Confessions of a Clay-Collecting Junkie, or 11 Reasons to Throw Oversized Bowls

I have a confession to make: my clay collection might be getting a little out of hand.

Seriously. I have about 11 different types of cone 5 and cone 10 clays in studio, and I still find a way to convince myself that I need more. Thanks to Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up”, I discovered a 25 lb bag of clay in the hallway closet, and this is after finding a good 75 lbs in the trunk of my car.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have so much clay. Each clay body has its unique characteristics and I liken my collection to a prized book of coins or stamps. I plan to make test tiles of each clay and favorite glazes on a slow day, but with 11 types, this will be a project in itself.

Second to collecting clay, I love to form it into oversized bowls that make for home decor and statement pieces. Little Clay Studio’s bowls are food safe and generous in size for serving entrees at parties, as a special addition to meal times, and can display fruits or flowers when not in use.

The bowl pictured fires to a deep espresso and I’m searching my Pinterest boards to see how I want to decorate it. Right now I’m deciding between applying matte and satin white glazes that illuminate brush strokes, or pouring cobalt and rutile over it, and brushing on a golden glittery glaze…to be continued.

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Glazed and Fired Ink Blotted Porcelain Bowls

Yesterday’s glaze fire turned out nicely. The Skutt electric kiln I used fires to a cone 10 and because this was a glaze fire, I programmed it to fire fast—and it did just that. The next day these white porcelain with black blotted bowls were ready, giving me enough time to finish the porcelain jewelry order I received this week, and reload to bisque fire the hand-sculpted beads.

I made these bowls last year and it’s interesting to find aspects of older pieces that you’ve refined in your newer work. I’m happy to keep these as a set of soup bowls and will add a few of the mini catch-all’s to the shop when I get a chance to photograph them.

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Ink Blotted Bowls

I'm working on an order for Little Clay Studio's porcelain statements earrings, and these tiny bowls are designed with the same ink blots, so I f-i-n-a-l-l-y decided to pull them out and get them glazed. These bowls are made with grolleg porcelain, which fires to a pure and glassy white at cone 10. The black blots add a simplistic high contrast.

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Shop's Open

My goal as a resident artist includes exploring clay and pottery techniques, honing my skills and sharing ideas with aspiring ceramists, creating a collection for my shop, and making art for our June 2019 show. Creating an online store and blog is a big check off my list and I look forward to sharing more as I continue to work in the ceramics studio.

The ceramic pieces I select for my shop have been carefully inspected for durability and integrity to their design. They are my best works —and the ones I’m willing to part with. A potter spends a lot time with each piece as its being formed and it’s easy to get attached. I guess that’s the perk of being a ceramist, you get to create art you find beautiful, surround yourself with it, and eventually share it with others.

It takes as little as a week, and as long as months to create, depending on the technique and studio’s production. I find the world of clay fascinating and will add to the blog and shop regularly.

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Speckled Bowls Preview

It’s fascinating how clay transforms at each firing stage. I love the mellow tones and how this collection resembles iced gingerbread cookies 🍪This clay began as a rich brown fresh out of the bag, saturated to a coral after it was bisqued, and ultimately subdued to a café au lait with speckled flecks.

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How to Safely Sand Pottery

This kiln fire produced eighteen beautifully bisqued pieces that are ready to sand.  Before I glaze my work, I make sure to sand each piece to create a smooth touch that will not scratch wood or other surfaces. 

Sanding adds craftsmanship and value to your ceramics as it improves the tactile connection a person has with your work. Clay with a high grog content has a visual and textural intrigue as it develops after firing. Grog also feels rough—it has a tooth that scrapes and snags. I’ve found that sanding groggy clay produces a velvet-like smoothness as the grog is now level to the clay and still substantial in texture. Sanding clay with little to no grog creates a smooth coolness that’s similar to soapstone.

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Bisque Fire Results 🔥

The clay transformed from greenware to bisqueware, and the kiln fired perfectly. Skutt electric kilns are computer programmed, easy to fire, and reliable in results. They’re the microwaves of pottery firing.

A cone 06 bisque fire reaches 1828F (997C). This temperature is hot enough for cones 5-10 clay to transform from greenware to bisqueware. Bisqueware is partially matured clay that is porous enough for glaze to adhere.

Electric kilns heat ceramics in a controlled oxidation environment and can be programed from 100F (37C) to 2380F (1300C). This temperature range allows you to dry greenware with a preheat setting, fire overglazes at cones 020-018, bisque greenware at cones 04-06, and vitrify glazeware between cones 5-10. The oxygen interacts with the chemistry of the developing glazes and clays, enhancing the vibrancy of your work.

Gas kilns are known as reductions kilns and eliminate oxygen by adjusting the amount of fuel that powers the fire. The results are muted and earthen. White glazes take on bluish-grays and the clays darken. Both oxidation and reduction effects are desirable and it’s worth considering how you want to fire your ceramics.

Pictured is the top shelf of this week’s bisque load, so in total I have eighteen pieces that will be wet-sanded and glazed with a white cone 5 glaze.

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Speckled Bowls in the Kiln 🔥

I have two shelves worth of pottery-wheel thrown pieces ready to bisque! These oversized, wide bowls are in various stages of dryness and are the same type of clay body.

As clay dries it lightens, and unfired clay that's unglazed can be stacked to save space in the kiln. It's my habit not to stack more than two pieces high to avoid cracks along its base. Once bisque fired, the clay will brighten to a shocking peach.

I programmed the kiln to preheat for hours to ensure the pottery dries completely before firing.  The preheat temperature of a kiln is around 187F (86C).  Firing damp pieces at the boiling point, 212F (100C), will cause your clay to expand. Wet clay heated to 752F (400C) will explode from the force of escaping steam. Always air dry greenware until it is bone-dry, or preheat the kiln for a determined time.

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Sharpening Pottery Tools with a Dremel

Hey potters what do you do when your trim tools are dull? I pulled out the Dremel to sharpen my favorites. I can't cope with spending extra 💵 on what I can DIY. Always sharpen with gloves and protective eyewear. 
I have to admit that during the process I found that I like working with metal ⛏️

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New Kiln, New Year

This might sound granola...but the resident kiln was out during Mercury's retrograde. Now that we have a new, shiny kiln, I'm ready to turn all of the greenware I've been posting into fired, glazed pieces to photograph and add to my shop ⚱️

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Book Stack

Did you know Time Magazine named Austin's downtown library one of the top 100 places in the world? I'm extremely lucky to studio close to it and frequent it often.

If you haven't been, do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon there. Their books and materials are an extensive collection of old and new, there's an art gallery, gift shop, cafe that serves cocktails, and its design is inspiring.

Here's my current book stack, including The Potter's Dictionary, which is on frequent rotation 📚 @austinpubliclibrary @time

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Juiceland Austin 🍍🍓🥝🥑🍊🥥🥕🍏

Did you know Time Magazine named Austin's downtown library one of the top 100 places in the world? I'm extremely lucky to studio close to it and frequent it often.

If you haven't been, do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon there. Their books and materials are an extensive collection of old and new, there's an art gallery, gift shop, cafe that serves cocktails, and its design is inspiring.

Here's my current book stack, including The Potter's Dictionary, which is on frequent rotation 📚 @austinpubliclibrary @time

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Trimming Small Cups

These small cups were thrown on the hump and I added a deep foot while trimming the shape. I add Little Clay Studio’s logo when the surface is large enough, when it’s not I’ll think of a design to brush on. You can tell that my wheel has been well-loved with the amount of trimmings that have collected in the splash pan. Potters call wheels in this condition “seasoned.”

When I’m done I’ll add the trimmings and water to a plastic bag. It will take a good 5-7 days for the clay to slacken to an even consistency and after wedging it, it will be ready to use again. You can reclaim clay as long as it hasn’t been fired and doesn’t have underglaze or glaze on it. Reclaiming clay is a common practice that saves money—especially if you throw your pieces thick and trim off a lot of excess.

After the cups have been bisqued fired they will brighten to a sandy peach. They will then be wet sanded, glazed and fired a second time.

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Mini Pot and Lid

The last of the students' work is firing in the kiln, my art installation is complete, and now I can go back to throwing on wheel. I made this cute lil' pot and lid on the hump, and have several others to trim.

Throwing on the hump is a term for creating several pieces from a large mound of clay. It saves time when you want to produce a lot of work in one sitting, and it's quite miraculous watching a knob and lid take shape as you throw.

It's quiet in the studio. As I'm working I'm reflecting on my first semester as a resident artist and what's in store for 2019.

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Trimming Big Bowls

Ya'll! I didn't think it could be done, but I made a bowl large enough for that table-sized bat. I removed the splash pans from the wheel so I’ll have to trim super slow...

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