Friday, April 19, 2013

Lost, Found and Wiser

Lost - one set of blogging Mojo, due to huge stress when my man came off his motorbike at Easter and suffered nasty injuries.  I am a coper but that kind of 'fried me' energywise.  I kept thinking I'd throw together a paragraph or two, a quick snap of something clay related to share but no, it was long gone.  I couldn't trust myself to make anything new either because the heart was not in it.  I did lots of teaching in High School though.  Teenagers are so funny with clay, especially boys.  I think I have found my Mojo again though so I must be feeling more rested and optimistic.

Found - an explanation for why my new kiln is overfiring.  This kiln is the old one I bought from the local primary school when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd decided to provide a new kiln and art and music room.  The casing was rusting from the inside out so I had it refurbished and recased by Kilns West in stainless steel and unlike any other I've owned, it has elements set into the door.

Wiser - do you know that classic bit of kiln wisdom where you do a test firing to work out your cool and hot spots? You set a cone pack on every corner of every kiln shelf to gather intelligence on what is actually happening in the kiln.  That's what I've been taught by potters who are top of their games why ignore such well informed advice?  People baulk at using up all those cones because of the cost but cones aren't that expensive and they provide so much accurate invaluable information.
So I set cone packs on each shelf in a lightly packed kiln.  I only had a few bisque bowls, glaze tests and boxes I was prepared to risk in a test firing, we all know a tightly packed kiln gets the best distribution of temperature.  It was getting much hotter inside than the temperature gauge indicated or the Harco programmer was set for ie 1280C.  I noted that the kiln took a lot longer to cool down after the firing cycle than I expected - an indication of a well insulated kiln.  My previous kiln had so much rust it got pretty hot on the exterior painted casing and the orange glow around the door gap was pretty obvious too, I could observe it down in the studio from my kitchen window.   One door hinge had broken off the main casing, my God how I nursed that thing along for years.

I consulted Kilns West by email and showed them my firing schedule and photos of the cones.  I reckon it is the heatwork within the kiln being greater than I'd anticipated and I will modify with my firing schedule a little to get to 1280 and not 1300C+ as I seemed to have achieved.  I had items in Southern Ice Porcelain in there and they became very translucent, glassy and vitrified, almost like Depression Milk Glass though I also got some bloating in the bowls.  It wasn't recycled clay.  So ... on to the next thing.
Come with me now to the Mud Colony group of Bloggers to see what the others have been up to.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Closure ... coming soon to a place near me.

I am pleased.  I got the Joan Campbell tiles completed - first set of 17 tiles delivered with the spare set ready bar three refires.  You might remember I blogged about this a long time ago here.  You know kilns, stuff happens in them, some of the tiles in the second kiln developed a yellowish tinge around the text in chocolate brown print in the firing.  Some others developed a weird white halo on the tiles close to the peephole in the door or the vents on the kiln roof but they resolved in a retire.  I will refire these ones and hope for a better result.  I had trouble printing my own decals, the china paint was a bit more coarse than I expected and I ended up arranging professionally printed digital decals.  So I am looking forward to closure on that project and seeing them installed to replace Joan Campbell's original set which have suffered badly in the twenty years since they were installed.  On delivery Corine (the person doing the commissioning) said the nicest thing - 'Joan would be proud of you'.  I'll post pix when the new installation is made public.

Not much to tell you this week, working hard, loving it, teching in TAFE, about to complete our evenign class of Print on Clay and surface treatments on Wednesday nights at TAFE, repeating that next term, teaching in a high school, making some clay tools for making slabbed boxes.  I'll tell you about that next week .. I want to go to see what they are saying at the Mud Colony first.

Actually I prepared this post about a month ago, lots has happened since then, big stuff, not clay related at all, but such is life as an Aussie bloke once said.  There is a link there, if you follow it you'll be led to a little bit of Australian history and folklore.  I like to throw in a cultural allusion every now and then.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kilns - moving them, the EPIC - Part 2

Last week when we tried to move the new kiln from the lawn and down the sloping grassy driveway about two metres onto the paved area in front of the garage I tried to help but in fact I totally lost my bottle.  Husband Henry and two of our sons joined in with the A frame Hen'd rigged up to hop the kiln forward a little at a time into its destination.  Engineer's are pretty smart, this wasn't about just grunt work, there was a lot of lifting and planning involved.  I was hopeful but remained unconvinced that we could all do this safely and said so, and Hen to give him credit, promptly abandoned the attempt.  He said he'd wait for our friend and neighbour to be available to give some extra help, muscle and wisdom.  Relieved, I dashed off to the shop for the makings of dinner but in Woolworths car park I threw up - that's how anxious I'd become over the kiln issue.  It isn't elegant but it is my body's alarm for when my blood pressure is soaring and I'm ignoring my stress signals.  

A week later, and a massive rainfall later, we 'put the band back together' and with very good communication and teamwork we hopped the kiln gradually into place (we?  I lie, I kept really busy in the vicinity so I could avoid being too involved and chuck up again).  Neighbour Gary and Henry were brilliant blokes and our young guys were very valuable too in doing their bit with the ropes, the block and tackle, the A Frame and generally shuffling things slowly in a very safety conscious manner.   The soil is nothing but grassy sand and very inhospitable to top heavy items such as a kiln ... yes we all wore tough shoes and minded our fingers. 

My two beauties a Kilnswest and a  German WELTE Prins KS 35 brought in from the Netherlands.  
 So then I proceeded to 'christen' the new kilns in the traditional manner where I come from.  It seemed like a good way to mark St Patrick's Day and that sometimes life feels very good indeed, I didn't even break a nail - moving the kiln or opening the can of draft Guinness.  Now Hen's gone back to making his new 'old' motorbike work and I cannot say a word can I?  And I have to Google Translate the manual for the WELTE.

Kilns - moving them, the Epic! Part ONE

When we bought this block of land in suburban East Fremantle we were optimistic parents of three gorgeous young lads and my clay education was on hold indefinitely.  We had the hideous old sixties Fibro house removed and knew from the outset that the land slopes dramatically down from the street kerb to the back of the block and that we'd have to be smart about planning the landscaping.  Getting the garden terraced with limestone walls was the easy part, then we built a third garage down the end of the grassy driveway for Henry's vintage Citroen cars along with a 7 foot 'pit' (though he is 5'8').  We refer to the pit as 'where we keep the bodies',  and alongside his garage I got my small studio with paved verandah.   Why am I telling you this? Well we were brilliant planners, except for one thing, a potter needs a kiln, a kiln is very heavy and must be handled by experts in heavy goods and moving a kiln down a steep grassy slope is not for the faint hearted.  I spent Friday morning dealing in kiln movement, I needed to get my new one delivered, the old one removed, the divine german one I got in a garage sale moved from the family garage up top down to his lower garage.  In fact I really want to evict Henry and have his lower garage and my studio all to myself but I suspect he'd object.  He doesn't repond when I raise the subject, I wonder why.

We'd tried to have the new kiln delivered months ago but it proved hazardous and unstable trying to get it off the Hiab crane on truck onto our grass 'driveway 'for a start. That time John from Kilnswest drove off into the sunset with my kiln still on his truck,  leaving me with suggestions of larger cranes and safe removal experts.  Months passed, eventually Dean, the new Sales and Development Manager from Kilnswest phoned, determined to get my kiln to me and he did it .... except ... we only got it halfway down the side of the garden, well more than halfway, within metres of its destination actually and now it sits on a  patch of lawn (on boards 'cos sunken kilns aren't in Vogue this season).  It took Dean, Henry and our son Emmet a good couple of hours to get all this movement going including the truck getting bogged as WA soil is basically sand.  The day was very hot I noted, as we crouched on roasting metal floor the back of the truck to weigh it down to help it get leverage and move up the driveway.  I wore jeans as protection, I hadn't worn jeans for 6 months as the Summer here is long and hot.  Jeans on a hot sticky day when you're climbing on and off the tray of a bogged truck = one hot cross bunny let me tell you.  I love my house but I would NEVER recommend a potter live on a hill if they fancy getting a kiln delivered.  Jeez I slept well that night.

Now Henry is hatching cunning plans to move the new kiln from lawn ornament mode into it's resting place - and I am 100% certain he will do it, eventually.  I'll keep you posted.  


We assume a lot don't we, well I do. I figure if I know something, there is a huge chance that the person with me knows just as much if not more.  I had my students printing on slabs for the practice, experience and well, look it is FUN.  We weren't doing much on curved surfaces as it proved difficult to keep some curved items prepared in advance and for students to bring in their clay work to decorate.  Storage, transport and parking do not work in our favour.  I'd thrown several cylinders an hour before class but it was so hot they'd dried out too much by the time we came to transferring our tissue monoprints prints and screenprints.  In the CIT clay studio we had some square frames nailed together from lengths of profiled timber.  When I showed a couple of students how to prepare a nice soft slab and lay it over the frame like pastry, trim with a margin of extra clay, then place it on a board and drop them horizontally onto to the table so the soft clay fell into the cavity and formed square platter - it was a TADAA!! moment.  Some of the class knew this method and the rest took it up with such gusto they didn't have to be shown twice.  Soon we had several printed dropped plates.  Above is a zingy slab painted with red and blue  slips and then printed with peacock green underglaze by Nicole.  I can't wait to see how it comes out after it is glazed.  OK back to the massive studio overhaul I have planned ... despite this debilitating heat but first ... do you like what Google came up with for St Patrick's day today 17th March below?  I think they are sweet.  

          Saint Patrick's Day          

Saint Patrick by Jim Fitzpatrick (Ireland)

Oh and Happy Saint Patricks Day, I will toast your health and clay success this evening with a lovely cold dark Guinness product of my hometown Dublin and say the Gaelic toast 'Slainte', pronounced 
'S-lawn-cha' and meaning 'health'.  Seeing as I have your attention I might as well celebrate St Patricks Day (never EVER St Patty's America!) by bringing Jim Fitzpatrick to your attention.  You see Ireland has its own unique legends and myths, some very sad and anguished and some very fierce and passionate,  Jim's art celebrates these stories and their characters in his work in an exquisitely wrought manner of drawing.  You should check it out, it used to be only in galleries and books but of late he sells directly in  In my high school days Jim Fitzpatrick was the contemporary artist on a pedestal for me, now I am a Facebook friend!  He is said to have been the originator of the infamous Che Guevara poster click that 'Che' link for some interesting reading.  

 but I remember him better for his poster art for the wonderful Irish Rock Band 'Thin Lizzy' and their Album cover album Playboys of the Western World ( a play on the name of a the stage play Playboy of the Western World by another Irish success J.M. Synge.    Here's a bit of the history of Lizzy covers.  

Coincidentally, my best friend Kate's grandmother was the well known Irish Actress Marie Keane who was in that play during her career, as did my own mother Pat Cleary in her younger days in Ennis in local amateur dramatics.  My other best friend Ger's big brother had a huge poster of Che in their living room - speaking of degrees of separation.  Anyway Hit it Lads!   

Crikey, clay AND culture, I should be charging you for this.  Here's more of Jim's work - tell you what though, if all Irish men and women were as um ...  'romanticised' and hot as this, tourism would be massive and the economy would surge once more.  LOL

The Myth of the Children of Lir being turned into Swans
 Did I mention that the Vikings made it to Ireland and settled by the River Liffey in what is now Dublin City?  Tatts, Hats and muscles ... not sure the parish priest would approve but I do.
 OK enough of a diversion let's pop over to see what is being spoken of at The Mud Colony where the other clay bloggers gather (for a pint no doubt).  There are thirteeen bloggers from all over the world over there already at Mud Colony .

PLEASE NOTE:All text in this blog posting is copyright of Elaine Bradley, Ceramic Artist, Western Australia unless quoting from another source.  All photographs in this blog posting are copyright of Elaine Bradley unless otherwise stated.  No responsibility can be taken for external links.  Images of art by Jim Fitzpatrick are from his Artist Facebook page.  Please report any errors in crediting photographs, sources or facts to the author in order to allow her to rectify the matter.  Your response and feedback is welcome.