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It’s Good vs It’s What I Wanted

Potters have many options for firing our work.  Some, like electric firing leave little to chance.  Other types of firing, like wood firing depend on so many different factors that it’s always a bit unpredictable.  Yes, we can learn to do things that will help make better flame marks of the pots but we also are at the mercy of things like atmospheric pressure and moisture content of wood.  Each time I participate in a wood firing I learn a bit more but it’s kind of like learning about computers.  Each answer brings another question.  You have to be okay with that sometimes.

The most recent wood firing that I participated in produced some pots that made a few potters unhappy.  One man was very disappointed and posted a picture of a cup he disliked on Facebook.  Friends flocked to it to tell him how much they loved the cup.  Another friend said she thought all her pieces experienced too much reduction and came out too dark.  Again, I looked at pictures on line and thought they came out beautiful.  Of course a picture isn’t the same as seeing the piece in person but I’ll bet they were beautiful in reality.

I’ve seen this with students also.  I’ve seen a student be very disappointed with a beautiful pot because they expected something different.  My advice is to put the pot away until you have lost your expectations then look at it with fresh, eyes that are not opinionated.  That tends to work.

Woodfired Pottery Vase by Future Relics Gallery
Wood Fired Vase

Some people who work in other art mediums that have much more control argue that potters are not true artists because we often leave some of the elements of our art to the kiln (or kiln gods as the case may be).  Potters argue that letting go of that control is part of our art form.  I can’t imagine we will find an answer to that debate here, and that’s okay.

For me I’m happy to work with the materials in harmony.  I like having a little control but I also enjoy giving up some control.  I believe that it should feel like Christmas when we open a kiln.  Sometimes the gift is good, sometimes it’s not.   I understand that potters want our voice to be seen in the piece and I understand the disappointment when it is not.  Maybe the voice of the potter has a lot more to do with nature than we realize.  We do play with mud after all.  If you really watch the leaves on the trees they seem to change a little differently each year.  I suspect light, water, and temperature play roles in the process, but they always look beautiful.  I think it’s called harmony.

Check out the gallery page - Future Relics Gallery by Lori Buff

Comments

  1. harmony and chemistry, luck and skill and persistence, and clay insistence. ha I miss the reduction firings from college but even electric there is the element of chance,

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    1. True Linda, and you can play around with down firing on the newer kilns, that changes how your glazes look sometimes. If you pay close attention you might even find that certain glazes flash off each other when the pieces are close together in an electric kiln.

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  2. It wouldn't be nearly so exciting if everything was predictable... I love the element of surprise!

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    1. Yes, exactly. But still, lots of artists want the piece to reflect a certain style, or is the unpredictability our style?

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  3. I think that's why I have always enjoyed Raku, you can't have expectations, you never know what will happen, so it's fun to open up the can and see what you are given. For me wood firing is sort of the same way, I have never gone into a firing with expectations, it just ruins the whole process.....

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    1. That’s why I love raku also, Tracey. Their is something very freeing about giving up expectations.

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  4. great post... even in electric firings I've had times when I've struggled with expectation versus result :)

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    1. Oh, yes Anna. I think we all have at one time or another. Even a slight variance in glaze thickness can make a huge difference on how a pot comes out of the kiln.

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