Kilns for beginners

I don’t have a studio or a designated pottery space, but nonetheless I have been considering buying a kiln. Going to SB’s studio is great, but getting pieces to her in the car in one piece, waiting 1-3 weeks for them to be fired, another 1-3 weeks to be glazed and fired again… it’s a little frustrating. You can buy small-ish top loading electric kilns on wheels that would be perfect for keeping stored away and brought out for firing.

All this kiln talk got me thinking about firing and the different kinds of kilns and firings etc. As ever, Ceramics Daily have a great article introducing kiln firings, dos and don’ts, with lots of advice thrown in! I would recommend anyone new to kilns to read this article: Ten Basics of Firing Electric Kilns

But. Kilns are expensive. And not just expensive-like-a-pottery-wheel. Kilns are incredibly expensive. Literally £1000+ for a small, top loading kiln that can plug into a normal 240v 13amp household plug and £2000-3000 for larger studio or front loading kilns. I don’t remotely have that kind of money to spare and so I have been trawling eBay and Gumtree for a while for a second hand kiln.

I’m worried about a second hand kiln in many respects, there is a lot that can go wrong with a kiln (and is expensive to repair) and often the paperwork is lost or the kiln’s elements are old, it might be full of rust or all kinds of things. I don’t want to bring something dangerous into my home. But at the same time, second hand kilns can range from £100-500 and this is much more within my price range.

I’ve recently seen a kiln for £100 on Gumtree, a Sitter Kiln LT-3K. I can find the guide for this model online as it is a popular model and make. I’m thinking that as I can get it so cheap, I can bring it to a kiln repair place for them to give it the once over. That way I can be sure it wont burst into flames the first time I try to fire it! If it requires a lot of repair work then I’ll just sell it on.

I have to say the guys at Pottery Crafts at Art in Clay were really wonderful when I spoke with them about their kilns. They didn’t mind me asking probably very basic questions and they didn’t try to push me towards a larger, more expensive kiln. They even had a 10% discount for Art in Clay! If only I had £1,000 lying around.. I’d definitely purchase a kiln from them! I’ll ask Beloved to combine Christmas, Birthday, Valentines & Anniversary gifts for two years… Perhaps one day!

PG xx




Art in Clay, Hatfield House

This weekend, despite awful weather reports, I took my little family down to Hatfield House for our first Art in Clay event! I had a voucher for 2-4-1 from the Ceramics Review publication and so it was a bargain at £10 for all three of us! (Children under a certain age had free entry too).

We drove around the beautiful Hatfield House (we decided we must go back for a separate visit!) and through the trees, saw long white marquees and tents. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was a little nervous about going and speaking with other artists. But, the weather held and as we entered our first Tent – the David Leach tent – and we were met with smiles, people talking and an incredible variety of ceramics!

There were pots large and small; porcelain, earthenware, stoneware and paper clay; clay rabbits, gorillas and dogs galore!

The weather cleared and the sun came out as we helped ourselves to a delicious roast pork bap from the food section. As well as the different ceramic artists there was a raffle for Adopt a Potter, a tent for children’s activities, PotClays were there selling glazes and accessories and PotteryCrafts selling kilns and lots of information points.There was so much to see, the hours flew by!

As we walked around even my Beloved became interested in the different effects, glazes and shapes! Everyone we met was truly genuine and lovely. I absolutely love the pottery community. No one minded if you asked questions about how they achieved a certain effect, no one minded if you picked up their pots and had a good look – in fact they wanted you to ask questions – it was so warm and friendly! One artist started singing patty cake patty cake to Little One as he was beating his vase with a paddle, it was wonderful! I even dropped my wallet at one point without realising it, and it was returned to me within minutes with an announcement over the loud speaker – all money and cards intact!

What struck me most with the different artists’ stalls, was that they have developed a consistent colour scheme and style. Some of the pots are quite normal, simple shapes but their glazes are textured or intricate. Some artists paint flowers and leaves etc for a very ‘country kitchen’ style, whereas other artists had more geometric, traditional or contemporary shapes. Other artists are able to achieve incredible shapes and vessels, cutting into the clay or adding other mediums. Every stall was a feast for the eyes!

I had gone to Art in Clay determined to buy a little something – perhaps a coffee jar or a mug. As it happens, the coffee jars were well out of my price range for the most part, so instead we came across Pat Southwood‘s stall and Beloved and I liked a little pot, which I bought. It’s simple but an honest little pot with a lovely ridge and lip. A great little souvenir from a really wonderful day!


Overall we had a really wonderful time at our first Art in Clay! We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for future events, particularly as it was so family friendly and Little One would be old enough to get involved next time. It has inspired me to try and find my style and build a body of work. Perhaps, one day I’ll be able to have a stall…

PG x

Throwing for the first time!

This weekend just gone I went for a one day throwing class. A few weeks ago I bought a Shimpo Aspire table top (with foot pedal) wheel and I was basically getting no where, having real trouble centring clay and even less luck throwing a vessel. I had been hunting down a one on one session or throwing day but the 2hr one on one sessions within a 30-45min drive were £60+ and the throwing days were even further and started around £100 per day, not including the items you threw or lunch or whatever.

But as luck would have it, the initial pottery instructor I had a course with back in the winter was running a single day, 10am-4pm class for £70. Much more reasonable.

I went along to the studio and met some really lovely people. Although I knew in theory what I should be doing, I’ve never had the clay in abundance or continuity of time to really bring theory and practice together – and this is what the throwing day offered. It was a little bit of a slow start but after a while I got the hang of things! Centring is still very difficult and can take a while, but I slowly got the hang of making cylinders and bowls (bowls are much easier!). Another person on the course gave me the tip of closing my eyes for centring and I really found this helped. Keeping elbows in and my hand slightly raised from the wheel also helped immensely.

I also discovered, as with many things, I am ambidextrous with the wheel’s turning direction. I am right handed but I find with most things I actually lead with my left hand (or foot is we’re talking about surfing or snowboarding). And so I had the wheel turning both anti clockwise and clockwise, depending on what I was doing. It wasn’t intentional, it just felt more natural.

The only frustrating part of the day was the fact that because we hung around and wedged clay for the first hour or so, by the time we had thrown a few cylinders or bowls, they weren’t dry enough by the afternoon to turn. This was pretty frustrating as it was taken for granted you could just pop back another time and finish them off – when my circumstances don’t lend themselves to this. Also, as I found previously, the studio is so dusty I get a blocked nose and sinus after spending a few hours there. I’ve read how dangerous breathing in clay dust is, and I’m sure the instructor knows this as well, but it made me long for the cleanliness of SB’s studio.

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the items I produced on the throwing day but if I am able to go back to turn them, have them fired and glazed, I will certainly post the pictures on here and instagram (pmstrat).

To keep the momentum going I spent this morning on my little shimpo at home! It was certainly different to the larger pottery wheel at the studio and the clay I Was throwing was my reclaimed clay which has grog in it, but I divided my clay into five 300,400 and 500g or so lumps and had a go! I was able to throw bowls and cylinders which made me very happy and I also managed to throw a few egg cups off the hump! I even pulled my own handle to attach to a mug. I left a few items to dry out in the sun and had a go at turning this lunch time – that was trickier than I had imagined! Just getting the item centred was a pain. As a result a few items were scrapped, but as always, I’m happy to do this as it’s all a learning process! Three things made it out alive, two bowls and an egg cup.

I’m going to start watching a few turning tutorials, I need tips for centring items and I’m not sure I’m holding the tools correctly to make a foot.

I’m over to SB’s studio tomorrow to pick up things and no doubt glaze the last few items. I’ve run out of clay pretty much now too (I’m in the process of drying the scraps from today). I’ll take over my thrown things as well. Although I don’t know if she’ll be happy with me – she said people should work with clay for 2yrs handbuilding before throwing…!! She doesn’t know I have a wheel either. EEK. Don’t be mad SB!

…The adventures with clay continue!

PG x

p.s. Art in Clay this weekend! And the latest copy of Ceramic Review arrived today. A great pottery day.

Upcoming Events

Art in Action
14-17 July in Oxford
I really want to go but I don’t know if I can, not sure the little one will be up to it and beloved is away that weekend. They have classes available to book on the day too.. Boo! But hopefully a plan comes together.

Art in Clay
19th-21st August at Hatfield House.

I want to go! It’s taking place at Hatfield  House and there is a 2-4-1 voucher in this month’s Ceramic Review!