Sunday, April 17, 2011

pulling lovelies and lessons out of the kiln

So let's talk about flux. 

There's one definition, 'a continued flow', that can be very appealing.   And then there's being in a state of flux, which means 'being in a state of uncertainty of what to do next'.  You'd think the two wouldn't exist simultaneously, but you're wrong!

Since early after the new year started, I've been trying to maintain the first definition.  No longer in my own studio, I'm working out of a community studio which brings great camaraderie with other ceramic artists, yet also brings the challenges of working within allotted times and staying within an allotted space.  Even so, I've been maintaining a pretty good flow of building work up for my first full kiln firing since last fall.

carved work out of bisque
Meanwhile, there's the ongoing question of where I will ultimately land in my own studio, if it will include a reduction kiln on site, if it will be in town, out of town or perhaps in another galaxy all together.  That kind of duality in ongoing thought gets to be a lot, even for a Gemini, so for the past month or two I've been focused solely on creating work for this recent firing, and satisfying commission and gallery orders so I could then move on to building an inventory over the rest of the summer.

lining up new work for glazing
testing a new form and graphic, lizella slip on white stoneware
So now it's time to fire, and in preparation I mixed up new batches of my glazes, and actually maintained a steady schedule of mixing, decorating and glazing that had everything glazed and packed for the firing a whole three days before the load!  

ipod in and away we go...
It was nice to not feel rushed through the brush work, and to give everything time to dry before being packed up. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to fire a lovely reduction kiln, and we had beautiful weather for the load and firing.  Given the whirl of activity leading up to the firing, the actual day of was almost like a vacation day, enjoying the sun, watching the birds circle at dusk, even saw some bats!
kiln door, near the end of the firing
A few days later comes the much anticipated unload, and here's where we get to introduce yet another version of flux.  Flux is an element of every ceramic glaze.  Silica is the main glass former, but will not melt at the temperatures used in these firings, so a flux agent is introduced to lower the melt point and allow the glazes to melt (I am not a glaze expert, as the results of this kiln will support, but this info is integral to the rest of this tale).  

So the kiln is opened, and there was a wide range of results.  The celadon glaze I use on the carved tree series acted a bit differently, but was for the most part as expected and with some thinness in the application, brought some interesting results where it broke on the rims.  

carved tree plate

more family trees
The tenmoku glaze that I used more sparingly than I wish I had in retrospect, was juicier than it's ever been, and I can't wait to do more in the next firing.  

juicy glaze!
And then there's my old stand-by, my go-to glaze combo of a kaki glaze with clear over wax brush work.  The variations have always been interesting and welcome, depending on how thick the cover glaze is applied and how long I can wait between each step to get the best resist on the wax.  

this is your pot with flux...
What I found, unfortunately, was that the cover glaze apparently did not flux, so it did not melt.  In fact, it even blistered in some spots.  

these are your pots without flux
There's that first moment, where I thought 'now this is a new variation', but much like that feeling you get when you realize 'no, this is where I parked my car and it's not here!', I slowly realized that 'no, this is not good.'  This is another of those dual-flux moments.  Things are moving - pots unloaded need to go on to fulfill orders and fill inventory, and yet you can't help but pause and wonder just where to go from here.

Because this is my go-to glaze, it was at least half the kiln.  Looking back at my mixing notes, it's impossible to see where it went wrong.  Perhaps it was when I had to stop mid-mix to run out for more materials, perhaps I stuck my scoop into the wrong bin or read the wrong line of ingredient amount.   
For now I'm focused on the parts that worked, sorting work for galleries and any orders that can be satisfied.  Taking these quick shots and prepping to shoot better images for some hopeful show applications for later in the summer.  Several orders are now back on the 'do' list, and after a quick family visit next week, I'll be working to get back into the flow to stock up bisque for another firing.  New glazes will be mixed again, and on we go with the flux.