My work is divided between three kilns. My new two chambered wood firing kiln has demanded much of my attention recently in part due to a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales specifically designed to allow me to experiment and develop this aspect of my work.
My other kilns are still in commission, I have recently fired the salt kiln again after a long gap. and the older and trusted oil kiln is the mainstay of my operation although I fire almost as much in the wood kiln. The two chambers of the wood kiln are almost like firing two kilns and it therefore requires a lot of work to fill it. Salt Glazing is an exciting, but often less than predictable, method of firing pottery. As the kiln approaches the height of the firing the temperature has risen to a white hot 1260°C. At this point I throw small packets of common salt into the fireboxes of the kiln where it reacts with the intense heat and vaporises. The sodium from the salt reacts with the silica and alumina from the clay to form a glass or glaze. This process continues until I have used 15 lbs. of salt and the temperature has risen to the searing white heat of 1300°C.
The manufacture of Salt glazed pottery first began in 14th century Germany and spread to England by the late 15th century. By the end of the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century, Salt Glazing became widely used in industry to produce millions of cheap utilitarian wares such as ink or Ginger Beer bottles. Salt Glazed pots are typically rich in texture and colour, the texture often compared to orange peel and the colours ranging from deep and intense orange to pink and yellow sometimes with a lustre reminiscent of Mother of Pearl. The wood kiln has a “salt chamber” which has provided something of a challenge in acheiving the surfaces that I can obtain from the gas fired salt kiln.
In the oil fired kiln I fire reduction stoneware. I try to use as many local materials as possible for my slips and glazes particularly wood ash from the fires in the house and stone dust from a number of local quarries. A coarse, red clay that I dig from the woods on the other side of town makes a good slip that influences the colour of any glaze that I put over it. I believe what Hamada once said, to be true: it is better to use a limited range of materials and glazes and come to know them well than to have too great a choice and never fully explore the possibility of any of them. My work is not highly decorated; my main concern is the complex relationships that exist within the form of a pot and the subtle differences that make two very similar pots very different. However, I find it difficult to let a pot pass through totally undecorated. Most of my decorative technique takes place in the clay’s surface. Drawing, combing, faceting, throwing raised features onto the surface of the pot and Hakeme are my most often used methods although I am drawn to wax resist between slips. Wood firing is a way of decorating by proxy in that the kiln performs a magic that isn’t entirely controllable. One can optimistically set the pots in the kiln in a certain pattern hoping to repeat the effect of a previous firing. Occasionally all goes to plan. More often the kiln, the vapours and the ash have a greater say.
I am not a potter attempting to make social or political statement. Rather, I am trying with the best of my ability to provide an audience with work that has beauty, grace and function while, at the same time, furthering a tradition that I am happy and comfortable to be a part of. The challenge for me is to find my own way along a narrow path, to seek creatively that variation and nuance that distinguish my pots from the work of another.
Technique is important … skills enable the vision to become reality. However, that innermost intuitive expression which is contained in the heart is more valuable to the potter than the fundamentals of hand. Technique can be the enemy of spontaneity … there should always be evident a sense of adventure. I endeavour always to leave a personal signature … to imbue my work with an indefinable quality that speaks of me as an artist. That is my role as contemporary maker.