Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Glazes!

As a potter, I am always on the hunt for new, unique glazes. I'm especially interested in finding rich, earth-tone glazes for my Deluxe Sunflower series (which could also work for other parts of my repertoire) and cool glazes across the spectrum to use in my increasing range of leaf-related work. (I try to use a single glaze for all pieces using the leaves from a given plant species, just so I don't drive myself nuts.)

Amaco's Potter's Choice series of glazes has been a real friend to me - most of the glazes have been great to work with. (There are exceptions and, in at least one case as far as I'm concerned, a complete misfire.) But their development of new glazes has not kept up with my expanding inventory. You can imagine my delight when I heard that my materials supplier, Rovin Ceramics of Ann Arbor, had decided to start carrying selected glazes from Coyote Clay & Color.

Rovin did a great job of generating samples not only on the standard white stoneware or porcelain body (standard practice in the industry) but also on the Peach Stoneware (RO-23) I use for a lot of my work. After perusing the test tiles, I selected ten of their glazes, samples of five of which are shown here, on Mini Sunflowers.

I started out by doing test tiles but, since I planned to use these particular glazes on my sunflowers, thought it would be a good idea to try them out in that format as well. My choices included Goldenrod Shino (MBG088, upper left, which has already gone into production for my revised Spinning Deluxe Sunflower Design), Butterscotch Shino (MGB 086, upper right), Leopard Shino (MGB089, center), Light Shino (MGB045, lower left) and, finally, Cedar Shino (MGB087, lower right, which I have combined with red iron oxide for a Dwarf Chinkapin Oak [Quercus prinoides] Leaf Pocket for my friend Chad Hughson of Hidden Savannah Nursery in Kalamazoo, Michigan).

I'm still sorting through the results, as it's important that the glazes I purchase be sufficiently distinct from one another to be worth purchasing but I'm pleased with these samples and will definitely be investing in the Goldenrod Shino when finances permit.

Kimono Lace Tea Set

Having figured out how to actually make cylindrical forms using slabs with my yarn bowls, I got, well, I got pretty excited! A whole new world had opened up for me, where I could make vessels using my slab roller rather than the wheel or extruder. (I love my high-capacity extruder but the dies generate pretty thick clay sections, thicker than I really wanted for the sorts of vessels I wanted to make.)

Another format that had been a big, as-yet-unmet, challenge was that of a tray - the trays I had made previously had all warped horribly. My friend Juliet Smith helped me out with this one, sharing some of her experiences on Facebook, forcing me to realize I had to develop some serious patience and let these pieces dry out really slowly. Armed with my new-found knowledge and experience, I set out to combine them into a Japanese-inspired tea set.

I liked the idea of using the lace texture for these pieces, as I had with the yarn bowls, as they really reminded me of the brocades used in the obis for Japanese kimono. I used exactly the same technique for the cups as I had for the yarn bowls. After rolling out the clay slab, I blocked out the size piece for the cups. I wanted them to be modestly-sized, so their eventual contents wouldn't cool off before their users were finished. (I felt slightly smaller cups requiring slightly more frequent refills would be more conducive to keeping tea hot.) I rolled the lace onto the clay slab and cut it to size, bevelled the bottom edge to make the bottom of a box, rolled the cylinder up and folded up the bevelled bottom and attached it to a small plain square slab, making sure the surfaces were well scored and slipped. I have found that an offset frosting or icing knife is perfect for smoothing the surface inside the bottom of the cup to make sure the join is secure; I also check and make sure the corners are well sealed (it wouldn't serve to have a leaky teacup!) I also use the frosting knife to smooth the inside of the seam, which is helped along by applying clay rosettes from the same lace pattern on the outside, not only sealing the seam but further enhancing the overall design.

Detail of cup
I was a bit more trepidatious about the tray design. My past experiences had been less than salubrious and I had been deeply disappointed with them. I decided to keep the design as simple as possible and try to let them dry as slowly as possible.

For the tray, I rolled out a clay slab and rolled an oblong piece of lace into the surface. Cutting it to size - two inches longer and wider than the desired flat portion of the tray - I then marked off a one-inch square at each corner, cutting a section of clay from the inside point of the square to a point one-half-inch from the square's outside point. Removing the resulting small diamond-shaped piece of clay, I used a paint stirrer (any really flat "thing" will work), I turned up the tray's four resulting edges and scored and slipped then together, creating a bevelled lip making it easier to carry the tray and harder for things to slip off of it. I put the tray on a kiln shelf, covered lightly with plastic, and put it high up on my shelves where I wouldn't see it. Checking the tray the next day, it seemed to be drying fairly flat. Once it was more than leather hard, I removed the plastic, still allowing it to continue drying in the ambient studio conditions. Long story short, it dried perfectly flat!

Once all of the pieces were dry, I lightly sanded them with synthetic steel wool to make sure they would be pleasant to handle, then bisque fired to Cone 06. Before glazing, I lightly rinsed the pieces to make sure there was no remaining clay dust and then waxed the bottoms of the cups and tray. I dipped the cups about two thirds horizontally in Amaco's Potter's Choice Temmoku about two thirds; then I dipped each one two thirds from the other direction (so there was an overlap of glazes) using Indigo Float, Lustrous Jade, Vert Lustre or Textured Turquoise. (I dipped them all so the lace rosettes sealing the seam were at the center of the non-Temmoku side just for the sake of symmetry.)

Detail of tray
The tray was more challenging because, although I still wanted to overlap the glaze, there was no way I could dip the piece as I wanted, as I wanted the glaze to run parallel to the tray's longer axis. (It didn't help that I was running really low on both glazes by this time, so even if I had been OK with dipping the other direction, I really couldn't!) I opted to try to pour the Temmoku on half the tray and the Indigo Float on the other half. Although the demarcation between the two "zones" isn't quite as "clear" as I would like, I think it works with the cups.

This tea set actually sold recently on my Etsy site (www.etsy.com/shop/TheBlackCatPottery) but I plan to make another, this time with five cups, more in keeping with a traditional Japanese tea set.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spring 2013 Workshops - Pottery and Garden

Finally - we have a schedule for our Spring 2013 Workshops - both our new pottery workshops, many of which were formerly offered by the now-defunct Firebrick Gallery and Pottery Studio, and our annual Clematis Pruning Workshop. If you are interested in registering for any of these events, please click on the links to the left, just above the calendar! All events are scheduled at Black Cat Pottery, 3903 Grayton St., Detroit, MI 48224.

Pottery Workshops

Hanging Bird Bowl Workshop
Three sessions - Monday, March 11, 18 and 25, 6:30-8:30pm
$65.00 - covers all materials and firings.
Our ever-popular Hanging Bird Bowl Workshop returns for the third time. Use basic slab-building pottery techniques to create the perfect bird-friendly Spring-time gift for your favorite avid gardener or bird lover using real leaves from native Michigan plants. The first session will include step-by-step instructions to make your very own bird bath with Cheryl's expert instruction the second session sees us glazing our pieces in preparation for finishing. At the final session you will add the final touch - genuine leather lace to hang your bird bowl. No experience required!!

Lace Bowls and Buttons Workshop
Two sessions - Monday, April 22 and 29, 6:30-8:30pm
$65.00 - covers all materials and firings.
Simple yet elegant - participants will learn how to make lace-embossed ceramic bowls that are both functional and beautiful serving- and centerpieces and unique lace-embossed buttons fit to embellish the most discriminating wardrobe, from hat to sweaters to your favorite jacket. Just in time for Mother's Day, too! The first session includes fabricating your bowls and buttons using both vintage and contemporary hand-made lace. In the  second session, we will glaze our pieces using a selection of over 35 food-safe glazes! No experience required!

Fancy Sunflower Workshop
Two sessions - Monday, 13 and 20, 6:30-8:30pm
$65.00 - covers all materials and firings.
Try yet another twist on the ever-popular sunflower theme - with cool new colors and textures. Novice and experienced potters will both enjoy this two-day workshop to create two sunflowers - just in time for the start of the gardening season! Our first session includes fabricating two sunflowers - both a mini and a tiny or small - so you have the opportunity to experiment with two textures (if you wish); in our second session you will glaze your sunflowers. Completed sunflowers are suitable for indoors or out. No experience required!

Gardening Workshop

Clematis Pruning Workshop
Saturday, April 27, 10:00am-12:00n
$10 - covers all instruction, a comprehensive 10-page handout and refreshments
Long perceived as "difficult" or "temperamental", Clematis are actually proven performers that can give years of gardening delight. Join us for a hands-on workshop to learn about the care culture of these garden gems and specific pruning techniques and concerns for various species and hybrids. Bring your favorite (by-pass) pruners and a chair. Your $10.00 pre-paid/nonrefundable registration includes one hour of instruction and one hour of supervised hands-on experience. Pre-enrollment required, including your name and contact information in case of inclement weather. Limited enrollment. Two hours of education for Master Gardeners.