A path to being a greener potter.

Blog Action Day is a day where blogger from all over the world write about one specific issue: the environment. I am excited to have an extra push to write this post that I have been wanting to write a post for months on what someone can do to be a “greener” ceramic artist. I was inspired by Laura Zindel’s post on one black bird; Mary Anne Davis‘s post on being Carbon Neutral and her list on her work’s environmental impact; and on Soderstrom Pottery Blog. They have started a great discussion that I would like to help continue with within the ceramics community.

I think my aversion to actually writing this post that has been in my head is the same thing that stops many of us from creating greener lives. I wanted this post to be epic, to have all of the answers. It was going to be very complete and very satisfying. But that is truly an impossible task. When I think about all of the environmental changes that I want to make at home or at my studio, the ultimate goal is overwhelming and paralyzing. The only way to get past the paralysis is to stop for a moment, and break it down into steps. The steps will get you closer to your end goal, but they are much easier to conquer than taking a gigantic leap.

Here are some steps that I have taken on my path to being a greener potter…

  • I use almost all recycled materials for both shipping and retail customers. I actively collect bags, boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap from friends, family, students and customers. 
  • I recycle my clay scraps and try to aggressively edit unfired work. I don’t want to turn greenware that is reclaimable into something that is not if I am not truly satisfied with the piece at that stage.
  • I try to make my test pieces as functional pieces (like small cups) that might go on to live a life beyond just testing a slip or glaze.
  • I live close to my studio so I can either walk or drive a very short distance. I teach in the same building that I have my studio so I don’t have to commute to class too.
  • I work in a co-operative type studio that conserves resources in many ways. One specific way is by ordering clay and materials together so there is only 1 delivery truck instead of 20.
  • My studio space is small and efficient. Each space has multiple uses. One table can transform from a wedging table to a decorating table to a glaze table to a display table. Much of the furniture in my studio is on wheels so it can be more easily converted.
  • My studio display lights are on a timer. My studio is often open to the public even when I am not there, and the timer stops the lights from being on all the time. (Does anyone know of nice track lighting fixtures that are energy efficient?)
  • I set up a “free-cycle” area in a common area (hallway) at my studio where the studio artists can pass on unneeded things to the next person. 
  • I sell my seconds as “flawed yet functional.” They are still totally usable, but I can’t send them off to a gallery. Customers get to go on a treasure hunt, and give life to a piece that might otherwise be doomed as landfill. In response to the “flawed yet functional” sign in my studio, I once had a customer get teary eyed and tell me that that was exactly how they felt… flawed yet functional.

I know there are people reading this that are working under very different conditions from 60 different countries. Some are students working at a high school, university or art center. There are country potters with lots of land, and urban potters, like me, that are working in a smaller studio. The problems and solutions that you face are going to be very different if you’re a tile maker, production potter or a sculptor. I hope that you’ll share the steps you take in your clay world to being a little bit greener with the rest of us.

update- 10/15/07 – another clay blogger, Anne Webb, wrote a Blog Action Day post

update – 10/29/07 – Pam McFayden wrote a great post over at lureart ceramics about studio recycling.

3 thoughts on “A path to being a greener potter.

  1. Dear Emily,
    A very late thanks for listing my blog site on your blog#2 update. I am still getting in the groove on balancing writing about/making/photographing/teaching clay. I really enjoyed this entry about trying to be greener. This is something I am being more conscious about in my own studio.

  2. Emily,
    Thanks for your green artice. Another hint I have picked up from my teacher is that of making safe the dregs from glazing. Leave a dish in your washing up area and as excess glaze is wiped off pots or stirrers are rinsed the heavy particles fall to the bottom of the dish . At the end of the day drain off clean water from dish and pour the nasty dregs iinto a sacrificial bisque bowl. Any excess liquid will filter through th e porous surface and by the end of a week or a month you will have a bowl full of dregs which can be gloss fired along with your noral firing. The results may be spectacular or dismal but the glaze can no longer leach into the environment in its new form. Broken pottery buried in soil helps improve the quality of water filtering through the soil as it has small spaces in which healthy microbes can dwell and do their water cleaning thing.

    jo in melbourne

  3. Recently, I came across a man who developed a cone 10 kiln approximately 7 cubic feet that fires from room temperature to cone 10 in as little as 55 minutes. I did not believe it when I heard about it but then witnessed it myself and am now in the process of building three additional kilns. I have been involved (sounds like I’m having an affair) with ceramics since 1971 and always fired the long slow methods that consumed large amounts of gas, then reduced and oxidized. I was amazed with the results of the first firing I witnessed, there were true reds, brilliant colors that one would think came from a low fire kiln, and absolutely no running of glazes. I can be reached at larry@masonrytoolsonline.com

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