The Ladysmith Spring Art Tour is set to start on April 24, 2015. It will run from 10 – 4 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our own studio, JoVic Pottery, is open until 5:00 pm. Use this wonderful opportunity by taking the self-guided tour to meet the artists in your neighborhood. Pottery, Glass, Printmaking, Painting, Hand hooked rugs, and so much more. You can also head to the tour Facebook page for more information and some images of the kind of work you’ll be seeing on the tour.
There are loads of beautiful new pots at our studio here in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, including the always collectible Mocha and Crawl or Alligator glazed mugs.
There are wonderful vases, lidded vessels, teapots, and so much more freshly coming from the kiln today and tomorrow. Be sure to stop by, making it a special weekend, checking out the lovely gardens filled with beautiful rhododendron blooms, apple blossom, dogwood blossom, azaleas and more. Yes, come celebrate spring with us.
Feel free to wander the garden, the studio and our showroom. Meanwhile, we’ll do our best to ask for sunny days while you travel our beautiful area.
I once heard an elderly potter say “if I don’t like what I’m getting, I just fire it again.” That was not easy before potters began to fire pottery in electric kilns. In fact, those extra firings often resulted in pots for the yard, if not the garbage can.
Firing pottery at Cone 6 in an electric kiln (in oxidation) wasn’t exciting in the past either. Potters often frowned upon the results, and those with gas or wood-fired kilns which make use of oxygen reduction to bring out the beauty of their glazes swore they would never switch to oxidation. You just could not get a lot of great color development unless you were using commercial glazes–or so it was believed. How could you get that great variation in glazes on your pots if you didn’t have the magic of the reduction fired atmosphere which helped add variety and depth and interest on just a single pot?
But potters love to invent, whether it’s a new tool for their use in the studio, or a new glaze to put on their beloved pots. It seems much of the fun comes from experimenting. While there are still lots of potters quickly dipping their ware in buckets of glaze (and it’s admittedly much less expensive with so little waste), many of us are also using spray booths. This requires a good safe space to work with phenomenal ventilation. It also results in lots of waste of glaze chemicals. The upside, however, is that it enables a very even coating of glaze without the dreaded unintended drips marring the final surface finish.
Not that drips aren’t sometimes desired. But for a potter to be truly happy or excited, those drips need to be placed in such a way as to enhance the work. And since we’re firing in oxidation, and we’re spraying the glazes, well then why not look for ways to enhance color and texture by spraying different glazes onto a pot.
Yes, there’s a lot of experimenting, and not just a few disappointments to contend with along the way. Each glaze causes reactions within the heat of that kiln, and some of those reactions aren’t just to the heat, but to the different glazes introduced.
But back to the original statement, about firing again; it is now not just to salvage failure, we re-fire with intent. We increase the number of firings in order to bring about results we could not otherwise have with the typical bisque followed by one glaze fire. We don’t just add the exciting variety that potters formerly achieved with gas or wood-fired kilns: we have taken that to brand new heights. We don’t have to spray a pot evenly with just one color, we can use bits here and there, spraying gently, choosing a heavier application here and lighter one there.
After our initial bisque firing, we fire glazed pots at lower temperatures to ensure that the glazes adhere or you might say that they are baked on, usually at cone 04 somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 ° F. Sometimes we add more glazes and again fire at that low temperature before finally firing our pots to maturity (or to a stoneware state) at Cone 6, approximately 2200 ° F. Some pots may have 3, 4, or even 5 firings before we decide they’re finished and ready to sell.
For a final finish, some of our pots are treated to a crawl glaze application, and this, too, is comical when we think about the former “taboo” of having a glaze crawl on our pottery.
With electric oxidation firing, we can play to our heart’s content. We can introduce and generally control the crawl so that it enhances our work. And that’s true for our ash glaze applications as well. Ash glazes tend to run, but instead of worrying about the runs, we carefully introduce them just where we know they are likely to bring about some incredible beauty. The pots that in ages past relied on wood ash to create their glazes, well, I guess we’ve experimented and found ways of using them in an electric oxidation atmosphere.
And just like that elderly potter, we’re happy to believe that we can even re-fire a pot that had previously reached stoneware maturity.
There are so many things that provide artists with fairly quick results; photography, some styles of painting, drawing…. It does not take too long before these artists know whether or not they’ve achieved their desired results.
Of course there are many other arts that require patience, and that’s certainly true for pottery. Even so-called rapid fire methods, like raku, still require time and patience.
With stoneware pottery waiting for the final results can be a very slow process. From mixing and preparing clay, through creating with clay, drying it, adding engobes or slips, drying a little more, adding handles or knobs or spouts, and drying a little more.
Bisque firing the work, and hoping you’ve dried it enough to prevent warping or cracks from appearing, or engobes flaking off.
Adding dipped, poured, or sprayed layers of glazes. Drying the pottery again. Oh yes, and drying a full day between the layers to ensure that each glaze is completely dry before another layer is added.
Possible firing another bisque, but this time with glazes on the work.
Waxing the pottery in places where you don’t want further glazes to adhere, especially the bases of the pots that stand on shelves in the kiln.
Applying additional glazes, and then waiting for these to dry before carefully loading the kiln for that all important final glaze temperature firing.
Of course it’s important to try to maximize the work coming out of a kiln. That means waiting until you have assorted sized items to take advantage of the space available. Yes, tons of waiting between every step.
Once you’ve gone through all these steps you’ve probably been waiting anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months for some of those special pots to make it to the shelves in your showroom. In fact, you sometimes wait so long you can’t remember what you were hoping to see. Maybe the waiting is a good thing; after all, every time you unload a glaze firing, you’re surprised, and while not every surprise is wonderful, you’re always excited and sometimes blissfully happy.
One of the things we love about being artists as well as artisans and also potters (and yes, the distinction is deliberate) is the fact that we are able to continue to experiment with a vision to always improving all our work. Our studio is not limited to work that creates art for art’s sake. We also create functional stoneware, and by its nature, this means a certain amount of production, in other words, repetition. Without the added joy of striving to make this work fresh by developing new glazes and styles, we’d soon reach a level of boredom and mediocrity that would make our work become a form of drudgery.
Years of experience and practice naturally also changes the work. Our own growth, starting in 1979, stems from the knowledge gleaned from many years of such practice and experience. However, our work is also a reflection of our interests, and is additionally influenced by the nature around us here on beautiful Vancouver Island. Testing glazes, developing new approaches, searching for ways to bring our vision to life helps us to bring a reality to our vision.
Vic has become more and more keenly interested in pushing limits when it comes to glazing, and these days he loves spraying layer after layer of glaze on some of his pots. Unlike other potters who traditionally limit techniques that might use ash or crawl glazes to decorative pottery, Vic enjoys seeking ways to incorporate these techniques into production and functional ware. His goal is to make each piece, whether it be a mug, a goblet, a bowl, an urn, a teapot, or those incredibly unique one-of-a-kind decorative items into art. Functional stoneware pottery is the bread and butter income for our studio, while the decorative work is the dessert. But since every single piece created is made by hand, it needs to fulfill us at a creative level too.
I found myself thinking about the development of our glaze technology over the years. Initially my own experiments involved learning about each of the ingredients by firing them separately onto small bowls. This let me see what worked as a flux and what worked to stiffen and so on. The next step involved combining these elements to understand what happened in synergy. My original glaze tests were all done by trial and error. I learned heaps, but the results weren’t often exciting or of use. Even the glaze chemistry courses didn’t add much to my working results. In time we learned about glaze unity and began to understand much more about the interaction between elements at different temperatures and using varying approaches to bringing our kilns to our desired temperature, or holding the work to soak at a specific temperature, or cooling the work in specific cycles. Of course many of those things weren’t really possible either before the onset of computer controlled kilns which we can set up to suit ourselves.
Picasso, one of the most prolific artists of all time, started out by following the rules before intentionally breaking them and developing his unique style. Likewise, authors like James Joyce, intentionally breaking all the norms of English, stands out for us as a literary giant. Sometimes people who read such works are confused, as are those people who just don’t get cubism, or abstract art. I would say that the artist who not only understands and can follow the rules of art is also the artist who can choose to break those rules. Isn’t that actually the mark of true art–a way to move forward and find a new expression for your work?
The joy of creating is fraught with failure–at least in terms of work that we can sell and earn from. But there is no failure at all when the work teaches us so much, and when it both teaches and delights us, it keeps us interested. We continue to strive for ways to break the rules and find new expression.
Aside from mixing, pugging, wedging, throwing, trimming, handling and drying pots before they ever go through that first bisque firing, we frequently add yet one more technique: we add layers of sprayed on engobe to the bone dry work. Here are just a few pictures of Vic Duffhues doing just that.
In some cases, the pots are sprayed with what we might call the main engobe, and in case you’re wondering what that is, I’ll explain. There are multiple techniques used to add color and depth to pottery. Slip, possibly most commonly used, is a wetter version of the clay itself, sometimes with an oxide added for color. It is generally applied to pottery that is considered leather-hard, well before a pot is dry enough to be fired. Engobes generally have a much lower clay content, and they can be applied to a wider range of pottery in various stages. Like slips, they can have colorants added, including commercial stains or oxides.
We like spraying layers of color onto our work and usually do this when the pots are bone dry. We generally use an engobe for the first application, allowing it to dry before adding another different engobe, or sometimes a smoother and finer Terra Sigillata. There are many recipes for engobes, slips and terra sigillata available and each will work differently depending upon time of application, clay body, firing temperatures and so forth. As with all underglaze applications, potters have to experiment and fine-tune before coming up with a version that works best for them.
When these pots are once again bone dry, they are fired in the kilns to somewhere in the neighborhood of about 1000 ° C or approximate 1950°F, all depending on how hard or soft we want the pots to be before we apply final glazes. If you’re curious about firing temperatures, you can consult this chart from Bellevue College.
Many of our pots actually go through three firings before we reach that final finish we’re seeking. During our second firing, which we also do at a lower bisque temperature, we can fire on glazes so that they will be stiff enough to allow handling, but soft enough to allow for further glazing. We do this to add depth and richness and texture, a step that ensures that glazes will marry in the final firing. One of our final glazes is actually frequently called lizard skin or alligator glaze. It has to be applied to a pre-fired underglaze because it is actually a reticulated glaze, meaning that it shrinks more than the glaze surface underneath. The shrinkage during drying and firing leaves the surface beneath this glaze visible. This technique would once have been considered a glaze flaw and named a crawl glaze, but it has become rather popular in the last 15 or so years being deliberately applied to decorative pottery. Our studio is unique in the way the technique is applied to functional stoneware pottery.