Our studio, JoVic Pottery, is open pretty much all year. During the cold post-Christmas month, we do slow down, and that was especially true this past winter when we were walloped by snow storm after snow storm and cold temperatures we haven’t seen here in many decades.
But today I can tell you that production is back up, and there are lots of wonderful mugs, bowls, vases, dinnerware items, wine cups, tea pots, lidded vessels and of course Acrylic Abstract paintings practically singing in the sunshine.
Vic got into the studio even during that cold weather (despite our involvement with the Ladysmith Little Theatre and our roles in Absolutely (perhaps), he managed three dinnerware orders.
He’s also developed some exciting new ideas for dinnerware which uses the fantastic crawl glaze approach relying on multiple firings to make the glazes beautiful and durable while providing exciting texture and stunning beauty.
The sample images were taken with my cellphone and may not be as beautiful as the work itself. We hope visitors to our studio will take the time to see, touch and enjoy our exceptional stoneware dinnerware and artistic as well as functional pottery. There are also some amazing abstract paintings by Josee Duffhues on display.
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.
The making of quality stoneware pottery, whether functional or decorative, is far from a rapid process. Aside from clay preparation, pots made require careful drying before they can even be put through their first bisque fire. But just the making is a time consuming thing, especially for large vases that are thrown in two stages.
Getting the neck onto the base requires careful joining; after all, if the pot is not put together correctly, the neck would come free of the vase. Careful smoothing and finishing is needed.
Then there’s a process that allows us to get some color onto the pieces before a first firing–of course not until the pieces are bone dry. We often spray the work with engobes, or brush on slip.
Once the pottery is again bone dry, we’re able to place the work into the kiln for a first firing. We bring them up slowly and cool slowly as well to avoid any potential cracking or warping through this cycle.
The cooled pots then need waxing before we can glaze. If we didn’t wax the bottoms the pottery would end up stuck to the kiln shelves.
Once the waxing is finished, we can get on with the work of glazing. This is frequently a slow process because we tend to use multiple glazes and each coat must be completely dry before we add a next layer. Bisqued pottery is still somewhat porous, and the water base of the glazes is absorbed into the work, requiring careful and total drying between each step.
Some of our pottery is actually put through a few low temperature firings. This ensures that the first layers of glaze are fired on, allowing us to handle the pottery without smudging or accidentally removing some of the glazes. Though the glazes in this case have not reached a mature melt, they are stable enough to handle.
Fired on glazes really help with some of our more complicated glaze applications. Crawl glazes, for instance, cannot be applied to glazes unless they have already been fired on at a lower temperature. By their very nature, as reticulating glazes, they would pull up any immature glazes they were placed on and instead of an attractive crawl, exposing lovely sub-surface colors or glazes, they’d end up exposing some terrible peeling effect that exposed clay.
Each kiln load has us looking forward to seeing whether what we envision at the start of making our work actually lives up to our hopes.
With the glazes applied, the final drying begins.
Once we’re sure the pots are dry, we can carefully load the kiln. Great care must be taken with vertical vases that have crawl glazes applied near the base.
A slight bump and the glaze will fall off the pot, potentially leaving bare spots where they might not be desired, and also fusing to expensive kiln shelves or other kiln furniture.
Some of the final results pleased Jo Duffhues immensely–not so Vic. He’ll likely take the vases he’s not thrilled with and apply additional glazes for yet another re-fire.
I have to remind him that some of our customers love the pieces that he is not excited about at all. The trouble is that when we work we have an idea of the outcome we’re seeking, and if things don’t turn out that way, we tend to think it’s a failure. It’s very hard to get past that kind of negative response. But since I love these pieces, I think they’re a great success.
Yes, these are the vases that Vic is seen making in the images above. Now it’s just a question of who wins the argument–will they be fired once again?
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.