Friday, December 30, 2011

and now, for something completely different...

Finished the underglaze "painting" on this one this afternoon.  I really enjoyed making it.  Really... there will be more of these.  ;)

Thursday, December 29, 2011


This is what being on vacation looks like, I guess.  I finished the sgraffito decoration on this plate at around 11:30 last night.  Once the design was formed in my mind, it really didn't take very long to complete.  I've been on vacation from work this week (soooooo very nice), and that time away from all of that  has allowed me to clear away some of the clutter...  time to refocus some creativity.  And it worked, I think.  I made this plate several days ago, and once it got to the leather hard stage, I applied the underglaze, and from there the design just sort of happened.  Hopefully it will survive all of the trials to come.  I like this one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gold dust, maybe?....

When I got home from work this evening I was delighted to see a package resting on my front door.  My order from Big Ceramic Store had arrived!  Yippeee... just like Christmas morning (ha). 
This is my first experience with Mason Stains.  I'm thinking the main ingredient must be gold dust, because this stuff is kinda pricey.  Oh well... I've heard good things about it.  I will be using it to color earthenware slip.  I've read a few articles about how to use it, but if there are any experienced potters out there who wouldn't mind sharing a few wise words regarding this stuff, please feel free to share-away.  I would really appreciate it.  I'm like a sponge.  Thanks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why not now...

if we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin
Ivan Turgenev

When faced with a decision, choose the path that feeds your soul.
Dorothy Mendoza Row

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fly by Night...

Here is a new plate (or small platter) that I've been working on these past few days.  It's made of red earthenware, and slab built over a slump mold.  Once it was stable enough to safely handle (leather hard) I took it off the mold and smoothed out the edge a bit more, and then applied cut-out stencils for the moon and trees.  After that, I brushed on a generous coat of black Spectrum underglaze and then removed the stencils and allowed it to dry overnight.  This morning I went over the details of cleaning up the lines, added some extra branches to the trees, and lastly... I penciled in the bird and carved it through the underglaze.  After bisque firing it will get a clear glaze finish.  The fired platter should measure about an inch deep by 12 inches in diameter.  I'll be making several more of these plates with a similar design motif here in the next few weeks.  I will be using colored slip, instead of the commercial underglaze, for the others.

Monday, December 12, 2011

100 pounds of clay....

It doesn't look like much in this picture, but that's 100 pounds of clay sitting there on my work table.  That's the most clay I have ever bought at one time, and I am excited to get started making stuff.  I want to make enough pots here in the next couple of months (I actually have no idea how long this will take) to have a fairly full kilnload when I fire the Vulcan for the first time.  As I have noted before, my plan is to have the kiln hooked up and ready to fire before the end of the year...  And that would be a whopping three weeks away?  I'm sure that once I get it wired I'm going to be bursting to fire my first load.  But I will just have to pace myself.  It may go faster that I think, but if you've seen our kiln (there's a good look at it in my post from August 29th) you know that it is a monster.  No worries.  ;)   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

they're back...

I picked up my glaze load yesterday on the way home from work.  I think it is safe to say that at this stage of my education in the making of pottery, every firing is going to be a lesson in accepting small victories, and hopefully learning what not to do next time.  ;) 

These pieces of pottery are OK, but overall I am just not very happy with the results of this glaze firing.  On every piece (almost without exception) the glaze appear thin, with long streaks of glaze dripping down in some spots.  And in other places, there are blotchy areas with almost no shine on the surface at all.  And I also had some bubbling or blistering on a couple of them.  Ugh.  The good news is, I am pretty sure I know why they turned out the way they did.  I made the mistake of thinning the glaze down this time, thinking that it was too thick last time.  Hmmmmm... It's just a guess, but everything seems to point in that direction.   Also, between the two glaze loads I've sent to L&R this year, both have had blistering; with the common factor between them being Amaco underglaze.  I used the Amaco on a few of the pieces from this load, and those were the ones that blistered.  On everything else I used Spectrum underglaze.  At any rate, these are not a total loss, but they do need to be better.  A lot better... especially if I'm going to start putting them out there for the world to see (and hopefully buy).  I will take another critical look at them, but I doubt any of these pots will make it to my Etsy site.  We'll see.  Nevertheless, every step of the way I feel like I am learning. 
Out of the dozen or so pieces from this load, these four jugs have kinda risen to the top of the heap.  Even with their flaws, I can find positive aspects in them, most certainly.  I like them, and I don't want to sound too down about all of this... I still think it's really cool.  I just need to keep moving forward with them... and try to make them better next time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

L&R Raku day 2011

I spent a good part of the day down in Nixa at L&R's 21st annual Raku Day.  It was fun.  This was my first time watching the Raku process in person.  I didn't have any bisqued ware (made from Raku clay) to fire, but L&R had pieces available for a very reasonable price... I bought a small globular vase for $5.00.  Everything else was free; the glazing and firing, and lots of good food to snack on!  You can't beat that, and it was such an enjoyable atmosphere.  You had to be patient, though.  The crowd was thick, and the process takes time.  After I selected the vase I wanted, I stood in line for a while just to get to the wax resist area.  After that, we moved on to the glaze buckets.  I chose a crackle white for the bottom half of the pot, with a turquoise blue rim.  The next step involved about a half hour (or so) of pre-warming and then waiting for a kiln to open up.  They had about half a dozen gas-fired kilns going.  The actual firing took about 20 minutes. When the vase was glowing orange hot, the top of the kiln was lifted off, and the guy working the kiln picked up my piece with tongs and moved it around in the air (and even blew on it) to cool the surface, in order to create the distinct crackle effect.  It was then placed in a metal bucket with some newspaper, and sealed for several minutes, allowing the smoke to permeate the clay body, and darken the cracks in the glaze.  It turned out really nice, I think.  I'm pretty sure that when November rolls around next year, I'll be back for the 22nd annual Raku day.  A good time was had by one and all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Into the fire...

I took the rest of my mid-fire buff pieces to work with me this morning, and on my lunch break I drove over to Nixa and dropped them off at L&R, for bisque firing.  They should be done early next week.  As always, I'm looking forward to seeing the results.  I've got some jugs in that load that I am pretty excited about.  The plan is to have the Vulcan kiln wired and ready to fire by the time I have another load of pots ready to go.  Those will all be earthenware.  I could see that happening sometime this winter with any luck.  Right now, however, I do not have a single piece of earthenware pottery made.  Guess I better get busy.   Be the clay...... ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Creative momentum

Time.  Artistic pursuits require unfettered time to blossom, and grow.  Right now, my time for such things comes in fragments.  An hour here, a couple of hours there.  That's just the way it is.  I'm not complaining, but it can be very frustrating sometimes.  Many artists speak in glowing terms about creative momentum; about those times when there is no time... just you and your craft, with little or no awareness that hours are passing.  When I read articles about artists, they will occasionally make a casual comment about being so caught up in the creative process, that they forget to eat.  Funny.  I don't have that problem.
I got home from work yesterday, and after goofing around with Gabriel for a few minutes and getting some other things done around the house, I went down to the basement to get started on a piece of pottery that I've had rattling around in my head for the past couple of days.  We had band rehearsal last night, but I thought I could at least get started on my idea before I had to leave.  Unfortunately, my mind just wasn't in the game, and the slab of clay that I had neatly rolled out for my new piece of pottery, quickly turned into a mashed up pile on my work bench (with a very nice impression of my fist in the middle).  Things didn't go so well.  So much for the creative process.  There's always tomorrow.  An hour here... a couple of hours there.  Peace.

When things finally get rolling...

I need to remember this.  Some day when I'm an artist I can make a copy of it, and hang it in my studio.  That would be cool.  Some day...  ;)  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Something new...

I still have some mid-fire buff clay left in the recycle bucket, and I wanted to try a few different ideas out before I get these fired.  I haven't decided if I want to wait until I get my kiln wired and fire them here, or just go ahead and take them down to L&R for the bisque firing, and be done with it.  The longer these sit around green, the more likely something is going to happen to them.  Once all of this mid-fire clay is used up, my plan is to switch to earthenware clay for most of the pieces I will be making.  I think it will be a more economical choice, and easier to focus on one type of clay and learn all I can about it here in the next few years.  Best laid plans, as they say...

This is a lidded jar I made with the buff stoneware this past week.  It's slab built, with Spectrum black underglaze.  This time, instead of a sgraffito decoration, I cut out paper stencils... moistened them with a little slip, and applied them to the leather hard pot; then I brushed the underglaze over them.  Once the underglaze was slightly dry, I peeled the stencils off.  Later, I lightly wiping down the jar with a damp sponge to soften the edges of the design. I also took a toothpick and lightly scratching the trees to give them some depth.  I thought it turned out pretty good.  As with all of these, I can't wait to see the finished pot.  It will get a light, clear glaze on the exterior, also.

Monday, August 29, 2011

417G. The G is for giant.

The 417G Vulcan kiln has a new home now, in our garage!  I borrowed my brother-in-law's truck last weekend and Pam & I went up to Bolivar to retrieve the last, and largest, section of it... the base.  We had a nice visit and a great afternoon meal with Debbie and Ken, and then loaded it up and headed south.  I think it came with a year's supply of gravity.  Heavy... very heavy.  This past week I built a dolly for it to sit on, with a heavy-duty frame and multiple casters, so I can store it against the wall, under the storage loft.  When I want to use it, I can move it out away from the loft where there are no obstructions overhead, and nothing that can get overheated around it.  That's the plan anyway.  As soon as I get the garage straightened up and get a spot set up for it, I will call an electrician and hopefully get it all wired up and ready to go.  I'm not going to rush things.  When I lift the lid to the kiln, this is what it looks like inside.   ;)
I think I need to go downstairs now and make more pots.  A lot more pots... Cheers!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Little corker...

Hmmm... it's probably going to take quite a few of these to fill a 16 cubic foot kiln.  I guess I better get busy!  ;)   This is what happens at 11:00 at night when you have a little extra clay left over, and you feel like maybe making one more thing before heading off to bed.    


We got our kiln!  When Pam went up to Bolivar at the beginning of the week to start her prep work and meetings at school, she found out that a good friend and fellow teacher had the kiln in her garage.  Her husband had also bid on it (and won) with the intent of selling it later.  And he did... today!  Pam brought home the lid for this monster after school and it is, in a word, large (ha).  The ruler in the picture is 36" long.  Not a problem, though... hopefully.  It looks like it can be broken down into sections, so that is how we are planning on getting it to the house over the course of the next few days; piece by piece.  Wow.  My summer has just taken a very interesting turn, full of possibilities!  As I said in a previous post... it's going to be like a 15 year old learning to drive in an 18 wheeler.  Oh boy.... 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


As you can see, I am really enjoying making these jugs.  This one is from last week.  I decorated it a couple of nights ago.  It doesn't look like it right now, but when it is fired it will (hopefully) be dark blue.  I used a navy blue underglaze over mid-fire buff stoneware, with a scratched (sgraffito) floral design.  You can't see it in these two pictures, but there's also a bunny in there.  All of these jugs will be clear glazed inside and out, also.  I'm excited (and a bit anxious) to see how they all come out.  I will probably end up building at least one more of the jugs before this batch is off to the kiln for bisque firing, but right now I'm thinking it's time to make some mugs.  Fun... jugs and mugs.  ha

Monday, July 25, 2011


...Is it you again outside, just bangin' on the front door? You said you had enough, now you're comin' back for more,
but that's alright, I said that that's alright...  zz top

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Old Crow...

Here is another stoneware jug I made last week.  I am still working out the finer points of making strap handles with these.  I have a bucket of reclaim clay that I am trying to use up, and so I decided to make jugs out of it.  I figure I've got just about enough clay in the bucket to make two more of the larger jugs or maybe three small ones.  I also did some sgraffito on the other jug I posted below, which turned out pretty good.  This has been another busy week and weekend, capped off with a two night gig with the band, and birthday celebrations for my wife and my sister (a very happy birthday to both of you!).  Next week is looking like it may settle down a bit... maybe.  Busy or not, I be makin' some stuff!  ;)            

Friday, July 8, 2011

getting my hands muddy again!

Well... no big kiln for me.  Too bad.  The auction didn't come through, but that's OK, I guess.  I admit that I was already thinking about exactly where it was going to sit in the garage (ha) but it was not to be.   But on a higher note, I am finally getting things back in place in the basement; and last night I made my first piece of pottery in probably two months.  It felt good to get into that state of mind again... to get drawn into the creative process.  I've had a much needed vacation from work this week, but a lot of it has been spent whittling away at the long list of projects that have needed to be done around here.  And the 4th of July festivities always eat up a lot of time... but we enjoy that, and I don't mind it at all.  It's a good time.  We also went to Silver Dollar City Wednesday, so it certainly hasn't been all work and no play.  This weekend I'm hoping to finish getting everything back in the basement, and situated.  I'm getting very close, but the process always seems to take so much time.  Mid summer is always a busy time of the year, but hopefully things will settle in soon, and I can get back into the groove.  The new jug is slab built, made of mid-fire buff stoneware, and measures just under 9 inches high, with a diameter of 5 inches.  I think it turned out nicely.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Live long and prosper...

Well, things are starting to come back to life in my basement studio... kinda like the first buds of springtime.  Only not really that pretty.  In the past couple of months we have installed a new super-duty sump pump in the basement (and another one in the crawl space, coming soon) and I applied two coats of concrete sealant, to hopefully keep water from seeping up through mico-cracks in the floor.  This only happens when we get a lot of rain, and the ground becomes saturated.  Then the hydrostatic pressure under the house is so high that the water has to go somewhere; so it comes up.  I have no fantasies that this will completely eliminate the possibility of getting water in the basement again, but I'm fairly confident that it will greatly reduce the likelyhood.  Onward and upward.  So now I am getting my stuff moved out of the garage and back downstairs, where it belongs.  This has turned into a drawn out process, because along the way, I am compacting things... throwing stuff away, and figuring out better ways to use the space I have down there.  At any rate, things are moving along. 
And on the pottery front (this is a pottery blog, afterall) Pam called me up to the computer room a couple of weeks ago and said that she found an electric kiln for me at a local sealed bid auction!  Minimum bid $100.  We asked some questions, started doing some research, and found out this thing is a monster.  It's a Vulcan brand, model number 417G, only driven by a granny on Sundays to church and back  (ha).  No actually it belongs to the school system Pam works for.  They replaced their art department kilns a few years ago when they added onto the high school, so this Vulcan kiln has been sitting on a pallet in storage since then.  Pam called a couple of the art teachers who have used it in the past, and they said it was a good, reliable kiln.  I'm excited at the possibility of getting this, but frankly it's also pretty intimidating... kind of like a 15 year old learning to drive, and the only vehicle available is an 18 wheeler.  I will still need a small kiln for test firings, but the chance to get a production kiln like that for $100 is too good to pass up, even if it needs a little work.  It's going to be an interesting summer and fall, I can tell already.  I think they open the bids on July 1st.  This kiln has a 16 cubic foot capacity, so I guess I better get busy making some pots!  ;)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Excuses... excuses...

Work, band rehearsals and gigs, violent storms and torrential, seemingly non-stop, rain, a twice flooded basement/studio, the eruption of a volcano in our cul-de-sac (OK... I made up that last one).  Well you get the picture.  It's been crazy around here these past couple of weeks!  And as a result, I have managed to get very little done in the world of pottery.  c'est la vie
We have about a dozen potted tomato plants (plus various other vegetable seedlings) sitting around in cardboard boxes in our kitchen, just aching to be in the garden... if I only had a garden.  The back yard is squishy.  That's the best description I can come up with right now.  When we walk across it... gingerly tip-toe across the back yard on our way to what should be a garden, water squishes out from under each footstep.  We have had so much rain here in southern Missouri (all over the mid-west and southern states) this past week or so, that it has seriously been impossible to get anything done around the house, outside.  And you would rightly say... well then that should leave you plenty of time to get stuff done indoors; like making pottery.  Great!... but, no.  Eventually everything will settle down and the lazy days of summer will set in.  I hope.  But for now, it's non-stop.  So I guess this is my way of saying that my grand schemes of devoting several hours each week to making pottery, will just have to simmer on the back burner for a while.  I am going to have to put my foot down soon, and absolutely carve out time for these things that I want so badly to accomplish.  It really does come down to that, and it is frustrating that I have allowed myself to get caught up in so many distractions and other obligations.  But for now... I need to go downstairs and check on the sump pump, and make sure that the basement is drying out.  The need-to-do list is long.  But as soon as I check on the basement, I'm going to bed.  I'm exhausted.  Tomorrow's another day, and hey... they say the sun will be shining, and we can expect at least two rain-free days in a row!  How about that!  Of course, that also means that I will be mowing the lawn this evening... Hmmmmmm,  I may have to rent a hay baler.  At any rate, there may yet be hope for those tomato plants, and that long to-do list; and once I get my studio back in order (soon... very soon) I will be back making pottery and exploring a bunch of ideas that are just sitting in a sketch book right now.  I can't wait. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Glaze firing!

I picked up my glazed pots from L&R this afternoon.  There were several more in the load that I'm not showing here, but these stood out as I was taking them out of the box.  I was surprised at how much darker they all turned out, after the second firing.  After the bisque firing, the color of the two tumblers was a nice, warm terra cotta (as intended).  But after the second firing, those two look like they got pretty toasty.  The bowl is by far my favorite, and yet it would likely be considered a "second" if it was sitting on a professional potter's sale table.  But that's part of the learning process.  Try to make them better next time.  Overall, I'm fairly happy with the results, but ready to do more and try some different things.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thanks Ron... I needed that.

A quick scroll down will reveal a previous post which featured a lidded jar I made a few days ago.  I thought it turned out pretty good, and I was happy to share it with you... all two or three of you.  This evening it became just a jar (minus the lid) as you can see.  I had actually finished the sgraffito on it, and took it upstairs to show Pam.  On the short trip back downstairs, the lid tipped out... and down it went.  I watched it in slow motion as it tumbled toward the wooden stairs and crashed, breaking into half a dozen pieces.  Awwww man!  Not happy.  But then I stopped and told myself, it's just clay.  Then Pam added some encouragement by saying "you can make another lid."  Yes I can, and I will, afterall it was just a lid.
But it's hard sometimes to see something that you've put thought and effort into (including a cool, one-of-a-kind design carved into the underglaze!) literally crumble before your eyes.  I recalled something an experienced potter named Ron Philbeck wrote on his blog a while back, which seemed very appropriate:
What if the next week that student came back, unwrapped that pot from the plastic it had been under, turned around, tripped and dropped the pot?  Gone.  In an instant.  Is anything lost?  No.  Some time.  Some clay.  What to do?  Make another one.  And another one.
Making pottery is risk taking.  Everything about it.  Nothing is guaranteed. The bisque could over fire.  The glaze could run, or pinhole, or blister.  You may step on the speed pedal and there goes the pot flying across the room.  Drop the pot on the slip bucket.  Boom, it's gone.  If any of it was guaranteed then it would be boring and not worth doing.  Just like making perfect pots.

Thanks Ron
I have a link to Ron's pottery blog over on the righthand side.  Check it out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

a new one

Almost done with this one.  It turned out pretty good, I think.  I'll put an underglaze on it, and in a day or two, do some sgraffito designs as the last step before firing.  The little handle on the lid will be the beak of an owl.  At least that's the plan right now.  My first slab-built, lidded jar!  It's about 6 and a half inches tall with the lid.  By the time it's completely dry, and then fired, it will probably lose about half an inch.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Success... so far.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at my desk at work (trying my best to appear interested in what I was doing) when my cellphone buzzed.  It was Ted from L&R calling about my bisque firing!  I was encouraged that he didn't say something like... "the pieces that survived the firing are ready to pick up".   Nope, everything fired very nicely... no exploded pottery, no cracks and no real surprises, other than the underglaze color on some of the pieces.  I was a happy guy on the drive home from Nixa; which is saying something considering what traffic is like between there and Springfield at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Before heading off to band rehearsal, I managed to get a few of the pieces coated with wax resist, in preparation for glazing.  Later last night I decided to go ahead and get some of the pieces glazed.  I know that glaze settles when it sits, but when I opened up the bucket of clear glaze I had mixed up a few days ago, that stuff had settled like a brick.  Funny.  It took me a good 10 minutes to get it worked up and thoroughly mixed again.  The results of my first solo glazing experience were iffy, I have to admit.  A few of them came out of the bucket just fine, but then some of them have dribbles and streaks.  They are covered, but just not as smoothly as I would have liked.  I don't know enough about how this particular glaze fires to know if the little flaws will disappear, or not.  I guess that's just another part of the learning process.  These kinds of issues would be so much easier to address if I had my own kiln, but that's just something I will have to deal with for the time being.  Here in the next day or two I will take these pots back down to L&R for the glaze firing.  It's all like little baby steps in the process, but it is progress!  It's a blast learning this stuff.  I wish I had more time to devote to it every day.  There are some mornings when I will go down to the basement to check on a piece that I have been working on, and I will look at the clock and know that I have to put it back under the plastic.  Time to go to work.  Dang.  So many ideas and things I want to do, but they will just have to wait.  Patience.  And that's fine.  They say everything will happen in it's own time.   Yup... that's what they say.     
I was going to take some pictures, but I figured I will just wait till they are done before I put them out here to see.     

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Going for a ride...

Well, I Just got back from dropping off my pots at L&R.  They said these would probably be done by the middle of next week.  I'm pretty sure that this is the most pottery I've ever had fired at one time... these three little boxes.  A close second would likely be when I was taking pottery classes here in town. That was when I was learning the basics of throwing on a wheel.  It was fun, and I learned a bit about handling clay, and how to get things done in a communal studio; but I equally enjoy slab building in my little basement studio... which is what all of these latest pots are.  It is an exciting process.  After I get them back, I will clear glaze them, and then take them back to L&R for the glaze firing.  All of these pots are made from a buff, mid-fire (cone 6) stoneware.  While still in the leather hard stage, I applied two to three coats of Amaco Velvet underglaze on most of them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tomorrow is a big day!...

Tomorrow I take my first batch of pottery in for bisque firing!  I don't have a kiln... yet, so I will be boxing up my work and hauling them down to Nixa, to L & R Specialties, to be fired.  Hopefully everything will survive, and turn out as I imagined; I doubt it, but that's part of the fun... part of the adventure.  In a few days I will get to see what worked, and what didn't, and hear that wonderful ring that fired pottery makes, when tapped with a finger.  It's the little things that are exciting (ha)...
What you see here, in this rag-tag bunch of pots, are ideas.  Threads... some of which will be followed and developed, and some which will likely be abandoned.  But for now, it's so cool to have things that were just ideas and sketches in a notebook not so long ago, actually sitting in front of me, on a table.  And this is just the beginning.  :)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcome to Sleeping Village Pottery

This is the beginning of a real pottery adventure for me.  I will attempt to add something to this blog every day regarding my progress in learning the art and craft of pottery making.  The picture above is of my humble basement "studio".  After several variations, this setup seems to serve the purpose fairly well... at least for now. 
The rabbit bowl I am using for my title block is a detail from one of the first pieces of pottery I ever made, ten or more years ago.  One day while walking in the woods near our home, I found a nice deposit of natural clay in a creek bed.  I dug some of it out, processed it by hand, and made several pieces of pottery from it.  I fired them in charcoal, and this bowl was the best of the bunch.  It has been on a shelf in our living room for several years, along with a rare few of my other hand-built pieces.  Most of them simply haven't held up too well... but a few have.  This blog marks the beginning of a new chapter in my education in clay.  I'm very excited, and I hope you will join me on this journey.  Del Thompson
p.s. Today is my sister's birthday.  Happy birthday Diane!