Sunday, April 28, 2013


I just got reprimanded by "the boss" for posting this on Facebook first. Dang. What do I know? She says there's a little button you can click to share the blog post on Facebook. Sure enough, there is. I think I'm going to try it now, so please forgive the redundancy. Actually, let's just say I meant this twice. Deal? Deal!

Here's what I said:

I'm making teapots again. Body, lid and spout are thrown, then trimmed and assembled when in the leather hard stage of drying. Knobs are compressed clay squeezed between the palm of my hand and the base of my index and second fingers, then attached to the lid. Spouts are cut and canted to the 5 o'clock position because - and this is quite interesting - the spout "unwinds" clockwise when the pots are firing. Hopefully, the cut is perfect and the spout unwinds to the 6 o'clock position. The pots are under plastic so that everybody can "get to know each other" in terms of moisture content before allowed to continue to the bone dry stage. Pottery lesson now over! :-)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Native Clay - a thing of the past

A native clay is something of the past. I mean that in two ways: 1) A century ago, potters searched for deposits of material that came right out of the ground and was ready to mold into pottery. But that's pretty much a thing of the past in our country. Sure, it's still done in a few places, but it's rare that a potter is fortunate to find such an ideal lode. 2) Clay is tens of millions of years old. If ever there was a thing of the past, it's clay. Clay is broken-down rock. Clay is not dirt. Most potters I know (including myself) do not generally incorporate native clays into their repertoire. We buy our clay from companies that charge by the pound. They put it into neatly packed 25 lb. cubes wrapped in plastic bags, two bags to a box for a total of 50 lbs per box. You do get a price break if you order it by the ton. I order it by the ton. But I got lucky last week.

Last week, a guy who came into the gallery told me where some dark clay was. He gave me good directions. I checked it out last Friday (April 12th). He was right. I could not believe my eyes. I have found native clays in Lincoln County before, but never so pure and always that yellow-to-red colored clay. But this stuff was really, really dark, was really, really pure, and was really, REALLY sticky. And whereas the native clay my mentor, Jeff Procter put me onto went to make a nice glaze, this stuff felt like it might even work on the wheel. And boy-howdy, it worked great. Here are some pictures:

 The first pot I made from the black clay was this little tea bowl. I put it to the throwing test right after I got home. I didn't even wedge the stuff. I simply formed it into a ball, sat down at the wheel and threw it!

 I lugged that white bucket filled with my shovels-full of clay from the location to my car. When I got home, I dumped half of it into the blue bucket and added water. I then blunged it until it became a thick slurry. I then screened it through a 40 mesh and almost nothing was left on top of the screen. It all went through. Just look at the very interesting "oil spots" on the surface in the following four photos. Click on them for a closer look. The patterns are amazing!

 Next, I poured about half a bucket of the stuff onto these two large plaster bats to hasten the drying process. The bats quickly became completely saturated with the water they soaked up from the clay.

 In the next photo, you can see how the very outer edge of the slurry is beginning to dry.
 Today, I peeled the two slabs of clay from the plaster bats and after drying them out a little more on some fresh plaster, was able to wedge it up into what turned out to be a 9 pound ball of beautiful, workable clay. I cut off a 2 pound chunk, sat down at the wheel and threw this bowl. The rectangular bar of clay in my hand has received an impression from a plastic ruler and cut to 3 inches. I will fire the clay and be able to determine a rate of shrinkage. Normally, clay shrinks about 12 1/2 percent from wet to fully fired.

 Just look at how smooth the lip of the pot is. I used cellophane to finish it, but this is anything but an impure, rocky clay. I have to admit, there's quite a bit of romance in finding a good native clay deposit. But even more romance in being able to make pots out of it! I told my source that I would give him a pot if it turned out to be something I could use. I'm SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS CLAY!
So, what will it look like when it's fired? I can almost guarantee that it will turn a very dark brown or reddish-brown. Whether you find native clay that is red, yellow, blue, green or black, it's color is almost always determined by iron content. And when it's fired, iron turns some shade of brown. The other mystery yet to be solved is whether this clay will withstand my glaze temperature of 2232 F. It may just be a lucky happenstance that I was able to form the clay into a pot, but that doesn't mean that it won't melt into a puddle of glaze at that temperature. That's why I'll be test firing a very small piece of the clay first. Stay turned (get it? wheel-thrown pot? turned? get it?) to see what happens.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Gallery Dates

I've installed about forty new pieces at the gallery and will be there three days this month: Monday, April 8, Friday, April 12 and Monday, April 15 (Tax Day!). If you're in the area, come visit me and check out the new wares! I'd love to see you: 10am - 5pm at For Artsake Gallery, 258 NW Coast Street in Newport (between Nana's and Jovi).