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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Preparing to Fire




Spent today cleaning up glaze that splattered everywhere. I've calcined many clay ingredients, this should allow some glazes to remain thicker without crawling. The downside of calcining is that glaze spills turn to a dust that is very toxic. So I clean up with a lot of mopping, water and sponges.

Yesterday I finished loading the kiln. A few of the glazes inside are still drying, soda ash crystals migrating slowly to the surface. I shut the kiln door, and every so often took a break from my work to peek in.

I'll probably light burners Monday evening, and fire on Tuesday the 29th. It's Mars' day, a day for warrior spirit.

My pre-firing mind turns archaic. I consult the I Ching, analyze phases of the moon, positions of planets. This is what farmers do, when so much energy is invested in a project, when there's uncertainty about the future. You rely on older modes of thought.

The I Ching gave me this concept to mull over:

"The things most apparent, those above and in front, are embodied by the upper trigram Chi'en (Heaven), which is transforming into Li (Fire). As part of this process, strength and creativity are giving way to brightness and warmth."

I turn to the moon. Many scientifically minded people will say that this matters not a whit, that the moon's gyrations have nothing at all to do with life on earth or the timing of men's affairs, and to this I say, "If you are scientific, then how could you possibly ignore the moon, which is so massive, moves all the oceans on the planet up and down every day, times nature's blossoms, fruiting and birthing, so why shouldn't an artist in any medium listen to lunar rhythms?"

The gravity of moon and planets has greater effect than any additions of fuel or energy. No farmer with argue with this. We are now in the third day of a waning gibbous moon. This means the moon is diminishing in size, rising later each evening.

I am planning to carbon trap most of my shino glazes. This means I'm inviting forces of darkness, of heavy reduction, of back flow, and retrograde into the kiln. A gibbous moon could be ideal. However the forces of decrease might be too strong at the start of the wane, so I've decided to either light up halfway into this phase, but before diminution into a daytime crescent.

The planets offer a similar story. The shadows of Jovian moons Io and Europa cross Jupiter simultaneously on Tuesday March 29th at 7:00-8:24 UT.

Io was a priestess of Hera, who slighted the goddess by submitting to the favors of Zeus. She was sent to wander in the form of a heifer, far and wide. Hera sent a gadfly to sting Io continuously, driving her to cross the world without rest. Io eventually crosses the Propontis, the isthmus between the Sea of Marmara, literally 'Sea of Marble", and the Black Sea.

Marble Shino creamy, but when carbon trapped turns black.

I'm flirting with decrease, with downward slope. Io lives in the underworld as a mythic beast for a time, eventually Zeus makes her whole. She bears his children. I'll make my preparations, be aware of the forces at work, but in the end, I'll go when my dreams tell me to. I always wait for confirmation.

The moon Europa also crosses Jupiter that day. Europa was the mother of King Minos, the progenitor of Cretan culture, rich in art and pottery. Europa like Io, was also abducted by Zeus. By carbon trapping I am in essence taking a conventional fire, and eloping with it to the underworld, abducting a clear flame to a dark realm. This has dangers.

This is also positive, for kilns are far older than the forge. Metal arts, bronze age weaponry in particular, converted worship from agricultural Goddesses, to warlike Gods, from Artemis's Moon, to Apollo, Aires and the Sun. The Oracle at Delphi was overrun by patriarchs from Athens. Ancient Greece converted from Muses to Zeus.

So it will be nice to see the girls again, crossing in front of Jove.

There are pots in the kiln that won't carbon trap at all. It is possible to seal off effects from the carbon environment, or on the contrary, invite the carbon in. This is possible by zone, and by individual pot. One may devise a clay body that will seal itself off from carbon, or a glaze. One can use soda ash which migrates when wet to the surface as crystals, and melts, sealing carbon in, or out, depending on how you use it. I divide the kiln into zones, provide some places where oxidation can occur, and control where the smokey flame goes.

These are the moments when months of drudgery turn to magic. I ready my supply of kambucha. It's a marathon. I plan to cool down after the firing, and hold at around 1900 to promote crystal growth in my glazes. Add another four hours to a ten hour firing.

Glaze firings occur during a conceptual night, with visibility almost zero, a route flown over a fogbound mountain ranges, high in the sky, or low over craggy peaks, screaming fast, or slow almost at stall speed. It may be light and brief, or ponderous and long in duration, rich with fuel, or lean with lots of air. The view is minimal due to the weather, a tiny glimpse of red or yellow suns through two tiny spies.

Yes there's a temperature gauge, and a measure of how things are proceeding indoors. The journey of a pot is metaphoric of a psychic transformation. It's not ceramics that are being worked on, but the soul.

There are many philosophies about the making of pots, and one could say these may be extended to any art, and even to life. One is a safe course, making sure your hard work ends up acceptable to others by adopting a process that is defined, repeatable and exact. To quote Mel Jacobsen, a talented potter from Minnesota . . "If you have total control of your reduction schedule, color can be the same firing after firing. Any potter should try for 100%, perfect firings every time.  . . . no rejected pots."

Another approach thrusts the pots before forces of nature. There will be a lot of rejects, but you may find a door that leads someplace exciting.

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