Thursday, September 27, 2012

I really should post more often... hum, too much to report!

Detail of a large pot that I unloaded from the kiln today.
The "large pot" is about 23 inches tall (584mm), the one almost hidden behind it is  28.5 inches (724mm).
A big, heavy pot that was one reason I rebuilt the inside of my kiln... to take the height and weight!

It really has been a busy time here, however sales of work are infrequent and that is worrying, very few people stop to look at the gallery.  I am not altogether sure how to solve that one, or if there is a solution.  Or if the solution is something that I could be happy with, but I keep working hard and trying to improve what I do, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. 

It has been delightful receiving Emails from some of the people who read this blog.  People write wanting help with glazes, and it is very nice for me to feel useful in this way.  

I made some cone 3 alkaline copper glazes.  I am rather pleased with these as I developed them myself and did not adapt someone else's glazes.  The Insight glaze software that I purchased recently was a helpful tool in this process. I worked out about a dozen or so glaze formulas, then tested the 8 most promising looking ones.  It was most exciting opening the kiln and finding that the glazes had all matured, non had run off the pots, and they were a good colour.  All of them used the same amount of copper carbonate (3 percent), and the different glaze bases gave me subtle variations in colour, which the camera did not pick up very well in the photograph unfortunately.  I tested these on white earthenware, red earthenware that was dry, but not bisqued, and bisque fired red earthenware. It was most instructive seeing the influence of the clay on the glaze colour and glaze surface.

Alkaline copper blue and blue-green glaze tests.

I have been giving serious thought about how to best direct the hot stuff from the firebox of my wood fired kiln through the chamber where the pots are.  Since moving to an external firebox, I have been experimenting with cross flow and down draft configurations, which have worked to some degree, but I was convinced that temperatures in the chamber could be made more even, and the space be used more effectively.  

When I am thinking about such things, I find that it is really helpful to draw simple plans on the computer.  You don't need a complicated programme for this.  In the past I used Open Office Draw, that was part of the Open Office open source programme, I now use Inkscape.  My operating system is Linux, but I think Inkscape is available for Windows and Mac. Really all you need to do is to make some rectangles that are the same proportions as fire bricks, and some rectangles that represent your kiln shelves, and then make a big rectangle to represent the internal size of  your kiln's chamber.  After that it is a question copying and pasting some of your bricks and shelves, and pushing them around on the screen.  I colour code my bricks and shelves to make the little diagrams clear enough for me to understand!

When I am thinking of making changes to the kiln, I often draw bricks and kiln shelves to scale on the computer, and move them around.
After playing on the computer, there is nothing like heaving real bricks around.  Here I decided on a new system of  directing the heat around the chamber of the kiln.
I put kiln shelves on top to form the floor of the chamber, but I became dissatisfied with some aspects of the design.
So I changed my mind, and opted for a far more daring approach, bringing in the heat on the diagonal.
And here it is with the chamber floor in place.
Then the pots are loaded.
After the firing.

We fired the wood fired kiln on Tuesday this week.  I lit the fire at 4.10 in the morning, and stoked for the last time at 4 in the afternoon.  Laura was a big help in firing the kiln, and did many hours of the firing and really enjoyed it.  The cats kept us entertained throughout the day, they enjoy it when we work outside.  I was so pleased that I had opted for my more "daring" arrangement of bringing the heat into the chamber on the diagonal, as the kiln really fired well.  The kiln did not stall, and was easy to control and fire accurately.  The flame flowed in a lazy spiral around the chamber, it was very beautiful to watch, and the chamber temperatures appeared to even out more and more as the temperature got higher.  I think this was partly due to the chamber and pots becoming incandescent and radiating heat around the chamber.  

This kiln has come a long way since it was built. The current fire box has a simple step grate and needs no raking in the course of the firing, and the ash from a 12 hour firing would fit in a 3 litre container.  I really like the firebox, it is so much better than previous ones with conventional grates. 

Our friend Robert from the UK, who likes to cook us lovely meals when he visits here, probably because he is kind hearted, but it might also be that he enjoys the challenge of cooking with a 30 something year old electric frying pan, a really tiny electric stove, and two blunt knives!

We had the pleasure of a visit from our friends, Robert and Shona, who live in the UK. Robert was Best Man when I married Laura, and we have all kept in touch for over 30 years.

And here is Shona, Robert's lovely wife... and the ears of Nigella Stopit just visible in front of her!
Some jugs (or pitchers)  from the previous wood firing.
Two 14 inch jars for a Karate expert!

The "karate" jars were one of the more unusual commissions that I had in the last little while. The jars had to be made very strongly, as they are destined to be filled with sand and picked up by the rims.  Picking up sand filled jars, using only fingers and thumbs, is a way that exponents of karate strengthen their hands!  I had to put a tiger on each jar as the person that has them was born in the year of the tiger!  I found it quite a challenge to make them.  When freshly made they were a shade over 15 inches tall, and used about 7 kilogrammes of clay each.  It made a refreshing change to have to make something heavy. No matter how light you make a jug or a teapot, someone will always complain that it weighs too much! 


Linda Starr said...

Love your alkaline blue tests the interior is the most lovely blue I think I've ever seen, of course I love turquoise and it looks the most serene example of it I've seen, must come back and re-read to understand all you are doing with your kiln revisions. The two teapots at the top are wonderful especially like the handles to hold while pouring. Nice to have old friends visiting from the UK. Nice to hear about your escapades again.

Angie said...

Love your work at the moment and I am saddened that sales are not good. I was going to suggest selling on the internet but ofcourse breakage and weight would be a problem ...the latter most of all as there are good packing materials and methods around but you cant help clay being heavey.
I love seeing the unfired and then what they become in the kiln.
Those tiger pots are amazing. xx

Michèle Hastings said...

Those pitchers are LOVELY!
Sorry to hear that sales are slow. I think it is the same everywhere. Jeff and I have worked harder this year to increase our online sales, it's not going gangbusters but it is some extra money.

cookingwithgas said...

The Karate jars are so interesting. The tiger is fabulous! You do have a lot going on over there and that is not a bad thing.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
I have always been a bit in love with copper blues and greens, and am looking forward to developing them further. I glazed some pieces in the wood firing where I added 7 percent tin oxide to a couple of the original test glazes, and they are wonderful.
Two handles on a large tea pot certainly make them much easier to use.

Hi Angie,
I keep wondering about trying the internet, but get the "wobbles" when thinking about the postage costs, which are truly horrible from here, even within NZ. I may give it a try though as we do have to change something to try to keep our heads above water.

Hi Michele,
Thank you for the encouragement regarding the pitchers, I do love making them. I have been interested to see a number of you making use of the internet for selling work, and am glad that it is proving helpful.

Hi Meredith,
I down loaded all sorts of tiger photos to try to figure out how best to do them.. and I ended up quite enjoying attacking the leather hard pots with some old lino cutting tools to incise the design. I do like to be busy, and it does help to push the worries away for a few hours.

Julia said...

Hi Peter, if you sold on etsy or some other site, I think you would have great luck! (hint, hint - I would certainly buy from you if there were an easy online way to do so)...

Your latest work is so very lovely - especially love the teapots in your blog header.

Amy said...

Neat to see what your test tiles look like- bowls! Looked like you write on the side of those forms- with what? red iron oxide? i have so much to learn.

thanks for this blog post. always good to learn from you!

Angie said...

Just had a thought ...Clay pendants on leather thongs....and coasters. Animals like your tiger or ethnic designs or Laura's art ...all different finishes/colours/shapes ....they would be cheap to send and would work on ebay or etsy ...especially if they were advertized as no two the same... one offs ...each a little different ...not hard with the amazing glazes you do...and Xmas is on the way.xx

Peter said...

Hi Julia,
Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I will see what I can do about putting my work for sale on line. Etsy could be an option for me, and I can see definite advantages joining up to it as it is well established. Sometimes I also wonder about a work for sale tab on my blog site.

Hi Amy,
I do a mix of tests. Mostly I use tiles for the first test, but bowls are definitely very useful as they are something three dimensional with an inside and outside, and a chance to really see how much a glaze moves. I usually write with red iron oxide and a little manganese to darken it and make it easier to read.

Hello Angie,
A good thought! And what with a household that has Laura, two cats, a rooster and 4 hens, I really have artistic expertise and inspiration at my fingertips! I must actually do something about it!!!

Armelle said...

Bonjour Peter,
J'aime beaucoup vos turquoises, and your copper green, it's nice to work with one's own glazes, I am sad about the lack of buyers, it's so here too, difficult time.
Amazing tigers pots !!!
Bon dimanche

Peter said...

Bonjour Armelle,
J'aime beaucoup aussi bien la turquoise. C'est aussi beau à l'oxyde d'étain (tin oxide, I hope!). I will try to photograph a jug that has some tin oxide added to the turquoise glaze, it is really beautiful.

Très Bon lundi!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, Greetings from foggy San Francisco.

Recently I bought a large
Mexican pot with a very narrow bottom, almost an amphora, and similar to some of the narrow
bottomed pots you show on your site.

The seller sent me a plastic
ring about 1.5 inches wide to stand it in, but that will not support the pot.

Have you any suggestions?
Or have any of your readers
run into a similar situation?

Perhaps I need something with prongs.

Saw it at a show and somebody handled it and broke a piece
off the top He gave me the
broken piece too. Because the crack will show when it's repaired, he offered to sell it
to me for a few hundred dollars instead of a couple of thousand.

Most of the buyers were pros
who wanted a perfect piece. My wife and I are not pro's and we can live with the crack.

Any ideas?

BTW I play the uke too. In my time, the 50's, everybody in
my college did.

Hope to hear from you.

Best ---


Peter said...

Hi Mike,
Always nice to hear from another ukulele player!

Lovely that you are able to give a home to the Mexican pot, and appreciate it enough to buy it with the crack.

I suspect that the best solution would be to have a metal stand made for the pot, essentially a hoop of metal with 3 or 4 legs welded on. The pot could be placed in this and the metal hoop could be approximately one quarter of the way up the pot. I hope that my description makes sense??

I guess that another approach would be to make a large sand box and to push the pointed end of the pot into the sand? The box could be substantially built and would form a low plinth. The sides could be made of wood, stone, or brick.

Do let us know what you decide to do,it is always interesting to hear how people display pots.

Best Wishes, P

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Thank you for the kind reply. I found a company on the web called Benchmark Museum Mounts and they provide all sorts of ready-made kits. You should check it out, maybe they would be useful for your own work. Much cheaper than having anything custom-made.

As for the uke --- at Cornell I lived in a fraternity house, as did most students, because otherwise you had to live in the dorm and probably get a room-mate like Ackley in "Catcher In The Rye", my generation's favorite book.

In the Deke house my room-mate and I had a version of "Mood Indigo" for uke and trombone that could clear a crowded room (like a party)in an orderly fashion in less than two minutes. We were thinking of volunteering our services to the Ithaca Fire Dept.

I might yet put my uke version of "Scotch and Soda" on utube some day if day if I'm drunk enough. Would get a "thumbs down" sign, of course.

Best --- Mike

Peter said...

Hi Mike,
Lovely to hear back from you. I am glad that you have found a supplier of something that should do the job.
I had a look for Benchmark Museum Mounts on the internet, and wasn't sure if the site I found was them or someone else... (I found
I was amused at the "Mood Indigo" for uke and trombone, particularly as I do have an old trombone here... Now I am now wondering if it is possible for one person to play uke and trombone at the same time?? Maybe a Youtube video of such a performance could be a suitable companion to your "Scotch and Soda" (which you really must upload some day)!

Best Wishes, P

Anonymous said...

Yes, Benchmark is the supplier I found. The pot is 15" tall and will go on a marble-topped table. Most of their stands are secured invisibly by piercing the raised floor of the display case and securing the object invisibly from underneath. We can't do that, it must rest on a platform sitting on the marble.

The other problem is, this is earthquake country. The pot needs a firm support behind it and must be braced fore and aft as well as side to side. We haven't figured out a solution. The pot grows wider at the top, like an amphora, where the prongs or half-ring must come around to brace it towards the top. Maybe we'll send you a photo, we're open to suggestions.

I like the idea of one guy doing the uke and trombone --- I've seen guys with harmonicas in front of their faces and foot pedals that bang drums, all part of a single instrument. But you'd need two hands for the uke and one for the trombone; tricky without two people.

But it would certainly make a hit at a Deke party. The biggest thrill at our parties was when a short guy named Nate would leap out a second-story window overlooking a concrete parking lot. We would all ignore it, having seen him do it at parties
many times before, but women at the party would drop their drinks, scream, etc. and rush to the window. Nate was captain of the wrestling team, very muscular and coordinated, and he would grab an iron projection on the way down. Later he landed jets on carrier decks.

Well --- a coed university in 1953in a different world.

Every weekend about half of the 20 fraternities on campus would have free beer for whoever wanted to drop by. On the next weekend the other 10 houses would do the same. Free for the guests, the brothers in the house always paid for the beer and the damage, which could be extensive, since 100 people could show up during a long evening. Our monthly house bills had about 50 bucks added every month just to cover party damage.

In the 60's in San Francisco ("the Summer of Love") a car paying the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge would sometimes pre-pay the toll for the car in back. The fare was cheap then. Different time.

Thanking the old man for sharing his anedcdotes, which were never very far from being interesting, we dumped all our trash on his property and drove on...

You don't have to publish this one, Peter, I don't think it would interest most people.

Best --- Mike

Anonymous said...


In fact I have seen these combo instrument players before; on Pier 39 in SF. Usually a harmonica is fixed on a wire framework to where the mouth goes and a pedal hits a padded drumstick that strikes the drum when the pedal is depressed.

Possible, but tricky. The uke requires 2 hands, no question. BUT you could have a foot attachment that would be affixed to a slide that you can push out with your foot, thereby pushing out the slide of the trombone, since the two would be linked with a rigid vertical connection connected to the trombone slide on top and the foot slide on the bottom. Slide out your foot a couple of feet and the trombone slides out the same distance. As Gene Wilder says in "Young Frankenstein", "It. Could. WORK!"

However, not being a trombone player myself, I don't know what the horizontal range of the slide must be in order to get all the notes needed. Maybe no slide pushed out by your foot would be long enough.

But if it works, you may just have the only combination uke/trombone instrument in the world. You could get your name in the Guinness Book of Records maybe. Who else can play the uke and the trombone at the same time? You might ask, "Who would even want to?" The answer is, Our mission is to go where no man/woman/combination has gone before! (Stirring music.)

If you make it they will come, at least reporters from the local newspaper. I can't, Vermont is too far away from San Francisco, but I'd certainly like to see a photo.

It might be worth a try. Good luck!


Peter said...

Hi Mike,
The mental images running around are hilarious!

Regarding the horizontal range of the trombone slide and the use of the foot..., when I was 9 years old, and somewhat shorter than I am now (and slimmer!), I had some trombone lessons. I could manage most of the positions that the slide had to go, but my arms were too short for the maximum slide extension.. so, I would point the thing down at my foot, using gravity to extend the slide, and my big toe to retrieve it to where I could reach it again. It worked quite well (when seated), but had certain disadvantages when marching!!!

Regarding your comments, I hope you don't mind, but I did end up publishing the March 4 one as well, as I am greatly enjoying your comments and I suspect that there are others out there with a sense of humour who will enjoy them also!

You are welcome to email me a photo of the pot and stand opogallery AT gmail DOT com should get to me with the appropriate modifications to the address.

Best Wishes, P