Soda and wood-firing potter, and adjunct professor, making primarily functional ware.
What inspires the imagery for your Mishima carving?
"I have a number of sources of inspiration. I love to garden, so I use a lot of floral imagery. I am fascinated by textile design and graphic design as well, and often find myself using patterns I see in fabric or a random online design as a starting point for a design to carve."
At what stage do you do the Mishima carving?
"I do my carving at leather-hard. I feel like there are a few stages of leather hard, so I would say it’s more of a hard leather hard (parmesan cheese, not cheddar)."
What tools do you use to do the carving?
"Initially, I tried using an Exacto blade. Kudos to those who have success with this tool. I couldn’t manage to get the curves I wanted using it.
After trying numerous already existing tools, and not getting the line quality I wanted, I researched a number of metal tips in multiple industries for all types of purposes. I settled on one I really liked. I was excited that the tip was threaded and could be replaced without replacing the whole tool. I then asked my friend, master tool-maker Troy Bungart, if he would collaborate on a custom tool for me. After sending back and forth a few revisions, we came up with one I really like. I will be selling them at The Roomshow at NCECA in Richmond. You can also contact me to order one directly."
Why do you like Mishima in soda firing?
"My designs, and my work, tend to be fairly controlled. I like using Mishima in soda, because it partially bleeds the inlaid underglaze onto the surface of the work in unexpected ways. Sometimes, it will leave an outline around my carved imagery. I think the atmosphere helps loosen my otherwise tightly controlled work."
What are the advantages of Mishima in light or heavy soda application, and which do you prefer?
"I like both for different reasons. Light soda preserves more of my designs while still offering some softness to the line, which can be really striking. If I spend a lot of time on an overall design, it may be preferable.
Heavy soda may even obscure parts of my design. That said, I love the contrast of heavy directionally applied soda. I can stack my work to ensure that the parts of the work I want to receive the most soda do when firing this way. This allows me to get the best of both worlds, by having a heavy juicy gray soda side and a lighter, orange flashed side. My goal in these effects is to mimic the way sunlight, just before sunset, creates long heavy gray shadows while illuminating surfaces still in its path."
Take me to the Archive of Soda Fire Blogs
Denise's Flashing Slips
Denise's Clay Bodies
"I’ve been making pots full time in Shelby, NC since 1997. I took my first pottery lesson at a night class in 1992. I studied mathematics in college but wanted to go to art school. I had hoped to become a sculptor or painter and live in a big city. Instead, I became a potter, making cups and bowls; living a nice, quite life in the country. When I’m not working in the pottery studio I enjoy reading, drawing, journaling, drinking tea, playing drums, and practicing yoga."
When did you start Soda firing?
"I started using soda in 2013 when I built a new kiln. I had been a salt glazer from 1997-2008. In 2008 I started working in earthenware fired in an electric kiln and I took a 5 year break from salt glazing. When I decided to go back in 2013 I took down my salt kiln. The fireboxes were in bad shape and it was time for a rebuild. After the new kiln was finished I decided I’d use only soda and no salt. I also decided to work with a lighter clay body. With my salt glaze work I had used a course stoneware. After testing a few different clay bodies I settled on Laguna B-Mix with grog for the soda fired pots."
Why did you switch from low-fire graphic work to soda-fired ceramics?
"After making the low fire work for several years I began missing the salt glaze surface. I love the variety of surface and somewhat unpredictable results from sodium glazed pots. The earthenware taught me a lot. I had fun coming up with the animals and other motifs I used on the low fire pots. I also enjoyed working with color here and there. I had four different bodies of work in the earthenware over the whole time I was making low fire. The decoration was labor intensive. When making stoneware I had been used to the pot being practically finished when it came off the wheel. For the earthenware I’d make a batch of pots and then have to sit and decorate them all. I liked that the batch size was much smaller. I could fill my electric kiln very quickly and then just push a button to fire. With the propane kiln I had to make at least 150 pots and it took 16-20 hrs to fire.
Low fire glazes were a challenge as well. I wanted a clear glaze and an amber glaze that had the depth and beauty of pots I had seen from England that were covered in lead glazes. Of course I could not use lead. I had a few glazes I used but I was always a bit unhappy with them."
"It was pretty easy for me to go back to high fire since I had been doing it for so many years before I switched to earthenware. It was great to get back to some clay that I could really throw. My first soda firing went pretty well. I had some nice surfaces and soda glaze coverage. I was not drawing on the pots. I was doing some stamping, rope impressing, faceting, etc. All that looked great in soda, much as it had in salt. I liked the more directional aspect of soda. The pots had lots of variation from one side to the other."
What inspired you to start adding drawings of animals onto your soda fired work?
"I had really loved putting the animals on the earthenware. I had tried several times over the years to decorate the sodium fired pots in a way that worked for me and looked okay. I never felt like I was good with a brush. I probably just gave up too soon. With the earthenware I had used sgraffito and that was great. The contrast of white slip on red clay was so bold. I liked the sharp line and detail I could get. But it was hard on my body, all that scratching away of clay. So I didn’t want to go back to that. Throughout the time making soda glaze I would every now and again try a pot with some imagery on it. Nothing ever appealed to me until I started using the wax resist method. This was a technique I had seen Michael Simon use very early on in my pottery life. I knew a few folks who used wax and I had dabbled in it a bit. In early 2019 I took the plunge and decorated about 20 pots and fired them alongside the other pots in the kiln. That’s how I’m currently decorating, using wax in the negative spaces and brushing on an underglaze slip for the imagery. I am back to very labor-intensive work again! I love the results but I am wishing I had a smaller kiln. I’d like to make 50-60 pots and then fire."
Are you firing your soda kiln differently with this newer work?
"Before I started decorating I was putting 3 ½ lbs of soda ash in the kiln. That was great for the textured pots and all the surface action I wanted. With the new pots I’ve backed off to 2 lbs. I also am firing a little cooler. Instead of cone 10 flat I’m now firing to cone 9. I’m experimenting with some slips that look nice if they are a bit cooler and drier. It’s funny, I was all into shiny and more soda for a few years, now I’m going the other way."
"My firings are about 16 hrs long.
I fire in a medium reduction. I’m looking for flashed surfaces and some soda build up. I don’t want a lot of gray carbon trapping. I mix soda ash in a 1 lb per 1 gallon of hot water ratio. I start spraying at cone 8. I’ll go around the kiln spraying in 5 sec bursts in each of the 14 ports. I also have 10 ports in the door that I will sometimes use. After each cycle of spraying I wait 15 minutes and repeat. I pull draw rings to gauge the amount of soda build up. Spraying takes about 1 ½ hrs.
After I’ve used as much soda as I want I’ll oxidize the kiln for 30 minutes and make sure I’ve reached the cone I’m going for (9 for the decorated work, 10 flat for the undecorated) before shutting off the gas. I then pull some of the soda ports and open the damper to crash cool down to about 2025 deg F. I think this fast cooling promotes brighter slip colors."
"I am enjoying the more decorated work that I’ve been making this year. I will continue to work on that, coming up with new imagery and forms. I would like to have a try at cone 2 soda firing. I have a custom clay body that I like and I think would work well at that temperature. I may also build a smaller kiln."
His Flashing Slip Recipes
Bauer Flashing Slip
OM4 Ball Clay 42
Tile 6 Slip
Tile 6 Kaolin 14
Grolleg Kaolin 3
Neph. Sy. 2
Check out more of Rons work!
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My new trick for cleaning up pots.
Ps. these ideas usually apply to wood fired pots as well, and disclaimer this was an example of cleaning up a wood fired pot.
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