Saturday, 24 September 2011

5. Sweet Potatoes and Cumbrian Stone

Hello potters and friends,
Warwickshire weather has gone mad. We're going back to summer next week with highs of 27C. Alan wants to build a shed at the bottom of the garden so bad weather will not be an excuse for opting out of that 'great wee job'. Alan is Irish so this expression is always popping out and applies to just about everything.  So next week I'll be re-locating my great wee compost heap to.....somewhere, after I've cleared a great wee space....somewhere else.
But it's not just the sun that's giving off a bright orange glow. All of the shops are lit up with Halloween paraphernalia. What great fun when my children, Leo and Rosie, were young. Pumpkins flickered on the doorstep. Cobwebs and spiders were draped around the kitchen (not all synthetic unfortunately). Faces were painted, friends were alerted to their Trick or Treat visit and food dye transformed their dinner into cauldron food.
A few years ago, at Halloween time, I was looking for something unusual to make into a plaster mould. I looked at the pumpkins, especially the big ones. How fantastic that would be, but then I chickened out of  such a big undertaking. So I picked up the much smaller sweet potato, held it upright and saw an unusual great wee vase.
After passing the pumpkins in the supermarket the other day I came home, dug out that old mould and made another sweet potato vase.

This is the original found wrapped up with old Christmas decorations!!

The two-piece mould this week with clay pressed in.

Two halves put together with clay slurry and smoothed to hide the join.

I attached a thrown cone-shape to finish the top.

This will be bisque fired when dried out. Making the two piece mould is not difficult and as there are lots of demonstrations of this on Youtube you might like to watch the process rather than having me list all points. But should anyone like me to, I will. Just put that, or any other requests, in the comment box. 

But here's a thought I've just had. What if you wrap the sweet potato in clay and press hard to get all the imprints. Leave it until leather hard then slit it open and remove the potato. These two halves could be bisque fired which means they are porous like plaster and therefore can be used like my plaster mould above. I'll go veg' shopping this week and try it out.

But while we're looking at funny shapes what do you think of this?

This is stage 1 of building my first Cumbrian stone that I enthused about in Blog 2 Cumbrian Inspiration.
After rejecting many sketches and deliberating about hand-building or throwing you can see I went for throwing and then altering the shape at leather hard stage with a damp sponge.
It looked stone-like but a bit boring so I tarted it up somewhat.

Never knowing when to stop I got slightly carried away!

Strangely, I'm really liking it. I'm working on it with sand paper now to make the base area more interesting. I fear I'm going to be working on this for some time. I just can't leave it alone. 
Clay and one's imagination is a most enjoyable great wee partnership!
Happy potting folks. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

4. Winter Draws On.

Hi potters and friends,
The sun shone brilliantly on the Food and Drink Festival last weekend which brought lots of visitors to our town.

Our Pump Room Gardens, Leamington Spa

Alan and I bought freshly baked bread, Morbier cheese from the French stall and the fantastic Hog and Hop sausages that have just been created by our local butcher. 
But since then autumn has suddenly descended with early morning mists and long dewy shadows stretching across the lawn. Leaves are falling and collecting in the pond which will keep me busy for a while but happily the migrating birds have started to appear on the bird-feeder. 

Our garden, early September. The last of summer days.

 However, our resident robin isn't so thrilled. He sits in wait on the apple tree then launches a ferocious attack as soon as an unsuspecting traveller dares to drop by for breakfast.

And here he is, last spring, standing guard .

Alan has just done a check on our log situation. Frighteningly low is the verdict. As our winters get colder and the energy bills get bigger log-burning stove sales have soared. But we not only get heat and a red, cosy glow, we also get the potters' friend .....ASH!  And ash means......GLAZE.
But even if you or a friend don't have a stove you can always burn wood in the garden as long as you don't take soil with it when you collect it as that will ruin your glaze.
My ash glaze was made from the ash tree - other wood will produce a different glaze, which is why it's such an exciting process.  Mine has a soft, creamy, satin look that I love.   

Cream ash glaze on the lower half prevents my tenmoku glaze splashed with margarite from running all over the kiln shelf.

Here's my recipe :                     40%   Ash of you choice
                                                  40%   Feldspar Potash
                                                  20%   Ball Clay
To give it some colour you can add small amounts of oxide.
And here's what you do;

1.  Collect a good half bucket of ash and add water and give it a good stir. Lots of stuff you don't want will float to the surface. Skim this off.
2. Repeat this washing process with fresh water a couple more times.
3. After the last decanting you'll be left with a thick, horrible slurry. I pour this into a plastic bowl and leave it to dry.
4. Mix with the two other ingredients, add water and voila!
But make sure you wear rubber gloves and wear a mask as the ash and the liquid are highly caustic and can be a bad irritant.
Give it a try.
Happy potting folks.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

3. Pots and Tomatoes

Hi potters and friends,
Well, the holiday season is only just at an end here in Warwickshire and my thoughts have already moved on to what to produce for the forthcoming Christmas exhibitions. So this was me last week hard at it in the basement.

However, Alan suggested we needed more coffee cups so making anything to sell is on the back burner!

But I remember I promised to show you the finished pot that I began in blog 1. 

Well, here it is and as you can see it's white, it's glossy, it's had blue glaze thrown at it and I'm distinctly in two minds about it. I think glossy is the main problem but I just don't know. What I tend to do in these circumstances is put it in the living-room and live with it for a while. I'll either warm to it or .........but Sheila you must remember what your teacher once said;  
'Embrace your mistakes as they are your best guide to perfection" 
Yes well, disappointment is very disappointing nevertheless. 
 But what better task to do in these times than take a trip down to the veg' patch to pick some successes. My purple - yes purple - tomatoes are not only as sweet as honey but are magnificently prolific.

However, the neighbours are screaming "NO MORE" and ducking and diving to avoid another bag, so soup is the answer.  And Alan found a recipe that is so good I just have to pass it on.

1. Halve and roast your tomatoes until they burn slightly round the edges.
2. Fry some onions in a sauce pan then add the roasted tom's. 
     (you can add canned tom's at this point if you want to make loads like me.)
3. Throw in a good handful of washed red lentils.
4. Add a couple of pints of stock and a generous sprinkling of dried thyme.
    Lid on and simmer for half an hour.
    Liquidise in your whizzer and eat immediately or freeze for later. Delicious !

But from one oven to another, let's go back to the kiln in the basement.
My next glaze firing will be Alan's coffee cups and a few other pots. I have a small top loader which means that by the time I am putting the final pots on the the top shelf I sometimes have to unload to re-jig the bottom shelf in order to get everything in. What a performance.

Glaze sticks to my fingers, I sometimes have to do re-touching and all in all I don't want to keep handling the pots. My friend Moira who's a potter in Stratford-upon-Avon gave me an excellent tip.
Take your shelf and draw round it, either directly onto your workbench or a sheet of cardboard. As a pot is glazed it can be placed on the drawing. This enables you to see what's what without being bent double over your kiln, your head blocking out the light and your fingers accidentally brushing off glaze onto the  shelf. Thanks Moira. So simple but I would never have thought of it.
Anyway, time for lunch I think. I wonder what I'll be having!!
Happy potting folks.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

2. Cumbrian Inspiration

Hi fellow potters and friends,
Look at us! Alan and I caught a few days in Ambleside in the Lake District.

It was green, green, green when most of the UK still looked like a desert. Yes, we had our fair share of rain but it didn't spoil our trip.
Wray Castle

Lake Windermere

We took a boat trip on the lake and had spectacular views of the mountains. Some draped in a soft white mist, others showing sun-lit yellow slopes disappearing into dense forests at the water's edge. The forest surrounding Wray Castle contains every variety of tree that exists in the UK. A thousand shades of green that turns to a thousand shades of red only to be absorbed into the grey, black choppy waters.
Hey, this is getting very poetic. Well, it is Wordsworth country after all.
Now, was Wordsworth drawn here because he was a poet or did his talent blossom as a result of living in this remarkable landscape? 

Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's Home

We were told as we were guided around Dove cottage that opium was freely taken in those days, not only as a medicine but to kick off a good night out. So that made me think - was that host of golden daffs actually just a couple nodding in his back yard? 
But what inspiration for my work: the shapes and forms of the rocks and the changing colours and patterns of the cloud shadows on the landscape.
Texture grew on every outcrop: round or spiky lichens, black through to silver.
Using all that I've seen I am going to experiment with pots that might resemble such boulders. I'll make small ones first - hand-built or thrown and I'll possibly add paper clay to alter the texture. 
Quite frankly, I can't wait to get at it. I'll post my results be they good or bad.

I have a book "Sources of Inspiration" by Carolyn Genders. Brilliant and beautiful. Her message, as is mine, is to keep your eyes open for anything and everything no matter how commonplace. As with my photos of rocks and landscapes it will be the unique detail that makes what I eventually create, my own.
Start a photo file, keep a box of stones, textiles etc for reference. You may not use any of it straight away but always remember - nothing is ever wasted.
Happy potting folks.