I made this pot several years ago, and have kept it. I am thankful for this pot, because I noticed something happening with this glaze that started me on a most enjoyable journey of thought and questioning that occupies me still.
This pot has a special sort of a glaze in which crystals are encouraged to grow when everything is at high temperature in the kiln. When I looked at the crystal structures that had formed in the glaze, and the way they appeared to start bar shaped then form fan shapes at each end of the bar, I remembered doing experiments with magnets and iron filings when I was a child at school. It was the sort of thing that would be demonstrated in a physics class to show magnetic fields. I liked the pattern that the iron filings made, and the way they clustered together at both ends of the magnet, and I can still feel the sensation of the iron filings pricking my fingers if I brushed them carelessly over the desktop with my hand.
|Image of a magnet with iron filings. BBC Bitesize Science.|
I did not think that the way that the crystals formed was necessarily due to magnetism, but there did seem to be some kindred process at work that made rod shaped crystals stick together and fan out like that, and I began to want to know what was really happening in a crystalline glaze, or any glaze, when it was at high temperature in the kiln.
The desire to know and to understand more about the inner workings of a glaze gave rise to a stream of "Why" and "How" questions that still bubbles and burbles away in my head to this day, and just like a fresh spring of water, such questions are refreshing, because of the unexpected insights that they bring.
One of my favourite books is the "Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Pottery" by Robert Fournier. It is something that I like to dip into at bed time. As it is a dictionary that relates to pottery, every double page spread has an enjoyably odd set of topics, that are brought together because of their place in the alphabet, rather than their meaning.
If I open the book at random somewhere near the middle we have, Manganese, Marbling, Marl, Massive Form Of Rock, Master Mold, Matrix, Matt, Maturing of Glazes, Measuring Spoon, Melted Glass Decoration, Melting Point, and each entry has an intelligent and helpful explanation.
There is one page that I return to rather obsessively, page 75...
|Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Pottery. Robert Fournier. P75|
On it are a paragraph or two about electrons, and there is a drawing of an aluminium atom, with electrons orbiting around the nucleus rather like planets orbiting the sun.
When I see a diagram like that, part of my mind lurches off on a short and colourful journey through our galaxy, whilst other brain cells generate more abstract ideas about how we, and everything around us, are made of tiny atoms, each complete with a nucleus and orbiting electrons. And how everything, from elephants, to mice, to rocks, trees, and planets, even "dead" planets, are all alive when seen at the level of the tiny atoms.
According to what I have read thus far.. electrons orbit the nucleus of their atom in layers, or "shells". Really light elements that have only a few electrons, might only have one or two shells. Enormously heavy elements, like Lead or Uranium, have 6 and 7 shells respectively. Their shells are like multi-story car parks, somewhere for their vast collection of electrons to be housed!
Atoms are most stable when the outer shell contains either 2 or 8 electrons. Atoms that have something other than 2 or 8 electrons in their outer shell try to achieve this happy state by sharing and transferring electrons from other atoms, and molecules occur where atoms of different elements form bonds.
The table of elements shows that Oxygen has 6 electrons in its outer shell. For Oxygen to be truly happy and fulfilled, it really needs to find 2 more electrons from somewhere. A quick glance at many of the other elements in the table will show that a surprising number have 2 electrons in their outer shell. Ha, Ha.... my basic maths tells me that 6 +2 = 8! Thus, in "real life", many of these elements become oxides.
Here is a nice little diagram of what appears to be a rather savage bag snatching encounter between an Oxygen atom and a Magnesium atom, in which poor Magnesium has the two electrons in its outer shell stolen by the thuggish Oxygen! Maybe the encounter is not so ugly as it looks, because the solitary Mg and O, seem to be united now as MgO!
The table of elements show things in their theoretically pure form. It is a lovely starting point for thought about how everything that we see around us is put together. I think of it as the DNA of Everything! I also suspect that these columns of 2s, 8s, 18s, 32s, and so on, may also give a hint as to what happened moments after the "big bang", when Everything began!
A humble potter's world is not so pure. Potters deal with oxides and carbonates, molecules rather than atoms! Our world is dirty, sweaty, achy, and real! However, it is in the kiln, at high temperature, when the glaze is fluid, that the molecules really dance. Old bonds weaken, electrons are transferred, and new alliances made!
I am thankful for a particular pot, and the questions it made me ask. I do not have a science background (as is probably obvious to any scientist who might read this), but here I am at the tender age of 56 happily feeding from an exotic smorgasbord of chemistry and physics, with a dash of astronomy and philosophy thrown in!
What I have been Making in December...
In the run up to Christmas I made a set of 6 earthenware soup bowls, each with a handle, for someone who commissioned them. These soup bowls hold about 2 cups of soup, and I hope they will be just the thing for nice warm soup on a cold day!
Shirley Loats commissioned me to make her some earthenware cheese dishes. Shirley has recently established a cheese making business in Oamaru, called Udder Success! Shirley makes fabulous cheese and the commission was a fascinating one, as Shirley was keen to see if I could give a Steam Punk look to some of the dishes (Oamaru is positioning itself as Steam Punk Capital of New Zealand).
I made 4 dishes that were more traditional, like this....
And another 4 that went with the Steam Punk theme, like this...
I made little cogwheels and other mechanical looking elements out of clay for the Steam Punk ones, and used a black satin matt glaze on the outside, and wiped most of it away where it went over the mechanical bits so that they looked like rusty iron.
Inside the butter dishes, I used a clear glaze for anything that would be in contact with cheese.
It was quite a challenge making them, but was good fun and I would love to do more and develop the Steam Punk idea further!
For pure pleasure one morning, I made a clay portrait of our neighbour's rooster! The rooster calls in here every day for breakfast before visiting his girlfriends at another neighbour's hen house! Late in the evening, the rooster visits for supper, before going to his real home for bed!
It was great fun working rapidly with clay like that. There was no time to think, it was important just to trust the hands to tear and squeeze the clay, and record the gesture of what was seen.
It has been ages since I last posted, and the November - December part of the year had its share of challenges. Both Laura and myself had health related struggles and frustrations, and I had to give what energy I had to the studio first, and there was little left over for writing the blog. I did play a lot of solitaire on the computer in December!
I would like to thank all of you that have supported and encouraged us through the blog, and in person through the year. I have enjoyed attempting to answer enquiries about glazes and kilns, especially through my high fire glaze page. It is nice to have that contact with the wider world, and to feel useful sometimes!
I hope to re-organise the high fired glaze page, and see if I can put up some other helpful glaze information and more glaze recipes, where it all can be easily found. I may try to gather up some of the questions and answers that have arisen through the years and put them in a FAQ page.
Happy Christmas and New Year to you All!
Peter, Laura, and Nigella Stopit the Post Office Cat