Re-opening from COVID-19

It has been a strange few months of lockdown hasn’t it? In keeping with government guidelines the staff at Signal are back at work today, June 29th 2020, and we are working towards safely re-opening the gallery to the public on the planned date of July 20th.


I have come in to the building a few times myself (socially distancing of course!) to put on the kiln for the ceramics class, as they had a back log of work to bisque and glaze fire. This morning I put on the kiln for a local artist who is working towards an exhibition, so slowly we are returning to some sort of functioning order.


James Hayes


Busy 2020

2020 has been a VERY busy year for the kiln so far!


A combination of outside hires of the kiln and very productive Signal ceramics classes has meant that I have been loading and unloading the kiln almost every week since the beginning of January! Lots of pieces to bisque fire …


… and loads of pieces glazed! I love seeing all the vibrant colours as the finished pieces come out of the kiln.


Although this large “frame” (below) cracked the student decided to fire it anyway and experiment with repairing it during the glazing stage. There is always a learning experience to be had!


Lots of small pieces, cups, bowls, planters, soap dishes, boxes and decorative elements.


Mixed in are also the lovely large pieces that ALL the students eventually start to make.


This very large Advent candle holder is a very popular success with everyone who has seen it in person. The surface details that the simple glazing highlights are just perfect.



We have also been experimenting with a simple printing technique to transfer images onto white clay using terracotta slip, with great results.


James Hayes

Xmas Craft Fair!

The annual Signal Arts Christmas Craft Fair is up and running with a lovely and diverse collection of hand crafted items for sale.


The gallery smells lovely from all the hand made soaps, scented candles, and fragrant sachets of dried herbs.


The craft fair is open every day (including Sundays) from 10 am to 5 pm right up to and including Xmas eve.


There is a fantastic array of hand crafted items suitable for all ages from children right on up. Beautiful scarves, jewellery, artwork, toys, decorations, ceramic plates and bowls and tiles, small plants in hand made pots, blankets and pillows, and loads more. You really have to see it all to believe it!


Best of luck to everyone who contributed, the prices are very reasonable, and I will be shopping for stocking stuffers and other presents here.


James Hayes

An exhibition for the seasons

I just HAVE to share some images from the current exhibition of artwork by Michelle Fullam. Not only is the work beautiful and imaginative, it is full of inspiration for my ceramics students with a wide range of techniques, forms and colours. On top of all that, many of the pieces (too many to show them ALL) are perfect for this the Halloween season of Samhain. That is the title of the first piece shown here.


This bust of Samhain and the other busts in the show are “life size” and look down on the viewer from a height. Michelle is also very adept at animal forms, with pigs and sheep, foxes and squirrels, owls and goats.


Along with the sculptures she also is exhibiting a selection of tiles.


This leafy face titled “Summer Solstice” with its hints of summer heat and greenery also makes me think of the changing leaves of autumn.


Perfect for the season are a host of magical and sometimes creepy small critters of the woods water and sky.


One of her many beautiful crow themed pieces


“Imbolc” the beginning of spring.


and “Bealtaine” the beginning of summer.


Her owls are so full of life and beautiful raku textures.


Harking forward to the coming winter solstice and Xmas season is a lively wren, king of the birds.


James Hayes

Ceramics classes Raku

Another raku firing hot on the heels (sorry) of last weeks, this time for the adult ceramic classes. We were lucky in that the rain stopped just as we went to start the kiln.


Pieces glazed and loaded into the kiln. With 15 students across 4 classes we had loads of work spread out for two firings during the day.


Watching for that point when all the pots are glowing and the glaze has started to shine.


Lifting out the hot pots and putting them into the waiting smoker.


After about 15 or 20 minutes we open the smoker to reveal the work.


Dousing the still hot pots in water, which many times transforms a dull glaze and reveals its true colours. We also had a few hilarious moments when the hollow animal figures were spurting and farting away hahaha!


Brightly coloured finished pieces, cool enough now to be handled and given a proper wash. I am always delighted by the variety of results,  how two pots sitting beside each other in the smoker can have completely different surface finishes.


Once the second firing was put on I laid out the finished pieces from the first firing for everyone to admire and photograph. Everyone was delighted and as an added bonus you have finished pieces to take home!


James Hayes

Raku Firing

This past weekend the weather cleared after all that rain and we took the opportunity to do a Raku Firing for artist Damien Flood who had been inquiring about doing a raku. He has graciously given me permission to share some images and video (!) from the day. We loaded his prepared ceramics into the kiln for the first of 2 firings that afternoon.


Our raku setup is quite minimalist but it does get the job done! One gas fired kiln made from an oil barrel, a few kiln shelves for placing hot items on, and a metal bin with lid to act as the smoker. Oh, and a big bag of sawdust.


Looking through the vent at the top of the kiln we could keep an eye on the progress of the firing. When the pottery starts to glow and the glaze starts to shine you know it is ready. I love how the eyes are glowing in this skull headed figure!


Once the ceramics are lifted into the smoker and covered in a decent layer of sawdust we then left it to smoke for about 15 minutes.


An angry fellow popping up out of the ashes.


When they are first lifted out of the smoker they are all covered in ashes and other debris. Nothing a gentle wash won’t fix. Any area that wasn’t glazed has lovely black and brown swirls from the fire. The glazed pieces develop large “crazed” cracks in the glaze which the smoke then fills with black. The pot in the front right also developed a very interesting crocodile skin texture on the glaze.


After a quick wash the raku is more obvious. The female figure has a lovely result where right at the hairline the colour transitions from black on her face to brown on her hair. You couldn’t have planned it better, just another very happy accident of the process. Well done Damien!


James Hayes

Ceramics restart after summer break

The ceramics classes were off for a month during the summer so that people could take their holidays, etc. During that time I caught up on the glaze firings, and I made sure to bisque fire all the work on the shelves ready for glazing on the students return. They have been busy! So now I have put on a glaze firing …


I love seeing the difference between the before and after photos of the glaze, as it looks so pale when it goes in and looks completely different when it comes out!


I decided to do some new glaze tester pieces, as the old ones were quite small, which makes it difficult to really see what the glaze does. Here they are before the firing …


And here they are after! They all have a “gradation” from right to left, going from one layer of glaze to 3 layers, and on some glazes it makes a BIG difference.


It is difficult to see in this photo (easy in real life) that some of the glazes look the same regardless of one layer or three, and some glazes go from semi-transparent to full colour. The very first tile upper left goes from a very thin brown on the right side to a full on bright green on the left, so testing your glaze colours is always important. The final tile lower right is a glaze that one of the students brought in, a beautiful “Bronze”, shimmery and metallic, that she has used on a sculptural figure with lovely results.


James Hayes

Raku firing

The first raku firing of the summer took place this past Sunday, June 30th. It was a lovely day, I am glad I set up the gazebo as otherwise we would all have been sunburned! The adult ceramics classes have been preparing pots for the past month, and I ensured that they were bisque fired so the participants could glaze them in advance.


It may not look it but the raku process is SO exciting! The pots are taken out of the kiln while they are glowing hot, and then the magic happens. Combustibles such as feathers, hair and sugar can be applied to the surface where they burst into flame, leaving black marks in the glaze. Spritzing the hot pot with water encourages cracks in the glaze, and then the pots are put into the “smoker”.


The smoker is a metal bin filled with shredded paper (or sawdust or other combustibles). When the hot pots are placed in the smoker they set the paper alight and a lid is quickly put on to keep in the smoke, which blackens any parts of the pots that are not glazed. This also creates a “reduction” atmosphere which means the combustion is using up all the oxygen, which can lead to very brightly coloured glazes.


After a break for lunch we then dipped the still hot pots into cold water, which brings the glaze colours to life! Raku is a VERY unpredictable process and I am very pleased with the overall results of this firing.


The real pleasure with raku pots is discovered with repeated and close inspection. Here are some close up photographs of various textures. The first one below is the result of burning hair.


The black spots on the pot below are the result of throwing sugar onto the pot, which instantly caramelizes.


These tiny black lines below, almost like oriental characters, are small cracks in the interior glaze that reveal the black smoke on the bottom of the pot.


This swirl of black against the red glaze below is the result of a burning feather.


Lorraine Whelan, one of the participants, has also written about her experience of the raku firing (with pictures!) which you can find on her blog at Culture, Craft & Cooking!

James Hayes

A combined bisque and glaze fire

The participants of the ceramics workshop are working toward a Raku firing at the end of June. I made sure to put on a bisque firing of all their work 2 weeks beforehand, so that they will have one class in which to do their glazing before the Raku.

I find opening the kiln after a bisque is just as exciting as opening after a glaze firing, but in more of a relieved way as you discover that yes everything is in one piece and nothing exploded or fell over. There were quite a few “sculpted” pieces in this firing so there was some concern that not everything would survive, so I was delighted to see that everything made it.


Another reason to celebrate was due to the success of an experiment I tried – that is to combine the bisque firing with a glaze firing. I knew that we didn’t have enough work to completely fill the kiln, so I first loaded a shelf of very flat or short pieces of glazed work at the bottom of the kiln. They didn’t take up much height in the kiln so I knew there would be room for the pieces to be bisqued.


After loading the kiln, I programmed it to run a bisque firing, which basically translates as a long SLOW raising of temperature, but to continue upwards the extra 120 degrees Celsius needed to reach the low firing glaze temperatures. It was a complete success! On top of that, the glazed pieces look AMAZING as usual hahaha!


Now that I know this kiln firing program works, in the future if there is not quite enough work for either type of firing I can (carefully) stack the kiln for both types of firing together. It will just take a bit of extra planning to get it right.


James Hayes

Before and after glazing

I always love to unpack a glaze firing! Seeing the culmination of many weeks of work is quite satisfying, the work of course is always BEAUTIFUL, and for comparison I take before and after photos. So here are the latest firing photos:


The difference from flat, pale colours to vibrant and glossy is amazing! The students really have to trust that the colours will turn out as they plan.


I am particularly pleased with the seashell tile above as the student had to work with many different glazes to achieve the combination of colours she wanted.


It is always worth taking a closer look at the finished effects, and I always make sure to quiz the students on what combinations of glazes they used, and encourage them to make note of the successful ones that they will want to replicate in the future.


This shelf has some nice Xmas themed plates


I can see already that this person may want to re-glaze the green on the holly leaves. The great thing about this process is that it isn’t just once off, you can always try glazing and firing again – within limits of course as some glazes do react badly to repeated re-firing.


The circular piece above right has coloured glass melted into different sections, with a hole at one end so that it can hang on the wall. The rectangular piece above left has little squares that were individually painted to create the checkered field of colours – talk about patience and steady hands!

All the plates with the yellow tulips are part of a set. Each one is first drawn onto the plate and then the areas are carefully painted in with the correct glaze.

A close up of some very successful textures.


These 3 bowls used combinations of very runny glazes to great affect. As always the students and I had a debriefing in class to help them understand which glaze combinations worked best and why.


James Hayes