If you have never come across this, I hope you enjoy it:
DRAWN BY STONES, BY EARTH, BY THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN IN THE FIRE
I can tell you about this because I have held in my hand
the little potter’s sponge called an “elephant ear".
Naturally, it’s only a tiny version of an ear,
but it’s the thing you want to pick up out of the toolbox
when you wander into the deserted ceramics shop
down the street from the cave where the fortune-teller works.
Drawn by stones, by earth, by things that have been in the fire.
The elephant ear listens to the side of the vase
as it is pulled upwards from a dome of muddy clay.
The ear listens to outside wall of the pot
and the hand listens to the inside wall of the pot,
and between them a city rises out of dirt and water.
Inside this city live the remains of animals,
animals who prepare for two hundred years to be clay.
Rodents make clay, and men wearing spectacles make clay,
though the papers they were singing go up in flames
and nothing more is known of these long documents
except by those angels who divine in our ashes.
Kings and queens of the jungle make clay
and royalty and politicians make clay although
their innocence stays with their clothes until unraveled.
There is a lost soldier in every ceramic bowl.
The face on the dinner plate breaks when the dish does
and lies for centuries unassembled in the soil.
These things that have the right substance to begin with,
put into the fire at temperatures that melt glass,
keep their fingerprints forever, it is said,
like inky sponges that walk away in the deep water.
Videos of people's failures would be very useful-seeing others mistakes can show you more than watching them work perfectly. In general we have tried to shelter folks from failure so much that working past disappointment is very hard for them.
The formula is to find a height that lets you keep your hands above your waist when working. Bend your arms with your elbows at your side until your hand are parallel to the floor. That should be a good height to start with. If you have a kitchen counter that you like you can use that height. You can always use chocks to adjust the height, or make a stand for a wedging bat or work board. I made one out of 3/4" pvc pipe for a very tall cook to put his cutting board on.
If the table is too tall make a step out of plywood that is the right height for comfort. Be sure to put nonslip tape on the top! Most step stools will be too tall and will have a tendency to slip when you lean over the bench.
These are the backbone of my professional life. The perfed trays are pretty lightweight. You would be better off cutting plywood to fit the rack. You could put some wire grating on top for better air movement, or wrap the boards in canvas. The useable area is about 2" narrower than the rack if you are doing anything taller than the spaces between shelves. They are available with different shelf spacing, so think about the size of the stuff you want to store/dry. The zippered vinyl covers are good at holding moisture-I used them as makeshift proofing racks by adding a pot of boiling water at the bottom with my product at the top. If you keep your wares about a foot from the bottom of the rack you can put in a water pan underneath and it should hold enough moisture to keep things leather hard for a while. You will have to experiment with your local humidity. Get the heavy duty ones and they will last for a very long time. Be nice to the casters or they will get tricky to steer and kind of jumpy, and that could mean stuff falling over or cracking.
You can run a small heater or dehumidifier near your molds, which will help them dry. We let larger pieces sit until the wall-the solid layer next to the mold-is about 1/4" thick before pouring off the excess.
Pinholes can be caused by dirty molds. Older molds often leave pinholes, as the plaster has started to degrade with use. If you are using old molds, you may have to recast a master and recast the mold in new plaster. Most of the time a damp sponge or chamois will take care of them. If the top of the piece is plugged with semi-solid clay, you can poke it with a dowel or small sharp knife, then pour out the excess slip still inside the mold. Pieces with small gates (pour holes) often need this, especially if the rest of the piece is broader, like a tree mold will be.
The many variables of slip viscosity, temperature, mold dryness, air humidity, etc.,etc. mean you need lots of practice to gauge your cast pieces readiness to be pulled. Be prepared to experiment until you have a good idea of how the slip will act. You can reclaim your clay.
At this point you are in training to learn a new trade. You could be in school learning to be a nurse and have the same issues. With that in mind, is there a studio in town where you could work part time? The exposure to others working methods is valuable in itself, and if they can't pay cash, perhaps private lessons or free clay or some exchange could be worked out.
Also, decide for yourself what's really important to your family life and let the rest go. Home made dinner is nice, but it's time eating together that's more important to me. Adding layers of stress because society tells us to be "doing it all" will just drive you nuts. Kids really can amuse themselves. They will still thrive even if you take the time to clean. And a clean workspace equals better working habits, which means more money when you are trying to sell in quantity. Also, you can have them help with the chores-it builds character!
I use this as a selling point. I have a bit of schitck were I describe how beakers thousands of years old exist, and that the beaker they purchase today could be found by the archeologists of the future....it works pretty well, too!