My blog post about my new photo stand has made it into Ceramics Monthly! This is the Tips and Tools column in the December 2013 issue.
Originally published in Ceramics Monthly, December, 2013, page 16. http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org . Copyright, The American Ceramic Society. Reprinted with permission.
I had to laugh at myself the other day. I was browsing through my blog posts from last December, and realized that I referred to 2012 as "a year of change," in reference to the way I had redefined the wholesale side of my business. If I could travel back in time I'd tell myself "Change? That's cute. Wait until you see what's coming." Let's see, so far this year I got a new studio. I got a new kiln. I got a new car. My day-to-day life is completely different now. The time was right for all of these things, and all three have resulted in great dividends already.
But I am not done yet. This post is about another big change. This year I changed clay bodies. A professional potter does not do this lightly. In fact, the first time I thought "maybe it's time for a different clay" was 1.5 years ago. Then i spent a whole year trying out different clays, and combinations of clays. There is a lot to figure out. How does the clay look? How do I fire it? Does it work with my existing glazes? Is it as durable? How much does it cost? Where can I buy it? By the summertime, right around the time I was settling into my new studio, I felt confident that i had found a new clay.
The new clay is actually two clays mixed together. It is two parts Highwater Red Rock plus one part Standard 266. I mix them in my pug mill. Both of these clays are readily available at my local supplier, Clayworks Supplies. So whenever I need more, a truck will deliver it in a few days. It is more expensive than my old clay, but still affordable. It looks almost exactly like the old clay, only with fewer speckles, which I have gotten used to. It feels a whole lot different when throwing because it contains much less grog, but I've grown to prefer this. And now the unglazed bottoms of my pots have a smoother hand feel. I had to lower my glaze firing temp by a few degrees, and I had to tweak the recipe of one of my glazes. But overall I am really pleased, and I'm glad I went through this process.
Here's a look at a typical clay processing session. From right to left ... on top of the pugmill are scraps from hand-building, torn into roughly one-pound balls. Next is reclaimed clay from wheel-throwing (I slake down the trimmings into sludge, spread the sludge out on plaster batts, let it dry until it reaches the moisture level of throwing clay, then slice it into one-pound chunks). Next comes a full bag of Red Rock, sliced into 32 pieces. Finally, that's a half bag of Standard 266, also sliced into 32 pieces. I'll put all of this through the pug mill, taking pieces from each pile in successive order.
What a lovely sight! This is about 100 pounds of freshly pugged clay. Can't wait to attack it!
What prompted this change? Well, I can't explain this without violating my ground rules for this blog. I have never believed in criticizing people on my blog. It's not because I never encounter unpleasant people while working as a potter. It's just that there are so many reasons to be grateful, and honestly the unpleasant people population is pretty low around here. It's not worth griping about. So I will state this as matter-of-factly as I can. I had no problems with the old clay. I was no longer interested in working with the manufacturer of that clay. I understand that this is a huge company that supplies clay for institutions far larger than me. But I got tired of them letting me know that my one-person pottery studio didn't matter to them.
Believe it or not, I am not done with the big changes this year. I have one more. I'll write about it next month. It is a direct outcome of all the other changes. My pottery business is growing in surprising ways, and once again I am struggling to manage the workload. So I need to let go of some things. Unlike everything else, this change has not been a happy process. At best it has been bittersweet, at times it has been very troubling. I'll explain it all when I'm ready. I might allow myself to criticize one more person.
Mea Rhee, the potter behind Good Elephant Pottery
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