It was a cool but damp late October morning when we arrived at Jeff’s Studio. Pots had been thrown the week before and bisque fired, now it was time for the glaze. We were trying our hands at a pit fire. We gathered all types of wood from around the farm, sprinkled and piled dog food, egg shells, seaweed, and salt into and over the pots, hoping to have color and texture merge onto the waiting surfaces. Jeff lit the fire and instantly, it was a blaze! The fire was then covered with wet cardboard and wooden boards and after hovering around the warmth of the fire, back into the studio we went so Olive could throw more clay.
After about an hour, the fire had died down, wood was cinder and we went to the pit to see the results among the still smoldering ashes. See what you think! We were very excited with the outcome – the texture and mottling appears to be galactic and the depth of the black is beautiful. We are already planning for another one. Very fun and interesting to see the reactions (and non reactions) that showed themselves on the final pieces. What a great way to spend a fall morning in West Michigan!
It was raku day again at Jeff’s studio. The sun had finally come out after what seemed like a week of solid, steady rain. No better time to eat! Just before the pots were removed from the kiln, we began making PIZZAS! Street taco sized tortillas, sauce and cheese, we placed them into the kiln once the pots were removed, for a late morning snack. Minutes later, the bottoms were crisp, the cheese melted and our treats ready to eat. We let them cool while we checked on the pottery pieces, now covered in sawdust. 3 cheers were given by potters and just like that, they were gone!
A much delayed post, Olive had an amazing chance to participate in a wood kiln firing along with about 8 professional potters at the end of April. She had been learning from Jeff about ‘imperfection’ and how perfect it can be. For so many months, she had been striving to create balance and clean lines on her pieces and now, it was more about texture and the unexpected. Poking, carving, adding, pushing her pieces to see how this form of firing affected her work. She learned more about glazes and temperatures and the unbelievable amount of wood (check out the photo – that is only a portion of what would be used for this single firing) preparation, and labor it takes to fire in a wood kiln. It was exciting to know that the wood ash would create a glaze that varied based on the air flow and were the pieces where located in the kiln. The result was an entirely new aesthetic than what either of us had known about until now! We loved it!
Exciting time at pottery – BIG BOWLS have been coming out of the kiln and we waited to have them all together so we could post them together. Jeff has been encouraging Olive to create bigger pieces to get a better understanding of how more clay affects the process. It takes a lot of strength to get that much clay centered and turned into a vessel! For Jeff, it appears effortless… 7 pounds of clay is no comparison to the FOUR HUNDRED pounds he has used to create a single bowl. You read that right – 400 lbs. Check out his website here to see his large scale pieces!
These big bowls are super functional and even though I watched it all in action, it is still hard to believe our 8 year old potter made them :0) A tribute to her attention and disposition, and Jeff’s teaching style, good humor and endless patience!
In this post, we are covering a pottery process called Raku, that Olive experienced with her instructor, Jeff, a few weeks ago. We were amazed by the individuality of the pieces and the crackle that appeared on them once they were cooled. The process comes from the Japanese tradition and it is one of the more exciting ways (we think!) to fire ceramics. The clay is quite a bit grittier than earthenware clay. The quick overview is that the ceramics are glazed, then heated in the kiln, removed while hot (resulting in the glaze cracking, leaving tiny fractures open to receive smoke in the next step) and then placed into a bin of newspaper or sawdust, and finally, covered for a while as the carbon particles find their new home between the cracks in the glaze. Once cooled, they are given a final scrub to get the glaze sparkly clean and increase the contrast you see between the cracks and the surface of the piece.
There are many Raku glazes that can be used, ranging from crackle to iridescent to black. Can’t wait to try it again! :0)
A while back, Jeff Blanford, Olive’s pottery instructor told her about a time he took cookie dough and threw it on the wheel to make a cookie bowl. Olive and I looked at each other and knew it was inevitable that we try it.
The day had come. We whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, making it extra thick, and headed over to Jeff’s studio to see what would happen. Interestingly enough, the idea he had, made us think in new ways. Would the butter melt when spinning and being shaped (yes!). Should it be refrigerated to make it more stable or would that result in too hard a dough? Would shortening work better than butter based on its melting temperature? Is wheat more stable than white flour? You get the idea! Changing the context changes the process. It’s one of my favorite things about having Olive learn along side Jeff, he’s always thinking of something new.
OK! Back to the cookies. Heavy cleaning of pottery batts, utensils and sponges. Fresh water… and the spinning began. It was harder than one might think. You have about 36 seconds to make that clump of dough into something that resembles a bowl or it becomes a clump of mush (see melting butter above). The wheat flour made it gritty, white flour might have been better. And, of course, how does one resist eating the dough that remains on your hand? We finished up – and Olive moved back into traditional clay pots.
With cookie pots in hand, we returned home, added a few chocolate chips to decorate them and popped them into the oven. In less than 6 minutes, they were a puddle of dough. The think about cookies? Regardless of form, they taste delicious!!
Terrarium day had arrived! The glass was hand blown by Jeff Blanford and as usual, he had all the necessary tools and treats ready for us to experience. I often tell Olive, that we get to experience all the fun parts of Jeff’s years of trial and error (it is a gift, we probably can’t fully grasp…). That said, check out these incredible little green worlds!
If you look closely, there are rainbow colored crystalized pieces of metal in there. It is Bismuth and Jeff has been working on growing the structures from molten metal. Every turn there is more to learn!!!
Once our assemblies were complete, we got home and took some of the moss to the microscope lab to see up close what was going on in there. Pretty interesting miniaturized land of happiness!
These were our under the scope images. Teeny little particles of sand and rock could be seen…