Archive for July, 2010

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Kiln…errr Kil’n Time


Kiln LoadAbout 40 greenware pieces are firing as I write this post. The tall pieces have been waiting several months because someone (that would be me) constructed the pieces taller than my kiln could hold. Anyway, bisque firing always makes me a little nervous..probably due to memories of past kiln disasters.

This first firing takes the dried pieces to about 1650 degrees Fahrenheit and places a lot of stress on the clay…the high temperature actually transforms clay by removing all water and pushing the clay closer to what qualifies as a mature ceramic material. A second (and sometimes third) firing will include glazes and even higher temperatures. Programmable controls and electronic pyrometers have taken away most of the guesswork and babysitting of a kiln as it heats up. What used to be a lot of up close and personal “Kiln Time” has evolved into “killing time” while the computer, the kiln, and the power source talk to one another…no doubt, a heated conversation.

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Four Hole Ocarina Magic


I am not sure why I decided to do this. It may be simply the challenge to make an ocarina that plays a full octave with only four finger holes. Perhaps it is the frustration of carving out 8 to 12 holes and constantly fighting the airway in order to achieve a reasonable tone. Regardless, John Taylor’s English system for a 4 hole ocarina is the challenge I made for myself while taking some time off from the craziness of the office:

It will be a while before I am confident that I can play using this system. The permutations and combinations of fingering is quite an adjustment from what I learned as a second grader playing a song flute in one of dad’s music classes. There are a few tricks and tips that I need to pry from some of my ocarina building friends, but I am thrilled to better understand the magic of how 4 finger holes in a simple clay instrument can produce a full octave scale.

Where did all the ‘fun’ mugs go?


Roy Overcast - Teaching at Mid-South CeramicsLast year while participating in a clay workshop with Roy Overcast I learned more about the history and construction of puzzle mugs and fuddling cups than I ever imagined. The history extends back when ceramicists over 1000 years ago produced statuary that included ocarina or flute-like functionality. All to say, that Dr. Bowen’s discovery of MugPhlutes should not surprise anyone…nor should my interest in adding whimsy to traditionally functional pots.

Purely by accident, I recently discovered an amazing artist who plays the Teacarina… a rather sophisticated cup that incorporates a four-hole ocarina. It is time to do some exploration of the four hole fingering system for ocarinas. There are some one-handed designs floating around in my head that may require the skills of a second hand, not to mention a few mystical stories from Dr. Bowen.

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Ocarina Clay – Campground Social Media


We parked the RV in a well shaded space in familiar territory at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Historically, the fourth of July weekend begins several days before the 4th when the best camping spaces are filled by other first-come-first-served-savvy campers…they were here early staking claims, just like we were.

After the normal cooking area, dining tent, RV awning, and general hook ups were complete, a small folding camp table and a circle of chairs found their way around the metal fire ring. Fire rings are the designated spots where campers are allowed to build campfires in their respective sites without raising the eyebrows of a friendly park ranger. Let’s review quickly here: Middle Tennessee, July, humidity, and a thermometer that reads like it is set on London Broil* – there will be no campfire in this space on this weekend, but it is the accepted space for conversation. To the campfire set-up recipe, I add my clay tools, a spray bottle, a bucket of water, several pounds of pre-mixed stoneware clay, and a handful of my favorite toys clay tools.

Vinepod OcarinaI’m pretty sure that I made it all they way through making the first pinch pot before Ruby, a precocious 8-year-old, walked from the adjoining campsite to ask, “Who are you and what are you making?” By the time the airway on the first ocarina produced a whistle, Ruby’s dad stopped by along with a small contingent of people who seemed astounded that some old dude was making instruments out of clay. The parade of folks stopping by to watch and ask questions during the weekend stay was never an interruption, it was the perfect ‘social media’ to connect total strangers, long-time friends, and even family members to chat about building sculptural ocarinas.

While my long-time friend, Breakfast Bob, was taping a short “how to” segment on his Flip camera, he commented that we needed to take this show on the road. Ocarina building attracted all ages and all types, including the itinerant. campground evangelist couple who suggested that the pottery building thing was a great hook for a ministry. As for me, I’ll stick with Ruby and her friends who wore the pavement out next to our site, waving and yelling, “Hi, Paul” with each bicycle drive-by.

*The weather was actually unseasonably cool for this particular trip, but the threat of steamy weather remains…and this is my story , so hush!