This week I have been mostly delivering pots to two Galleries in Scotland.
The first, The Gallery in the Wood at Calgary, on the Isle of Mull has a replenished supply of banded stoneware which went on display on Tuesday. Calgary is a lovely place to visit towards the northern end of the island, it boasts a sheltered niche of a bay in the rugged coastline flanked by basalt cliffs. The beach there has dazzling white sand on a sunny day and is a beautiful place to discover. Beneath an upturned wooden boat at the north end is the one concession to visiting tourists – Charlie’s Ice Cream Hut. Here you can get Isle of Mull ice cream, buckets and spades, and those little windmills on a stick. The road away from the shore leads to arguably the best cafe in the north west of anywhere, The Carthouse. Nestled amongst the converted buildings of Calgary Farm is an oasis of art and good food. Matthew and Julia Reade have created a place where people want to linger. In a purpose designed building Matthew has his workshop and above is the art gallery. This is where you can find Matthew’s wooden sculptures and where, I am pleased to say, my pots seem to sell very quickly.
Stop two was The Resipole Gallery which is on the shore of Loch Sunart, on the way to Ardnamurchan (Àird nam Murchan, ‘headland of the seals’). This place has a reputation for very good quality Fine Art painting. I am one of the few potters on their books, they sell the Raku sculpture I make. Andy Sinclair, the owner, makes beautiful paintings. Take a look at the website for proof of this. There is a good display of local artists on at the moment with paintings of local landscapes featuring heavily – and why not? it all looks beautiful round here.
Both these places are well worth a visit the next time you’re in the Western Highlands. Fare prices on the Ferries to the Inner Hebrides have actually gone down this year thanks to the implementation of a new system which calculates the price of a journey from its distance in sea miles. A return journey to the Isles of Mull Oban to Craignure, with a car has gone down from over £100 last year to under £40, including driver and a passenger! so what are you waiting for?
Here is a form you can use to sign up for my Pottery Newsletter. You will get the occasional update about what I’ve been doing and making, some blatant advertising of my pottery and maybe some insights into the work of a potter. Or you could just use it to give me some feedback to improve the next post.
Last time I did not explain how I learned to fire my red glaze so that it came out red. This time I will.
To start with it was Janice Tchalenko’s red glaze recipe that I had got from a book. It became my red glaze when I re-mixed it making little alterations to see how it would behave. Then I began to understand it a little.
Copper red glazes fired in reduction are like magic, an alchemy happens in the kiln which is barely under the potter’s control. When Chinese potters first discovered a way to make red pots I imagine it would have been a well guarded secret that passed down the generations of a small band of craftsmen for many years before it became more widely known. Like all industrial secrets if someone else wants it badly enough they will be able to find it, either by their own experimentation or by stealing the knowledge somehow. The technical ability to make bright red is not the whole answer though, it is what you do with that technical ability which makes great pots or not.
To start with it was difficult to get the red glaze to be consistently red. It would come out transparently white -ish over my base glaze, or dirty grey if I reduced too much. By asking around and reading as much about it as I could (this was a little before the internet and Google) I had worked out that you need to get the reduction in early for red. But sometimes it was beautiful red and sometimes it just wasn’t there, or not at the back of the kiln or near the spy holes.
I became obsessed with trying to understand what was happening in the kiln. Red glazed draw trials pulled from the kiln during firing were never red but somehow red would appear when the kiln had cooled. I started to have strange dreams in which I was small enough to walk into the kiln through one of the burner ports, wandering through a glowing yellow cathedral unharmed by the flames.
Eventually, after months becoming years of observation and adjustment of firing schedules, I was managing to get a consistent strong red. Then I decided I did not like it. The softer half lost reds were definitely more beautiful!
This leads to what I love about craft. The wholeness of the enterprise. You cannot divide the technical from the aesthetics or the function. You get to understand all of it slowly and each part is enmeshed with the others. You might love the look of a jug but if you find it awkward to use or it dribbles you love it less.
Janice Tchalenko’s Copper Red Glaze:
Potash Feldspar – F.F.F. (Potterycrafts P3296)
Borax Frit (Potterycrafts P2957)
As you can see there is very little Copper in the recipe, in fact there is more Tin Oxide. Although the glaze comes out red in reduction because it has copper in it, it seems to be the tin that helps to fix the colour. When the glaze goes into the kiln it is off-white and powdery because it has no clay in it. We put clay in glazes to control the tendency of glazes to craze as they cool on the pot. Copper red glazes need to have little or no clay in them to get bright and clean colour. Adding clay to help control the crazing or keep the ingredients in suspension in the glaze bucket makes the red dull.
The other things that copper red needs to work apart from early reduction and little or no clay in the recipe are:
separation from the clay body.
separation from the kiln atmosphere – the red develops best where the glaze is thick.
slow cooling from 1020°c – 950°c.
good fluxing and glaze transparency because the red colour is an optical effect.
protection from too much re-oxidation – glaze is often redder inside foot rings.
Here is a table of events that I have found should lead to a good firing:
Cones Orton cones 09, 8-9-10
0 – 900°c
Oxidising with the damper in the flue wide open. Temperature rising at about 100°c/hour.
Adjust the damper in the flue to about ¼ closed to start gentle reduction. Start to notice smell of reduction.
Heavier reduction – damper almost ½ closed. Flow of primary air at burners reduced.
Orton cone 09 fully bent.
Oxidise for 2 minutes with damper & burners open. This is supposed to brighten up all the colours, and it does.
While oxidising the temperature shoots up. Then reduction resumes as before.
I look at the cones at the top and bottom of the kiln to judge how even the firing is. If there is a big difference in the bend in cone 8 viewed through the top & bottom spy holes I will slow the firing to try to even things up.
Orton cone 8 just flexing.
Up to about 1225°c
Firing is slowed by easing off the gas pressure whilst maintaining reduction by use of the damper, to even up the cones.
Eventually the gas is turned off and the damper and burner ports are sealed up.
Cones fall one by one, about 30 minutes between each.
Cone 10 is left standing.
As every potter knows, the final temperature read out is not as important as the cones, they are the deciding factor in judging when to stop the firing.
When I first started using reduction firing in 1993 I picked some exciting sounding glaze recipes from a book called The Ceramic Review Book of Clay Bodies and Glaze Recipes which had tempting descriptions and lists of exotic sounding ingredients. I had access to a gas fired kiln at Keith Ashley’s studio on the Archway Road in north London and no experience of reduction firing. The first kiln load was a complete disaster. The reduction had been too strong and the extra fluxing power of the reducing atmosphere caught me out, so that everything was over cooked with glazes running down into the middle of bowls and a purplish grey colour predominated.
I was a bit shocked as the pots were nothing like the images in my head that the descriptions in the book had prompted, but it did not make me want to stop experimenting. With Keith’s encouragement I tried again and gradually over months and years learned how to do it, reducing enough to make red from copper and not so much as to turn chrome green glaze dark by over doing it.
The lesson was that starting with a recipe book was not the best way to learn. You have to do your own experiments and look hard into the glazes on your test tiles to find little things you might be able to use. The ways that the glazes combine was also strange to me. I was learning the difference between stoneware firing and earthenware decorated with slips, the difference between glazes and paints. It took me a while to see how I could work with what I was getting.
One of the things I love about glazes which is hard to get with paint and hard to imagine if you have only ever painted with paint, is the depth and richness of the colour. And then the varied qualities of the surfaces – from matt, through eggshell to melting butter, and on top of that the range of opaque to transparent.
The thing I find most difficult while I’m decorating is trying to think how the glazes will look after the firing is done. The colours are not there yet and the glazes will move over the surface slightly as they melt – an effect to be exploited.
More thoughts to follow in future posts, including some of the secrets to successfully firing red glaze, how to sell pottery and “Why don’t you make art?”.