20 March 2009

clay management

i live in western montana and am fortunate to have the 'archie bray foundation' about 4 hours away in helena. i've thrown many thousands of pounds of their cone 6 oxidation and it has been a very good clay for me. i'm now using their abf porcelain and this order also bought some high fire sculptural clay to use on handbuilt work for the outdoors. it feels nice and i'll test it out this week.

people often ask about the my clay supply/system...i'll offer a brief rundown of my process. i order clay in 50 pound boxes from the bray and have it shipped on a truck to a town about 30 miles away where i drive and have them load the pallet into the truck. then leif and i unload it one box at a time and it is stored in my shop. 1000 pounds of clay is only 20 boxes so it tucks nicely into a corner.

i keep 2- 5 gallon buckets next to my wheel where i put all of my scraps and throwing water. when those are full i transfer the slop to my plaster 'bray trays' and then the slop dries out for a week or so and then i run it through my venco pugmill. i usually pug about once a week for 20 minutes or so. it's been a smooth system for years. ( i must point out how valuable i think pugmills are....not necessary but ohhhhhh so wonderful.)

now, though, i've got cone 6 clay, and 2 varieties of high fire clay that i'm trying to keep separate and will have to completely take apart and clean out my pugmill before i start running the porcelain through. ( i usually clean the screen and barrel on my pugmill about every 6 months anyway). i don't blunge the slop or do anything special and i'm interested to see if the porcelain will be more sensitive...my guess is that it will take a bit more finesse.

today i picked up 1500 pounds of new clay and organized my storage area a bit...

it's nice to have a good relationship with the bray and also with the trucking company....they have been so good to me. historically though, when i was younger and didn't know any better...i would hop in my subaru and drive to helena and load it up with a 1000 pounds of clay as the salesperson shook their head and turn around and head home....seriously....had i not heard of shipping companies??? if you follow me for any length of time, you will learn that i rarely do things the easy.efficient.smart.proper....way the first time, it's just not my nature but i'm still trying to learn. one day....i will share with you the story of heidi building a kiln....it is long and funny but has a great ending.

enjoy your weekend.

18 March 2009

today, i finished carving a dozen totem beads....i had forgotten how enjoyable it is to just sit and 'doodle' . i really need to get a bunch of beads and totem elements going before spring has sprung here and i'm behind....(or more behind.) my dear friend susan taught me most of what i know about handbuilding and i've been dabbling for about 3 years. i had really put myself into a box prior to meeting her...for some reason i had convinced myself that i only worked on the wheel. she really woke me up to what great fun you can have with a slab roller. below is a picture of a smallish bird bath totem.

i talked to the archie bray foundation about my short clay and he didn't really have a ton of information other than it was probably tired and i should pug it with some fresh clay. it ended up throwing o.k. but i was reminded that hardish clay is really not the best choice for a 20 pound bowl.. i ordered yet more cone 6 clay this morning so that i can get through the tail end of my special orders. every time i think i've placed my last order for cone 6, i end up having to do it just 'one more time' .

17 March 2009

short clay.slip trailing and upholstery

happy st. patrick's day i suppose. 2 inches of new snow here this morning but 27 degrees and rising.
one of my lingering cone 6 projects is a 24" bowl for a baptismal font. i often take orders for items that i don't regularly make knowing that although it could be a pain, i will undoubtedly learn from it. (occasionally what i learn is not to take the order:) )

anyway...i'm at the tail end of my cone 6 stoneware and after using the last bag for my first crack at the bowl (20 pounds) i started pugging away last night. i use two plaster 'bray trays' for recycling and have a 4" de-airing venco pugmill. anyhow....i ended up with the shortest clay ever.....this may have happened 2 times over the last 10 years so i don't have a good immediate remedy. it was so short that the pugs were breaking off from their own weight. my reclaim was quite dry but not unacceptable and the pugs weren't really 'delaminating' so i dipped them in my throwing water and ran them back through with little success. my understanding is that 'short' clay is short on fine particles that are often discarded with the throwing water when one is recycling but i keep all my dirty water and decant it off the top of my slurry buckets. i wrapped up the pugs in plastic hoping that they would chill out a bit (and magically plasticize) so we'll see if i can throw them today. any thoughts on this would be appreciated...my idea is that the clay might have been thrown and pugged one too many times...

as for my slip trailing experiment from the other night...it went quite well on the second try. once the slip sat overnight and the borax dissolved along with my bulb syringe getting properly cleaned out, it flowed nicely. i was more concerned about shrinkage and adhesion and will look closely today.

also...on a side note. i reupholstered one of our kitchen stools yesterday and it went surprisingly well... joanne's is always good for discounted fabric but i must warn against using copper 'cut tacks' for upholstery...too soft, what was i thinking? i got the job done but bent many a tack beyond repair. i will use a staple gun on the next one, i was just trying to avoid digging around in leif's shop looking for it.

14 March 2009

16 degrees and rising....gotta love march in montana.

i'm off to the bookstore for the day...i work on saturdays and have done so for over a decade now. i also rent retail space from her and conduct a fair amount of business there. after being quite alone all week, it is refreshing to visit with people and get in my lunch walk about town.

inventory at the store is lowish right now as the transition from electric firing to gas has taking much longer than i anticipated....shocking, right? i'm nearly there but have a few lingering orders that need to be finished. also....still having a lot of crazing/glaze issues with the high fire work and too many pots are going straight to the dump. after working in clay for this long...i'm not easily discouraged but it is difficult to see empty shelves and know that i've made the pots...they just didn't survive the kiln. i'm only 2 firings in and the learning curve is steep but i've got hope. mostly i need to slow down and not hurry the process (story of my life).

13 March 2009


hmmmmm....when i created this blog after dinner, i hadn't considered that i would actually have to write in my semi-catatonic, post curry and rice, end of the day state of mind but this blank box is crying out to be filled.

my intent with this endeavor is to give people a glimpse into my life....the good, the bad, etc. i imagine it to be clay centered with the occasional rant and tangent...sometimes i just can't help myself.

tonight i'm going to deal with yesterday's mugs (trim and handle) and mix up a new trailing slip. i've dabbled with slip before but saw a woman (gracesheese.etsy.com) trailing slip so elegantly it inspired me to give it a shot at cone 10 with my new porcelain pots. i'll keep you updated. i'm just going to use my clay body with a little borax to help adhesion. i am usually in my shop at night...especially on a gorgeous day like today where it finally got well out of the 20's. snowblowing, shoveling, walking the dogs and cleaning around my kiln took up a fair part of my afternoon. west glacier is not the hotbed of timely seasonal transitions....it's been 30 degrees below normal for quite a stretch.