Wednesday, May 25, 2005


You're the clay for me!Spent most of the day swabbing down the studio floor and completing slipped and carved decoration on a slight backlog of accumulated and over-dry pots,which quite conveniently just filled the bisc kiln.During the afternoon,noted local artist and chum Mike Leaf invited us round to see his paintings-a riot of colour that speaks of a decided joy in living.Back,inspired,to the studio,where,having taken the new porcelain for a couple of small outings on the wheel,I wedged up two 4 kilo lumps to check it out under more taxing conditions.Amazingly,4 kilos doesn't exactly tax it,as you can see in the picture:I can't get my stoneware up to this height without it buckling,and porcelains are invariably harder to work with.Tomorrow I'll try adding another few kilos and see where we get to-although I was already almost up to my armpit with these two.
Do you like the new terror alert? It is a service for my more paranoid readers-remember - WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Pictures by Yahel...

...One of the more promising and complex third year students:pots waiting to be loaded into the anagama,wood scrounged from the Keren,students loading pots,part of a student's project (unfired).Much bustle today,with kiln loading for tomorrow's firing (scheduled to last 'til Friday midday) and students firing the raku kiln to test glazes/shapes.I re-introduced the 2nd and 3rd year students to porcelain:they had an unhappy first experience with some problematic quasi-porcelain last semester,and I wouldn't want them to leave Tel Hai without sampling the challenging delights of this special clay.The more I work with this Tom Coleman porcelain the more intriguing it becomes:it certainly has excellent throwing qualities,once you get the hang of it,and seems to combine the slippery silkiness of porcelain with a graininess,or tooth,that's more like stoneware.Maybe there's silica sand in it.The prospect of using it for larger crystal-glaze pieces,instead of my recalcitrant Naaman porcelain,gets the creative juices going.My shift at the anagama is from around midnight Thursday 'til,I hope,the end of the firing on Friday.I'm down on the list with four or five students,who I'm sure,and quite rightly,will want to do most of the stoking-I shall probably have to pull rank to get a look-in.Feeding a large wood-fired kiln is a peak experience-go and wheedle your way onto your nearest participating potter's shift list and try it.

Tel Hai

Sunday, May 22, 2005

New week-new clay

Last week's salt firing left me somewhat exhausted-not just the physical effort,also the whole story of breaking,moving and reassembling the kiln,and the tension of not knowing if it was all going to fire and/or produce results.In addition,the weather was extremely hot-the first real heat this year,which usually knocks me off balance a bit until the body gets used to it.So large parts of Shabbat were spent horizontal and somnolent.Last night friends just back from Paris invited us to sample their redolent haul of cheeses,which,though delicious,seem to have left me with a slight headache.All in all,time for a massage,booked for tomorrow.Today received a very efficient delivery of Tom Coleman porcelain from suppliers Ceramicon,who also sent a small bottle of pale blue lustre to test,and a bag of white stoneware to check for the salt kiln.The porcelain is a wonderful material,first tried after last year's Raanana fair-soft and silky,beautifully made,a pleasure to work with.It's twelve times what I paid for my Naaman porcelain,with which I have been working for the last six years-but that was such a bargain that it doesn't count.In fact,with no further ado,I shall terminate my blogging activities,swab down the wedging table,and make a few pieces with my new clay before preparing for this evening's sanga...

Friday, May 20, 2005


Hello?Hello?Can you read this?Great!I finally worked out what the "blog this" button at the top of the page does (pretty obvious,really).
This morning I drove down to Yesod HaMaala for the unloading.Everything came out quite well,considering that neither of us particularly know what we are doing.We certainly got up to temperature-as you can see in the top left picture-those white blobs are the molten remains of cones 8,9 and 10,the latter indicating 1300 degrees when fired properly-in this state-flattened-it's more like the 1345 that we saw on the pyrometer,which is SO hot that it's a surprise that the clay stood up to it.The salting was even,but not excessive-we could have put in another kilo or two to get more depth of salt build-up,but this should improve as we gain more experience,and the inside of the kiln starts to build up its own layer of residual salt.Neither of us used especially suitable clays,and our use of the all-important slips is also in its infancy.Sydney (whose storage room is a treasure-chest of obscure inorganic materials) has a 25kg bag of Japanese spinel which (when he remembers where he put it) he feels might be useful:we spent half an hour trying to discover exactly what spinel is,and will let you know if it shows promise.I read the ingredients of his vitamin pills,which look like they would make a nice glaze-calcium,magnesium,silica and a whole bunch of metals.Sydney said it would be too expensive to make a glaze from vitamin pills,and I dare say he's right.As soon as I got back to my studio,I sold the nicest bowl from the salt kiln.Also today,something of a rarity-Turkish tourists in the studio.They even bought something!Things are looking up!Shabbat Shalom!

From the unloading...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Home,James,and Don't Spare the Horses

Back in my studio,just after two in the morning.Goldie,my apprentice,seems to have sold some pots today,which is useful.We finished the firing at 12:30-12 hours,10 kilos of salt,producing about as much pollution (in the form of dilute hydrochloric acid) as a family car driven for two hours -and considerably less than,for instance,a rubber tyre burned on a road in a political protest.We needed a bit more salt than we thought,and ran out of test rings in the end.Future firings should only need half the quantity.It was a good,strong firing,reaching 1340 degrees by the (again resuscitated) pyrometer,although the brief soak at the end was at 1280,followed by the de rigeur crash cool to 1000.I think this is to help formation of mullite structures instead of slow-cooling crystobolite,but please don't quote me.Before clamming (or clemming,as they say in Stoke) up the kiln,we peered in and saw evidence of the hoped-for orange-peel effect on some pots-for the rest,we shall have to wait for kiln-opening Friday morning.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Progress Report

Elevenish (night)-Sydney rustling up something to eat (zapped pitot-in-plastic-bags with something flaming in a fryingpan).As usual,delicious.The kiln has swallowed some four-plus kilos of salt,producing rings of steadily-increasing intensity-the last beginning to show some orange-peel effects.We're probably hovering around 1260-1270 degrees,cone ten (nominally 1300)is almost down,the pyrometer is fried (again) and out of action,so we're firing by instinct.Probably another hour/two to end of firing-much earlier than planned.

The Third Burner

Kiln Kat

Ready to fire


We started around midday,having taken a couple of hours to finish loading the kiln,placing cones and rings,and wrestling the 4-piece cast door into place.We drilled a new hole for the pyrometer,and fixed a pyrometer whose wires had been fried.Now,sixish,and,remarkably,on schedule,we're at 1030 degrees,having tried three burners (one developed a worrying cough,one had a too-overbored aperture,but the third,after some improvised mid-air plumbing,seems to be working just fine),with a reasonable reducing atmosphere,and a pleasing rate of rise of temp.In fact,we are having to slow the monster down a tad,so eager is it to reach those heady high temperatures.There's a bit of grey smoke at the chimney,and glowing orange cracks around the door,and the whole affair is rumbling in a serious and thoughtful fashion.I am having a cup of tea with Sydney,then a brief kip,then on duty for evening watch.This is a combined web- and kiln-log!Once again,new frontiers in communication!By the way,Hadass's site for the handle workshop (I forgot how to do links) is www.clay-or.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

An Off Week

Last week,that is,at Tel Hai,must have been,because today was a different story-everybody had a bit more snap in them,and I actually got to see some fired work-students are in the habit of squirrelling away pieces straight from the kiln,perhaps not realising the importance of getting critique while the work is still fresh in their minds.Also,as a teacher,it's very hard to get into a student's flow if you don't see fired results.Demonstrated pitchers for first year students (with the Mick Casson/Harrow school pulled lip)and a rectangular lidded container in the style of Joanne and Andrew Young,excellent British functional potters who seem to have disappeared from the scene of late.I brought in a few exemplary pots from the kitchen-David Leach,Caroline Wyman,the Youngs,Antony Phillips,and a commemorative mug featuring Prince Charles with a large ear as its handle.Then to Sydney's for some more work on the kiln,and a celabratory dinner at the new kosher restaurant at Beit Dubrovin in honour of Gilad's birthday:he's on an overdue week's leave from the army.
Not a lot of work is getting done in the studio,with all this gadding about,and prospects are for more of the same-next week is Tel Hai's anagama firing,followed by a workshop on handles,Raanana pottery fair,end-of-year crit at Tel Hai,maybe a trip to Paros with Meir to see his teacher,Paul Chayleff,give a workshop on pithoi (you know what those are,right?)together with Julian Stair,one of my favourite English contemporary potters,and then-Barcelona!That takes us up to mid July,when,if the country isn't going up in flames,we are promised hordes of ravenous tourists.Whether we shall have pots to sell them remains to be seen.At least I don't have any outstanding orders,apart from a cake-plate,which I have made but am somewhat hesitant to fire,being less than confident in its structural integrity.
Thank you to the reader who sent me the address of Chabad in Barcelona-yashar kochecha!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Do any of you have good contacts in Barcelona?Helen and I are planning a few days there in early July.The salt firing has been put back to maybe next Wednesday.Meanwhile,I unloaded a bisc today-everything came out fine-so have slipped bowls ready for the salt.Candlesticks,carafes and oil jugs are drying slowly under nylon-it's Independence Day,and tomorrow promises a short workday followed by the traditional barbeque with friends in nearby Amuka.If I can get spouts and handles on the oil jugs I'll be lucky.Teaching at Tel Hai yesterday-ho hum,something about this year fails to set me alight.Maybe because so many students are into handbuilding,bless them,and relatively few seem to have the makings of throwers. They're producing some good and interesting work,but at a slow rate.We fired the new gas kiln-for me,the first time-an interesting experience,a kiln with a very different personality from it's predecessor,while quite similar in conception.Despite our suspicions during the firing,when I left cones 7 appeared to be falling top and bottom.The students phoned this morning to get a glaze recipe for the impending anagama,but I forgot (twice) to ask how the firing went.
Happy Independence Day!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Catchup on the week's events

First - archery (yesterday afternoon)-a big 616!Anything over 600 (out of a possible 720,being six dozen arrows) is good in my books;over 620 is a cause for celebration.Current performance,as they say,is no indication of future results.
Not a great deal happened in the studio this week:on Wednesday Sydney and I resurrected my salt kiln,which,with the fortuitous intervention of the below-pictured winch and a husky friend who showed up with magical timing to help us manhandle the kiln arch - the last,large and heavy piece -into its place,passed off remarkably smoothly.The kiln has a somewhat ramshackle charm,not attempting to hide its recent deconstruction,various parts bound up with stout rope and builders' wire.We hope to wrap the chimney with foil to compensate for gaps between less-than-clean bricks-at least for the first firing;if we see that the kiln works,we'll mix up some adobe and slap a nice thick layer over the whole job.Finishing off sundry remaining tasks is planned for Tuesday afternoon (after Tel Hai),firing,if all goes well,Wednesday.It's a small kiln,and I'd like to make room for Sydney and Gunmarit to get pots in for the forthcoming Raanana pottery fair,so I made ten faceted bowls of about a kilo each from a novel mixture of French buff stoneware wedged up with a bit (maybe 10%)of Israeli Naaman porcelain (a rare and interesting material,about which I might write some fine day),which I shall slip in various semi-experimental slips,using Sydney's hitherto successful opalescent/white liner glaze for the insides.In fact,the weather having warmed up after Wednesday's unseasonal downpour,and the bowls having dried,I think I'll put some lugs on them right now.Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

My Saltkiln,Rebuilt (Today) at Sydney's

A Magnificent Hydraulic Winch From an Unusually Obliging Garage

Monday, May 02, 2005

Here we are again...

Back after a Pesach break,during which,to amuse the crowds,I started another round of cups - always such a pleasure to return to the cylinder,the essence [for me] of throwing,the act of making them in itself a form of returning to the centre.I made a leisurely 60-odd over a couple of days [selling quite a few pots at the same time]:finishing them off took the rest of the week,together with a batch of 2kg bowls I threw to fill the bottom of the kiln,and because the clay was just right for throwing them.Today,after a visit to the bank [and picking up some wicks and glass cups for a chanukiah to be sent to the U.S.]I packed up 3 [count them] orders for the States and loaded cups and bowls into the bisc-it's about 3/4 full.Tomorrow it's back to Tel Hai for the home straight - the last short hectic period before the end of the year show/critique at the end of June.Wednesday I hope to help Sydney glue my little salt-kiln back together in its new home outside his studio in Yesod.
Today is Gilad's 20th birthday!Happy Birthday,son!It is strange to think that one has a part in the existence of a 20-year-old person,no?

Decorated,ready for bisc

Handles stuck onto cups...

Here are their pulled handles...

Another round of cups gets underway...