Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kiln Considerations in the Classroom

One of the challenges I face in my weekly classes is how to fire the kiln fast enough to keep pace with student production.  As soon as we enter the classroom, I’m off to the kiln with work students produced at home and brought in for firing.  While that load is firing, they are getting pieces ready for the next load.  There is a constant flow of jewelry going into and out of the kiln in our three-hour class. It keeps me constantly on the move. 

Most teachers would just assume the kiln would be located in the classroom – convenient to use and easily monitored. But many teaching centers have set policies about the operation and location of the kiln.  

After a few smoke alarm-induced visits from our friendly fire fighters (not in MY classroom, thank you very much), the administration of the Vero Beach Museum of Art chose to ban all heat generating equipment from classrooms. Toaster ovens, torches, kilns, and the like, are now restricted to the indoor/outdoor foundry area, far away from the general classroom area.  While I had dire concerns when the edict first came down, a kiln-less classroom has become a real blessing!

I have horrible allergies to burning organic matter. Cork, wood, cotton, etc., set me into a wheezing, coughing, gasping fit when I fire a load of hollow forms, beads, twigs, leaves, and the like. I am extremely grateful my students and I are no longer breathing those fumes. If your classroom, home, studio, or teaching facility is not equipped with adequate ventilation or a professional exhaust system, seriously consider moving the kiln!

Depending on your outlook and level of physical fitness, the distance between the classroom and the kiln can be a “glass half-full/half-empty” scenario. In my case, it’s a hike to the foundry!  Happily, I’ve always been big on walking, and I’m getting a great workout from those multiple back and forth trips!  I may be pooped at the end of class, but there’s no need to hit the gym that day.

With the kiln out of the classroom, I no longer have the worry about practicalities and safety issues, like the nagging concern that someone could be seriously burned.  Or that a student might quench hot pieces and thermo shock all the gemstones. 

Some teachers will enlist an advanced student to help load and unload the kiln. The museum has a strict policy against students entering the foundry, so that’s not an option for me. And truth told, I think it’s unfair to ask a student to assume this task. If a student is paying for the class, they should not be expected to forfeit their creative time or assume that level of responsibility. Also, many unfortunate things can happen during firing. Personally, I’ve had some bazaar kiln experiences.  Once, a malfunctioning thermocouple caused the heat to become so intense that it melted everyone’s project into one big puddle! The burden of responsibility for someone’s art weighs heavy on my mind.  If anything goes wrong, the buck stops with me. I wouldn’t want a student to carry that burden. 

If you plan to delegate the kiln operation to a student, you should consider these points, as well:
* The way items are stacked and loaded in the kiln. No one wants misshapen or warped jewelry designs because their work was not property supported on the kiln shelf.
* Does the load have glass, ceramic, natural gemstones, or other objects that require special firing considerations?
* And, of course, temperature and duration of firing are critical firing factors. 

There is no magic, quick, or simple answer to the questions so many beginners ask, “How long do you fire?” Even the “experts” have different opinions about that topic. I NEVER fire anything according to the printed schedules or product fliers. Students who come to class to have fun and make a few pieces of pretty jewelry won’t be concerned with firing times and temps. Those who take a serious interest in the art form will be willing to invest the time and money to obtain a comprehensive knowledge of the medium.

Note:  Certification gives the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ to achieve a comprehensive education for all things PMC. I strongly endorse the certification program as the best means of immersing one’s self into the artistic technical aspects of why we do what we do. 

Until next time.

Creative Blessings,

by Linda Kline
Director of Education

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