Friday, September 22, 2017

Making a Paperweight on the Potter's Wheel.

Calvatia gigantea mushrooms they are not, but they are a parade of freshly made paperweights. These are *porcelain, and I thought you might be interested to see how such things grow on the potter's wheel, so I took some photos this afternoon as I made one.

I did not weigh the paperweights as I made them, but I checked afterwards, and they range from just over 200 g to 400 g (0.44 lb - 0.88 lb).

I slapped a ball of porcelain onto the wheel and formed it into a cone shape several times to centre it and to make it more supple and even in consistency.

I do use two hands for this job, but have removed my right hand to reveal what is going on (and to take the photo!).

To centre such a small amount of clay, I squeeze the clay to form a cone shape, then I push forward steadily with the ball of my left thumb. Note that it is best to push forward rather than down.

I find that the clay comes down all by itself when pushed forward and centres beautifully with little effort on my part.

Centred, the lump is now running true with no wobbles! Do not be satisfied with poorly centred clay. If it wobbles it is not centred. If you can't centre it, then be brave, learn the knack! **You can do it!

I open out the lump with my thumbs, and maintain a bowl shape as I thin the clay and begin to lift the walls.

I bring in the top of the bowl slightly, as I want it to come inwards later on rather than flare out.

I thin the walls, lifting them higher. I try to maintain a good thickness of clay at the rim, because this will be of great help later as I pull the rim inwards.

The bowl is now much wider and a little shorter (it happens to us all as we get old!). A sponge held in the right hand may be useful to help persuade the porcelain to turn inward. Sometimes fingers or solid wooden or rubber ribs can be too firm for this.

I pull the rim in further and flatten an area. This will later form the base of the paperweight.

With the wheel turning slowly I dry off the paperweight with a hot air gun.

A slight change of colour, and most of the floppiness of the porcelain is gone.

I turn the bowl over then start to trim off the excess clay.

I begin with a metal turning tool, but later change to a loop tool.

Nearing final shape I occasionally test for thickness by gently pushing at the top of the paperweight.

I finish by smoothing with the sponge, then follow this with a soft rubber kidney.

I take the paperweight off the wheel head, flip it over and check the bottom. Nice and tidy so no more to be done there!

Then take the paperweight to join the others to dry on off-cuts of plaster board.

After making the paperweights I measured the bottom of each one and made a matching ring of clay for them. The paperweights with have crystalline glazes which are very runny at hight temperatures, so they need to stand on a ring of porcelain in the middle of a shallow bowl in which to catch run off glaze.

* Porcelain is usually made from a blend of Kaolin (China Clay), Feldspar, Silica and something to make it workable on the potter's wheel such as a small quantity of bentonite or ball clay. Most Kaolin type clays are difficult to work with unless they are blended with something else. Porcelain fired to maturity will be vitrified, strong and translucent where thin.

**You can do it! In 2012 I posted a short video of centring a large lump of clay, you might like to take a look at it if you want to see how this can be done

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Bee that lost its Buzz, and A Spring Garden!

Laura saw the bee before I did. "Don't stand on it!" she said. "The poor thing must have been inside since yesterday."

Dragging itself over the floor near my feet was a very dishevelled bundle of misery. The bee was in such a feeble state that its limbs would not bear its weight, so it polled along with the occasional push of one or other back leg, and paused between each push as if to catch its breath. Laura captured the bee with one of my small porcelain glaze test bowls, and I went out into the garden ahead of her and the bee in search of a dandelion or two.

Over the years we have rescued many exhausted bees that have "run out of steam", and have found that they revive quite quickly if placed gently on a dandelion flower. The flower is broad enough to give a wobbly bee plenty of support, and there are numerous little florets for them to put their long tongue into in search of nectar.

This poor bee was so far gone that it could do no more than grip a dandelion flower with its hook-like feet, and insisted on orientating itself the wrong way round with its bottom on the flower and its head hanging over the side! I realised from its pathetic lurches that it was only a matter of time before the bee fell off. I placed the glaze test bowl under the flower for the bee to drop into, then went back to the house in search of some honey.

Standing by the kitchen sink, I put a small glob of honey into a teaspoon and diluted it with water. I took this out to the bee and was attempting to find a way of getting honey to a place near the bee's head, when it lost its hold on the dandelion and fell into the glaze test bowl. The bee landed upside down and seemed unable to right itself. What with spoon, bowl, upside-down bee and honey, everything conspired to get a bit sticky at that moment.

I put the spoon on the ground, arranged a blade of grass over it like a bridge, and managed to slide the bee onto the bridge so it was able to hold both grass and spoon with its various feet, and peer into the bowl of the spoon where the honey was. Quite soon the bee's long tongue extended, and it began to consume honey with great care and dexterity. As the bee grew stronger I was heartened to see its big rounded rump nod rhythmically. This was a good sign, our exhausted bee was coming back to life!

The restoration of the bee took the best part of half an hour. I sat nearby with a cup of tea and watched as honey and warm Spring sunshine worked their magic. At last... there was a sudden haze of wings, and the bee lifted majestically to the low blossom laden branches of the plum tree above us and embarked on a mad dance from flower to flower, scattering white petals in its haste to find more nectar. I headed back indoors to get my camera, and on my return to the garden, I was delighted to be able to reunite with the bee and take its photo before it flew away to a higher and more inaccessible tree.

It is Spring and the garden is waking up with a great rush of energy. Laura is outside most mornings purportedly "filling another bucket of weeds", but really just being there living and experiencing this season of change, and rediscovering her "treasures" as they awaken from their winter sleep.

Potting and painting, yes there is quite a bit going on in our studio and I will start glazing a new kiln load of pots for the wood fired kiln this week.

I think I'll do a separate post about that and other matters as this has got rather long already!