Pottery Studio Learning Curve

Ohhhhh boy…. The last month has been a series of experiments and learning.

I last left off announcing a big change in my creative life. My partner Linsey and I have started a new pottery studio called Shady Birds Pottery Studio.

I’ve been creating pottery at someone else’s studio for ten years. I knew starting our own would require faltering a bit and who wants to sign up to do that?

On the plus side, being experienced potters, we knew exactly what we needed. We’ve been successful on this end. Any item you could possibly need is in our little studio (pat on the back Mary and Lynsey :) but we both knew the trials and tribulations would come from a new kiln. Let me introduce you to The Beast as we’ve named her:

Ohhhh The Beast.

The first thing we had to do was a “test fire”. Pretty much, you start the kiln up, run her to cone 06, make sure everything is running smoothly and that the shelves and firebricks inside have fired alone to strengthen them. Sounds pretty easy right? Press a button? Well, we flicked the switch and the kiln would not turn on at all. Lynsey and her husband spent hours checking all the wires inside the box and found two wires that were crisscrossed in the wrong spots. The manual doesn’t prepare you for this! Ok. that was fixed…it finally turns on… ready to try the test-firing….. About 6 hours in, the kiln fails and shuts off. Apparently with the latest local heat wave, the temperature in the studio got too hot which enacted a fail-safe that shut off the kiln to prevent the computer box from melting and shorting out. We didn’t see this ordeal in the manual either ;) The lesson from this one is fire at night, place two fans facing the computer box and DO NOT FIRE THE KILN IN 95 DEGREE WEATHER. -check, got it :)

Next we did our first bisque firing. That’s when you take wet raw clay, fire it only half as hot as it will get, so that it’s firm like a piece of pottery but still porous enough to accept glaze. Here’s our first bisque-fire.

Pat on the back, we conquered this firing without any mishaps :)

After that, we spent a week or so glazing all of our items for the first glaze firing. This is where you take the clay pieces from half way hot, add glaze and then go up to about 2000 degrees to make a piece of clay strong and shiny.

Gulp.

This is the panic zone. There are so many variables. There’s red, grey, white, black and every color clay in between. There are hundreds of glazes. Each clay has a different reaction to each glaze. Some glazes do well at lower temperatures, some glazes only run and get their beautiful colors at higher temperatures. So for a first glaze firing, the smart thing to do would be to use the clay you’ve always used with glazes you have always used in order to confirm everything is working correctly. Makes sense right?

Lynsey went the sensical route and Mary tried all new clays with all new glazes she never used before…. Go big or go home right? Gulp some more….

I was literally sick to my stomach on this one. I watched so many “fails” on YouTube. I thought for sure we would be looking at a HOT MESS. But Rhea, my old pottery instructor, reminded us. “You know more than you even think you know. Ten years? You will go into this with calculations from past trials and errors and take all that wealth of knowledge an do just fine.” I said “Thanks Mom!” which is what I call her because she is wise like that and with her little nugget of faith, we pressed the button. We fired at cone 5 and 6-7 hours later….. we had our first official finished pieces. Here they are:

I couldn’t believe it. Out of all my pieces in the kiln, I had only one fail. All those weeks losing sleep at night thinking glazing would take months to overcome, were for not. I selected all glazes that fire at the same temperature and they did pretty well on the clays I selected.

This was my one fail. What’s strange is that this glaze was supposed to fire to a grey-white with blue and brown ribbons through it. Imagine my surprise when it came out brown and stuck to the kiln shelf! This was what I thought every single piece was going to be like. So I am incredibly thankful that it was only one.

Now don’t you worry. I’m not getting cocky! I’m still anticipating quite a few mishaps coming my way, but what I did learn is that my imagination is way worse than reality! To sum it up…..

WE GOT THIS!

5 Comments

  1. They look great! What kind of glaze are you using? Dip or paint? When I took classes in a community studio, we used dipping glazes. When I started firing my own stuff during the pandemic, I started using brush-on glazes and that was a whole learning process.

    1. Hi Geri. I’m doing both. I appreciate the speed that dipping affords me and the control brush-on offers. Ultimately, I’d like to get to all dipping, but I figured it was smart to try all of my glaze choices in pint size before really committing to the large bucket. I’d say at this point I’m still trying to create my own palette. Being part of someone elses studio, I never picked my own glazes….There is a lot of excitement in the creative freedom but admittedly, there is definitely a learning curve. At the moment I am searching for the perfect red!

  2. I love everything about this. Your journey, thought process, writing, pictures, “the beast”, the “mishap”, the end result… Beauty from all angles! Congratulations and thank you for sharing. 😊

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