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.

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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…

Blog hopping

My friend David Worsley has asked me to take part in a blog hop – a way of linking artists and makers across the world. I have known him for about a year and a half… ever since I stumbled upon his blog when I was setting up mine. David makes the most beautiful, understated, and finely thrown stoneware pottery. He has been very generous with help and advice whilst I have been starting to establish The Cloud Pottery.

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Large bowl by David Worsley, Dove Street Pottery

The hop consists of answering four questions and then linking to two new artists/makers to continue the hop…

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

I am just beginning to experiment with ideas to expand my range.

Once I have finished my final show for the year I will be testing new colours. My work is mostly inspired by North Uist’s beaches in summertime, but I’m planning to add some greys and greens to reflect more wintry and stormy seas.

Over the short time that I have been selling people have requested both beakers and plates so I’m hoping to develop both of these. Plates require a new level of skill. I have made a start and I’m looking forward to improving my throwing ability over the coming months.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

It’s still early days and I’m slowly building my style. I hope to create pots that are well thrown and simply decorated with patterns that evoke the marine environment that I have grown up with and admire so much. I suppose I could be classed as a slipware potter as I use liquid clays with added pigment to give colour rather than different glazes, but not in the traditional sense… I am experimenting with contemporary ways of mark making whilst using time-honoured techniques such as slip trailing, sgraffito and mishima.

WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO?

I think I was always been destined to be a maker. Following 20 years as a graphic designer I accidentally rediscovered my love of pottery. To me this change in direction seems to be an instinctive progression of my creative journey. I feel that I have finally found the perfect combination of expression, creativity and connection. It satisfies me on so many levels: working with my hands; being in control of how a piece looks and feels; creating something useful that might also be treasured; continually discovering and hopefully improving; not to mention just playing with mud!

It has, so far, been a tremendous journey with a steep learning curve, but I am enjoying every experiment, disaster, lesson, setback and success along the way.

HOW DOES MY PROCESS WORK?

Pottery is not a quick process. There are many stages and many opportunities for mishap. My starting point for all new pieces are my sketchbooks. They contain all manner of scribbles; from landscapes to ideas for shape and pattern.

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I use two clays to throw with. One is a smooth white stoneware with which I make my domestic ware. The other is a buff stoneware with added molochite. This makes it rougher to throw with, but more resistant to thermal shock and therefore suitable for the extremes of the raku firing process.

Both domestic and decorative pieces are thrown on a wheel. Once they are dry enough to hold their shape they are tidied, burnished and finished. Colour and extra form is added at this stage, and then decoration.

After their first firing, to 1000˚C, the pots are then stable enough to be glazed. First they are sanded and washed. Then they take one of two routes…My domestic pieces are dipped in a clear glaze and then fired for a final time to 1240˚C. This is done slowly, over about 14 hours, in my electric kiln. This reveals their true colour and makes them vitrified and very strong.

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The raku pieces take a very different journey. Once glazed, they are fired extremely quickly in a gas fired kiln. When red hot (1000˚C) they are quickly removed from the kiln, and placed into a smoking chamber. After a time the pieces are taken out and quenched in water before cleaning to reveal their finished glaze.

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Either way each finished pot is a unique testament to the process of its creation.

Next week the two artists I have chosen will be answering the same questions. By chance they are both called Alison…

Alison Sye is an extraordinary upcyclist. To use her own words ‘part womble, part emergency service’ and creator of the most beautiful and intriguing work.

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Red Shirt, Seven Years by Alison Sye

Alison Macleod is a relation by marriage but I haven’t chosen her out of nepotism. She is a phenomenally talented jeweller and I am lucky to own a number of her beautiful creations including both my wedding and engagement rings.

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Fragments necklace by Alison Macleod

I look forward to reading their stories.

Week end

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It’s been another busy one… but really enjoyable. It started with a day of raku firing with some good results. I’ve not done any throwing this week – that starts again with a vengeance tomorrow. Mostly I have been sorting and cataloguing finished work, then packing up and shipping out my first orders. This has required organisational skills that have lain dormant for some time, but I have found the whole experience strangely satisfying. I’ve also been updating, adding and tinkering with the website… a series of group images; a link to my instagram feed (top right); a list of stockists and so on.

Undoubtably the best bit was when a mystery parcel appeared at the beginning of the week.
I opened it up and found the following…

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Thank you Claudia – I love her!

I’ve also been asked to take part in a Blog Hop… more on that next week.

Open fire

During the open studios last week I did a couple of raku demonstrations using my homemade dustbin kiln and I had some lovely visitors to witness the process. Thank you to Hilary Firth from Starglazing for taking most of the following photographs…

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Kiln heating up nicely, using a probe to keep an eye on the temperature.

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Once the kiln reaches temperature and the glaze has matured,
the lid is removed and red hot pieces are removed with tongs.

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Red hot pieces are placed into a reduction (smoking) chamber lined with sawdust.
The lid is put on and the chamber is left until it has cooled.

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A blackened piece after being removed from the reduction chamber.

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The blackened pieces are then scrubbed under water.

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The best of the bunch with some great copper flashing.

The transformation the urchins undergo is fascinating to me. These blackened lumps are removed and are scrubbed until they reveal their true selves, just like treasure from a wreck being brought to the surface, cleaned and discovered,

Someone mentioned to me a while ago that I should try using less sawdust for the reduction and this advice worked a treat. In fact the results were the best ever. I’ve been trying to replicate one particular piece that I fired during my course at Gray’s and this was the first time I’ve managed that. So, after five raku firings I am by no means an expert, but progress is definitely being made.

Smoke pot

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Sea urchin; straight from reduction (smoke) chamber (l) and after cleaning (r)

I thought I wouldn’t make it into the studio until next week but I got itchy fingers yesterday and couldn’t resist. I didn’t have time to throw anything so I decided to do some raku glazing and firing instead. It looked like it would be a perfect clear cold night for my second firing using the homemade kiln. I mixed up a new version of the turquoise raku glaze that I have used before – this time with a little less copper oxide in the hope for a lighter colour. I glazed a number of small urchins that were biscuit fired before the holidays. After trying to learn from my previous mistakes the results were much better than last time: a much quicker firing; and a better glaze colour; but nearly everything cracked again. Now I’m sure I need to change to a clay with more grog in it.

What I do love about raku firing is that at first you pull out these black lumps from the reduction chamber and they look pretty grim, but then you get them under the tap and start to scrub away the soot and smoke to reveal the finished pot beneath.

Next time I must remember some marshmallows for toasting.

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