I’m finding that in working large scale there are a lot more problems a potter can and will encounter in building his or her pieces. I knew there would be a certain set of challenges in building a large vessel, like my lack of great strength in my upper body and maintaining just the right level of moisture, and therefore rigidity, in the vessel’s walls. I’ve managed to circumvent these issues for the most part, but as soon as one problem is solved, another one affronts me.
Last term, I made a piece that was particularly inspired by Don Reitz, with organic slip trailing for decoration on the outside surface, but in a rush to bisque fire my work, the piece exploded in the kiln. We can never really tell if my piece was the cause of the explosion, or if another piece exploded and the impact of the “shrapnel” was the cause of its destruction, but nonetheless, we learned. This time around we took three days just to bisque fire my vessel enclosed in the kiln, taking extra care within the crucial first 1000 degrees. Evidently, in a university setting, this is plausible (considering I don’t directly pay the electric bill), but when approaching my own work in my own future professional practice, I will need to keep expenses to a minimum in order to sustain profits at a maximum. So firing for that long is not ideal, but I’m willing to play the waiting game.
And speaking of expenses, clay is not the most expensive medium in the world, but when a potter like myself uses a lot of it, the IOU’s start to pile up. In these last two weeks working on my vessels, I have used almost 100 pounds of clay, four times the amount we are given to start. It’s a good thing that, as a result of the throwing process, a lot of it ends up in my buckets of clay to be recycled and used again.
Kiln Real Estate is another pricey problem. When an artist has a lot of small work, he or she can cram it into the kiln, using nearly all of its shelf space, making for a more profitable firing. More ware is more bang per buck per firing. Large scale work often has a small enough footprint, but with big bellies and other protruding elements, it can be difficult to include other ware close to it. Furthermore, if a piece is three feet tall, it must go on the top shelf in the kiln (at least in our case). Even if a potter could find or make one, in all likelihood, a three foot tall stilt to hold up a shelf above a tall piece is an accident waiting to happen. It certainly won’t be an efficient firing if a stilt decides to give way and crush the ware.
Even glazing large work can be a challenge. Pouring glaze into the interior and swishing it around uniformly requires a lot of muscular strength and control. And even after the exterior is glazed, there’s the matter of transporting the ware with applied raw glaze to the kiln without causing any of the glaze to flake off where the potter’s hands make contact.
There are a whole host of other considerations that more experienced potters have encountered, but with more experience also comes better answers and solutions. Front loading kilns as opposed to top loading kilns particularly make the job a bit easier. But nevertheless, I’m not sure how pleasurable the experience would be if there wasn’t an element of difficulty that accompanied it. Surely, if nothing else, opening the kiln doors after persevering through all these challenges makes the whole process worth it.