By: Danielle Kearns
It's not always just mugs though...
Videos By: Sophia Dzialo
By: Danielle Kearns
So now it’s time to actually load the kiln. Good thing I had a hankering for Tetris in college. Those skills are definitely coming through for me now. In order to keep up with the many events, classes, workshops, and painters we get on a daily basis, we are almost always running a kiln in the back of the studio. We have 2 on site, which is why it's always so warm and cozy. Items take priority based on due date, since we give a one week turn around time. We also have to take size into consideration, though, because like-size pieces fit better together on the same shelves. Here's a little more about how all that works.
The largest pieces go in first. It is always easiest to put the tallest, bulkiest pieces at the bottom of the kiln and work around them. You can't just put them straight down, mind you. You need to put them on stilts to ensure they will not stick to the shelf. This is a whole bunch of terminology that probably makes no sense to someone who hasn't seen it before, but it goes something like this. Stilts come in all different sizes, but are made out a combination of ceramic and metal prongs. Not only do they avoid the piece to stick, but they allow air to circulate around and up the piece so both the inside and outside will be fired evenly, including the interiors. That is immensely important when it comes to something you'll be using day in and day out in your kitchen. Each and every item is positioned on a stilt that is size appropriate.
Step Two: Wiggle Test
You read that right. Once the pieces are stilted, you must make sure they are stable. We tap and wiggle each piece to make sure they are firmly on the stilt and not in danger of touching any other pieces. Items will shake and rattle in the kiln naturally due to the extreme temperatures, so we do our best to ensure they all have room to groove. Should the items tap or touch, that could result in them fusing together, which is a problem we try to avoid at all costs.
Step Three: Building Up
We utilize every space, nook, and cranny we can on each level, but we also get to determine how tall each level can be by building them to our needs. We do this by adding kiln posts around the edges at varying heights. Posts range from 1 to 12 inches long and can be stacked to make unique heights. A shelf balances on these posts to create the levels. We then start the Tetris game again on this next level and do it all again, building as high as we can towards the lid without touching it.
Step Four: Close Her Up
The top comes down, latched, and plugs put in. The plugs will fit into the peepholes that run down the middle of the kiln. These need to be filled during the firing process to trap the heat and ensure even heating throughout the cylinder. We make sure all the levels are set for firing and hit Start. We have an electric kiln, so the rest is mostly a waiting game. We have a digital read of the inner temperature, which peaks at around 1800 degrees.
Step Five: Firing
It takes a few hours for the kiln to reach its highest temperature. That is also dependent on how packed the kiln is. The more crowded it is, the longer it will take to get to temp. A lighter kiln might finish quicker. On average, the kiln will be closed and do its thing for 12-18 hours. We sometimes get calls asking if we can take a peak inside and see if someone's piece is in there, but by cracking the lid open prematurely, not only could you burn yourself, but you risk cracking and ruining all of the other pieces int here. During our peak season, that could be over 100 different holiday gifts that all crack down the middle, so we never open the kiln before it's time. (We know, it'd be a lot easier if you could open it like an oven door, but that's just not how the technology works.)
Step Six: Cool Down
It will take many hours for the kiln to come down in temperature so that we can unload it. We do our part to further this process naturally, but only once it's to a manageable temperature. We open the kiln's lid at 150 degrees, so it's still plenty hot in there, but cool enough to take out with heat resistant gloves. We go layer by layer, taking the stilts off each individual item, and put them on our work shelves to cool at room temperature.
Step Seven: Dremel + Spot Check
The unfortunate, but unavoidable, side effect of stilts are sometimes sharp indentations on the bottom of the piece. We dremel these down by hand for any piece that might have them. During this process, we also evaluate the piece for imperfections from the firing process. For instance -- cracks, blemishes, fusing, crawling, or shivering. If the piece is to our satisfaction, it travels to our pick-up shelves, which are organized by style and type. If they are from a party, they'll be individually wrapped for your convenience.
There are always parts moving in the front, as well as the back of the house to get things out to you on time and without imperfections. We do our best, and we hope you see the time and attention we put into your items.
By: Danielle Kearns
As a PYOP studio, we have to outsource our pottery as bisque, which means the clay has already been molded and fired once before we receive it so that you can paint it upon your visit. There are a handful of distributors around the country, but most notably, we use Gare, Inc. located in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I recently got to take a tour and training at the facility, and I got a glimpse into the inner workings of the corporation and the things that make Gare one of our favorite businesses to work with.
local, family-run business
Gare, Inc. is located just 2 hours North of us in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The facility includes offices, plenty of art samples, paint tank mixing vats, loading docks, warehouses, and the best crew around. The majority of the team has been there for 10, 20, and even 30+ years. Not only do they feel like a family, some of them are even related and married. You can feel the tight-knit energy as soon as you walk in the door, and they are just the nicest folk around!
Robert Sharp is the man behind all of the molds. He has been with Gare for over 30 years, taking over for his father after his retirement. He hand carves and hand shapes all of pieces to create the molds that then become the bisque pottery.
extensive + versatile colors
We have an array of spectacular and versatile colors, most notably our Fun Strokes, pottery glazes, and speciality glazes. Gare recently announced they'll be releasing their new acrylic line!
seasonal favorites + idea inspiration!
Gare is releasing new bisque options every year, and our most popular items are those seasonal favorites! This year, Gare released their vintage tree with pick-up truck, which became an instant hit. It even included a light kit! We got a sneak peak into the 2019 holiday line, and there’s more where that came from! Gare also gives us as a studio ideas, concepts, and new techniques for every holiday. They currently have their Spring products posted!
We just attended Gare Fest East 2019, which was an awesome way of networking with other PYOP studios, meeting the staff of Gare, touring the facility, and learning about new techniques and tools. We also got a sneak peak at new items that will be coming down the pike throughout the year that we are excited to bring to all of you.
We met some of their gold star employees and would like to thank them for their generosity and education.
Below are some of our behind the scenes photos from Gare Fest 2019. Check them out!
Danielle is a CT native, She started at the claypen in 2018 as a Studio Associate and quickly became a Team Lead and our resident blogger on staff. Her previous experience includes teaching, writing, and photography. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn or reach out with questions via email.