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logo Handcrafted Functional and Decorative Stoneware Pottery
Dinnerware, Serving Pieces, Ovenware, Featuring our Copper-Red Glazes

Clay is one of earth's fascinating materials. Although clay may initially look like mud, and is dug from the ground, it is far different than mud (not to knock mud, which has its own attributes). In the moist (and plastic) form, clay can be shaped by hand (sculptured), formed on a wheel (thrown), extruded, cast, pinched, rolled, pressed, or molded. When fired (baked at high temperatures), depending on the temperature and atmosphere it is fired to, clay exhibits different characteristics (usually irreversible, except when you drop it and it permanently changes to shards). When you hold a piece of pottery (especially mine) in your hands, you are holding a clay creation that takes many steps (and many hours) to complete.

Following are the steps we use to create a finished piece from raw clay:

Step 1 The Raw Clay
The clay we use is called "high fire" stoneware. "High fire" means that these clays can be fired to 2,350 o F (cone 10), resulting in strong and vitreous (does not absorb water) fired pottery. Many "purist" potters actually dig and mix their own clay compositions, however, we purchase our clay pre mixed and deaired for two reasons:

1. We hate mixing clay, although we use a mixer-pugger to reclaim our waste clay.

2. In our opinion, the purchased clay is more consistent in texture and quality.

The clay comes packaged in 25 lb bags and Marty & I use about 12,000-15,000 lbs a year. The clay is weighed and divided into smaller portions depending on the pieces we wish to create (for example, a mug uses about 1 lb of clay). Theoretically I could make 15,000 mugs a year....right!

Raw clay & finished mugs

Step 2 Forming
My primary method of forming is by centering the weighed piece of clay on a potter's wheel and throwing. This technique is accomplished by taking this mound of clay and drawing (I really don't throw it) it up to initially form a cylinder, which I then shape to the form that I designed (see the animation at the upper left). I can also modify this shape by cutting, pounding, incising, texturing, adding, and removing clay (I can also add spouts, legs, etc at this time).

Marty does hand-building, using rolled-out slabs and extrusions he designed. He does use the wheel to throw the bases on many of his pieces. Basically, I do every thing round and he does everything not round (and things I don't want to do).

Since the newly formed clay pieces are quite fragile and easily deformed,they are set carefully aside to dry. When it becomes "leather hard", additional operations are performed, such as adding handles, trimming and smoothing and sanding. After further drying (bone dry), it is ready for the first, or bisque, firing (we do sand again).

Step 3 Bisque Firing
Bisque firing is performed in an electric kiln that reaches a temperature of 1,850 o F (cone 06). Firing takes about 12 hours to heat up and 12 hours to cool down. These fired, or "bisqued", pieces are now hard (but very brittle) and have changed color from the gray-brown color of the green ware to a white color. The pieces are now ready for sanding again and glazing. The photo on the right shows bisqued cracker servers in one of my electric kilns.

Step 4 Glazing
All of my pottery is glazed. The bisqueware is coated with mixtures of chemicals (glazes) that melt and produce distinct and unusual color combinations when fired to high temperatures. My glazes are recipes that I developed or modified to fit our clay body and have certain firing characteristics. I personally mix all my glazes, since they are not commercial glazes. Most glazes look like a soup with bland colors. With high fire reduction glazes, you don't get to see the results until after they're fired. I apply these glazes to the bisqueware by spraying, dipping, pouring, and brushing (not necessarily all of these, or at the same time). The bottom of my pottery is waxed, prior to glazing, and cleaned, after glazing, to prevent any glaze from sticking. If glaze remains on the bottom, when fired, the pottery becomes a permanent part of my kiln shelf (costly problem). Since I use multiple glazes on the same piece, the glazing process can take up to two days. When the glazes are fully dried, my pottery is ready for the final firing. Samples of my glazes can be seen on my Glaze Page

Step 5 Reduction Firing
This final firing is done in my 16 cu. ft. downdraft gas kiln and is called a "reduction firing". Reduction refers to the atmosphere that the pots are fired in. The combustion inside the kiln is "oxygen poor" and therefore the flame needs oxygen and pulls oxygen away from the glazes that contain oxides (such as copper oxide, iron oxide, etc). Pulling the oxygen molecules from the oxides make them revert back to their original metals which produce vibrant and rich colors on the pottery. This gas firing takes about 8 hours to reach cone 10 (2,350 o F) and 36 hours to cool down to room temperature. When I open the kiln, it's like opening birthday presents, since every firing is different and exciting with oohs and aahs each time I take out a wonderful piece (sometimes there are yechs when a piece does not fire properly or meet my expectations). The picture on the left shows a kiln load before firing. The picture on the right shows that same kiln load after the reduction firing, but before sanding.

inspecting pottery
Step 6 Finishing Touches
Before my pottery is sold, each piece is carefully inspected by me to ensure it meets my quality standards. It may have to be sanded again ( I should have stock in a sanding block company). The pottery that goes to our galleries is packed and awaits pick-up. The pottery that stays in our gallery is priced and placed on our shelves and awaits customers.

The Seventh Step
You see my pottery online or at a gallery and are overwhelmed by its beauty and functionality and purchase a whole lot. You use and enjoy our pottery for many, many years making both you, me and Marty very happy and not hungry!

 Copyright 2005-2009, The Potter's Mark, Inc. Asheville, NC 28001  All rights reserved.