Kiln technician Aimee unloading the kiln at eastnor pottery

Once visitors have left the Pottery having had a fabulous time creating their clay masterpieces, they may be interested to know what happens to their ‘makes’ left behind. Aimee is the key person responsible for the aftercare of customers work as it makes it’s journey from clay to ceramic. She describes part of the process below:

“After our customers have made their pots and decorated them, there are a few processes they will go through before customer and pot are re-united.

Clay is left to dry out until it is bone dry and there is no moisture left. This can usually take several days but we use the assistance of radiators and fan heaters during winter and the sun’s rays during summertime to speed up the process a little bit. Whilst clay dries, it shrinks by a small amount of about 5-10% so it’s also important not to expose clay to too much heat too quickly as this can cause it to crack.

Once pots are dry, they are ready to be fired. They have to be fully dry as any moisture still within a pot when being fired will evaporate, potentially creating air bubbles which may cause a pot to ‘explode due to there being nowhere for the air to be released to. This is why clay can’t be made too thick or projects such as pinch pots need an airhole. One way to tell they’re dry is how they look visually. With the grey stoneware and red terracotta clays we use, pots dry a lighter shade compared with when they are freshly thrown off the wheel. Another way is the ‘cheek test’ by placing the base of a pot to your cheek. A dry pot is usually cold and you can’t feel any moisture on you cheek.

All pots go through 2 firings. The first firing is known as a bisque where pots go through the change from clay to hard pottery. At this point, pottery is still quite porous which means it will later absorb glaze easily. A bisque firing reaches a maximum temperature of 960 degrees – very hot! This firing gives a matte, pastel-like effect and can be chalky at this point. 573 degrees is the temperature point in a bisque firing where clay changes its state to hard pottery and becomes irreversible. The term is called Quartz Inversion.

The second firing pottery goes through is a glaze firing. We use a clear glaze which is what makes pots waterproof and functional. Pots are dunked in the glaze and their bases are wiped. The reason for this is so that they don’t become stuck to the kiln shelf. A glaze firing has a maximum temperature of 1080 degrees – even hotter! Between 1000 and 1120 degrees is where the pottery changes state again from bisque to the final product. This final firing produces the final product making your pots functional, dishwasher proof and usable

Fun fact: When packing kilns, pots can touch each other in a bisque but not a glaze. The reason for this is because as the glaze melts, any pots touching will become stuck together during the cooling down process of the firing.”


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Immy Wedging

Immy Wedging

Immy is responsible for ensuring the clay is at it’s optimum condition ready for our customers to use on the potter’s wheel. Here she explains the process of clay preparation:

“Before any piece of clay is put on the potter’s wheel, we must ensure it is the correct state for our customers to throw their creations with. We do this by wedging the clay. Wedging, or kneading the clay, involves using your hands to roll the inconsistent clay in a smooth motion. By doing this we are pushing out any air bubbles that may be hidden in the clay, air bubbles can crack customers pots or be dangerous to put into the kiln.

Another reason we wedge is clay is to make sure it is the right consistency to throw with. It would be almost impossible to create a pot on the potter’s wheel with a piece of clay that is too hard or too soft!

We never waste any clay in the pottery. The bits that fly off during centering, the leftover parts from a pinch pot, the soggy stuff you find at the bottom of buckets, all unused clay is collected together and wedged back into a nice consistency for the next person to use.

If the clay becomes too hard to wedge, we do a process called slicing and dipping. As the name suggests, we slice the hard clay, dip it into a bucket of water, pull it back out and place it into a fresh bag. The clay is then for a few days to absorb the water. After that it is taken out of the bag and wedged together!”

 


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hand made pottery hedgehog on the phone

“Hello, Eastnor Pottery, Horace speaking, how can I help you?!”

This hand crafted, pottery hedgehog was created by a visitor on a team building pottery workshop held at the end of August. It was made using the simple pinch-pot technique where two little ‘pinched’ bowls are joined together to create a hollow sphere, which can be shaped into almost anything – fish, cat or even a hedgehog!

potter sarah monk standing in front of her ceramics at her studio on the eastnor castle estate

Contemporary Ceramics is a prestigious gallery in Central London specialising in studio ceramics. For the last 6 months Eastnor Pottery co-director Sarah Monk has been developing a new a collection for exhibition at the gallery.

The work features new colours, new clay, new techniques, new slips and new glazes. The work is on show until the end of October 2018.

Here’s an extract from the article she composed for the Gallery blog.

“Creating the collection has been a winter-evening pursuit, when our busy Studio is closed to customers. By day we offer Pottery Experiences, and have been doing so for the last 24 years. Having just a few hours at the end of a busy day really focuses the creative process for me!

I am a designer-maker specializing in functional ceramics to fit comfortably in the home, particularly the kitchen (my favorite room in our house).

Breakfast has been my starting point; berry bowls and spoons, toast racks and knife rests, egg cups with decorative storage boxes and bowls of all shapes and sizes. The whole range is mix and match.  

Growing up, my Mum collected Watcombe Pottery. Over the years she managed to collect more than 400 pieces and they over-flowed from two dining-room dressers in our kitchen. I remember showing it to my school friends and enjoyed reading all the sgraffito sayings and looking at the vibrant slip-trailed patterns. My plan this year has been to fill a dresser at Eastnor Pottery with my own slipware designs, reveling in the easy-going feel of a country potter. In fact, I have already filled this dresser…..maybe I need to get a second one too!

When making my own work, my approach is relaxed and playful, and I hope this translates through to the finished pieces. I love our studio workshop and make full-use of our facilities; from the electric potter’s wheels to the table spaces for hand-building and modeling – whatever takes my fancy! Slips are brushed on, sgraffito designs drawn into the surface and spriggs applied, making the pieces tactile, a deliberate consideration. I restrict my pallet to blue and white slip on terracotta clay; it links everything together and has a country cottage appeal. All of my making happens at the wet clay stage. After a biscuit firing I don’t add anything else to the surface except for a simple lead-free glaze.”

 

contemporary tableware by herefordshire potter sarah monk

More work can been seen on Sarah’s Instagram.

Six months in, Aimee and Immy report on their community arts apprenticeships:

Aimee

Aimee one of our community arts aprentices showing a customer how to make a pot on the potter's wheel

“6 months in….my goodness! Time is literally flying by! Still can’t believe it’s been 6 months since I started at Eastnor Pottery. It literally still feels like yesterday! I have to say 6 months in and I still feel lucky to have found such a wonderful opportunity. It’s definitely so much better to working in retail in my opinion!
Despite having studied GCSE’s, A Levels and even a Foundation Diploma in Art, I hadn’t done an awful lot of work with clay in the past. These past 6 months of learning about clay and working with it have become another new experience for me. When I sat on the potter’s wheel for the first time, my first pot wasn’t amazing but the experience was and since then, without sounding too bigheaded, I feel my skills have improved so much and I now feel confident to pass them onto our customers. I’ve also found I want to constantly  improve my clay skills and get better, especially on the wheel as I’m now at a point where I’m trying out slightly different techniques to holding the clay as it spins for more effective results, especially with customers.
When the Flying Potter goes to visit schools, I have accompanied him on a few visits and have found to quite enjoy working with the children on various clay projects – more than I anticipated I would! These days tend to be quite positively crazy and action packed. You could say I definitely sleep well on those nights! It’s so fascinating to see that one project can be set and yet you never see two of the same results. This happens also back at Pottery HQ and I love watching customer’s work going through the aftercare processes which I’m also involved with.
I’m fortunate to have started with and work with another apprentice, Immy (not sure how lucky she feels about working with me!) and it’s great to be able to support and encourage each other. We’ve both become a right pair and I think have nicknamed ourselves Ant & Dec. I don’t think a day goes by with Immy, Jon, Sarah and Jo where we don’t find ourselves in stitches over something or another!
With all the positivity, I have come across a few challenges. My strength has always been a challenge especially when moving wheels and furniture about and lifting kiln shelves due to their weight. However, this was a challenge in the beginning but since, I feel a stronger person and despite it still being a challenge, it’s easier than it was. Immy and I have even adopted our own “Shimpo Shuffle” when we’re moving potters’ wheels. Even the Kiln shelves have become easier to lift. They’re still heavy but a little lighter than when I first lifted one and thought I was going to drop it on customers’ work! (luckily I didn’t). Despite all this, I love waking up in the mornings wondering what is going to happen that day and I always look forward to the commute as I get to enjoy beautiful views both ways!”

Immy

Immy one of our community arts aprentices showing a girl how to make a pot on the potter's wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Starting my apprenticeship at Eastnor Pottery was a real change for me. I came to the pottery straight from sixth form, not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned! Although I felt like I was starting to disengage at school towards the end, I’d always stayed keen on photography and other creative based subjects.

 It was the first time I had ever had a real or proper job and therefore I was nervous, but also very excited! To begin with I was anxious about the thought of working with the general public and how confident, or not I might be. However, I quickly learnt that this would not be the issue I thought it was because I had more confidence than I first believed. Within a few weeks I found myself enjoying something that had previously scared me.

Although Eastnor Pottery is a small business there is a great team of people who made me feel very welcome from the beginning. Jon and Sarah’s passion is infectious and this has made it easy for me to learn. Jo, in the office who is incredibly friendly and always up for a good chat. Another apprentice, Aimee, started at the same time as me and its good to have somebody who is on the same level as me.

I had not had my hands on a lump of clay since I was a young child and felt completely new to the world of pottery and ceramics. Although I am no where near an expert, in the last 6 months I have learn the basics, and now understand the process of how clay transforms into ceramics. I’d never used a potter’s wheel before and although I’m not up to making a 52-piece dinner set, I could probably stretch to a bowl or a useable vase.

One of the biggest surprises I have had whilst working at the pottery is how much I enjoy teaching. I’ve never thought I would have enough skills to share or be any good at teaching but with the guidance and encouragement from everyone around me it now seems like a natural activity for me and I feel competent in what I’m doing.

Teaching in schools was something I had considered as a profession, but I never thought I would have the correct skills needed for it. Although I am still not certain that it is something I want in my future, the pottery workshops I have been part of in schools have made me think about teaching as a career again.

One of the best aspects of the job is the interesting and varied individuals that come in to take part in the workshops. Sometimes I feel as if I make a friend for an hour or so and enjoy their company, before the next person comes in!

 Working at the pottery has taught me so many things, not only the obvious like clay and the process of making ceramics but engaging with the public and sharing my new-found enthusiasm.”