For a potter, Christmas comes more than once a year. It comes whenever you fire a new batch of work. At least that’s what I feel like every time I run the kiln. As I impatiently wait for the kiln to cool completely, my mind is full of anticipation…just like a kid waiting to see what surprises are under the tree! What will the kiln gods give me today?
The Firing Process
There are a lot of steps to creating a piece of pottery. All of them require skills and talent that come with practice. But most also involve a little luck. That is especially true of the firing process. Sure there is a science to it: you want to bake your piece of clay to the exact right temperature allowing it to have the time it needs to heat up slowly, vitrify, and then cool back down. Electronic kilns take a lot of the guesswork out of this. But there are still so many variables involved that you can never be sure what you are going to find when you lift that lid.
Cracks, explosions, cakes of kiln wash leaving little white flecks in the glaze, glaze not sticking, colors changing in unexpected ways…these are just a few of the surprises my kiln has bestowed on me. Some I can explain. Impatience is not a great trait for a potter so I pay the price when I don’t let pieces dry out enough or crack that lid to sneak a peek inside just a little too soon. Others I cannot quite yet. Glaze mixed exactly the same way comes out a beautiful yellow for one batch and in the next a drab purplish-brown. With every mistake, though, comes a lesson. I pay close attention to the weather outside when throwing and firing. I think about where I place pieces in the kiln – watching for how colors come out on the lower shelves versus the higher shelves. I experiment with the amount of glaze I put on each piece – double dipping even triple dipping some pieces to create special effects.
The Joy of Lifting the Lid
All of this thinking, though, does not take away from the joy of lifting that lid and seeing what really has happened. Because in pottery, like life, no matter how hard you try to control all variables, you can’t. So every morning after a firing it feels like Christmas and, most days, the kiln gods are good to me. I am thankful for the beauty I can be part of creating and getting to experience the thrill of Christmas morning over and over all year round. I’m off to lift the lid…