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Where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing

For several months now I’ve been working on an ongoing commission of 850 tumbler cups. You can read about the start of it here.  It has been an all encompassing process that only until recently, I’ve been able to emerge from. What I would like to discuss today are some technical tips for doing a large commission, the other half of the process of the commission (that I hadn’t gotten into in my last post) and some general advice about large commissions.

I’d like to first pick up with the other aspects of the commission process.  In my last post I discussed what it was like to make the pieces and hadn’t gotten to finishing them. Since then I’ve sprayed, glazed and fired more of these tumblers than I could keep count of. To pick up the process, after cleaning each tumbler, I would then pour an amaco velvet peach underglaze inside them.

Once dry enough, they would then be fired.

We chose to fire them first and then spray them because as we tested the process, we noticed the force of the spray gun caused the greenware to crack and break. Before they could be sprayed though, they needed to be waxed on the bottom. I am a big proponent of waxing, especially with such a large amount of pieces to make. Here you can see a time lapsed video of me just waxing 50+ of the tumblers.

After waxing it was then time to spray with under glaze. Each piece needed to be sprayed with 2 colors: Peach and Lilac. Both were Amaco under glazes, I believe in the velvet line.  Before spraying, each needed to watered down and strained slightly to make sure it would spray easily and coat evenly. The first color being peach, was simple enough to apply, it only needed 2 straight coats. By straight I mean no gradation or special pattern, just up and down, cover the whole cup.

The second color though was a little more daunting at first. After some trial and error, we realized it needed 3 coats, with a specific pattern for each coat. The first coat, was 3 straight shots in specific rhythm, one high, one low, one midpoint as the piece turned on the banding wheel. After that the second coat was broadening the radius of the first coat by going over each spot and circling outward. Finally the last coat, was filling in around the cup the blank spots that hadn’t been hit yet.

Once the spraying was done it was then time to glaze the piece. That process was simple and straight forward, just a quick dunk into clear glaze and a wipe of the bottom of the piece, hence the wax before which made the wiping quick and easy. I would then go over all the pieces again for another wipe and spot check, in case some glaze was still dripping down of the glaze tongs left any scratches.

After all that, they were ready for a glaze firing and then to have decals added to them (which I was not responsible for).

So here are some tips and pointers that I’ve picked up along the way:

  • If you are working in your garage (like I was) and need something to dry quickly putting a space heater behind a fan is a great way to dry something over night. That being try never to rush (more on that when I get the the advice section).
  • Make sure to bring both ear protection as well as ear buds when using a spray gun. The air compressor is insanely loud, but at the same time you want something to listen to to keep from going insane.
  • Batch things out. I would have to spray and glaze 180 tumblers at a time. Psychologically it was much easier to do, by breaking them down into batches. So I would do 50 to 50 at a time and those I would break down to rows of 7 to 10 typically. This is a good way to see progress so you don’t feel lost, as well as a good way to time yourself for breaks.
  • Clean and check the spray gun often. I noticed that spraying became better when after completing a row I would wipe down the banding wheel, clean the nozzle and check the amount of under glaze in the canister. You can watch me do it in the videos. It also was good for me physically in term of my hand and shoulder, it kept it from cramping…too much
  • If you can, dull your glazing tongs. I was using tongs that were in great shape, but were quite sharp and that would cause scratches in the glaze and under glaze. If I could have (they weren’t mine) I would have ground them down a little to keep them from scraping the pieces.

Finally, some advice:

Always negotiate more time than you need. If some one needs a large order like this in a short amount of time, pass on it. I know that sounds stupid and bad business and of course you have to do you and provide an income, but my point is this – if you are crunched for time its going to be a nightmare. You are going to have no life and rush through the whole thing and most likely the work will suffer and you’ll have to go back and do it all over again. That definitely happened to me because I didn’t negotiate the timeline. Both myself and my boss were told it was a needed as quickly as possible and thus a lot of problems happened because of it.

Essentially, I reccommend using the Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott technique:

Have something to watch. When you’re working on a repetitive task that requires little to know nuance, Netflix and amazon prime video is your friend. Believe me. It will help keep you sane as you’re cleaning piece #55.

Do your best to keep a work/life balance. This piggybacks on the timeline advice above. Essentially if you have a good timeline/deadline and have a strong work ethic, you should be able to keep your life going. What you don’t want is to get sucked into a black hole time vortex during this commission and come out the other side wondering what happened to an entire season of the year. When that happens, you quickly start asking yourself if all the time was really worth the money that you made i.e was the juice worth the squeeze.

Get paid half up front and half on delivery. This is just common sense, get money up front so you don’t get stiffed and get the other half at time of delivery. Do not trust anyone. They don’t have a cashiers check in hand, a credit card or cash in hand at delivery, then they get nothing!!!

Well that’s pretty much everything I have to say. Now that things have wrapped up, I look forward to returning to this blog and giving pottery advice every week.

Till next time, get in the studio and make something!

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