Deer, meet Headlights

Good news, I just got a nephew! He’s very small and judging by the pictures looks like a very cute and tiny Galapagos turtle. And his parents don’t look at all like deer in the headlights. How my brother can be so much on the ball I don’t know, and my sister in law doesn’t look a cent under her million-bucks standard.

I also got a studio. And that’s where the deer start creeping into the headlights. What makes matters a bit complicated is a family trip back to Israel to see my parents. I wanted a lot of the work to be done before that.

Well, after getting the keys, driving down to Blaine to get my wheel and taking care of the missing part, I went with my new future studio mate Ann to buy paint. We settled for Vancouver Sky Grey, since the space has no natural light (but plenty of walls! we’re both used to working in crammed and/or public spaces where you never get enough shelves. And here we were walking inside the rectangular, unfinished drywalled space that’s our studio, drooling about how much shelving we could get in – damp shelves, drying shelves, bisque ware shelves, glazed ware shelves, finished ware shelves, even display shelves to keep some finished work visible, to avoid/repeat the same mistakes). Ann puts the paint – 5 gallons each of primer and paint – into her car and goes to pick up her kids from school.

And I had to hold my horses because the gas kiln at the guild was being fired and I went in to one of my hallmark 15 hour training sessions.

Jay had installed the new actual oxyprobe to go with the new meter. So Friday’s firing was a test. We should fire by the flame and by looking at cones and calibrate the new meter according to that.

And it gave us another run for our money. At first we were going OK – we sailed through quartz inversion, and let the kiln just sail along until we looked at cone 010 and realized we should put it into reduction. So we tried, added gas, closed the damper a bit, and the numbers on the meter went to the usual range, but still we got no flame. So we kept adjusting and re adjusting, the numbers going higher and higher until we were scared to go any higher, and then went higher… and finally, the first flame of the day come out the flue –  the blue settled flame of body reduction. We record the number which is very high, and think ‘well, this is the new normal – this is the number we should aim for to get reduction’.

But we’re wrong.

The way we fire, we never actually go out of reduction. We lighten it after a while, bringing it to what they call ‘neutral’, and then get it back into heavier (‘glaze’) reduction.

We take the kiln out of body reduction – and the numbers are still pretty high – but now they are jumping around a bit, reflecting a more mixed, less uniform, atmosphere inside the kiln. The temperature is rising as planned for a few hours. And then we put it back into reduction, now defined by ‘the new normal’. And the same thing as last week happens again – the kiln stalls.

This time we’re prepared. We lose ten minutes to make sure it’s still stalled and won’t go on its own, and give it some more air. And it signals its happiness by going up one millivolt. The number on the meter is lower but we’re ok with that and go away for 15 minutes, until the next millivolt change.

Which doesn’t happen. So lose 5 minutes waiting for it to go on its own. Adjust the damper, see the number creep down, look at the flame – still reducing happily – wait for the temperature go up. Rinse. Repeat.

We push it up the hill, millivolt by millivolt. Losing  5 precious minutes each time. The numbers are low now, back into the ‘old normal’ range, but the flame still looks OK so we keep going. By now it’s 9:30 and we’re resigned to staying there until 11PM at least.

And then a miracle happened! the temperature on the meter (measured in millivolts) was not very high, but it’s a new meter so we don’t know what the number means, so we look at the cones to see how far along we actually are. The cones are hard to see and Gloria doesn’t see them but I think I do, and I think I’m seeing one down and one standing. We think the 8 is the one down, so figure we still have time and go back to the studio. And then think again and realize that it’s probably the 9 down and we should run down and turn it off. We look again and yes, the 9 is down, the 10 is at 2 o’clock, and we turn it off and go home.

And the next day I get up and paint. I get primer all over me, and go back to buy goggles to get less of it in my eyes (the ceiling is unpainted too!). A few bands drift in and out of the other rooms in the complex – a drummer, a few heavy metal ones, and I realize that some of them are worse than others. And paint.

When the primer is done, I get down to making myself a wedging table. We have the rough plan and now I go to the home depot and take actual measurements, and have the lumber cut. Glue the frames together and go, instead of watching paint and glue dry. I come back after a few hours with Omer and we paint more, and finish the table, which is so sturdy we can dance on top of it. And then go home and collapse.

The following day we take some time off and go see a film at the VIFF. It’s an outstanding Canadian documentary called Oil Sands Karaoke, which we chose almost randomly, and we’re glad to see that such miracles still happen.

Then it’s time to go unload the kiln.

The two failures brought me down – two huge pitchers, the red glaze crawled and ran in spite of the fact that I put it just at the very top. So they met their maker, who took them to the dumpster and smashed them on its sides.

But some successes and qualified successes.


Bottles/Vases – the subtle option. Celadon, Oatmeal (matte) and Cornwall Stone clear (shiny).


It’s a nice deeply crackled surface. And the guild still makes it with real Cornwall Stone which is stupidly expensive. I should get around to formulating a substitute recipe one of these days.

Vases, the not-so-subtle:


The Flambe (copper red) glaze. Definitely Flaming… This is the same glaze that ruined my pitchers, you can see why it’s tempting to use it.

More Flambe+Tenmoku:


My cookie jar. Suzan suggested I call them ‘Akimbo Cookie Jar’ and start a line with this name. It definitely sounds a bit Swedish. Or Vaguely African. Anyway here it is:



I have two more glazed like this, they didn’t make it in – the gas kiln is not mine so I have to play nice and tall pieces aren’t “Nice”. Next time maybe.

And now for the truly garish:


I was thinking Christmas – not yet but pretty soon. It came out a different shade of red and green than I was thinking, but I like the result. Quite a change from subtle and quiet celadon mugs of last time.

There’s also a teapot that I forgot to take a picture of.

The rest of the time was a blur. Paint another coat and clean the studio, run home and pack, wake up and take pictures of pots.

Get on the plane, and then another, spend a 10 hour layover in a daze in Brussels, being force fed chocolates by my friends Sharon and Benoit (life can be hard), and then 28 hours later, emerge from airport limbo to meet my mom.


3 thoughts on “Deer, meet Headlights

    1. Ann

      I loved this story, David! So elaborate and funny. It was amazing to see your work fired(somehow we don’t get to see each other’s work too often) and thank you for mentioning my name:-) the mug with oh-so-weird-matt-green is my favorite!
      Ann, your studio mate xoxo

      1. pricklypotter Post author

        You know, that’s because we’re never in the same firing. The kiln is not big enough for the both of us :p The green is Reitz’s green. Use it!

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