Sunday, 27 February 2011

Smoke firing how-to…



…a little bit boring, don’t you think? I wanted them to be black, at least as black as I could get them using smoke firing.

For those of you who’ve never seen it, smoke firing is basically building a fire around your pots and then putting it out until you have it smouldering to create smoke. Your ceramics need to be low-fired because the clay is still porous. The higher you fire, the more the pores close up so it’s much harder to get the smoke to colour the clay. My pots were only bisq fired to 1000 degrees C.


A good way to get a smouldering fire is to use lots of sawdust. My pots are under the sawdust and there is a layer of newspaper on top to get it going. The slower your fire burns down, the blacker your work will be. Sawdust burns slowly and paper burns quickly so you can easily alter the ratio if you want it lightly smoked.


I set the paper on fire (I’m using our old kitchen bin here with the plastic bits taken off) and then clamped the lid on to put it out and start the smouldering. The bin has holes in it which form a chimney to keep the fire burning. If there aren’t any holes you can leave a gap when you put the lid on.


After the smoking, which took about a couple of hours, most of the sawdust has burnt away and you can just see the smoky patterns on the clay.


After… less boring? The finished smoke-fired pieces have very black areas and white bits where they didn’t get touched by smoke. I could put them back in to get them blacker but I like the variation in colour. After a scrub with a nailbrush the colour stays on and you can leave it matt or use a little wax or clear polish to get a soft sheen.

The great things about smoke firing are that it is really cheap and if you don’t like the result you can burn it off by refiring over 600 degrees C and have another go!


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Visiting galleries

As part of our making-work-and-selling-it-to-people plan, we spent the whole of yesterday visiting craft galleries… well, we visited four galleries in a round trip of 216 miles.

The reason we went so far is because you can’t just send information to every gallery willy nilly (or worse, just turn up on the doorstep with a box of stuff), you need to find the galleries that are right for you, where your work will fit and then approach said gallery like a proper business person. There’s no point sending information about your lovely ceramics to a gallery that only sells paintings!

We spent a long time doing research via the interweb and the book Craft Galleries Guide to narrow it down to 10 or so that might work for any of the three of us, but nothing compares to actually seeing the gallery in the flesh, so to speak. Since we already know what the galleries closest to us are like, we headed south (irritating satnav in hand) for a bit of a recce.

It turns out a few inches on the map is further than you think – that coupled with me being the only one of us with a driving licence and a morbid fear of motorways made for a long trip. 

We didn’t ask any questions because we didn’t want to seem impertinent - we just needed to look and see for ourselves how they display the work; how big they are, what the area is like, what they are selling and how high the prices are. We took lots of notes and covert photos to remind us later.

It was very worthwhile, positive and informative, and despite only managing to see four galleries in that time it wasn’t a wasted day. We found galleries where some of our work would fit; we ruled out some galleries we weren’t sure about, we saw far too many beautiful things that we wanted to buy and we have a lot more places to look at when we head west next week.

All in all a good day was had by all, but we’re very sleepy today!


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The new work comes out of the kiln…


It’s always nerve-wracking opening up a kiln. It could be perfect or something could have blown up causing all the work to break. The pieces could have warped or cracked, or both. There could be nothing salvageable. Maybe it’s human nature to always think the worst, that way things can only be better. Unless the worst actually happens, then you start to think maybe you willed it - human nature aint foolproof you know!

The fact that this kiln represents the best part of three weeks work didn’t help. In that time I haven’t knit, sewn or crocheted anything – the knitting callous on my finger is disappearing and I really miss the clickety-clack!


But despite all my worrying the kiln is unpacked and everything is fine (yay!). There is still a lot of work to do,  but I’m well on the road to having everything done by April for Open Studios.