Wood/Soda Firing Process
Most pieces were fired in the Shadbolt Centre’s wood/soda kilns, located near the Burnaby Art Gallery. The process takes 33 – 36 hours and generally involves 8 – 12 students, who have paid for a space, assisted by Shadbolt Centre technicians (and sometimes led by a guest artist).
The original bourry box kiln was named ‘Ombu’ (or ‘piggyback’) by its builder, Masakazu Kusakabe. from Japan in 2001. In 2014, it was replaced by two separate kilns - 'The Vault', a soda kiln and and 'Engine #13 - a wood kiln. These were designed and built by Indiana ceramics professor and kiln builder, Ted Neal - with help from his assistant, Collette Spears, the Shadbolt Centre ceramic technicians and a group of dedicated students. Ted returned the following year to add what has become a much-used pizza oven on the site and to lead a soda firing.
The temperature in the wood kiln is carefully monitored until the work has reached 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, or cone 10. Teams of 2-3 people sign up for 6-hour 'stoking' shifts throughout the firing, which can last anywhere from 33 to 48 hours. The outside finish on the work results from either the build up of wood ash on the work, or the introduction of soda into the kiln at the end, depending on which kiln is used - and each method produces its own unique results.
Guest firers have come from as far away as England, Japan, Australia and throughout Canada and the U.S.A. to fire at the Shadbolt - and each has brought new knowledge and techniques with them.
Process: ‘The Book Ends’
My fascination with children’s literature has always had a tendency to surface in my work. I love to invoke a sense of whimsy and into each piece - to carry the viewer back to a time when life was less complicated and be touched by a bit by magic and childlike innocence.
The ‘Book Ends’ series was created to stress the importance of reading to children, particularly in this age of instant images and technology. I wanted to bring attention to the numerous writers and illustrators, who so enhanced my own childhood – and to encourage parents to introduce some of these classics to a new generation.
In tackling this project, I was faced with the dilemma of creating a standardized basic book shape that would allow me to make sets, but also give me the flexibility to alter and individualize each one. I considered a plaster mold, but the undercuts of the book shape proved prohibitive. In stepped my friend and colleague, Linda Doherty (the ‘Extruder Queen’) who offered to create a template and extrude the shapes. Using ‘Columbia Buff with Grog (Seattle Pottery Supply), Linda extruded a total of 34 book shapes. All but five were used to create the series. The next question was how on earth to finish them.
Earlier in 2007, at Janet Mansfield’s invitation, Linda and I – along with 3 other women artists, attended and presented at a triennial, international symposium, “Clayedge’ in Gulgong , Australia. While there, I discovered some high-fired, brightly-coloured slips and patterned transfer sheets at NSW Pottery Supply, which fit the bill exactly – as the colours remained true from application to finish firing and the transfers resembled patterns in old book covers.
Thus each book end is created in one piece, prior to firing – no gluing! (which makes for a much stronger finished product). In order to illustrate both front and back covers, and provide text and illustration on the inside pages, it was necessary to finish off the closed shape, then slice off the front cover and replace it with a new slab of clay. Once painting was completed, I re-assembled the book and attached it to another ‘book’ base. Then the characters, which had already been assembled and painted with the coloured slips, were attached to either the base or page.
Once completed, they were dried and bisque-fired in an electric kiln, then a black stain applied and wiped off, before being fired again to cone 9. Upon unloading they were basically finished – aside from the odd touch up with acrylic.
Due to some problems with my actual studio (roof sprung a leak and the ceiling collapsed after a particularly nasty storm), the production of the entire exhibit took place upon the dining room table over a 6 month period. Needless to say, dinner parties were kept to a minimum (not that there was time for that anyway).
After showing at Crafthouse in 2007, they were on display at several lower mainland locations, including the main branch of the Vancouver library. Most have been sold, but some simply remain with me - like old friends.