Cold store #2

A while ago I posted asking for ideas about how to store a large quantity of clay, especially through the winter months as it can get pretty cold here. Following some very helpful replies I had planned to buy an old freezer, but after a bit of measuring and consideration I realised that the space where it could go was not big enough and being outside it would reduce to a rusting heap pretty quickly. Eventually I managed to find a shed that I could build to fit and that I could insulate. I’ll let you know if it works…

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Here’s the space between my studio and our house where the store just squeezes. I’ve added a layer of 50mm insulation board on the inside to hopefully protect the clay from freezing. It’s cut in sections for the doorway so that they can be added as the clay bags are stacked up inside.

Magpie {35}

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Tiny naked raku pebble, by Moyra Stewart

I’m sure my husband is by now regretting suggesting that I should post about the pots I own. He has unwittingly given me an excuse to buy more of them.

Moyra makes fantastic raku pieces. Like me she is inspired by the Scottish landscape – to be honest it’s difficult not to be. Her recent large works are influenced by the complex strata of rock formations and they are breathtaking. I met Moyra at the SPA Kindrogan workshop where members are encouraged to display their work and I couldn’t resist buying this little piece. Now I’ll have to start saving for something bigger.

True colours

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Any of you who have been following me for a while might know that I am a contemporary slipware potter… I use coloured slips (liquid clay with added pigment) to decorate my pieces rather than glazes. To date my work has been inspired by the breathtaking turquoise blue that I see each summer on North Uist’s shell beaches. However the sea can be a multitude of colours from blue, to grey, to green and for some time I’ve wanted to expand my colour range to allow for these.

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Until now I have been using ready-made slips but I’m finding this both limiting and expensive. To make my own there are two alternatives: to buy manufactured stains, or to blend my own combinations of oxides. One day I hope to do the latter but for the meantime I’m going down the stain route. I’ve been prevaricating about this for ages… Why is it that the things you think are going to be tricky end up being pretty straight forward? Maybe it is as a result of thinking about it for so long that I’d worked out most of what I needed to do in my head before starting.

First I made a series of test tiles out of clay slabs – each one with seven impressed areas to apply the different combinations of colour. Then I made endless pots of slip using measured amounts of dried waste clay, water and stain. These were left to slake overnight and then passed through a fine sieve to ensure a smooth consistency and proper mixing of the pigment. With each colour I did three tests –

Dilute: where incremental amounts of water were added to the slip to thin the colour
Lighten: where additional quantities of white slip were added to fade the original colour
Blend: fading one colour into another to create other colours

126 combinations in all.

There are some results that I really like, and some that need a little finer testing before I achieve what I’m after… but all-in-all not a bad first attempt.

Naked

I mentioned in my previous post that David Roberts kindly let us bring some pieces to raku fire during our SPA weekend at Kindrogan. I’ve done naked raku once before, at Gray’s School of Art, and I’ve been meaning to have another go. This experience has inspired me to try and do further firings at home, perhaps over the summer.

David is a master of raku ceramics. His large-scale pieces are breathtaking and it was fascinating to discover more about his process. He cleverly juxtaposes rough and smooth surfaces in his pieces which adds depth to his already complex designs.

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A detail of one of David’s stunning large bowls.

We were asked to bring some already bisque fired pieces to the workshop. Ideally these would be burnished to a smooth finish or have terra sigillata applied. The pieces were dipped into a barrier slip, some with areas already masked off. Once dry they were dipped into a raku glaze and dried again. At this point they could be fired as they were, or designs could be incised through the layers of glaze and slip. The slip is what stops the glaze from adhering to the pot during firing. The areas that have been left bare will become black during reduction.

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First the pieces were gas fired relatively quickly to approximately 850˚C. 

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The pieces were pulled from the kilns and put into reduction chambers.

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Then they were taken out and the glaze chipped away to reveal the naked pot underneath. 

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Following a good scrub to remove any remaining slip the pots were allowed to dry.
I almost love the bases more than the tops.

Surface

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I’m just back from another amazing Scottish Potters Association weekend at Kindrogan. When I was wending my way there through the stunning Perthshire countryside I was thinking that there was no way that it could be as good as last year’s. How wrong could I be – not only were there excellent demonstrators once again, but as I was no longer a novice I knew more folk and I relaxed and enjoyed it far more this time.

The workshops were given by Patricia Shone, David Roberts and Ronnie Fulton. I spent most of my time flitting between Patricia and David’s rooms. Patricia gave us an insight into how she makes her incredible textured pieces both by using the wheel and through hand building techniques. She is inspired by the landscape of the Isle of Skye and as a result I feel a real kinship with her, although the style of our work is poles apart. David is a raku potter whose large-scale work I have admired for a long time. It was a treat to discover more about his process. He very kindly let us bring pieces to fire over the weekend, using his own barrier slip and glazes with some great end results. I’m now inspired to try further raku firings of this type in the summer.

I came away with a wealth of ideas relating to surface… burnishing for raku firing; adding terra sigillata for a fine patina; using unusual tools to create strata, roughness and waves, applying sodium silicate to obtain coarse volcanic structures; stretching and moulding to achieve organic character… more scribbles in my sketchbook. I wonder when I’ll have a chance to try them out. Until then here are a few tastes of what I saw…