Great Balls To Fire

Learning how to make pots

Harlech Pottery

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During a trip up to North Wales this weekend my eye was caught by the Harlech pottery sign above and I had to go in! I’m glad I did because they have two floors filled with artwork and pots in all different shapes, sizes and finishes, as well as an open potters studio that you can have a peek at on the way up the stairs. From tiny animal models to ornate vases, decorative plates and teapots, jugs and mugs, there was something for every price range. Even the light at the top of the stairs had a ceramic pulley!

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I couldn’t leave without buying a momento and after much deliberation I plumped for this small beautifully finished little pot. I love the colour combination and the rough, gritty finish on the outside which makes it pleasingly tactile. If any potters out there know hot to achieve this sort of finish then please leave a comment! I’d love to know how it is done.

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CSAD – Cardiff School of Art & Design Ceramics Exhibition 2013

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If you get the chance to visit the ceramics exhibition at Howard Gardens this week then GO! The exhibition is beautifully curated and one of the best I have seen in this space over the past 3 years. It truly showcases the versatility of the material. The works on display vary from heavy volcanic looking forms to delicately strung keys hanging from the ceiling and books made of clay; ceramics so dainty you fear that one sneeze might shatter them, to brightly coloured pastel pots with which you are actively encouraged to play. It’s a wonderland of ceramic forms to take in and enjoy and an incredible testament to something I have heard my pottery teacher say on numerous occasions; ‘Clay will do anything you want it to do, you just have to know how to ask it’.

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Throwing Pots. Saturday Class – Photo Gallery

1. Milk Jug
I made this milk jug for my friend Natalie. I knew I wanted the finish to be blue and white but was unsure how well the word ‘milk’ would come out once fired. Overall I was pleased with the result. The white slip came out slightly creamier than expected but the word ‘milk’ is very clear. The handle was a bit of an experiment and doesn’t look great head on but from the side it looks fine!

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2. Large Jug
This is the largest pot I have thrown so far. To be honest, it shrunk quiet a lot during the firing but it remains pretty sturdy in weight and stature. Initially I tried to paint the pot with white slip and a band of blue but I must have dunked it in the blue glaze rather than the clear glaze before firing because it came out all blue!

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3. Green and brown pot
I was interested to see how the slip colours would look once fired. This little pot is a good example of how the slip mellows and appears much ‘sludgier’ once it has been in the kiln.

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4. Blue rimmed jug
This jug is a good example of how a nicely thrown, nicely turned pot can be made ugly with a bad handle and a bad finish. For some reason I chose this pot to test drive my slip application skills and as you can see in the pictures it shows! It’s a messy and heavy handed finish which makes the pot look sloppy, even though it started life quite neatly.

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5. Wonky Vase
Although this is clearly a wonky shape I kept it anyway because it has character. I should have been more experimental with the finish but I ran out of time on the last day and ended up dunking quite a lot of them in the blue glaze. This one still has an area of brown matt slip at the bottom which works quite well.

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6. Two Tone Bowl
I think the colour combinations on this bowl work very nicely. The burnt bronze inside looks good against the blue on the outside. I tried to add a little detail with an attempt at banding white slip towards the base of the bowl. The decoration and brush strokes could have been neater but I would use this combination of colours again.

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7. Small neat jug
I was super pleased with this jug because it was the first time I think I have ever made a handle that is in the right proportion and style for the jug. It was a very satisfying feeling even though I attached it very wonkily!

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8. Banded Bowl
This was my most impressive attempt at banding. I applied stripes of white and blue fairly evenly although there were a few drips on the inside, which of course only adds to the character of the bowl! It is a little heavy but the banding looks effective.

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9. Yellow Egg Cup
Trying to make an egg cup the correct size in pottery is a very tricky business. Everything shrinks by approximately 15% in the kiln so you have to make everything 15% bigger than you want it to be and with egg cups this can become quite an exact science! Size wise this one came out about right and I like its unusual shape. The yellow slip is a lovely colour.

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10. Unusual shaped jug
Again I think I accidentally dunked this jug in the wrong glaze! I had designed a more intricate pattern on the outside using yellow and brown slip but all that has been lost! You can however see the remains of the original slip towards the base which adds a matt contrast.

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Throwing Pots. Saturday Class

Four whole Saturdays filled with pottery!

I would only take on a Saturday class if you are REALLY into the idea of pottery because it does eat into your weekend. However, don’t be daunted, the time goes really quickly and it is a good way to be very productive because you have the whole day.

On the first week alone I throw all of these:

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I am particularly proud of the shape of the spout on this jug:

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The following week we make sprigs and I have a lot of turning to do:

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Sometimes I overturn the base of the pots and have to save them by patching them up with sprigs:

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Unfortunately, there are a few casualties that don’t make it through the turning process!

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I sloppily apply slip for the first time to the jug with the spout that I like and then throw the biggest pot I’ve ever thrown:

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During the following two weeks, I become more accustomed to applying slip and a bit neater with my brush strokes but I still have difficulty imagining what the colours will look like once the pots are fired:

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Some of the colours are very vivid and bright, however I am told they will mellow and appear much more ‘rustic’ when they have been fired.

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I make a chunky handle for the large pot I threw and help it to set by propping it up on the shelf:

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I make more jugs in these four weeks than ever before which allows me to practice making different types of handle – wonky and straight!

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At the end of the four weeks I can’t wait to see the results of the firing and I miss playing with clay. I must admit, I’m also slightly pleased to get my Saturdays back for a bit! All the pots made during the Saturday class will be featured in my next post . . .

Brook Street Pottery and Gallery

Brook Street Pottery

I recently took a trip to Hay on Wye and whilst my companions were browsing crime novels in the Murder & Mayhem bookshop I popped across the street to visit the Brook Street Pottery and Gallery.

I can confirm that both the bookshop and the pottery are well worth a visit. I was lucky enough to chat to Simon, a fantastic potter who manages the pottery. He makes impressively large pots for the garden out of beautiful terracotta and also displays and sells the work of many talented potters from across the UK. I was even lucky enough to be given a quick tour of the studio space and see the enormous brick kiln.

Here are some pictures of the pots on display:

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The pottery holds regular exhibitions and you can follow their work and exhibits on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brook-Street-Pottery-and-Gallery/184612508248243 

Simon Hulbert is a member of the Craft Potters Association: http://www.cpaceramics.co.uk/gallery_detail.php?member_id=223

Throwing Pots. Term 2 – Photo Gallery

1. Espresso Mugs
So far I think these are the best things I have ever made! The handles are comfortable to use and I love the twisted design of them. Also the glaze came out beautifully. I like the way the creamy white and the dark brown colour combo looks a little bit seventies. They are not exactly the same but I think that gives them character and hopefully that skill will come with time!

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Espressomugs

2. Gravy jug
The glaze on this one came out brilliantly. The pictures don’t really do it justice. I glazed the outside white and the inside of the jug ‘surprise blue’. After firing, the colour inside became a very deep blue with a marbled effect. It’s really beautiful. I like the remnants of the blue glaze around the spout as well. Definitely the most successful glaze of the term.

Jug with handle

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3. Flower Pot
I had a few problems applying the glaze to this one. I was also running out of time towards the end of the class. In my haste I ended up washing the pot under the tap to remove the original glaze that I had applied way too thickly. When re-applying the glaze the pot was still damp so the glaze didn’t stick as well as usual. I probably committed a cardinal sin of glazing, however, it has given it a really suitable thin shabby glaze which suits its ‘potting shed’ vibe!

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Flower pot

4. Small Penguin Pot
This one didn’t turn out so well. The shape of the pot was irregular anyway as I had tried to make it rectangular and the glaze was too thick and dark for the pot. This makes it hard to tell that the sprig is a penguin!

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5. Space Pot
This was an interesting shaped pot from the beginning. I glazed it in the normal blue glaze with a brown stripe at the base. It looks a bit like a blue mushroom.

Space Pot

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6. A selection of egg cups
I found it very difficult to make such little objects look the same. I think one of these may have even been an Espresso Cup reject. Anyway, that’s why they all look totally different! When I got home I tested the size of them with a real egg and the first blue one without ridges was the best fit.

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7. Straight sided bowl
I quite like the shape of this pot and the green glaze has come up much better than on the small penguin pot. The white inside adds interest and overlaps with the green. It looks like a bowl for noodles.

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8. John’s Mug
I promised to make my friend John a mug and this is what he got! The shape was good and I was pleased with the ridges I deliberately decorated on the surface. I’m afraid the glaze let this one down a little bit. I applied it too thickly and not particularly evenly so the effect is a bit sloppy. It’s a sturdy looking mug though and I like the handle.

Mug drying

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9. Seaside Pot
This started life looking like a on old rum bottle that needed a cork. Now, with the edition of a shell sprig, it looks more like a seaside pot. The ‘mystery blue’ came out very nicely and you can still see the shell sprig clearly through the glaze.

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10. Rounded Bowl
I was thrilled with this bowl because I threw it without any turning. If I was to be super critical it is a little heavy and unfortunately the clay bubbled slightly during the firing on the inside and the underneath of the pot. You can’t see that from the outside though and I love the shape too much for it to matter.

Bowl

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11. Arty Egg Cup
This one was an egg cup that went completely wrong but there was something about it I liked and I couldn’t throw away. After glazing it I like it even more, although it isn’t actually a functioning pot!

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12. Shell
This shell was from a beach in Cornwall. It was useful for making sprigs but this one is too large to attach to any of my diminutive pots. I decided to glaze it as an experiment and it has turned out beautifully! If only I had added a hole when the clay was still soft so that it could be hung up on a wall.

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Throwing Pots. Term 2 – Week 10

Glazing

It’s the last week of the course and when we walk into the glazing room we are greeted with this marvellous display of pots.

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It takes a while to distinguish whose are whose but once we’re done we are shown the sort of colour to expect from the green, blue, white and brown glazes. It is then explained that there is also a mystery blue which hasn’t been tested yet but might be worth a try if we want a surprise.

I have quite a lot of pots to glaze, some of which I would like to give away as gifts, so I decide not to get too fancy. I go for simple blocks of colour rather than stripes, spots and patterns. The mystery blue sounds so exciting I use it on a large number of the pots and am eager to find out how it will turn out. I tend not to use the green glaze as much as the others, focusing mainly on white, normal blue and mystery blue with a little brown. As well as the thrown pots I also decide to glaze my large scallop shell sprig as an experiment. I am nervous about glazing the espresso mugs and leave them until last. By this point there isn’t a lot of time left so I hastily decide to go with matching white bodies and brown handles. I use a combination of normal blue and mystery blue on the bottle shaped pot with the shell sprig. Hopefully the chattered markings around the top and the sprig will show up nicely when it has been fired.

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The next post will be a complete before and after gallery of all the pots I made this term.

Throwing Pots. Term 2 – Week 9

The Penultimate Week

There’s always a slight air of panic during the penultimate week. Any pots that aren’t finished won’t make the glazing process and any new ones that are thrown need to be done so without the need for turning. Due to my absence the previous week I have loads to catch up on and numerous oddly shaped pots to turn.

The bottle shaped pot I thought would be a nightmare to turn actually works out alright and I add a little shell sprig for decoration.

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The pot I threw in week 6 is an unusual modern shape, kind of spacey. I nick name it space pot.

Space Pot

I decide to turn one pot by hand because it is a rectangular shape and then I add a penguin sprig to its surface. The final one left to do is an egg cup that doesn’t requires too much attention.

Feeling confident I decide to attempt to throw a bowl that won’t require any turning. I discover a nifty little tool I wish I had found out about before. It creates a neat base rim underneath the bowl, much neater than anything I could achieve. In the photo (left) you can see the base still looks a bit wonky despite the new found tool. In the photo (right) with the egg cup and the rectangular shaped pot you can see the bowl is a good shape and size, although it may turn out to be a little heavy. I shall have to wait and see next week when it’s glazing time.

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Throwing Pots. Term 2 – Week 8

Berlin Pots

Sadly no pot news this week. I had to miss the class as I was at a very special concert (link to follow).

However here is a photo of some beautiful handmade pots I found on a stall in a Christmas Market in Berlin:

Berlin pots

Throwing Pots. Term 2 – Week 7

Handle with care

This week is all about the handles for the espresso mugs and to my surprise I get very fussy about it! I try all different shapes and methods and in the end settle for rolling the handle shape over the edge of a wooden tool to create an ident which textures it. I quickly score the espresso mug, dampen the area and attach the handle at either end, then secure. It is the securing bit that takes me an age as I fuss about trying to get the right shape handle so a finger can fit through. I also neaten all the edges trying to make sure they are smoothly attached to the mug which takes longer than expected and is delicate work. I repeat the method and then try to make the second handle look like the first which takes even longer! I’m so pleased with the result though that it makes all the fussing about worthwhile. The handles make the mugs look like a proper matching pair!

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Eager to throw something I make a pot from the turning chuck which ends up an odd sort of shape. Not unattractive but I can already tell it is going to be very difficult to turn! I can imagine it filled with rum or ale with a giant cork in the top!

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