My sculptural vessels are created predominantly using molds and various slab techniques. Though they look solid and massive, they are actually double walled and hollow inside.

The surface textures and colors come from a myriad of techniques and technologies involving both the firing process and working ceramic and other materials into the wet clay when building the forms.

I use two predominant firing methods: oxidation firing (electric kilns) at low and midrange firing temperatures (1650 – 2280 degrees F.). Though I disdain the glazing process, I am fascinated with glaze chemistry – almost alchemy I suppose. Almost every glaze I use has been adapted from an existing formula and altered some way. I look for glaze flaws and mistakes other ceramists make, because many times, these are the exact surface qualities I am looking for. I should note that many of the glazes and chemicals I use are not food safe and some are highly toxic.

Saggar Fire Before Firing

This is a birds eye view of the saggar before firing.

The second method is saggar firing in a gas kiln. Saggars traditionally were larger ceramic vessels in which a pot or porcelain piece was put into for the firing process. The saggar protected the piece inside from direct flame and flying ash in the wood fired kilns used early in ceramic history. I use them for just the opposite. Inside the saggar with the work that I am firing, I place all kinds of combustible and organic materials that will leave their mark on the piece as the firing progresses. Sometime the pieces are almost buried in this “nest”. The saggar holds all of that material against the piece as well as traps fumes and vapors from those materials. This also sometimes creates a strong reduction atmosphere in which incredible surface colors can be created. Materials used in the past have included ash, straw, garden refuse, banana peels, charcoal, seaweed, discarded building materials, wood and textiles that have been soaked in various metallic oxide solutions and soluble salts. In addition to these materials, I use what I call “chemical burritos”.

Saggar After Firing

Post fire saggar.

These are little packets of rolled or folded pages from slick paper magazines like National Geographic with copper and iron solutions brushed on the inside and a little salt sprinkled in. Sometimes the burritos are “flavored” with other materials like crushed charcoal, mine tailings gathered on past trips to the mountains, or anything else I feel might influence the color and surface of the clay.

This method is highly experimental and often unpredictable because of so many variables in the fire. I do try to “predict” and influence certain happenings inside the sagger, but the anticipation of the unknown and surprises I get when I open the kiln both the pleasant and the unpleasant are much of what drives me to continue creating and working this way. It is much like those journeys in life. We are bound to encounter break downs and unfortunate mishaps, but if we travel long enough and far enough, the chances are strong that we will be rewarded with providential encounters and stunning vistas that keep us yearning for more.

Glossary:

  • Press mold: any form (usually plaster) used to press clay into to create a specific form. The clay then is lifted or dropped out of the opening of the mold.
  • Waste mold: a one of a kind mold in which clay is pressed and molded, but this mold is cut or broken away from the clay to reveal the piece. This type of mold allows you to work with great surface detail and undercuts in the form.
  • Saggar: A clay or other ceramic material container in which to fire ceramic objects. Traditional use was to protect the pot or ceramic piece from flame or flyting debris in the kiln.
  • Chemical burrito: several pages of a heavy, slick papered magazine (National Geographic) rolled or folded with soluble salts or other material wrapped inside.
  • Oxidation firing: firing in which there is plenty of oxidation for clean combustion of fuel being burned or use of radiant heat such as in an electric kiln.
  • Reduction firing: a firing atmosphere in which there is a lack of oxygen for complete combustion of the fuel being burned. This affects and alters any oxygen bearing materials in the glazes and the kiln.