "tour", I can see that now! I must tell the others together for a practice! Early mornings are about my favourite time, if I can persuade myself to get up out of bed! It is nice to work quietly before all the stress and interruptions try to break in on the day. I read somewhere that Hamada started work at 5am every day.

Hi Cindy,
Good to hear from you. I've since done a blue test bowl, the inside of which is really lovely, although I had some frustrations on with the glaze on the outside. Looks great with porridge or pumpkin soup! Laura took some of the photos in this post, so I'll pass the "poetic" onto her!