“I plied the fire with fresh fuel round the outside and upon the top, till I saw the pots in the inside red-hot quite through and observed that they did not crack at all. When I saw them clear red, I let them stand in that heat about five or six hours, till I found one of them, though it did not crack, did melt or run; for the sand which was mixed with the clay melted by the violence of the heat, and would have run into glass if I had gone on; so I slacked my fire gradually till the pots began to abate of the red colour; and watching them all night, that I might not let the fire abate too fast, in the morning I had three very good (I will not say handsome) pipkins, and two other earthen pots, as hard burnt as could be desired, and one of them perfectly glazed with the running of the sand.”   –  The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. By Daniel Defoe.


You can do it! Many who wish to make pottery might be deterred by thinking they need a pottery wheel, kiln, or other equipment to start making pots. But the truth is all you need is a lump of clay and your imagination, and you can make your very first pottery projects. If Robinson Crusoe, who was stranded on an island made pots, so can you!  It is so easy a caveman can do it! Wait…they did!  In this post, I will give you a few tips on how all of that can be done and in no time flat, you will be spending your Saturday afternoon creating clay projects you never thought possible. You already took the first step by thinking about it and now the next step would be getting a ball of clay to start with. You will not be able to use these low fire pots for food items, but we can make little planters and other projects.  So first, let’s find a little ball of clay.




The Beginning: Find Some Clay.

“Help! But what type of clay should I use?” I am glad you asked! Since we will be going caveman style, we will use types of clay that you can “bake” at low temperatures. And like Robinson Crusoe, we will start with earthenware. Earthenware is a bit more delicate than stoneware, but it is good enough to start with and practice with. A person starting out can also use raku clay. Raku clay is clay that is intentionally mixed so it can handle “thermal shock” or extreme changes in temperatures of hot and cold without cracking or blowing up. Raku clay also “bakes” at low temperatures. You might also find clay near riverbanks or in the ground. Wild clay needs a bit of testing first and for this project, we will only be using clay that we know will work out. Earthenware clay can be bought at local craft stores or your local pottery supply store. Raku clay also can be bought online or at clay supply stores but is a bit harder to find. So, once you have your box of clay, you now are ready to do the next step. Open the box or bag and scoop out a 1-pound ball of clay.



Step Two: Make a Little Ball.

Congratulations! I am super proud of you! You just went from thinking about making something in clay to doing it! Amazing! Now you need to decide what to make. There are millions of things you can make, but no need to worry about them all and get distracted and overwhelmed. I think for your first project you should make a little pinch pot planter for your aunt Joan. You could put a succulent in it and give it as a gift. She will love it! Now compress the clay into a tight ball. If the clay cracks or is a bit dry, you can put a tiny amount of water on it and knead it in until it is soft and workable. In my opinion, it should be just a bit stiffer than bread dough. Compress and slap the clay to get all the air pockets out and form the little lump of clay into a ball. Now give yourself a thumbs up! You did it!

 



Step Three: Make a Pinch Pot.

Take your thumb that you gave thumbs up with and push it into the center of the clay ball. You only want to push your thumb about ¾ of the way in and not all the way though. The idea is to scoop out the clay gently while rotating the ball. Work the lump of clay by using your thumb to even out the sides. Be sure you get the bottom even also; if there are thick parts, it may take a longer time to dry. It also might not dry evenly. In my opinion, you should take care not to get the top too wide but just wide enough to put in a cute little plant. Now once both the sides and bottom are even, set the pot aside and have a look! You did great! If the pot has cracks, you can take a tiny bit of water and smooth out the rim and edges. Below is a nice video on how to make up your pinch pot.

 




Step Four: Make Three More.

Make three more little cute pots because pottery is about learning through messing up. One of your pinch pots might crack drying, another might crack when you accidentally drop it or when it is fired. But no worries! Making more pots means that you get practice at making pinch pots and by the time you form ten pots, you will be far better at it than what you made at pot one! Now line all the little pots up and have a look at them. They are the very first pots you have made, and you should be proud of them as no matter how good or terrible you think they look, you have met the goal of simply making a pot and you are much further ahead of folks who simply thought about making a clay pot and never did! I’m so proud of you! But these pots are a real snooze fest and in-order to keep awake for the rest of the project and to make the pots look a bit more interesting, we need to do a bit of decorating.

 

 

Step Five: Decorate Your Pots.

Now just like there are a million ways to make a pot, there are a million ways to decorate one. So, for this project, we will simply make impressions in the little clay pots. You can use plants, stones, tree bark, and many other found objects to make texture patterns and impressions. When making impressions, be sure to hold the pot on the inside and not press too hard as you do not want to deform the pot. Press in things as much or as little as you like and when you are all done, line them up and look at the cute little designs you have made on them. Your Aunt Joan will love them! Now we move on to the next step as we need to let them dry.

 




Step Six: Dry Your Pots.


Drying pots is easy because it does not require you to do much of anything. If the walls and base of the pots are even, things should dry out in a few days. As they dry, they will get more delicate, so handle them like eggs. The stages of drying are what pottery folks call leather hard and bone dry.  “Leather hard” is when the clay is not fully dry but is quite hard. At this point, folks trim pots and also carve. At the “bone dry” stage, there is very little moisture left in the clay and the pot is completely dry. In most clays you will notice a color change. Dry the little pots in an area that has good circulation. You could put them in the sun, but for this beginner project, we want them to dry a bit slower so they do not dry too fast and crack. If possible, you could carefully turn the little pots upside down and let them fully dry. If the edges are delicate, leave them right side up, but rotate them a bit every few hours. If you forget, it’s fine, but be sure your pot is not stuck to anything as it shrinks when it dries, and you do not want cracks. Your pots will be dry when they are bone dry. An easy way to tell if your pot is dry is to carefully pick them up and touch them on your cheek. If they still feel cold, they may need to dry a bit more. Rotate them around and expose them to air. When your pots are completely dry, they are now ready to fire!




Step Seven: Get Ready to fire!

Now this takes a bit of research, but don’t be scared! Just like there are a million ways to make and decorate a pot, there are a million ways to fire a pot. If you are just a kid getting into art, you will need an adult to help you with this part as fire is very dangerous and can cause a lot of damage. So, for the love of all that is holy, check with your local authorities about what you are permitted to do and not do. Be sure to follow all laws and safety standards around fire safety. Be sure to fire in a safe place where it is not windy. Plan a way to put out the fire if things go bad. I do not want to see anyone in the news. So, after learning about fire safety and the laws and regulations, we can get ready to fire. For this example, we are going to pit fire. Get a shovel and meet me back here so we can get to it.



Step Eight: Dig a Hole.


Scrape the area 3-foot around your pit so small leaves and sticks do not catch fire from your pit. Use the shovel or some tool to dig a hole. You want the hole to be as deep as your elbow and wide enough on the edges to place all your pots in with a bit of space around each one. The idea is to have a dry hole, dry burnables, dry wood, and dry pots. Place some burnables in the hole and do some burning to dry the hole out some. You can use sawdust. You can get bags of sawdust at the hardware store or at pet supply shops. One bag should be good enough. Place the pots on the edge of your little hole and rotate them to start to slowly heat them up. Use gloves to place in your pots. Place larger pieces of wood on top like you are going to have a campfire. In the video below, this lady fires pots like Robinson Crusoe did. At 19:30 in the video below, she warms them up and places the pots in the fire!

 


Can I Make Pottery in my fire pit?  You Bet!

 



Step Nine: Light the Fire.

Carefully move all burnables like left over saw dust, leaves, and dry wood from the area and place them where they will not catch fire. Carefully light the fire like you are at camp. Add on more wood slowly and let the fire burn all the way down into the pots and in the hole. Never leave a fire unattended! Let the fire burn out. When the pots are cool enough, pull them out with a pair of gloves. When you tap the pot carefully, you should hear a ring that will tell you if your pot at least has reached a temperature to harden it enough.



 

Step Ten: Clean the Pot.

When the pots are cool enough to hold with your hand, clean the pots up with water and a Brillo pad, wiping off all the ash and dirt that might be on it. Congratulations! You just made your first pots without a kiln. Now go buy some succulents and put them in your pots and give them to your aunt Joan as a gift! She will love them!



 

Written By,
Al Wayman
Artist/Owner
Creek Road Pottery LLC

Edited by:
Erika Sickler
Content Writer/ Editor
Creek Road Pottery LLC

If you enjoyed this post and are a lover of pottery, sign up for our newsletter and become a raging fan.




 

 

“And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me – the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis: “Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.”      – Theogony by Hesiod, English translation by Evelyn White

 

Many people may ask me where I get my inspiration. Artist or not, we all get inspired to do something, something that drives us into action. Many say, “Follow your passion!” In my observation, passions can change after you have pursued them for a while. “Follow your passion!” also assumes it is something of good. If your passion was stealing cars it could cause you a bad time. Something more than passion needs to drive a person as at times I do not feel all that passionate about clay when pots crack.  A video I thought was helpful on the topic of following your passion can be found here. You may realize, after all the effort, you don’t enjoy it as much as you thought you would when you first started. But to start, folks believe they might need to be inspired or moved to action by some “trigger”. Here are a few things that “trigger” me. 

 

 

Reading & Research

 

When I was younger, I loved to read and had a small library of books that I enjoyed. I read many of The Hardy Boys books and Little House on the Prairie. I was terrible at reading and spelling until the 5th grade, when I had to do a book report. The experience was so moving that I still remember which book it was. The Hardy Boys: The Secret of Pirate’s Hill. I earned an A. I realized learning could be fun and took off reading like there was no tomorrow. While reading in my free time, I learned English grammar and spelling. My grades improved the more I read, and by high school, I was doing much better.

When I attended Keystone College in my home state of Pennsylvania for art, I met a guy who had piles of books all around him in the snack bar. His name was Richard. He was surrounded by books as he was studying ancient near eastern literature. Loving literature myself, we connected immediately. When we became friends, I went to Office Max with him to photocopy parts of books (as this was before the internet and the texts he was using would cost hundreds to own). It was at this point also that I was introduced to world religion by the librarian named Dr. Elliott. Dr. Elliot taught a world religion class and gave students permission to sit in and listen. She went over the ideas of Joseph Campbell and a bit of the psychologist Carl Jung. This led me to read the book The Power of the Myth by Joseph Campbell.  Between my buddy Richard and Dr. Elliot, I learned how important reading and research was to learning and applying it to my work.

 

 

Nature

 

I also get prompted to action by nature and love color and natural texture patterns. Before I made pots, I loved to go winter camping and hiking. I used to do all of this with my buddy Stephen. I even had a fun channel about my adventures outside. You may view those terrible old-time videos here. Taking the long hikes, up to 3 days or more, gave one plenty of time to spend with oneself and work things out surrounded by color and texture. Sitting in a field of grass with a good friend, making meals on a small cook burner as the sun set made an impression on my mind. The community of camping with friends made its mark as well. In times past, each Memorial Day and Labor Day we would camp with our college friends and loved ones and have grill fests. We would all bring our favorite dishes to show off and share. At night, sitting up late around the fire chatting and joking impressed upon me the community feeling that all was right in the world at that moment where we were. 

Nature shows up in my work in the texture patterns. I often use natural patterns in my pots, mostly the texture patterns of tree bark and things pressed into the clay like stones, plants, and other natural found objects. In the past, I use to layer these patterns, creating line and shape contrasted with color and glaze. I enjoyed using and feeling the raw, unglazed sections of the pots, and tried to leave parts unglazed to show off the clay’s natural beauty. Firing reduction in gas changes the glaze colors to the earth tones that I grew to love and enjoy.

 

 

 

Themes of Color

 

I am inspired by themes of color. I am not sure how it all works. Maybe I get it from my mom who always needed a matching outfit for every occasion. I always told her if she were to live a second time, she should be a fashion critic. Even at 86 years young, she still calls and asks what glaze colors I am running for the shows so she can dress accordingly when she helps as a greeter. Last year for the fall show, I ran all the colors from a single pail of glaze.

Depending on the shelf it was fired on, how hot the pots got, and what the atmosphere was like in the kiln, I was able to produce a wide range of work all from the same glaze that matched the color of the October seasonal fall look. Another show I was inspired by was the 2020 Christmas show called Blue Christmas. All the pots for this also were done from one pail of glaze. I was relieved when the blues came out beautifully to meet the expectations of those who stopped by to see.

The set-up for that show matched somewhat how I imagined it. I also think about these when working out collections for the shows. I try to get customer feedback and pair that with some ideas of work that can match in color or theme. I very much enjoyed the rolled rim mixing bowls and flattened rimmed handles on the batter bowls and bakers.

 



 

 

 

Be Like a Sponge

 

Inspiration can come in many forms, and many times we may not know from where. The ancients tell us about the muses, gods, or God. I try to expose myself to many things, absorb as much as I can and let it come out of my hands and into my creations. Not all of it ends up being well received, and I may spend far too much time working hard on the wrong things. But those times when inspiration hits your total concentration can be a fair and foul thing when you are driven to create, do the work, and get it to the right people as a gift. What I do know is I would make the pots even if no one else cared or bought them. I would still pile my ideas high to see where it would go or where it might end up. Mug one is far different to mug 120! So, what inspires you? What drives you to action? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Written By,
Alford Wayman
Artist/Owner
Creek Road Pottery LLC

Edited by:
Erika Sickler
Content Writer/ Editor
Creek Road Pottery LLC

If you enjoyed this post and are a lover of pottery, sign up for our newsletter and become a raging fan.

 

The Struggle

I always have a real bad time knowing when to do what and many times I feel as if I specialize in procrastination rather than doing what I do best. But what can be seen by others or ourselves as procrastination or being lazy might simply be due to a poor work-life balance. I remember last year in 2020 during the pandemic, I shut the pottery down for a week to read the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. I loved the book and what he stated still has stuck with me. Frankl in his book said:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” -Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Take Time For Yourself

Taking time off to do nothing or to be with family is just as important to creating as creating its self. Even though I had a lot of orders to complete and kiln loads to fire I still took time to go to the family reunion and visit with all the family I have not seen for years. I sat and ate potato salad with Uncle Wayne and Aunt Ruth and chatted with cousin Sean at the grill. Gave hugs to Aunt Gladys bent with age but still smiling and got to meet all the children of those who were children themselves last time I have seen them. You have no idea how fast time passes until you attend a reunion and see loved ones you have not seen in years. Then my friend Richard stopped by.

It was Richard’s birthday. I had planned to make pots all day, but Richard was on his way to Texas to take a class. My friend is huge into all types of research and I always enjoy spending time. So we took the day having lunch at the Diner and watching interesting films he has been collecting for his newest project. Richard is the one who got me into many topics of study and in his home shelves line all the walls but the kitchen three books deep. Over the last 25 years he has loaned me book and even helped me with clay projects. All of this was a nice break to have. But I need to get back to work as customers are looking for work. So I need to do the work and I need to learn to enjoy the hard parts and learning how to suffer the right way.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Having a good “why” is helpful to stay on track and having patience to persevere over the long run can make the work more about the journey rather than the destination. If you have a mission after resting, the hard work still needs to be done. I always work to get back into the mud, sometimes kicking and screaming. If do not participate in telling my story to the world, others will write it for me, or I will end up following or living the story of someone else.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” – Hillel the Elder, Mishnah Avot 1:14

Work-life balance helps us focus on what is truly meaningful and it then comes out our hands as we make the work and do the tasks that becomes a product that others enjoy. So I might take a long time getting custom orders out, or maybe a bit slow at finishing a few projects, but over all I try and ask like Frankl asked “If I was living today a second time what would I do”

 

I was invited by the Bradford County Regional Arts Council to have a pinch pot class in the historic Keystone Theatre

 

The event was called Thursdays in the Studio and was held on May 13th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. It was an enjoyable time for sure and I was able to meet a few other local artists from the area who attended the class. We all made three pinch pot planters each and then pressed texture marks into the clay.  There were many creative ideas for impressions as some used shells, stones, stamps, and other used leaves and plant material.  The plants will burn off in the hot kiln but should leave nice impressions.

 

Some makers created pots that were somewhat taller to be used as vases. The pots will be put though two firings. The first is a bisque fire and then after staining them with red iron oxide they will be fired once more in a higher temperature glaze firing.  Participating in events again together with community was so much fun as many were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. I was able to get all the little pots home without issue. Jokes were made at the class about living in the country and swerving to miss deer with driving home.  It is always nerve wracking driving with pots.  I placed them all in bread racks and stacked them up in the trunk of my car.

 

Keystone Theatre in Towanda, PA was built in 1886 and was formally called Hale’s Opera House. In 1988 funds were raised by Bradford County Regional Arts Council to restore the historical site. You may read more in the history of the building at the link here. The Bradford County Regional Arts Council  is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building and supporting an arts community, supporting the Arts, and preserving Bradford County’s historic theaters as centers for performances, community events and showing movies. To learn more about classes, performances,  events, or to support the Bradford County Regional Arts Council visit their website by clicking here.

 

 

The Mother/Daughter Pinch Pot Class At Harper Hill Crafts

I was honored to have a pinch pot class back home in my childhood town of Susquehanna, PA.

Melissa Dubas  of Harper Hill Crafts thought it would be fun to do a mother/daughter succulent pinch pot class for Mother’s Day.  She was right!
The class filled up quite fast and 16 people had a fun time making up three little pinch pots and impressing patterns and designs into them.

We all took little lumps of clay and worked out the insides then formed the little pots into all kinds of interesting shapes.  Some took the project another direction and created little wall hangings for plants. Then objects pressed into the clay like stones, stamps, and rollers to create interesting designs and textures. It will take the pots at least two weeks to dry before they are stained with red iron oxide and fired out in the gas kiln. Using the stain will bring out the texture patterns and make them more pronounced so each impression and fingerprint left will tell a little story about the creator and the fun time we all had with those who are a part of the Harper Hill Crafts community.

Melissa and Harper Hill Crafts have been doing craft workshops providing a space to be creative with both private and public events to bring community together.  At Harper Hill Crafts you will also find a gift shop filled with home decor items and gifts. Plans are also being made for a coffee house and shop.

Melissa also sponsors events in the town of Susquehanna in an effort to revitalize the historical railroad town.  The next event that is planned is Susquehanna in Bloom- Main Street Market that will take place May 16th 2021 at 11:00am

Thanks so much to Harper Hill Crafts and shop owner Melissa for selling my pots in your shop and inviting me back home to share a fun time with you all!  Now I am under a lot of pressure to fire the kiln right and hope everything turns out without blowing up.

A Family Visit – 2/24/2021

 

Critical tasks:

I had the day off from the paper factory and I was planning to have 3 two hour sessions throwing bowls for my Spring open studio show. <— Got in one session of 18 bowls as I shut down for the mom visit.

Secondary Tasks:

Unload kiln/ update my website/ unlock my sales tax account <— Completed

I had to move everything as mom stopped by. When dad & mom stop by I shut the whole place down as mom is 86 and loves to be a big part of everything. We chatted a whole bunch over coffee and tea and then went to the little diner in town for lunch. Before they came I got all the secondary tasks done and took a break to answer questions facebook. I then had a throwing session from 9 pm to 10 pm and made up 18 soup bowls.

If I was living yesterday a second time:

I would have still shut down the whole place for the Mom and Dad visit. As they are the best parents ever and got us into all types of things and still are there for all of us as they are able. We had a real fun time as kids even though we were broke. I think I could have done a throwing session in the morning before they showed up to get at least one more critical task done as if I am not making pots on the wheel that means the amount of pots I would like to have for the show are not getting done. I would have still unloaded the bisque fire as that went real long due to everything steaming out.

Things I enjoyed:

I enjoyed visiting and having lunch out with my Mum and Dad and Mum said she would be up to help me with the Spring show and said she had an outfit pick out to match the glazes I would be running, as dad rolled his eyes. Haaa!. So come hell or high water that show will happen for that reason alone and will be worth it even if I only sell one thing. I had a fun time updating the website.

My Story Summary:

Family is very important to me. I found I can now toss 18 pots and hour with at 1.5 lbs is just a bit over a bag of clay. My wife had a great idea on bundling pots. My ideal customer Mrs. Davis loves bundles of things so Holiday bundles might be the way to go.