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.

C#

Anne Mette Hjortshøj – Paying Honest Attention

Another great short film from Goldmark Gallery! Well Done. Anne Mette Hjortshøj – Paying Honest Attention is so inspiring.  These films all have such a great vibe about them.  I watch them over and over and then go make pots.  They calm me down and lift me up all at the same time.  They give me something to aim for and affirm that I am on the right path.  I feel an earthy connection to the potters featured in these intimate glimpses.  I want to be this kind of potter making pots fired in a wood kiln, living this kind of life in the country, growing organic food, working outside in open space collecting materials locally to use in or on my pots, living a life inspired.

I love the look of Anne Mette’s pots. The fluid nature of the clay in the lugs for the handles of her teapots, for example, look as if the clay is still soft and the handle has lifted it up in the center. The colors and patterns are fantastic.  I like how she makes and uses stamps for adding patterns of texture for the glaze to run over or collect in or break over and edge.  After seeing her beautiful pots and then watching the video it came as no surprise to me that she fires with wood.  Most of my favorite potters fire with wood.  There is nothing better in my opinion than a wood fired pot.  There is so much going on with color and surface from the flames and ash and salt.  You can look at a wood fired pot a hundred times and see something new each time.

I love the way Anne Mette talks about making pots and the process of learning with Phil Rogers. It’s very clear she holds him in the highest regard.  He is one of my favorite potters and an opportunity to learn and work with him would be a dream come true.  I really enjoyed reading his book called Throwing Pots back when I started my clay journey.

So check out the film and the links and let me know what you feel.

I’ve added Goodreads on the bottom right so I can share what books I have read or want to read.  If you have read some great pottery books please recommend them to me.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

C#

Emerging Artist

drying clay in the winter sun

drying out clay in the winter sunshine

Emerging artist.  emerging artist?  emergency artist?  emerging from what? from where? What is an emerging artist?  I guess it means becoming known on the scene.  I like this idea of always beginning.  Each pot is a new beginning, each session of kneading is a new beginning, and each washing up.

A beginner is always searching and learning something new by doing it.  Theory can get your mind going but really, doing it is where the learning begins.  There are so many forms I want to make.  It is endless.  I want to make and sell pots that people can buy and use.  I’m more attracted to green than blue, more to red and brown than purple, orange and black to me are better than pastel anything.  I like creamy milky satiny white and yellows.  I like transparent jade greens and deep translucent emeralds more than muted olive green.  I like browns.  I like reds that are warm and irony more than reds with blue.  I want to make pots that look as if they just took a breath of fresh life, and glaze them in such a way that maintains fluidity like water.

Ok so I am emerging.  I am emerging from an old tired career that was suppose to be a means to an end and somehow has become what I do and have done for far too long.  When you do something for so long it gets routine and boring.  It is not the beginner’s experience.  I want very much to start fresh like a spring flower and bloom in the sunshine of newness and learning.  An experience of trying something new every day is invigorating and challenging, encouraging me to resist judgment and frustration with a gentle intention of freedom, forgiveness and fun.  If it is not fun why do it.  Warren Mackenzie says that making pots ought to be fun.  I’m with him.  I want to have fun and enjoy what I do.  It will not be easy and it will be a long road.  The road is long anyway so making pots has just as much of a chance for me than anything else.  More of a chance because I love doing it.  I’ve been there and done that, and there and that don’t appeal to me anymore.  I want here and this instead.  ooh I like!  Been there done that, now I want to be here and do this.

I made a little piece of music the other night on my computer and found myself enjoying the first 20 minutes and then it became something else.  Something I did not enjoy, something that was trying to be something it was not.  It became a searching and sifting through process instead of a creating one.  My process of songwriting used to be free and flowing until I involved a computer and production.  Even when it sounds cool or hip or funky etc. it sounds like everything else.  When I used to just sing to write the song, it was more real and unique and more human and less machine.  I think making pots needs to be this way as well, fast and free.  To spend too much time on a single pot can take all the life out of it.  I want to always improve my throwing skills so I can let it all go and just make pots, like an actor rehearses lines, memorizes blocking, studies the scene and then lets it all go for the performance trusting that the work has been done.  It is like that with making pots.  Learn technique first and then let it go to be free and trust that the time spent on the basics will always be there for me to tap into.

This winter sunshine is a gift. It’s helping to dry out my clay chunks so I can slake them down.  It’s keeping my glazes from freezing and feels good on my face.  I’m filled with gratitude for everything that has led me to this moment.  All the ups and downs are part of the journey and this moment is where I want to be doing this.

Be here do this.

C#

Why all the othering?

What does it mean to be a simple potter?  What does it mean to be a clay artist?  What does it mean to be a ceramic artist?  What does it mean to be a traditional potter in a modern world?  What is contemporary ceramics?  What does it mean to be a sculptural clay artist?

Does any of this really matter?  Why is it that we try to put everything in a box?  Or assign a label?  It is very limiting.

There is always the pressure to make a living so items are made for practical sales.  However people buy art as well as soup bowls, they buy sculptures, teapots, plaques, tiles, and everything else made from clay.  Which label leaves room for doing anything with clay?  Pure art would not concern itself with sales and yet to be an artist you must sell enough to be able to have the time to make art again and again.  So at some level something must sell whether it is a pot or a sculpture or a tile for someone’s shower.  The purity can be in the making, then the practical can be in the selling.

There is the making stage.

There is the selling it stage.

Two distinct activities…  oops there it is again.  Separating into 2 boxes of activity.  Why is everything so compartmentalized?  I think in the west we are trained this way as we live our lives here.  We are influenced by what we hear.  “Don’t mix business and pleasure” We are brainwashed by big media to zone out in front of a tv and watch a depiction of other people living their lives, to get caught up in it so we follow it, talk about it with our coworkers as if it is important and these are real people, we program our devices to capture the next episode because we just cannot miss it.  Sure it is the story telling of our times, but we could be living our own life instead of watching others live theirs.  It’s 2 dimensional. flat, false, made up, contrived, and spoon fed to us so that we disconnect with ourselves, our emotions, our physical body, our being is split and separated, we become a group of boxes, we fit ourselves into what boxes are offered as acceptable.  We are forced to choose time and again what box we go into.

Even when we sign up for a Facebook page it asks are you an artist, company, product, etc.  and then when you pick we are asked to pick another box to stuff ourselves into and the categories don’t include one that is accurate or real so we compromise and pick something that is close.  But it isn’t.  Same with signing up for Paypal as a merchant to sell handmade pots.  There is no category for selling art, only art supplies.  There is no category for selling handmade anything.

Look at our history and find all sorts of “othering” in the form of classicism, racism, sexism, exclusivity, etc. We are in a constant state of war somewhere in the world with some country or group we deem as other.  Us against them, they are the others, we are not the others, those people over there who are somehow different for some reason are the ones we call other.  We are brought up to believe in competition.  Teamwork and collaboration are encouraged so long as we come together to defeat the other.  The criteria for othering is false and on the surface.  It is made up and handed to us.  The truth is we are all human beings, really we are all earth beings to take it a step further to include animals and we share the same planet.  I guess that is the big box we are all in…Earth.

I am human, I am potter, I am artist, I am son, husband, father.  I am friend, I am clay, water, fire.  I am breath.  I am I, You are you, and we are One.

I know!  Maybe I’ll make some boxes.  Square ones, round ones, flat ones, tall ones.  Hey, a casserole is a box.  I’ll make those.

Thanks for stopping by.

C#

Let’s start here – Gratitude

Let me start with gratitude and a big thank you to Simon Leach.

When we moved in 2010, I was searching for info about gardening so I could create one for my little boy to play in.  I was looking up composting, soil amendments, water conservation and then landed on a video of someone making an olla.  It is an earthenware pot with a wide belly and a longish neck. You bury it in the ground with the neck sticking out, fill it with water and cap it with a stone.  Then you plant around it and since the pot is unglazed the water seeps out slowly and does not evaporate.  It’s almost 100 % efficiency.  For larger spaces you can bury as many as you like.  I was also interested in permaculture so I thought about making a spiral garden with a pattern of ollas forming a spiral. With the stones on top it would look cool to have a spiral of floating stones.

Anyway with the way YouTube works and gives you tons of related videos for each one you watch I watched another pottery video and another…  Eventually I stumbled upon Simon Leach.  I instantly connected with his straight forward style with no music or fancy editing and text etc. He just let the camera roll and did his thing. It was natural and honest.  He let me see his moments of oops as well as offered a lot of detail about how he was doing what he was doing.  Since I was up in the middle of the night anyway with my son who was 1 at the time I kept watching while holding him in my arms and rocking him back to sleep.  I watched all the videos on his channel and at that time it was 600 or so.  Then I watched them again in order.  I had not even touched clay at this point.  I was obsessed with this business of throwing on the wheel. I was being entertained and absorbing all of it in a gentle almost passive way.  It was liking priming the pump, getting ready, or fixin’ to start.

This was back at the end of the summer in 2010.  I’ve come a long way in my pottery life since then and would like to express my most sincere gratitude to all those who have supported me and helped me along the way.  Thank you Simon Leach.  Your videos are inspiring, informative, and have helped me find this new direction for my life along the path of clay.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

C#