Mars and a Colourful Lunar Fog Bow

Arching across the lower part of the image above is a rare lunar fog bow. Unlike a more commonly seen rainbow, which is created by sunlight reflected prismatically by falling rain, this fog bow was created by moonlight reflected by the small water drops that compose fog. Although most fog bows appear white, all of the colours of the rainbow were somehow visible here. The above image was taken from high atop Haleakala, a huge volcano in Hawaii, USA, by Wally Pacholka. 2 Feb 2010 APOD

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Throwing, coiling, moulding or building

After what feels like a hectic week researching and gathering info for the new business, I've also had to consider what I should make out of the lump of clay that has been sat on my dining table for the last couple of days. I have to walk past it every time I go into the kitchen so it's not going to go away. Time to put my thinking cap on.

I borrowed a couple of books from V and read about the different ways to use the clay. Throwing a pot or bowl on a wheel, what most people think of when you say pottery, seems to be the hardest to do. Reminds me a bit like learning to drive, steering, indicating, using the pedals, changing gears all at the same time. Now I do it automatically but there were times when I thought I'd never get the hang of it.

So turning a wheel, throwing some clay on it, moulding it with my hands, keeping it in shape and damp at the same time looks like it may end in tears of frustration before too long and I love taking the easy route to produce anything...yes, I love to cheat, in the nicest possible way of course.

Coiling is rolling the clay into a long thin sausage and coiling it around in a spiral as you build a pot or bowl and then smooth the clay with your hands to get the shape you want. Looks easier than throwing but just as likely to end up in disaster.

That leaves moulding and building. Moulding may be the easiest, as all you do is roll out the clay until it's bigger than the mould (like pastry to line a tin), place over the top of the mould and press into shape. Ok but a bit too boring for me.

So I'm left with building...that's more like it. I like constructing things so this appeals to the latent engineer in me! I've obviously spent too many days in my childhood tinkering with cars with my Dad. Alright, I confess, he tinkered, I was only allowed to clean the wire wheels with a bottle brush until I got bored and wandered off to play with my dolls. Not that I had any dolls, (my earliest toys were model cars and a car transporter. Yes I was a Daddy's girl and I guess Freud would have had something to say about that!) I just didn't want you to think I'm just a tomboy at heart.

So what to make. Well the sensible option would be to start with a simple box. But I don't do sensible, I want more of a challenge. Building out of slab forms as they're called seems to lend itself to a more Art Deco feel. All geometric shapes and flowing lines, a mix of everything from sunbursts to chevrons. Looked on the internet for some inspiration and came up with a sort of bucket shape, narrower at the bottom than at the top (there is probably some fancy name for it) and I've designed a chevron and diamond pattern to decorate the panel.

And to get a bit more complex I've done another version with cut out sections that I can build in different heights (thickness of the clay) to give a sort of stepped form. Will have to take some photos as describing it is a bit like pulling teeth....oh so painful.

A couple of hours with paper, pencil and a ruler and I have the stencils cut out and the pattern worked out. Now all I have to do is have a go. But it's the weekend, the garden needs attention, there's a Potato Day at the local college, I've got bread to make....it'll just have to be added to the bottom of the list. Procrastination, now that's something I'm an expert at so we'll have to see how long it takes before I take up that rolling pin and tackle my first clay challenge.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Thinking "out of the box"

Well the kiln question continues but in another form....borrowing one!

Found out that there is a community project about 5 miles away that has a studio where they teach a range of crafts including pottery. Popped into see them, had a coffee and got the guided tour. They are happy for people to drop in when classes aren't on to use all their facilities including the kiln. Result.

Will still need a kiln at some point though, but it means converting my garage into a workshop, extraction unit for the fumes, benches, trays, all the tools etc. I think it's best to start off slow learning to make the stuff first and the rest will follow in time.

My friend, V, has dropped off some clay for me to practice with. All I've done so far is help her with rolling out and cutting tiles for her current project. Now I have to design something, make some stencils out of thick paper or thin card, roll and cut out the pieces, stick them together and voila!

If only it was that easy.....

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Kiln is more than just a baker's oven

The most important piece of equipment is the Kiln. It is also the single most expensive bit of kit. So much more than a Baker's Oven. When I had my Bakery I had a 4 deck Baker's Oven installed which we nicknamed the Beast. I could have had 5 decks, but the ceiling wasn't high enough - you get the picture?

The "ovens" for the craft producer aren't anywhere near that size, but boy can they get HOT. Up to 1300C. But which one to choose? There are kilns for everything you can think of, glass, metals for jewellery making, gas powered, electric and the DIY option ouside, built of bricks, an open fire and a load of optimism.

You can get all sizes, from the little tabletop hobby ones up to the big furnaces used by the commercial producers. Round ones, square ones, oblong ones...my head is already spinning like a potter's wheel.

Then there's the regulations from the infamous EU. They love their Directives and you can bet there's one to take all the fun out of this. Just see what I mean...

For instance, if you want to try Raku glazing, the pots are placed into a hot kiln to melt the glaze and then taken from the kiln and put into a combustion chamber, usually a metal drum or bucket with a lid to cut off the oxygen. Inside the drum or bucket you put combustible material like sawdust or wood shavings which catch fire and the smoke effects the glaze giving unusual patterns and colours to the finished pot. This type of pottery orginates in the Far East before kilns were invented. So "primitive" Japanese people would "bake" their pots in an open fire, stoking it up from time to time to keep the temperature up until the artisan considered his/her pot was cooked enough.

As you can imagine the powers that be in Health and Safety consider this to be far too risky...try telling that to all the weekend BBQers cremating their sausages and burgers!

It is the EU's considered opinion I will need goggles, hard hat, heat/fire resistant overalls, gauntletts, steel toe capped shoes, industrial, heavy duty tongs and I must open the kiln from the side with the hinge in case of a flash fire. Oh and I must make sure to stand back. Where's the fun in that?

Reminds me of Neil Armstrong on the Moon moving in slow motion in his space suit with those heavy gravity boots on and helmet with oxygen on his back to make sure he could at least breathe. That's not exactly a look I'm taken with, so what other option is there?

Well I could play safe and go electric, but this is all getting too much. Maybe I just need to approach this from another angle....think laterally and see what comes up.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

To Be or Not to Be?

That is the question.

What is pottery and do I want to call myself a potter? My first instinct is the image of making pots on a wheel a la Ghost. Must be the Valentine's Day influence.

The Wiki definition of Potter is someone who makes pottery (you don't say!) but also it has other meanings such as "to move about aimlessly", "potter around" or just "potter about".

Well I can potter about with the best of them but I'm not an "aimless" type of person so that leaves Ceramicist "producing ceramic art". That's more like it, a bit classical, from the Greek word keramikos. Well I did Greek Mythology at school, will that do?

Now I've got to learn what a Ceramicist does. Lots of new words to learn, like clay, grog, frit, wedging, pugmill, sieving, glazes....don't know yet what half of them mean. Time for a visit to the Library.

Fortunately I used to be a Baker, so sieving, rolling, moulding, glazing and generally getting my hands dirty isn't a new thing. And I've got to find out about Kilns which is just another sort of oven for baking things in.

Then there's the big question "what do I want to make?" It's the blank piece of paper time. Will report back on where my imagination takes me next.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Sowing the Seed

Well we're not exactly at the birth just yet, just going through the labour bit.

I've never actually given birth so with respect to those ladies who have, welcome to the (almost) birth of my new venture.....into Ceramics!

If we go back to the beginning of the gestation period, I received an astrology report from an astrologer in the US whose blog I follow. Why, you may ask has a blog about ceramics got any connection to astrology...well let me tell you a little story.

11 days ago it was my 50th birthday. So now I've joined Saga Land, not that I want it to be all beer and skittles, more a glass of wine and a cupcake.

Like a lot of so called middle aged people I have gone through the process of evaluating my life and trying to decide on something to do for the rest of my life that I might actually enjoy...there I've said it, Enjoyment. Not a wage slave on the treadmill trying to keep up with the merry-go-round, just pure unadulterated enjoyment.

But what to do.....enter stage left the astrology report.

A good friend, V, teaches pottery and is an artist in the painting sense. We have become good friends and while she is a creative type, I'm more the business type. We both enjoy astrology, not the stars in the paper kind of stuff, a bit more in depth. So we had a synastry report done (usually done for relationships) and that was the insemination point and the seed that started everything off.

The Astrologer said that our stars suggested a joint venture and creating beautiful objects out of clay (Earth). So here we were with the seed in our hands that started this whole thing off.....