[Clayart] My clay story in retirement (longish)
johnpost89a at gmail.com
Mon Apr 24 21:53:37 UTC 2023
Mel has a great memory.
I'm going to add a bit to what he has already said.
My first classroom came with 4000 pounds of clay and I was not a clay
person at that time. This was a few years before the internet took off.
I read books to learn how to fire kilns. I built a Raku kiln and fired it
with my middle school students after reading Steve Branfman's book. When we
pulled pieces from the first kiln load, two of them touched while they were
being unloaded. A strand of glaze/glass stretched between the pieces and
glistened in the sunlight and all of the kids oohed and aahed in unison. I
could not have designed a better way to teach that glaze is glass than what
just happened by accident.
When my son was born I became a stay-at-home dad and took a ceramics class
at a local community college in the evenings to learn how to throw on the
wheel. This college had terrible glazes. They all gelled up in the bucket
because some of them contained up to 50% Gerstley Borate. If this college
had good glazes, I might have never felt motivated to learn how glazes
work. But since their glazes were crap I had to figure out a way to make
better ones. Around this time I got my first computer and saw a little
blurb about Clayart in Ceramics Monthly so I signed up for the email
Over the years Ron Roy's posts taught me a lot about glaze composition,
durability and down firing in electric kilns.
Then I found Ian Currie's books and met him at a workshop right after I
fired my first grid. I heard about Ian's workshops on Clayart. Ian used to
say that his grid method was like “fishing with a net” for glazes. I have
found many of my glazes using his volumetric glaze mixing method.
Mel mentioned on Clayart that he recommended students take a welding
course. I recommended that to my son when he was looking for an elective
course to take in high school. He fell in love with welding and ended up
pursuing a college degree in welding and industrial management. He is
currently the manager of a 4 person welding department at a company that
powder coats parts for the automotive industry. At 28 years old he just
moved into a house he had built on 5 acres in Michigan's thumb. Mel's post
on Clayart ended up affecting my son's career choice.
Mel's kiln book influenced my purchase of the house I live in today. One of
the first things he talks about in the book is to consider your fuel source
when planning to build a kiln. I knew that I wanted to build a gas kiln
because I love the look of reduction fired clay and glazes. I was looking
for houses in Sedona, Arizona on Zillow and found a house that had a gas
line stub with nothing connected to it right next to the garage. The house
was nice but every wall inside was pink. There was a 4' x 6' painting of a
white fluffy cat above the couch. I told my wife to ignore the colors in
the house and just look at its location and bones.
In 2017 I was getting ready to build the kiln from Mel's book when I found
an updraft West Coast gas kiln on Craigslist for $200. I hired a gun safe
company for $600 to move it from a suburb of Phoenix up to Sedona. A gas
line was dug to the kiln shed I built behind the house and I converted the
kiln to a downdraft with a chimney like the one in Mel's book. I got
burners for my kiln from Marc Ward - another Clayart connection.
I have been firing this kiln once or twice a month since I retired from
teaching in June of 2018. Sedona gets 4 million tourists a year so I make
and sell pots at a gallery and upscale kitchen store in town. Tourists love
small things that they can fit in their luggage so mugs, sculptural cactus
ring holders and Javelina sculptures are my biggest sellers. I moved to
Sedona because of the sunshine, red rocks and blue skies without even a
thought as to this place being a good place to sell pots to tourists.
Having a sale at my studio here is not as successful for me as selling at
the shops in town so I am going with what works.
In retirement my wife started a business accidentally. A neighbor moved in
across the street who is seamstress. While talking to this new neighbor my
wife asked her if she could teach her how to make hand sewn cacti to
decorate a few spots in our house. People started seeing these and it
snowballed into a business and now they are in all of the shops in uptown.
They have more business than they can keep up with. You can see the
hand-sewn cacti she makes here... https://sewsucculentcom.blogspot.com/
Retirement is good. I do not miss teaching in public schools. I spend a few
hours a day in my studio making whatever I am interested in making. Every
kiln load I fire has glaze tests in it, not because I need more glazes, but
because I enjoy the process of calculating them and seeing what comes out
when I unload the kiln. I’ve got some health issues that I deal with, but
working in the studio makes my brain go to a place where I am not thinking
about what hurts. I am thinking about making stuff that I am interested in
- and that’s a gift. I feel fortunate to have benefited from all of the
wisdom that so many Clayarters have shared over the years. It sort of
worked its way into life decisions I have made and I am grateful for that.
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