ClayWorker's Newsletter
"The aesthetic beauty of pottery lies in the archeological finds of our past."
Volume #1 Issue #1 January 1, 2009
A New Year, A New Beginning

With the holidays concluding the end of the year, we find ourselves facing new horizons for the beginning of this one. A quick look into our future shows we will probably be struggling to make ends meet until the recession has passed.

This brings a concern to those of us who make our living with our artwork. We have faced the knowing revelation that times will be hard for many months to come, but does that mean the consumer sees art as any less of a choice to make when it comes to spending? I believe this depends entirely on how the artist portrays their work to the eye of the consumer.

In the 40's, the days of the great depression, artists continued to make there pieces and continued to display them in museums and art shows. The quality of living at that time was lean and simple. But if it were not for the artist, entertainment in all forms would have ceased.

As we know, art survived. It has survived many centuries of war, disasters and economical strain. And it did so because artists never gave up. The artistic potter is one who holds pure determination in the making of their ware. This is also true to the marketing of it to the community. We, as artists, believe we have a purpose in the art world. And that is to continue to bring a feeling of unity and hope through our work when all is in great despair.

So how can we as an artist community work to continue our passion for creativity and bring in the income we need to sustain our necessary lifestyle? We must continue to meet the demands of the consumer by introducing quality products that will bring our work into their homes and businesses. Whether you are a functional potter or one who enjoys creating for mere pleasure to beautify our surroundings, the world has to know who you are. Each artist must work to develop a good portfolio of what they do and introduce that portfolio to the vast community of art stores, museums and craft shows.

A high quality website is also necessary in the fast pace world of technology. Business cards should be always on hand as well as various forms of advertisement. Never be afraid to speak about who you are and what you do. Follow through with commitments and plan out your strategy for showing your work.

For those of us who are long time artistic potters, the need to re-establish our community standing is necessary more today than ever. Making contact with former customers, art galleries and museums may inspire them to look at your new work. Don't be afraid to make the first move. Offer to work with your customer base to establish specials or unique items that will encourage them to seek your work over other artists. Only you can insure that your work is visual in the community. Explore new horizons overseas. The market is wide and even in today's economy, artists can make a living. While examining our strengths and communicating our skills, art will continue to provide us with the means to support ourselves.

In this issue:

Editor's Corner
A New Year, A New Beginning
Don't Under Estimate the Power of Colorants
Pottery Tips
Alternative Education - Pottery and Ceramics
Free Class!
Book Reviews - Handbuilding Ceramic Forms

Editor's Corner

Welcome to the first issue of Clay Worker Digest! The New Year often provides an opportunity to begin a new idea or technique. At Earth Stoke 'N Fire Pottery Studio and Artist Retreat, we strive to bring you the most update and accurate information on clay and glaze technology. As a potter, you deserve the very best in information.

We will provide news on products, raw materials, hand building and wheel techniques including tidbits that will enlighten your experiences while working with clay.

Feel free to pass this digest throughout your studio, friends and pottery artists alike. We hope you find this digest useful in your work. Should you seek specific information or would like us to cover additional topics, send your requests to We will be happy to accommodate you.

Good luck in all your work and have a prosperous New Year!

Editor in Chief,
Ti Phillips

Alternative Education - Pottery and Ceramics

When someone chooses ceramics as a profession, many reasons are involved. Some choose this field because of a class they took in high school. Others were introduced to this medium through fellow ceramic artists. And others may have made the decision after viewing or purchasing their first piece of ceramic ware. Whatever the reason, at some point, training becomes an issue in how to learn to make pottery.

There are many colleges that offer ceramic classes as a part of the art curriculum. These classes usually teach basic skills in handbuilding, mold poring and wheel throwing. They often lack in the necessary lessons in glaze calculation and application or kiln firing. The students are instructed by means of show and do techniques with additional reading material to accompany the hands on instruction. Then the student is given free reign to explore their own creative ability while learning the technique.

Although an excellent form for teaching the novice potter, this form of education lacks in complete understanding on how a clay body interacts with a glaze body, how to manipulate a kiln to achieve different glaze affects and how to formulate clay and glaze bodies. The a new potter can create pottery without any of the knowledge above but these aspects are some of the most important areas of pottery making when one decides to become a professional potter. It allows the potter to understand the complete process of the pottery making field as well as allows the potter to develop their own understanding and personal relationship with the work they create. So where does a potter go to learn this form of education?

There are many graduate level colleges that offer masters and PhD degree programs in ceramics. These are expensive schools designed to educate the potter on areas of interest, but primarily to allow the student to explore their own vision in the field of ceramics. Although the studio is often set up with elaborate materials and equipment to inspire the student, the curriculum often stifles the student as they learn to develop their own style. With emphasis based on fulfilling a portfolio for graduation, the student is often left overwhelmed and unable to focus on the areas most needed in ceramic design, theory.

Pottery studios often offer a chance for a novice potter to use the studio as a sounding board for problem solving and experience. With adequate wheels, kilns and often glaze materials, the student can establish a work area where they can further develop their skills and creativeness. These studios provide experienced potters as a guide for further ceramic knowledge yet they often lack the ability to create a teaching atmosphere where the student can interact with clay and glaze
while learning how to problem solve. The experience in the studio is one where the novice creates and interacts with the studio instructor only when a problem arises.

New to the ceramic field are non-accredited studios that provide complete education and hands-on-training as a one-on-one instructional path. These new studios are a cross between workshops and classrooms. They offer a wide range of classes from basic handbuilding to theory and history. The student can chose to enroll in a single class, a package of classes or the full course. These unique studios often offer classes online as well. The student works at their own pace and often develops a personal identification with the instructor.

Their work is never criticized but allowed to develop by means of careful constructive critiquing. The critiquing process involves a simple process where the student submits work and the instructor identifies areas that need improvement, such as structure failures, inadequate glaze application and firing problems. The instructor never introduces their form or ideas of artwork to the students work. The student is allowed to freely introduce their idea of art form and design to the studio. Through these types of studios, the student is never left to work completely on their own. They have their personal instructor at their side throughout their educational experience. The instructor works to teach the basic skills necessary to develop the novice potter while allowing them to explore additional areas that come into the learning process.

One of the most unique additions to this type of education is that the student leaves the studio feeling that they have learned all that is necessary to start their own studio and work in the field of ceramics as a professional. The tools acquired at the learning studio not only gives them the basis for working with ceramics, but also includes all skills and education in the areas where problems often arise after leaving a college or graduate school. These areas often include glaze development, firing techniques and areas that are not covered in the above schools.

Choosing a studio for this type of education requires a bit of research on the students part. Although there are many studios that offer lessons and on-hands tutoring, the student must look for a complete educational program that includes all areas of pottery design and problem solving. Some of the required classes that should be looked for in a studio educational program are below.

  • Handbuilding techniques - in addition to learning the basics of handbuilding, the studio should offer advanced learning in handbuilding in areas of attachments and large works.
  • Wheel techniques - in addition to learning how to make cylinders, bowls and vases, the studio should offer advanced learning in complicated throwing areas such as lidded forms, altered forms and extremely large forms.
  • Glaze techniques - an area that is often overlooked by college education, the studio should offer not only advanced application techniques but glaze calculation, development and glaze problem solving.
  • Firing techniques - the studio should cover all areas of firing from electric kiln to alternative firing techniques such as wood, salt, raku, oil, propane and gas and kiln building.
  • Studio development - the area where the student learns to create and supply their own studio as well as marketing their ware. This is an area often overlooked by college courses. The studio should cover this area in detail to help the student begin manufacturing and selling their works.
  • History - although often covered in some aspect in college, the studio should offer a more in-depth approach to the history of pottery making from all known historical resources. From this educational experience, the potter often develops their skills and ideas for creating their own line of ware.
As these types of educational studios develop, the student should be aware of all the courses the studio has to offer. Ask several questions before enrolling, including:
  1. What qualifications do the instructors have that allow them to teach at this studio?
  2. Will I have a personal instructor?
  3. Do you offer certification as I progress throughout the classes?
  4. Do you assist in helping the student develop a portfolio?
  5. What assistance do you offer once the student has graduated from your course?

Don't Under Estimate
the Power of Colorants

Series #1 On Glaze Formulation

When in college, many moons ago, our ceramic class had a wonderful glaze studio with many cabinets, containers and drawers full of raw glaze materials. It was like walking into a candy shop. As a student, knowledge in the mixing of glazes had yet to be experienced. So, like all new students, we relied on books full of glaze recipes developed by the more experienced potter.

As we learned to mix glazes, one of the things that bothered me was what seemed to be underdeveloped colors, especially in the area of high fired glazes. The colors were often mottled and never really attributed to a primary or secondary color result. We were told that it was impossible to arrive at a true color in a glaze studio. Such glazes were only developed in chemistry labs of manufacturers. Thus the use of stains were the only means to arrive at these much wanted true colors.

I set out to prove this theory wrong. With old glaze chemistry books in hand, a pestle and mortar, and a vast amount of raw glaze materials, my studio would become a test site for primary and secondary glaze colors. The first step was to choose a base glaze that would satisfy the primary criteria; no crackle, pinholing or other defects, a smooth glossy glaze that would not interfere with the colorants. It had to flow well at temperatures up to cone 05 and not have any flaws when fired correctly.
After much testing, a glaze was developed that satisfied all the above criteria.

Next, the decision on which colorant would make a good candidate for testing my theory. Although all iron oxides create some form of color, the clay body would have some affect on the final chemical makeup of the glaze when fired, so the choice was to use a pure colorant with no iron qualities. The choice was made. Cobalt Oxide, a true blue colorant was chosen to establish a basis for creating a blue glaze

For this test, we used 1/2%. Finally, an opacifier was needed to establish the opacity of the colorant. There are several opacifiers to choose from, the selection was clear, Ultrox was the recommended choice because of its effectiveness in all temperatures and it is stronger than Zircopax. We used 4% of the Ultrox in our glaze colorant mixture. Now to mix the glaze and create the colorant.

The glaze body was designed to mature at Cone 05. A simple base glaze, this should prove to be a basis for creating a true primary color in the glaze body. The glaze was measured using a gram scale to assure the correct amount of each raw glaze material. The raw glaze colorants were also measured in the same fashion, but were not added to the base glaze mixture. The reason for this was to allow us to work with the colorant and further create a basis for adding it to the raw glaze mixture.

Using a mortar and pestle, the cobalt oxide and Ultrox were ground for 15 minutes. This further reduced the size of the ingredients and blended them further. The cobalt mixture was then added to the base glaze mixture. The complete mixture was then placed into a ball mill to be mixed for 30 minutes dry. (A handmade ball mill can be used but should be mixed for 1 hour).

The blended dry ingredients were removed from the ball mill and placed into a bowl for wet mixing. Water was added to the dry ingredients and mixed by hand until all dry ingredients were absorbed. The mixture was allowed to set for 1 hour to allow complete absorption of the dry ingredients.

Using a spatula, to assure all ingredients were removed from the bowl, the wet mixture was poured into the ball mill and mixed for 1 hour. The mixture was then removed from the ball mill and sieved into a 120 mesh sieve, two times.

The final glaze mixture was applied to a test tile of white stoneware using the three brush application method. Allowed to fully dry the tile was then fired to cone 05. The glaze turned out to be a true blue with no flaws. Further mixing of the same glaze recipe and firing to cone 05 repeatedly achieved the same primary blue color.

This test was also tried on additional colorants using the same base glaze mixture. True yellows were achieved from molybdenum trioxide and true reds from potassium dichromate. From this experiment, it is concluded that true primary colors can be achieved from the potter's studio with a little extra work and selection of the correct base glaze as well as the correct opacifier. Also a must is the formulation of the glaze by the use of the ball mill and sieve.

Achieving true primary colors from a high temperature glaze body is more complicated than just mixing the colorants in the above fashion. The use of the kiln and a mixture of various colorants come into play. To achieve the primary colorants, creating a colorant frit in the studio is needed. This will be discussed in the next issue.
Published on, December 10, 2008.

Handbuilding Ceramic Forms By Elsbeth S. Woody

Every new potter desires to have a personal teacher in ceramic design and form. Handbuilding Ceramic Forms is that teacher. Written to introduce basic methods used in developing pottery, Elsbeth S. Woody's step-by-step instructional gives the reader a unique discovery into the styles of handbuilding forms while introducing the hands-on side of pottery making.

The author begins by detailing instruction on the beginning use of clay. While covering information on types of clay bodies, basic terminology, and glazing and firing, Woody quickly moves to the preparation of the clay body with basic mixing steps and instruction on two common wedging styles.

The heart of Woody's book includes areas of form that often represent the beginning of problems for the novice. By using past experience, the author sums each problem with a solution in areas of joining clay bodies, creating support for large forms and working in stages. Methods of forming clay with solid forms, small and large forms and the use of the paddle to shape and smooth clay surfaces gives a new look at creativeness through the author's eyes. Simple and complex surface treatments complete the instructional side of the book, with particular attention given to decorating with the use of detailed photographs.

The final chapter, "Ten Approaches to Handbuilding," is the author's unique way to introduce areas of form that she is not familiar with. Woody provides an exceptional display of 10 artists, including David Middlebrook, Billie Walters and Susan Wechsler. Explanation as to their style, form and ability to overcome designing problems in their work provide a distinct approach to handbuilding their forms. Each artist introduces a completely new handbuilding technique that is an inspiring and fresh look to ceramic design.

Woody's book covers the necessary information needed to establish a firm foundation in handbuilding. Written for the novice potter, the author clearly understands the necessary steps in teaching handbuilding form to a new pottery artist. Woody's concise instructions, followed by detailed photos, allow the reader the opportunity to visually retain the technique with the least amount of confusion from text.

As a potter myself, the book inspired a desire to work more in the handbuilding field. Woody's use of known artists in her book gave an appealing look at handbuilding as an acceptable form of ceramic design. The inclusion of new founded techniques gives a renewed idea on how to perform handbuilding projects and overcome problems with stability, display and creative form difficulties often found when using clay. Woody focuses on problems often associated with the separation of joined surfaces, collapse, handling large slab works and displaying finished works. The author includes enough areas of handbuilding to give the reader a basis for developing their own style, as well as providing problem-solving ideas that would cover many areas of handbuilding techniques not covered in her book.

Woody's long-time experience in handbuilding forms helps to develop this book into a satisfying primer for the introduction of handbuilding form and styles. As a basic handbuilding reference, it is suitable for studio and school reference. Although a republished version, clearly from a different generation of potters, the book covers information still needed and used in studios today.

Known for her influential style and creativeness, Woody is considered one of the long standing potters in the U.S. and Africa. Although better known for her publishing and teaching history, Woody's work has a mainstream origination with fellow potters of her era. She is known for her teaching program in the U.S. at various colleges, including the Baruch College and the Teachers College in New York. Woody is also known for public display of her work at Boston City Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, and the Bronx Museum. She currently resides in South Africa where she continues her work.

Handbuilding Ceramic Forms includes 227 pages of text, 267 b/w photos, a bibliography of book and magazine resources, and a listing of clay and glaze recipes used by the featured artists.

Title: Handbuilding Ceramic Forms
Author: Elsbeth S. Woody
First Copyright Date: 1978 (republished 2008)
Type of Book: Instructional Pottery General
Subject Matter: Handbuilding forms and techniques
Special Features (maps, color plates, etc): Black and white photos.
Price: $29.95
ISBN #: 13:978-1-58115-503-7 / 10: 1-58115-503-4
for more information, visit

ESF is offering a free class for the month of January!

Do you love clay but don't have a clue about the available types and their characteristics? How about enrolling in a free Clay Bodies Class!

Click on the Classroom Portal below, create a student account and enroll in Orientation 101. Once completed, your instructor will enroll you in CLAY100C. This class is offered with no further obligation to enroll in additional classes.

Pottery Tips

Tip #001

Test glazes on a scrap 2" x 2" square tile piece of clay. Use a split piece of bamboo to press an indention into the clay body, near the bottom of the square. This will show what the glaze will look like when pooled into the indention. Always brush three coats of glaze onto the square to achieve a solid covering. Once fired, use a ceramic marker to number the tile for easy reference to the original recipe card.


When all else fails...
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Next Issue...

Inspiration Through Clay
Editor's Corner
Don't Under Estimate the Power of Colorants
MicroKilns - Ceramic Kilns or Bad Idea?
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