Glaze is everywhere. Spattered on our glasses. Dripped on our shoes. Tracked into the kitchen. Layered on our jeans. The coats of glaze on each pot drip and run and chip and pinhole. Our fingers dip in the glaze buckets to touch up spots. Our fingers dust each pot to fill in the pinholes. Finger marks are allowed to remain, a bit of wabi-sabi.
Each potter has to make decisions: Throw or hand-build; stoneware or terra cotta; functional ro decorative; gas or electric firing. Then there are technical problems such as handles and knobs and feet. Decoration is a decision that is personal, like the clothes you would wear, what’s the pot’s ‘face’ that will meet the public.
Pottery is personal and people respond to a piece of pottery, sometimes, without understanding why.
So the signature style of a potter, the ‘voice’ is perhaps the hardest decision to come to. It’s an organic process. Some fall into it, some are more deliberate. But all potters, the ones who stick with this, must go through that process.
John uses colored clay slips. He mixes oxides such as copper, cobalt, rutile, iron, blue-black cobalt, chrome into slippery, liquid stoneware clay slip. He also uses two kinds of porcelain clay slips, formulated to fit his clay body.
He uses an active brush, layering colors and textures on each piece, working in an impressionistic style. Each piece is individual, one of a kind, different. He does all the design work before the bisque fire.
So glazing is, in many cases, straightforward. “Dip this in that bucket.” Clear glazes interact with the colored clay slips, so that we can get so many different results. And anyone can glaze a cup or mug in our studio, as long as they can follow instructions.
It takes 6-8 weeks from start to finish to make and fire 180-220 pots.
Of course, nothing is simple. John always takes advantage of the firing by having many test tiles in each one. We have 11-12 firings a year, so he doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to find a new glaze. And then, the experiments. Multiple glazes. Multiple firings. This week he’s got something going on in the studio that isn’t even talk-able. Silence is golden in the creative process.
Never knowing how the load will go in, John has to have close to 240 pots of various sizes glazed and ready to go. Two 14″ lamps dominate this firing. A few re-fires are also included. The kiln shelves are not fixed so John builds the shelves as he goes. It’s a lengthy process, an art in itself. Use of space, heat, atmosphere are just part of the equation, just as shapes and sizes and orders are.
One of the best questions a potter can be asked is “How long does it take to make a mug?”
Why is that a good question? Because it gives us a chance to educate.
I start with, “John first makes his clay outside, then dries it outside, carries it back inside, pugs it, bags it, stacks it and lets it rest.
Then, he wedges the clay.
Then, finally, he sits down to throw the mug.
Explaining the rhythm of a potter’s studio, the steps a potter must take before he or she even sits down at the wheel, and then the following steps through to unloading the kiln, is our opportunity to educate our audience. The average person doesn’t know much about handcrafted and handmade pottery.
When we are lucky enough to have someone interested in our work to ask a question we should answer it honestly. And then, make them our new best friend forever.