Troubleshooting Pottery Issues

Part 1 – Learning to Practice Better

Sometimes, you might have a whole kiln load of pots that turn out terrible. Maybe this happened because you were trying new things and were brave. Maybe this happened because you were hurrying and needed to work out for a show just in time. We have all been there, but here are a few steps you can take to learn from all the practice. Each pot we make is just that; it’s practice, and the more we practice, the more we build skills and use them to improve work.

A glaze run sticking to the shelf can later enhance a pot by intentionally running the glaze in a controlled way. Mistakes and problems are ways we learn new things about materials and ourselves. There is no need to create safe pots all the time. You are ready now to safely mess up. Here are a few tips to help in thinking about practicing and having a bad time.

The “One Pot” Philosophy.

“I never once failed at making a light bulb. I just found out 99 ways not to make one.” -Thomas Edison.

I have adopted the “one pot” philosophy. If at least one pot turns out okay and survives all ten or more processes, then the firing is successful because you can successfully get at least one pot through the kiln. This might seem like setting the bar low, but it removes all the pressure for perfection and allows experimentation and reality. In reality, nothing we create is perfect, and everything is practiced to get better. If you never mess up, you are not trying very hard to make improvements. So feel free to mess up, but be safe while doing so. Flat errors can be fatal. If you could get that one pot through the kiln, you might get ten or five pots just like it next time. So, the one-pot philosophy can give hope in the darkness when resistance comes to chatting with you about how you are a failure.

The one-pot philosophy also works for shows. I show all my mistakes on social media and in images so my followers and buyers know that it takes practice to create and that experimentation is involved in doing good work. Showing our mistakes can show those who care about the process and how challenging it can sometimes be. It can build trust and help them relate to who we are as humans. While having a one-pot show is a bit defeating, you still put in the work for that one pot. So show it proud. You figured out 99 other ways how not to make pots.

Keep Good Records

Keeping good records is very important as it can help you troubleshoot as you experiment and work through learning the materials and processes involved with creating your pottery pieces. It can also help you better determine what needs to change for the project to succeed when you practice again later. Keeping a log of all the raw materials you use and their characteristics can help you troubleshoot.

Many times, when there is not enough information collected, we might need to rely on assumptions or advice from others in pottery groups that may lead to hundreds of different possibilities, and all of those answers are at all different types of skill levels. While it might be helpful and allow you to get some answers, it can also be overwhelming in picking what direction to go next.

Keeping good records can help you determine what has changed and might need to change. Also, if your work starts progressing, you have documentation on how to repeat it. This centerline management allows you to create the same conditions next time and save time, effort, and money after the testing. Centerline management can also be used in troubleshooting techniques. Having a troubleshooting process that you follow can help you research and discover where things may have gone wrong more systematically. A great example of this would be the troubleshooting guide.

Troubleshooting Guides

You can use guides from different manufacturing and business sectors to help you work through issues and defects. Below are a few techniques and formats I use. It might seem a bit complex, but take your time and go through a few of the techniques and processes below, and I’m sure they will help you as much as they have helped me.

6W2H- This is a guide that takes you though the process of asking the 6 W’s of troubleshooting and the 2 H’s. Who, what, where , when, why, whom, How, and how much. You can learn more about this guide in detail by clicking here.

Fish Bone Troubleshooting Guide—This technique requires you to examine the six main things that influence processes and materials: people, processes, equipment, materials, measurements, and the environment. You can learn more about using this technique in detail by clicking here.

PDCA (Plan Do Check Act)—This system is used by industry and others to plan changes and help troubleshoot in a controlled process with documentation. In general, you first plan what changes to make, make the changes, check the results of the changes, and then act accordingly. This will help you determine what might have changed. When using this guide, go slow and make one change at a time so you can be sure to know what might have changed. For example, was it the wrong measurement of cobalt that gave you that terrible blue, or was it a contaminated batch of raw material? You can learn more about using the PDCA technique in detail by clicking here.

All of these ideas, techniques, and guides might feel overwhelming, as there is no quick answer. Problem-solving will get easier over time as you have a technique and method down on how to go about it. Was the issue daunting due to a poor glaze fit, or was it handling damage caused by the raw fire? Having good records and working through the processes can be great in helping you learn the processes and materials and what they can do. Good luck in creating your one pot, and I hope you become brave and enjoy safely experimenting and trying new things while creating. You are ready now! I hope to write more on this topic, so feel free to subscribe!

Written By,

Al Wayman


Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.

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