search  current discussion  categories  tools & equipment - bats 

thanks, of beakers, buckets & bat brains - we're in production

updated tue 13 jan 04


George Koller on mon 12 jan 04

I want to thank clayarters Kurt Wild, Mayor Mel, Don Sauch,=20
Ron Roy, Tony Hansen, Ivor Lewis, and Farah Shimbo for
technical assistance along the way. Thank you also Janet Kaiser, =20
Lee Love, Roger, PrimalMommy, and many others for your
help with keeping my head from flying off when new=20
revelations put it to spinning. Thanks for all for helping me=20
promote myself from software entrepeneur to (almost)=20
starving artist . =20

The transmorph continues....

YES, we are finally in production. Beakers and half liter=20
jars have been put to the side - we are now using buckets. . =20


You have some time for the story? Well, then....

With 20 plus years of software work, some 7 "shrinkwrap"
applications behind me, and 7 years of working to grow my=20
own company, at age 47, I proceeded to have a proper=20
midlife crisis....

It was 8 years ago that we moved to Door County, Wisconsin -=20
home to several national parks, 4 theater groups, 12 light houses, =20
20 pottery shops, 80 coffee houses - and everywhere artists=20
doing artist things - the "Cape Cod of the Midwest". So it should=20
be no suprise that I met a pottery shop owner/artist/actor, and=20
that we could evolve a few ideas about using technology to aid in=20
decorating clay. =20

Fast forward now a few years and I have a studio in Sturgeon=20
Bay, we have built our first Claybot, good 'ol Charley I, and we've=20
taught him and tooled him to remove glaze material. Our process=20
then evolved to a multi-layer sgraffito - likeable enough, and unique,=20
but it was without good economics behind it - it was fairly finicky=20
and required a lot of labor. It settled out to be a good but=20
expensive learning experience. However, toward the end of this=20
particular leg of the adventure I started getting a few customers=20
really excited when I could put their images on clay. =20

Given that excitement I used the coming long Wisconsin winter,=20
here on the Door Peninsula, to blast many of the software=20
limitations and add important new features. These were exciting
months for me. perhaps because I was knocking away the limitations
that I saw then as blocking exciting new levels of work - my head=20
was in code mode, and I had yet to face the many problems that=20
working with real clay and glaze would present. I had also not=20
built up an especially coherent sense of art and craft. It was also=20
during this winter that I found Clayart. When I started posting=20
I was truly excited about the new things I expected to be able=20
to do with the new abilities of the software. New opportunities=20
seem to be opening right and left as I learned how to simulate=20
real world tasks in more sophisticated ways in my software.=20
Clayart became an important part of my life and eventually
I met up with Mel at the farm and when he learned more about
what I was up to he introduced me to Kurt Wild and His decorating=20
process. The first impression of his stoneware work has stayed=20
with me. It was not just "positive" because I liked his work -=20
but as I stared at it even that first time I began recognize a
key to the bigger puzzles. There it was before my eyes - a=20
beautiful style of work that I was sure our Claybot could=20
eventually do. All we had to do was teach it to dispense the=20
colorants where they were needed. Let me say, a few devils=20
would jump out of the details - but then details are something a=20
programmer will know something about.

Kurt practices a "coloring book"style of art. What I think is=20
beautiful about his process is that it works with the natural=20
variabilities of Glazes and Clays. For example he does not=20
try to hide the random speckles that come from iron that is=20
commonly in clay, on the contary iron in the clay adds to the the
overall naturalness of his process. I think his process is especially
interesting to me because it works at the natural (graphical)=20
information density of clay and glazes. In other words the clay
and glaze is not refined backwards, and voided of character, to=20
enable the same graphical density of paper, crts, and plastic. Oh
no - if you want your Digital image of your family at a 4th of July
picnic to have the details you want you had better figure on a 5=20
foot by 8 foot image or so.

When I met Kurt four years ago we had already evolved the=20
software and the claybot tool and technique for removing the=20
glaze. What we needed now was to be able to dispense the=20
colorants. Finding the right tool and developing the software=20
to simulate it took considerable time and effort. One key step=20
was taken during the project at Alfred University that came=20
as a direct result of Tony Hansen telling a fellow named Hugh=20
Nile at Sterling China about our efforts with Ultra- sonic=20
nozzles. Eventually software enhancements used with the=20
on-board computer would make a much simpler, and less =20
expensive method of dispensing the colorants viable. =20

About one year ago we had both the sgraffito and dispensing=20
tools working with both low fired tiles / glazes and also with=20
high fired stoneware. It has been difficult for me to determine
how to start the business of all this. Finally after making=20
considerable efforts to set up high fire this last spring I=20
stumbled into a combination of artwork and low fire glaze=20
color and effects that people really seem to like. The intricate=20
leaf patterns we are producing in our first line of work takes=20
considerable time but because our Claybots performs its work=20
handsfree, it is possible to be doing things like making up glaze=20
while he is working. Our claybot, Charley II, can hold 200=20
4" X 4" tiles at a time on it's table.

As you can see clayarters have helped all along the way.. but=20
I've saved a special story for last. About the time, back
just a few months ago, I started communicating to Clayart=20
to try and learn the issues surrounding a crystal like effect=20
I had stumbled on a Clayart "lurker" called me up to offer=20
some important kiln saving advice. One thing has led to the =20
next and an experienced glaze alchemist extrodinaire, named
Donald Sauk, has now helped me design and interpret the=20
results of some 26 different tile & glaze experiments. =20
I believe, we have now finally determined a working set
of parameters - including the optimum number of bat brains=20
per bucket.=20

We're starting simple - single color, small tiles, low fire etc.
but people seem to like them. Oh yeaaaaa, baby, it's bucket=20
time in Northport.... but I also want to mention that the real=20
potential behind the software is only just beginning to be=20
tapped - there are a few more tricks to teach that Claybot=20
first - and for this old programmer/potter that is a large=20
part of what keeps this thing so interesting.


george koller
sturgeon bay, wi - door county
northport, mi - leelanau county

for some limited info see (click the=20
ClayArt button)