Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow business

Well it's been a while....  So what have I been up to? 

Mostly, I've been preparing pieces for the Open Studio event with Linda which takes place this weekend, weather permitting. If the snow eases off now, it would be good to think that people will take a chance and drive out to the beautiful North Northumberland countryside this weekend to visit the studio and enjoy this unusual November weather.  I wont be surprised if Linda and I have to drink all the mulled wine and eat all of the home-made soup and hot scones ourselves though...   

Look, it's beautiful:

I must admit that I have really enjoyed this bout of snowy weather.  I love the way it changes the pace of life and brings people out on foot into the streets. I've spoken to neighbours up the road from me this week, who I've never exchanged words with in nearly 3 years of living in my street.  There's been a real sense of community for once - people helping each other out of various sticky situations.  Harv and I have spent a lot of the weekend pushing cars out of snow and clearing neighbours' drive ways, etc. It's been good exercise and a lot of fun!  Long may it go on, I say.

So a couple of things to report:

John and Simon very kindly insulated the roof in my workshop which really does feel like a workshop now. It's pretty cosy, even in this chilly spell. The insulation board has made the room a lot lighter too, being so reflective, which was a surprising additional benefit:

The Printing Project is almost completed, although it's all a bit touch and go whether I'll make the hand-in deadline having missed a day at college this week because the Ceramics Studio was closed due to issues with staff getting in through the snow, so not all of my final pieces are fired yet.  Here are some of my ceramic buttons with work-related symbols that will go into my 'Box':

And I've put together a good few lanterns for the weekend.  Here's some of them:

And finally...  I made it into the University's Newslink publication, alongside Linda:  http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press.office/newslink/item/it-problem-leads-to-a-creative-partnership  Fame at last! :-)

I'm ready for a rest now.  I've never really been a fan of Christmas, but I'll still enjoy the break when it comes, like anyone else!  And I must admit, I do like the lights... and the mulled wine.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


It's hard to believe that this

and this:

come about from processes like these:

But they do....

...and there are much finer (stunning!) examples here:  http://www.davidroberts-ceramics.com/

What's happening in the pictures above is known as a raku firing. I took part in various raku firings as part of my early ceramics night classes with Jane Hufton at Newcastle College.  They were always great occasions, we used to spend the whole day firing, but we'd chat and eat lots of nice home-made food in between the various firing stages. 

Raku is a Japanese word meaning enjoyment.  The technique of raku firing is very interesting: it was developed centuries ago in Japan and used in the tea ceremonies there to make instant chawan or 'tea bowls'.  There's a good account of the history and technique here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raku_ware but to summarise:  raku is a firing technique which takes pots made of strong ceramic materials (crank or porcelain usually) and plunges them into a hot kiln, fires them rapidly to a hot but relatively low temperature (compared with other kinds of kiln firings) and then transfers them into a 'smokey chamber' where the smoke blackens any part of the pot where there is no glaze. After a short period in the smoke, the pots are then placed, sizzling, into cold water...  and then scrubbed cleaned and it is only then that the true wonders of the technique are revealed. 

This video of Simon Leach carrying out raku firings is one of many that can be found on the web.  It shows raku for what it is:  a somewhat crazy, at times dangerous, method of producing very nice works of art!

Raku uses glazes with a tendency to 'crackle' for, within the cracks, the smoke can then work its magic.  It's an unpredictable technique because it puts pots under incredible strain - going from white hot to cold in minutes - the sound of cracking pottery is not uncommon!  But the results, when all goes well, are sometimes breathtaking and it's a lot of fun getting together with a group of potters for a raku firing and hearing all the exclamations when the pots are revealed after much cleaning and scrubbing away of carbon.  Wow!

There are lots of variations on raku firing techniques using all manner of nasty chemicals and weird materials (the hair from horses tails!) to produce amazing effects. 

I have to admit to having something of a passion for raku.  I only wish I didn't live in such a residential area of town and I would have a raku kiln of my own and really explore this amazing process.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember Remember the 5th of November....

Gunpowder, Treason and Lindsay's Birthday. 

Happy Birthday Lindsay!

Have been pretty busy lately - too busy to write much here.   Have some pics to share though.  First of all one of my Halloween lantern...  cut with a potter's hole maker of course:

Messing around with the digital camera...

Bonfire night fireworks display at Blue Flames Club (one of Newcastle United's training grounds):





Off to Hexham's fireworks display tomorrow night!  Can't wait.  I love fireworks!!