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Textree

New Want To Make A Pot

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Hello, never done pottery or ceramics before. I have been into bonsai for a couple of years and some of my trees are getting decent and I want a nice pot for one. It is a big tree for bonsai, a true cedar, big trunk and needs a big pot. Purchasing a suitable pot would have to be mail order from one of several little boutique type potters and pretty expensive. Admittedly they are very nice. But I wonder if I could make one, there is a studio down the street (I'm in San Antonio texas) they offer classes on wheel throwing and other topics. Before you say im crazy I don't expect to be as good as sara rayner or some other potter that has been doing it for decades ... but I bought a book the craft of art and clay, and I've researched a little so I'm going to give it a shot. Even if it's not great it will be mine and I can say I grew that tree and I made that pot. But I have a couple (probably dumb) questions.

 

First, even though my climate is subtropical I want it freeze proof. I think that means 100 percent vitreous. Am I correct in thinking that means I have to do stoneware or porcelain fired to cone 10 or higher?

 

Next the pot like I said will be pretty big I am thinking very simple round with straight walls but diameter after firing will be 17 to 19 inches. If I use porcelain or high fire stoneware is it safe to assume it will even fit in the their kiln? Will they let me over fire to say cone 11? Can most kilns get that hot? Their website says you can pay for studio time hourly if you have demonstrated skill. Does that mean they'll want me to take their classes?

 

And finally any other tips or comments? I've looked at some videos online, maybe I am being naive but I think it looks pretty easy to make a round pot on a wheel.

 

Anyway thanks for the time and for any help or advice you can give an aspiring bonsai potter.

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Take the class. Or just be smart and buy the piece you want. Making it yourself will cost $1000+ and take 1000 hours. So unless you enjoy the process, buy the pot!

 

For a 17 to 19 inch diameter bonsai pot, I think around $150-250 is what I would expect to see.

 

Everyone can enjoy this link:

http://www.bonsaiempire.com/blog/making-bonsai-pots

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I'm with Matthew; unless you actually have a passion for ceramics it would be far far less expensive for you to pay someone who already has the skill to make a beautiful pot for your bonsai. 

 

The reason that videos of people throwing pottery on the wheel looks easy is generally they have worked at it for many years. To give you an idea, I've been working with clay for four years and wheel throwing for 18 months. I've made hundreds of pieces on the pottery wheel and I am completely incapable of making a pot that large on the wheel. My current limit is about 12-14 inches in diameter and 3" high, a decent sized pie plate or large dinner plate.

 

Making something that large takes a lot of skill and many mistakes and unsuccessful attempts before you have a finished product that will work for you. The only technique that might work for you sooner is the one they use to make onggi which enables you to make absolutely enormous pots in a different way than trying to center hundreds of pounds of clay on the wheel at one time. 

 

If you find a potter to do this for you perhaps you would have a wonderful resource for all your future pots as well. 

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First, even though my climate is subtropical I want it freeze proof. I think that means 100 percent vitreous. Am I correct in thinking that means I have to do stoneware or porcelain fired to cone 10 or higher?

As long as you fire the clay you choose to vitrification, it does not matter if it is cone 10 or cone 6 or earthenware. Find a claybody -- stoneware or porcelain -- that has an absorption rate of 1% or less at the temperature you fire or the community studio fires. If the studio fires to cone 6, then use a cone 6 clay; do not use a multi-range clay (cone 6 to 10) and fire at cone 6 -- that pot will not be vitrified.

Next the pot like I said will be pretty big I am thinking very simple round with straight walls but diameter after firing will be 17 to 19 inches. If I use porcelain or high fire stoneware is it safe to assume it will even fit in the their kiln? Will they let me over fire to say cone 11? Can most kilns get that hot? Their website says you can pay for studio time hourly if you have demonstrated skill. Does that mean they'll want me to take their classes?

Ask them what their kiln size is. Some are 7 cu.ft. with a 21" shelf; some are 10 cu.ft. with larger shelves. The key will be to have it fired on a whole shelf, not two half-shelves. During firing, your pot will both expand and shrink -- it moves on the shelf while doing so. So, a whole shelf will reduce the potential for any warping; half-shelves may expand and contract slightly differently, heat and cool at different rates, and increase the potential for warping.

Most studios want to see what a potter knows before letting them loose. Mostly they want to see work habits, e.g., do you clean up your messes, do you use any dangerous tools, etc. The easy way to see that is by requiring a potter to take a class. They want to see how you glaze and are careful to avoid glaze runs in their kilns. Or you make wares that dry completely and don't blow up in the kiln -- damaging other potters works.


And finally any other tips or comments? I've looked at some videos online, maybe I am being naive but I think it looks pretty easy to make a round pot on a wheel.

 

Go for it.  It will be a challenge but worth your effort to have your tree growing in your vessel.  Even if it does not work out, you will have a better understanding of what makes a good bonsai vessel made by others so if you do buy from another potter, you will like your vessel even more.  One of the more helpful things I've done is taken an ikebana class so I could better understand how they used the vases -- and it was worth the weekend investment in time. 

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Very interesting post..  As some have already commented and although making something on the wheel looks pretty easy the fact is for most it takes many hours/years of practice, but I think all the long hours and years of practice is to perfect or hone their skills and to be the best that they can be for  love of their craft. So I guess what I am getting at is that yes you should take that class and at the minimum you will understand the process.. My guess is that a good teacher could probably help you make that pot. It may not turn out to be a very well thrown pot! but it will be something  you made and that's what's important for you.. I would say GO FOR IT and enjoy the process of learning, we all started somewhere!

 

Thanks for the responses. Once you said about the cost of doing it yourself is probably true. I think I will take the class.

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I think beginners should start out with slab, coil, and pinch pots and you could make your self a nice oval pot bonsai planter with the slab or coil method.   Take the class and see if you like working with clay and work with your teacher in choosing a clay for your planter.  Denice

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I vote for coil building it like Denice suggested, that you could actually do that after a little instruction. It probably will not be thing of beauty but it will be big and hold that tree and like you said you can say you grew the plant and made the pot. Coil building is also something to master as well if you decide you like slab pottery but not wheel throwing u can go that way.

 

yeah you are being more than a little naive, but that's OK, lots of people approach wheel throwing having no idea its as hard as it is to get good at and the folks that are really good make it look so damn easy :-)

 

I applaud your "I can do anything attitude". The wheel is something that stops a lot of folks interested because it usually takes a lot of hours of failing miserably before you can produce anything at all and popping out a 2 foot pot in your first year or two of throwing is probably wishful thinking.

 

BUT maybe you will master it very quickly, go for it and be patient if it seems like its taking forever to get the hang of it because that is more the norm than those that master it quickly.

 

Anyway, good luck with your project and have fun!

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Start by looking up Mark Issenberg at Lookout Mountain Pottery for a ton of ideas about making Bonsai plant pots ... Follow him on Facebook as he posts a lot of images of them too. Fun site that will inspire you to go for it.

 

http://lookoutmountainpottery.com/bonsai.html

douglas and Textree like this

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Wow thank you all again for the advice. Yall are great. I hope it is ok if I follow up.

 

First sounds like the consensus is the wheel will be more challenging than I thought. Is it regarded as more difficult than cutting slabs of clay and fusing them together? I've seen That done in videos looks doable to me.

 

Next about the pottery shops kiln, is the conventional practice just to fire it at one particular cone so they can put a bunch of stuff in there at same time? If so I will definitely wait to buy the clay I don't want to get 50 lbs of porcelain clay that needs to be fired to 10 or 11 if they are going to be reluctant or unwilling to do it.

 

And finally can someone tell me generally about the the thickness of clay - how it affects the difficulty or success in firing jt? I contemplated very thick walls, so it would look kinda heavy and masculine. Is that harder? Easier? More likely to break in kiln?

 

And thanks again glad I found this forum and a helpful bunch of potters.

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First sounds like the consensus is the wheel will be more challenging than I thought. Is it regarded as more difficult than cutting slabs of clay and fusing them together? I've seen That done in videos looks doable to me.
 

There are technical and technique aspects to both.  Slab work on the scale your are contemplating is as challenging as wheel work -- just in different ways.  You may want to take a hand-building course from a teacher who hand builds.  Let him/her know what you want to make so they can teach you the technical aspects and the techniques. 

Next about the pottery shops kiln, is the conventional practice just to fire it at one particular cone so they can put a bunch of stuff in there at same time? If so I will definitely wait to buy the clay I don't want to get 50 lbs of porcelain clay that needs to be fired to 10 or 11 if they are going to be reluctant or unwilling to do it.

 

Your bonsai pot will go through two firings.  The first is the bisque firing, which most community studios do to Cone 05 (~1888F) or so.  Hot enough to allow the item to be handled during glazing but not so hot the item becomes vitrified and not able to absorb glaze mixture.  The second firing is the glaze firing; some studios do Cone 6 (~2232F) and some do Cone 10 (~2340F).  The glaze firing temperature is the most critical as that will tell you what kind of clay to get and what type of glazes to use. 

And finally can someone tell me generally about the thickness of clay - how it affects the difficulty or success in firing jt? I contemplated very thick walls, so it would look kinda heavy and masculine. Is that harder? Easier? More likely to break in kiln?

 

A key to thickness is to be consistent -- the floor and walls should be the same thickness.  Too thin, you may get some warping of sides.  Too thick, it will take longer to dry.  For the size of form you are thinking, 19 inches diameter, a thickness of 3/8" is about right, maybe even 1/2".  The key will be drying evenly and completely.  In  terms of breaking in the kiln, if the form is not completely dry when bisque fired, you run the risk of steam blowout/breakage.  The other challenge is expansion/shrinkage during firing.  Will the form have feet? Or be flat-bottomed with not feet?  If not feet, you will want to fire the form on a bed of grog or some clay slats/coils that will allow the form to move across the kiln shelf during firing and to allow more uniform cooling.  Expect to make a couple before you get it right. 

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The convention, not really a rule, is that conifers like cedrus go in unglazed pots, but I do intend to glaze mine. But do you always fire twice if you don't glaze it?

 

Yes a bonsai pot definitely needs feet. I think that's both aesthetic and practical. A bonsai needs to drain perfectly. And the bottom being flush with the surface it's resting on could slow that down I guess.

 

For wall thickness I was thinking of half inch thick walls. I'll endeavor to keep it all consistent. Thanks again guys. However it turns out I'll post pictures of my attempts.

 

One last thing, do yall put a mark on your pots that says you did it? Bonsai people call them chops and it's desirable because it indicates you have a handmade pot not a mass produced one.

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The convention, not really a rule, is that conifers like cedrus go in unglazed pots, but I do intend to glaze mine. But do you always fire twice if you don't glaze it?

A community studio usually fires twice, bisque and glaze; you need the glaze temperature to vitrify the clay.  There are differences in the two firings with regard to how fast the kiln heats; a bisque is generally slower so any wetness can be removed slowly to reduce blowouts/blowups.  That is less a concern with a glaze firing which goes to a higher temperature often in less time.  With your own kiln, you could once fire -- and some do that.  You just need to figure out a firing schedule that works with your clay body.  An option is to glaze the exterior but leave the interior unglazed.   

One last thing, do yall put a mark on your pots that says you did it? Bonsai people call them chops and it's desirable because it indicates you have a handmade pot not a mass produced one.

 

Some sign, some initial, some use stamps/chops.  Some put on dates; others do not.  Your pot; your call. 

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My old pottery tutor throws bonsai pots and even he struggles with the size of clay needed. Once you get the basics down with slab/coil I think it is a lot easier to make than on the wheel. I think before you go for the 'big' pot go and make a few smaller ones the same way and take them through a firing to see if your joins and making hold up.

 

In regards to frost resistant, I can't say for sure but vitrification does not mean frost resistant. All the standard 'terracotta' pots are not vitrified and all used outside here in the UK where we can get down to pretty low temps. I do think a grittier clay with some 'grog' hold up better to thermal shock. The only time I have lost pots from being outside is when they all filled with rain and froze, even then only 50% of them cracked.

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I've handbuilt a couple of large (but not as large as you need) bonsai pots and find it's too easy for them to survive the first firing and crack in the second.

 

Another option is to find a plastic pot the right size (yes, yuck) and then to make a covering pot that is a bit like a car tyre, with no actual bottom, but it will hide the plastic  Think tissue-box cover.  You may find it will be less likely to crack.

 

Good luck and please come back and show us what you do, we love responses and feedback.

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I know somone who went to a craft show, saw a $25 mug and didn't want to pay it so he took lessons thinking he could make one cheaper. LOL he loved the process so much that ten years and many mugs later he is still throwing clay. I hope you take the class anyway you might find a new passion and in time learn to make your own bonsai pot :)

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