I keep getting the same lesson over and over again – beware of the shiny things.
I have a vision. Work hard, practice, make my shop better and better. In time I do believe I will be selling my artwork regularly and making a decent profit from my store. So far this plan has been working. Every year sales are better. My abilities as an artist are improving and I do have a waiting list of people who want to purchase artwork (lemons…everyone wants a lemon!).
But sometimes I get distracted and I call this my shiny thing syndrome.
Sometimes the shiny things are opportunities that take me away from my studio. A free plane ticket somewhere cool…why not? Sometimes its the lure of a paycheck. I keep thinking I need a “real job” to supplement my income. But what I NEEd to do is ignore these shiny things and stay focused in the studio.
So lets hope this was the last time I needed to learn this lesson! Say no to shiny things!
About one year ago, I asked if I could tag along for part of a friend’s adventure to Panama. She had moved to Boquete with her husband, daughter and doggies to experience another way of life for the year. I figured a month painting in new environment would be ideal. At the time I was still painting in a strongly abstract manner. I had a vision of canvases, drop cloths and a lot of experiments.
After one week at Studio Escalier I knew that my entire understanding of art had changed forever. I am now committed to realism and truly mastering (or coming as close as I can in my lifetime). And as fate would have it, upon my arrival I found myself with the sweetest little room and a north facing window.
I have found that the momentum of painting daily for a sustained period of time is transformative. There is an ease with which I could slip in and out of painting that I had never experienced before.
I only was able to paint for 7 days while here. My husband joined me to explore Boquete for one week. I was also invited to join my friend in Cartagena, Colombia for 5 days following this. Here I am with 2 days to go and some wonderful experiences under my belt.
I began writing this blog just under one year ago with the intention of documenting my “Dharma Year”, a year committed to exploring my purpose and passion. I am determined to continue this practice and build a career as an artist.
Boquete is beautiful. I enjoyed some very challenging hikes and a combination of cool and hot weather (we are nestled in the mountains).
Finally some good news. This firing went so well and I am so thankful. Nothing cracked, fell apart or melted!
A few things that helped:
- I flipped my clay when centering to ensure even compression in the tumblers.
- I purchased a greenhouse to use as a wet cabinet, allowing my work to dry much more slowly.
- I put the little hearts on the bottom shelf. This tends to be the most volatile and dangerous area. I figure the hearts are simply little pinch pots and can handle that sort of attention.
I am recognizing that my kiln is not going to make delicately, pristinely fired work. It is a raku kiln after all!
Work that is closer to the propane side tends to get over-fired, so I think I will just leave that area empty from now on.
I used Coyote glazes for the tumblers and will be sure to put on a third or even fourth layer to get better coverage. The snowflake white is the glaze around the top of the tumblers. I don’t think I mixed it properly when I made it and find that the coverage is lacking. I may just brush it on from now on. Or I suppose I can make another batch.
The planters are just beautiful and I’m thrilled with how they turned out. They are painted in underglaze, then dipped in the SG-157 clear glaze.
I have had several other firings in this kiln before I started writing blog posts. So when I say that I’m frustrated it isn’t because after 2 firings I’m giving up.
I am wondering if a day will come when I will open the kiln with glee and 95% of the ware is useable. That day is not today.
For the master potter reading this please keep in mind that I am very new and very learning right now.
The first problem I’m noticing is that the bottom shelf is very hot. Possibly cone 7-8 hot. I need more cones to know for sure. The middle shelf hits cone 5 just fine and the top of the kiln just makes it over cone 4. So the heat is not dispersing well. Possible solutions – plugging up peep holes? My concern is lack of oxygen. Maybe a reduction environment isn’t as bad as I thought. I originally thought that it was to blame for the more grey than white colors, but that seems to be a clay issue.
Nothing came out pure white, but it is looking better than the 1/2 and 1/2 with clear glaze. I am wanting to see pure white finishes and just not getting it (haven’t tried a lot of variations). I dipped some work in porcelain slip. The 1/2 and 1/2 dipped in porcelain looks quite nice. I’d still like a shinier, more brilliant white, so I’ll probably look into other clays and white underglaze.
I had a solid amount of cracks today in what would have been beautiful pieces. I think there are a few factors lending towards this. 1 – I have been drying my work way too quickly. I just received my mini greenhouse order and this should help the problem. I haven’t had a damp closet to store my pieces. 2 – I haven’t been wedging anything. I don’t know if this works for the planters though because those get run through the slab roller. 3 – Over firing. I’m pretty sure that’s my biggest enemy right now. I need to learn about distributing the heat more evenly in that beast of a kiln. 4 – Many of my thrown pieces developed s cracks during the bisque firing so they didn’t make the cut to glaze. This is most likely due to lack of compression and no wedging. I apologize. No more short cuts.
The magnolia mugs are AWFUL. I’m so embarrassed. There are large bubbles in the mugs. Not the glaze (more on that in a moment). In the mugs. This probably indicates poor compression. Again from not wedging. On top of those bubbles the glaze blistered in an impressively terrible way. I should have known something was wrong. When I dipped the mugs into the glaze, it didn’t dry. It took almost an hour for the glaze to dry. So something was fishy there.
So I have a giant BBQ of a kiln that I need to play with to achieve somewhat more refined results. I purchased the kiln because I could only buy one and I want to do raku someday. I couldn’t buy an electric kiln because I don’t have access to the 240. I’m frustrated because I never had problems like this with the electric kiln in the high school, so I know that my job is to learn the ins and outs of this beast I’m working with. I can’t afford another kiln. I could possibly ask the school if I could use the school’s kiln and pay per load, but frankly I don’t want to spend time there anymore.
After reading some posts from the online ceramic community I can confirm that working with an Olympic Torchbearer is not ideal. No one seems really happy with them and it appears that most people purchase them out of affordability. This makes me feel better and worse. Better because the work I’m doing is suffering PARTLY from the beastly nature of the kiln. If I recognize the kiln’s limitations I can make work designed to be successful in that kiln (thinking rustic, earthy work). Worse because I want to create delicate, beautiful work. This means I will need to purchase a new kiln in the future AND I need the proper outlet. Now I could put the kiln in my new studio space, but the electricity in that building is TERRIBLE and I wouldn’t trust it to support the 20 amps needed. So that involves hiring an electrician to do a lot of work and I don’t know maybe I’ll just paint more portraits.
This is where my gofundme account gets created and suddenly I have everything I need.
Worst of the firing: Magnolia mugs. I’m so embarrassed. I can’t even.
Best of: This style of planter is working quite well for me. I need to make about 30 next time and stop experimenting with things that aren’t working yet.
After writing this post I did a little more reading. The ware all suffered from a severe overfiring.