Been busy getting my ceramics ready for the Whanganui Art in the Garden weekend! This is a popular annual event organised by the Whanganui Potters Studio and held at a the QT nursery on Papaiti Rd. With 95 members, Whanganui Potters’ Studio has a proud 50 year history. Using various clays, glazes, kilns, wheels and tools, and a wealth of knowledge, they produce a wide range of traditional and contemporary ceramics. They exhibit twice a year, host artist workshops, hold monthly raku firings and beginner courses. The studio is located at 19 Taupo Quay. Opening hours are Wednesday 9.30am to 1.00pm and 6.30pm-8.30pm, and Thursday 6.30pm to 8.30pm.
Utilising an old concrete water tank, I set up my potters wheel and shelves and got to work, creating as many cups and bowls my clay supply could produce. With the music cranking and the kids at school, I was in my element.
Once made, I leave the pieces to dry over night, then cut (tidy) the bottoms of each piece, add any names using stamps and then put on my potters mark of LL.
After about a week or two of drying they are ready for a bisque fire to 1140 degrees C.
Once cooled, they are ready for glazing. The bottom (base) of the piece needs to be free of glaze otherwise once fired it would stick to the shelf. I like to coat the bottom with melted wax to ensure a clean line and a glaze free base.
Now the make or break moment. I’ve stuffed up a lot of work by getting carried away with glazing, but I’m often on the search for some crazy out-there results. I have the luxury of having my own kiln, which enables me to experiment. I would not want to create a mess or blow out a shelf in a communal kiln, damaging the work of others.
Making moulds for ceramic work is easy and affordable. To make bowls you can either spray the bowls with a release agent, such as silicone or cover the bowl with a clay layer. This means you can etch or alter the shape to suit before pouring in plaster.
To make my heart mould I formed a solid heart shape and pressed it firmly to the base of a plastic container. After pouring the plaster I jiggle the container to release any bubbles.
Once set, the plaster mould can be easily removed and used. When creating wall hangings it’s important to consider how the piece will be hung. I attach clay using a vinegar and water mix to help with the blending of the clay. Using a small 2cm long piece of straw I cut a hole, so the wire can be used for hanging the ornament when finished.
After about a week of drying, weather dependant, the pieces can be put into the kiln for a bisque firing up to 1040oC. Then once the glaze has been applied, the pieces will receive a second firing, up to 1200oC. Complete.
Finding a good art supplier takes a lot of research. Prices can look quite reasonable online but once you’ve spent a good hour or so navigating a website, creating a cart of potential purchases, the freight charges can change the investment from a creative hobby to a financial risk pretty fast.
It felt like Christmas the day my first order of clay and glazes arrived from Decopots. A momentous day.
I had decided on 20 bags of clay. 10 wood brown stoneware and 10 cream stoneware. Both great for sculptural and wheel work. If you commit to 20 bags the price is reduced. I topped up the pallet with a couple of glazes and a brush, making the most of the freight charges.
Now that we have relocated to Whanganui, I am only an hour away from Palmerston North, the home of Decopots. While my mother (also a potter) was visiting, we thought it would be fun to have a little shop.
What I didn’t realise was that they aren’t open to the public, however they kindly showed us around their factory. This was such a treat. A behind the scenes experience.
We watched as clay was pressed through a rather large industrial pugmill.
We watched as ceramic blanks were reproduced in moulds and set to dry on shelves before heading to the kiln for firing.
Although we left empty handed, we would soon be putting our orders in.
Pretty excited to be part of this year’s Art in the Garden.
Whanganui artists spent the Friday setting up their displays. Work included ceramic sculptures, glass ornaments, metal work and paintings. I decided on a bushy part of the walkway to display my lady sculptures, tikis and hearts, then disappeared.
The event is held over the weekend, with purchases sold as ‘cash and carry’. So hopefully there isn’t much for me to pick up on the Monday!
I took the family on the Saturday to spy on my work. Even though the weather was a bit dodgy it was good to see plenty of people wandering around the stunning garden venue, at QT Nursery on Papaiti Rd. The Whanganui Pottery Club were giving raku demonstrations throughout the day as displays started to show some gaps as fantastic pieces of art found their new homes.
Studio, clay and a kiln, it was time to get creating. I set to work making Christmas ornaments in star, fish and heart shapes. After a week of drying, I was ready for my first fire. Unfortunately the kiln’s automatic cone firing schedules did not work, and instead of stopping at 1040oC for a bisque fire, the kiln when all the way to it’s top temperature of 1280oC. This meant my ornaments could not have a second firing with glaze applied.
It took a couple of firings for me to realise that I was going to have to find schedules for bisque and glaze firing of stoneware clay and to enter the program manually.
With the firing under control I could now start testing my glazes. Having my own kiln gave me the freedom to experiment without fear of failure.
Now that I have my very own space dedicated to my creativities I went on the search for a kiln, refreshing my Trade Me search daily. I eventually posted a wanted ad on the local Facebook page, where I was offered a small 60cm x 60cm F.E Kiln for $350. It was perfect for my experimental ceramic attempts.
I enjoyed meeting people and sharing knowledge while being a member of Raglan’s Pottery Club however depending on the firing of a community kiln was a pain. I’d leave a piece clearly labelled for firing, and yet week after week I’d find it still sitting there patiently waiting to take its turn on one of the kiln shelves, while others seem to take priority.
I was still trying to discover how clay and glazes worked, and was excited at the possibility of being able to dabble without risking other peoples work.
I have had the shame of having a piece drip glaze onto an unfortunate piece below
I have put on the safety glasses and earmuffs to grind a piece off the valuable shelf that had suck fast by a thick runny glaze
I have had to vacuum the empty kiln after a piece had exploded due to trapped air
All my little kiln needed was a new pyrometer and a new controller… plus the electrician to install these pricey parts.
$1300 later I was ready to fire!
I am inspired by creative people. I love finding one of these gems. The best ones go about their day, working their completely unrelated job, itching to get home so that they can dabble. If you are a creative person, you will know, it’s just so important to find time to unleash this need. Whether it makes you money, or costs you money, it’s benefits are rewarding.
My mother, Julia, is one of those gems.
She has recently reignited her passion for the wheel.
These creative tendencies are often very private and quiet, almost meditative for the artist. However, with their cover blown, they are often very animated and expressive when sharing their passion with a fellow dabbler of art. These people are often extremely humble and modest, and are wonderful people to know and to be around.
My mother shared with me her talent. Making a bowl on a potters wheel from clay.
She leaves the bowl over night to dry a little.
Then she places it upside down on the wheel to trim the and shape the outside of the bowl and its base.
The clay is put into a kiln twice. It is first biscuit fired at 800 C, then a glaze is applied and it is baked again, at over 1000 C.
Julia is a member of the local pottery club where she has access to a kiln, glazing and most importantly, other amazing creative potters!
Years ago when I cast handmade moulds with concrete, I formed my first ‘couple’. I managed to reproduce 10 of these before the delicate mould was retired. Now, I find creating with clay and firing each original piece is much more satisfying. Each piece is completely different, some even take on a direction of their own. I enjoy this process and am always excited to see the end result, when they emerge from their final firing.
On my first attempt of my couple in clay I put a vinyl cone support under the man, thinking that the woman could be built around him, but as I created, she started to slump.
Instead of scrapping the work, I went with the clay and love the result.
You could view the piece as a man supporting a weak or sick woman, or of a woman buckling underneath the pressure of holding up and supporting the man.
With the second piece, I built a support using cut down containers held together with duct tape. I covered the containers with a bread bag for easy removal. This ensured the couple kept their form. The support pieces were removed on day 2.
Being an egg donor, I am sensitive to the struggle some couples go through to be blessed with a child. I created a baby to fit in the couples arm, making the piece complete. While the piece was drying my three-year old daughter kept putting the baby back into the couples arms, when I would have it sitting next to the piece. I loved that she always wanted the baby with its parents, and not on its own on the shelf.
The piece turned out to be an interactive one. It’s surprising how the physical act of putting the baby in its place makes you feel good.
I sponged a black slip onto both pieces.
Unfortunately the glossy glaze did not give me the desired look. Perhaps they will find a home with someone. Thankfully art appeals to an array of people. I would have preferred a matt finish and will be purchasing my own glazes for future use, and applying a thicker slip.
Live and learn.
Super happy with my find at the Raglan Resource Recovery Centre today! I couldn’t believe my luck. I had just popped up to the rubbish dump to drop off some old pallets and a sack of recyclables and saw this beauty. To any other person it just looked like a hunk of rusty metal, but to me a dream come true! It was coming home with me!
I gave it a brush down with a wire brush and applied Rust Converter to stop the rust and protect it from further damage as it forms a primer.
The next step was to give it a spray with an enamel paint. It looks amazing! I cant wait to attempt my first bowl! I may even produce a mug for my husband, who has been very patient while I get all my sculptures out of my system.
I’m gonna be all about texture. Nature inspired texture.
I’ve seen a couple of Instagram posts of bark pottery using sodium silicate.
I think that’s next on Lulu’s Lists.