A firing disaster, a few tears and lessons learned

Posted by on Feb 9, 2013 in Travel | 18 comments

A firing disaster, a few tears and lessons learned

Well, reality has certainly bitten this little petal.  After an agonizing time carefully loading my eight tiles into the bisque kiln on Saturday I finally opened the door on Monday morning to uncover a firing disaster.  I knew one of the tiles had broken, as Christina checked late Sunday night, so I braced myself as to which one I had lost.  It wasn’t until when removing the tiles one by one I realized something had gone terribly wrong.  Tile after tile – major cracks – and when I got to the shelf that’s when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The kiln shelf had split fair into two pieces.  Out of the eight tiles I made, only two survived and one partially – as Adam kindly pointed out “it was only a 75% failure rate”.  I laid them all out on the bench, photographed them and headed straight back to my room.  I felt so deflated and could have kicked myself – where did I do wrong?

I had read up on the Internet – reliable ceramic sites to work out how to bisque large tiles.  I found some great sites/detailed information but they all related to small bathroom tiles and nothing my size or depth.  I chatted to another artist in residence who was confident I could lay the tiles on top of each other.  I had plans to lay one on each shelf – but we didn’t have enough shelves for that option. So, I had the yellow clay tiles on 2 separate shelves and the white clay tiles stacked carefully on each other.

I didn’t know one kiln shelf had a hairline fracture and the weight of the tiles combined with the fracture may have been the cause for the break.  Our Technician Rachel hadn’t seen anything like it before and was surprised at the outcome.  We talked about what the cause was but couldn’t give a definitive answer.  She suggested next time I stack them side by side with bricks – like toast in one of those old-fashioned toast stands.



Someone else suggested clay coils around each of the tiles to slow down the heat so it’s not fast on the outside and a shock to the center.  So lots of ideas and if any ceramicist out there can give me tips I’d so much welcome them as I’m keen to continue making these tiles when I come home.

The good news is someone upstairs must have been looking after me as the two tiles, which survived, were in fact the most important – the main feature tiles for the old/serene body of work.  At least I can work with something and the other good news, which Adam also pointed out “you’ll save on shipping costs now!” He of course totally understood, felt bad about my firing and let me have a good sob over Skype.

So, today I woke up with a massive hangover after drinking a tad too much – probably because I knew I needed to commiserate, held my last dinner duty with the gorgeous Evelyn from Estonia, given a presentation to Project Network 2013 members on tips to improve grant applications and only had one more kiln firing to go.  Anyway,  onwards and upwards and I have to say one of the girls here made me realize  you have to embrace ceramics with all its uncontrollable elements and be prepared for breakages, kiln and/or glaze disasters.  Only the day before, another artist accidentally knocked over one of Claire’s exhibition pieces. He was mortified and she was calm as she quickly threw the piece in the bin.  She made the whole incident painless and is truly a model of graciousness and practicality.

Anyway, I spent today glazing my two tiles and I’m happy with the results.  The work, along with the pendants will be ready to put in the kiln on Wednesday and should be out some time Friday.

Post note: the works came out today….and sadly, another firing disaster.  It just seems I been given the ultimate test ‘to harden up princess’ as Adam says. Well, I opened the door to see one big gooey hard mess in front of me.




We had to wait till the kiln cooled down and Rachel helped me pull the shelves out. Two were joined together and when we pulled them all out we assessed the damage – to the shelves and the element.  Whatever work came out went straight to my desk with no interest.  I was worried about the damage.  We got a hammer and chisel and she showed me what I’d have to do to get rid of the glaze.  The glaze is hard as rock and when you break it, its like glass.  So, we worked carefully but struggled to avoid the actual shelf from being ruined.  So, she left me and 2hrs later I tried my best to rescue the shelves. Two of the shelves are not savable and with a damaged wire I’m going to be up for some big $$’s.  My budget for the firings has been totally blown out.  I also lost 1/2 my pendants which had been made as gifts for people here.  So, unfortunately that special project is out the window.  As for my 2 tiles, they somehow managed to be okay.  I did take a photo to put in this posting but it could have helped if I put the memory card in!  Its now too late as I’ve bubble wrapped my works in preparation for leaving. So lesson learned…don’t put a low fire clay in a high fire clay firing.  I didn’t realise I had made this mistake and now I know what happens and trust me I won’t be making this expensive mistake again…

So, this is probably my last posting related to my time here as an artist-in-residence. I’m pleased I took myself out of my comfort zone and explore new clays, glazes and forms.  This is the complete opposite to what I did at University and I’m so glad I didn’t create the same work and play it safe.  I’m looking forward to coming home as I miss Adam, Miami and of course family, friends and work colleagues.  I will also miss my new friends made here at Guldagergaard.  Its been an amazing experience and one I highly recommend any ceramic artist to consider as part of their career…just start saving now and be open to all that ceramics throws at you!





  1. OH ANNE! What a story. Thank you for your posts, I’ve enjoyed all of them and look forward to welcoming you back to the tiny back room office! I’ll buy you a coffee! X

    • Thanks Erica, I’m looking forward to that coffee already! I can’t wait to get back home and to work. I’ve really enjoyed the travelling, residency and meeting new people. Everyone has giggled at me because I’ve made friends up and down the main street – from the mother/daughter team at the wool shop, the 2 women that run the emporium, a girl about to open her first fashion shop and Suzanne at the ceramic gallery. I can’t help myself! Take care, Anne x

  2. bad luck Sis, sometimes you can only learn from mistakes – next time you will make better tiles with a better result I am sure.

    By the way I corrected my title to reflect actual reality 🙂

    • You make me laugh! Yes, I agree with Big 😉 okay and handsome too…heh! heh! Yeah, look I’m over it now and its not like I’m saving the world from corruption. I’m about to head off on a walk to Borreby Castle about an 8km round trip in the snow. So wish me luck! I checked out the viking museum which the kids would have loved. They had all these activities you can do in the summer. Anyway, I’ll enjoy my last few days of 0 degrees before heading home to heat, storms and anything else. Anne xx

  3. So sorry Anne. Hopefully the process of making the work will be more memorable than the final result. I’ve had similar experiences where I felt like I had nothing to show for a good chunk of studio time. Then in the end I realized the learning that had taken place during the process of making was the final product.

    • Hi Ben, so good to hear from you. Its funny but we all fight over drinking out of your cups! Thanks for your support and advice. I’m over it now and had a good walk today to Borreby Castle. I’m really enjoying the sights of this cute town and avoiding the studio like the plague. I’ve only got a little bit of tidying up to do before going to the post office and posting some things back. I really wish I could have taken some clay home – especially the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain – I absolutely loved working with it. I’ve learned heaps and like you say it all contributes to what we end up making.

  4. Oh Anne, I am so sorry to hear about all your dramas with the tiles and the kiln, that is just plain bad luck. I bet it is not uncommon though.

    What a great few weeks you have had and I bet you come back so inspired after your adventure. i am very proud of you


    • Hi Rach, thanks for your positive comments. Everyone has been so nice and its been uplifting to hear such supportive comments. I have learned heaps and can’t wait to get home and put more emphasis on my ceramics practice. I really need to be in the studio full-time but like most artists need a job to support the studio practice. So, finding that balance is the challenge. But onwards and upwards as they say. I hope all is going well for you. I can’t believe how much Alex is growing up into such a pretty (and cheeky but cute) young girl. Young James is also growing up into a handsome young boy and looks so brotherly/protective of little Alex. No wonder you look so proud and happy in your photos. Hugs to the family xx

  5. Dear Anne I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry for you, what a nightmare. The best thing about it is your attitude,”move on and learn” I am sure Adam will be happy to have you home, travel well Love Annabelle

    • Thanks Annabelle, yes Adam is keen for me to come home but he’s been very busy teaching a new intensive course and Wednesday is the last day of the course which I think he is keen to see its end. I think both students/him and his boss have found it full-on but worth the effort. We will have a little bit of time together before he heads o/seas to USA for 10 days. But no more travelling for either of us after that! I hope all is well for you and Hamish enjoyed his European sojourn 🙂 Love Anne x

  6. Goodness!! What an adventure you’ve had. I’m so sorry to hear about the kiln mishaps after all of your hard work but you are such a positive and enthusiastic person, I know that you will make the most of every aspect of this experience. I’m so glad to hear that even after the initial disappointment and the tears you feel as though it has contributed to your skills and knowledge. It has been such a pleasure hearing about your residency through your posts. I’m looking forward to catching up with you when we are both back in the office x.

    • Hi Amy, so lovely to hear from you and your kind words of support. I can’t wait to come back even if you and I have a brief hello/catchup b4 you fly to Japan. How is your preparation going for the exhibition? You must be so excited and nervous about the lead-up. I can’t wait to hear about it too when you get back. Has it been busy/crazy at work with all the new students coming in? I’m too scared to look at my emails…I’ll wait till I come home. I arrive in Canberra next Monday so hope to pop into the office on Tuesday if jet-lag doesn’t get to me first! Take care, Anne x

  7. Oh Anne you poor thing! That must have been devastating after all your hard work. How upsetting. HOwever, it does sound like you’ve had a wonderful time over there and learnt lots and made lots of new friends. Your posts and piccies have been great. See you at home soon and hope you’re having fun in Copenhagen before you fly back.
    take care,
    Megan xoxo
    p.s. started back at work last week, and Hugo’s first week of daycare, he’s sick this week, surprise, surprise! Looking forward to catching up when you’re back, have a good trip home x

    • Hi Megan, I’m definitely enjoying Copenhagen and have booked a very nice hotel within walking distance to everything (well long walking distance but I need to walk off all the pastries, breads and lattes I’ve been having 😉 I won’t be buying much as my bags are chockers and already I’m over the weight allowance 🙁 So, I need to seriously work out what to leave behind…again..as I already left clothes and other items back at the Center. Arrrgh. They should give ceramicists a special allowance 😉 Glad to hear you are back at work – I’m sure everyone will be pleased to see you again and you’ll be keen to get into writing again. Poor Hugo…you guys had such a rough year last year with everyone being sick. All I can say is Vitamin C tablets every day. I swear by it. Anyway, looking forward to seeing you at your birthday party…we can’t wait to see everyone. Love Anne xx

  8. Hi anne, this ceramics thing sure builds intestinal fortitude. But I guess to appreciate those magical kiln opening moments, we have to have those moments you’ve had here. Sorry to hear it happened on this trip, but that it didn’t the whole experience. Looking forward to chatting to you about the trip when you get back, warts and all!
    Have a safe trip back home,
    Cheers, pam

    • Hi Pam, so good to hear from you. Yes, its been a major learning curve and while it did hurt…I’m way over it now. I’ve had a few other ceramic artists write to me reassuring me this is atypical of being a ceramicist! So, all is good. I certainly would recommend applying for the residency when you’ve finished studying and saved a few $$’s. It is expensive for us in terms of our plane ticket but overall the residency is good value and the facilities are very good. Hopefully I can give a talk about it and encourage others to go. How is the study going??

      • That would be so good to hear about the residency. I would value your insight as I would like to look into a residency next year. Crossed fingers, I finish in June, only 2 subjects to go. So I’m trying to get as much out of it as possible. Time will go so fast, like your residency. But the after part is a bit daunting. Look forward to having a coffee with you when you get back.
        Cheers, Pam

        • Hi Pam, more than happy to tell you about it. I’ll see if I can do something either at the ANU or Potter’s Society when I come back and while its fresh in my mind. I’ve learned so much in terms of what to take next time – tools/materials wise and budget – while I thought I had budgeted enough…I had no idea shipping from Denmark to Australia would be outrageous. So, little things like this make a difference to what you can bring back and not. Glad to hear the study is still going strong and looking forward to your exhibition (I assume end of this year?) Anne x

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