Monday, May 24, 2010

Swamp of Despair

Unloaded the bisque kiln today, faithful readers. The very kiln filled with- you guessed it- 10” dinner plates. Dinner plates made from my new dark clay, with even darker chocolate brown slip brushed lavishly on each center like large thin Swiss Fudge cookies. They were lovely when they were raw, before they were dried and fired.

But then I unloaded this bisque kiln. Ugh. UGH! Bad plates, bad! Into the trash with you! And you!

The smooth-as-pudding slip in the plate centers crackled and lifted delicately in the heat of the kiln like a finely textured salt marsh on the fringes of the Kalahari. Not. Ideal.

The plates themselves, so nice and light in weight, had dried unevenly. TOO thin! The bottoms of two were cracked all around, ready to drop out.

The rest were okay, maybe… It is so tiring to achieve “okay, maybe” when what I want is “Oooohhh, yes.” I won't even know till they are glazed and fired again whether the Kalahari slip can be compensated for with a glaze layer on top. I can only grit my teeth and hope.

The kiln also contained nice big cereal bowls. So the electricity used to fire this otherwise stinkin’ load will at least be paid for when I finally sell the bowls. People like big cereal bowls. Cereal bowls and nice big mugs are bread and butter.

There is a symbolic kayak waiting to ride me out of this Swamp of Despair. It is a day spent making mugs, and a day or two of trimming and handle-making to complete them. And that, my friends, is this week’s antidote. Then next week, if I’ve gathered up enough Plate Commitment to continue, I’ll have another go.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Dinner Plate Challenge

Plates. Despite 25 years of making pots, even I have never cared much about ‘em. Plates are dinnerware, and I haven’t really done dinnerware. Making dinnerware means throwing one sort of form repeatedly to the same dimensions, with the same size and angle of rim, the same foot lifting it the same distance from the table. This, sadly, has not been my forte. The gauntlet, however, has been thrown down.

Three weeks ago, I approached a gallery about selling my work, and the owner had a request. Did I make 10” dinner plates? Would I make them of rough brown clay, with not too large a rim?

So now, yes, I will. I’m not sure she’ll want them when I’m done. She has an image in her head of what she wants. I have an image in mine of what I’m willing to do. I’m not even sure I know how to charge the right price. Even so, this challenge is about to break the dinnerware (sorry, bad pun) barrier at M. S. Pottery.

I found a teaching video that told me exactly what I needed to know.

If I can get muscles like this potter's from just throwing plates, that would be cool.

Besides the technique demo, this woman even tells me how much clay (about 3 lbs. per plate), how wide to make the wet plate (12”, which will shrink to 10”), and how to form the rim. Basically, I knew conceptually how to do this, after all, but a little extra guidance got the motion going.

Off I went to Ceramic Supply, got some brown clay that was NOT rough (an executive decision; rough clay scratches your cabinet and table- bad for sales) and got down to business.

It isn't rocket science. I got it pretty quickly. Why'd I wait so long to go for it? Shapes and sizes were approximately similar. Angle of rim had a learning curve, though. Rims all need to match, so the plates can be shelved in a nice neat stack. But rims like to lift when drying. While you are making them, each one has to be made to the same angle as the next, so they will lift at the same angle as they dry. I had to recycle the ones with rim differences back into lumps. After a day's work, only six were set to dry in the kiln room. This morning I threw another 6 on my handy dandy old Lockerbie kick wheel, and I'm about to thrown some more. I’m shooting for a couple dozen this week, or till I run out of brown clay, since this is a trial run and I only bought 100 lbs. Then back to the gallery owner, who can take them or not. If they’re nice, the price is right, and I can scoot some traffic to my website, they may sell there too.

Challenges keep the work fresh, and the work is always having to be fresh, because challenges are perpetual.

Next, maybe, the elusive and so far unsuccessful Seder plate..?