Staff pics

This past winter I was very excited to be invited to show my work at Northern Clay Center for their Holiday Exhibition. I must admit that during the preparation for the show, I had dreadful thoughts that I wouldn’t sell a single piece. Why? Because Minnesota has a special role in our field of Ceramics, jeez there’s even an aesthetic named after it, Mingeisota. If you google ‘mingeisota’, the top hit is Warren MacKenzie’s wiki page. The fourth hit? Jeff Oestreich’s page on AKAR. I feel I share some geometric tendencies with J. Oestreich, and I very much admire his pots, but I definitely do not work within the Mingei framework as Jeff and Warren do. If anything, I deny quite a bit of it with my efforts to remove evidence of handwork rather then celebrate it.

Anyways, I was just pumped when I found out my work was moving, and then just today my work was posted as one of the ‘Staff Pics’. Su-weet! Thanks to Emily for the selection, and to Karen McPherson (Sales Gallery and Special Events Manager) for all the help and support. Here is the link…

Blaauw results

Here is a quick lineup photo of some of the cups I just fired in the Blaauw.

What the photo doesn’t show, is that 6 of these cups have glaze defects, and will need to be refired. But I don’t think those defects have anything to do with being fired in gas instead of electric. That is an application problem…the downside to pushing work into a kiln at 3am after a 16 hour day. I should know better by now. Anyways, the side by side comparison of the clay and glazes shows that the clay has a cooler color. See below…

So that answers my question, kind of. The Blaauw combustion works by percentage. Default is 100%. The reduction firings we ran in the other Blaauw over in the pottery (yes, the Bray bought two Blaauw’s, one for the community class studio, and one for the resident center) were at 83%. I just ran this kiln at 120%. From emailing with Gerard, the next firing I’m going to up that percentage to 140%. This is the type of control and precision that I feel makes the Blaauw different from other kilns.

The difference in the color of the glazes was negligible. My conclusion is that when I can make enough pots that would equal one and half large skutt kiln loads, then its worth it to fire the Blaauw. However, since my work is now revolving around making sets rather than singles, I won’t be able to complete a set with pots that some were fired in electric and others fired with gas. Overall, the difference in the clay and glazes between electric and gas is just a little different, I don’t think one is really any better than the other. I’m curious if 140% will warm up the color of the clay a little. This isn’t the first time that running a test has led me to do more testing.

Its running

Right now I am test firing the new Blaauw kiln that was just brought online by Gerard and Rick Blaauw last week here at the Bray. It was really fantastic to meet them, and to learn how to use their kiln from them. Here are 2 pics, one of the kiln and the other of the controller…

This controller is complicated, but absolutely amazing. This is a gas fired kiln with all the programmability of an electric kiln, with a bit more on top. That other bit? Its a software/webpage combo that tracks the kiln’ progress. This is the key feature that I feel all current computerized kilns are missing, is the ability to see the difference from what I asked the kiln to do in my program vs what actually happened. Below is a screen shot from the Blaauw website that is tracking the kiln. The beauty of this? I can track the kiln from anywhere I have internet access.

Blaauw Graph










Blue is the air, Red is temp (C), and Yellow is gas. You can barely seen the Green graph, which is the program plot. Meaning, in this case, the kiln executed the program almost exactly. Awesome. I unload tomorrow, so I will wait until then to confirm my absolute commitment to this new firing method.

A little background on why I’m testing this switch from electric to gas firing. Recently the Bray did a very in-depth evaluation of firing costs. Turns out, the cost of gas is significantly less than the cost of electricity here in Helena. This is completely regional, and will be the opposite elsewhere. So yes, I’m interested in reducing my production costs. Especially when my other production costs just went way up from doing the CNC’ed trays with Automotive paint. The other reason is the Blaauw kiln. This is the kiln technology that I have always wanted to use. I have also heard some ceramic rumors that there is a difference in the color of the clay and glazes between electric and gas firing in oxidation. This seems feasible, but I’m a skeptic of any information attained this way. So there’s really only one true way to find out, test it. I’ll see tomorrow.

One more thing… After crunching the numbers, it cost me $36 to fire the Blaauw, which has 45 cu/ft of stacking space. For comparisons sake, it would cost me $39 to fire the Freddy (a frontloading electric) which is 20 cu/ft, or $21 to fire the large Skutt which is 10 cu/ft. Pretty easy conclusion, but I’ll need to see the results of the pots. I really hope they look good!