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Wasps and Pipes

Here’s a little-known problem that can afflict clay pipe makers who leave their greenware outside.

Mud dauber wasps may decide to make their nests inside the stems of unfired pipes.

My wheel is on a covered porch at the back of our house, and I have a shelving system that is basically open to the outdoors, though sheltered from rain and wind.  Ware gets put here to complete drying, and eventually moves into the kiln room when it’s ready to be fired.  But apparently wasps find the inside bore of a pipestem to be just the right size for a nest.

These simple little pipes stayed on the shelves for a week or two before going to the kiln.  Somehow I failed to notice that a wasp had built her nest in the stem of one of them.  I bisque-fired the piece, and still didn’t notice.  I glazed it, fired it, and photographed it, all without noticing that a nest had completely blocked it up.

When I finally did notice, I was astonished.  wasppipeb

Mud dauber wasps gather up clay from various sources and use it to build their nests.  When a colony of such wasps has built a large nest, you can actually fire it and turn it into a ceramic object, which makes an interesting conversation piece for the coffee table.

Had the wasp gotten her clay from my porcelain scraps, which are omnipresent in my studio, the blockage probably would have been irreparable.  But I took a piece of baling wire and forced it into the stem, clearing out much of the blockage.  But the pipe still wouldn’t draw.  A careful examination revealed that the wasp had built another nest at the bowl end of the stem.  Evidently she flew into the bowl and around the corner into the stem.  This blockage was sturdier than the first, and eventually I had to pound a deck screw into the nest through the carb hole in the side of the pipe.  That did the trick, and the pipe draws very well now.

I don’t know what if any special qualities a pipe that was intended to be the home of wasp babies might have, but it’s an interesting overlap between the natural world and the world of ceramic art.wasppipea


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Close-ups for glazes

Last night I spent a couple hours editing photographs for my Etsy shop.  I have a fairly elaborate set-up for photographing my work– there’s a light tent, and couple good lights, a gradient background and so on.  My digital camera is getting old but it still takes high resolution images.  Lately I’ve been trying to include a close-up shot of the glaze for each piece.  Because the camera’s resolution is so much higher than is needed for web applications like the shop, I can zoom right in and get images that can be pretty amazing. stripemugd  For example, this is a zoom of a mug I photographed  last night.  The mug was fluted by cutting a flute in every other slot around the mug.  Then I dipped the mug in a blue slip.  Once the slip stiffened and became part of the leather-hard piece, I cut the remaining flutes between the already-cut flutes.  This gave me a strong striped effect, with the glaze breaking green on the edges.  The crystalline effect that you can easily see here is one reason I like this glaze a lot.

Here’s a close-up of a hand-sized simpl2plainwaterde water pipe.  This was a fairly complex decorative effort.  I sprayed the leatherhard piece with a lavender slip, and then incised a pattern into the slip.  I glazed the bisque pipe with the white titania glaze above, then lightly sprayed the pipe with blue ash glaze and a saturated iron glaze.  I was happy with the way it came out, but in the zoom, I was even happier, because it revealed details that were not as spectacularly obvious as they were in the enlargement.

This small bowl was fluted, dipped in white titania glaze, and oversprayed with blue ash.  A pale, almost iridescent blue was visible in the close-up, where the glaze had flowed down the flutes and collected.  Again, the crystallization is much more obvious in the zoom.2smallbowlc




Sometime the enlargement even reveals interesting details about the texture of the glaze.  In this hand-sized water pipe, it’s surprisingly clear from the image that the glaze is a very smooth buttery matte, and in actual fact, the tactile quality of this piece is wonderfully satisfying.1plainwaterd

I’m enjoying this little touch of technology, and I think I can use it to improve the quality of my glazes.