Friday, March 30, 2018

Glazing night!

    Yesterday morning I was happy to receive a text message from TIffany Hilton, my pottery teacher, informing me and the other students in her "Intermediate Wheel" class that she was offering us an extra hour of class time -- we could come in at 5PM instead of 6PM, and use that extra time to deal with glazing all the pots we'd made.

    To say I was ecstatic to be offered this extra time might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Though it's a necessary step and can produce beautiful surfaces and colors, glazing is my least favorite part of the whole pottery-making process. There never seems to be enough time. And it's also stressful because, unlike throwing or trimming, where you are working in your own space at your own pace, and what you do does not really affect (or is affected by) the actions of your fellow students, glazing is different. There are only so many buckets of glaze to go around, and if another student is using (for example) "Sea Green", and you need to use "Sea Green", your only option is to wait until that person has finished with "Sea Green". And that can sometimes be a long wait, if that person has a lot of pots they want to glaze with "Sea Green" (like I did, last night).

    And it's doubly stressful if your plan is to use two different glazes on certain pieces, as you then have to strategize when both of those glaze buckets will be available. There is a significant amount of time management involved in glazing.

    It's also a multi-step process, with at least one of the steps being quite exacting. First, you have to wipe each bisque-fired pot down with a damp sponge, inside and out, to remove any accumulated dust which might affect how the glaze adheres.

    Then -- and this is the exacting part -- you have to paint liquid wax on the bottoms of the pots, taking great care to make sure that you cover the appropriate areas so that the glaze, when rendered molten and thus fluid in the firing process, does not ooze down and come in contact with the kiln shelf, as this can result in the pots being bonded to the shelf, something TIffany frowns upon (and understandably so, as it leaves her with the problem of chiseling the offending pieces off of her kiln shelf -- not a fun activity).

    The wax serves to act as a "resist", so that when you pull your pot out of the glaze bucket, the glaze in which it was just immersed will not adhere to the areas where the pot has been waxed. At least that's how it SHOULD work… sometimes the wax gets applied too lightly and/or patchily and the glaze sticks to the pots in inappropriate areas.

    So now you're ready to dunk your pots into the glaze… but wait!

    Before you can do that, the next step is stirring. The glaze is a mixture of various mineral powders in water, and as you might imagine, when the glaze sits  unused for a while, the powders precipitate out and fall to the bottom of the bucket, creating a heavy, several inches-thick muddy mass which needs to be stirred to a certain consistency to be useful.

    If you're lucky, you will choose a glaze bucket which has already been stirred by someone else, as then you might only have to stir it slightly to restore the glaze to the proper level of fluidity. Stirring up the glaze in a bucket which has not recently been stirred can take a lot of muscle and time. As it happens, both of the glazes I chose to use last night were in the precipitated state when I got to them. It's a chore, but necessary, or the glazes won't work right.

    Okay, so NOW it's time to dunk your pot into the glaze bucket to give it a nice, even coating of glaze. This is usually a fairly easy job, as long as the pot is of a certain size and shape. Pots which are not large and have substantial feet are probably the easiest, as the size and feet allow you to get a nice, firm hold on them with only your thumb and one other finger (usually the middle finger). The thumb goes on the rim of the pot, and the other finger on the foot. Into the glaze bucket it goes, to a count of two, and then out, tilting the pot to drain off any excess glaze.

    Once the liquid glaze dries on your pots, you have to then carefully use a moist sponge to wipe off any stray bits and blobs of glaze on the waxed areas (the glaze beads up on the wax, but doesn't all fall away… and there are almost inevitably little crevices and depressions into which some of the glaze worms its way, regardless of the coating of wax). Keep in mind that the liquid glaze dries to the consistency of a fragile, powdery paint which can chip or flake off easily, so you have to be very careful in how you hold the pot as you are wiping off errant glaze blobs.

    Of course, all this work pays off (usually, unless you've made bad glaze choices) when the pots have gone through their final firing, and you end up with glossy finished ware that you can eat and/or drink from (or just look at!).

    Still, it's a lot of work, and last night I was exhausted after glazing all of my pots. Here's a photo I took of my twenty-five unglazed pots waiting to be worked on (mine are the ones within the red border). 

    I don't think there's any way I could have done them all without the extra hour TIffany gave us to work on glazing (I used every minute), and I thank her for that! -- PL

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Empty Bowls night

    This past Monday, March 19, I attended my first "Empty Bowls" charity event at The Pub in Amherst. MA, thanks to the generosity of my pottery teacher, TIffany Hilton, who gave me one of the two free passes which she'd been provided as a contributor of bowls (somewhere in the neighborhood of 160, I think!) to the event. Even though she's been contributing bowls for years, this was the first time TIffany had been to one of these events.

    The Pub was pretty packed when we arrived around 6PM, and it took about half an hour waiting in a slow-moving line to get to the point where we could pick a bowl from among those donated to the event. I spent some of the time in that line looking at the various choices of soups available, several of which appealed to my taste buds. (I think the line was moving slowly in large part because the people in it wanted to have enough time to scope out the wide variety of bowls from various potters' studios.) When we finally got to choose, Tiffany and I decided to go with a couple of bowls from her studio, and I ended up with one of the ones I'd thrown, trimmed and glazed.

    Then it was time to stand in line to get our bowls filled with soup. This line was moving more quickly, and in short order TIffany had her bowl filled with minestrone, while mine was filled with chicken and shrimp gumbo.

    The Pub was so crowded with happy soup-eaters that I feared we'd be eating standing up, but fortuitously a moment later a table became available, and we were able to sit down to enjoy our soups. They were very yummy! And a few minutes into the soup, a server came to our table to bring us salads and glasses of water.

     Here's TIffany about to enjoy her bowl of minestrone...

... and me preparing to do the same with my gumbo!


     Although I am not a real fan of noisy, crowded spaces, I think I will go back to this event next year. I hope TIffany holds another bowl-making marathon and I get invited to participate. Thanks again, TIffany, for the opportunity!  --  PL