Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Busy Day in the Studio

Julie had turned the two vases that I had thrown for her into dragons, and I gave her my two raku pieces as well. I am going to be out of town for a couple of days next week, so we decided that I had to throw her some more vases to work on while I was gone.

Last night, Julie reminded me that I needed to get back into the studio, and that I needed to throw some work for myself, and not just pieces for her. I need to make sure that I do things to keep me motivated, and not turn the studio into more chores.

Made finally made it it into the studio at about nine o'clock this morning. I broke out a new bag of raku clay, cut it into quarters (about 7 1/2 pounds each), cranked my music up (Talking Heads) and started to throw.

My centering skills have returned, and I can almost do it without thinking. Throwing the same size piece of clay four times in a row helps too.

The first vase threw with no problems. Julie asked me to make the bases a little wider on the pieces to improve stability, so I opened the center a little wider than I had been doing. The first piece measures eight and a half inches tall, and has a rounded bead for a lip.

The second vase threw as easily as the first. Its ten inches tall, and has an unadorned lip.

Feeling cocky, I started the third vase. It centered fine, but the diameter of the clay was too wide, more like what I would do to make a bowl instead of a vase (I figured this out later). After opening the piece, I had problems in my second or third pull to raise the walls. The piece was sort of shaped like a margarita glass, and I couldn't get the flared bit to collar back in. I ended up grabbing my needle tool, and trimming a good three inches off of the piece. I spent more time pulling extra clay out of the walls near the base; clay that I would have trimmed away. I pushed the piece as far as I could without it collapsing. When finished, it was eleven inches tall, had a pleasant shape, and included the rounded lip bead.

I used some of the wall raising technique that I had been forced into for the third piece when I started to raise that walls of the forth. The piece is wider and taller than the other three, and has nice proportions. It measures twelve inches tall, with a rounded lip bead.

Had a late breakfast, and returned to the studio. Shifted music in the studio; I'd gone through the Talking Heads CD twice, so I shifted to Styx: Caught in the Act, and started throwing.

The first piece was the body for a new rocket. I throw them from a piece of clay the size of a tennis ball. I had a heck of a time centering the piece. Once centered, I botched the opening, where I had to repeatedly run my thumb from the lip to the floor of the piece to try to even out the center opening (this causes the walls to be even all around, and makes raising even walls easier). The walls came up uneven (trimmed the lip back), and then the lip formed ripples when I tried to collar it shut. I finally sealed the opening, but the piece was a mishapen lump.

Throwing sealed rocket bodies is different than throwing an open form. You can't touch the inside once the piece is closed. In throwing, the shape is typically controlled by managing the walls of the piece from the inside and outside simultaneously; one hand or tool pressing inwards is balanced by a hand or tool pressing outwards.

What I play off of in throwing a closed form is that there is a pocket of air trapped inside of the piece. As I push on the outside with my hands or a tool, the walls are pushed inwards, but since the shape is closed, the pressure inside increases as well. With a delicate touch, the pressure can balance the external forces of shaping.

With the wheel slowly turning, I typically start at the base of a closed rocket form, and use a strait rib to have the piece flare outward from the base on the wheel head. I shift to a concave rib to control the transition from flaring outwards to curving inwards, then shift to a simple kidney rib to bring the clay to a point at the top of the piece.

It all works fine if the right amount of air had been trapped in the piece; otherwise, as you push on one part, the walls can bulge out at another. That is what was happening with the rocket that I was throwing, and the tip of the rocket body was uneven and wobbling a bit. I finally used a needle tool to cut the uneven tip off the rocket, then bored a hole to the central cavity. As the piece turned on the wheel, I wet my hands, then gently cupped the piece to give it a more symetrical shape. Air bubbled out of the opening in the piece as the shape shifted. Once it evened out a bit, I resealed the inner chamber, and reformed the tip. I then finished shaping it as described in the previous paragraph.

The second rocket threw without any problems. As I finished it on the wheel, I used the edge of a rib to make a notch about an inch down from the point that I had formed on top of the piece. I'll work the notch into the design on the rocket body.

The third rocket also threw easily. I had to fiddle a bit to duplicate the nosecone notch that I had placed on the second rocket. This one has a slightly longer body, and the nosecone is longer before the notch.

Finally, I threw ten new engine bells out of small wads of clay. I also re-wet the five remaining bells from my last rocket, so I will have a good selection to draw from. When I finished throwing, I realized that I should learn to throw the bells 'off the hump', which is a production pottery technique where piece of clay large enough to throw several pieces is centered on the wheel, and then the pieces are thrown individually using clay from the top of the centered lump. Each piece is cut off the hump before recentering the top and throwing the next piece.

Need to roll out a few slabs now, for fins, a trout, and so Julie will have some test clay to practice texturing before she puts scales on the dragons.

I need to trim everything tomorrow afternoon, or wrap it up tight to last until late Thursday.


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