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Louisa Parry Hi, I'm Louisa and this is my personal blog. I blog about recycling things at How Can I Recycle This?, about simple/DIY living at The Really Good Life and silly drama games at We Heart Drama. Consequently, having used up all my good ideas elsewhere, this blog is just fluff and nonsense about my cats/dog and whatnot.

22 July 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Learning about Raku

Another long and picture heavy ceramics post! ;)

raku-week2In March, I started a Sculptural Raku course at Hive Bradford.

The Course

The ten session course used to be called “Angels and Acrobats”, with the focus on building sculptural figures that really come alive in a beautiful way when raku fired. To inform the figure building process, the course included two life drawing sessions and another session where people could sculpt models from the life drawing model, Sue.

I somehow missed the sculptural/figure focus when I signed up for the course: I’m not particularly into sculptural ceramics work in the first place (I like bowls and pots, mmm bowls and pots) and the life drawing fell during a super busy fortnight for me and pushed my social anxiety stuff over the edge. Thankfully the lovely tutor and I came up with a compromise: I researched animal figures from early civilisations and while my class mates finished off their sculptures of Sue, I made a herd of minoan bulls, a hittite-ish horse and a reptile/crocodile inspired by a picture I found in a book about Aboriginal art. (I made a Pinterest board as part of my research; it also includes Joan Miro and other chance/automatic art, as I was considering going down that route for a while too.)

We then had a couple of weeks to work on our own sculptural pieces for raku firing: I made a family of Meeple, an Etruscan-inspired horse, and … a couple of bowls – I couldn’t resist ;)

There was then a pause for a couple of months as the tutor was off sick but we finally fired our pieces over the last fortnight.

Raku Firing

The Raku firing process is very different to our normal firing: the pieces were fired to “bisque” in the electric kiln as usual, but then, instead of glazing and firing in a very slow, controlled fashion (and cooled down in the same slow, controlled fashion), Raku is very fast and exciting, involving lots of red hot stuff and fire. (Yes, fire fits in the “red hot stuff” set but I wanted to highlight that the process involves flames. FLAMES!)

Raku firing takes place outside. The pieces (which are made with a “grogged” clay, to be slightly less susceptible to thermal shock) are heated in a gas kiln until the glaze is molten – the clay body itself doesn’t look that hot but boy, it is – it’s about 800C! Then, a daredevil opens the kiln and using a pair of metal tongs, transfers each piece into the reduction kiln – aka a “mucky dustbin” about one-third filled with sawdust. The sawdust immediately bursts into flames, a little more sawdust is thrown on top then the bin is covered with a lid (and damp cloths to reduce the smoke leakage).

Inside the mucky dustbin, magic is happening – magic I don’t full understand but some sorcery that turns the outside of the clay a rich warm black (see the broken minoan bull below), and causes the chemicals in the glazes to change colour, depending on how much oxygen/carbon is available to them (the fire/closed bin reduces the amount of oxygen – hence “reduction kiln”).

It’s just about impossible to predict how Raku fired items will turn out – a short delay in the transfer between the gas kiln and the mucky dustbin will cause certain glazes to do one thing rather than another. Ditto how they sit in the sawdust, or where they sat in the kiln, or how the fire licks around the items, or a dozen other things.

An example of this can be seen on one of my little test pieces – the glaze on the bull’s belly is the same as under his chin, but the chin part had (I think) access to more oxygen so it went blue-y rather than coppery & metallic. (The crocodile thing is also the same glaze as the smallest Meeple below – the crocodile is a glossy green-brown with some metallic shimmers but the baby Meeple is full-on shiny.)

raku-test-pieces

That’s another thing that makes the process exciting – you never know what you’re going to get or if your item will explode from the heat change either going into the reduction kiln or coming out of it. (or crack afterwards, like the minoan bull below). And in case that all wasn’t exciting enough, it only takes about half an hour from start to finish – a stoneware firing in our electric kiln takes a couple of days to get up to 1200C and come back down again – so you get to squeal about your freshly fired stuff straight away.

My first Raku pieces

Raku items are known for their glorious shiny metallics and for crackles which get stained with carbon in the reduction kiln. As it was my first time Rakuing, I tried to get examples of both.

First up, the shiny-shiny.

tiny-meeple
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20 July 2014 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – pancakes/finale, the pride/a year ago, AC

3BT

(My 35th birthday)

1. Pancakes – good fluffy ones with fruity honey and lemon juice – and crispy bacon.

1b. We rewatch the 30 Rock finale over breakfast. I’m reminded that it’s a lovely combination of sentimentality and funny, saying goodbye to characters while remaining true to them.

2. Watching the cats run down to the chicken coop with John. Kaufman gets a tickle on the head while Strange explores the heuchera.

2b. It’s a year to the day since we first met the kitties at the RSPCA. They were in the first little pen we looked in – three little mewing faces, pawing at the glass. We spent two hours that evening swapping potential names back and forth across the restaurant table.

3. The air conditioning in the bar is a little too chilly but in the restaurant, it’s perfect.

19 July 2014 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – (rain), rainforest/smell, together/grunter, crocosmia/

3BT

0. The coolness washes over us as the rain takes the heat out of the night.

1. Underneath the tall, spindly trees, the heavy leaves trap clouds of moisture – you can see the steam circling from the house. It’s exactly this weather condition that causes people to say our gardens are like the rainforest.

1b. We find the source of the bad smell and eliminate it.

2. We sit on the footstool together – me and John and Lily and Strange.

2b. Soaked in the rainstorm then fresh from the shower, Lily wriggles and grunts on John’s pillow.

3. The windows frame the blood red crocosmia.

3b. Like with my Wayne’s World cap earlier in the week, I sporadically wear my Hello Kitten penguin mask during the evening.

18 July 2014 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – raku/bowls/thorn/curls/look inside, summertime, sleepy

3BT

1. The magical moment when the colours appear.

1b. I’ve been worried about how to glaze my bowls but it turns out my hand is forced: I glaze the insides and leave the outsides to the reduction, aside from a few accidental/deliberate spatters for interest. I love how they turn out.

1c. There is a thorn in my heel as I walk back from the bakery – each step is agony. Afterwards, after I remove it, there is a pleasant echo of the pain whenever I put my weight on it – pleasant because it’s a relief that’s all there is.

1d. I turn the bowls to make curves and feet. The clay peels off in curls.

1e. My favourite Minoan bull cracks before I get any good photos of it but, like with the cracked bird feeder, it’s fantastic to be able to look inside: to see how far the carbon penetrates the clay body.

2. ‘Summertime’ (not the Gershwin one) is on the radio. It hasn’t dated as much as I would have thought for a song from a) 1991, b) by people called DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. (The song has aged better than their names, that’s for sure.)

3. My pillow is a wonderful place. Why did I not visit it sooner?

18 July 2014 ~ 2 Comments

Misc thoughts and observations of a nearly 35 year old

HCRH_milepost_35 (1) 
It’s my birthday at the weekend, my 35th.

For some reason, much more so than my 30th, this seems like a turning point, a milestone. The year I turned 30 was a momentous, grown-up year – we were stuck in mortgage-application hell trying to buy our house, my first business idea was failing while John’s shiny new one was booming, we lost Sili (the first of our cats to go, snatched from us prematurely by cancer) and around us, nearly all of our couple friends were expelling small humans from their loins. But still… even with all that going on, I didn’t feel much different in myself to how I’d felt five, maybe even ten years earlier. This year though…

Ain’t nothing but a number

For the first time, I feel old.

I remember my mum and dad being around this age – they were adults with two kids and a mortgage with 1980′s interest rates, not an immature, whimsical narcissist who has time to write an ambling treatise on ageing on a Thursday afternoon but still, I remember them at the age I am now.

When we got our new pride of cats last year, we realised that if they live to the same age as the last ones, they’ll be with us until we’re pushing 50. Fifty!

In my teens, I watched films featuring characters in their twenties – I was ten years younger than them then; I’m ten years older now but they haven’t aged a day. Fuckers.

Decades and fractions of centuries

I’m starting to measure the time since events in multiple decades. I remember at 25/26 thinking “cor, it’s a DECADE since I left school, a DECADE since I started going out to clubs, a DECADE since I met my teenage buddies”. Well you know what, past-Louisa, it’s nearly TWO DECADES since that sort of thing now. (Of course, these are just arbitrary things I’ve picked out to illustrate my point but I’ve picked them for a reason: I could say it’s more than three decades since I had a swan on my coat peg at nursery, but who cares, I was a little child then but all of the things I’ve mentioned above, happened when I was bordering on adulthood, when I was already some version of “me”.)

High school left such a (largely negative) imprint on my brain that I still dream about it – I had a dream about being in a maths class there just last night – but it’s been FOUR times as long since I left as I actually spent there. It’s been a fifth of a century since I left school. A fifth of a CENTURY.

My relationship with John isn’t quite in multiple decades or meaningful fractions of centuries yet – we’ve been together about 12 years – but I first met him in early 1998 when I was 18. Towards the end of 2015, he’ll have been in my life for longer than he hasn’t been – and I’ve already crossed that barrier with some of the teenage buddies mentioned above.

And of course, projecting forwards, I’m likely to live (at least) another 35 years – I probably haven’t crossed that halfway line yet but at some point in the not too distant future I will.
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17 July 2014 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – OTT/callbacks/darlings, magnums, that’s us

3BT

1. I make myself laugh with some ridiculous hyperbole.

1b. Satisfying callbacks make a piece hang together better than it should.

1c. I “kill my darlings”. The resulting post is much cleaner and coherent as a result – and I can save the jokes for another time.

2. We don’t usually have magnums at home – they’re a “at the theatre only” thing – so these are a delicious, special treat.

3. Their ears stand up as he calls their names. I release them and they run down the stairs side by side.