Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Jewelry

I don't think that I really fell in love with pit firing until I strung my first bracelet with pit fired beads from that original firing and saw how lovely the grays and blacks looked with silver spacers and findings. Once that first bracelet was strung together, those beads took on a new life that continues to charm and inspire me. I am pleased to say that that very first pit fired bead bracelet belongs now to a good friend of mine who truly loves it as well. I don't think I could have parted with it otherwise. I have since made more but that first one stands out in my mind as a sentinel and a peak experience in my journey of making clay beads.

Friday, February 24, 2006

How They Turned Out

The picture on the right is how the beads that were wrapped with thin copper wire turned out. They have faint shadows of lines and some nice shades of orange brown. The buffalo has faint lines radiating from the center hole where I strung the wire. There is also a small crack in the bead near the hole and I think that the wire put a lot of stress on the center hole and I would be more careful next time. On some of the other beads the wire dug into the clay as well. But I do like the faint hint of lines. They give the beads another dimension.
When I set up this firing, I spritzed some of the smaller beads with water and then tossed copper carbonate powder at them and it stuck to them. I think it helped with the color. That photo is coming up next.
This firing was done with coarse saw dust. To top off the can I threw in about 5 banana peels. I had heard that they help with the color. I do believe that these small beads that had the copper carbonate on them are blacker than any others I have fired. They have a real raku look to them. Seems this firing was very good on setting up a reduction atmosphere. I think that the small black beads will look really great strung with silver findings and spacers.
It seems that I like nights when the wind is howling to post my blog. Tonight there is yet again another attempt up here in the North Country to have some more winter. Makes me want to do another firing. But I am out of bisqued beads. The ones I had set aside for a saw dust firing, I have in the kiln right now in a porcelain slow glaze. I have just begun to experiment with porcelain and am beginning to like it. At first, the viscous shiny surface put me off, and the way my stains didn't come out the way they do at low fire really upset me. But I do love that silky feel.
The small beads in the photo above were wired to a metal rack which is the invention of Sue Wilcox. This one has withstood quite a few firings and doesn't seem to be falling apart yet. It is made with angle irons. It is the same rack that is on the first entry in this blog. The point I am trying to get to is that the little beads were affixed to this rack whereas the larger beads that had the thin copper wire in them were placed at the top of the can and worked their way down with the fire. The small ones were only in the fire when it reached them but seemed to have been more affected by the reduction atmosphere than the larger beads. I don't know why this is. Perhaps it was the bananas!
Well Winter, keep on howling, because for me that is the best weather for beading and late night blogging.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Ice

Overnight the rain fell and turned to ice that glazed the trees, the roads, and our long driveway making it hard to walk up to the sawdust firing. But the fire kept going through out the storm and didn't stop until about 8PM tonight. For 29 hours the firing barrel smoked and slowly burned through the sawdust. I can't wait to see how the beads came out. It was still too warm to open the can tonight. I will look tmorrow.
It amazes me that the fire kept going through the heavier rain, wind and ice. At one point I was sure that it had gone out as the can felt cold. But then I caught a red glint from one of the air holes and smelled smoke and knew it was still alive. This picture was taken at about 11AM the next morning and the fire was still going strong.
A Sawdust Fired Pendant Vessel
This pendant vessel came out of a sawdust firing done on January 8, 2006. Again the weather was cold but there was no rain or snow falling. I had used very fine and dry sawdust and the fire burned out much more quickly. It was started at about 4PM but was completely burned out by the morning. This pendant has a glazed stripe down the front and back, has been previously pit fired, and was painted with a coat of copper carbonate before it was put in the the barrel. I think it came out very well and I love the pinkish aura around the stripe.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Fire

Here is the can in which the saw dust firings have been done this month. The white ball on the top is a porcelain bead that will work its way down the burning material and be a surprise for me when I empty out the can when it cools off. The white on the ground is snow. It was a very cold day when this can was fired but it did well anyway. This particular firing took place on January 8, 2006 and was composed of fine, very dry sawdust. The fire was begun in the late afternoon and was completely burned down by morning.

Bead Preparation

Today, at about 3:00 PM I began to light the fire for a new sawdust firing. It is a cold day, despite being warm for January. It is about 24F and a winter weather advisory is calling for freezing rain. Luckily, I got the firing started before the rain, and now that everything is getting a gloss coat of ice, the beads are toasty warm and the fire is smoking away.
Today I used a number of small porcelain beads that had been bisqued at cone 06. They were strung on rebar wire and hooked to the framework I use which just fits into the sawdust firing chamber which is a large can with some holes drilled into it. I spritzed the beads with water and then tossed some copper carbonate powder on them, hoping that the water would hold the powder closer and longer to the beads and have an affect on their color. We shall see. In addition, I strung some larger porcelain bisque beads with 28 guage copper wire which I strung in the central hole. This is supposed to affect the color as well. I am now going to upload a photo of those beads so that you can see how the copper wire was strung. That photo is above this text.

These beads were set on top of the sawdust, and then I put banana peels, scraps from picture frame moldings and shavings on top of them. This whole assortment of wood, sawdust and organic material was lighted with a match and began to burn as the wind whipped around the burning can. The wire wrapped beads will work their way down the fire and end up on the bottom after they have been exposed to all levels and additives of the fire. I will be sure to post these exact beads when the barrel cools off. This won't happen before tomorrow night even though it is very cold out. I expect the fire to burn all night. This sawdust is coarse, left over from the Amish sawmill cuttings, and is slightly damp. It takes longer to burn than the fine sawdust I used a few weeks ago.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Above is a picture of some beads that were fired either in the pit or in a can with sawdust. The range of grays, blacks and inbetween shades is incredible and is solely the result of the fire and smoke on the beads. I have found that using porcelain clay as a body gives a softer and wider range of colors. These beads were mostly cast from porcelain slip. It gives the bead a creamier quality and I think that the whiteness of the porcelain is more open to trapping the carbon from the smoke than other clay bodies. These beads were bisque fired to cone 06. I am going to try cone 010 as I have read that bisquing at that temperature, which is considerably cooler than 06 will leave the clay body more porous and again trap the carbon better. I will surely post those results but it will be awhile as I haven't bisqued the beads yet, and in fact I haven't even made them. I am still working on a pile that I bisqued at cone 06. And before I forget to mention it, the beads in the above picture are for sale on the site in the Ceramic category. Currently the Beads of Clay Yahoo Group is putting forth a group effort to put as many artist beads made of clay on the Ceramics categoryas possible. Last I looked we were up to 50. A great chance to see some of the best beads being made by ceramic artists today. You can learn more about this group at

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pit Firing

Sally Hartman and I did our first pit firing last summer in a great spot by the river that runs through my farm. We used hay, straw. shredded paper, veneer scraps, wood and lots of dead twigs and grass. We had a great time and fell in love with pitfiring. The results were wonderful. Now we have gotten funding by New York State Council on the Arts to do a pitfiring workshop this summer. Our funding conduit is the Canton Public Library. So my plan is to use this blog to record in words and pictures all the sawdust firings and pit firings I do between now and this summer and to show our results from the summer workshop. This should be a sharing of knowledge and hopefully will inspire others to try out this wonderful way of firing clay.
Sally makes weed racks and bowls and I make beads, buttons and pendants. Now Sally is getting interested in jewelry too, as pit fired beads and earrings look so fantastic when set with silver findings and spacer beads.
This first pitfiring lasted 2 full days before it was cool enough for us to dig out our treasures from the ashes. Here is a picture of the pit filled and in full fire:

Raku Bead Video Part III