Single Firing….?

I’m currently reading Fran Tristram’s excellent Single Firing: the pros and cons (1996) as an introduction to an approach that would surely cut down on the energy demand from potters by combining the bisc / bisque and glaze firings as one single firing. Along with Fred Olsen’s The Kiln Book (2011) – it makes for essential reading for anyone considering sustainability and ceramics. It’s a very thorough examination of the advantages and disadvantages (weighted in favour of the advantages), with extremely helpful and detailed advice on processes and materials. She gives some interesting figures that compare the firing times for single firings and double firings, which concurred with my recent discussions with Douglas Phillips whose single firings last around 8 hours (firing to cone 9), starting in the morning after an overnight small fire has dried out the kiln by way of preparation (he lights one chamber of his Fred Olsen kiln at 6pm reaching c. 90 degrees C before sealing up the kiln for the night). He sources his timber from a local fencing company (who also supplies John Leech at Muchelney).

Firing is only one aspect of the sustainability debate concerning ceramics, along with sourcing materials and approaches to general practice, distribution etc. and I want to get my hands on Sustainable Ceramics (by Robert Harrison), Pioneer Pottery (by Michael Cardew) and Ceramic Arts and Design for a Sustainable Society (ICS 2011),


Tristram, F. (1996) Single Firing: the pros and cons. Ceramic Handbooks

Olsen, F. (2011) The Kiln Book (Fourth Edition). A&C Black

Harrison, R. (2013) Sustainable Ceramics: A practical guide. A&C Black

Cardew, M. (2002) Pioneer Pottery. A&C Black

Jeoung-Ah Kim: edited by, (2011). Ceramic Arts and Design for a Sustainable Society. ICS

“Utility with emptiness”

In researching and preparing for my MA Research Methodologies essay / presentation, I came across a presentation by a former MA (Fine Art) student at Bath Spa University called Hyo Sook Lee and a slide referring to “LaoTzui”, linking to the phrase “utility with emptiness” with a picture of a tea bowl. After some research, I tracked down this quote from Laozi a 6th century Chinese philosopher and author of the Tao Te Ching (often simply referred to as the Laozi:

Thirty spokes converge on a hub, but it’s the emptiness that makes a wheel work, pots are fashioned from clay, but it’s the hollow that make a pot work, windows and doors are carved for a house, but it’s the spaces that make a house work, existence makes something useful, but nonexistence makes it work (from: )

I found this phrase profoundly thought provoking and useful. It also connected to some thinking and discussion I am having with a fellow MA (Fine Art) student at Bath Spa, Michie Lyne around the connection between water and clay and utility. The idea that clay only arrives at a plastic, malleable state, when holding a specific quantity of water (i.e. the water is held within), is the first vital stage for a potter and yet it is only when that water is driven off by heat and fired, that the new ceramic, will then hold water externally (i.e. held without…..) linking to the idea of utility with emptiness…..

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