Big Ceramic Store Blog
  • How many times have you opened the kiln, after a bisque fire, and found broken wares? I don't know about you, but for me, it has happened a few times. One particular piece comes to mind.

    I had made a large platter for my daughter, in North Carolina, and we were planning a visit in less than two weeks. Hoping to take it along, I rushed the firing process. Needless to say, the bottom ruptured, and I thought it was a total loss.

    The piece itself, was beautiful, and I had put a lot of time into hand painting blue crabs with cobalt oxide.

  • Even as a professional potter, there are things I struggle with. Making multiples is one of those things. I dread it when a customer orders a "set" of mugs, bowls etc... You see, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and it is very difficult for me to accept anything less than perfect.

    Working with a mentor a while back, she gave me some good suggestions. I was too stubborn to put those suggestions into practice at first, so I continued to struggle.  Finally, while sitting at the wheel one day, I decided to throw just for fun. I had a blast!

    Surprisingly, a lot of the pieces were similar! More importantly though, it reminded me that clay is supposed to be fun, and I was wasting fun on worry. It was time to buckle down, and try some of those suggestions, before I gave up all together.

    That being said, I've learned how to appreciate the fact that I'm not perfect. There are ways around achieving "exact",  and accepting "close" is getting easier.

    Here are a few of the tips I learned:

  • Did you ever have one of those days where you wake up feeling great with a plan and envision the awesome pieces you were going to make for the day? You have your cup (or 3) of coffee, eat a little breakfast, browse the local paper and excitedly head to your wheel.

    After wedging a couple pounds of your favorite clay, you throw it down on the bat. Wetting your hands a little, you start the centering process. Here it is, the first frustrating moment of your perfect morning... you just can't seem to get a good center! Compressing it again, you start over... still not perfect but you figure it will work itself out when you open it and start a small pull. UGH! You just can’t get the wobble out.

    At this point, you figure there is something wrong with this piece of clay so you start again with a new piece. It centers perfectly, the opening and first pull are great. You've just found a renewed sense of the vision you had earlier. All of a sudden, you get a high spot and a little wobble. No worries, using the needle tool, you trim off the high spot and use a little pressure to get the wobble out. Whew, that was close, your perfect piece almost got wonky on you!  All is well, until you reach for a sponge, and bump the pot.

    Now you've got a dent to work out. After a bit of squeezing, pulling and crossing your toes (since your fingers are already busy), it's been saved again... or has it? Because you've used so much water and manipulated it over and over again, the walls are too wet and thin, the belly starts to sag and the lip flops over. Your perfect morning just went out the window!

    At this point, you wonder if there's a way to save your pottery day. Here’s how.

    Tips for getting back on track

    * On the bright side, you're not alone. We all experience days that NOTHING goes as planned.

    * Flip your piece, still on the bat, upside down over an open box. Once it's soft leather hard, add some "fun" to the pot by manipulating it into a funky shape... You'll be surprised how nice your "flop" turns out!

    * Think technically. Why couldn't you get a good center in the first place? Was your clay wet enough? Does the bat have a warp in it? Were your expectations too high?

    * Visit our blog for some great tips.

    * Pick up a pottery magazine or book and look for some inspiration.

    * Roll out a piece of clay and hand build something simple. This will give you tangible evidence that you are not a quitter!

    * If all else fails, search the web for testimonials of potters all around the world that have had a "bad day."

    Have you ever had a day like this? Let us know in the comments!

     

  • One question we get a lot over at Big Ceramic Store is “how do I know if my piece is dry enough to bisque fire?”

    Well, it's easier than you think.

    Touch your greenware to the inside of your wrist. If it feels warm it is usually dry. If it feels cool then let it dry longer. Greenware feels cool due to moisture evaporating.

    Remember, don’t rush drying your pieces as uneven shrinkage can cause cracks to form. If that happens, try using Marx Magic Mender.

  • We sometimes get questions from people who are having trouble getting their red, orange and yellow glazes to turn out brightly colored. Here are some tips for achieving these bright colors.

      1. Oxygen: Most commercial glazes are designed for use in an oxidizing environment (usually in an electric kiln). Red, orange and yellow are particularly sensitive to the amount of oxygen in the air. All clay has carbon in it, much of which burns out in the early stages of firing. This creates carbon monoxide, which will affect the glaze if it hangs around. So you want plenty of air flow, to remove this carbon monoxide as quickly as possible.

    If you fire with a vent, you should be getting enough oxygen in the kiln. If not, make sure the top lid is propped and peephole plugs are out.With manual venting it is also best to put colors such as red on the top shelf where they will get more oxygen.Do not crowd the kiln, leave the pieces room to breathe.

    1. Always wedge your clay. When throwing, you should wedge it into a cone and throw your cone down onto the wheel-head with the point down. This will ensure that the clay platelets are organized when you start throwing (this will help with centering)
    2. Use plenty of water. Start by getting your hands and the clay wet.Then use both hands to smooth out the lump of clay.
    3. Once the shape is fairly even, and you're sure the clay is stuck to the wheel-head, push your left elbow (if you are throwing with the wheel spinning counter-clockwise) tight into your hip. Many beginner potters are told to put it on their knee, don’t. Take your foot off the pedal and plant both feet flat on the ground. Put your left hand on the side of the clay and your right hand on top. Lean in using the weight of your body to push the clay into center with your left hand, and use the edge of your right hand to put pressure on top.
    4. Cone the clay up. With both hands on the side of the clay, squeeze in and lift up until your clay is a tall cone or cylinder then push it back down. Try to lift it to the height of your final piece. If you can’t get it that tall, think about using more clay. This step is similar to wedging, it can move some air bubbles out and it orients your clay platelets for throwing.
    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 once.
    6. Open, but not with your thumbs. Opening clay is a tricky business; even a perfectly centered lump of clay can be taken off center when you open, so we will open with a technique that will center at the same time. Leave your left hand on the clay as it was in step 3, then use your middle (and ring) finger(s) on your right hand to drill down into the clay. Now use your right hand to squeeze the clay into your left hand. This will open compress and center all at the same time.

    Now you're ready to start throwing!

    If you’re interested in posting on our blog, shoot us an email!

  • Check out these creative coffee mugs submitted to us by Rosalind Bryant Nix. Want to see work here on the blog? Shoot us an email!

    Creative Coffee Mugs 2
    Creative Coffee Mugs 3
    Creative Coffee Mugs 1

  • If you’re interested in posting on our blog, shoot us an email!

    This tip isn't technically about using plaster. It’s about how to use molds without plaster. But what if you don’t want to use plaster, buBt you still want press molds, or slump and hump molds? Never fear, as there are other options!

    1. Bisque

    You can make press molds out of clay and bisque them. These work quite nicely and clay doesn't stick to them. Carve the inverse of your desired design into leather hard clay. For example, if you want raised lettering, carve the letters out of the press mold and the inverse will be raised. Remember to make your design about 10% larger than desired, to account for shrinkage.

    Bisque also makes great slump and hump molds. These can be thrown, or handbuilt, or molded from a found object.

    You can use found objects (mixing bowls, platters) directly by coating with vegetable oil, PAM, WD-40, etc. or by covering with plastic wrap or newspaper. Usually, you will use these as slump molds, as the insides of your bowls and platters have the nice curvature you are looking for.

    2. Wood

    Wooden bowls can often be used directly without any coating. Wood is porous, so clay doesn't stick. Keep an eye out for wooden bowls at garage sales.

  • Sometimes it is difficult to catch a pot at the perfect leather-hard stage for trimming. But if you try trimming when the clay is too wet, the trimmings gum up your tools and get stuck to the piece. However, you can trim if you keep the pot well lubricated with water during trimming.

    Dip you hand in a bucket of water and spread it over the pot. Do this periodically, and the trimmings slide off easily.

    Try it! Just be careful of pushing too hard if you've trimmed a lot and used a lot of water, as your piece may have softened up and you may push it out of shape.

    If you’re interested in posting on our blog, shoot us an email!

  • There are many ways to get interesting patterns in your clay.

    Look around your house, your yard, and especially your kitchen, and you will start to see all kinds of things that can make good textures. Rocks, the bottom of your shoe, the wheel of a toy truck, a meat tenderizer, a piece of driftwood. The list is infinite, but for our more experience potters, here are a few of our favorite impressions.

    Complex Patterns

    1. Bisque rods. Make a bunch of coils of clay. For example, a good size is 1" diameter and 8" long. The main problem with bigger diameters is the time it takes for the clay to dry before firing. But you can set these aside and let them dry for a good long time. While the clay is still soft, carve or press patterns into it. For example, poke the end of a needle tool in to make holes. Or press the edge of a ruler in to make lines. Cover the whole surface with your pattern. After drying, bisque fire the pieces. Now you can use these rods to make patterns in wet clay. Simply roll your rod across the clay, pressing while you roll, and you can make long, continuous patterns.
    2. Take wood dowels and apply patterns to them with hot glue. When the glue dries, the dowels can be rolled across the clay to make similar patterns.
    3. Wrap string, twine or rope around a dowel in straight or criss cross patterns. Roll over the clay.
    4. Carved Linoleum. We got this idea from a potter who used to be a printmaker. Linoleum was used for flooring before we had the vinyl floors of today. Linoleum is a mixture of linseed oil and cork. When heated, it becomes soft so you can carve into it. Then it hardens when it dries. You can get linoleum at art supply stores. At the same time, you can buy a set of carving tools. Either draw or trace a pattern on the linoleum, then carve it out with the tools. You can use very intricate designs, such as a tree with many branches and leaves. The textures transfer very nicely to the clay.

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