Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New Pictures Up

We've uploaded a couple of pictures.

Two are of pieces from the latest bisque fire, one is of the firebox that I built for the raku kiln, and the last is of our dog, Buffy.

Beachcombing For Tools

I'm down in Florida for a few days, staying in North Reddington Beach. My hotel is on the beach.

We got out of work at a reasonable time yesterday, so I went for a walk along the beach with one of my coworkers. We took off our shoes and socks, and walked along the wet sand, just above the surf.

There were a lot of shells, mostly halves of bivalves, about half an inch in size. Every once in a while, I would come across larger shells, or a worn spiral shell. I transferred both socks to one shoe, and then dropped shells into the toe of the other shoe.

I usually ignore the clumps of seaweed and other debris, but the color of one of the lumps, about the size of my fist, caught my eye. Examining it more closely, I discovered that it was a natural sea sponge, that had washed ashore. The color was identical to the ones that Julie and I use in the studio. I was looking at about ten dollars in sponge, at the wrong pottery supply store.

Looking up and down the beach, I saw that there was a lot of sponge along the shore, just laying there on the beach. TENS of dollars worth.

I ended up collecting three samples, tying them to my shoelaces to carry. I washed the sponges out in my hotel room sink. One piece is about the size of half a loaf of french bread, and is thin like elephant ear sponge. The second is a fatter, ragged piece from a larger sponge, about the size of a large kitchen sponge. The third is a branching, light tan sponge, where the branches are the thickness of a finger. A woman that I met on the beach told me that the pieces needed to be rinsed out, and then soaked in water with a little bleach to get rid of the fish smell.

This morning, I went out at sunrise, and walked along the beach for about forty minutes. I gathered a few larger shells, as well as some thick shell fragments that I can use like ribs or to put texture and notches into clay. I had decided not to get any more sponge, but found a stiff branching sponge that has branches as thick as carrots, and was the same color. I only got to rinse it out for a few minutes, but it turned the water in the sink bright orange. I don't know if all of the color is part of the sponge tissue that will wash away (or stink like rotten fish until I properly clean it). I plan to add the orange sponge to the display in our library.

The sponges are in plastic bags right now, which are open to allow them to dry out in the car. I'll seal them before boarding the plane.

UPDATE: When we got out of the car, the carrot orange sponge had turned black, and smelled strongly of soy sauce and fish. We decided not to bring it on the plane, so had to abandon it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Stuff We Did This Weekend

We loaded and fired a bisque kiln on Saturday.

While it was firing, I pulled the elements out of the old kiln that we are converting to a raku kiln. Some of the elements were held in place in channels in the kiln brick with metal pins, about two inches long. I saved the pins off to the side.

After pulling the elements, I started to think about the fire box that we need to build for the kiln. We had purchased an old kiln section, two bricks high, wrapped in sheet metal, from the Daleys a couple of weeks ago. The kiln section is a decagon (ten sided), while the body of the raku kiln is an octagon (eight sided). The kiln section has a larger diameter than the raku kiln.

My plan was to take apart the kiln section, cut the bricks down a bit, rebend the steel sheathing around it, put a four inch round burner port in one side, then reassemble. I thought that, even though it didn't have the same number os sides, that the kiln body and firbox would overlap and work just fine.

My biggest hangup over the whole project is rebending the steel. I finally thought it through far enough, that I could clamp the metal to my workbench with a two by four, then rebend (with my trusty mallet).

I started to disassemble the kiln section. There were a lot of screws that passed through the metal, and then dug into the soft fire bricks a little bit that I removed. There was also bracing bracket made of a heavier gauge metal that wrapped across three sides of the kiln that I struggled to remove. I broke two screwdriver blades trying to turn the screws holding them in place, and and had to use a hacksaw to cut the heads off of two of the screws. I then placed my trusty metal screwdriver (the handle is metal, along with the blade, and half of the handle can fold out for more torque. It was my grandfather's and I think my dad got it from him off an aircraft assembly line), and worked to pop apart metal.

It came apart.

I learned a lot about how the kiln was put together, as flimsy metal sheath flopped open, and all of the kiln brick fell to the cement floor. Many of them broke, or were damaged.

I started salvaging the whole bricks, and stacking them on top of the raku kiln. It was then that I noticed that the brick length was the same as was used in the raku kiln. I ended up being able to salvage almost enough whole bricks to rebuild the firebox as an octagon. I bought a masonry disc for my table saw, and used it to rebevel all of the kiln bricks (plus one extra brick that I had). Some of the bricks had an end broken off, or broke cleanly in half. I used a hammer to drive the kiln elements pins through the bricks, to hold them together. Two badly damaged bricks lined up to where I would bore the hole for the burner, where I could cut most of the damaged brick away.

I made another run to Home Despot, to buy a pair of metal snips. I got the kind designed for cutting a left handed circle. I returned a bunch of copper pipe fittings that Julie had run across during the week, and used the refund to pay for half of the snips.

Returning home, I cut a four inch hole into the sheet metal, and cut a length off the end that represented two sides of the kiln. I stacked all of the kiln brick into an octagon, wrapped the metal around it, and position the hole over my damaged kiln bricks. I used a set of bungee cords to hold the metal in place, then a set of sheet metal screw to hold it permanently together.

I bored a pilot hole through the kiln brick where the burner port was, and threaded the blade of a coping saw through. It took a minute of two for me to cut out and shape the burner port.

The firebox is the same diameter as the kiln body, and the kiln will sit directly on top of it.

The next stage in the project is to cut vent holes into the top and bottom of the raku kiln, a set for the flames to rise out of the firebox into the kiln, and a chimney vent in the lid of the kiln.

I need to build the cinderblock pad out back. This will have a layer of sand on top, with the damaged kiln floor that we got from the Daleys. The fire box sits on top of that, then the kiln tops off the stack.

In a couple of weeks, we will order our burner from Wards Burners, along with two pairs of raku tongs and another set of gloves.

Maybe we can do our first firing before tax day.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tomorrow, We Bisque

We have enough for another bisque kiln.

Tomorrow, Julie and I will go into the garage, move aside whatever has made its way to being stacked on or near the kilns, load up, then do the bisque fire.

Monday, I travel down to Florida for work. I'll return late Tuesday.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Very Busy Weekend

Julie and I spent most Saturday in the studio.

She has been thowing with porcelain. She is working with two kinds, and is enjoying both of them. I never had much luck with it myself; I always felt like it was throwing with cream cheese. She has the knack for it though.

Julie is so good at hand building with clay that I forget how little instruction she has had on the wheel (one or two classes, when we lived in Phoenix). She asked me how to throw lids, and I drew a few pictures of the kind of lid where the lid is like an small bowl with a raised rim, and it is the rim which, when inverted, inserts into the base piece. She then threw several lidded pieces, including a little bottle.

Her throwing has improved dramatically in the last couple of weeks, where she can throw tall, well formed pieces (but with porcelain, which, like I said, I have a hard time throwing with. ) She is playing with different forms and shapes. Some she is then adding dragons to.

Julie threw two little rockets last week. The first was her own design, with three cute little engine bells. The second was from one of Stephanie's sketches, and is painted like a soccer ball. This is in addition to all of the other porcelain pieces, and her dragons.

I finished off a couple of mugs, and then three rockets of my own. The first was a recreation of the rocket that exploded when bisque firing. On the second, when I was making the fins , Julie asked whether I was going to create hollow passages through the wings. We ended up collaborating on the wings of the piece, and it really turned out really cool. Every once in a while, I create a piece that really inspires me, and this rocket (with Julie's help) is one of them. The third rocket is the long promised one that Stephanie designed back in November, and I finally had a chance to throw another one (the previous one drying out in the damp box).

At the end of the day, I worked at a carved design on a Cassius vase that I had thrown a while back. It is an interesting piece, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it will look like when high fired.

On Sunday, I smoothed the surface of the vase with a sponge, which improved its look.

Later in the day, we went and saw the movie "8 Below", which is about sled dogs stranded in Antartica for the winter. Although the people in the movie talk about a nearby colony of penguins, the movie never shows the dogs finding them. I think that there is an opportunity here to edit scenes from this movie with scenes from "March of the Penguins".

I will post pictures of the new rockets when I get the chance.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ten Little Engine Bells

Julie and I went into the studio this evening, after I got home from work.

Julie worked on one of her porcelain dragon eggs. The egg has a dragon emerging from the shell. She picked up some new tools at Daley's and has put textures inside the mouth, and little teeth. She has the little mouth closed, to protect the teeth, as she continues working on the piece.

I threw engine bells for my rockets. I had thrown five or six the other night, for the three rockets that I had thrown, but needed a wider selection. Throwing the little cups for the bells is the smallest pieces that I have ever thrown.

I start with a piece of clay about the size of a stack of nickles. I wrap my left pinky around the clay, to take the place of my left hand, and my right thumb rides the top to smooth that out. Once centered, I usually square off the bottom edge with a rib. I open with the tip of my right pinky, making sure that I have enough water to keep the clay from binding. Once I have a nicely centered hole, I push inwards at the base with the edge of my little fingers, to force the shape to narrow at the base, and, after repositioning my hands, do a pull with the tips of the little fingers. After the first or second pull, I'll even out the rim with the needle tool, but going from the inside-out (bracing the rim with a finger), instead of outside-in. I'll shape the interior a bit with a fingertip, and collar the piece at the rim to give it the right proportions. The piece is finished with a bit of sponge to condition the rim, then I use the edge of a rib to remove some of the excess clay near the wheel head. I place a scrap of board on the wheel head, then cut the finished bell off with my wire. The piece is hoisted by wrapping my right hand over the piece, and lifting with my thumb and first three fingers.

I threw ten little bells, three for two of the rockets, and four for the last rocket, designed by Steph. Everything has been sprayed down for the night, and wrapped in plastic in our damp box.

Post-Storm Post

We've uploaded a few photos of the snow from the storm to our flickr account.

There is also a picture of Julie, working in the studio, and one of the thirteen pots before we brought them to the gallery.

I am stiff and sore from all of the shovelling. Julie did the cars, and the front and back porch, while I shovelled the rest of the driveway. She also spread snow melt after we'd cleared each section. I was pretty useless for the rest of the day, and never got back into the studio (I need ten engine bells for three raku rockets) . I took a hot shower, and went to bed early.

The snow clung to things when it fell. One of our next door neighbor's trees was so burdened by snow and ice that it bowed over, and the crown touched the ground. This was right next to my driveway, where I would be piling snow, so Julie and I had to knock off enough snow and ice, and push the trunk, to get it to raise up four or five feet to allow us to shovel snow under the crown.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Awaiting the Storm

There's a big snowstorm coming. It is supposed to hit around three this afternoon.

I went into the back yard this morning, and moved our yard cart, and stacked the sleds on the back porch, in preparation for sledding on Sunday. We have a tall hill in the back yard, that is almost as tall as the roofline on our two story house, with a sled run down the middle.

The weather in Voorhees is usually less severe than in Philadelphia. They'll usually get hammered, and we will get a light dusting. Whatever weather phenomenon causes this to happen is reversed this time, so we are expecting six to twelve inches.

Julie is off to pick up some more porcelain from the Daleys out in Vineland, then will hit the store on the way home to pick up fixins for stew and chile.

Steph is on the computer, in the library, on Neopets, or playing Zoo Tycoon 2.

When I finish my lunch, I'll return to the studio. I'm throwing with a red clay body, called Brooklyn Red. One more piece, and I'll be through the first half a bag. I've thrown a small bowl, two mugs, and a small vase. Its a little harder to throw with that 266, and I've had some mistakes that required major triage with a needle tool. The clay is soft, and it has less tooth than the 266, but I've been able to throw thinner pieces.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Krystyna's Pots in Mount Holly

When we were at the Fire and Ice festival a few weeks ago, in Mount Holly, we met the owners of Krystyna's Pots, a gallery at 37 White Street. They spend a lot of time displaying the pieces individually at the gallery, and make little signs with the artist's name and price for each piece.

On Sunday, Julie and I brought thirteen pots, of various styles, to the gallery, to see if Krystyna and Gorden were interested in carrying any of our work. We brought dragons, rockets, and raku pieces.

They liked all of the pieces, and we have signed the paperwork for them to carry our work for the next couple of months.

It's exciting for me to have my work in a gallery again, the first time in about twelve years. Its Julie's first time as well, and she is excited too.

In May, there is another festival in Mount Holly, the weekend before Mother's day. Krystyna is encouraging me to throw a couple of big bowls for sale during the festival.