First firing done, and relatively happy with the outcome. These were all test pieces to tryout different ways of holding colorants close to the piece to influence it's color. Some sagger and some naked against the sawdust.
It's eighty degrees, sunny, and slightly humid ... and I'm packing the drum with the first batch of pieces. These test pieces are some of my first pieces since getting back into ceramics after a 30 year hiatus and will be used for the first test firing. The pieces are loaded upside down, burying them about a third of the way, in sawdust. You can see three sagger pieces and three pieces that can touch the fuel. After they're set I continue loading pine needles, pine cones, small branches, and more sawdust around them. This type of fuel leaves a little more area for draft when the fire reaches this point.
At this point I start to use small pieces of hardwood placed across each other to start adding volume to the drum. More sawdust is added as well. There are multiple levels of hardwood, needles, pine cones, narrow sticks, and lump hardwood added until we reach about four inches from the top.
At this point a few sprinkles of sawdust are added and a cover of fine mesh wire screen is added to keep sparks at a minimum. The whole process took about forty five minutes.
We'll wait a few days for the marine layer to come back in to help with keeping the evil forces at bay.
The first batch of pots are now wrapped and ready for pit firing. They have copper wire (used to hold the elements tight) and then kelp, seaweed, cornhusk, and other assorted items tied close to the surface to influence the color of the finished product. Three are wrapped in foil, or what's called a saggar, to hold elements even closer to the surface of the pot.
These six pots will be then loaded into a 55 gallon oil drum that has a sawdust bed inside. They will be buried up to a certain level and then pine needles, hard wood, and more sawdust will be added until the drum is full.
A little kerosene and a match and the firing will begin.
It's been about a month since my last scribbling here and the needle has moved quite a bit forward. All the first small test pieces finally kept their glass like surface through the last burnishing (technique discovery of a sorts) and thankfully through the bisque firing. Those twelve test pieces are now awaiting the first pit firing.
From there, with the help of shots of coffee, cat naps, lots of design drawings were done over a two week period. I continue to fill soft bound moleskine books with design drawings but with what's been done so far I felt the need to create some of the ideas that I put to paper.
Four new pieces thrown, trimmed, shaped, and first burnished and then waited for design to be applied. These new pieces are bigger, and canvases like, for me to play around on.
Above are four of the twelve test pieces after they were pulled from the bisque firing. They will soon be taken through my first pit firing once the weather holds for a period of a few days. It's a wee bit of a problem with Seattle. Rain always shows up when you least want it.
Next week has multiple sunny days and we'll try to get a firing done one of those days. Which presented another small supply issue with finding a source to sell me sawdust in a quantity that did not involve a railroad car. Thanks to the folks at Fritch Mills for giving me a source that's about fifteen minutes away and in quantities that I can move using a pickup truck.
Clay truffles ... small globs of clay shaped like truffles and left to dry. These will become the feet ...
... for the new pieces that I just did. I feel it gives a bit of lift to the piece so that it's not just boringly sitting on the surface it's on. If you look closely to the image of the piece way up top it's sitting on these new feet. These pieces are in the 30cm tall range. We will start working even bigger when the time comes, eventually working about double the height for some pieces.
For now I'll be working on the last three new pieces, moving sawdust, and working on even more designs.
In disconnecting from one line of work and plugging oneself into another, I knew that it was going to take some time to set myself into a new pattern of work. I'm happy to say the process is set in motion.
It's been five months of playing and pondering as to how I want these things I create to look. It's been an birthing process of making pieces, throwing the shit out, rethinking, making more pieces, throwing more shit out ...
I thought I liked what I did the other day, but upon reflection, it wasn’t quite there.
Then, when you're just sitting around having a cup of whatever and doodling new shapes, in that moment is finally when your damn mind latches on to the creative stream that runs above your head and it makes you think outside the box.
That happened yesterday.
Today I went out to the studio, grabbed a new half way finished piece, and put those thoughts I'd had to clay. And when I stepped back I can honestly say was finally happy with something. I went back and grabbed the two previous pieces I'd finished (which were ok but still shit) and redid them with the same new technique.
Can I say I'm finally smiling?
I feel I'm heading in the right direction and not floundering without a preserver.
The first wave of pieces having been thrown, trimmed, shaped, scraped, burnished and treated are now ready for a little design work ... which is going slowly ... as it's all experimenting as I go. This is the third piece and I'm beginning to pick up a little steam and confidence that I'm finally hitting a zone of how I want the piece to look before it gets it's first firing (bisque) where it will then await the final pit firing.
A piece is never done until it's finally fired. So much can still happen. Until then this all just playing around and at the same time trying to keep the Grim Reaper of Pottery away until you get them out of the final flame.
Six more vessels started. If these all make it through I'll have twelve ready for pit firing which is enough for the first run. Used a technique using veggie oil to seal my burnished pieces and it seemed to work quite well, but I'm still going to wait twenty four hours to make sure before applying it to everyone else.
Nothing like going mental when a technique fails after you think you've done.
And I was right. The technique only really works if you've pre-burnished, wait until the pot completely dries, burnish again, then veg oil, then burnish again. Now you end up dealing with a surface that is close to glass as one can get.
"Do you have stainless steel oil barrels?"
"Yes, like this?" points at a barrel about five feet away.
"Where's your car?"
"It's the yellow Countryman over there. Already measured it and it fits."
"Go open the back." To which I sprint over and throw open the back of the car. He rolls the barrel over, and in one movement pitches the barrel into it, then turns to me, "you got twenty bucks?"
Which I open my wallet and pull a bill out. He grabs it and says "Close the lid and get out of here." And disappears back into the barrel yard.
I now have a pit fire barrel for the back yard. I was going to build a brick firing area and still may, but this lovely barrel will get me going.
After thirty seven years it's time to say goodbye to the photo industry.
And it's funny because I use to love working for start ups. They're exciting to get going, seeing customers embrace a new idea, and watch as the idea catches hold.
But then there's the dark side, a greed that sets in, and that greed makes these companies lose sight of who they are and what's important. I've seen it happen three times now. And each time I've had to walk away.
It makes one take away the feeling it's not been worth the effort. In fact it's really been a total waste of time. You make someone a whole lot of money by selling their shit, watch them blow said money on their own ego, and then get out of the way as the wheels come off the company. These principals can't understand what's happening because they've been absentee owners, spending the capital that should have paid the bills, and are finger pointing at everyone other than themselves as the ground comes up at them.
As I said ... I'm quitting. At this point I'm going to be selfish and work on what I should have stuck with all along. My ceramic business. Without any damn distractions. Now I can devote my entire life to making art again.
And I couldn't be happier.
It’s called taking a step back. To assess, look at the headings, and make sure of the course is correct so that one doesn’t waste a lot of time and effort getting started. The one good thing from the kitty’s death is she made me stop, take a breath, and have a clear look.
I also got the flu, which provided me with an opportunity to stop drinking, start eating better, and truly relax for once … which all helped in the process.
There was also my dear wife who also helped, as she is a great person to go back and forth with in conversation, creating ideas out of thin air.
The clarity out of all of this gave me a real sense I’d already gone off the rails and was not being true to where I am. Which is to say, you can’t really link where you are today with the way you use to work thirty some years ago, because I’m not that person anymore. Hopefully I’ve learned something in thirty years and can bring that into what my hand's make.
With a death the wind can some times leave the sails of what your trying to get done. My daughter's cat, Sapphire, passed away on the 14th of December and with it any motivation to be creative. She was a sweet being that the entire family loved dearly.
But the fact is she was sick most of her one year life and required constant meds to keep her stable. In the end she knew it was time and decided to just stop eating. After three days she suffered a stroke and we stayed with her through the night until she was gone.
I feel at this point, with the passage into the new year, we can put this grief behind us and again be a viable family.
First four finished ... waiting for firing now. Pleased with how they turned out even though it was experiment time all the way. Now we wait for them to completely dry, then bisque fire them.
I'm going to start throwing again this week while it rains and make four more pieces ... larger as I want to see how the technique holds up to much bigger forms.
So finally all the pots popped off the bats and I was able to start shaping and texturing them. This is only the beginning phase. Lot's more work to be done as there is more shaping, and then burnishing of them with rocks, and then slip applied, and a final burnishing again.
After that the designs will be applied and we will be close to the pit firing.
I love that I felt the zone for the first time in 32 years. I've missed that.
1978 ... my ceramic studio in South Laguna ... Pullman style.
I lived right above 1000 Step Beach, which wasn't public back then, but card access only ... when I look back it was pretty damn idyllic. Got by pretty well for the time.
Most of the work I was doing here went to the Festival Of The Arts in Laguna Beach.
1970's ... working on some porcelain pieces. Images shot by my dear friend Annette Duchane who lived across the street and got me interested in photography and shooting the pictures of my work to send to galleries.
If you look over my shoulder at the wall that chalkboard is my calendar. It kept track of when pieces had to be done in time for the Festival of the Arts as I had a firing schedule through out the show to make sure I had enough pieces to sell.
Like I couldn't get new ones ... but the two tackle boxes full of tools to the right of me are still being used today.
Yeah, small baby steps. Getting the hands retrained to throw. Remembering where my hands went and how it felt to pull a pot. All in a days work.
Finally pulled four basic pieces which will now be turned into shapes as designed on paper. Lots of paddling into shape and textures applied using slips and other elements. Only a few pieces at a time can go through the process as they have to be kept in that halfway point between wet and dry.
But I'm happy we're at a point of the first samples going through. Means progress.
So after 37 years in the photo industry ... that's right I started in 1981 ... here I am making plans to get out.
Back before 1981 I ran my own ceramics business, making fine art pieces and selling them through galleries and the Festival Of The Arts in Laguna Beach. Why did I ever get into the photo industry in the first place? Well if anyone remembers 1980 was a recessional year and with the downturn in the economy you had to decide between eating, filling your car with gas, and a place to sleep ... no room for fine art. Photography was the other art thing that I was doing having to photograph my work to send to galleries. So I went looking for a photo retail job throughout Orange County and the last place I tried, Cornell's Camera in Mission Viejo, hired me on the spot. With that I shut down my business and went and worked in the photo industry. Besides working retail for the first twelve years, there was being a manufacturers rep, which grew into being a distributor for two photo high end lighting companies from Germany. Finally landing as being sales director for a little company in Seattle. Lots of travel, and lots of eating antacids.
I've had enough.
So I went out and bought myself a kiln, a wheel, dug out all of my old ceramic tools and started working up designs. I am like a little kid again. I'm in the beginning stages of designing my website, my chop (for signing what I do) and have been playing with taking samples through the process and getting my techniques honed. I'll be documenting my travels in getting this off the ground and trying to show what starting a ceramic business is like for anyone who wants to follow.