Handmade pottery for the thoughtful home.
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Night Sky Mugs
 

INSPIRATION

Have you ever noticed how clear the night sky looks in winter? There's actually two reasons why--the first is that colder temperatures make it harder for the atmosphere to hold moisture and the second is that we (in the northern hemisphere) face the outside spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy in the winter. In the summer we face the center of the galaxy which is far more dense with stars.

These two effects combine to create vivid night sky viewing conditions in the winter. I'm fascinated by the universe and stargazed regularly growing up in upstate New York; a hobby that eventually led to studying Physics and Astrophysics in college. I know. I pivoted. Hard.

After the production madness surrounding the holiday retail season I needed to work on a passion project to bring me back to sanity. I notice the superior stargazing conditions every winter and wanted to design a mug that captures that beauty. 

 

PROCESS

One of my favorite techniques is sgraffito--carving a surface away to reveal a surface with a contrasting color beneath--and it's perfect for creating the effect of point-like sources of light shining through a vacuum of darkness.

I throw each mug starting with a cylinder of porcelain clay on the wheel. After drying for a few days in a damp environment, I trim it on the wheel to smooth and remove excess weight from the bottom. Before I start trimming I pull handles for all of the mugs so they can dry while I trim. Once all the mugs are trimmed and the handles have dried to leather hard, I attach each handle by hand to the cylinder by scratching the joints and "glueing" the pieces together with slip (liquid clay). 

Sgraffito [is] perfect for creating the effect of point-like sources of light shining through a vacuum of darkness.

I wanted to leave the exterior unglazed for a rougher texture on the hand so I made slip with the same porcelain clay and dyed it with black mason stain. I painted three coats of this black slip on each mug. Once they completely dried, I etched the stars into the mugs to reveal the white porcelain beneath the black slip. 

Each one signed. Each one unique. 

I tried to carve stars on every handle. 

The process from here is pretty standard. The mugs were bisque fired to 1830 degrees Fahrenheit and then I applied a silky black glaze only on the interior. Then I fired them a second time to 2350 degrees Fahrenheit to finish. 

When I took the mugs out of the kiln I noticed some bubbling on the unglazed exterior where I applied the black slip. This is a sign that my mason stain concentration was slightly too high; however, after sanding the exteriors down, it created a very interesting crater texture. If the moon were small enough to hold in your hand, I like to think it would feel like these mugs.

Like all Monsoon Pottery wares, these mugs were a labor of love and totally worth it. 

 
How It's Made
 

Jack and I created an exhibit for the StudioUs show that describes the making process at Monsoon Pottery. We're reprinting that exhibit here so everyone can get to know our process. 


How It's Made

Each piece at Monsoon Pottery is designed and handmade by Danielle Chutinthranond.

We purchase prepared clays and wedge, throw, trim, glaze, and fire everything in our home studio.

The most common question we hear is: “How long does it take to make something?” It depends. Clay takes a long time to dry and, during rainy weeks, even longer. We fire each piece twice and, including cooling times, each firing can take up to three days. Aside from these fluctuations in drying and firing times, our process can be summarized in these photographs.

Photographs by Jack Li. 

Wedging

Wedging stoneware. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Wedging clay gives it a uniform texture and removes air bubbles. While tiny pockets of air may seem harmless, they can cause a piece to collapse on the wheel or, even worse, explode during a firing. We wedge every piece of clay at least 100 times.

Throwing

Throwing stoneware. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Throwing stoneware. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Wedged clay is centered on the wheel at high speed with plenty of water. Centering aligns the molecules of the clay to make the throwing process easier. Once centered, the clay is shaped into plates, bowls, cups, or vases.

Finished pieces are left to dry until firm and barely damp to the touch (”leather hard”). This can take one day for small pieces or at least a week for plates.

Trimming

Trimming stoneware. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Trimming stoneware. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Trimming, or turning, is the process of refining and finishing the bottom of each piece. While the wheel is spinning, metal tools carve away excess clay and shape a foot.

The piece is signed and left to dry completely, or until “bone dry;” a process that usually takes three days. 

Bisque Firing

Bisque fired porcelain. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Bisque fired porcelain. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Bone dry pieces are carefully loaded into the kiln and fired to cone 06, about 1850 degrees Fahrenheit. Reaching cone 06 takes between 7-10 hours and the kiln takes over a day to cool down.

The bisque firing makes the pieces hard and porous, ideal for absorbing glaze.

Glaze Firing

Glazed pots in the kiln before firing. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Glazed pots in the kiln before firing. Photograph by Jack Li. 

We mix all of our glazes at Monsoon Pottery. Most pieces are dipped into glaze after applying wax resist to areas that come in contact with the kiln shelf.

The kiln is fired to cone 10, about 2350 degrees Fahrenheit, transforming the glaze and clay into the ceramic material you see in this gallery. 

Finished Product

The glazed pot from the previous photograph is transformed by the glaze firing into an object to be enjoyed for generations. Photograph by Jack Li. 

The glazed pot from the previous photograph is transformed by the glaze firing into an object to be enjoyed for generations. Photograph by Jack Li. 

Making pottery involves careful planning, strength, patience, and relinquishing control. A single piece can take weeks to make, but we think it’s worth the wait.