I started throwing containers at the new studio in mid October 2013, testing clay bodies from several different suppliers throughout the southeast. After experimenting with eight different clay bodies and working my way through twelve hundred pounds of clay, I have managed to narrow the selection down to three that I will use; one a fine grained porcelain from a supplier in Asheville, NC
and the other two stoneware bodies (one black and one brown) from a supplier in Atlanta, GA
I have been a little surprised at the amount of clay it takes to make each ikebana container - but then, I'm not making tea bowls or coffee mugs. In most schools of Ikebana, the size of the container has a direct influence on the size of the designers arrangement. Likewise, it is important to consider where the container will be placed; tokonoma, buffet, temple alter, dining table, entry way, etc... This information also aids in determining size.
One hundred and eighty two glaze tests have now been fired. The vast majority of them do not interest me, But in each batch of sixty or so test tiles, I usually get between three and five or six that I think might have potential. A five to ten percent success rate is about all I can expect in glaze testing.
I then change, alter and modify the recipes of these potential glazes to see if I can nudge them closer to what I consider a perfect glaze. And what do I consider the perfect glaze to be? That is a very complicated question to try to answer.
I think the first part has to do with glaze mechanics - does it fit the clay body properly? Does it melt at the proper temperature? Is the surface what it is supposed to be; glossy or matte? Does it stay where you put it on the pot or is it fluid and runny? Is the color correct?
The second thing I look at has to do with aesthetics. Does the glaze interact well in combination with other glazes? How does it look on a white clay body versus a dark one? Does it break and highlight edges or raised relief patterns or throw lines?
The last thing I look for as I evaluate glaze tests has to do with firing atmospheres. I fire in an electric kiln (oxidation atmosphere). This gives me a tremendous amount of control and predictability with my glazes and clay bodies. Other ways of firing (gas, wood, coal, oil, etc...) produce different atmospheres and glaze effects. Many (but not all) of the glaze effects produced in fuel burning kilns can be replicated through glaze chemistry and clay body interactions. This is the part of glaze testing that fascinates me the most.
Snow has been falling on Cedar Mountain since 8:00 am today. The pottery shop is very cold but progress is being made to get it up and running. It has definitely been a labor of love restoring this old garage and apartment building into an inspiring studio for pottery making. One of my favorite things is sitting up there working at my wheel while looking out over the little pond - absolutely peaceful.
It has taken a little over a year to reach this point. A great deal of work had to be done to the house before I could even think about the pottery building. With each day however, more things get accomplished and I am able to now begin the work I came here to do - make things from clay.