Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Firing your own pottery, You Brave Soul

Careful. It's addicting.

So, you've acquired a kiln from Great Aunt Minnie who made the cutest little Christmas trees and poodle figurines, and you'd like to try your hand at moving and firing the earth. Electric kilns are not rocket science, and you can learn to fire one, but safety is very important since you're playing with a couple thousand degrees, and the potential of getting zapped severely. Also, kiln fumes can be toxic, and glaze chemicals can be poisonous..Oh, and then there's silicosis from overexposure to clay dust... (Still with me?) This isn't to scare you off, it's just to let you know that there are pretty important things to know concerning life, limb, and clay.

While I am not an expert on the whole safety thing, I can get you started on the quest for kiln safety. The good news is, the subject is very searchable online- here's a decent basic discussion to get you off and searching: http://pottery.about.com/od/safetyinceramics/tp/kilnsafe.htm

Also, get an electrician to install your kiln- preferably not in the house. If your kiln is used, many manufacturers have owner's manuals either online, or they will send you one. Just contact them with the model and serial # on your kiln. There is usually a plate on the outside jacket of the kiln with this information.

Ok- assuming you've gotten your kiln safely installed, and you've made a few pots, let's bisque!

Bisque is fired clay without glaze. Generally, you do this first firing because it makes the ware strong enough to handle while you are glazing. Also, it is a low firing, so that the clay is porous enough to absorb your glaze. Be sure your pots are completely, totally dry. Moisture in the clay, especially if it's thick (kids love to build thick) will blow up. It's really not the air bubbles, it's the wet. kaboom! A good rule of thumb is this- if the clay feels cool to the touch, it's probably slightly wet. Touch it to your cheek- if it's as cool as you are, wait.

What is all this stuff I got with my kiln, and what do I do with it? : shelves, stilts, kiln wash, cones. The round or hexagonal things you got with your kiln are shelves.
The.... well, "stilty" things you got, usually a few different heights, are stilts.
Kiln wash usually comes in powdered form, and you add water until it's like cream, and paint it on ONE SIDE of each shelf. This helps you to remove glaze runs and drips without ruining the shelf. Important.
Here is an explanation of what cones are and what they do.
Can we load yet? Ok, here we go. The pic of the shelves and stilts is great because it sort of shows them in action. Start with some really short stilts and a full shelf at the bottom of your kiln. You want to raise the first layer of pots up to the first row of elements (those twisty coiled wire things all around the kiln.) Also, it's good to put your bottom layer of ware on a shelf, because you want to protect the bottom of the kiln from glaze drips. (when we get that far.)
Next, choose stilts that are higher than your tallest pot. Stack a couple of stilts if need be. Three stilts to each shelf will support it well. Y'know, the tripod thing. Add shelves, more ware and stilts- also add a conepack in at least one place in the kiln- near a peephole is good so you can check your firing, and stop the kiln if you must before the kiln sitter trips.
KILN SITTER?? What? - It's the thing sticking out of the side of your kiln. Inside, there's a porcelain tube, and some prongs. You'll put a small cone on the prongs. Outside, there's a lever that falls to shut off the kiln when the cone melts. Read more here.
Finally, my friends, (do I sound like McCain?) at long last, it's time to fire the dang thing. Close the lid- or, prop it open a little if you're afraid your ware might not be completely dry.
I'm going to assume that Aunt Minnie's kiln is older, and it has switches-not a computer controller (whole'nother article.) These switches work pretty much like a stove. Here is a good, conservative schedule to follow when firing a bisque. Follow the article to the bottom. Basically, it's low for an hour, then gradually turn the thing up over the next few hours until you are on high. The kiln sitter should shut off your kiln, providing you have it adjusted right, at the right temp. A bisque should take anywhere from 8-10 hours, depending on how slow you go and how old / worn your elements are. Any longer and there's a problem with the kiln- a discussion for another time.
Let the thing cool for at least a day- then open, unload, and start thinking about glaze!
So, if after reading this, you're thinking "the kiln gods aren't welcome at my house," -fear not! Join a local art center, audit a college class, or pay a potter (in NE Ohio, that would be me) and leave it up to the crazy people.
Questions? I'm sure there's something I didn't cover, so comment here or email me at sheaclaypottery@gmail.com

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ok, so Rockerchic says I have to blog today..

But, it's autumn here in NE Ohio, and I would much rather be out in the leaves with the kids! ...and the dog.
So, who in the big H is Rockerchic? Check her out!
I did make pots all morning, so I earned an afternoon in the sun-

Monday, October 06, 2008

Case Barlow Farm, Hudson, OH

I want to thank Linda Matty, Sean (sorry, I don't remember your last name) and all the families I met at Case Barlow farm yesterday in Hudson, OH. I have driven by the BIG red barn several times, but never visited. I was invited to demonstrate pottery at their Harvest Festival yesterday. What a fun event! The weather couldn't have been more perfect, and there were free crafts, apples, pumpkins, horses- tons to do and see, and many, many smiling faces.

The only unfortunate result is that I didn't have time to take pictures! If you have pics from the event and would forward them to me, I will post them here. My email is sheaclaypottery@gmail.com Here is a link to Case Barlow Farm. Visit, or visit them again, if you have the chance- I know I will.
*Update- Linda provided the pic of me above, enjoying the sunny day at the Case Barlow House.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kiln Openings are the Best

I unloaded my kiln w/ leather gloves today because I couldn't wait for it to cool. Just like Christmas! My hubby shakes his head as I run out to the garage about 40 times to check the temp, then ouch!ouch!ouch! rob a pot from the top shelf- or a few test tiles, or something to make me happy while i wait for the load to cool (and my eyebrows to grow back!) All in all, it was a good firing- I'm just getting the itch to do something new. I tested a couple of glazes that have serious possibilities, and now new forms and ideas are swimming around in my head. I'm actually considering changing to white clay for awhile- for the first time in 20 years of pots- white clay. What keeps me from actually doing it is the thought of cleaning LOTS of dark brown clay off of everything. The saving grace is that I would most likely use dark, transparent glaze that breaks, so any brown marks on the clay wouldn't show too much. Honestly, I'm also considering combining both my dark brown with the white..as long as both clay bodies get along. ..oh, the possibilities !

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fall and Holiday Craft Shows

With summer winding down, I've got to put on my craft show head. Kids are going back to school, and I'm spending even more time in the studio making goodies for giving yourself or your lovies. See a list of my show schedule here

Which brings me to actually doing the craft show. What to bring?? Besides the work, it's the display, and personal stuff, bookkeeping stuff- just an amazing amount of STUFF.
I thought I would share with you crafty folks my list of stuff to bring to the show- I didn't write it myself, but I've been using it since 2004, and it works well for me. (THANKS to Tony Ferguson at Aquarius Gallery- love his work and his list!) This list is really comprehensive and I have to say I don't bring everything, but it gives me alot of things to consider and I have been saved many times by having alot of this stuff on hand!
Here goes:

Promotional materials:
  • Name tag

  • "about your pottery" flyers

  • business cards

  • brochures

  • price labels

  • hangtags

  • notebook for guest list

  • signs (plus paper for making new ones)

  • the mailing list book

  • portfolio

  • stand-up plastic menu holders w/ info about your pots and for signholders

  • something nice to display your biz cards and brochures in

  • sticky notes

  • digital camera

Business materials:

  • insurance cert.

  • tax cert. and tax chart

  • fair documents


  • cooler

  • ice

  • drinks

  • finger food snacks

  • chocolate!

  • napkins/wipes

  • water

First Aid Kit:

  • vitamins

  • bandaids

  • aspirin

  • bee sting meds

  • allergy meds or regular meds

  • first aid creme

  • bug repellent

  • hand cleaner

  • wipes

  • sunscreen

  • toilet paper

Booth materials:

  • plate stands

  • cork mats

  • wood blocks for leveling shelves

  • booth components

  • fabric for table coverings

  • heavy, disposable drop cloths for covering tables

  • canope weights (empty plastic jugs to fill with water for weights)

  • folding chairs

  • small table

  • lights

  • heavy plastic tarp

  • extra booth components, bolts, screws, washers, etc

  • the tent!

  • The display shelving!

  • stakes


  • S-hooks, handy for hanging "stuff"

  • wine boxes

  • level

  • hammer

  • smoothing stone (for rough spots on bottom of pots)

  • bailing wire

  • bungee cords

  • duct tape

  • extension cord, power strip

  • scissors

  • hammer

  • teak oil

  • soft cloth

  • mini sewing kit

  • rubber hammer

  • staple gun

  • pliers

  • vise grips

  • clamps

  • picnic table cloth clamps

  • pocket knife

  • feather duster

  • ruler

  • screw/nut drivers

  • straight and safety pins

  • tacks

  • tape

  • tape measure

  • tiny bungee cords

  • twine

  • string

  • wire cutters


  • large plastic bin with cover (rain resistant)

  • handtruck w/ bungees to fit storage containers


  • startup cash and change

  • clip boards so customers can write checks on them

  • waist pouch (to keep money secure)

  • sales pads

  • calculator

  • cell phone

  • charge slips

  • receipt books

  • sales tickets in a money box

  • pens (water proof)

  • markers

  • shims for leveling booth and shelves


  • nice bags (2 sizes, small, and heavy duty large handled ones)

  • packing materials

  • bubble wrap

  • string

  • scotch tape


  • extra clothes

  • rain jacket (stuffs in small pouch)

  • comfortable shoes

  • sunglasses

  • umbrella ( for sun or rain)

  • list of items needed for fair (when ready to load up, print this list!)


  • makes a major impact on sales

  • make eye contact

  • smile

Thursday, June 26, 2008


The only thing I like better at this time of year than fresh strawberries is home grown tomatoes. No hurry, summer has only just begun. I can't wait to get my preserves done, if I've got enough after the shortcakes, smoothies, and snacking! Actually, I had no shortcakes, so we had strawberries over corn muffins..mmmmm..

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer's in the Air

And wedding bells, and summer camp, kids at the pool, and not enough time in the studio!

But, I am working on some new things for a newlywed line at Lake Erie Artists. Place settings, wine coolers, celebration serving vessels- stuff to make great gifts, unusual, but practical enough to want to use after the wedding!
Isn't that a perty flower? It's a peony from in front of my home.. At least 4' tall, huge bloom. Glad I took that picture because 2 days of pouring rain about wiped them out... See ya next year, pink lady!
This weekend I'll be at the Scrap n Stamp Haven in Ravenna, part of a flag day show that's going on in town. I'll have some tile necklaces, mugs, small bowls for sale. Visit me from 10am - 5pm.
See Ya!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

This is one of my favorite prayers, the Canticle of the Sun, by St. Francis of Assisi. Perfect for Earth day- along with my little wild boy, dressed up in my hoodie- he reminds me of a li'l Franciscan in that get-up.

Canticle of the Sun

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.To you alone, Most High, do they belong; no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,especially for Brother Sun,who is the day through whom You give us light.And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air, fair and stormy, all weather's moods,by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,through whom You light the night. He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth, who sustains uswith her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,for love of You bear sickness and trial.Blessed are those who endure in peace,by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,from whom no-one living can escape.Woe to those who die in their sins!Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,and serve You in all humility.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

Remember that book? I just want to personally thank Maurice Sendak for letting me know all those years ago exactly what it would be like to have a boy. Sean is a wild thing. He hasn't read the book yet, but he has Max written all over him- I'm convinced that the entire male species is made up of wild things- we moms have to spend years trying to teach them to suppress the wildness just enough to function in the real world. Sean is only 2, so he has plenty of wild hangin' right out in the open. I have to admit that even when I'm about to kill him, I'm in love with his wild innocence- I love his rolling terrible eyes and gnashing terrible teeth! And, like Max, the best thing to bring him back to reality is a good meal and a nap. But a meal and a nap does wonders for me, too!

I know what's really going on behind those eyes!

I just found out that there is a "Wild Things" movie in the works- so far, the anticipated reviews aren't so great...it's gonna be a live action thing, so I guess we'll see.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Killllllllll'n Time

And, I mean that. I really wanna go to bed, but I'm fixing a firing. I thought my Bartlett controller was supposed to make my life easier!
A day in the life of a pottermom-Up at 6:45, in the shower NOW, cuz it's my last chance.Erin off to school at 8:30- hit the basement and finish glazing yesterday's stuff. Load the rest of the kiln by 10am, Sean's up- feed, bathe, dress. Sean off to school at 12:15..............................deeeeeeeeep breath................................turn kiln on, make pots til 2:pm. Eat. Leave for the art center at 3, teach class from 4-5:30. Finish glazing for the 7 year olds, load the kiln there, leave by 7...............(still with me??) Thinking " okay, kiln at home should be up to ^6 by around now, hope it hits the cooldown by the time I get home....OH, no, what's that smoke coming out of the back of my car???!!" Car dies 3 miles from home, which is pretty good, considering it's a 20 mi. trip.

LOVE cell phones. Hubby comes to the rescue, I get home by 8:15 to find that my kiln sitter shut the kiln down too early (at least according to the witness cones) - and now I'm at 1740 degrees, cooled too fast for my mattes. So, here I sit, kiln is now cooling, around 2048.......should be able to go to bed soon. I'll let you know if I get good pots.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

wfL Purple??

Here's my $.02 on the waterfall purple quest.

I made this pot a coupla years ago, posted on clayart at the time that I got red from wfl brown by refiring to ^04. The red areas on this pot are just wfl brown, and then I dipped over the rim with clear liner, also in "the book"- the overlapping of the 2 glazes gives alot of color, purple included.

However, I think that it has to do with the thickness of the wfl brown, and the cooling, or holding somewhere in the 1800 degree neighborhood. The reason I say this is because I have refired wfl brown cups in my bisque kiln, and they come out red, for the most part- but, where the glaze is on thick enough to run slightly, I get hints of purple- as in the mug at top- sorry, not a great pic.

I have not been able to repeat this with any regularity, either. I can always get red on refire, but not purple- or, if I get purple, it blisters because the glaze is on too thickly.