I am still setting up shop here in Nelson and hope to be in the studio making this week- thus far set up has been my main goal (check out this post for a bit of that). So as for in the studio for this week I think it is high time to show you all a bit of what I did this summer. I built a woodfired soda kiln. I built it out of some staple standard kiln building things and some unconventional stuff I had to scrounge from around my property (check out my “ode to building supplies” post). I guess the best way to do explain what happened is in the old step by step. Just keep in mind when you’re creating and learning things are rarely this clear.
1) Get things to build a kiln.
I started out with: 70 odd soft kiln bricks, a roll of superwool/fiberfrax (a highly refractory fabric) and well that was it really, they were the staples.
Then I found: Many semi circular cement blocks, steel beams, chicken wire, old furnace shaft metal, drainage pipe, cement floor pavers, metal house siding and some clay!
2) Design a kiln
with the things you’ve got that meets your demands and desires. In my case what I wanted was a downdraft soda kiln. My goal was to make a kiln that could get to cone 6 (1200 degrees Celsius or so). At first I wanted a woodfired and propane fired kiln. I planned to start with propane and finish with wood in the same firing but that wouldn’t fly. So I cut down spruce trees by hand with a swede saw (check it out). (I was living here in the forest at the time with no road accesses…).
But that wasn’t the problem, this was the problem: How the hell do you hand draft something with so many various components and straight up variables all to scale without losing your mind? My father is an architect. I took drafting in Gr.7 and after doing so vowed never to be one. Yet I always find myself building things. (I just finished building a walkway/deck yesterday). I busted out a right angle and a ruler and my pencil and then even made standard cutout blocks of my basic components, but I had to design the darn thing from many angles and was unsure of a workable scale. So I sketch out ideas like this:
And then I turned to photoshop and realized it has a pretty little function that allows you to define the dimensions of block shapes and so I came up with this:
It made sense to make the kiln partially underground. The chimney an 18 foot tall, foot wide steel drainage pine that had been ripped into two 9ft pieces cause much a do- How to ground it so air could vent? How to make the kiln chamber the right proportion to the chimney draw (you don’t want heat just racing out your kiln you want it to linger, then again you want it to move through not just huddle in one part of the kiln. What was the best way to feed in wood, how much wood would be needed? How to make an arch? How to support the walls as they are only one brick thick? How would all the rain forecasted shift the kilns base? There was lots to consider. There are many rules and suggestions that exist when building a kiln and the best resource I’ve come across is “The Kiln Book” by Frederick L. Olsen (keep your eye open for this review on a Sunday!). It reminded me of things and gave me options like these:
3) Re- Design the kiln
4) Re- Design the kiln again.
So then I came up with this:
5) Go try and build your kiln.
It helps to have a to do list- what to do first etc. It is important to know at this point- at least when you are winging it with random materials as in my case- that you may end up with will be quite different from what you had originally planed.
This is what I did…
Where to start…. Dr.Gail Nichol’s reputation resounds in all ceramic communities in the world as the person who took the Soda Fire movement of the 70’s and 80’s to a whole new level. She is an American gal who re-rooted in Australia, with her husband to raise a family. That is where she stumbled across pottery, across salt firing and eventually soda firing.
Here is her biggest web presence is at Craft ACT, a great organization to check out if you’re ever in the capital of Oz. Here is her Artist Statement, it is always nice to hear what an artist has to say for themselves. Before going to Australia National University on exchange to learn about soda firing I found it was shrouded in a foggy mist of uncertainty. There isn’t much to find as way of information on it (that is certainly changing today and with the publication of some books you can order and on the net if you know where to look… you’ll find enough, but you certainly have to know where to look). Here it is:
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I make generously rounded, eccentric vessels, thrown and manipulated, with lush dimpled surfaces inviting tactile as well as visual responses. The surfaces on these vessels have evolved through years of technical research with soda glazing, development of materials and processes, and investigation of glaze microstructure. The research was done to satisfy a curiosity that was largely aesthetic: a desire to work directly with clay and fire, and to achieve close integration of form and surface. The subtle interplay of technique, materials and aesthetics is an essential part of my art practice.
I am intrigued by the sculptural contrast between closed and open forms, and firing effects on exposed and shadowed clay surfaces. I enjoy playing with impressions of volume and movement. Some forms are seemingly stretched from the inside out and blown up like a balloon; others appear to dance in slow graceful curves or lively waves. For the past several years I have lived and worked at the foot of Mt. Budawang near Braidwood, New South Wales. Moving from a Sydney urban environment to a 120 acre rural property highlighted my sense of space, and consequently, of form. The gently curved yet complex and rugged terrain of the Budawang range is reflected in my fascination with form and its interaction with surface.
My aim as an artist is simply to create beautiful objects: not just pretty things to look at, but a powerful beauty that quietly overwhelms, moves, and reveals some of what human beings are capable of, beyond the ordinariness of existence.
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I was able to carpool to Sydney and attended the opening of Shades of Mass and Form at the beautiful Sabbia Gallery. (See pictures to left) Here is the artist card from the show:
This week’s posts will all be about soda firing and therefore Gail’s name will pop up then and “What is Soda Firing” for a quick explanation. Tomorrow check out the kiln I made this summer, on Friday some beautiful pots full of warmth for this cold fall and on Sunday a look at some books on soda firing!
I went to Australia to soda fire. The scans from my sketchbook to the left show my diagrams of the ANU soda (downdraft) kiln, a little old beast that faired us well, aptly named Brighid! The photo’s up top are of the firings we did over a four-month period! They give you an idea of what is involved.
The arrow in the side view picture indicates the flow of flame and soda in the kiln and through the pots. For a quick explanation of how soda firing works check out this blog posting.
All of this week’s posts have to do with soda firing and kilns. It is a long overdue. I am obsessed with soda firing, the possibilities are endless and the intimate way of firing is something I have long wanted to experience.
This summer I built a woodfired soda kiln! A pretty audacious undertaking and something I hope to do many many many times in the future. If you know anyone that needs help taking down, moving around and building kilns in the Kootenays (or further) I am so eager and willing to help. Kiln building is just the sort of thing you need to jump into and learn as you go! I hope you enjoy this week’s posts. I know I will. Kilns can be seemingly mysterious but they aren’t!
Talk about kilns has been a long time coming on the blog. It may not seem the average Joe’s interest but give this week’s posts a read please. You’ll be surprised what you learn! Firing ceramics is “like painting with fire” and it is too true. Just imagine.
It is no falsity that I love Canada: the geography, the folk, our culture. I however for the last three Canada days, have spent July 1st as a Canadian in Canada unable to participate fully in Canada celebrations, the beer, the camp fires the campy fake maple leaf tattoos. My art work involves a lot of Canadiana, animals mainly. It is after all, the wild I work in and Huck Finnish adventures I valued as a child that I try to evoke with my work. The comfort and unease of our Canadian traditions and geography.
A post card that adorns my fridge, I will likely never send anyone, it is too wonderful. And a sneak peek at the work I was developing Australia. Oh, Canada!
Matt uses slip in such a lush fashion. It used to really bug me that he puts a huge “V” stamp on his cups, right in the middle. V for victory. Then one day I read an article in a back logged ceramics monthly about how he thinks every day making pots is his own personal victory and he named his practice as such to remind him of that joy… Now I don’t mind the V so much.
You have to love a man that makes “travel whisky flasks” as a production item and he soda fires, which is why I am studying here in Australia!
See more of his work and get to know him a bit better. http://www.fullvictory.com/