The Mission: to explore, create and inspire!

thePatientPotter is a blog that is designed to encourage and inspire fellow Potters and Entrepreneurs as it takes them through the challenges and triumphs of a 'potter on a mission'.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 4

In order to process my hand-dug clay efficiently, I will need $12,250 to drop out of the sky and into my grateful little hands. Until that time though, I think I will start saving up for the one piece of equipment I think is most important, the Ball Mill. I believe the Ball Mill will make my clay more plastic and easier to work with. This would be a great starting point for me. I’m thinking I might be able to use it to mix my clay as well, which will also improve the plasticity. I’m excited about that because my red clay, at times, can be quite stiff to work with and better clay makes for better product.

Bailey Pottery has the best price at $702 for the unit, $95 per each 1 gallon jar (need 2), and $9.79 per lb of pebbles (need 16lbs). Total $1048. plus shipping.


Up to this point, inefficient methods of processing my clay have been reasons I was tempted to purchase outside clay for my studio. What I would like to do now is analyze the aesthetic reasons why I'm tempted and then figure out how I can overcome them.

The first one is color. My hand-dug clay is RED. Oklahoma Red to be exact. Red clay means lots and lots of iron. Lots of iron in clay overpowers whatever color glaze you apply to your pots. Most colors applied to my red clay come out brown. So far I have found only 2 glazes that look good on my red clay; midnight blue and a satiny, metallic brown. To get pretty colors you need a light colored clay. The clay I purchase is a nice light tan, color works well on it and I can get whatever look I want. What potter doesn’t like to play with pretty colors?

In my research I have come up with a few things I could do to remedy the color issue with my red clay.

- Send samples of my clay to a laboratory to have it analyzed. This will allow me to experiment with making my own glazes using a glaze software program that I got for Christmas. I need to know exactly what my clay is made out of in order to make a glaze that will fit well and maybe have color. To have my clay analyzed it will cost me approx. $100.

- Run my clay under a magnetic field to remove some of the iron. I have wanted to try this to see if this is possible. The one thing I don’t want to do though is change the color of my clay. The fact that my red clay is Oklahoma Red is a huge selling point in this neck of the woods.

- Use a Majolica glaze. Majolica is an opaque white glaze that covers dark clay. You can then paint your design in colors onto the white glaze background. Typical Majolica pottery looks like this.

- Use a Slip. Slip is clay, water and pigment. When mixed to a consistency of melted ice cream it is possible to change the surface color of a pot with one application. In this way, it provides a solid colored background for paint or glaze and is an inexpensive way of making dark clay appear white or another color. What I would do is make porcelain slip - porcelain is a white clay, and cover my red pot with it. That would give me a white base. The trick here is to make sure the porcelain slip will adhere well to my red clay through application and firing. Once that is accomplished then there are lots of things I could do with this slip. I could paint on it, brush it on the pot like paint, dip the pot in it, cover the pot entirely and then carve a design into it down to the dark clay underneath, etc.

All of these methods of coloring my clay is feasible and would be fun. I especially like the slip method and have already tested it on a few pots. To be good at any one method though will take time and will require patience on my part. I also really want to get my clay analyzed. I think this would speed up my testing and give me the security of knowing my product.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Evalutating 2007: part 3

The second bottle neck, which would quickly follow the first, is the mixing of the clay body. Right now I mix 3 batches by hand, over the course of 3 days, to give me my 25 lbs per week. I use a bucket and a spoon. The mixture is rather thick, and hard to mix, so I know I’m not mixing it thoroughly. I justify poor mixing by wedging the heck out of it when I use it. Wedging is both time consuming and the reason I have Carpel Tunnel so it would be beneficial to not have to do it.

To remove this bottleneck I would need:
- Commercial Mixer ($1500)*
- Pug Mill ($3500)*

*They make a new Pug Mill now that combines the mixing and the pugging for $4300.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 2

Evaluating 2007: part 2

Will I get bored? Will I still be able to do everything I’m doing now?

Right off the bat I need to throw these two questions out the window. What was I thinking? Clay is clay. I will just need to adapt my clay to suit my needs as I go along. So, let’s start analyzing the reasons I bring purchased stoneware into my studio. I want to adapt my red clay so there will be no need to bring in purchased clay.

Purchased clay is all bagged up and ready to go, as much as I need, when I need it at $9 for a 25lb bag. My red clay goes through a cleaning, drying, pulverizing, mixing and then an excess water removal process before I can use it. In one week I normally process about 25lbs. My biggest obstacle in processing my clay is the pulverizing of the dry, clean, clay chunks. I do it by hand using a wooden hammer. It creates a lot of dust and needs to be done outdoors. It can’t be windy outside because the fine dust particles that we cherish so much blow away. It also can’t be really cold outside because I’m a wimp. I can handle about 2 hours of pounding before my hands cramp and give out. 2 hours gives me enough clay powder to make 25 lbs of clay.

To rid myself of this bottle neck, Michael Cardew in his book, Pioneer Pottery, says that I need 3 pieces of equipment:

- Laboratory-size Jaw Crusher ($4500)
- Plate Mill or Pulverizer ($1750)
- Ball Mill ($1000)

What this equipment would do is take my 1-1.5” size hard clay pieces and bring them down to powder form. The Jaw Crusher takes the initial pieces down to ¼”. The Plate Mill will take the ¼” pieces down to a fine sand size (which is the size my hammer gives me). The Ball Mill will take the sand size down to an impalpable grade. It would be wonderful to have these. My clay would be better because the particles would be finer making it more plastic. But, we are talking about a lot of money. There has got to be a better way to take chunks of dried clay and reduce it down to sand size. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Evaluating 2007: part 1

I usually spend the month of January evaluating the previous year. How close did I stick to my business plan, where did I grow, where did I slide, what did I accomplish, what do I have yet to accomplish, etc. etc. etc… By February I usually have a new, slightly revised business plan and know exactly which direction I want to take in the new year.

This year was no different although it is taking me longer. I should be done with this by now. But this year is different. I’m tired of not making money so something has to change, but what? I spent all of January thinking about this pottery business and what I need it to do for me and what I need to change in order for it to do what I needed it to do. The bottom line is, I need the business to make money now. Up to this point, I needed a business that could be flexible for my family; I wanted family first, business second. Now that my youngest is 16, and managing life on her own pretty much, flexibility is not a priority, but money is. I need this business to step up and give me an income.

Now, how do I take the business that I have, which only brings in petty cash here and there, to the next level where it actually pays me an income? I read in a book once, that in order to be successful in business, you need to become an expert in what you do. At the moment, in pottery, I do a little bit of everything. I dig my own clay, I purchase clay, I make functional ware, art pieces, sculpture, I do wheel work, slab roller, I do special commission work, I do production work, etc… There are so many things you can do with pottery and of course I want to do it all. Obviously I can’t become an expert in all things pottery so I need to choose one area and focus on becoming really good at it.

My one area of expertise could be my Rt 66 Oklahoma Red Clay. It is hand dug from my property and not too many potters actually hand dig their own clay. It makes me unique. It has also proven to be the area of interest to the local media and other potters. This would be the most obvious choice, but will I get bored. Will I still be able to do everything I’m doing now? Stay tuned as I analyze this.