I am often asked the question “How long did it take you to make this?” Coming up with an answer is not easy considering there are so many steps involved in the creation of a single handmade piece. Each piece that passes through my hands goes through many steps and the timing of those steps is often dictated by the clay itself. In an effort to more thoroughly answer this question for my clients, I decided to create this page. The following is my best effort to summarize all the phases involved in each piece I create.
1. The first step in the process is wedging the clay by hand to remove any air bubble that may exist. This process is similar to kneading bread.
2. “Throwing” on the potter’s wheel. This is the step that is most often thought of when you mention “ceramics“. To accomplish this step, I take a ball of clay, spin it around on my potter’s wheel and transform the ball of clay into a new object.
3. Trimming. The timing of this step depends on the drying speed of the clay. There are many variables involved, such as humidity and other outdoor weather patterns, as well as indoor climate. Normally though, a piece is ready to trim about 24 hours after throwing it. The clay must not be dry or too moist. Trimming under either of these circumstances can jeopardize the structural integrity of the piece. To trim, I pick up the piece, turn it upside down and trim off any excess clay to create the final form. This step allows me to carve a foot into a bowl or a plate. Now the piece will dry again until ready for the next step.
4. Bisque Firing. This is only one of two firings the piece will go through. The piece has dried about one week since being trimmed, before it is ready for the firing. I bisque my work (coined in potter’s terms) at Cone 05. This is essentially 1800 degrees F. The bisque firing takes about 12 hours, and must cool for another twelve hours before unloading.
5. Now the pieces are ready for glazing. I make all of my own glazes. This process for me is a cross between cooking and chemistry. I use three different methods when glazing my work. The most simple (Although my novice mate ascertains that it is much more difficult than I make it look) is dipping the piece into a large bucket of glaze. A more complex method of glazing involves using a spray gun hooked up to an air compressor. It is like a large air brush. I use this technique quite often as I have an aversion to straight lines. Since I often use multiple glazes on one piece, applying my glaze this way allows me to alleviate any lines of demarcation where one glaze stops and another begins.
6. The Final Firing is where all your eggs go into one basket. I fire a 16 cubic feet gas fired “Updraft” kiln. My work is fired to cone 10, which is roughly 2380 degrees F. The kiln does not have a pyrometer to tell me the inside temperature. I use cones to tell me instead. Each cone has a specific melting point. When a cone falls down I know roughly what temperature the kiln has reached. Most Potters use cones even if they have a good pyrometer because the cones reveal much more about the kiln than just the temperature. The kiln is fired for 12 hours and must cool for another 12hours before it can be unloaded.
7. Sanding the bottom is the final execution for most pieces. I sand the bottom of each piece after it comes out of the final firing, to ensure that the surface on the bottom is completely smooth. This perfectly smooth underside alleviates any problems with scratching surfaces that the piece is placed on such as tables and other furniture.
8. Most pieces are finished after the above step, but occasionally a piece may receive special attention beyond this. For example we wrap the handles of some of our serving bowls to create a flattering look that accentuates the glaze even more. In addition some of my wall piece are mounted, hangers are added to the back and some are grouted for a denatured intentional stressed look.