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The two most common questions I encounter as a potter are; "Why is pottery so expensive?" and the second question; "What do you do with the pieces that don't work out or have a minor flaw or that you would consider seconds?" 

The answer to the first question will start to become obvious as I begin to answer the second question. There are many things that can go wrong with a piece of pottery during the making process. And every time a piece is lost, the potter incurs a financial loss because of it. Sometimes the piece never makes it off of the wheel because it develops an anomaly (warps, collapses, tears apart, becomes uneven, reveals air bubbles, etc...). When this happens, time is lost, and if the potter thinks of his labor in terms of an hourly wage, then he just lost money and must make it up in the next pieces he makes. 

Next comes the drying phase of the process - during this period of time, the piece can dry unevenly and warp or crack. This is not uncommon and when it happens, the time spent making the piece is lost - adding to the cost of the surviving pieces. Understanding the strengths and limitations of the particular clay body can minimize much of the losses in these early stages - but it cannot eliminate it entirely.

The next stage of the process is the first firing of the pieces (known as the "bisque" firing). This first firing hardens the clay to a soft and porous "terracotta" state. At this stage, pieces can warp and crack depending on the stresses existing in the piece from the making process, and stresses placed on the piece from the heat being applied to it. A longer firing time (more expensive) with a slower heat rise (greater cost in terms of time) is less stressful on the pieces and results in less loss at this stage - but occasional breakages still occur.

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In the next phase of pottery making, glazing and glaze firing, each piece is glazed and fired to an even hotter temperature to cause the glaze to melt and the clay to become water tight (vitreous). Many things can go wrong in this part of the process. Glazes can behave incorrectly due to: the speed at which they are heated up, the ultimate temperature they are fired to (resulting in under or over firing), impurities in the glaze ingredients, combining the glaze ingredients in the wrong amounts, applying the glaze to the piece to thickly or to thinly, interactions and combinations of two or more glazes (often causing more melt than each glaze alone), loss of heat during the firing (due to loss of electrical power, running out of gas or wood, mechanical failure of the kiln, etc...).  

In the picture on the left, two pieces were welded to the kiln shelf by a glaze combination that increased the melt and caused it to run off onto the kiln shelf. The pieces had to be broken off the shelf and the sharp fragments and glaze droplets ground off using a high speed grinding wheel. This is just one example of the many things that can go wrong. The cost and loss of these two pieces (in terms of both time, materials and overhead) has to be factored into the price of the work fired successfully and spread across several hundred pieces.

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At this point you're probably wondering why wouldn't I sell any piece I can, for whatever money I can, to cover all of those expenses and losses? It's really a good question. Ultimately, the decision to sell seconds is a personal one. I don't sell seconds. I only sell what I consider to be the highest quality work that I can make to the best of my ability at the time. I believe the work represents the craftsman. The work you see for sale on this website represents me and the things I value; form and design, functionality, color, quality materials, uniqueness, skill in manufacture, the traditional and modernity. If flaws interfere with these things I value, then my decision is to turn that bucket full of pots into something useful - namely, landfill.  

So, these are some of the things that factor into the cost of handmade pottery, and we haven't even begun to discuss all of the overhead costs of a dedicated studio building and utilities, equipment costs and maintenance, marketing and training and..... then there's taxes - don't get me started!

 
 
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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. 
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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.