The Five Stages of Unloading a Kiln

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Lo these many years that I have been working with clay, teaching it, learning about it, making all kinds of stuff, I still can’t get over how many emotions come up when I am firing a kiln.  It’s not unlike the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

First I imagine that this kiln load will be different from every other one: nothing will crack or craze, all the glaze will be smooth, colors will be harmonious.  Then I crack the lid and try to peek in when it’s really too hot to open which singes my eyebrows and makes me kind of irritated.  I should know better but it’s so hard to wait to open the kiln.  Then I start thinking about the commissioned platter on the second shelf.  Is it good to imagine it broken and already have accepted that disappointment before I lift off the top shelf?  Or is it bad karma to imagine it perfect and gorgeous before I get a chance to check it out?  In each firing there are several disappointments, often involving the one piece in the kiln which I do not want to re-do.

This leads to questioning as to why I continue to endlessly fool around with this medium that drives me nuts.  It’s unpredictable and labor-intensive and involves a lot of heavy lifting and ceramic pieces don’t command the respect they deserve in the art world.  Yet I still love the look and feel of colorful ceramic pieces.  Over the years I have rolled out slabs to make big tile murals, I have created large-scale platters with a terrific teacher Jeanee Redmond and I have worked with coils, pinch pots, and raku firing.  It is one medium I keep coming back to because it is so versatile and fascinating.

So I face the pile of the stuff from this firing that has small flaws and I’m doing triage: which ones can be repaired and re-fired? Maybe I can add a little underglaze to the spot where it came out a little thin if I can just remember which of the fourteen blue shades I am currently using will match this piece.  Of course the colors and textures will change in the kiln, and sometimes the accidents will be happy ones. Then I start loading the kiln again while the shelves are still a bit too hot to handle.  It’s like gambling-I can’t help it, I keep thinking there is such a thing as a perfect firing.  So I set the timer and try not to feel like a complete idiot as my hopes return again.

36" X 36" ceramic tile mural
Mountainous Acre, 36″ X 36″ ceramic tile mural commission in Boston, MA
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Cutting Paper with Beatrice Coron

In July I was privileged to take a class called Cut it Through with Beatrice Coron at the  Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (FAWC).  Beatrice has made her career in the fine arts by cutting stories out of paper.

All Around Town, poster for NYC subways by Beatrice Coron
All Around Town, poster for NYC subways by Beatrice Coron

Her favorite “paper” is Tyvek because it is strong and lightweight and easy to cut.  Tyvek comes in black and white, but Beatrice special-orders large quantities of black tyvek that has an additional layer of black pigment so it is black-black.  Beatrice creates editions of her works by having them laser-cut, usually on a smaller scale than her original hand-cut pieces.  She also makes garments and sculptural pieces with this versatile material.

Beatrice Coron at FAWC in July 2014
Beatrice Coron at FAWC in July 2014

I took advantage of a week with no distractions to cut lots of paper, and make stencils which I used for printing images on paper and fabric.

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I also created two artist books using black Arches paper.  The covers were cut from Mi-Teintes colored paper.

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