Thursday, March 24, 2022

Meandering the Cone Scale


My peripatetic practice leads me down many wandering roads, but it keeps ringing true for my practice, both as a potter and teacher. I decided long ago to embrace my meandering mind instead of beating myself up about staying on task. This became clear when a parent said to me, "I want that for my child," when she enrolled her daughter in one of my first art classes in 2012. She said, "I want my child to learn how to feel their way through this world." That really stuck with me. As I am forever the student eager to learn more as I endeavour to teach what I know. 


You can learn so much from social media these days. Instagram is great for inspiration! YouTube will teach you how to do almost anything. But the problem with the internet is that beginners can be inspired to jump right into advanced techniques without fully understanding the process. Which is why studying ceramics with a qualified instructor is a very good idea. 

The Journey

So, like Aristotle, (yes, I am so full of myself that I compare my teaching practice with that of the great philosopher) I want to take you on a meandering thought process. The theory is that the journey is as enjoyable as the knowledge gained. 

From where?

Some of you know me from when I was teaching ceramics at the Art Centre and Theatre  (ACT) in Maple Ridge. There we fired the electric kilns to cone 6. Some of you know me from when I was the technician at Port Moody Art Centre, where we also fired our electric kilns to cone 6. Most recently I have been teaching ceramic arts at Bonsor where we fire our Skutt to cone 05. Now I am with the potters guild at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby where we are firing a gas kiln to cone 10.  If you don’t know what the difference is between these firing methods then you are in the right place. Not that I will go into the technical differences, (there are lots of YouTube videos for that) but I mean that you are a beginner.  Most of my students are beginners. This blog is primarily for them. 

Recently, I have had students in Burnaby a little confused about the difference between pottery at Bonsor vs. pottery at Shadbolt. To this I would say it is a completely different approach to ceramics. However, the most important thing to be aware of, is that we fire our kilns to a different cone.

To the point

Most pottery classes use electric kilns. Most electric kilns are made by the manufacturing company named Skutt. 

A “cone” is the ceramic measurement for a firing. It is temperature combined with length of time to reach a particular melting point.


Cone 10 is high fire. You can easily look up the technical differences by smarter potters than I. For our purposes, This is a great choice for durability. Usually potters making bakeware will fire their work to cone 10. 

Cone 5/6 is most common. It is a good mid range for functional ware and sculpture. It is quite durable. Most potters do their dish ware at cone 6. 

Cone 05/06 is low fire. This is best for decorative work. But you typically get brighter colours. 

That being said, many potters that I have worked with embrace the philosophy that rules are made to be broken. 

I have found that, as you can do beautiful decorative work at cone 10, you can make perfectly functional work at cone 05. 

But why? 

The pros and cons of each cone.


Low fire is a little cheaper to run the kiln. It does not require as much electricity to reach the desired temperature. Bright colourants often burn out at higher temperatures. So you can usually get brighter colours at low fires. However, it does still reach about 1900 degrees. So this makes it food safe, (depending on what you put on the surface) dishwasher, oven and microwave safe.  However it is not ideal. Some problems you may have to address are things like chipping, crazing and retaining heat. 

Medium fire is the best of both worlds. 

High fire costs more to run your electric kiln because it takes more power for longer periods of time. This temperature clay is preferred for more severe firings like Raku, pit, wood and gas firing so it can take the thermal shock.  

Friday, December 31, 2021

Happy New Year!

I love winter. I love the sharpness of the winter sun. I love the cosiness of the season and holding a hand-made mug of a delicious warm beverage. I love the idea of hibernation. Being forced to do so is different.  This is a great time for introverts. Or those with introverted tendencies. However, this year has taken everything to the next level. With lock downs, cancellations, illness... The list goes on. There is much to be angry about or simply sad. But today I have decided to lean into it. Staying home and watching movies all day in bed seems okay to me. 

Happy Hibernation. See you in the new year. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Just Claying

Hello, and good morning on day (I've lost count) of self isolation.

So, like you, I am stuck at home. Going a little stir-crazy, if I am honest.

This is very counter productive, I find. The irony is I should have lots of time to work on my creative projects now that pretty-much everything is cancelled in my life. But my creative drive is gone. My mind is busy trying to wrap around what is happening with COVID-19, when will we be back to normal and how do I keep my family safe?

I feel like I have wasted too many days not embracing this opportunity as a gift of time.

This is a great time to get creative with our tools, our time, and our process. If we cannot do things the way we normally do, what a great opportunity to find a way to do them differently.

For us clay people, we can work at home, but firing the work becomes an issue. I would love to return to pit firing or build myself a wood burning kiln if I had acreage. But alas, I live in the city and I don't live in a house that can support a kiln. For those of you in a similar situation I can suggest this; keep claying at home. At some point we will be back in the studio (our studio or your own community studio). At which time check with the technician and see if they will let you fire your work with them. But it will be very important to convince the technician (the one who is responsible for the kiln) that your work will not cause any problems for them.

So make sure you know the following:

- What clay you are working with (bring the bag to show the tech.)
- What cone it fires to (low, medium, high)
- There is no trapped air in your project
- Your project is not overly heavy or large (extra fees may apply in this case)
- Most community studios require that you take a class to fire with them. In these extenuating circumstances, you should let them know where you learned your clay techniques from.
- If you are glazing your greenware, bring the glaze container as well to show the tech. what you used.
- If you made your own, bring the recipe.

They still reserve the right to deny the firing.
But the making is still fun. And even if you don't keep the work, the practice all counts.

So, keep "claying", my friends.

Hope to see you in the studio soon.

Here are some links I came across that may be worth checking out. To be clear, I am not associated with these, other than a part of the Facebook group:

Facebook: Clay buddies group

Facebook: East Van Kiln Co-op

Tim Martin shared how to make a kiln.

Kiln rental at the Shadbolt Centre

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Rant and Rave: rave about "Earth, Form, Fire" exhibition

"The Rave"

In this blog I intend to review the many art shows I go to see. Using this as a vehicle to discuss the varied issues that come from, viewing, as well as producing art.

Tri-City Potters Group - Earth, Form, Fire

These are my peep’s. I am honoured to belong to the Tri-city potters group.

I have been preparing work for months to be considered for this juried exhibition. But, alas, at the last minute I pulled out.

There were practical reasons at the time. But could it have been a bit of the inferiority complex rising again? Maybe.

Working alongside these masters of clay I am reminded of why I call my practice, “Peri arts”. As my practice is literally peripatetic. In that my interests roam; I most often find inspiration while walking; and, like Aristotle, I learn from the masters while on the journey.

However, compared to these pillars of the clay community, I feel like I am “just claying.” So that is what I am embracing and encouraging my students to do as well. Because in the end we are all just playing with clay.

My takeaway from this show is to own it. Whoever you are as an artist at this time, be that. Because I firmly believe we are all artists in our own way. And we all struggle with knowing there are always those who are better than us. But it is important to not let that stop you from letting your inner artist shine.

Most of these masters teach in their own way. I would encourage you to find inspiration here at the Port Moody Art Gallery. Enjoy.

Here are the pots that I chose not to submit for this show if you are curious.

Artist Statement

I was noticing how heavy my bag was becoming. I carry this with me everywhere. I am Constantly trying to shed the weight by getting rid of things I don’t need, unsuccessfully. Then I began thinking of other kinds of baggage we carry. And I made these. I picture beautiful things growing in them.

Claying at home

Hello my friends, 

So this is day (whatever) of self isolation and I am finally getting around to doing some pottery. I thought I would share this with you in case you, like me, are missing our pottery classes (and all the cool equipment we have in the studio). 

I am feeling a bit cozy with all the rain we have been having and being required to stay home and self isolate, I have been looking to the "Hygge" culture for inspiration. So I thought I would do a tutorial on how to make a slab snuggle mug.  

  • See tutorial on YouTube

This brings me to the issue of mugs. 

As you can see, I have been experimenting with mugs for some time. I have a few I like. So, if you are interested, I will break down the pros and cons of what I know about mugs (with a nod to those of you who know more than I). 

The thrown mug vs. the slab mug.

Throwing a mug is, hands down, the favourite way to make a mug for both the maker and the user for some very tactile reasons. It is the easiest and fastest way to make the form. But there is a lot of set up and clean up involved. And if you don’t have a wheel then the slab mug is a good option as opposed to coil or pinch pots that have limitations (not that I am saying you can’t make perfectly good cup using either of these techniques). 

The next consideration is form. 

The pros and cons of the “S curve” mug. 

I love this form. Aesthetically I love how it looks. I love how it feels in my hand. And if it is thrown, I enjoy feeling the throwing lines where my fingers can slip in.  Practically, I like how it keeps the beverage warm longer. 

However, there are a few functional issues. One, there is a problem with the last sip. Because of the shape on the inside, it creates a well as you take a sip which isn’t a problem until it is the last sip and then you must put a bit more effort into getting to it. Some people don’t like this. I, personally, don’t mind it. As there always seems to be one more sip for me to en. Second, there is a problem with the lip. If it is done just right it will gently reach out to greet the users lip. But if it is too big if feels a bit like a tongue reaching out to lick you and functions more like a spout pouring too much out at once. 

This shape is fairly easy to create with both throwing and slab. With throwing you have to be very skillful in keeping a thine, even thickness with the perfect lip. With slab it is much easier. As the thickness is predetermined and you can test it as you are working. 

For these reasons I usually work with slab myself. And most of our class projects are also slab built. But if you are at home and don’t have access to the studio equipment and tools right now, I wanted to just walk you through working at home. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19 - Isolation - Claying at home

COVID -19 - Isolation - Claying at Home

Hello, my clay enthusiasts.

This post is particularly for my students and clay participants at Bonsor Recreation Complex.

As it may be some time before we are able to reconvene for clay classes, I wanted to encourage you to keep using your clay skills at home. It can be done during our regular class time, since you have already carved that time out of your day.  It can involve as much or as little set up as you like. See my tutorials page for some tips (or many other YouTube videos).

We work with low fire clay at Bonsor.  This can be purchased locally at Greenbarn.

Not to overstate it, but as I mention in class, Please be mindful of the silica dust clay creates in your home. Good clean up is key :)

Although this is not our regular practice (for safety reasons) but given these extraordinary circumstances, if you make a project at home, you can bring it to our next class to be fired. But please bring the clay bag with you so I can verify the clay you used is compatible with our firing method. If you chose to purchase glazes at greenbarn as well, please also, bring the container to class.  Otherwise, you can wait to glaze in class.

Happy Claying!

Feel free to email questions to me at

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Artist Statement and bio.

Artist Statement

My work often comments on domestic politics. The icons I most identify with are Emily Carr and Freida Khalo.  Carr may have been my first love, as she painted a landscape that I was familiar with. But later, I began to appreciate how she portrayed the unseen. Khalo's personal narrative has always spoken to me as a way for us all to express our personal struggles through art. In my own work I endeavour to capture something between these two masters rendered in clay. 


I have 20 years of experience working with clay. I began my career at Camosun College in 1995 under the direction of Diane Searle and Martin Summers. Where I gained experience with pottery and sculpture, the pug mill and reclaiming clay, electric kilns, Raku and pit firing.  I apprenticed for Searle that summer in her Victoria studio. Then was accepted to Emily Carr University that fall to pursue my studies in ceramics. Where I studied under the guidance of Darcey, Paul Mathieu and many other accomplished ceramists. There I gained experience understanding the firing process,  glaze technology and elevating my clay skills in a conceptual art setting. 

I took a leave of absence to study art internationally.  Backpacking through Europe to see the Old Masters; While teaching English as a second language in Asia, I studied Chinese brush painting and calligraphy.  

Upon returning to Canada, I completed a BFA at ECUAD in Visual Art. Studying painting and illustration. Starting out with the City of Burnaby, by volunteering at the Burnaby Art Gallery, then working at the Deer Lake art gallery. I served as secretary on the board of BC Ceramics on Granville Island.  And apprenticed under Ceramic artist, Linda Lewis while teaching Visual Arts at a number of community Art centres in the lower mainland.  I spent five years at the Port Moody Art Centre clay studio alongside such Ceramic masters as, Dan Severance, Pauline Doyle and Robert Shiozaki. I currently work with the Burnaby Potters Guild at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts and teach pottery classes at Bonsor for the city of Burnaby. 

As an art instructor, I try to create a space to relax into the art. I think of myself as a facilitator to meet the student where they are.  I teach students of all ages at Bonsor. 


August 2018 - Port Moody Art Centre - Inspiring Creativity - Tidal Bowls.
November 2017 - Hello World Ceramics - Culture Crawl - Crows.
August 2016 - Port Moody Art Centre - Inspiring Creativity - Crows.
January 2015 - Deer Lake Art Gallery - January Blues - Making Do Installation.
May 2012 - Concourse Gallery ECUAD - Graduation Exhibition - Making Do quilt.

Nicole Smith
Follow my work on Instagram and classes on Facebook.
Member of Burnaby Potters Guild. 

Meandering the Cone Scale

Peripatetic My peripatetic practice leads me down many wandering roads, but it keeps ringing true for my practice, both as a potter and teac...