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Megan Billings Pottery

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How Pottery is Made

 

Watch a potter at work! Here are demonstrations of throwing on the wheel, pulling handles, and other various stages of making pottery by hand. This work cycle usually takes one month to complete, as I work on many pieces at once in order to fill my large kiln.  

 

  Each piece of my pottery begins as a lump of porcelain clay. Porcelain demands a great deal of skill to throw, but is desirable for its bright white colour and fine texture. I weigh each lump of clay, to help achieve consistent sizes.
  

 

First, the clay must be centered on the wheel. Each piece is made on a round wooden bat, so that it can be easily removed from the wheel after throwing. 

  The next stage is called "opening." I use my thumb to push down in the center, and open up the piece, leaving clay at the bottom as well.
 The clay is squeezed together between my fingertips, to "pull" the clay up from the bottom of the piece. It takes several pulls, and a great deal of practice and skill, to achieve an even thickness throughout the piece. 
 I begin shaping the piece with my fingers, on the final pull.  
  A metal rib is used for the final shaping, to smooth the outside while my fingers press from the inside. When the shaping is completed, the piece is removed from the wheel.
 The piece is allowed to dry (slowly) to a leather hard stage (about the consistency of cheese), before it is returned to the wheel. I use a trimming tool to remove excess clay from the bottom of the pot. I trim a clean "foot," and sign the bottom using an old pen without ink.  
  

Any required handles or knobs are attached right after trimming. I "pull" all of my handles from a lump of clay, shaping it with my fingers. Next the mug and handle are "scored" where they will be attached, and pressed together. Items with handles or other attachments must be dried slowly, especially with porcelain.

 

 When the work is air-dry (and very fragile), I hand-decorate each piece. I use different colours of "underglaze" to achieve the brilliant colours. At the time of application, the colours look dull and opaque. A great amount of imagination is required to visualize the end result. After the work is decorated, it is loaded in the kiln and fired for the first time (called a "bisque"). 
  

Each firing is a 3-day process: the kiln is loaded one day, and started. The firing takes about 12 hours for a bisque and 15 hours for a glaze, and stretches into the second day. On the third day, about 24 hours after the firing is complete, the kiln is cool enough to unload.

 

After the bisque firing, the pieces are lightly sanded and a wax is applied to the bottom so that the glaze will not absorb there. Each piece is wiped with a  damp sponge to remove dust. Then they are dipped into a bucket of raw glaze. When the glaze has dried, I touch up each piece, and load the kiln for the second time.

 
 My work is fired to Cone 6, or 1220 degrees Celsius (2228 F), for the glaze firing. In this firing, the underglaze colours become brilliant, and the glaze over top becomes clear. After the firing, the bottom of each piece is sanded smooth, and the process is complete! 

 

 

Megan Billings Pottery Upper Hainesville (Crabbe Mountain), New Brunswick CANADA

506-463-8397 (res) 506-442-2471 (cell) megan@billingspottery.com