Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
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: classes

My “Simply Soda” class also got to mix their first batch of slip EVER!!! They were quite excited going into it. I think until they realized it was just measuring & mixing. No magic. It was the pressing through the fine mesh sieve that did ‘em in. Good team project though… and now they have another flashing slip color to play with! Butter Yellow!!! Thank you Nolan for sharing your recipe.

At least they got to play with power tools!!!

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Categories: classes, lillstreet, soda-fired

Last night my “Simply Soda” class got their first pieces back from the latest soda firing… albeit the sets of test tiles they made the first week. Lots of “information” for them to process with different slips, glazes and the variations from hi-soda to low-soda. Lots of organizing, comparing to the “legend”, labeling and admiring… some more than others!!!

Categories: Chicago, classes

Celebrating the big home opener of the Chicago Cubs…
with thematic snacks for my pottery class tonight!

Categories: classes, mugs, process, production

For tonight’s “Simply Soda” class, we tackled colored flashing slips as a decorative accent for the soda-firing process. Many of my students are new to soda-firing and don’t really know yet how colored slips can accentuate their work. So tonight’s demo was to explain some basic “concepts” in slip decoration and how they will work together when they get soda-fired. It was a great opportunity to push my students a bit out of their comfort zone. Including myself… as we were doing some demos & techniques that I’ve never really done before either.

Slip Demo #1
First the mug was dipped into a colored flashing slip. I let it set-up a bit..
and then dipped it a second time. As the second dip was setting up, I dragged a stiff wire brush across the surface to reveal the original stoneware color.

Slip Demo #2
On this squared off tumbler, I masked off the corners using wet nespaper stuck in place for my stencil. I painted a smooth layer on the tow opposing sides. After that had set-up, I masked the thin stripe again with wet strips of newspaper. I dabbed on a thivk layer of the lighter slip making a thick coat. I then dragged my fingertip through the slip to create the slight diagonal texture. Remove the newspaper strips… and voila’.

Slip Demo #3
Again using wet newspaper strips as my stencil, I cut a wavy line and placed them slightly off-kilter to create the wave pattern. Dabbed on the thick slip, dragged my finger through to make the diagonal texture. Peel off the newspaper and you’ve got crisp edges and a great textural accent.

Slip Demo #4
First I dipped the top portion in a colored flashing slip. After it had set-up, I filled a squirt bottle with the blue-green slip. On a spinning banding wheel, I squirted the slip into the pot. I’m hoping for some great contrast between the base color and the blue-green accents

Slip Demo #5
I dipped the entire mug on a colored flashing slip first. After it had set-up, I used a foam stamp from the craft store for the lower pattern. I painted some colored slip onto the foam stamp, and then carefully press it onto the sides. In hind sight, I think the pattern would have shown up clearer if I had not dipped the base layer of slip… it was a little too “slippery”… all pun intended. At the end, I felt that the top portion needed something, so I painted some vertical lines with a paint brush.

Slip Demo #6
You know how we’ve loved bubble glazing… so why not bubble slip?!
A small cup of thin colored slip with some Dawn dishwashing detergent mixed in. Then you blow into it with a straw and make some bubbles overflow from the small cup. You then get the overflowing bubbles to “land” on the sides of the cup without too much dripping or smudging. As the bubbles burst, the lines of slip are created.

Slip Demo #7
Okay, so the plan here was to do some “marbled” slip effects. So I dipped the pot into a colored flashing slip. I gave it a second dip, and while it was wet, I used a squeeze bottle to put on the blue-green slip. Since they were both wet, they slid around nicely on the surface and mixed with each other. I should have stopped there… but instead, I decided to go one step further and add another layer of colored slip. Unfortunately, the base was too dry and the “orange” slip didn’t marble into the others…. instead, it just kinda ran in drips.

Slip Demo #8
Thick layers of thick colored slip. Letting the heavy brushstrokes make the difference. Hoping that the depth and thickness is accentuated during the soda-firing process.

Slip Demo #9
Very simple. A quick dip into the colore flashing slip to make the base layer. And then a second dip of the base, followed by the “drippy” dip of the second lighter color.

Slip Demo #10
Fun with slip trailing… thick slip in a squeeze bottle. If I were doing more of this, I would press the slip through a fine sieve before putting it in the bottle. It wouldn’t sputter so much if it were smoother.

So there we have it… ten different quick “tricks” using a variety of colored soda slips. Hopefully one or two of these might turn out nice after the soda firing. And again, my goal was to show my students some new ideas. And to encourge them to try new & different things. To experiment and to play with their clay! It’s not precious… it’s just clay!!!

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Categories: classes, mugs, stamped

Tonight was the second night for my new Wheelthrowing Class. We tackled cylinder trimming & pulling handles tonight so they could finish their first mugs of the session! This was my demo mug… that “just happened” to get some stamped details along the way between last week and tonight!

Categories: classes, lillstreet, mugs

One of my students has been away from Lillstreet for about three years. He finally made it back to pottery… and into my “Simply Soda” class. Tonight we were touring the soda kiln room looking at soda-fired examples on the shelves. When lo and behold… Peter found one of his own soda-fired mugs from YEARS ago!!! Apparently it has been “floating around” Lillstreet for years and tonight finally found its way home! A beautiful mug, complete with the prerequisite layers of dust!!! Crazy, right?!!!

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Categories: classes, lillstreet

As posted on Facebook this morning…
Looks like one of my Facebook Fans will be joining my Beginning & Advanced Beginning Wheelthrowing Class tonight at Lillstreet. If she’s been a “fan” for seven years, I hope I don’t disappoint?! That’s a lot of pressure to live up to. I may need to step up my game a bit?… and bring a LOT of Oreo’s?!!!

Categories: classes, soda-fired

Last night was the kick-off my new “Simply Soda” class at Lillstreet. It’s an introduction to the soda-firing process. So we did a quick overview, tour and started discussing colored flashing slips. But there’s really no better way to see what might happen during the firing process than to make your own test tiles… errr, cups! So last night my students threw a bunch of cups off-the-hump and then applied two swatches of colored slip on each side of the cup. We made two for each color so they can fire one in high-soda, and one in low-soda to see the difference. They were very productive… and hopefully it will all pay off with a lot of flashing slip “information” for them to use further down the road,