Today’s guest blog is just a little different, as it is likely the most creative blog you’ll read on my site!
Ashley is an amazing potter from Crivitz, WI, where she runs a gallery and studio called Pioneer Road Pottery. She studied ceramics in college and is always finding new and exciting things to offer her customers.
I felt it was absolutely necessary to have Ashley come and describe her creative process, as I love her work and admire how hard she works on her business. She is my go to all of my small business questions and if I want to buy some beautiful pottery…some of which I bought because of her posts on Instagram! She also makes some of the coolest custom pieces.
I’ve made a lot of pots. Thousands. There’s no way to even know but it’s a lot considering I’m not quite 30 yet… So far, my most popular pot has turned out to be my cat variation on the standard yarn bowl, the Kitty Yarn Bowl.
I needed a hassle-free online sales outlet, so I looked into Etsy and it seemed easy enough. I signed up and started making listings. About a year later, I came up with the kitty yarn bowl and added it to my lineup of yarn bowls. Now, I’ve sold hundreds, sent them to about 10 different countries, and have learned a ridiculous amount.
Each bowl starts with a 1.5 lb ball of clay (that I have cut, weighed, and wedged) put on the potter’s wheel. It takes me 4 minutes to throw the basic bowl shape needed, roughly 6” diameter and 3” tall. I have made so many of these, 10 at a time, that it’s mostly muscle memory and I can actually throw these particular bowls with my eyes closed! Usually, within an hour I will have 10 sitting on the shelf air drying until they’re rigid enough to handle.
The bowls will sit for a few hours while I work on other things until they’re stiff enough to flip over. I’ll carefully pick up and turn over each bowl so the bottom can catch up on drying. Once the bottom is no longer soft, I’ll take each bowl back to the wheel to be trimmed. Upside down, a metal tool is used to even the bottom, clean up edges, and finalize the shape. The bottom will be stamped with my initials (AS) and the year (18) before getting flipped right side up and taken to my work table.
Using my handmade and battered cardstock kitty silhouette template, I will trace an outline of the kitty with a needle tool on the surface of the bowl. Next, I punch the two holes with a special hole tool and use a small Exacto knife to cut out the cat. Careful sponging of all the edges cleans up any clay bits and the bowl goes back on the shelf upside down to dry some more! I have to monitor the bowls carefully to make sure the cut out doesn’t dry too fast (ultimately snapping off from the rest of the bowl) by flipping and covering/uncovering sections with bits of saran wrap. It’s boring, you don’t need the details, and it lasts two whole days!
My family is very used to hearing “I just have to stop by the gallery quick to check my pots.”
Once all the moisture has dried from the clay, they’re light colored and much lighter in weight. I’ll load them up carefully in low flat boxes for the trip home to the kiln. I have two small kilns in my attached garage at home. Luckily, home and work are only a mile apart so hauling pots back and forth isn’t terrible but many things have been broken in the journey over the years.
Once I’ve got a full kiln load (28 kitty yarn bowls), it’s ready to fire. The first firing is called the bisque firing, my kiln gets up to roughly 1915 F in 7-8 hours. The kiln must then be allowed to cool 12-16 before unloading and hauling the pots back to my studio.
Back at the studio, I prep each bowl for glazing by sanding the cutout edges with a little square of 120 grit sandpaper and then wiping the whole surface with a damp sponge to remove dust and stray bits.
Each bowl usually gets three brush coats of glaze (some glazes need a fourth coat), drying fully between each coat. It takes about 6 solid hours of glazing to do the whole load, not my favorite part! After the glaze is applied, I use a tool to clean the ear points and holes of excess glaze and use a damp sponge to wipe the bottom of stray glaze. The pots are loaded up again and hauled home for the glaze firing.
The glaze firing is the last step to getting a finished product and usually the most nerve-wracking… My glaze firing is to about 2232 F and takes 14 hours on average. Wisconsin winters and below zero temps can definitely extend this with a garage kiln! I always fire my kilns during the day when it’s warmer and usually they cool so fast overnight that I can unload the next day.
The great thing about glaze firings are the unknown results. No firing is the ever the same and glazes can always behave in unexpected ways so it’s exciting every time!
Getting the first look at the bright, shiny new glaze and knowing that someone will love it forever? It’s the best part of my job! I’ll load everything right into my car and bring them back to the gallery to be packed and shipped, put on the shelf, or set aside for a customer.
From start to finish, this whole process takes as little as a week or as long as a month. I love the fact I spend so much time handling and creating each piece that leaves my shop, it always makes me imagine the pots I’ve sold sitting in homes around the world. Hopefully, they’re treasured gifts and memories and the owners appreciate the care that goes into them!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re local to Northeast Wisconsin, you can go visit her shop or even take a class with her! (I can vouch for her teaching skills, as I have taken classes with her, and I actually made cool stuff!) Learn more about her life as a potter and a mom on her social channels!