Inspiration and Influences
Some of the main influences in my work are English Slipware, Japanese and Korean folk pottery, Minnesota potters and North American Appalachian pottery.
These regions, time periods and approaches to making pottery create the foundation for the work I make. Nature has a huge influence on me, and I try to capture a sense of movement and energy through my gestural mark-making. The mark-making on my pots is reminiscence of Impressionist paintings but subtractive instead of additive.
I am drawn to soda and wood firing. I experiment with numerous flashing slips and several commercial clay bodies where I slowly develop my vocabulary to achieve surface results and colors that are of interest to me.
Clay and Slips
I use commercial clays and mainly white grog-less stoneware and porcelain. Experimenting with different clay bodies and slips is where I get to play. My language is centered around form, pattern, color and surface finish; using just a few clays in my studio combined with different types of flashing slips. These clay and flashing slip combinations in relationship with heavy reduction firing to create carbon trapping, is largely where my interest lies. An array of results can be created through this relatively simple and direct approach. The use of white stoneware with flashing slips allows for a bright and distinctive surface, highlighting the kiln atmosphere.
I apply the slip when the pots are leather-hard. Slipping a pot that has been bisque fired will not work with this technique. The porous bisqueware absorbs the slip too quickly and dries, not allowing me to draw through the wet slip.
Once a pot is trimmed, handled or completed in the leather hard stage I will wax the bottom. The wax protects the foot or the bottom by preventing the slip from pooling and absorbing into the pot when its upright after it has been slipped. The layer of wax also helps prevent the pot from sticking to the surface I am placing them on to dry. Cleaning slip off of the foot is also easier with a layer of wax.
The surface decorations are made after the slip has been applied to the pot, but before the slip sets up. Timing is everything. There is a narrow working window before the slip fully sets up where I can make marks that are smooth and fluid. In the working window, the slip needs to be set up just enough so it won’t run down distorting the designs. At the same time, the slip needs to be wet enough so that you are able to draw through the slip to expose the clay body underneath. In essence, this is a form of the sgraffito technique using my fingers to draw through the wet slip rather than carving through to the clay body. I have tried other approaches than using my fingers to make the marks but enjoy the line quality that my fingers have more than a tool. The sensitivity and control of my fingers really allows me to feel the pressure and make specific adjustments to achieve a fluid sense of movement and texture. The action of the decorating process is exciting and my favorite step.
The process of how each pot will get slipped depends on the form and the size. I dip, pour and brush the slips on my pots. I apply the slip at a firm leather hard state. If the pot is too soft the moisture from the slip can make the pot even more tender, making it a challenge to work with. On the opposing side, if the pot is too dry the slip can slake down the clay when it is applied. Applying the slip when the pot is a bit too dry can also cause it to flake right off of the surface. I have tried to cheat and get away with slipping a pot that I suspected was too dry; it’s all good until you get it out from the bisque firing and the slip shivers right off.
The flashing slips that I use generally like to be quite thin. I think of it as skim milk. If the slip is too thick it’s difficult to get a smooth even coat. On the other hand, if the slip is too watered down the application tends to be thin and translucent. What I am looking for is a thin opaque coverage of the slip on the outside of the pot. The thickness or thinness of a flashing slip can have dramatically different results. The color and surfaces can vary depending on how thin or thick the coat is. I would recommend testing to see what results you like. Flashing slips, by their nature, flux where wood ash or soda make contact with the piece and are more refractory when not exposed to fluxing agents (like ash or soda) in the kiln. Each flashing slip has its own characteristics. For instance, slips that have a lot of glass can be shinier and carbon trap more while slips that have less glass and more clay tend to have a drier finish to them.
The exterior surfaces of my work have no glaze only slips, while the interior has a liner glaze. I try to compliment the flashing slip color with the liner glaze color. My recent go-to liner glazes are Celadons and Shino glazes.
Grolleg Flashing Slip
60 Grolleg Kaolin
40 Nepheline Syenite
Red Flashing Slip
40 Nepheline Syenite
10 Om4 Ball Clay
Bauer Flashing Slip
46.81 Ball Clay
11.73 Zircopax (add)
I fire in several different kilns. My personal kiln is a small propane updraft kiln roughly about 7 cubic ft. One of the colleges where I teach recently converted an old Alpine updraft into a soda kiln which has been super nice. I also woodfire with a community here in the Bay Area. I am going for carbon trapping and dynamic dramatic flashing results on the surfaces.
The flashing slip results can vary depending on how you fire and, like I said before, the thickness or thinness of the slip. I start introducing soda at cone 9. I spray Sodium Carbonate (Soda Ash) dissolved in hot water. I have been using the ratio of 1.5 lbs of Soda Ash to ¾ of a gallon of hot water. I have found that if I increase the soda ash content to the same amount of water the soda ash does not fully dissolve in the water.
I start by putting the kiln in reduction and adding some small pieces of wood into the burner chambers. Then I begin spraying soda in all the ports of the kiln. Having the kiln in a reduced atmosphere is important during this time. The wood also creates carbon in the kiln and helps to create carbon trapping. Once I have sprayed in all of the ports, I’ll leave the kiln in reduction and come back in 15-30 minutes and then begin the entire process again until all the soda has been introduced. In my personal little kiln, I add 3 lbs. of soda while in my school's larger 20 cubic ft kiln I have been adding 6 lbs. I like the waves of spraying soda to slowly build up layers of glass and carbon on the surfaces. From my experience, introducing soda in waves rather than spraying it all at once delivers different results.
Every kiln is different, and everyone’s taste is different, so experimentation is key. This is what I do to get the results that I like with the kiln designs I fire in. It’s about figuring out how to get the results that you want with the kiln you have. Playing with how you fire, how you introduce soda and how to get what you like. That’s the game. There is no perfect stagey it’s all case by case so enjoy!