Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Busy busy!

I have some fun blog posts in the works, but they're a bit ambitious and it's taking me longer to get them posted than I thought it would. Here is some other stuff that I'm up to (in no particular order).Feb. 16th, 2008
I'm so excited to teach a workshop for Earlham Alums! I learned to make pots at Earlham where ceramics was highly supported by the students and faculty. Over the years of having a studio at Lillstreet, I've had a lot of EC alums visit me. Their support of clay as students at Earlham has transformed into a life long appreciation of handmade pots.
If you're an Earlham alum in the mid-west, I hope you can make it to the workshop. Or if you know someone else who is... pass it on!
Join fellow Earlhamites, parents, and friends of the College at Lillstreet Art Center for a hands-on workshop with Emily Murphy '99. Each participant will have the opportunity to learn hand building techniques and create his or her own mug or vase. Pieces will be fired and available for pickup approximately 2-3 weeks after the event. All work will be completely non-porous, food-safe, and microwave and dishwasher safe! We will gather at 11:30 for pizza and an opportunity to hear an update from campus!
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Another Cup? at Baltimore Clayworks curated by Deborah Bedwell.
Jan. 12 - Feb. 23, 2008

I was excited to be invited to be a part of this exhibition. See the pictures 0f the show here.
An invitational exhibition featuring cups from established and emerging ceramic artists. The curator, Baltimore Clayworks’ Executive Director Deborah Bedwell believes, “… that a beautifully made cup, which satisfies its utilitarian and/or artistic intention is exactly what our culture needs and answers the question “Does the world need another cup?
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Yunomi Invitational at Akar
I have also been invited to be a part of the Yunomi Exhibition at Akar. I'll keep you posted when the show is online. Right now the pots are in the mail, on their way to Akar.
They have the tea bowls from last year's exhibition online. Take a look, there are some amazing vessels!
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My plan has been for a long time to redo my main website: sodafired.com
But everything else gets in the way (like making pots, my blog, etc...). But I am trying to at least keep some of the info updated.
Here's the latest:
updated resume
updated artist statement

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A new class session at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago began a couple of weeks ago. Spring session starts mid-March. The classes I'm teaching will be the same next session, but with slightly different days & times.

Advanced Wheel - Throwing and Altering
Tuesdays, 6:30 - 9:30pm
This class is for the proficient thrower to take their wheel work to the next level. We will push, pull and cut the clay on and off the wheel to create new forms on and off the wheel. We will use the wheel to make the basic forms, and then incorporate hand-building techniques to build forms that are out of round.
Advanced Topics in Soda: Investigating Materials
Wednesdays, 7 - 10pm
This class is for advanced students who have had some experience in soda and atmospheric firing, and are looking to investigate the process more deeply. We will be focused on exploring and understanding different clay bodies and dozens of slips. We will look at slides for inspiration and will identify particular finishes that are interesting and exciting. From there, we will study individual materials and how they react in the soda kiln. The end goal will be to create some new and unique finishes through the investigation of materials
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The Conversation Continues...
You might remember the show that I was a part of last fall: Being to Being: Collective Conversations in Clay. Check out the website- there are new images of the show (installed) and the process. And it sounds like there will be another show this fall with a new twist. As always, I'll keep you posted!

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Ask a Potter
I regularly get questions via email from other ceramic artists seeking my advice. There are certain questions that I get over and over again: new graduates asking advice on what to do after graduation; questions about kilns and soda; people coming to visit Chicago wondering what clay focused things there are to do an see when they're in town, etc... I try to answer these questions as best I can within the limitations of my time and knowledge. Last week I got a bunch of emails, many of which are variations on common questions that I get. I thought to myself: "I should use each question and my answer as a blog post." So that's what I'm going to do. And I'm hoping that maybe a dialog can open up and the Pottery Blog readers can help fill in the gaps in my advice with their own knowledge and experiences.

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Europe, clay?
Ian and I are planning a trip to Europe in mid to late August. We have a wedding to go to in Germany, but other than that, we don't have any specific plans. We're in the VERY early stages of planning (I think we're heading north, Denmark, etc...). Does anyone have any suggestions for clay related things that we should consider doing/ seeing and maybe take in account in our planning? Thanks in advance for the suggestions!

Those are all the updates for now. It's nice to be back!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Artist Statement, April 2007

Looking back and moving forward.

Clay is one of the oldest materials used by humans, and its place in the lives of humans has changed and evolved as we have. It's had a central place in a community as vessels that store water and grains. Today we most often see clay in the form of toilets, sinks, heater elements, and our molded dishes. With modern manufacturing we have personal spaces which we can easily fill to overflowing with things, so that few people can really say they lack any quantity of items. We store water in disposable plastic bottles, we store our food in layers of boxes and plastic bags, and once we've used these up we store the garbage in more layers of plastic until they can be taken away in the metal boxes on wheels. Things just flow through our hands, from factory to landfill, each item indisguishable from the next and inevitably forgotten once sealed in the earth.

So the place that clay has in our world today is much different than it's been before. Clay is still plentiful, but it's never been disposable. And clay as art still has the intention and purpose behind it that long ago would have been present in every vessel. It can be something to stop our busy lives for a few moments in the morning to meditate over our morning coffee out of our favorite mug. It can be a vase that with or without flowers, we can stop to think about how it is one of the few objects in our lives that are hand made and individual.

Each and every piece that I make is one of a kind. I often make pieces in a series, but because they are hand crafted and fired in a soda kiln no two pieces are identical. I'm drawn to the pieces with a depth that you can explore, with subtle nuances in the texture and patterns in the glaze. A piece where you can always look a little closer and see something new. You aren't going to see that in a mass produced plate from Target, or a ceramic mug from Ikea. Our lives are busy and we often don't allow ourselves to slow down and take a moment to reflect. I see clay/pottery/ceramics as a way to feel a connection with another person, and an excuse to slow down for a moment.

Clay is a material that has a long and rich tradition. I try to reference that history, but in the context of our contemporary world. This is why I love the process of soda firing, also a contemporary adaptation of an older process.

In the 14th century potters began using a technique called salt firing. By adding salt into a kiln, the pieces would be glazed without having to individually apply glaze to each piece. This was great for the very utilitarian pieces like sewer pipes and whiskey jugs. But by the 1970's there were problems with the technique – black smoke comes from the chimneys, and it wasn't very friendly to the environment or your neighbors. So another technique was developed, using soda ash and baking soda. The kiln is gas fired and this soda mixture is added to the kiln near the end of the firing (around 2200°F); the soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda reacts with the pieces, changing their color and texture. The variations you see on the pieces come from the variations in the kiln – how close a piece is to the burner, how much room there is for the flame to flow across the piece, even the temperature outside or the humidity can effect the outcome. Even after firing soda kilns hundreds of times there are still surprises to be found in how the pieces react. The pieces that I have created for this exhibition are tributes to the unpredictable and unique effects of this process.

Emily Murphy

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

New Soda Fired Work by Emily Murphy

Here is a virtual tour of the exhibition that I'm currently having at Haus in Chicago through May 6. It is a body of work that I have been working on for months, and had in my head for the last year or so. It is really excited to have the group of work finished and exhibited together. Click on any of the images to see them larger. I hope you enjoy your visit to the gallery...

This is the front of the gallery with my large bottle forms on display in the window.

Here are some images of the installation of the show.

I have a series of squared platters that I really see as canvases. The surfaces are a combination of layered slips, sprayed glazes and the soda kiln.

I have taken the idea of my surfaces being canvases one step further. I have made a series of wall pieces. These are forms that I have been playing with for a while, but this is the first time that I have exhibited them.

And here are some mugs that echo the grid of squares above...

Chicago artist Amy Lemaire designed floral arrangements in my low oval vases. These are pieces that stand alone as sculptural forms, but come to life with greens, branches and flowers in them. This is just a selection of the pieces. I took these photos on a white piece of paper so you could see them a little bit better.




The show will be up until May 6, 2007 if you'd like to see it in person. There is going to be a "Wine Walk" in the Andersonville neighborhood (where Haus is located) on May 6th. We're going to take this opportunity to have a closing party. If you'd like to participate in the Wine Walk, you can purchase a special wine glass for $20 and you can wander the neighborhood and taste 40 different kinds of wine. For information on this event, visit In Fine Spirit's website.

The previous post is my artist's statement for this show.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

What is soda firing?

This post is part of a handout that I give to my soda firing students at Lillstreet Art Center. It is an attempt to explain a little bit about the history of soda firing, and tries to help answer the question, "what is soda firing?". It is not the full story, but I hope that you find it helpful.

Soda firing is an atmospheric firing technique where “soda” is introduced into the kiln near top temperature (2350°, ∆10). The soda that we use is: sodium bi-carbonate, also know as baking soda (the Arm and Hammer™ kind), and sodium carbonate, which is also known as soda ash.

“Soda ash is the trade name for sodium carbonate, a chemical refined from the mineral trona or sodium-carbonate-bearing brines (both referred to as "natural soda ash") or manufactured from one of several chemical processes (referred to as "synthetic soda ash"). It is an essential raw material in glass, chemicals, detergents, and other important industrial products.”
USGS

The soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda vapors create a glaze when it lands on a piece (or a kiln post, or the wall of the kiln). Wherever the flame travels- so does the soda. When placing the pieces in the kiln during loading, you have to think carefully about when and where you want a piece to get lots of soda, or when and where you want a piece to be more protected. The kiln must be evenly loaded because the flame will travel on the path of least resistance (and therefore the soda will also be traveling on the path of least resistance). You also have to think about whether or not the piece is glazed. The soda is basically a glaze, and when two glazes mix, they can react chemically with one another and run down the side of the piece. It’s beautiful when you can control the run- but can be disastrous when it gets away from you!

What is the history of soda? Where did it come from?

The predecessor of the modern day soda firing, is salt firing. It is believed that salt firing began in Germany in the 13th century. As many things go, it was most likely come upon by accident. Perhaps some salt soaked wood (from pickling barrels?) was tossed into the kiln for the wood fuel. The salt vaporized and glazed the pieces inside the kiln. It was a great time saving measure. No need to glaze the pieces before they went into the kiln. Old German jugs were salt glazed, along with tankards and sewer pipes. The pieces that we think of as early American traditional ceramics from the southwest corner of the US were also salt glazed. Can you picture a big whiskey jug with cobalt blue decoration on it? Those were salt fired. The process that I’m talking about is wood firing with salt thrown in. The salt easily glosses up a piece and helps the wood ash flux out. Salt vaporizes at a fairly low temperature and can work its way into all sorts of nooks and crannies. In a salt firing, the salt vaporizes and the sodium chloride splits into sodium and chlorine gas. When the chlorine is exposed to moisture, it forms hydrochloric acid. The acid goes into the kiln atmosphere and is released from the chimney. The remaining sodium combines with alumina and silica in the clay to forming a glaze on the surface of the piece.

Although the previous paragraph doesn’t help sort out what soda firing is, it does give some important background information. Salt firing continued to be a technique used by potters up through the 1970’s (and is still is used as a firing method today). In the 70’s as people became more aware of the environment, they realized that the black smoke and hydrochloric acid wasn’t such a great idea. A couple of graduate students from Alfred University, NY studied sodium alternatives to salt firings, hoping to find something that was more environmentally friendly, and maybe even something that could happen in an urban environment.

The results were soda ash and baking soda. They produce carbon dioxide instead of hydrochloric acid. The soda doesn’t get into all the nooks and crannies like the salt does, but it does produce brighter and more vivid colors. Pots are usually glazed with an interior or “liner glaze” because the soda vapors won’t work their way into those hard to reach places. You can achieve a rich glossy surface that is heavy with soda, or a pebbled surface that is also referred to as an “orange peel” texture. This is often juxtaposed with a “drier” area of the clay that wasn’t hit directly with the soda. It’s all of these varied surfaces together that make up the rich look and feel of a soda fired pot. 30 years ago, when soda firing first began, most ceramicists were just trying to mimic the effects of salt firing. In the last 5 years that has changed. The true characteristics of soda firing are unique and are something to explore and achieve.

The soda vapors aren’t actually colored, but they are reacting with the alumina, silica and iron in the clay (and slips) to create the various colors of flashing, and associated textures. The resulting colors can be a range of oranges with yellow and red tones, to rich browns, golds and tans. If there is some copper in the kiln, there can be pink blushing. Or a cobalt glaze on a piece can cause a blue twinge to the soda. Sometimes the carbon from the firing can add a gray hue that can look like shark skin on porcelain.


So perhaps now you know a little bit more about soda firing.


I've included the recipe that I use for my soda firings below.

My soda recipe: (a variation on Gail Nichol's process)
2 lbs. soda ash
3.5 lbs. sodium bi-carb
5.5 lbs. whiting (calcium carbonate)
Mixed with ½ of a 5 gal. bucket of wood chips, and water

*mix the dry stuff with the wood chips, and then add COLD water. Just enough so it sticks together. It should have a consistancy similar to oatmeal cookie dough or tunafish salad.

-Add soda into kiln when ∆9 is soft. Add 1 ½ angle irons full of soda mixture through each port. Wait 15 minutes between additions. Usually takes 3 turns to add in all of the soda.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Sodafired.com Update

As you probably know, I have these two websites- the one that you're reading, potteryblog.com, and my main one for my ceramic pots, sodafired.com. My hope is that visitors of both go back and forth between the two without necessarily realizing that they have technically gone to a different site. They each serve their own purpose, but those purposes overlap one another.

I just started a sort of "mini-blog" on sodafired.com. I will use it as a way to share studio announcements and that sort of information. It's little news box on the front page of my site.

Tonight the first entry is posted. Just go *here* to read it. I will update it several times a month- or as often as necessary. In the almost 6 years that I have maintained a website of my pottery, I have tried to figure out a good way to fulfill these objectives:
1. Notify people of sales, shows and new work.
2. Make it obvious that the website is really up-to-date and, in general, make it obvious that the site is paid attention to.
3. Showcase some of my new pieces without having some really obnoxious flashing "NEW" sign.
4. Give people a reason to come back to visit the site, and hopefully to come visit me in my studio.
5. And very important: something that is easy for me to update. If it's not, then it won't be very up-to-date! Lots of good intentions, but not enough time.

I think that this format fulfill the above objectives. Hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for reading.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Artist Statement

I recently wrote a new Artist Statement...
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I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, surrounded by handmade things. Every Christmas my mom would go to the fabric store and buy all the different color corduroy that they had in stock to sew pants for us. The quilts on our beds and the curtains on the windows were made by her as well. Although my sister and I played with Barbies, the clothes were purchased at craft fairs, and my dad made beds for them that my mom finished off with hand sewn mattresses, pillows and quilts. My father is a painter. I’ve always been surrounded by his work, and observed him while he was inspired by the natural beauty of the New England landscape.

Things in our family were often handmade out of necessity. My mom baked all of our bread, in part, because it was less expensive. But it was also because she loved the process of making it. Growing up in an environment where so many things were made by hand that could have been more easily purchased, I learned to consider and appreciate the story behind a piece. The value comes from the care and thoughtfulness put in by the maker.

Coming from New Hampshire, it’s easy to recognize the beauty of the environment. Six years ago I moved to Chicago, where the beauty of the environment is not as apparent. Beauty is still there, but it’s in the more intimate aspects of life, not in majestic landscapes. I discovered that my inspiration came from the things that I encountered everyday; no longer a forest or a mountain, but those moments amid the busyness of the city where people slow down and appreciate their surroundings. I am honored when my pots can be a part of those moments in people’s lives. Perhaps they will become as familiar to you as the patterns of the cracks in the ceiling above your bed.

Making pots is quiet and personal, an experience I want to be reflected in the pots themselves. But I also am a potter in a community of potters, working alongside both students and peers. Being a potter in a community, it is now hard to imagine myself as a solitary potter. Everyday I share resources, experience, and perspective with my fellow artists. As part of a large community I’ve been given many opportunities to teach students with diverse talents and backgrounds. Teaching has let me experiment with new ideas and perspectives, challenging myself at the same time as I challenge my students.

Being a potter is a very balanced profession. As a potter I am a designer, a maker, a business owner, a laborer a chemist, and a physicist. I love throwing, trimming, pulling handles, firing, I love to decorate, to sketch out ideas in the clay. I am lucky that given all the aspects of my profession, I love and enjoy them each, and I love the product of my craft and its place in the world and in people’s lives.

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