Thursday, 28 February 2008

A visit from Blogger Paul

I had a visit today from Blogger Paul and his partner Marion, it was good to see them and a lovely surprise. I also had a natter with Blogger Matt on the phone. Tonight I logged on to Ron's blog and he's got a movie clip on there with him talking away, which was brilliant to see, now I know how fast he can move and what he sounds like.

This blogging site is a very important part of my life in the Pottery because although I work in solitude, I get to share my workshop with others and they share theirs with me. All of us in our little network recognise how valuable this support structure is. I'd love to hear from anybody else who reads this rubbish too, potters or non-potters, it's quite straightforward via the 'comments' facility.

My bird table's been madly busy again today. I never feel too lonely in the workshop, particularly when there's plenty going on out there. It's situated just outside the window infront of my wheel, so I'm able to sit at the wheel and watch the birds sort out their pecking order. Some of them can get quite stroppy. They cost me a fortune to feed and eat better than we do at home, but they're wonderful to watch and I become more fascinated by the day.

There a lot of different species that come to visit and the array of colours in their plumage is stunning, particularly when you've got a group of them on there. I have one little Chaffinch with a broken leg that comes every day for a good feast. On Tuesday a Nuthatch came to visit, which is the first time I'd ever seen one and today it's been back again - what a striking little bird. I tried to get a shot of it on Tuesday but my camera is so slow that I ended up with over a dozen pictures of an empty bird table, but today I was luckier.

Happily, it's been a good making day today, five 15lb jars - another to make in the morning. These will soon fill up the next bisc kiln, I'm really pleased with them. More biggish pots tomorrow. I don't have a working pugmill so all my brickclay has to be blended and kneaded with my smooth clay by hand. That certainly reminds me that I worked for too many years in a cushy job at the Uni, particularly when I'm kneading up loads of 15lb balls. Forty three's a bit late in life to be having to start growing muscles, I've become much stronger in the last year, but I'm still more Mr Puniverse than Mr Universe.

Recently I've been a bit low and my confidence dipped again, I think it's just a bit of anxiety so I'm pleased that stuff's gone well today. I find putting my work out in public quite frightening - guess it's one of those things you just get used to. Yesterday's restful time at home helped a lot I think as I went in with a much more positive head from the outset today. The knowledge that the bisc is done must be a contributing factor too.

I didn't unbrick the kiln today although it would have been cool enough, a peep through the spyhole didn't tell me much, other than it's fired - it's just a boring old bisc firing so there's no great excitment and if it's not worked, well I'd rather not know quite yet!

I need to concentrate on making pots for a couple of days to allow for drying time for the next bisc. I'll get on to glazing pots on Monday, by then there'll be plenty of new ones on the shelf and a bit of weight off my mind. This blog's a right ramble tonight, I do apologise, enough already!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Slipping a big 'un

The other day I was going on about dangling 14lb jugs above a bucket whilst pouring on slip. Ron suggested I should put a clip on Youtube to explain the process better, but my camera's rubbish so I can't, but here are a few stills that Mark took last night.

1. Dangling the pot
2. Pouring over the slip
3. Swinging the pot back upright
4. Catching inside the rim
5. Placing the slipped pot onto a board

Boring old biscuit

Well that seemed to go ok, although it was not without panic. During the early stages, the pyrometer gauge, which is the piece of apparatus used to register the rate of temperature climb, stopped working. Clearly it required the manual skills of a man who plays with gritty mud all day to sort it out, so I took it to pieces and got stuck in with a screwdriver. Once I'd got the top off, I discovered that it was all complicated, fiddly mechanisms inside, springs and wires and shiny things. All the components were magnetic too and as my screwdriver pulled away from one and slapped uncontrollably and percussively against another due to its magnetic pull, my attempts at repair just made things worse. Even another dig at it with a plastic knife didn't help. So there I was, one of the most important firings of my career so far in full swing and no idea of the temperature in the chamber.

As fortune would have it, there was my old pyro that had stopped working years ago, lying on top of the kiln, so I wired it up and thankfully it sprang back to life - phew, it had obviously needed its two year holiday.

I started the firing at 8am, then continued through the day, chainsawing up loads of recently acquired pallets and burning them as I went along. Somebody told me the other day that vegetable oil is fine as a chain lubricant, so yesterday as the wood was burning there was the most wonderful aroma of chips frying.

Pallets make great kiln fuel because they have chunky hardwood bits for a short, hot flame and longer softwood bits for a faster more furious flame, it's a bit like firing fuel in kit form - and of course they're free and plentiful. They're just a bit of a pain to store until they're chopped, because although they stack nicely, they come with a lot of fresh air and I don't have much space, so I was pleased to get them burned and to save the lovely dry skinny stuff in my woodshed for the glaze firing.

Mark came up after work and we fired until about 11.30, then sealed everything up with wet clay and went home.

Late to bed again, so when the alarm went off at seven this morning, I decided to stay in bed to recharge in readiness for a frantic glazing session in the next few days, I've not long been up - I'm knackered.

Hopefully my chimney stayed up overnight, my mother just called and said there was an earthquake last night, I think it was more up-country than down here so I'm sure all's well..

Bisc firings are such a bore, no shiny pots to look at through the spy holes and the knowledge that when the door's unbricked, they'll only be half way done. Oh, well, it's all part of the process.

Here are a couple of shots from the firing - as ever, that old favourite, chuck loads of wood into the firebox, then pull out the spyhole - will I ever tire of it? The others, a view of a lid through one of the bottom spy holes and the pyrometer doing its thing.

Unpack on Friday, slap the glaze on on Monday and Tuesday, pack the kiln on Tuesday and Wednesday and set fire to it all again on Thursday - new pots a week on Sunday, can't wait. it's been a long time.

Ron has just had a great batch of slipware pots out of the kiln in the States, check it out.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Centred Ceramics

Hello all, hope Monday wasn't too traumatic.

All's set for firing tomorrow. I collected a load of hardwood off-cuts from the kitchen makers in Tiverton which is perfect for the job, kiln dried, short lengths that produce a short, hot flame, ideal for the earlier stages of the firing when I don't want a long flame getting up into the chamber and cracking the pots. All the wood I use for fuel is salvage timber, old pallets are really useful.
The gas burner's been in the firebox since first thing this morning, I'm going to go up to the workshop in a minute to turn it up. The kiln should be at about 200c in the morning when I start stoking with wood.

When I was looking at pots on ebay last night, I found a link to this great site, Centred Ceramics . There are some fantastic pots on there for sale including work by my mate Tim Hurn (that's his bottle) and some lovely fat jugs like the one in the picture, made by Paul Dennis. Check it out, There are also some interesting interviews between the makers and Sean Cannon, the site owner, who clearly has a great passion for this type of pottery.
Well, must go and turn that burner up, then an early night, I'm pooped.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

It's Sunday again!

If you look really carefully I think you might see Ron in the distance

Saturday, 23 February 2008

We did it

Kiln packed, door bricked up and still almost half a kiln load left on the shelves that wouldn't fit.

Sort wood on Monday, fire on Tuesday. Back to plan A, make a load more pots for another bisc in the wood kiln in a couple of weeks time.

Didn't do very well with the before and after shots, the fat jug I put on yesterday's post didn't even make it into the kiln.

It's Saturday again!

For the UK forty somethings, apologies to all else

Friday, 22 February 2008

It's a start.

I started packing the kiln today. I think that it'll be just about full by the time all the pots are in, but only just Marky Mark's coming up in the morning and hopefully we'll get the pack completed and if we do really well, the door bricked up too.

I took this shot showing the variety of things that are going into this firing for the sake of my own head as much as anything else. There's a whole load of flatware too that isn't on the photo, platters and dishes. Because I tend to make sixes of everything, I've got six of pretty much everything on the photograph so, as long as it's a good firing I'll be ok for pots. If it's not, I'm in trouble, although I've still got a lot of pots up in my attic that I kept back from the last two firings specifically for these shows.

Today I got the black slip onto the large jugs I made earlier in the week. That's always a relief, dangling a 14lb pot upside down over a bucket with one hand, while trying to pour slip with the other, is always a challenge. The tallest of these is about 540mm so there's a bit of a knack to it, because once it's upsidedown it has to be swung up the right way without touching the wet surface.

Whether I'll get enough pots together for another bisc firing remains to be seen, but I'm certainly going to try. If not, I'll bisc what I have in my new electric kiln(that still isn't wired in yet) because I'll definately have enough pots for another glaze firing. There are always a lot more pots in a bisc because it doesn't matter if they touch. I've already got a stockpile of biscuited pots, plus these new ones, it'll amount to a glaze kiln, albeit a loose pack.

The other two shots are for a bit of a before and after thing - let's see what happens.

Off to band practice soon and hopefully a bit of a de-stress. I always get a bit anxious in the lead up to a show and it's starting to kick in. I'll be much happier when (if) everything's fired successfully.

Happy weekends all.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

A slap of slip

Here are a couple of pots I decorated today. They always look a bit crazy until the glaze mellows them out a bit. The teapot will be amber and the jar, green. The manganese in the black slip will bleed in the glaze and so the lines will be much softer. It better had do!

The little lambs are in a field I pass on the way home. It's not a great photo, but I thought it was quite funny, they're like little teddy bears at the moment.
Yum yum.

Before and after

Here's how the place has changed. The top shot was taken last year. That chimney looks really dodgy. When I put the concrete footings in I forgot to take in to account the overhang of the roof, so it had to be built with a curve in it - how dumb was that?!

The last shot shows the end of the workshop that I'm going to rebuild. The window in the unpainted section is in the kiln room. This is going to be turned into a door which will lead into a lovely new woodshed, made from some beautiful old oak that was taken out of one of the barn conversions last week. I used some of the chunkier bits for the flowerbed on the middle picture, the rest will become woodshed and store room and the bits that have completely had it due to woodworm, will be logged up and used for the start of the firing.

The new store room's going to be built on the site of the existing tin woodshed which has served its purpose well, but had its day. It'll be great to have a place to put all my finished work because there's no room in the workshop, it won't be huge but I can fill it full of shelves. All this will have to wait a few weeks.

I gave up making today until after the firing, because it was impossible and I was going mad. The place is full and I need to just concentrate on getting this firing sorted out for next week - it feels like I'm trying to keep too many balls in the air at the moment, so time to focus on the firing then worry about making more pots later. A good decision I think, for my poor little brain was starting to suffer.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Thank you Hilary, Luke and Joseph.

Hil and the boys have done an amaaaaaaaaaaaazing job today, the outside of the workshop is transformed.

I worked on this evening when Mark came up, put on handles, did some decorating and got the place sorted out again for a good make tomorrow.

These big baluster jugs always look a bit odd until the handles are on. I've got six of them that'll need slipping tomorrow.

Check this out.

Late for work today. It's half term so we've had a lazy morning - a bit naughty because I've got lots to do, although I won't beat myself up too much as I'll be working on this evening when Marky Mark comes up.

Check this guy out. He doesn't make a single unnecessary move - great skill. It's obviously a demonstration because under normal circumstances he wouldn't assemble the teapot immediately, not least because it wouldn't have any holes in it for the tea to get out.

Must go to work, back later................

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Ain't it pretty?

Hil and the boys came back up today and carried on with the workshop makeover. I'm not sure it's the 'family time' they were expecting over the half term holidays, but I think as it's coming along they are getting a good sense of satisfaction. Their efforts have certainly been a huge help to me. Tomorrow should see it finished.

The plant on the wall is a rambling rose that has until now, been rambling across the ground, so it'll should be much happier now that it's held up on wires. I reckon the workshop will look as pretty as Snow White's cottage by the time it's done - with a big wobbly chimney. It just needs Matt to come back with that hat of his, I'm not going to suggest which (albeit tall), dwarf he might be.

While the good work was going on outdoors, I was indoors slipping pots and making and finishing big baluster jugs. I hope to get on to bread crocks and large jars tomorrow. I think Mark's coming up in the evening so I'll probably work on and put in a long day.

Monday, 18 February 2008


Another tv classic from my childhood, 'How?', Fred Dinage trying to make pots, this is very funny

Magnolia Monday

Hil and the boys were brilliant today and cracked on with sorting out the outside of the workshop in the spring-like sunshine. I'll get another shot tomorrow, it was dusk when we left, so I couldn't get a picture of their achievement. It looks so much better with it's Magnolia paint job and freshly dug flowerbeds. There's still much to do, but it's a great start and I appreciate their help because I've so much else to do at the moment that I wasn't going to get a look at it for ages.

I want to take the woodshed down in a few weeks after I've burned all the wood, then build a new one, bigger and tidier, using some of the building materials that I've been salvaging and stockpiling of late.

A couple of years ago, Hollyford was much more of a hippie encampment and my tumbledown shack didn't stand out quite so much. It just looked what tumbledown cattle sheds in the countryside look like. Nowadays, the other barns have become fancy, expensive dwellings and the whole place has a very different ambience. I'm sure all the residents will be much relieved to see the change. I will be too, it needs to become more professional, particularly as I'm starting to get quite a few visitors these days.

While Hil and the boys slapped the paint on outdoors, I was inside making a load more pots, big jugs that'll probably not make the next firing, but will be for the subsequent one a couple of weeks later. Did a lot of decorating today too - more tomorrow. There's a lot to do if I'm going to get two glaze firings through before the end of March.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Saturday, 16 February 2008

It's Saturday!

Friday night is music night

Just got in from band practice. We're working on a load of new songs at the moment which demands a level of concentration hard to find after a week at work. It is increasingly difficult to muster the energy for it on a Friday night. What ever happened to getting out and partying at the weekend? These days it's all about recovering from the week's work. I'm definately getting too old for rock and roll. I'll have to go to workshop tomorrow for a while, but at least it'll not be as early a start as during the week.

The last few days I've been making large jars and bottles. These will be dry in time to pack in the bisc kiln a week tomorrow. The plan is to keep making next week for the subsequent firing. I hope to get two whole firings of glazed pots through before the end of March- that'll give me loads of pots to chose from for my spring shows.

I've been doing a lot of decorating with a comb made from a rubber kidney, it makes a much finer line than finger wiping. I did a batch of mugs with combng in my last firing and they worked really well, so these have developed from those mugs. More decorating to do in the morning.

I just won a competition on Michael Kline's blog!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Late night potting

Mark came up and we worked late. I'll not write much because I need to go to bed, but here are some shots, Mark with his painted dishes, Jars with lids(I'll turn the lids and throw the knobs on tomorrow) and teapots I decorated yesterday. Bottles to make tomorrow and maybe a cider jar if my poor skinny arms will take it.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Blogger Matt's gone home

Matt's just headed off home. We've had a good time and the weather's been great again today, so we could get out and check out more of the clay from the immediate vicinity. There's so much of it and just below the surface too. It isn't all that clear on the picture, but the banks of the little stream are yellow ochre clay. I feel even more convinced today, that the way forward is to find a place with a good seam of red earthenware. It's a way off yet but something to aim towards, it'd be wonderful to make pots with clay from the same site as the workshop.
Here's a shot of one of Matt's mugs freshly dipped in a slip made of woodland clay. I've a feeling it'll be brown, but it might be a very lovely brown so we'll see soon. Matt's also threw some pots made from this so they'll be in the next firing. He's going to put some through his electric kiln in the next few days too so that'll be interesting.

It's been cracking, having Matt around this week, just what I needed after the cat thing on Friday, I didn't fancy being stuck in there with just my own head.

We're all getting a bit more used to Butch not being around. Perhaps we'll get a kitten or a puppy when we've had a bit of time.

Joe's parent/teacher interview later, then Marky Mark is coming over and we'll head back to the workshop for an evening session, I've got lids to make and jars to decorate. I'll try and get some shots on later.

Cheers Matt, nice one geezer, see you soon.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


What a beautiful day it was today. Matt and I took a wander across the valley to the woodland opposite.
At the top of the valley there's a lot of granular red clay just beneath the soil and at the bottom of the valley, there's a little stream. This stream is all that remains of what must have been a huge river in prehistoric times which created the valley that winds away into the distance. There's a lot of smoother, ochre coloured clay in the banks of the stream. I've fired some tests before and it comes out a light terracotta colour, but I haven't done enough with it to know its firing range yet.
Matt took a ball of it back to the workshop and made a couple of pots. I've got some in slurry form that Joe mixed for me a couple of weeks ago and Matt's pots inspired me to slop the slurry into a plaster mold to dry out. It should be ready to use by the end of the week.
I'd love to be able to use clay from the site and at some stage in the distant future I'd like to move workshop to a place where I can dig my own clay. It's all a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, but one day I hope to achieve it. There's a lot of fine earthenware in this county.
My camera batteries ran out so I haven't got any shots of the jars I've been making this week, but here's a picture of some primroses in the woods, my favourite flower and some derelict farm equipment in the adjoining field. I love the old crane.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Starts miserable, gets happier

It's been a really sad day here today without our little cat, I keep expecting to see her in one of her favorite places, which were getting increasingly ridiculous as she got older. She'd recently taken to sleeping curled up in the washbasin in the bathroom. It was horrible when she wasn't waiting for us when we got home from a distracting trip to town too. She was a big presence in this house, always under our feet and a right pain, but a lovely little cat with it. I was twenty five when we got her. I guess everybody says it about their pet, but she was full of character and after eighteen years you get to know that character with all its habits pretty well. I know she had a good long life and was well loved and that it's all part of having a pet, but it's knocked us all flat. It'll do us all good to get Monday over and done with and back into the routine of the week, it's been a long weekend already.

Enough of that misery, sorry. Here are a few shots I just found on my computer that were taken by my mate Johnny for an article I had in Ceramic Review last summer. I thought you might find them interesting, please excuse my ugly mug. I can't remember what date they were taken, it must have been just over a year ago.