Sweet summer rain or not and other stuff

Summer has a habit of going so fast and this year is no exception,we have been doing loads of stuff making and markets. It’s mostly too routine to talk about so I didn’t ,there was one,the Carshalton Lavender fair that was very good despite the weather on the Sunday.The field is situated on some allotments in Carshalton beeches and is very secluded,it is run by volunteers who work really hard to promote it,they distill the oil and lavender water and take it around some of the markets we go to.Lavender is a traditional crop for the area and they still use the original genus of the plant that was always used locally.

with some help from my candle guru we made lavender candles in terracotta pots

with some help from my candle guru we made lavender candles in terracotta pots

IMG_0299we enjoyed our weekend, dillydilly.IMG_0298IMG_0297IMG_0296IMG-20150804-WA0001IMG-20150804-WA0003

On the Sunday you could see what pots we'd sold

On the Sunday you could see what pots we’d sold

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RAKU 2015

If you have given up smoking and have big cravings come to a raku doo, you can inhale cubic metres of smoke and not feel guilty at all.

 

Not so much smoke this year,trying to keep in with the neighbours

Not so much smoke this year,trying to keep in with the neighbours

This years Firing was set to be the biggest one yet, with the Selsdon marching band, the Addington cheerleaders and the famous tribute singer Elton Jim all booked it was all set to be the most entertaining one yet . Problem was I got muddled and booked them for the 17th so they all turned up on Sunday one day late, still it was a nice show.

I had been watching the weather forecast all week luckily the sun came out and it was all good all day, which was a good job because all the glazing buckets etc were outside.

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I had made some new glazes and topped up favourites, they always get silly names to help us remember them better,the new ones were ‘no hope 4 green,yet another turquoise, turkwarse USA and 40 shades of ?. They worked well .This time I had a helper get the pots out of the kiln Jon Cullum , which was a great help it gets really hot. This time it was hotter than other firings for some reason, I actually got burnt through a leather jacket ,very odd.

We had some new folks this time Sue and Janice I think they might be converted.We were firing up to about 6, I think.

We also had a re onion with our old teacher Alex, who has been living in Prague but luckily has come back to live in Bath, it was lovely to see her.DSCF2272

 

In between the social bits there were some very lovely pots coming out, thank you to everyone for making the day go so well, thank you for all your food and drink contributions too, they were all lovely.

Monday morning pouring with rain I spotted a little puff of smoke coming from one of the dustbins .

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April woodfiring

When you see a pot for sale on a stall or shop, you would never guess at the amount of work that went into it.

Tina's house

Tina’s house

I turned up at my mate Tina’s house on Wednesday the 15th to help with firing her kiln and to put my pots in too. Three days later the kiln was packed, stacked and clammed ready to go on Saturday morning, I get bored with glazing, so this for me was very trying.

wadding balls are ringing for me and my pot

wadding balls are ringing for me and my pot

Glazing fatigue

Glazing fatigue

 

our bits of the Kiln packed waiting for Pete

our bits of the Kiln packed waiting for Pete

 

Tina’s husband Graham and I made a contract to be at the kiln with paper ,sticks and matches at 5 am, it was still dark and the Nightingale that he had heard singing in the dark was being drowned out by a very busy dawn chorus. Over the three days I had spotted quite a number of migrants,warblers and two swallows.

Light the blue touch paper and retire back to bed ( not )

Light the blue touch paper and retire back to bed ( not )

first smoke

first smoke

roar

roar

We lit one firebox and with smoke,flames and heat the kiln was off and burning. We started gently with large short logs slowly giving of background heat. We used large logs until the other firebox was lit, then we used the long timber from pallets that I had dismantled. All that effort unpicking them paid off and better than going to landfill.

The day started to warm up and soon it all became very pleasant in the sun, without too much effort the temperature began to climb as Tina orchestrated the stoking symphony it rose to a crescendo at about 10.30.

nearly there

nearly there

We finished on a reduction with loads of thin plum tree prunings stuffed into the fire boxes, big crackle and pop. Then the panic of clamming up quickly to conserve the heat and slow the cool.

I can’t remember going to sleep, after an eighteen hour day I zonked out.

Scroll forward to the following Saturday, after an agonising wait mainly because we all had to be there for the grand opening to say oooo ahh and ruddy hell. It was worth the wait and on the whole we were all very pleased, no major breakages or mistakes .We spent much time thanking the kiln gods and even

more time taking stock and making notes about where, what why and next time.

one wicket down

one wicket down

we tried to count them and gave up

we tried to count them and gave up

 

scene of the crime shot,with all the suspects

scene of the crime shot,with all the suspects

post match analysis

post match analysis

The next time for the kiln will be in September.

 

 

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The first firing of the year

It looks like the long drawn out winter is slowly ebbing, the daylight hours are nearly the same as darkness hours. It was dark and very cold when I started up the kiln at 5.20 am.

Light didn't quite reach

Light didn’t quite reach

 

I had spent two and half days loading it and there wasn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps. The bigger pots needed bigger space, funnily, that’s when you realise the draw backs of the arch as opposed to the sprung arch.

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I had left a burner in one of the burner ports on a small flame overnight it had been going 7 hours when the other one was set going.It’s hard doing all this with just one tallow candle borrowed from a 19th century miner on his way T’pit. The pyro was working for a change and stayed working all the firing, ( fall on floor in disbelief) it said 230 at the outset.

Sunshine on the tarp

Sunshine on the tarp

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contrail looking up twixt shed and shed

contrail looking up twixt shed and shed

It was all very boring until the dawn and then only marginally, but very cold until mid day . The only excitement was to swap over cylinders when they started to freeze and lose pressure apart from that it was plain sailing.

not as frozen as the film or what it looked like earlier

not as frozen as the film or what it looked like earlier

 

As usual there is that sinking feeling after a firing and the bored tiredness if it was easy.

UNPACK

 

Sunday 8th March, I had some helpers to un load the kiln.

Two little helpers

Two little helpers

 

The large jug and water carrier made it through, but there was a few wasters mainly the stuff made from clay from the cliff at west bay Dorset. Some even melted at this temperature. There were many small kiln fillers and they mostly were ok, not a brilliant firing but ok ish.

kiln load minus all the wasters

kiln load minus all the wasters

the very big jug for the Winkhurst kitchen

the very big jug for the Winkhurst kitchen

 

The next firing will be a wood firing in Tina’s kiln at very high stoneware temperatures. I have been scrounging pallets from skips and beach combing driftwood, I am really looking forward to that.

 

Farewell until the next time

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Hello again

It’s been a while since I posted on this site, mainly because nothing much has happened over the long cold winter months, although her at no 42 has got a new boyfriend, and the old man opposite bought a new pump for his fish pond.

 

The days are lengthening and thoughts turn to spring and my first firing of my gas kiln and a woodfiring in April.

On a recent visit to the weald and downland museum,one of the wenches in the kitchen asked for a big pot to fill the copper ( large boiling vessel set in brick ) with water, ye olde plastic bucket, didn’t look too good,not 16th century enough. I looked everywhere for an example, but just found large jugs or water cisterns,so I made two pots, a large jug and a large pot with three lug/handles, one at the bottom to enable the pour. We’ll see?

Irregular shaped plates,with very big grog worked into the surface.

Irregular shaped plates,with very big grog worked into the surface.

Biscuit fired water pot bearing my finger marks

Biscuit fired water pot bearing my finger marks

I have been making with stoneware for the woodfiring zillions of small kiln fillers, always needed .I have made six plates inspired by some dishes I saw in Japan, first make a plate, make it an irregular shape then fire it and use as a mould.The upper surface has very large grog worked into the surface, to make it bobbly ( technical word).

large jug possibly 1 gallon

large jug possibly 1 gallon

 

I have cancelled the Sutton markets and have been very lazy about finding others to fill the gap, I have next Christmas booked and I hope the Croydon ones start up again in March . I have decided to hold the Raku day on the 16th Of  May a very significant date.

 

In the next exciting episode of ‘Greville Avenue the directors cut’ the nice young couple at 29 have their drive renewed and a dropped curb installed, and the Greek lady at 21 takes in a parcel. There maybe even some pots to look at.

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Two go potty in Japan.

In 2007 I went to the Leach pottery in St.Ives, they were showing a video there called ‘Potters at work’. I thought at the time wouldn’t it be nice to see that , so 7 years later we did.

Parrafin budgie bound for Japan

Parrafin budgie bound for Japan

 

The potters in the original film would be all grown old or dead, it was filmed sometime in the 70’s, but hopefully the pottery village would still be there. We had planned other things as well so if we didn’t get there all would not be lost. The village was called Onta on the most south western island of Kyushu

Firstly we flew into the night 12 hours and arrived in Tokyo in the morning we had been awake for many hours. We were doing the whole thing on the railways on a JR pass, which turned out to be fantastic value. Tokyo was huge and very futuristic . We liked the fish market, Tokyo tower and the shoguns park. After two days we had our first experience of the Shingansen ( bullet train ). They are always on time very clean and very fast, 200 mph. 7 hours and two changes we found our hotel in Hita on the isle of Kyushu. The nearest place with a hotel, to Onta pottery village.

We found out by a crappy tourist map where the village was ,it was just a little bit up the road after the motorway, so we got a taxi, we watched with alarm as the mileage and the price whizzed round on the meter, sometimes you can’t trust a map .At vast expense to our spending money ( pot fund) we made it.IMG_1404

 

Onta is in the mountains and the main road is the only road and the family potteries were situated on this.We went to the top of the village, the first thing to see were the clay crushers that pound the local clay into powder, the hard yellow clay has to be pounded to make it usable. The stream is used for this the heavy beam has a hammer on one end that crushes the clay in a pan, the other end is hollowed out like a spoon, water is directed onto the bowl it weighs it down and it angles upand spills the water, the beam drops down and hammers the clay, this goes on unattended except for moving the lumps to go under the hammers.

clay hammers

clay hammers

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All the clay preparation is done by women, next the clay is wetted down in tanks to be made into slip a creamy mixture that is sieved to remove all the stones ( bit like my custard ).

drying  in the sun after sieving

drying in the sun after sieving

steaming clay

steaming clay

drying the clay

drying the clay

all the scrap wood being used

all the scrap wood being used

many finished bowls some slipped

many finished bowls some slipped

It is then slopped into a suspended hammock like rush mat where it partially dries in the sun, when we were there it was very warm and sunny. Next, the clay is put into big clay pots to dry further, then finally slopped onto a cloth draped over a drying kiln, just an arch of bricks with a fire inside. When all this is done the clay is wedged or kneaded ready to be made into pots, the women get the hardest job.

Pots are thrown on a traditional kick wheel sometimes with an electric drive band. This bit is done exclusively by the men. Outside in the yard we saw plenty of pots drying in the sun, these are attended to by the women, moved around and looked after .IMG_1393

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The decoration of the pots is with different coloured slips a white clay slip and other colours made from minerals found nearby, this is also done byu the women. The slip is brushed on and  various patterns are made by dabbing, turning, chattering and pouring or a combination of all. This decoration is what makes the ‘Yaki’ so distinctive.

When all that is finished the pots can be glazed and put into the kiln to fire.

nine chambers

nine chambers

looking up to the chimney

looking up to the chimney

 

 

smaller kiln

smaller kiln

each family pottery had a kiln fired by wood, the fuel was stacked everywhere in the village. the climbing kiln ( noborogamy ) has up to nine chambers ,using the fact that heat rises and a chimney drawing at the top. There were no firings going on, but what an investment, thousands of pots in one go.

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ware and the typical Japanese throwing bat

ware and the typical Japanese throwing bat

We stayed all day had a traditional lunch and found a bus that went back to town, a twelve seater dropping off kiddies from school. We had a lovely day bought some pots, not too many though, we had ten days to carry them around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The next day looking round the

showroom and Bernard Leach

showroom and Bernard Leach

town of Hita the pots were following us around every shop it seemed sold them, I bought a Japanese wood saw they work on the pull stroke only .

 

 

 

 

Time was up for Hita, two trains later we were in the ancient capital Kyoto, about four hours up the lines. There was masses to see here ,there are ancient areas where you see masses of people some dressed traditionally, ceramics are everywhere with lots of what I think are remainders shops.IMG_0475IMG_1501 IMG_1502

 

After much searching we found the Raku museum, most museums and temples in Japan do not allow photography, so no photo’s of the Raku pots.The display was very minimalistic but superbly done with plenty of space around each pot so your eye is not distracted. It was rather a strange museum in the middle of a suburb, you really had to work to find it.

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The raku pots were also different from what i’d expected too, they were mostly oxidized and made from earthenware clay and contrasting from very decorative to plain black, lots of tea bowls of course but some very lovely boxes so straight and true . Will have to insist that everyone make a tea bowl at my raku firing next year, so we can have a tea ceremony, but with tea bags not green tea ( I did try, but didn’t like green tea ). Some of the pots were 300 years old.IMG_1310

 

Our last stop was to be Mashiko in the Tochigi prefecture , we had two changes, one at Tokyo for a  swap of Shincanshen to Utsunomiya, where we got on a weeny bus, we were the only fares to Mashiko station. Then taxi to our wonderful Mashikokan hotel. It was a ‘Japanese’ hotel, with our own water butt bath tub and beds on the floor, the hot water was thermal.

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Mashiko is the home of studio ceramics in Japan, the famous potter  Hamada Shoji settled here , we went to see his house on our first free day. His house and workshops are open to the public and are serene and peaceful, maybe because we had missed the festival by two days ( oops ). Anyway it didn’t matter it was much quite r . Mr Hamada had collected many pots and many old buildings to use as workshops. The garden was really lovely too, we spent ages there.

Hamada's house and workshops

Hamada’s house and workshops

 

 

 

 

 

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In the grounds was the Noborogami kiln that Hamada used , the kiln was slightly different from the ones in Onta it didn’t have a chimney , just vents at the top. After some lovely time spent .we left and went walking to the village desperate for a cup of Kohi , we found our caffeine in a caff in a pottery.

 

 

 

 

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Next up was the pottery museum and gallery where the was another kiln for the college to use ,a copy of the Hamada kiln. The weather was fantastic for just ambling about in the beautiful grounds. There were some stunning pots in the museum, we were getting a bit tea bowled over so we went to the café for more refreshment, you could choose you own cup and saucer.

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The village has ceramic shops everywhere, we bought plenty without any thought of how we were going to get it back. The day was all too quickly over and a taxi ride took us to our hotel and a twelve course dinner including strawberry flavoured liquer which went down nicely ta.

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Mashiko is very near the home of Honda we had a day off from ceramics and a day with bikes,cars and robots in Motegi. On the way back to the hotel on our last real evening we found what I thought was the nicest pottery in the village, we could just fit in one more yunomi, well you know me.

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Then two days travelling back to the UK,

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Bognor next year it might not be as exciting,

 

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TINA’S KILN, FIRST FIRING

Three years ago I met Tina on a woodfiring course in Devon, when on the course we were talking as you do, a lot. She said that she had been hankering after a woodfiring kiln for a while. Three years and a bit later we helped her with the first firing.

a shed and a few more bricks on the chimney needed.

a shed and a few more bricks on the chimney needed.

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I helped with the chimney but Tina and her hubby Graham built the kiln, apart from the chimney it was very well built.

The first pot going in

The first pot going in

Last weekend was the first firing , the packing took all day Friday and some of Saturday morning, along with glazing this is the most tedious of all the jobs but possibly the most important.

 

We started firing at 2 pm on Saturday , about half the kiln load where raw so it was softly softly up to 600 when clay turns into pot then a steady increase.  I went to bed at midnight and got up at 5.30 but Tina stayed up with Tony, I felt dog tired, I think Tina must have felt a whole pack of dogs tired by then. She did pop of for some sleep but soon was back again to direct. Which is what someone does at the end, this takes judgement and decision, what to do with reduction and the final treatment of the atmosphere, I had been stoking lavender into the fire box but we finished with a lot of my apple tree prunings for a really hot quick blast.

lavender being stoked

lavender being stoked

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Abruptly or so it felt it was all over, after a superb breakfast we cleared up a bit and cleared off. Leaving Tina to go to the land of nod.P1060241P1060243

 

UNPACKING

Tony had stayed down and we all met up to crack it open on the following Wednesday, firstly the wicket/door of the kiln was taken away to reveal the results. After lunch, which allowed the wares to cool down even further, we started the great un pack. No wonder it took so long to load there were more than 240 pots in it !

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There were some breakages and some bloating with my stuff due to the clay, all my pots were thrown with new bags of stoneware bought three weeks before the firing, I don’t seem to have much luck with clay. But there were some beauties and some amazing glaze effects.

 

All in all a very good firing and all credit must go to Tina and Graham for building a very good kiln based on a design by Joe Finch who kindly advised throughout the whole thing.

 

What are we going to do now ?   Back in the workshop to make stuff for the next one in March 2015.

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