Making of a mug: Day eight

Part one
The mug has dried out nicely and is now ready to have its first firing. At this point it is in its most fragile state so careful handling is vital. It is packed into the kiln along with all the other pieces I’ll be needing for the open studios which start this weekend.


Part two
So here is my kiln Bertha, fully packed, programmed, and switched on. For this biscuit (or bisque) firing she will be slowly heating up to cone 06, which is 998˚c. This will result in the mug being strong but still porous enough to absorb its glaze. The lid is propped open initially to allow any steam to escape. I will close it up about four hours in. It will take just over 11 hours to reach temperature, but then a similar length of time to cool. Because there are a mixture of pieces in this firing, including some wide based platters the slow firing is essential.


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Making of a mug: Day six

Part one
I unwrapped the mug today and the handle has fixed well with no cracking. It is now dry enough to finish the decoration. This can produce a lot of very fine dust. I wear this attractive mask to avoid inhaling any of it.


Part two
For this mug I am using a traditional decorating technique called sgraffito. This is where you scratch a design through the previously applied coloured slip to reveal the plain clay colour beneath.


Part three
So now the mug is left for a few days. It needs to be completely dry before firing. Normally I would leave it for over a week but the kiln is firing with other work tonight, so this will speed up the drying considerably. All being well it will go in for its first firing on Monday.


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I’ve been looking forward to progressing my work and in the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to sneak in a few experiments. It’s been a wonderful combination – the methodical repetition of making established pieces interspersed with the odd opportunity to tinker.

Various threads keep coming back to me… things I have noticed; colours that spark; ideas that have been fermenting in the back of my mind. I’ve already mentioned the desire to expand my palette to allow for different seas – blues, greens and greys. There’s also my fascination with the flashes of colour that you find on the beach – the acid colours of lichens and seaweeds – yellow, green and orange.


Then there is reflection: light on waves, the shine of quartz, water on sand, the gleam of shell. I’ve been trying to think of ways to combine all these strands and these are the first results.


I’m looking forward to experimenting further.

In fine fettle


The last couple of days have been spent glazing and fettling my latest breakfast cups, small jugs and large dishes ready for Bertha’s first glaze firing. I’ve been trying out a number of techniques after receiving some really helpful comments and tips. My favourite approach so far was suggested by David Melville

Fill the inside of the pot with glaze then straight away turn upside down and empty. With the pot still upturned immediately glaze the rim a little way down the outside. Leave overnight to dry. The following day dip the outside, with the pot the right way up and your hand/s pressed against the inside. Slightly overlap the earlier glazed rim. For me this seems to be cleaner than using tongs, with the least amount of drips that need to be cleaned up. Also by dipping the lip whilst the pot is still wet from glazing the inside only a thin layer adheres to the outside. Hopefully this will stop the thick glazed rims that I’ve been having problems with in the past.

I’ve just switched on the kiln so I’ll find out late tomorrow, or Thursday morning, how things have fared. I’ll post some pictures of the results.




I threw these mugs last Wednesday. That night we had an enormous storm, freezing temperatures and the second fall of snow this winter. All of this was fine… to be expected in this neck of the woods. What put me off my stride was the two-day power cut. It was mildly entertaining for the first day – not so much for the night – and even less so the following day. Luckily we have a wood burning stove that we can cook on and use to keep warm. As a result I didn’t manage to turn the bases until Sunday.

There are so many things that have to be considered when making pots. I love the evolution… the way that each piece you throw becomes a little more refined… closer to your goal. I’ve been working on these breakfast cups for months now. Slowly altering their shape and proportions until I reach what I have in mind. But it’s not just the shape of the body of the cup, but how the base looks, the shape of the handle…

I have been dithering over whether or not to have turned bottoms to my pieces. Many potters just throw the bases finely, and make a small undercut to the edge which is then smoothed quickly at the leather hard stage. This can be a great time saver, however I really like the way these cups seem to ‘float’ above the surface they are sitting on because of the turned foot. I also like the shadow that is created so I’m going to stick with this for the time being. I may come to regret this decision when I have to make lots.


Then there’s the thickness of the turned foot. The cup furthest to the left (above) is my favourite so far, but I think I’d like to make the foot finer still.


Next there’s the handle… shape… thickness… attachment. I’ve been playing with handles a lot over the months – endless sketches, research, trials etc. Different handles suit different purposes – expresso cup, tea cup, coffee mug, breakfast cup, beer stein. Then there’s how it’s made – pulled, rolled, extruded or cut with a shaped wire – I like hand pulled best. The cups above are the closest yet to what I have in mind. The test will be in using them. Here’s hoping they survive their firings.

Magpie {25}

Porcelain small cup by Ali Tomlin

I was lucky to meet a number of interesting people at Handmade in Britain the other weekend. One person who particularly resonated with me was Ali Tomlin… She is a fellow ex-graphic designer with a similar length of time in that discipline. Her pieces are all made from porcelain, sanded to a soft, smooth finish and often glazed only on the inside. They are decorated with deceptively simple colour and line and you cannot help but pick them up.

Magpie {23}

Salt glazed stoneware cup with porcelain details, by Alistair Young

This is an exception to the rule in my Magpie series as I do not own this cup… but do I covet it (which after all is just as magpie-like). It belongs to a friend of ours and I see it every time we go and stay in her lovely cottage in Wester Ross. Essentially this beautiful glossy sheen is achieved by throwing salt into a kiln during the hottest part of the firing process. Salt glazing is a traditional technique that dates back to the 15th Century, first used to make domestic pottery durable and easy to clean.