Winter, bowls, butter dish, cups, teapots, and a painting!

The aptly named Silverpeaks that are to the Southwest of Waikouaiti.

On Monday 26th it was winter, there was no getting away from it! The main road out of Dunedin was blocked by snow from 1 in the morning until the middle of the day, and all morning the temperature didn't get much above 3 degrees Centigrade (37.4 F). I went for a walk in the afternoon, when the sun came out, and the day was fairly pleasant if you found a sheltered spot, but my eyes streamed tears as I looked to the South into the sharp, chilly, breeze and took photos of the snow on the hills. It was nice the next day, but the melted snow turned to ice overnight, and there were quite a number of accidents on the road, as vehicles encountered black ice.

I got my hands back into clay again one day last week, and again this week. After the best part of a month away from the wheel I struggled, and did not enjoy things at all last week, but achieved more over the next few days. I do hope that I manage a good period of work now without the body breaking down. It has been most frustrating!

I had a good glaze firing last week, or possibly the week before that! I was very pleased with my chrome-tin red glaze. For some reason this seems to improve every time I fire it. I think that the improvements I am seeing are largely due to my getting the "feel" for the right glaze thickness when applying it. It is a subtle thing.

One effect that I played with deliberately in the last firing was fuming. At high temperatures chromium oxide becomes volatile, and it can transfer from one pot to another. If a glaze has some tin oxide in it and a goodly portion of calcium, there is a chance that it will be stained pink by fumes from a pot near by it that has chromium oxide in its glaze. This can be a frustrating thing if you don't want this, but I have found the effect rather lovely where intended! One really amazing thing about the fuming is that only a very small amount of chromium oxide is needed. My chrome-tin red glaze contains between 0.3 and 0.5 percent (depending how heavy handed I am when I am weighing things out!), and it must only be a tiny amount of this that gets into the atmosphere inside the kiln when it is at high temperature, but it is enough to affect nearby pots.

It reminds me of the old song, "I'm a little Petunia in an Onion patch!"

I sometimes use a nice pale green glaze, that looks particularly good on porcelain. Chromium fumes give this green glaze gentle pink flushes. The pale green glaze can be found on page 172 of "The Glaze Book" by Stephen Murfitt, published by Thames and Hudson.

Potash Feldspar     45
Quartz     20
Whiting     20
China Clay     20
Tin Oxide     5
Copper Carbonate     1

I played further with various glaze combinations when I glazed some little porcelain cups. I generally pour glazes, and it is fun to let inside and outside overlap a bit as the runs make things interesting.

Two porcelain teapots also went through this firing. The first one shown here has the chrome red glaze under a white dolomite glaze. I quite like the little hints of red that break through the glaze. Hard to see in the photos, but there is a sense of pent up energy beneath the quiet top glaze, almost like having a slumbering volcano just below the surface!

The other teapot was glazed with the pale green glaze. I found this really hard to photograph, my camera really struggles with certain colours, and tends shift colours toward red if it detects what it considers to be too much green in a photo. I should remember to put some other colours near what I want to photograph, and crop them out again later on the computer. I think I can fool my camera's "brain" that way!

With all the bodily mishaps over the last year or so, I have got horribly behind with pottery orders, maintenance work around the house, even visiting friends. It is embarrassing really. It is very easy to get into a state about it, and not achieve anything at all! One problem about stress is that it can make it difficult to concentrate fully on each task, because all the other ones are knocking at the door! Sadly some of my pots didn't turn out as they should yesterday, and I think it was as much due to my state of mind as to my "rusty" potting skills.

One unusual commission that I did complete in the last few days was a little painting of Mary. Years ago I painted some Christmas Angels that were based on a painting of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico. I painted the angels on watercolour paper, and these were stuck on board and later cut out with a fret saw. After varnishing, these could be hung as Christmas decorations. A while ago someone who bought one of these angels got in touch and asked if I could do a "Mary" figure to accompany the angel. I eventually completed the commission, but it took me ages to get started on it. Part of my trouble was in finding an image of Mary that suited the Angel that I had already done, what I thought my client would appreciate, and what seemed "right" for me! I ended up using the Mary figure on one in a beautiful Annunciation painting by Fra Fillipo Lippi as a starting point.

Detail from Annunciation (1450-53)  by Fra Filippo Lippi
For further information about this painting, see

I think that an artist or a writer expressing religious ideas has a very difficult job. A painting says "this is what it looked like!" and a word says "this is how it is!" However,these are descriptions of Faith, rather than of literal physical fact, and that is how it should be. We don't need to know if Jesus or Mary had Acne, and yet that level of literalism seems to trap some people at what ever end of the religious spectrum!

In many ways -and I mean this kindly - images of Mary are a bit like those of Father Christmas. There are traditions that establish what Mary should wear, what she should be holding, and so on. In the paintings that I looked at prior to attempting the commission, Mary's clothes were much the same, however her age varied greatly. In one painting, Mary looked about 14 years old, maybe less, in many others she could have been in her mid 30s. The apparent age of Mary gave a strong clue as to how she was perceived, if she was Mary Mother of God, or Mary one of us.

I started with a pencil drawing. Then I outlined the lines that I wanted to keep with black waterproof ink, applied with a fine brush.

 Then the shadow areas were established with washes of diluted ink.

Once the tonal work was complete, then colour was applied over the top.
Later the painting received two coats of acrylic varnish to protect it. After a day to dry completely, the painting was stuck to a board. Once dry, this was cut out with a fret saw, and a little hook glued to the back so that the figure could be hung on the wall.

I haven't done any painting for ages. It would have been lovely to have done a painting as sublime as that of Fra Fillipo Lipi, but it was nice to do this, and good to get the paints and brushes out again!


charlie seakins said…
Hi Pete
thanks for the post , I've been reading them for about 2 years and enjoy your slant on things , we are Auckland potters and don't know how you keep those fingers warm down there brrrr
Linda Starr said…
wow amazing how you completed the painting, I never would have realized how much work is 'behind' what the eye sees. It is sometimes strange for me to think of winter over there and almost summer here. This mountain climate is rather divine but the winters are very cold indeed much like you are experiencing. I didn't realize you were away from clay for a month, I must have missed a post. good tip about fooling the camera's eye with another color, I must remember that.
Peter said…
Hi Charlie,
Thank you so much for writing in, it is lovely hearing from an NZ potter, sometimes I fear that we are a bit of a rare and endangered species in this part of the world! Hummm, 2 years reading the blog..., you have great stamina!! . Regarding keeping fingers warm..., wedging cold clay is horrid, but throwing is quite rewarding when the throwing water is spiked with lots of hot water from the jug!
Best Wishes, P

Hi Linda,
Good to hear from you!
It was fun to do a painting for a change, and it was one of those rare ones where I recorded it in progress. It is always interesting watching the seasons change in different parts of the world through blogs. Amazing how our perception of the world has changed so rapidly through the internet, and Google Earth, and the like!
cookingwithgas said…
Hi Peter, lovely colors on those pots and the pairing is fabulous. Snow, just as we head into our summer, fascinating this upside down world.
Take a breath, do what you can, it will all work out.
Rhonda said…
Love your recent work.great your painting again.your blog is always informative and inspiring.Rhonda.X
Those cups are so sweet! Thank you for sharing your painting process. Would love to see the finished ornament.
Peter said…
Hi Meredith,
Good to hear from you, thanks for the encouragement. "Take a breath" is wise advice.. which I must heed!

Hello Rhonda,
How nice to hear from you all the way from the other side of the "ditch"... hope to catch up with Mark sometime today. P,L,NSxxx

Hi Michèle,
Lovely to hear from you. Unfortunately I neglected to take a photo of Mary after she had been cut out. It was exciting seeing her "come to life" when she was freed from the surrounding white paper. She has left here now for her new home, and I understand she is now happily hanging on a wall close to angel Gabriel!
srgb said…
I like the colours Peter then I have to look at the dish you gave me and of course I look at the cups each week end and enjoy the colours of them too, Ho such fun we have, did Laura see the card on the table (last blog)it too spoke heaps.
I too am busy practicing Robin Mckenzies theory I hope you had good results.
Peter said…
Hello Bob,
Good to hear from you. Hope the McKenzie method for the back works for you, I think it made quite a difference for me given time. It is quite nice too, as it is fairly "gentle" as these things go. Glad you are enjoying the pottery and the card. Looking forward to seeing you down this way again one day!
Kind Thoughts, P & L
gz said…
Those cups are beautiful! strength and elegance too.

We're chilly here this morning, although we're supposed to be in summer!! At least you in winter!
Peter said…
Hello Gwynneth,
Lovely to hear from you, all the way from sunny Scotland! Thank you for the encouragement about the cups, it is much appreciated.
Armelle Léon said…
How cold !!! Anyway the snow is beautiful over Silverpeaks, beautiful photo. Nice to know you are back to work, I love you butter dish and the way it is glazed with the chromium flash on the right.
Your Mary is nice, I can imagine the Angel in front of her.
I have got the same problem about stress, and since I take yoga course, it's better. An exhibition is booked for me, in September I have to struggle to have paintings, ceramics and photos in time.
Bon courage Peter et bonjour à tous à la maison :-)
Peter said…
Bonjour Armelle,
Laura says, "Je suis tres froid!" There is a big white frost outside today, but the sky is blue and it is going to be a lovely day. It is exciting that you have an exhibition coming up, and interesting that it will be a mixture of paintings, ceramic and photographs. Laura and I, and two friends will be having a joint exhibition in October. There will be lots of stress at a similar time in NZ and France!! :)
Best Wishes from us all, P,L & NS
Nina Roberts said…
Another informative, interesting and inspiring post, Peter - thank you!
I enjoyed the insight into your painting process.
I'm keen to try your pale green glaze! Do you know if it's likely to bring satisfying results on stoneware in an electric kiln? Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Best wishes
Peter said…
Hi Nina,
Good to hear from you. The pale green glaze is designed for oxidation and works well for me in my electric kiln, it also can look good on stoneware bodies. I find that Orton Cone 9-10 is sufficient. My electric kiln gains temperature quite slowly around the peak of the firing, so I don't feel the need to soak this glaze, however...the Glaze book that the recipe comes from suggests 2354 degrees F (1290C) and an hour soak! ( I suspect that the glaze was tested in a fast firing fibre kiln for those figures.) Insight Glaze software gives this glaze a thermal expansion of 7.66. I find that it does craze a bit on my 2 stoneware bodies, but less so on the porcelain. The craze is not unsightly however. If you want to get rid of crazing, you may need to adjust the recipe.
Do let us know if you try the glaze, and if it works well for you.
Best Wishes, P
Anna said…
I like those teapots. I'm yet to make one with a clay handle over the top... easier to use to pour the tea than a cane handle do you think?
A great painting and interesting comments on your research.
Peter said…
Hi Anna,
Nice to hear from you. I'm not sure if the clay handles are easier to use than the cane ones or not? I guess it really depends on how they are made. I like to make sure that my handles are reasonably wide comfortable to hold, and I also try to think about giving enough height to the handle to allow hot water to be poured into the pot safely when it is being filled. Sometimes I see pots that have the handle very low and close to the lid, and I do wonder if they are difficult to use. I enjoy using a pot with a handle that is over the top, as everything feels nice and secure when pouring tea.

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