Making art as part of a collaborative community is an ever-changing, unpredictable, and always inspiring process. In this series, we celebrate the unexpected outcomes of studio cross-pollination, collaboration, mishaps and coincidences. Today Michael gives us an inside look at part of the creative process we don’t always hear about: the technical challenges of ceramic work, and the firing process in particular .
Michael turns up the heat
When you work in ceramics, making art doesn’t just mean sculpting clay into the right shape. Firing – when the clay is heated to a very high temperature to fix it into its final, hard form – is the final part of the process, and when you’ve put a lot of hard work into a piece it’s important that everything goes smoothly.
The science of art
At Creative Gateways, we have a huge gas-powered kiln that we fire large batches of work in. It’s basically a huge oven that is capable of getting really, really hot. We’ll load up several weeks worth of clay; all the pieces Sumati and I have been working on, before lighting it up. The firing process takes around ten hours and the kiln reaches incredible temperatures – up to 2300 degrees!
When the kiln is firing, the pattern of the flow of heat within it works in mysterious ways. We use a probe to take readings of the temperature and atmosphere every half hour or so, and then we can adjust the burners and the damper to compensate for any differences. Our aim is always to create an even temperature throughout the kiln.
We can also make adjustments to the kiln to control the amount of color that comes through on the glaze. Every batch of glaze reacts differently, and with large pieces especially it can be tricky to make sure that the color is spread evenly across the whole piece, with as few variations as possible.
There’s as much of an art to making sure firing goes well as there is to making the pieces themselves – taking the readings and making the adjustments is a process of flow, a dance between what we want to create and how the materials react in the kiln. There are always a few surprises when we open the door and see what comes out.
Find out more
There are so many fascinating processes at work behind the amazing pieces in our gallery – and the beauty of our open studio is that you can always find out more about how they’re made. Check out our calendar to see what events are coming back, or drop in for a spontaneous visit at a time that suits you – we’d love to show you around!