Every day, our community grows in unexpected and delightful ways. For our Fresh Shops series, sellers who have been on Etsy for a mere handful of months or are awaiting their first sale introduce themselves. Here’s a warm welcome to all our newbies!
Hi, my name is Nicole Portlock. I was born in the UK and now I’m lucky enough to live in Ireland with my husband. I think that I have always been creative, but I have only recently found the creative process that keeps me inspired.
While I love throwing porcelain on the wheel, I find the turning process (where I trim and burnish the surface of the pot) to be my favorite part. I can lose an afternoon just burnishing. I’m sure that it’s akin to meditation, because normally it’s whilst finishing a piece that any technical or creative issues that I’m having seem to get solved. I bisque fire my pots in an electric kiln to turn them from clay into ceramic, so the burnished surface is not lost.
My first tentative steps into smoke firing happened while I was still working on my ceramic degree. It was by pure chance — while researching a Roman process called Terra Sigillata, I discovered that there was a group of modern British potters who smoke fired their work. My initial attempts at smoke firing were very tantalizing — I had both successes and failures, but I was able to make work that had a depth of surface, almost archaeological, that I could not achieve with a normal glaze. Since then I have continued to perfect my smoke kiln packing technique and have begun to create my own style of smoke fired surface. I use two galvanised bins as my smoke kilns.
The smoke kiln imparts information about the weather, atmospheric pressures as well as the flame story, which is like a date stamp. Even if I could load my smoke kilns with sawdust or any other combustibles in exactly the same way each time, the weather that day will always be slightly different — so you may get browns instead of greys, or there may be more red/orange flashes. Most studio potters know exactly what will be coming out of the kiln if they are using a normal firing process; I never know. This method is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I’m forced to be patient and wait to see what the kiln has given me.
For me, firing my smoke kiln has always been like every gift-giving holiday rolled into one, and I find myself reverting to a childlike state when I’m making something. I’m unable to smoke fire without the “ants in my pants” syndrome that often drives my hubby up the wall. I’m in and out checking to see if the kiln is still alight, wondering if it’s smoking strongly enough or if it’s burnt down enough to give me a glimpse of what the finished product might look like. It’s like lifting the tape on the corner of a present when no one is looking to see if you can guess what you’ve received. The results always far outstrip anything I could imagine or hope for.