Sunday, May 4, 2014

Springtime in the Rockies



We branded calves at Val’s ranch Thursday and Friday.

The weather has been unpredictable, as usual during spring.


One day it’s hot and the sun sears our skin, the next day it snows and rains and we have to wear a coat.

But our new glazes are turning out really great.


At least we’re happy with them.

And I’m struggling with our schedule to get our new clay body fine-tuned. Right now my recipe has a shrink rate of ten percent, but it should have twelve to fourteen percent. I’m checking the absorption rate – the amount of water it absorbs, which is a percentage of it’s total weight – and may have to add a tiny bit more flux if the absorption is more than five percent . . .

But our schedule is tight. We’re working on putting up the greenhouse Ursula gave us. Things aren’t quite going as smoothly as we had counted on – that old chicken/egg ratio thing again – so it’s taking extra time and energy.

We’re still bottle-feeding the kid goats three times a day when we’re home all day, twice when we’re not here for lunch hour. They are eating more grass, thankfully.

I’m still trying to write as much as I can, but we’ll soon start working for Ursula again and we’re trying to get everything done yesterday, so I don’t have enough time for anything right now.


Surely there must be a country song about that.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A New Chapter

Last weekend we left home to spend some time in the Black Hills with Tom and Rob. We got in three hikes in three days.





On one hike a buffalo bull we skirted around decided to see if he could make us shit our pants and took off running toward us. He wasn’t entirely successful, our pants remained clean; he gave us a full-throttle thrill, though. But when the four of us stood together to face him off, he stopped and watched us for a while. Then he sauntered off like he was bored.


We started a new chapter for our little farm on Thursday:  we went to Bozeman and picked up six baby goats from Amaltheia Dairy. (They make excellent cheese, by the way.)

So, now we’re bottle-feeding them three times a day.

They were actually two to three weeks old, which is a good time to get them. We’ve had goats before, but we got those first ones when they were already full grown. We’re raising these goats to see if that could be an annual thing or maybe even if we want to get a trio to raise some every year. I’m thinking we’ll just get a few every spring from the dairy so we don’t have to feed a trio hay through the winter. We chose goats over sheep because I don’t want to have to shear them every year.




Here are three of them checking Ben out very closely in an attempt to find a hidden nipple with extra milk.

They were terribly disappointed, though.



They follow us around like puppies, so we can exercise them in the corral before we lock them back up in a pen we built in the barn so they stay safe and out of trouble.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Clay Body Blues

Winter is hanging on with vigorous claws. The temperature climbs up and then tumbles back down again; the ground is slowly thawing; the mud is deep; but we’re still freezing at night and getting some snow.

Ah, the glory of Montana!

Still, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yet.



But the big issue right now is our clay body. We’re working on creating our own clay recipe and the chemistry for clay bodies is as intense as for glazes. Clay bodies use all the same ingredients as I use for glazes, but in different quantities, of course.

Initially we tried some variations of recipes from Richard Zakin’s latest book, but still had some of the white specks in our hand-painted designs, so I’ve been altering those recipes with information from Daniel Rhodes and Robin Hopper to come closer to what we need.

A couple of variations ago I added more Hawthorne Bond fireclay, but even when we fired that clay to cone 6 we were left with the equivalent of a bisque-fired piece, which absorbs way too much water and the glaze crazes dramatically. If water sits in pieces made from clay which is that absorbent when the glaze is crazed, it will slowly leak through, leaving a small puddle on the table.

So I backed up half a step to reduce the fireclay and increase the kaolin, and then I added a little more flux.

The worst part for me is  having to wait a full week after mixing a new batch so the clay can mature. I am actually starting to think some of my earlier versions didn’t work so well in the throwing process because I didn’t wait long enough.

Impatient? Well, that hints at defining the anxiousness I experience while I’m having to sit around watching clay mature. We have deadlines.

We also have been buying small batches of clay at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena just to get us by while I figure out a recipe they can mix for us a ton at a time. But a trip to Helena to buy clay means a day out of the studio; we’re already behind schedule and need to get some orders delivered very soon.

Before long we’ll be landscaping and by the time we get back into the studio I’ll forget a lot of what I didn’t take the time to write down. Often when I do write down the information I need, I don’t give myself enough detail, so I don’t know what I meant months later. And too often I throw samples away that were not what I had wanted, because our studio is already cluttered so much we don’t have adequate shelf space any more.

Being so human, I tend to ignore most of life’s little daily lessons. Aren’t people supposed to get more patient when they get older? Hmm, my dad turns 80 next month and he hasn’t gotten any more patient, yet. In the nursing home they had to separate him from mom and then they finally put him in his own room, because he is so impatient with other people that he becomes a cantankerous bully. 

I wonder how long it takes to learn patience.