Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why The Long....Firing?

When potters talk, the subject comes up all the time. In an era of insulating brick kilns and high energy prices, why fire long? If you can fire in 6-8 hours, why bother with a 12 hour firing?

Well, if you're like me, you have a file box full of glaze recipes with names attached to the recipes (not "formulas") like "Ferguson's", "Val's", "Shaner's". And, again, if you're like me, you may have started out thinking that the goal in firing those now forty-year-old recipes successfully was in achieving the color promised in the glaze's name (Ferguson's Yellow, Shaner's Red, etc).

Actually, though, the real beauty in those old matte glazes isn't just in the color. The beauty is in the depth of surface.

And here's my hypothesis about long firing times and matte glazes: When these glazes were formulated, most pottery kilns were hard brick kilns -- kilns that were difficult to bring to temperature AND very long in cooling down. VERY long. Those glaze surfaces grew slowly and cooled even more slowly in those hard brick kilns.

In the time passed since those glazes were originally formulated, it's easy to jump to some wrong conclusions about the glaze recipes after having tried unsuccessfully to fire them in the new soft brick kilns. We might wrongly conclude a difference of chemicals from then to now. We might conclude issues of thickness. Those could be factors.

But I've found over the years of firing those matte glazes that perhaps the most important variable to control to achieve those old-time results is TIME. When I fire, I try to mimic the longer firing times required by those old hard brick kilns.


  1. Its not just those glazes that benefit from a longer firing, many glossy ones do too, adding depth to the shine

  2. Yep- nothing I can argue with on this one- yep!

  3. Good reasons.No one ever said Alchemy had to be fast.

  4. I agree... time allows development and depth; in glazes and people!

  5. Even in oxidation, slow cool makes the glazes much better, especially matts. I'm extending my next cool down even longer for the next time.

  6. Holy moly! Those are some great details and depth.

    I know a while back you asked the question wondering how your customers see your work, and I'm curious to know if you have a sense of how well appreciated all that subtlety is. Have you actually canvassed folks who buy your work to see if they 'get' all that sophistication you are aiming at?

    It seems like most of my customers like what they like but don't really see all the nuance of detail I am striving for. Other potters usually get it, and other trained visual artists see a lot of those details, but folks less familiar with the diversity and nuance of visual information tend not to recognize all the subtle intentions of what I'm doing.

    How about for you? Does obvious in your face decoration always trump quiet subtlety at the fairs you go to, even split, or not at all? Is the gulf between the visual education of artists and the public vast or only really very small? Does it even matter if we still can sell our wares? Or are we spending time on all that subtlety just for our own enjoyment and that of other elite observers and only wasting our time if we think the public actually cares? I don't know, I'm just askin'. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder do we even care how sophisticated other people's appreciations are?

  7. Man, I just had a long, detailed response. *poof* into the ether. Maybe I'll take a stab at rewriting it later.

  8. If John ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

    Really. It's such a phenomenon that I've heard it over and over again in discussions between artists at art fairs -- when we've got stuff we really, really like, we exude potmones that attract people like crazy.

    And people gravitate right to the work we're proudest of. I'd call it magic if I wasn't so given to scientific explanations and stuff.

    But beyond that, I aim for a "timeless" quality to my work. Whether or not I achieve it is beside the point, but as it is my goal, it implies a few things:

    1. Work that can't be so easily dated -- doesn't immediately imply the date of its creation. And for this reason, though it may not be the hottest ticket in town, but it will play forever. Some songs are that way. They sound like they were written anywhen and you can live with them anytime.

    2. Timelessness at its best means work that will continue to surprise and delight LONG after being first introduced. THAT requires depth, detail, or something that will hang around long after first impressions have been long forgotten.

    So, yes, I suppose the detail is all about delighting me first. If I'm delighted, it's been my experience that other will be similarly delighted. They may not verbalize what it is exactly about the work that appeals to them, but they always gravitate toward the things that are most successful in the way I intend them to be.