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Production Methods

Mixing Clay

I mix up two different throwing bodies to make my pottery. The first is a stoneware clay that fires up to cone 12 (2500 F). It is composed of four different clays , sand, feldspar, and bentonite:

50 lbs. of49er Ball clay
50 lbs. of Immco 400 a fire clay
25 lbs. of Immco 800 an iron bearing fire clay
10 lbs. of C-Red an iron bearing ball clay
12 lbs. of Custer Feldspar
15 lbs. of 60 mesh sand (Crystal Co.)
5 lbs. of Bentonite
6 to 8 buckets of aged slip
a cup of vinegar
a 5 gallon bucket of water

My other clay body is a white high fire stoneware or proto porcelain. It fires up to cone 14. I use two white clays , a flint, some feldspar and I use very fine grog:

50 lbs of 6 Tile porcelain clay
40 lbs of Custer Feldspar
25 lbs of silica
25 lbs of EPK
15 lbs of 412 Ione Grog FFF
5 lbs of Bentonite
6 to 8 buckets of aged slip
a cup of vinegar
a 5 gallon bucket of water

Throwing and trimming Goblets

Goblets are thrown in two pieces and joined later when leather hard. I throw the stems upside down off a mound of clay. A knife is used to ensure that the stems are hollow. The cups are thrown to be smaller than the stems. The pieces are assembled upside down on the wheel. I use an onion holder to make the scratches on the parts to be joined. I soak the pieces to be joined in slip and use a sponge to make a smooth single piece. The goblets are aligned and leveled, twice; first, upside-down, and then again, right-side up.

Bisque Firing

For the first firing called, the Bisque firing, the ware is stacked inside of each other touching. It is tightly packed to conserve fuel. Each bisque kiln will make 2 and a quarter large glaze firings if all the pieces come out of the Bisque kiln. Of course there are always a few accidents along the way... I stack the ware on silicon carbide shelves. The stilts are made from bricks that have been split in half and whole bricks, parts of brick, and chips of broken kiln shelves. There is a space of 9 inches of space between the shelves with a whole brick or split and the next shelf. There is a space of 3 inches between shelves for brick part stilts and a space of one inch between shelves for chips. The shelves form a tear of shelves. There are four tears of shelves in this large kiln. I hand stack the door with soft bricks. I create three peep holes to view the cones and the flame patterns inside the kiln. There are three sets of cones: one on bottom, one in the middle just at the top of the bagwall, and one at the top of the kiln. The cones measure the amount of heat energy absorbed by the ware and not the temperature of the kiln. As the cones melt over, we know how heat has affected our pottery and glazes. The top of the door is covered with a blanket of Kaowool to keep in the heat. Kaowool is a space age material made from spun kaolin heated to very high temperature and extruded into fiber material that is resistant and reflective of heat to 4000 degrees. The firing cycle for the Bisque kiln takes some 20 to 30 hours. It takes me a whole day to stack the ware into the kiln. I start the kiln with one burner on a about 7 PM. Then at midnight, I turn, on another burner. At 6 am I, I turn on two more burners. Finally at noon, I light the remaining burners on low flame. The kiln must be watched to make sure that the flame does not go out while on low. I look at the kiln every half hour to an hour during this initial process. The kiln is left for three hours before I turn it up at three PM. Then I turn the kiln up again at 5 PM and by 6 PM to 7 PM the kiln has reached Cone 08 (1600 F) on the top and Cone 015 (1500 F) on the very bottom of the kiln. The kiln is turned off and all the ports are sealed up for cooling the kiln. I cool the kiln for two days before I take the ware out to work on it for the final firings. I use about 100 therms of gas to do a Bisque firing.

Wax Resist and Hot Wax

I apply hot wax to the bottom of the ware to repel the glaze from it. Any glaze on the bottom of the pot will be removed after glazing and before the final firing. The wax assists in making the glaze come off of these surfaces. Glaze left on these surfaces would cause the pot to stick to the kiln shelf or to itself in the case of a top. I use hot paraffin to resist the clay form the foot of my pots and between the lids and the body. The hot wax is kept in a large flat pan on a hot plate. heated to 180 or just before smoking. It is applied by dipping the foot of the pot in the pan carefully and then brushing on the wax. Care has to be taken not to drip the wax or splash the wax. A mistake cannot be erased. Many fine pieces are flawed this way. Still, it is my preferred method of waxing. I also use commercially prepared liquid wax resist to do large platters and huge bowls where a more delicate touch is needed..

Mixing the Glazes

I mix glazes in large plastic buckets and then strain them thru a 30 mesh sieve into steel woks. When I mix the glazes up with water, I use about a third more water than I want the glaze to have for putting on the pots. The result is that I can easily strain and mix the glaze up at this point in making the glaze and it will easily pass thru the sieve. I then let the glaze settle over night and siphon off the excess water in the morning before I apply the glazes. As I use the glaze, I stir it up with a kitchen sieve to gather any foreign material from the glaze like chips of broken pottery, brush hair, wax, sponge, paper, wood fiber, etc. Base Glazes act to seal the pot and catch the more runny top glazes. That is why 3 of the 5 base glazes are matt glazes. The matt glazes catch and slow down the running shiny glazes. The base glazes contain minerals that will boil thru the top runny glazes to form mottled patterns .

Glazing the Pottery

I use a variety of base glazes for my pottery. I have five main glazes including an Iron saturate, called O'Hatta, an black iron called Temoku, a light blue cobalt glaze of matt texture called Sky Blue, a clear crackle glaze, a tan speckled matt Rutile glaze high in Alumina called Cindy Yellow, a matt white Nephalline Syenite glaze called PK White. There are several variations to these base glazes that I use as well. These are the first layer of glaze that I apply to the pots. This application is usually applied by dipping and shaking excess glaze off the pot with the use of tongs and/or fingers. I use a variety of glazes, ongobes, stains, and luster glazes over the aforementioned base glazes. The main glaze that I use over the five base glaze is a basic Chun Glaze with copper, rutile, iron added as colorants. I have two variations of this glaze with more copper and silicon carbide to promote reduction of the copper to form a copper red glaze in heavy reduction. I have also built a beautiful copper red from scratch that has several sources of boron to promote the copper red as well as silicon carbide. The five base glazes are also used as combinations of glazes for the top layer of glaze. Iron red and the matt rutile glaze are two different base glazes that I use in combinations to produce a remarkable variety of tonal variations. Temoku produces an interesting glazes that brakes from reddish brown to black depending upon how thick the glaze application is applied. When I use Chun Blues and teadust over it in a thin wash, there is blue mottled pattern like stars in the milky way that appear.

I have worked up a teadust glaze that turns from matt to shinny as it gets hotter. Dolomite crystals form the matt part of the glaze. As they solidify, the dolomite crystals form patterns on the top of the shinny glazes. I add cobalt salts to this matt/shinny glaze to add a unique effect. The cobalt and teadust effect works well over copper reds to give a blend of colors. This teadust also promotes a large pattern crackle over the clear crackle glaze.

My technique for decorating the pots with layers of glaze into a flowing design is much the same as early potters used. I use a variety of brushes, sponges, rags to smear layers of glaze over the base glaze and not allow the glaze to cake up and crack. I must carefully apply each layer of glaze and then rub some of the top layer off with my hands or a damp sponge to blend the glaze together at the proper time. I also mix up commercially prepared stains with my clear glaze to use over my base glaze in a 3 parts of glaze to one part of stain recipe. Often these stains are mixed up as a half cup of wet glaze to 10 grams of dry stain and then sieved to ensure a good mixture. I use these stains to paint figurative drawings over my clear glaze and give color to my carved surfaces in a decorative style that I find very unique. It is a glaze enlay technique where I scrub off a layer of top glaze to reveal the clay body below it. The sunken areas of the pot retain the glazes and stains. Then the top areas are covered with a white Glaze and stains applied over that area. Dragons, roosters, skulls and lightning bolts, Harley Davidsons, winged creatures are my favorite motifs in these pieces. I have also hired artists to paint Christian Iconography on large platters and vases from the works of Michael Angelo, Rembrandt, Durier, DiVincey, and Roualt, to name just a few. Some interesting pots are created by placing broken fruit jar glass into them and mixing certain glazes over them. A large crackle pattern appears. It is very pleasant to look at, but not as functional as my other ware.

Glaze Firing

I take a whole day to stack the kiln for the glaze firing. Before the kiln is loaded, I knock all the spots of glaze spit from the last firings off the kiln shelves and spot paint the kiln shelves with a kiln wash. The wash is composed of one part silica, one part kaolin, and one part Alumina Hydrate. It takes me two weeks of glazing to finally have enough work to fill the kiln for the first glaze firing. I must stack each piece carefully to make sure it does not touch another piece or a brick or the bag wall. Lids must be carefully placed so that they will not seal themselves shut. The utmost care is taken to stack little pieces between big ones and odd shapes between each other so that a tight efficient load is maintained and the cost of firing is kept to an effective minimum. If the bottom of the kiln is packed too tightly, the kiln will not fire correctly, The flow of the flame must be considered when stacking the ware. I stack the middle of the kiln tightly with large platters and plates and the bottom loose with my planters and vases. The extra large bowls are stacked on the top shelves, where I do not have to worry about them being to big for the shelves and the posts. The front tear of pots has the largest huge vases on the top shelf.

Sets of cones are placed on the bottom, in the middle, and at the top of the kiln to give me a reference as to how fast the kiln is achieving temperature and how evenly it is doing this as well as to tell me when to reduce the kiln. The reduction of oxygen in the atmosphere is done by restricting the flow of gas from the kiln and causing the gases to reburn before exiting the kiln. I have dampers on the stack to the kiln that are pushed in rather than restricting the flow of oxygen to the burners. The result is a much more even temperature kiln with an even reduction atmosphere in the kiln and a minimum of time to achieve that reduction. I reduce the clay body at 08 for 45 minutes and then I leave the kiln in an oxidizing atmosphere until cone 9 is down and cone 10 is bending. I then reduce the kiln for one and one half hours. After that I let the kiln come to temperature of Cone 9 on the bottom of the kiln and no more than cone 12 down on the middle of the kiln. Often the cones are evenly flat at Cone 11 from top to bottom. The kiln takes about 20 hours to come to temperature. I then seal it up and let it cool for three days before I will empty it. Often, I fire on a Thursday and empty the kiln on the following Monday. It is like Christmas when I open a kiln. I look at each piece as it emerges from the kiln and set it on the ware rack. I select the best pieces and change my mind a dozen times as more come out. Only one will be worthy of the firing. The rest are sold or thrown away. One piece is kept as a reminder of the kiln. Even these are eventually sold or given away to friends.

Russell Andavall
FireGod Arts
#4 1250 57th Ave
Oakland, Ca 94521
United States

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