Stage two: THE PROCESS

July 11 2016

After my wonderful holiday, going to galleries in Vienna and walking in the Norwegian mountains, it felt good to be back in the studio, to get back to a productive routine.

Wonderfull to have my hands in clay again; must be addicted to the stuff.

I am glad that I made drawings of my 3m high pole-sculptures. The impressions I had during my time away could have wiped them from my memory.

In Oslo I went to a Ceramic Sculpture Park. The work by Magnus Furuholmen left me speechless. The sheer size of them! The large monoliths would have been easily 10m high. They made my project feel small.

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Still, for me 3m is high enough. The top sculpture has to be fairly large to make an impression. It is hard to imagine how big the top should be. Thought of making a model, but then the weather put me off experimentations. Also, my tall friend, who helped me setting up the lower section of the sculptures before I went on my holiday, has moved to Tasmania to live on a boat with the dream of sailing the seven seas.

There are a lot of technical considerations when creating such high sculptures. Wind is one of them. The top-sculpture has to be well connected to the “sleeve” as not to break off. We will see when the pieces are assembled and we get the first bad weather.

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No one is allowed to use my tools. Ray’s tools are still in his drawer. Even after all the years he has not been with me, I could not possibly borrow his tools. The rolling pin I have had for a good 40 years. Often Ray and I talked about getting a slab maker, but somehow it never happened.

There are a number of items from the kitchen, which I found friendly to work with. I just borrowed them, strangely somehow, they never returned to the kitchen drawer.

Some of the wooden tools are handmade by a friend, who likes to play with wood.

The tools shown below, I have picked for this particular job.

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With the aid of a cardboard tube, to fit the size of the metal poles, I make the sleeves. The clay I use is fairly rough, unfiltered terra cotta clay from Bennett’s Pottery in South Australia. Having worked with a lot of different clays I must say, this is my favorite. Getting it by the ton send to me can be a challenge. Not only do I need to find a kind friend with a one ton truck to transport the clay from the nearby town to my bush property, I also need a number of strong people to help me transfer the 20kg bags into my studio. Since I only get one delivery a year most of my friends forget the hard work from one time to the next.

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Putting the finishing touches to the sleeves was a cold job. The white, sloshy, lumpy clay, I decided to plaster on the sleeves, has been standing outside in the cold ever since I went on my holiday. I plunged my hands into the cold slosh. Soon I forgot how cold it was. It was deliciously sloshy. It must be the child in me playing with mud!

I smeared it on with my hands to get an uneven finish and to create texture.

Here I must add, that I did tests to see, if the white clay would stay on the terra cotta sleeve; if the shrinkage of the two clays would be the same.

Glazing straight onto the unfired (green-ware) segments, allows me to only once-fire the sculpture thus saving me quite a lot of gas. The white part of the sleeve is painted with an earthenware clear glaze, which will help to fuse the white slip onto the terra cotta and give me a little sheen. For the remaining structure I used a commercial glaze.

Each pole will have a different pattern. Also each abstract sculpture on the top will have its own individual appearance.

I am still excited about firing the kin. I must have done many thousands in my potting career.

After having made sure that all the works are totally dry, I will be loading them in the kiln. In the winter moisture can be a big problem, especially with larger, thicker pieces. Hearing things blow up inside the bricked up kiln is a potter’s nightmare.

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My kiln is a downdraft, gas fired brick kiln. Here I must admit I don’t know much about kilns. Ray was the master of the kiln. He built this one and fine-tuned it to behave perfectly. He used to call it his second woman; as temperamental as the first! Before he passed away, he taught me how to fire her and left me a written firing plan for both bisque and glaze firing. I was also told to keep a journal of every firing, writing down weather situations and how the kiln behaves. I have done so now for the last five years. Never did I have a bad firing.

She has four very large burners, which Ray recycled from our previous much larger kiln in the studio we had in the township of Maldon. There are two burners at the back and two at the front, facing horizontally into the kiln.

When we designed the studio here in the bush, we decided to have the opening of the kiln facing the interior of the studio. It makes easy loading. The back of the kiln is in the shed attached to the studio.

The floor plan of the studio is the shape of a boat with the bow’s big windows facing north to catch the winter sun. I have something about boats, the silent moving forward, the hope for a smooth journey.

Since the studio is filled up with tables and work, it is hard to see the shape of the floor plan. But I know!

Every Monday morning I have friends come to use the studio. For me, living only with four legged company (and one chicken), those mornings are very precious. Also that way the kiln fills up much quicker. The small pieces they produce fit into small places in the kiln. I like my kiln to be as full as possible. I pride myself on being a good packer of kilns. Quite a challenge with the different shapes and sizes my friends produce.

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From my past life as a production potter, producing hundreds of mugs a week, I have learned to keep my work to the height of the kiln props. This makes for easy packing and saves space. During the loading of the front shelves, I must make sure to leave room for the “cones” and the pyrometer, which will tell me the temperature in the kiln.

When the kiln is full, I brick her up, leaving the spy hole “bung” out to allow the moisture to escape. The damper, which is in the chimney, is full open. With clay I fill in all the cracks between the bricks and along the arch. She is ready to go.

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In the winter it is not so easy to get up at 6am to get the kiln going. Often, during the    three-hour warm-up, I am tempted to go back to bed. My animals on the other hand are very excited about my early start to the day. Not that I can see, what is so exciting about getting up before the sun. Then alas, I do not talk Dog!

Since I have a mixed lot of work, both green and bisque ware, in the kiln, I need to warm her up slowly. I have safety switches on all of my burners, still I like to keep an eye on the very small, yellow flame. Once one of the safety devices did not work and I taped the switch down to be able to get gas entering the burner. Did I get a talking to by my gas plumber!

My firing plan is to increase the heat, after the initially slow warm up to about 150ºC, by approximately 100ºC every hour until she shows 900ºC. Then she is allowed to go full on and the burners roar with blue flames entering the kiln.

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I like to stay with the kiln after she gets up to 1000ºC. to make sure that I get a clean firing with the right mixture of gas and oxygen to avoid in changing the colours of the glazes.

The cones will bend at 1100ºC.Once the cones bend I like to fire just a little longer, then shut off the gas and close the burners. I am confronted with a very hot beast. What will you reveal when I remove the door tomorrow night? It is always very exciting, but having to wait for the opening of the kiln always tests my patience.

Often I take the following day off, go out, go shopping or visit a friend, just so I am not tempted to start “peeling” off bricks from the door.

Many a kiln I have opened, I still find it very exiting.

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