Why C# you ask?

C Sharp seal on my pot

C# seal impressed on soft clay before it's fired

This photo is a close up of the ” C# ” I stamp into all my pots.  This one happens to be on a drinking cup.

Why C#?  (pronounced C Sharp) My first name is Cameron so that’s the C.  My last name is Sharp and in written music the ” # ” symbol means sharp. Whatever note has this symbol is played a half step up.  I’m a musician and C# has been a nickname for a while among friends and other potters.  I love to write songs and for some reason often write in the key of C#, which sonically is the same as D flat.  I play guitar and love tuning it in Drop D, or what me and my band mates used to call drop D and a half, which simply means that we tuned our instruments down a half step on all the strings and then when we switch to drop D it ends up being D flat.  Or C#.  So the strings are tuned from the lowest to the highest as D flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, B flat, E flat.

Along with some other tools, I made my stamp before I ever threw a pot.  I knew I wanted one and did not like the look of names just scratched into clay.  I had some Makore hardwood scraps from a cd corner cabinet I had made years before and thought it might be longer lasting than if I made a seal out of clay.   Having been a woodworker for many years my medium at that time was wood, and even though I had not done much carving, I thought I would give it a go.  I made 2 or 3 and this one turned out the best.

Making them from clay is great because you can make them quickly and keep making them as they wear out.  The clay is much easier to carve than wood.  Simon Leach has some great videos on making seals you can check out on YouTube.  I haven’t made any seals in clay yet but I would like to make some that say the name of my town or the country I live in or even the year.  If for no other reason it would help me remember what was made when and where and help me follow my progress.  We are casually considering new places to live and I would like to mark the pots made here differently than the ones that will be made in the new place.

I like the way my stamp came out so much I was thinking of ways to recreate it in clay.  I could use the wooden seal to make a mark in some soft porcelain clay, let it harden, even bisque fire it, and then use that as a mold to make another stamp.  It would pick up the image in reverse and might just work.  I’ll try it and write another post about it in the future.

Thanks for stopping by.


More encounters with my new favorite tool, the sawzall blade

The surface of this cup was scratched with a sawzall blade. The background in this photo reminds me of a sunset

Ajira snapped some photos last night of pots I decorated with  the sawzall blade. It was fun to experiment with the light and background.  Check out more of her photography at ajiradarchphotography.com

drinking cup scratched with sawzall blade

drinking cup scratched with sawzall blade next to my son's wellies

When I made these marks, I held the pot on my lap with a hand on the inside for support and with a firm grip on my tool pushed the blade down and at the same time slid it sideways towards me.  This made the sweeping marks.  On others I used it to make a straighter mark more like combing.  Some I did from both directions.  It was fun exploring what could happen.

a simple design scratched in with a sawzall blade

a simple design scratched in with a sawzall blade

Thanks for looking.


Up all night with my new favorite tool

Sawzall blade tool

My new favorite tool - the used sawzall blade

Scratches made with sawzall blade

Scratches made with the sawzall blade

I found this journal entry from a while ago in February when I stayed up all night playing with clay…

I did a lot last night from 9 pm until dawn when I heard our neighbor’s rooster crow.  I pulled handles for jugs and mugs.  I made a 2 pound bowl.  I kneaded loads and loads of clay.  I trimmed 6 cups and 3 made it 3 did not.  I think my tools were dull so I must sharpen them before trimming next time.  I had 6 balls at 1.75 pounds of some really stinky clay which I threw into shapes that did not make it.  It did not hold up very well during throwing. The other clay I got from John at the Clay Studio seems denser and better to work with, plus it does not smell like a sewer or cow dung.   It’s good practice finding out how hard to push and how far I could go and especially how far is too far.  It’s also good practice letting go and not being tied to the outcome.

I trimmed the lid I made the other day but it was too soft and did not make it.  So, I made a new lid in a different style which will be easier to trim when the time comes and a real improvement in form over the last one.

I used my sawz-all blades to decorate some texture into the 2 jugs and the mugs. I found a way to make a mark by dragging it 90 degrees and sliding it a little left or right at the same time which makes a progressively longer mark.  The sawzall blade is my new favorite tool.  I love the result of the mark left when I just go for it without any hesitation, nice and fluid.  Confident.

Finally I put a bold and thick handle on the jugs.  One of the jugs was still soft at the belly but not the rim.  The rim provided good attachment but the belly caved in a little which made the join look sloppy and contrived.  I tried to save it but it kept getting worse and worse so I let it go. I will make more.  The jugs were 3.5 pounds of clay and could have been a little bigger and less thick in the base.  I was unhappy with the shape of the big bowl I made the other day so I let that go as well by cutting off the rim and creating a whole new design.  I like what it has become as a result.  I figure it is like learning guitar.  Slowly and correct will be the better path in the long run.

My hands and wrists are sore today and my lower back is aching.  I imagine I will get stronger as I practice and it will help heal my wrists.  As long as I am mindful of how far I am pushing myself it will be ok.  I do believe it is about technique and skill and not about physical strength.  Centering large amounts of clay can be physical but it can also teach me patience.

I’ve been resting for hours and I really want to go out there and check my clay.  I think throwing more often for less time is better than one marathon session.  However, during this middle of the night adventure time drifted away from my awareness.  I was doing my thing totally immersed in the task at hand, learning and loving it with passion and momentum, when all of a sudden I heard the rooster crow, and thought, it must be time for a nice little cuppa.

I cleaned up, made some earl grey tea, and greeted the sunrise with delight and gratitude.


Carbon Nation and my kiln

Just watched an eye opening documentary film called Carbon Nation on Netflix and it got me thinking about firing the kiln for my pottery.  What is the cost in money as well as impact on our atmosphere?  What are the best choices for reducing CO2 emissions?  Is it using an electric kiln?  Sure if the source is wind generated electricity or from solar but not if that electricity was created by burning coal in a huge power plant?  Coal is by far the dirtiest burning fossil fuel.  So what is the sustainable thing to do when designing a kiln and deciding what the heat source will be?

What about natural gas?  It comes to the house already.  It’s convenient and relatively inexpensive. I can have it run out to the kiln pretty easily and it is cleaner burning but there are issues with how it is collected and the damage that process does to our environment.  I would also have the cost of special burners which are a sizable chunk of change.

What about propane?  It is widely used around the globe for heating and cooking.  Simon Leach and others use it for their kilns successfully.  I could use inexpensive weed burners which are only $20 each from Harbor Freight.

What about an oil drip system using reclaimed vegetable oil from restaurants?  Biofuels are all the rage now.  Would that work?

What about an oil drip system using waste oil from garages?  Too toxic to deal with and still uses petroleum oil which keeps it in the system and burning it is a dirty burn.  Giving the waste oil an easy place to go seems like it would encourage more use of it.  What we really need to do is have electric cars that plug in and get our electricity by wind and solar.

What about wood?  Burning wood releases CO2 but how much?  If I am using wood that is thrown away by someone else it’s being reclaimed and that’s a good thing keeping it from the landfills.  And maybe they would give it to me free for taking it off their hands.  Win win.  Nothing beats the look and feel of wood fired pots.

What if I used natural gas and wood?  The gas could be the main heat source and wood for the effects.  Less wood means less ash?  Does it mean less CO2?  And will the pots be as beautiful as they would be from an all wood firing?

Is methane an option?  People have been collecting their own on small scale farms.  Manure from just a few animals creates enough methane for heating and cooking for a family of 5.  That is if you can get past the idea of using crap gas.  How much is needed for a cone 10 firing?  What kind of burners work with methane?  How large must the kiln be to support this family and a pottery?  How often must it be fired to have enough pots to sell?

Maybe landfill gas could work.  It sounds complicated in terms of delivery and burner type etc. but may be worth checking out since landfills are everywhere there are humans.

What about a solar kiln?  Remember the magnifying glass from childhood held over the leaves until they ignited?  On a larger scale would this work for a kiln somehow?  I suppose you could have solar panels collect energy and run an electric kiln for bisque firing.  Some potters single fire their pots thereby reducing the need for a bisque firing.  It seems like that would mean less CO2 but wood firings are usually a lot longer so there may be no significant savings.

And what about all that heat that comes out of the chimney?  There must be a way of harnessing it to create electricity for the pottery or storing it, or even selling it back to the electric company.  In colder climates duct work could be set up to collect heat from around the chimney.  In simple terms, the heat could boil water and the steam could rise up to turn something and that could produce electricity.  If the kiln was fired once per month could it produce enough energy for the month?  Or could it produce enough to pay for the firing, creating a break even and thereby increasing the profits for the pottery?

Currently the cost of firing is my largest expense.  My clay was given to me by John from The Clay Studio in San Francisco, CA when they went out of business as well as twenty 5-gallon buckets of glaze that work with their clay.  That’s about 3,000 pounds of clay and 100 gallons of glaze!  Thanks John!  My main kick wheel was $40 off craigslist, the other kick wheel was free.  The broken electric kiln I fixed up and intend to convert to propane gas was free from Clay People in Richmond, CA. I make some of my own tools and the rest were given to me.  Essentially the largest cost for me has been time.  It has taken a lot of time to gather all these things together so I could make pots. In fact their was six months without making pots at all, working and gathering and searching and it felt like I was sick.  I was aching to get back to clay.  If I had the money I probably would have gone to The Potters Studio in Berkeley, CA and become a member.  The community is supportive and I learned from being around other potters.  It would have been too easy to just throw and trim and stick it on the shelf for someone else to bisque, then use the studio glazes (some of which I love) and put it on a shelf again for the big gas kiln which someone else would fire.  In the long run it is better for my development to do it all on my own and learn each aspect as I do it.  Even though I watched a lot of videos and took a couple classes, the real learning was when I got my hands on clay during my practice time outside of class and after that on my own just doing it.

So check out Carbon Nation and the other links in this post and let me know what you think.  Maybe there is a new kind of kiln yet to be invented.

Much gratitude for all the free stuff and thanks for reading.