continuing education

Today is a snow day in Memphis- I'd planned to glaze, but we started the day without electricity and bitter cold (and it's been snowing all day- leaving a deposit of fine snow over ice), so I decided to give myself a catch-up day to finish a project, make some new plaster molds, and experiment a little.

As a largely self-taught potter, I've often felt like I have large gaps in my ceramic knowledge.  I read several clay-oriented magazines and have taken some classes, but most of what I know comes from experience and advice from other potters.  When affordable classes are offered locally, I try to avail myself of the opportunity.  Over the past five weeks I've been taking Diana Fayt's second online Clayer class.  It's been so interesting, challenging- a stretch of my skills and imagination.  We're entering out last week and I'm excited to see how our projects will turn out.  Here's what I've done thus far:

clayer mosaic.jpg

From the top right: we began by making plaster molds.  I made a huge platter mold, some small dessert bowls, an oval serving dish, and a few other pieces I have yet to play with.  My ideas are flowing- deviled egg plates, molds for tumblers (such as the faux bois tumblers I tried last week), butter dishes- oh, the possibilities.  At left, we used the plaster molds to make bisque press-molds.  I have tried to replicate the look of hobnail glass pieces for some time but never got past my dislike of either using slip to form the dots (and then smooth them, because the slip dots were always pointy) or rolling individual pieces of clay and slipping and scoring them on.  I used a rounded dowel from my tool collection to make hobnail impressions in two bowls and the oval serving dish.  I've bisqued my first pieces and can't wait to play with some new transparent glazes with them.

Bottom left: we worked with making our own stencils- both in a single color and in a three-color process.  My favorite stencils are the most simple- namely small circles from my hole punch.  I also made a test tile and some custom mugs for my dentist.  It was fun to play with color and images in a new way.  Last week was perhaps my most difficult week in the class.  What you see to the lower right is my fourth attempt at our assignment- to combine a press-molded form with stenciled slabs.  My impatience and a smaller scale hurt me in previous efforts- the slab walls either wouldn't stand up, or the bowl collapsed under the weight of the slab, or I smeared the underglaze and/or the design on the press mold.  But failure is often how we learn best, so I repeated the steps, let the pieces rest and firm up for nearly 24 hours, and began again.  This time, on a larger scale and refined technique (and with more stable materials), it worked!  This week we'll explore more surface decoration techniques  on the exterior of the piece.

One thing I love about Diana's work is her continuation of surface design over the entirety of the piece- inside, outside, top, bottom.  Always something new to discover, which definitely sets handmade work apart from mass-produced work.  This is my third class (2 have been e-courses) with Diana, and I've learned new techniques that have enriched my work each time.  I use the wheel for most of my work, but after this course, I think I'll be using my new collection of molds more often. 

Tomorrow I hope to get my glazing done and fire the big kiln, then trim several big pieces I made last Thursday.  Earlier the  doorbell rang and I was greeted with three large boxes of glaze ingredients- I'm all set to learn to make glazes with my friend Brit in the  coming weeks.   But if it's another snow day. . . .