Subtle Changes

11 March, 2016

Little iron jugs, Elaine Bolt

My firings use a gas kiln, in reduction, and such firings can always be a little unpredictable. I’ve become used to the subtle changes that occur from firing to firing and from shelf to shelf depending on the glaze mix, the temperature differences, the amount of reduction, the weather and even the whims of the kiln goddess. My latest firings have brought this to my attention a little more than usual with a set of unexpected outcomes.

My pale green glaze (seen below left), often clear with very little crackle is now a crackle glaze that appears softer and more muted this time (below right). I like it but it’s different. To achieve this finish I applied the glaze a little more thickly and fired it a little lower down in the kiln. Only two seconds longer in the glaze and 10 degrees of temperature difference appears to be all that was needed produce this slightly altered surface.

With some of my pieces I dip the rim in an iron rich glaze underneath a frosty white glaze. The two jug rims above have had the same glazes applied, the one on left from a previous firing. This time the pieces had a couple of seconds longer dip in the iron glaze tub, which is what, I think, changed the lichen green rim (left) to a coffee brown with frosting (right). Again, I love the result, but it’s just so different. The frosty white glaze, by the way, turns a shiny celadon if I move it just one shelf up. So I have to consider the effects of positioning in the kiln as well as the thickness of the glaze.

Positioning in a gas kiln is a subtle art. In the same firing, the dark mat bottles above left were next to each other at the back of the kiln, but one has come out with a blush on the side. There must have been a patch in the kiln just there, where there was a weaker reduction. Happily it appeared just where my potter’s mark was placed. It looks almost intentional, but I couldn’t have made it do that if I tried. One of my jugs, however, was too close to the gas flame from the burner, creating a, not so subtle, flash of unreduced clay body at the side. Interestingly the glaze on the rim of the piece, just above it seems unaffected. Re-firing might not save this one, so it may just end up in my own motley collection of pots for the kitchen.

Other subtle changes that have been taking place lately have occurred on the Making Ground project that I’m working on with basket maker Annemarie O’Sullivan. We’ve been collecting samples of local clay at a former brickworks in East Sussex. Some of the clay appears blue/grey when initially dug up, but appears to turn a buff/yellow colour when exposed to the air. I don’t know much about this phenomenon but assume its something to do with the iron in the clay reacting with the air. The samples we’ve tested all seem quite different ranging from firm to smooth to crumbly and dark brown to light yellow. But firing at bisque temperature has evened out some of the differences. Now you must study them closely to appreciate their variations. Find out more about the project on the Making Ground blog.

 

Space and Place

18 January, 2016

New landscapes

I’m currently working towards two spring shows that will focus on place and the local landscape. Some of my work draws heavily on the Sussex countryside and the coastline for reference. For a couple of years I’ve been making some pieces that have elements influenced by buoys or ship’s floats that I often find on the beach at Newhaven and Dungeness.

Elaine Bolt, ceramic buoys

Ceramic ‘Buoys’ by Elaine Bolt

But I might find my influences shifting as my daily routine begins to focus on the urban environment of the city of Brighton and Hove. There’s still the coast there, but it’s a very different kind of seaside. It’s not just the surroundings of the pier and nightclubs and shops; the sea actually looks different somehow. No doubt, the Sussex countryside and seascape will still be a huge part of my work. But it will be interesting to see if this change begins to be reflected in small ways in my work, as I go through the year.

A new studio space

In November 2015 I moved from my workshop at home to a new ceramics studio in Brighton. I’m now based at Atelier 51 in Brighton along with fellow ceramicist Silvia K, artists Sarah Young and Rhoda K Baker. It’s also the new HQ for craft event organisers Tutton and Young.

New studio space at Atelier 51

Early days at the new studio

Moving studios was a big change for me. I’ve been working on my own at home for several years and the move has positive and negative sides to it. The downsides are I now have to journey to my workshop, so I can no longer check the kiln in my pyjamas last thing at night, or chat to the cat while I’m throwing on the wheel.  I have also lost some peace and quiet – as there are always sounds around me from the other craft workshops, even if it’s just the radio. It’s also freezing! There’s no central heating. I’m aware that most potters have freezing workshops in the winter, so I’ve been lucky these last few years to have a warm space to work in. I’m now wrapped in thermals and a wooly hat most days.

But the positives are really great and I’m hoping it will be a valuable change for me. The great upside and the reason I made the change is being part of a community of makers and artists. Having others in a similar field to chat to over a cuppa or to moan with about the trials and tribulations of the latest firing, or the tax return is a great thing. The companionship and the subtle daily support of having fellow makers around me is something I missed after leaving college and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

Open studio

Another amazing upside is being part of Brighton’s well established Artists Open Houses events which happens each year over four weeks in May and again in December. We opened our studios, and the gallery/shop space that is being developed on the site, this December and it was a great success. At it we showed our own work alongside that of over 20 other invited makers which filled our studios with delightful things. We’ll be doing it again in May and we aim to have our work on display throughout the year.

Atelier 51 open studio 2015

My studio became a gallery for four weeks

Making

Because of the open studio events, it took me a while to get making in the new studio, so I had an agonising gap when I was ‘between studios’. But I’m back in full swing now, settling into the new space, whilst still trying to work out the best way to organise everything. I’m hoping that ‘going to work’ at the workshop will make me more productive without the distractions of home to lure me away from the wheel. Well we’ll see.

Weighing out clay

Terracotta, not large chocolate truffles!