How Does She Do the Things She Does?

One of the most common questions I'm asked is, " How long does it take you to make your pottery?" Usually, I answer, "One and a half months on average."  In this little essay, I'll break down the steps it takes to create one of my pottery bowls.

Step 1:  Get the clay out of the box and wedge to get the particles of clay in alignment - it makes it so much easier to throw on the wheel. 

Step 2: Center and throw a basic bowl shape.  It may look easy now, but I had a good, hard year of practice just to center some clay on the wheel head.  (Centering: definition - to get the clay symetrically situated on the wheel head, so one can start pulling the clay up and out with ones hands.  Okay, it's sort of hard to describe the action - easier with photos. My instructor gave me the basics and said I needed to practice and practice until I got the action down. 

Step 3: Cut off the wheel head and set on the ware board to dry to a leather hard stage.  This will take either overnight, one afternoon in the sun, a couple days in high humidity and really wet clay - it depends, and with experience, knowing your time frame and utilizing the ambient atmosphere, I can judge about how long it will take. 

Step 4: When leatherhard, return the bowl to the wheel, turn it upside down, recenter on the wheel and trim the excess clay on the bottom to create the foot ring.  Being careful not to trim down too far breaking through the clay.

Step 5: Let dry to bone hardness.  The bowl should be nice and dry, so when it's bisque fired the water inside doesn't turn to steam and blow up the piece in the kiln.  Yes, I have done that - usually when I am rushed (find photo of broken stuff) A bisque firing takes about 18 hours in my kiln - 4 hours at a candling at 150 degrees F to start, making sure any moisture to dried out in the pieces.

Step 6: Let the kiln cool down about 24 hours to unload.  I time my firings so they happen overnight, in the winter the heat radiating out warms the studio, in summer the heat helps rid the studio of humidity - in other words, I use the heat to dry out work to the leatherhard stage and plan accordingly.

Step 7: Dip the bisqued bowl in the white majolica base glaze. Let it dry overnight.  

Step 8:  Start decorating using my Mason stain/frit solutions.  The colorants are painted on the raw white surface as thick or as thin as I want, remembering that each brush stroke action shows on the surface.  The time spent on each piece is proportional to the amount of detail of the design.

 Step 9: Reload the kiln with the glazed pieces.  Fire again.  This firing takes about 8.5 hours with another 24 hour cool down. 

Step 10: Unload and examine the work.

Of course, I'm not just doing one bowl at the time, but making my work in cycles.  I'll have a throwing cycle, creating a variety of shapes and loading up the kiln 2-3 times firing a lot of bisqueware. (photo)  When my bisque shelves are filled, I'll start to glaze and decorate, firing the kiln 3-4 times restocking my finish ware shelves.

On top of the act of creating, there are other chores that take time and are essential to the functioning of the studio: recycling the scrap clay for reuse, mixing of glazes, photographing work for online selling, packing of work for art fairs (at least 2 days, plus the time at the show) and other issues that may come up.

I hope this give you a little insight in what it entails in the creation of one of my pieces. If you do ask for a custom piece, depending where I am in the cycle of work, it may be quicker but usually month and a half is a good rule of back to "git 2 werk", as one of my buddies tells me.