Breathe …is there anything more important?



My friend Joel gave me a very nice glaze formula for a greenish blueish glaze. It is a very stable glaze: doesn't run, pit, bubble. I decided I wanted to see what it would look like if it were a bit more blue. Pictured below is the result. I layered with a cobalt blue glaze over the turquoise to give it a bit more texture. Pictured here it is cradled around a couple of squared-off red bowls. They remind me of a simple mandala.


Pictured below alone.

Turquoise bowl

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Sale, Form vs. Function

Last week we had our annual winter pottery sale at North Idaho College.

I feel grateful to all those who directed the flow of money in my direction and vow to let that flow continue on to a place where it will do the most good for us all. After all, money is like water, best when it flows.

I enjoyed watching people shop. They looked at the pieces, picked them up, turned them upside-down to look at the bottoms. I had lots of different kinds of things for sale.

For Sale

I sold all my bottles, gave away a lot of my fridge magnets.

Fridge Magnet Mandala

What I found interesting....Even though some pieces only hint at functionality, we stretched our imaginations to give them some function. I wonder why? With two dimensional art, all we need is to hang a it on the wall and appreciate it. With ceramics this hinting sends us into the mindset of almost needing a piece to have a function? Some things are just cool to look at; for example, the jars below.

Wonky Jars

Oh by the way, I didn't include these jars in the sale. I like the way they look as a group, so will be keeping them around.


The Intention: Perfection or… Art and Control

One of my clay friends is always attempting to make the perfect pot. She frets and sands and frets and sands. All her pieces are so precise and made with such attention to detail; but then...they go into the kiln (pictured below), to be subjected to a trial-by-fire with temperatures as high as 2350 degrees. They come out with beautifully hardened glazes, vitrified clay bodies and many times a bit warped.

Gas Kiln

The bowl pictured below was perfectly round when I made it. This is how it came out of the kiln.


Is this not like life?  We start out with good intentions aiming at perfection. We want our lives to be just so and then our experiences affect us and we aren't perfect anymore; neither is life, but perhaps, like this bowl, we have more character.

I was giving my perfectionist friend a bad time about her attempts at creating perfect pots. She protested and said that this was the only thing in her life she had control of, so she was going to make her clay creations as perfect as possible. I had to give her credit for a good rationale and I immediately backed-off.

Isn't it ultimately the desire for control that makes us make art? However, the thing about firing clay pots, especially in a gas kiln,  is that when we fire them we give up control. What happens is either wonderful or... not. For me this uncertainty is part of intrigue.



My second firing included many pieces glazed with Georgie's glazes. Short of having a fuel burning kiln for reduction firing, these commercial glazes from Georgie's are great for interesting colors. They are layered giving more depth. I bought Incredible Black and Apple Red and applied a thick coat of Apple Red over a thin layer of Incredible Black. I was very pleased with the results. The only thing I would change is the finish. These glazes are very shiny and hard to photograph. Following are more examples from this firing. I am posting these partly for my clay friends to see.


In ceramics class at NIC, Merla Barberie made this teapot that looked like it was going down the freeway at 90 MPH. I got the idea for this one from her.


Bowl glazed with Incredible Black and several other colors on top.

And...a funny little footed teapot.

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First Glaze ! ! !

Last spring I asked my husband, "Gee honey, if I buy a kiln, will you help me install it?" His answer, "Sure no problem. So what kind of money are we talking here?" When I told him, he didn't bat an eyelash. "Wow," I thought, "Wonderful! What-a-guy!" So I ordered the kiln.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

It was a bit of an ordeal when it was delivered. The truck couldn't negotiate our driveway and we had to carry it the last bit with our tractor. It was also a bit of an ordeal installing it. The summer was filled with negotiation, compromise and joint problem solving that, we as a couple, had to navigate. We hadn't decided exactly where this kiln was to live. Kilns emit a host of toxic gases, so they need to have good ventilation. They also need to have level ground and an adequate electrical supply. What turned out to be the deciding factor in placement of the kiln was the cost of electrical wire, so we poured a slab behind our hangar near the circuit breaker box and for now the kiln lives there.

I fired the first test firing on August 14th and have since done two bisque firings. Yesterday I unloaded my first glaze firing. What was very hard was knowing those finished pots were out there in the kiln but that the kiln was still too hot to open. Kiln unloading is the final step in a long process and can filled with wonderful surprises or not so wonderful surprises. This kiln unloading was very special because it was the culmination of all those discussions and concrete evidence of lots of hard work.

My favorites below

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The Great Transformation: from Clay to Dinnerware

The following are pictures of some favorite pieces made this Spring in Larry Clark's ceramics class at North Idaho College. Most of them pieces came out the the kiln too late to share with classmates - so I am sharing them here.

Tea for the sea creatures

I like this cup - wild and crazy glazing.

We eat  asparagus and green beans often. Until now the our serving dishes for them have been boring. Shown below are two serving dishes I made especially with vegetables in mind. I used a tenmoku glaze which was supposed to fade from brown to black on the one partially cropped in this photo. It came out a dark brick nice.

The other serving platter is not boring.

Vegetable Platters

Below is a pitcher glazed with a blue-green glaze; the recipe given to me by my friend Joel. He calls it a "butter matte." It is a nice glaze. Thank you Joel! We are liking having another color to play with. Since I was the one who brought it to class, Larry gave me the privilege of  naming it. I thought the color looked a lot like the semi-precious stone chrysoprase but we were all in wild mood that day and we have a tradition of giving glazes names like "Body Parts," so we named it "Green with Envy."

Green with Envy Pitcher

The following are a couple pictures of what I've been doing in the last couple of days. I call these pieces my "Wonky and Warped" series. They are very fun to make. Hope they are fun to look at as well.

Wonky & Warped

Wonky & Warped

My current studio is a multi-use garage. My wheel is on one side and my wedging table is crammed between the cars. Despite this, I have made some very cool things.

My garage studio

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Next time you bring the marshmallows

Originally published on, summer 2009. Republished here because no longer exists.

This blog and the pictures are for everyone who told me they were interested in the results of my first barrel firing. To make the kiln and do the firing I used the instructions from the book, Alternative Kilns & Firing Techniques, by Watkins & Wandless. The downdraft kiln originated in Europe around 1800, then was widely used in Japan. Randy Brodnax is given credit for this kiln design. For me this  was a "scrounge" project. I made an attempt to scrounge and reuse materials.

I coated my pots with terra sigilatta or sealed earth, which is a mixture of ball clay, EPK clay, sodium silicate and water. To make the "terra sig" the ingredients are mixed and left to settle. The top layer is then siphoned off, the second siphoned and used. The bottom layer is discarded because it has larger particles.

Down-draft barrel kiln

This my downdraft barrel kiln made from a 55 gallon drum. A downdraft firing is supposed to be hotter than a regular barrel firing because of a downward airflow. The pipe going across the bottom is slotted. I found this double walled pipe at the Habitat store.

Bottom of barrel kiln

I loaded the barrel with a variety of combustibles: kindling, construction scraps, cutup boxes, lavender stalks, a couple banana peels, pine needles, newspaper, Miracle Grow and sawdust. Amongst this melange of flammables I placed my pots. I used foil saggars, or compartments for my pots and sprinkled in a tasty mix of the colorants: copper carbonate, copper sulfate, and red iron oxide. It seemed that I was whipping up a yummy lasagna. I also put chicken wire between layers so if a pot fell during firing it wouldn't hit one below it. (Marlene's tip.)


I went through my checklist: water hose, matches, lighter fluid. (Things I should have had on the list, a comfortable chair and a cold drink.) I finally lit him off asking forgiveness from Mother Earth for doing all this burning. The barrel burned for most of the day and put out a lot of smoke. This is probably not something to attempt in town.

Fire it up!

Things didn't work out exactly as pictured in the book. The downdraft never happened. I tried priming the pipe as instructed by putting burning charcoal directly into the pipe. Since my husband Charles securely fastened the pipes together with screws, this entailed climbing a ladder.

Smoke in the stack?

Maybe the air got confused because my pipe was double-walled rather than single walled? Maybe the slots I made were not big enough? Perhaps it was the way I loaded the barrel? I have an idea of what I'll do next time. Perhaps the air needs a clear shot down the barrel. Think I'll use some cardboard tubes placed vertically.

Barrel-fired pots

I unloaded the next morning and despite my dysfunctional barrel kiln, this is the result. These pots look kind of like instant artifacts. In a few places the "terra sig" was put on too thick and flaked off but nothing cracked or broke; and the big surprise is that a couple pieces were greenware. I put them in just to see what would happen. The fact that they survived certainly gives me more creative possibilities for making decorative pieces.

Barrel-fired globe

Next time you bring the marshmallows.

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I finally made something that I like in ceramics class.  This jar was a bit more of a challenge that anything I had made before because it is bigger and the shape more graceful. It came out almost exactly as I had intended - the shape, the glaze. I'm happy about it.  As I was making it, the subject of  urns came up. A couple people thought it would make a good funerary urn.  After bringing it home, as I admired it, I said to myself, "Sure this jar would make a nice urn and I like it so much that, I wouldn't feel bad about spending eternity inside it."

Lauren spied me examining my jar and said, "You know mom, when you die perhaps we'll cremate you and then put your ashes in this jar."  I looked at her and smiled and laughed and I told her that was just what I had been thinking. What a  coincidence. We both laughed and laughed and were filled with joy. I only hope that when my time to not be here any longer comes, we will both be able to laugh like this.....and that many years pass with many more beautiful jars before then.