It is a pleasure to make pottery. Because each piece is hand-crafted, the uniqueness of each piece is unmistakable.
For instance, when making a coffee cup/mug, I first prepare clay by wedging out air pockets that can explode during the firing and/or weaken the wall of the cup while throwing on the pottery wheel. The second step is to throw the chamber of the cup and shape it, such as a classic barrel shaped coffee cup. After the clay hardens to a leather like firmness from air exposure, I trim the cup; which includes constructing a foot at the base upon which the cup sits. At times, instead of trimming a foot, I level the cup’s under floor creating a smooth transition as the cup rests upon the table surface. Once this step is completed I attach a handle. Each handle is hand pulled by me. Pulling a handle is an acquired skill; as is attaching it. The handle is attached by scoring both the vessel and the handle end with slurry clay and then shaping the handle. Shaping the handle is completed thinking of the cup sitting in someones grasp, comfortably and ergonomically.
Once this is completed the cup is bisque fired, which fully dehydrates all water content from the clay body. The bone-dry stage sets the optimal condition for glaze absorption. The final firing takes place in a gas fired kiln. The kiln is fired using natural gas and acts as a chamber Air is either added or constricted in the chamber as fire is forced into the chamber. This process is known as oxidation (added oxygen) and reduction (oxygen removal). The temperatures reach upwards of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, 1,149 degrees Celsius. Clay atoms are changed from clay to stone. I am in awe seeing how the physics of heat changes of the physical state from clay to stone ware. It is from this transformation the term stoneware ceramics comes.
It is at the high-temperature firing stage that the color in the minerals and colorants comprising the glaze are released. The atmospheric condition in the kiln chamber created when combining oxygen (or lack of it) with fire and the release of gases add an unexpected randomness to the colors achieved in the firing. Although colors are somewhat predictable based on specific minerals in the glaze, glaze application, length of firing, temperature, et cetera. Though the outcome is in no way inevitable. Each firing has an element of unexpectedness that cannot be recreated and produces unique patterns.
A glass coating from the glaze melting fuses with the stoneware body as the kiln cools. The cup is vitrified, meaning that the cup fully holds liquid with no leaking. All glazes I use are food safe. I use interior glazes that do not leach.
Although the process of making a cup is pretty much just what it is — making a cup — the outcome is limitless. I enjoy a limitless possibility.