Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: bowls, process, production, studio

I LOVE TRIMMING.
It’s so much fun to finish off a piece with a well-trimmed foot. I made a decision early on that I would trim everything! It just doesn’t look quite “done” to me if it isn’t trimmed?! But maybe that’s just me?
And luckily, I have a lot of bowls to trim from class this week. So here we go… trim, trim trim!!!

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Categories: bowls, process, production, stamped

After last Tuesday night’s bowl demo, I had a table full of bowls to continue working on.
Sure, I could have left them as they were…. but why would I do that?!
Instead, I did a bit of stamping, texturing and detailing. So now my “not-so-basic-bowls”
are even less basic than they were after the throwing demo in class.

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Categories: bowls, classes, production

This is my favorite demo of every session of classes. It’s so much fun to teach my students how to make a bowl on purpose, instead of it just being a cylinder gone bad! So the first part of the demo is making bowls on purpose. We talk about techniques and downfalls. They go back to make some bowls, while I sit at my wheel and quickly throw some more bowls… a whole bag’s worth!!! When I finished all eighteen bowls, we reconvene and start doing some alterations to the bowls.

My goal for this second part of the demo is to get them over-the-hump, and encourage them to try different things to make their bowls more individual. And that the clay is not precious. Have fun. Make something. And if it doesn’t work out… just squish it up and do it again!!! So here are my eighteen quick tricks that I showed my class. Remember, we started with 18  very similar plain round bowls. And then some quick flicks & tricks… and now we have 18 completely different bowls.

Bowl #1 – Simple fluted twists. One finger inside, one finger outside, side-by-side. A bit of a pinch and a twist. Four times… aligned with the corners of the square bat for even spacing.

Bowl #2 – And is four fluted points are good… maybe eight are even better?!

Bowl #3 – Then I gently bent the rim out on over to create a flattened flange around the edge. The outside finger stays pretty stationary while the inside fingers gently press the rim outwards over that outside finger. And I like to add in a little groove line just inside the flange… like a nice way to show the delineation between the interior & exterior.

Bowl #4 – And if a thin flange is good, maybe a wider flange is even better?! Kinda like that bowl they serve in fancy restaurants with one small dollop of food in the bottom and charge a ton of money!!!

Bowl #5 – Then we combined the two – the flattened flange and fluted rim.

Bowl #6 – Next up was splitting the rim with the point of my wooden knife. I use my left hand with thumb & forefinger gently “pressing” the rim for support, while my right hand has the knife gently pressing the point into the rim. Press down slowly while the wheel is spinning asnd watch the rim split open. And then I like to pinch it back in a few spaces for a bit of fun.

Bowl #7 – Another split rim pinched together in four spaces. But then the I pressed the other four spaces outwards which kind of squared off the bowl… so why not “force” it to be even square-er?!!!

Bowl #8Okay, so we’ll place this bowl in the category of not all demo’s work.
I started by splitting the rim a little deeper & wider then before. And then I took the wooden end of a big loop trimming tool to press indentations outward on the split rim. And on the very first one… the wooden handle literally STUCK to the clay!!! I mis-estimated the wetness of the rim… and the thinness of the split rim. The tool stuck and when I tried to force it away it ripped half of the split rim off with the tool. Not good. So we all had a bit of a laugh as I once again proclaimed my mantra… “It’s just clay.” So I pulled off the other half of the split rim and smoothed it out a bit. And then tried to come up with a new “plan” on the fly with an already dented bowl. Not so sure how this one will turn out… but it’s “just clay,” right?!!!

Bowl #9 – A simple indentation made in the bottom of the bowl with a metal dragonscale tool.

Bowl #10 – One of my students “scoffed” a bit when I did the indentation flower and said how easy it was. And since she was sitting at the wheel right next to me… I handed her a fresh bowl, the dragonscale tool, and told her to do something with it!!! It’s just clay. She balked a little, got a bit embarrassed, but when everyone cheered her on, Lucy ended up making this pretty incredible pattern in the bottom of her bowl. See?… sometimes it’s fun to be pushed out of your comfort zone… and look what beauty can came out of it!!!

At this point it was time to introduce colored slip as a decorating option. A layer of colored clay painted onto the pot to give it some more color & texture. We talked about the difference between slip and glaze, and when it might be better to use one or the other.

Bowl #11 – A full coating of white slip on the inside of the bowl – and then a fun spiral dragged through the slip with the rounded end of my wooden knife. It’s fun to see the contrast between the lighter white slip and the darker clay body.

Bowl #12 – Same coating of white slip on the inside of the bowl but this time with horizontal banding instead of spiral.

Bowl #13 – Tools are great… but so is finger painting. So for this one I made the layer of white slip a bit thicker than the others. And then I squiggled a couple fingers through it while the wheel was spinning. I love the undulating curves, the revealed clay color and the texture that will show up even better when glazed.

Bowl #14 – A layer of white slip to cover the entire interior of the bowl. And then a steady, rhytmic tapping of my plastic rib… tapping up & down, up & out, while the wheel is spinning. It’s a combination of all three that creates the pattern.

Bowl #15 – Okay, so I apparently forgot a bowl here?! Mwah, mwah, mwah…
And it’s a NICE one… trust me!!! It was another white slip with a tighter, angled chattered effect,

Bowl #16 -Instead of coating the bowl with white slip, this time I drew a spiral of slip white a squeeze bottle. My original intention was to have a perfect slip-trailed spiral. But the slip sputtered out a couple times. Ugh. So instead of trying to “fix” the splotches, I decides to do some gentle chattering through it… a very happy accident!!!

Bowl #17 – The other bowls have all had slip on the interior of the bowl, but for this one I put slip on the outer rim. I then drew some bands through the slip in concentric circles to the bowl. And then did some finger dragging outwards to get the contrast.

Bowl #18 – For our final bowl, I did a simple ombre blend of white slip with a black slip

So for now, all of the bowls are safe up in my studio under wraps. Of course I wish I could have shared these bowls a lot sooner…. but those darn Income Taxes got in the way. But now they’re done… I’ve breathed a small sigh of relief… and I hope these bowls were worth the wait.

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Categories: bowls, classes

While tonight’s class demo was throwing bowls, altering & decorating them, and I would LOVE to show you more photos of them right now… “someone” still needs to finish his taxes!!! One hour until the deadline… bowl photos & descriptions will have to wait. Sorry… trust me, I’d MUCH rather be talking about bowls!!!

Categories: bowls, lillstreet

From Dave, the director of the ceramics department at Lillstreet…

Empty Bowls Update:
Thanks to your contributions, this year’s Empty Bowls event was yet again a success.  The event raised $8648, which equals roughly 2,882 Wednesday Night Welcome Meals at Epiphany UCC.  In spite of the fact that more than 300 bowls were sold at this event, there is a significant number of bowls remaining.   Because of this, our friends at First Slice will take the unsold bowls to use for additional Empty Bowls fundraisers at their other locations.  With these additional events, we will likely see the total money raised increase in the near future.

And here are just a few of the happy folks who went home with one of my donated empty bowls…

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Categories: bowls, lillstreet

Just some of the HUNDREDS of bowls ready to fulfill their destiny…
as they get filled with soup for tonight’s EMPTY BOWLS event at Lillstreet Art Center. Good bowls for a great cause. Stop by tonight to pick out your favorite bowl, get it filled with homemade soup, help the hungry and keep the bowl. Proceeds benefit First Slice as they in turn will be helping the hungry & needy.

And yes, those are some of my bowls at the bottom of the photo…
Yep, the ones with the “shameless self-promotional propaganda” attached.

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Categories: bowls, lillstreet, special events

Just dropped off my bowls for tomorrow night’s EMPTY BOWLS event at Lillstreet Art Center. A great night for a great cause. Lots of bowls being donated by students, teachers and studio members. Stop by Lillstreet tomorrow night between 5:00-8:00pm to pick your bowl, get it filled with soup and make a donation to First Slice so they can continue doing good deeds feeding the needy & hungry. And you keep the bowl…

Click here for more information about EMPTY BOWLS at Lillstreet Art Center.

Categories: bowls, classes, patterns, textures

I started this “beveled bowl” carving project as a demo for my class a couple weeks back. It has taken a “little longer” than expected… a little bit here, a little bit there… and I feel like I could keep “cleaning it up” forever. But tonight I finally called it “done.” Of course I had to keep telling myself “It’s just a demo, it’s just a demo…” I started by throwing a bowl with slightly thicker walls than usual. And let it stiffen up a soft leatherhard so I could trim a nice foot. Then I brought the bowl to class to start the demo. I used my Xacto knife to incise horizontal lines while the bowl was on the wheel. Then I moved it over to a banding wheel and incised vertical lines. Hopefully evenly spaced… I eye-balled it, so who knows… but it created sixteen sections. The incising is to establish “sections” that will be carved, as well as cut lines so the bevels “pop out” better later. Do NOT carve all the way through the bowl!!!

Then it’s time to start carving… I attack one square at a time. Beveling the section from top to bottom in one row, and then bottom to top in the adjacent rows. The effect is alternating bevel directions all the way around the bowl. Yes, this is going to take awhile… sixteen vertical sections and five horizontal bands. That makes 80 squares to carve!!!

One by one. All the way around. Trying to keep it clean and consistent. Of course you’ll need to go over each section a couple times. Some come out cleaner than others… some will be a struggle. I would also recommend not doing this trick with clay that has a loft of grog in it. The smoother the clay the cleaner the carving will be without revealing a lot of rough grog chunks.

Of course I could keep going.. keep carving… keep cleaning. The smoother the lines the better, but seriously, at some point I just had to call this one done. It’s JUST a class demo after all. A lot of work to show off a fun carving “trick.” Hopefully the glaze will cover up the parts that I “gave up” on!!! And maybe a little Dremel sanding before glazing if worse comes to worse… and my OCD kicks in before it gets glazed. I could work on this one forever…

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Categories: bowls, process, production

After trimming the feet into the bowls, it was time to put in some drainage holes for my newest batch of berry bowls. For years I would use a small brass hole punch for the holes. But now I’ve upgraded to POWER TOOLS!!! Who doesn’t like working with a power drill in the studio?!

I like to use my MKM Decorating Disks to help mark out the holes evenly. The two-disk set gives you even-numbered spacing, or odd-numbered spacings. For more about the MKM Decorating Disk, click here.

So I place the transparent disk on top of the foot. Then put a small dot into the clay with my needle tool through the holes in the disk.Evenly spaced guides for where the drilled holes will go.

And then the power drill comes out!!!    Vrroooommmm!!!
The bowls are on the drier side of leatherhard, but definitely not bone dry.
Starting at the guide dots, I place the tip of the drill bit and spin right through!

After drilling, I let the clay dry up for a few minutes. Then I take a fairly stiff dry paintbrush and wipe off the burrs. They fall right off anf the drilled holes only need a little cleaning up. So much quicker, so much easier, so much cleaner than punching each hole by hand one at a time.

And for now they’re all drilled and drying. Still a little bit of clean-up around the edges…
and some coordinating drainage plates still to be thrown!!!

For more information & pictures, check out the October 2016 CERAMICS MONTHLY issue!
I have a one-page tutorial explaining how I use my power drill for my berry bowls.

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Categories: bowls, production, stamped

Productive afternoon after subbing for Lisa. A fresh batch of bowls…
stamped and waiting to get drainage holes to fulfill their destiny as berry bowls!!!