I took my first pottery class in 1970 and have been a full time potter since 1976. My first firing experience was at a salt glaze workshop, taught by Peter Sohngen at the Memphis Academy of Arts, in the summer of 1972. Ever since then I’ve been chasing the atmospheric surface quality that I fell in love with that summer. For the rest of 1972 and 1973 I continued to salt glaze. From 1975 – 2008 I fired ^10 gas reduction and achieved atmospheric-like surfaces through the use of sprayed and layered glazes.
Since December of 2008 I have been electric glaze firing and every kiln I have fired since then has been chocked full of experiments! My pottery does not look radically different from the work I did at ^10 reduction, but I have many new glazes represented in these pots. The most surprising thing I have learned is that electric firing in no way hinders the rich and varied surfaces I have come to expect on my pottery. The earthy brown and orange colors I favor have been just as successful in oxidation as in reduction firing. Also, my ash-like glazes seem to have even better rivulet formation and color in oxidation. When I began electric firing in 2008 I was firing to ^8, from August 2010 - September 2014 I fired to to ^6. Beginning in the fall of 2014 I once again crept up to ^8. The bottom line for me is that everything I do is an experiment and I’m not likely to ever arrive at a place where I have figured it all out!
For anyone disappointed to hear that I’ve raised my firing temperature back to ^8, just think of it as a hot ^6… There's only 70 degrees difference. Everything I’m doing at ^8 works at ^6. My current intuition tells me that the surfaces are just slightly richer at ^8 and I like working with ^8-10 porcelain better than ^6 porcelain.
The micro-crystalline glazes I love, care-not whether they are fired in oxidation or reduction. Crystals form during the cooling cycle, as the glazes are solidifying. Small electric kilns cool quickly compared to large gas kilns, so there is less time for the crystals to develop if the kiln is cooled naturally. To compensate for this I down-fire during the cooling cycle, taking 6-8 hours between 1700 and 1500 degrees F.
With the exception of liner glazes (which are poured), my glazes are sprayed. Potters always speak of the “Kiln Gods”, but for me the magic resides more in the application process rather than the mystery of fire. My pieces have 4-8 glazes applied in overlapping layers. Some glazes are sprayed in a way that isolates them from others, like the black or white glazes I apply on the rim of a bowl or the rim, handle, and foot of a pitcher, but most are layered and blended. My intention is for the whole presentation to look as if it is one rich and varied surface, much like agate, marble, or layers of metamorphic rock. I want my glazes to ebb and flow (but not run too much!), with color and surface texture gently emphasizing changes in the form. I encourage micro-crystalline growth on the glaze surface, which can resemble a snowstorm or falling leaves, and I use ash-like glazes to encourage streaking, leaving vivid traces of glazes interacting with and flowing through each other as they melt. Most of my glaze combinations are rather unstable to work with, but at their best they have an amazing ability to allure and captivate the viewer. One thing is certain... they are never boringly predictable!
I am constantly searching for new glazes that will stir my soul and inspire previously inaccessible colors or textures. I both formulate and collect glazes from other sources, but I am always experimenting with new combinations. The base glaze that underlies many of my surfaces and encourages crystal formation on these pots is Strontium Crystal Magic (SCM). It began as a Tom Coleman glaze, Yellow Crystal Matt. Through an extended series of experiments it ended up far enough afield to warrant renaming. By itself it is rather dull, but it brings to life glazes layered over it. It seems that just about any working glaze in the ^6 range has some potential over SCM. I can’t imagine ever running out of glaze and firing cycle tweaks to fuel my experimentation!