Tag Archives: clay

How to make a USB powered pottery wheel

I just came across this little instructional video for a making a USB powered mini pottery wheel out of an old hard disk drive:

Of course this is not something that you could really go into production with, but it is pretty amusing. Maybe I can talk Ian into trying out this little hack sometime.  It probably wouldn’t be a great idea to have clay so close to a computer. Perhaps a USB extension cord would be an important part of this project.

If anyone out there tries this out, please let me know… and send pictures!

Protect your remotes.

(This is one of those things that might be obvious…) 

Remotes are pretty important in a clay studio. They keep you from actually pushing any buttons on the stereo and causing a premature death of the stereo (I speak from experience on this, several times over). But the remotes can get crusty too, so you have to protect them.

You need plastic wrap (although I don’t actually suggest the kind pictured below, it’s just what I had in my studio), scissors, tape and of course, your remote.

You can use plastic wrap, dry cleaner plastic, a clear plastic bag. It will tear eventually, so 2 layers of plastic is suggested.

Generously tape up the folded ends on the back of the remote (I hope that’s obvious!).

And voila! You’ve got a fully protected remote! The sensor part works perfectly through 2-3 layers of plastic. If you use a thinner plastic wrap than I did it will be a pretty tight fit.

Enjoy the tunes!

How to: Mix two different clays

This is a problem that comes up all the time- two different clays that need to become one. Maybe you have some clay that’s too hard and some clay that’s too squishy. Or you have some stoneware and some porcelain (a great mix in the soda kiln!). It’s really hard to just wedge them together, and it’s a lot of trouble to put it through the pugger- especially if it’s just a small batch.
This will save your wrists from some stress and get out any aggravation that you might have at the same time.

Slam down onto your table (or wedging board) one type of clay on top of the other. 
Then slice it in half through the middle. 
And stack on top. (slam it down!) 
And slice and stack (slam!). 
Watch the clay mix together! It’s very satisfying to see the two different color clays mix like this.
Keep mixing until the slices of clay are really small (even smaller than this). 
Once it’s mixed through the slice and slam process, then wedge.
It’s much easier to slam the clay down then wedge the big hunk that well. This method is really great for clay that’s too hard and too soft. It’s nearly impossible to wedge those two consistencies together. And as I mentioned above, a porcelain-stoneware mix is great for the soda kiln (or any other atmospheric firing). 50-50 is my favorite mix. Through a little extra sand in for extra orange peel.
Maybe this how-to will make your wrists a little happier.

Artist Statement, April 2007

Looking back and moving forward.

Clay is one of the oldest materials used by humans, and its place in the lives of humans has changed and evolved as we have. It’s had a central place in a community as vessels that store water and grains. Today we most often see clay in the form of toilets, sinks, heater elements, and our molded dishes. With modern manufacturing we have personal spaces which we can easily fill to overflowing with things, so that few people can really say they lack any quantity of items. We store water in disposable plastic bottles, we store our food in layers of boxes and plastic bags, and once we’ve used these up we store the garbage in more layers of plastic until they can be taken away in the metal boxes on wheels. Things just flow through our hands, from factory to landfill, each item indisguishable from the next and inevitably forgotten once sealed in the earth.

So the place that clay has in our world today is much different than it’s been before. Clay is still plentiful, but it’s never been disposable. And clay as art still has the intention and purpose behind it that long ago would have been present in every vessel. It can be something to stop our busy lives for a few moments in the morning to meditate over our morning coffee out of our favorite mug. It can be a vase that with or without flowers, we can stop to think about how it is one of the few objects in our lives that are hand made and individual.

Each and every piece that I make is one of a kind. I often make pieces in a series, but because they are hand crafted and fired in a soda kiln no two pieces are identical. I’m drawn to the pieces with a depth that you can explore, with subtle nuances in the texture and patterns in the glaze. A piece where you can always look a little closer and see something new. You aren’t going to see that in a mass produced plate from Target, or a ceramic mug from Ikea. Our lives are busy and we often don’t allow ourselves to slow down and take a moment to reflect. I see clay/pottery/ceramics as a way to feel a connection with another person, and an excuse to slow down for a moment.

Clay is a material that has a long and rich tradition. I try to reference that history, but in the context of our contemporary world. This is why I love the process of soda firing, also a contemporary adaptation of an older process.

In the 14th century potters began using a technique called salt firing. By adding salt into a kiln, the pieces would be glazed without having to individually apply glaze to each piece. This was great for the very utilitarian pieces like sewer pipes and whiskey jugs. But by the 1970’s there were problems with the technique – black smoke comes from the chimneys, and it wasn’t very friendly to the environment or your neighbors. So another technique was developed, using soda ash and baking soda. The kiln is gas fired and this soda mixture is added to the kiln near the end of the firing (around 2200°F); the soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda reacts with the pieces, changing their color and texture. The variations you see on the pieces come from the variations in the kiln – how close a piece is to the burner, how much room there is for the flame to flow across the piece, even the temperature outside or the humidity can effect the outcome. Even after firing soda kilns hundreds of times there are still surprises to be found in how the pieces react. The pieces that I have created for this exhibition are tributes to the unpredictable and unique effects of this process.

Emily Murphy