A very good friend of mine asked if I could make a vase similar to one she already owned, but which was recently felled by her daughter’s cat. My initial thoughts were “Wow!”, “What an honour”, and then, “How and when can I attempt this?”.
The vase she showed me was in pieces, was tall (14-16″), had a blue-purple glaze, and had an indigenous-looking depiction of a dancer.
Oh dear! My current pottery experience didn’t include anything over 8″!
So I worked out a schedule, considering I was in the middle of doing pieces for Wood-Firing (a technique and process that I thoroughly have been enjoying!) I told my friend that the earliest I could focus attention on her request would be 5-6 months. She was okay with that – WHEW!
The time came to give ‘er a try. I did have some Bmix Wood clay left and thought I’d experiment with that clay to allow my mind and body to get inline with my spirit to create a tall vase (taller than my usual 8 inches or so).
So off I went.. I talked with my instructor about my intentions and she suggested I try coiling. She provided some tips as I’ve never coiled before.
This was my first attempt:
Let me share with you that I had to make a LOT of coils (and my back ached for a while afterwards), and had to keep them from drying out (in a large plastic zip bag) before I layered coil after coil. My coils were too thick (this I realized later). Looking back I think I may have been okay with thinner coils (I’ll give that a try next).
I wrapped the coils on the outside of a PVC pipe lined with plastic wrap. As the clay slowly dried I would check on vase – I would be pleasantly amazed on how tall (and bumpy from the coils) it was, and so heavy/sturdy. When it came time to trim I didn’t know what to expect. I soon found out that there were little spaces between the coils. Although looking solid, the vase did have what appeared to be little areas of gapping – nothing large that that you see through to the other side – but rather areas where the coils weren’t consistently flush. So I would trim the clay (on the outside and inside) to a degree of smoothness and then tend to the little gaps with some vinegar and reworking/smoothing. It was about this time that I knew I had to seriously think about what type of bottom I was going to put on this baby. So I created a flattened bottom made with a slight curving in the middle, and attached it to the vase once it was slightly less than leather hard. I coiled the inside and outside where I attached the bottom. Whew! I felt so good doing this vase via coils, trimming and putting on a bottom. Wow! A sense of adventure and accomplishment indeed – but I knew I was only 1/2 way to completion.
So while the vase with slowly drying still, I thought I’d starting throwing tall cylinders. I definitely had fun – BUT… and isn’t there usually always a BUT? Something unusual was happening. As I was making the cylinders I noticed little air pockets in the walls. I would try to remedy this as I was throwing the clay and I would do more wedging of the clay before throwing it. Wedging is so very important for this fact alone – as no one wants air bubbles in their work. As stated on Lillstreet Art Center blog page, “The air bubble (will) expand when it is heated in the kiln and the air will have to escape somehow. The point of escape (aka the size of the hole it creates) depends on the size of the air bubble. Wedging also aligns the clay particles so that it is more workable.”
Wedging Technique (image courtesy of meeneecat education materials)
I soon realized that the whole batch of remaining Bmix Wood clay had this issue. My thoughts then entertained the possibilities of 1) making a decent wedge table; and 2) purchasing a clay Pug Mill! Note: Pug Mills save your back, arms and shoulders from aches due to a) tons of wedging because the clay would be de-aired and would have more plasticity due to the mixing/pugging; and b) working hard to center clay that has less plasticity. However, Pug Mills cost around $4,000+, new! Quite an investment indeed.
In the meantime, back to my first coiled vase…
I knew this vase most likely wasn’t going to my friend as the requested vase, so I allowed this as an opportunity to play. And boy did I play! I thought to etch or Sgraffito a design on the exterior – using a red underglaze.
I’ll post a photo shortly of the design, and of course a picture of the final product after the wood-firing. Oh I can’t wait to wood fire these pieces! Stay tuned, and thanks for joining me on this journey of the heart!
Here’s an update! (June 16, 2017)
These pieces are prepped to go into the next Wood-firing scheduled for mid July! These have interior glaze of Gold Shino, with some having Gold Shino external accents. Note a couple pieces have Chakra inspiration.
I have another set of pieces to prep. Going to use a different internal glaze, and will try to accent with some Native American honoring.