How You Do Dat Pottery Stuff?
It all started with a strong desire to throw pottery on the wheel.
I came in with experience in slip casting, which is using molds and really runny clay to cast forms. Slip casting was highly satisfying but I couldn't ignore my desire to throw on the potter's wheel.
When it was time I took a beginner's throwing class with The Potter's Shop. Even today, my instructor is a constant supporter and mentor.
I walked in willing to learn but also certain that I'd be a natural. I wasn't. I practiced, refined my skills over the course of 18 months before I was confident enough to start selling my work. I'm still improving, still pushing my limits.
There are the steps taken in creating pottery:
Center the clay ball on the wheel (the hardest thing to get right)
Poke a well into the very center of the centered clay ball
Open the well to desired depth and flatness (round shape for bowls)
Flatten the bottom if desired
Pull the walls to the desired height and thickness (tricky!!)
Level the top of the piece (also done during pulling)
Shape the piece by collaring, bellying, using ribs, hand formed interest
Trim the "skirt" which is clay that is holding the piece onto the wheel but takes away from the shape of the piece and will need to be trimmed later
Remove excess water and slip (wet clay) from the piece, inside and outside
Slice the piece with a fine wire from the wheel or bat
Move the piece to the rack for air drying to a dryness state called "leather hard"
In our studio we can get leather hard in a day, but I can also hold pieces by restricting how quickly they dry using buckets if I throw a piece that I won't be able to continue for a few days.
Create handles and any clay based embellishments such as badges set aside to dry some.
Trimming - Return to wheel to refine the shape, texture and "foot" (bottom) of the piece
Do any hand carving that is needed for the piece
Apply handle and embellishments as needed
Apply underglaze decorations if desired
Quality check piece while still "wet" for any flaws like dents or clay boogers
Set piece onto drying rack until it reaches "bone dry". This is the most vulnerable state in the process and depending upon our studio humidity can take up to two weeks.
Load bone dry pieces into kiln for bisque fire - This process hardens the clay to a point that makes it less fragile but is also porous enough to accept glaze.
We bisque fire all clays to slow cone 04 which is a high temp of 1950 degrees over at least 12 hours
Wait for the bisque load to cool to safe temps, we open up at 150 degrees which is usually after a 10 hour cool down
Glazing and Glaze Fire:
Glaze the bisqued pieces. We "dip" as well as hand glaze our pieces. A dip is fast but hand glazing can take an hour per piece.
Load kiln for glaze fire. Some of our clays and glaze combinations work best at cone 5 while others need cone 6. Additionally some clays need a slow fire while others are fine at normal speeds. Segregate and kiln fire pieces based on hard earned knowledge and experience.
Wait. A slow fire can take 14 hours while a normal run is done in 8 hours
Wait for the kiln to cool to safe temps (150 again) usually at least 10 hours
Unload kiln piece by piece, experiencing an awesome high for the ones that worked out great or a real low for the ones that didn't
Return piece to wheel to make tabletop contact areas "baby butt smooth" by wet sanding with diamond sanding pads
Measure piece for height, capacity, ask Aaron to photograph for sharing.
Add care instructions, define price, and deliver to sales channel
And we usually do it all barefoot.
So, from wet ball of clay to something you'd like to have is at least two weeks away. Since we care about conserving energy, we only fire our kiln when we can fill it. That has a tendency to extend our turnaround time to a month to six weeks.
We hope that you see that our work is truly hand made and it takes a considerable amount of time and skill to create pieces worthy of your appreciation.