Tag Archives: karatsupots

I have this recurring nightmare…

before every firing of the wood kiln. Actually it is four separate recurring nightmares. In the first, I am loading pots onto normal wood shelves in a fairly standard living room, for some reason not worrying that the lot of it will burn up with the entire house. BUT, for some reason, I always remove all of the lamps and light fixtures, because they and they alone can’t handle the  high temps.

In the second, we are firing the kiln as usual, and we are into the third day, just hours before finishing and I realize that I FORGOT TO LOAD THE KILN… This one is by far the worst of the dreams. The feeling of sudden panic is positively sublime. Very happy to wake up (and realize it was just a dream) after this one…

The next is not quite as bad as the previous, but still pretty unsettling.  It starts out well enough: I have just unloaded a very successful firing and am so happy with it that I decide to fire again. Because it is a dream, I miraculously have enough glazed ware to load the kiln up again in about 2 days (Normally takes me 10). I get everything loaded, and start the fire, but about a day into the firing I realize I ONLY HAVE ONE DAY WORTH OF FIREWOOD! This one also wakes me up with that icky panicky feeling.

The third is not a nightmare per se, but a recurring dream about a kiln that doesn’t exist. It is a large single chamber, with white interior, and there are shelves on the walls and in the center of the large chamber on a sort of island. The floor, walls, and island are all white and rough with kiln wash. There is no chimney, and the kiln is connected to the fire box via an elevated brick tunnel, which goes out the rear of the chamber about 2 meters, turns 90 degrees right, stretches about 8 meters, then takes another 90 degree right turn, where extends forward and turns into the firebox. From the firebox to the kiln forms a large U shape. Even more strange, the firebox is open to the sky and steps up to the flue channel, which somehow ‘sucks’ in the heat of the fire. The firebox is probably 4 meters long/deep, and the wood used is huge: entire tree trunks shoved in and stacked in a criss cross pattern, burning.  Any one have a kiln that looks like this?

Coming up to this fall firing in Oct., I feel as though everything is under control, and no particularly strong feelings of anxiety, yet the dreams continue, including 2 nights in a row now, a dream of some of my teeth falling out. Seems quite normal in the dream at least…

Trying Out Something New

I decided to try out a new form to put in the next firing. A clam shaped dish that is a sort of Karatsu standard. They are nothing special, and pretty much everyone makes them, so there seem to be MANY ways to get from point A to point B.

Ko-Karatsu Hamaguri Food Dishes 古唐津 蛤向付
Ko-Karatsu Hamaguri Food Dishes
古唐津 蛤向付

The first thing I always do when trying out something new, is look through my collection of old Karatsu ware pictures and books, to see if I can find an example, with measurements, of what I want to make. Well, this time around it seems that although everyone seems to be making them now, there are very few examples of this form recorded in Karatsu ware related books. Or at least the ones I have in my studio.

I managed to find the same 5 piece set of old Karatsu Hamaguri dishes (clam shaped dishes) in 3  different publications (above). And, none of them show the bottom of the dish, or a closeup of the folded lip that makes the clam shape. I made a few, tried cutting the lip and overlapping, pulling the lip up and folding over, and  a few more things, but all I ended up with were forms that just didn’t click.

Whenever I get stumped, I give my mentor a call. He usually has some advice that gets me out of my hole and gets me back on track. In this case, I asked him if there was some sort of not so obvious ‘trick’ involved in getting the shape right for this particular form. As usual, Tsuruta sensei gave me some very good advice, and even sent me some close up photographs, which helped a lot.  So, here’s what I came up with:

Now, I tried doing the bending and folding at various stages of drying and I’m here to tell you that it is best done when they are still sticky wet. I suppose it depends on your clay, but for the stuff we have around here, bending and folding is like asking for fate to show up in your studio with a big baseball bat.

That said, although it folded better when wet, it had a nasty habit of  unzipping vertically down the pot 10 minutes later. That’s where the extra blob of clay came in handy. It seems that not only is it decorative, but it also keeps the pot together until it stiffens up a bit. Who knew?!

Honestly, these are my favorite discoveries: when I find a decorative element that is actually not  a decorative element at all, but rather an important part of the process cleverly disguised as decoration.


Finishing Up The Rear Chamber

Today  the second chamber was finally finished.  I’m not going to brick it in yet, since I have probably forgotten something important, and I want quick access if necessary, until the fire is actually lit. Unbricking an rebricking a door would be on my list of less than desirable ways to spend a day.

While the farther stack was packed with more vanilla type blended clay bodies, this front stack is mostly bodies composed entirely of native clay and stone. Some of it got white slip, but it all got the same clear glaze, so I don’t have to guess too much about temp in the rear chamber when I fire.

Below are some pics of brush deco, slip, and loading. I am happier with a lot of the brush work this time around, but some things still just give me fits, like trying to draw long fluid shrimp whiskers on a round pot. Gah! Need more practice…

TV Crew Visit Studio

Today I had a very nice visit from a television station who did a very nice job of filming the studio, as well as conducting an interview with me for a show segment coming up in August. They filmed the studio and kiln, me making a coil and paddle jar, me glazing a bisqued piece of  similar form, and also finished pieces which had the same glaze as the demo forms.

All in all, a very thorough job on their part, although I have no idea how they will edit everything down to fit in a 5 minute segment.

I had taken photos of the crew to put up on the blog, but apparently the station prefers not to have behind the scenes images of its projects made public, so I am leaving them out for now.

I will, however, include a few images similar to what may show up on the air in a few weeks. Also, once the show airs and the segment is viewable on the internet, I will post a link to it for all this blog’s viewers.

Bisque 素焼き

Today is the first load of bisque aimed at the fall firing of the wood kiln.  About 28 ware boards worth of pots, I really tried to get as much packed in as possible, to maximize the gas used.

I don’t pack glaze firings very tight because I want the calories getting around to  everything, but for bisque I’m not too picky.
700C – 750C is my usual peak temp,  I like the ware to be very absorbent for glazing, however the resulting ware is quite fragile and needs careful handling.

This time around there are quite a few slab plates of various shapes and sizes, which I am a bit worried will crack. These are stacked on spacers, then more spacers between stacked plates, because I don’t want to take any chances with cracking. The rest of everything is pretty safe, so packed and stacked without too much thought other than to get as much in as possible.

Clay/Centipede Storage

In 2010, when we started digging the trench for the wood kiln, we found a seam of clay from about 60cm – 90cm down. This 30cm thick seam stretched as far as we dug, but with varying levels of iron. I ended up keeping a few hundred kilos of the lightest stuff, and it has been taking up space in bags that have been slowly decomposing over the last 3 – 4 years.

Finally, I rallied the gumption to get that big pile of clay moved today. First, I built an enclosure on the edge of the property behind the kiln chimney, then I started shoveling. The bags were so far gone that they just tore apart if I moved them, so there ended up being very little heavy lifting.

Scavenged  roadside construction boards.
Scavenged roadside construction boards.

I recently came into a big load of boards used by roadside crews to build temporary retaining walls. They are nice sturdy pine boards (2 1/2 inches thick) and are great for all sorts of projects, although they are not all that great looking.

I ended up just pounding in some steel stakes and tying the boards to them. I looked for some little screw-in brackets to go around the rods and onto the wood, but alas this is Taku, and none of the hardware stores had that sort of hardware.  This happens often, and my go to solution is almost always the same: stainless steel wire. It is cheap, comes in various thicknesses, and pretty much lasts forever once in place.

Stainless steel ties.
Stainless steel ties.

Once two sides were finished, I had a place to put clay, but the storage area is not quite finished. I still plan to put in  one or two dividers, so that I have 2 or 3 sections for storing different types of clay. Here is what it looks like so far:

Clay settling into its new home.
Clay settling into its new home.
Clay from the kiln trench
Clay from the kiln trench
Clay from the neighborhood reservoir
Clay from the neighborhood reservoir

The clay that is still in bags came from about 200 meters away, from the farm reservoir. We drain and muck it out once every 2 years, and that is when I discovered the clay seam.  It is not very refractory clay, but it makes very nice pots if fired to the proper temp.

During the process of moving all of this clay, I ended up killing 4, count ’em 4, centipedes , ranging from medium to gargantuan. Normally I would let them go, but lately I’ve been getting a lot of them in the workshop, and they have  a very nasty bite.