Friday, May 25, 2018

Speaking of Arches

Photo by Monica Hurley Lawson
My husband & I recently traveled to his home state of Massachusetts. His mother is in the hospital recovering from a fractured femur. While there we visited War Memorial Park in West Bridgewater, where we saw this amazing dry-stacked stone arch bridge. The stones of the central arch are interleaved with the arches on either side, and each relies on the others to buttress its weight. Each span is about 15 feet wide.  Delicate little snowflake that I am, I am groaning about building an arch with bricks cut specifically to fit the form; the builders of this bridge had to make random flat fieldstones fit. I am awed and delighted by the craftsmanship that went into this structure.

Photo by Doug Watts
These arches have been standing for almost 200 years! Would that my kiln arch were so sturdy. (Yes, I know, apples to oranges, comparing the durability of a barrel arch to a spring arch.)

Speaking of, the baby step I took today on that project was to take down the bag walls, which I had to do with a sledge hammer, they were so thoroughly glazed together. Next I will build a 2x4 frame to place the arch form on; then I will lift the form up with a pair of jackposts to remove the weight of the arch from the walls. Taking down the bag walls was a small step, but the day was not wasted; we devoted most of it to gardening - got our raised beds full of compost, bought some hot pepper seedlings, and watered a new patch of lawn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Progress in Progress

Did I mention I hate kiln building in all its forms? But I do love me some feeling of accomplishment. I've had to break down the task of repairing my arch into extremely tiny baby steps - re-read the chapter, take the measurements, look up the table, buy the plywood, and so on - which is my strategy for dealing with jobs that I dread doing. After enough steps are done the job begins to gain some momentum, and working on it gets easier.

So it is with my arch form! The form is built, and now I need to get some 2 x 4s to prop it up under the remaining bricks of the arch.

Baby steps are all fine and good, but there is some time pressure here - it's almost June & stores are waiting on their summer orders. When I get tired of the whine of the saw & the thunk of the hammer, I retreat to the summer studio to throw. I estimate the repair will be completed by the end of the holiday weekend, and I hope to have enough to fill a bisque shortly after.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Bricks are Numbered

I build my kiln in 2010; not the first kiln I've ever built, but the first one that I've been the brains of the operation. I love every aspect of making pottery - the wetwork, obvs, that's easy to love, but also glazing and loading and firing. I even love mixing glazes, in a way: the methodical concentration necessary creates almost a meditative state that shuts down the shouting of the world. Somehow I have never come to love kiln building and maintenance! Maybe I just haven't done enough of it. That's what I tell my students when they tell me they don't like pulling handles (and I am right.)

Possibly about to put a few more hours of kiln building experience under my belt. For several weeks I approached my flattened-arch situation by walking out every day & staring at the loose bricks for a while and then going back in the house. Finally I decided to grab a mallet & try to tap the bricks back into place. I didn't actually think it would work - they dropped for a reason - but I knew it would either a) work or b) cause the loose bricks to fall, thus ending the endless indecision over whether I really needed to go through the whole tiresome business of building an arch form.


The answer, of course, is yes, yes I do need to go through the whole tiresome business, and at least I have got that clear now so I can begin.

Since I sort of expected this result - that the bricks would fall - I put some scrap insulating foam board inside the kiln, so they would hit the floor and break. As you can see, I have numbered the remaining brick so I can just put them back where they were - they aren't all the same, some are #1 arch brick, some are #2 [insert extremely childish LOL here], and some are straights. I don't want to have to figure it all out again, so I went to work with my trusty sharpie marker.

As you can see, it's a bonded arch, so entire sections don't fall if one brick gets loose

This job still seems intimidating, despite the helpful numeration, and the fact that I built this arch in the first place, so I need to break it down to baby steps:

  1. Measure span & rise...or I may have those values in an old blog post. 
  2. Do the math to arrive at the radius of the imaginary circle this arch would inscribe were it continued. 
  3. Get plywood & slats
  4. Draw the necessary fraction of the imaginary circle on the plywood, twice
  5. Cut 2 slats the depth of the interior of the kiln, and screw the plywood to the slats to properly space the arch supports
  6. Attach slats between the plywood forms, along the curve
  7. Profit!
  8. No wait
  9. Ugh that's enough for one day

So, that's my to-do list for tomorrow! Fun City.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Devices Fail Me

Hello, friends! Long time no post...not that I didn't want to! My laptop conked out at the least convenient time, just a week before the pottery tour. Not that there is ever a convenient time for such an occurrence.

(In spite of that the tour went well - we had about 60 visitors and a steady stream of sales all day. In asking participating studio for their results, it seems sales varied between less than $100 to over $2000. [Note to participating potters, for future tours: the first one to break 5K can buy me a beer. 😉] I can't point to anything specific to explain the disparity, though I know the top earning studios did do a ton of promotion.)

My laptop failure can be a learning experience for you all, at least! Remember my motto, I screw up so you don't have to?  Well, here's the lesson: don't plug your laptop into a zipcord. I live in an old house, with not enough power outlets. I used an extension cord so I could sit up in bed & read the news or watch Dr Who - or write blog posts! I used the first extension cord I put my hand on, a zip cord - the kind with only the two slots, no space for the ground wire. I also have an adapter to make it possible to plug a three-prong plug into a two-prong hole.

Yeah, don't do that...

While waiting for my laptop to return from St. Louis, where the Geek Squad sent it to be fixed - I hope it had fun, I love St. Louis, used to live there - I thought I'd buy the cheapest available option as a stopgap. I found a $98 tablet, decided I could use that for a couple of weeks, and then pass it on to Doug, who is still working on an iMac he bought in 2004. So I bought the Smarttab.

Yeah, don't do that either...

Turns out there's a reason why it's the cheapest tablet available...because it is, hmm, how you say?...a piece of shit. It loaded pages so slowly that the connection timed out. I brought it back for a refund the same afternoon. Instead I dug out my old laptop, which at least allowed me to receive & respond to emails, although web browsing was mostly either impossible or too slow and aggravating to be worth it.

My beloved Gray Lady also experienced a minor failure. Well. not so much a failure as one of those expected maintenance issues: brakes & shocks. You know you are going to need to replace brakes & shocks, you just don't know when. Again: just before the pottery tour was a super inconvenient time to be without my truck! Luckily Doug has a friend with an actual lift in his garage, and they did the repairs themselves. No waiting! And, buying parts at the auto parts store cost about a third of what the repair shop will charge you for them, so it was way, way less expensive than it would have been. Crisis averted.

My kiln also has been out of commission for a while due to a flattening arch. For several weeks I have been addressing this by staring at it, trying to decide how to begin or even if I really needed to do anything. Finally, during a slow stretch of the tour weekend, I decide to hit it with a mallet. My thinking was, either I can tap those bricks back into place, or they will fall and definitively answer the question of whether a repair is necessary at this time, or if I can put it off until things get worse.

The bricks fell, of course; but only 6 of them. Well: 3 whole bricks and three halves. So, arch repair it is. I dug out my Olsen and started reviewing the math. This afternoon I with my trusty mallet began removing the castable layer so that I could get to the arch from above. I have two possible plans: Either A) Build a support for the remaining bricks and drop the missing ones back into place, with spacers if necessary, then re-apply a casable layer (this is the minimal plan) or B) Since building the arch support is really the pain in the ass part, if I am doing that much anyway maybe I should just take the whole arch down, straighten the walls, and replace the angle iron frame with a thicker gauge - essentially floor-up rebuild. Or, hell, the floor is in worse shape than the walls, if I am doing that maybe I should replace those brick. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me want to go to bed & pull the covers over me.

Wow, this post got long! I have another machine-failure story to tell you - a tale of three lawn mowers - but perhaps I will save that for another day.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Transformation


Remember this piece? I posted it a couple of weeks ago when it was leatherhard - I was playing around with some colorants in porcelain slip in class. I don't think of my demo pots as entirely "real;" I mean, I can see that they exist and are not imaginary! But they sort of don't count, as the purpose of them is to teach or explore an idea - the success or failure of the piece itself is incidental. In the case of this particular piece, I thought it was a bit too treacly-sweet for my taste, although I could see that it was the kind of piece that someone would love.

The kiln has done its magic, though, and made an okay pot into an intriguing one! There's no applied glaze on this piece, and no flashing slip either - all that hard shine is soda glass, and the charcoal coloration is all carbon trapping.

Got lots of good pots out of this firing - most will be available for the Maine Pottery Tour.

Ciao, my dears - more later.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chillin' at the 'Shed

Chillin' indeed; though the calendar says it's mid-April, the weather says it's more like the 109th of January. Nevertheless anytime is a good time to hang out at Watershed; it's a magic place where magic things happen. Well, sometimes.
I was firing at the 'Shed because the arch of my own kiln needs some work; after the last glaze firing, a tie rod broke and the arch spread a bit, causing a few brick to slip out of the curve, like snaggly teeth. this repair promises to be like a lot of jobs - begun is half done...but I haven't begun yet, and it's unlikely that I will before the Maine Pottery Tour. I did go ahead & bisque in it, with no noticeable difference. I am tempted to try a glaze fire, but I need to shoo that lazy demon off my shoulder, and listen to the angel on my other shoulder that says I might as well fix it instead wait until it causes a real problem.



Now you see 'em...
Now you don't!

I loaded & bricked up on Thursday, and fired on Friday...today is technically my day of rest! HAHAHAHAHA as if. Today I am doing all the housecleaning that gets neglected when I am preparing to fire.













Some of the magic this visit was happening next door, at Straw's Farm,
where the spring lambs were doing whatever it is they do.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Harley, the Pottery Tour, and Other News

A couple of weeks ago I ran a little fundraiser to sponsor the adoption fee of a cat at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. That cat - Harley - has found a home! When the world seems to be getting shittier and more hateful by the minute, it is a balm to do a kindness, however small. (Here's a lovely thread on some other good things happening in the world - just stumbled upon it while I was editing this post. Coincidence? I think so!)

This will definitely be a recurring event, but probably not again for several months; I am currently knee-deep in organizing the seventh incarnation of the Maine Pottery Tour. There are still some cat dishes left, though (including what I thought was the best one!) if you want to beat the rush.


Speaking of the Pottery Tour, you should come! 43 studios this year, all spiffying themselves up, making new work, and planning adventures for visitors. Check out a full list of studios at the website, or plan your pottery road trip with this online interactive map.

Though much of my time has been spent lately organizing this event, I am making new work! I just finished up some jaunty pitchers, and a couple of heavily slip-trailed baskets. I am hoping the action of the soda vapor will cut the sweetness a bit, like a pinch of salt (!) on a caramel.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Demo: Thrown Vase with Contrasting Clay Spirals



This was the demo I did for my Tuesday night class! A couple of notes about this:

  1. Clay matters! In addition to their contrasting colors, you want to use clay bodies that fire to the same temp (thanks, Captain Obvious!) and have approximately the same shrinkage rates. 
  2. No matter which two clay bodies you choose, let your vase dry slowly
  3. It's not shown on the video but after the vase became leatherhard, I trimmed the rim a bit. Adding the clay makes the center imperfect, so it came up doing a bit of a hula. I don't always think of irregularity as a flaw; I've been known to exhort my students to "Embrace the wonk!" In this case though it just seemed distracting. 
  4. The music quits about 2/3s of the way thru. Sorry about that! I could have spent more time tweaking it but decided the clay work was the important part. 
Enjoy!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine Pottery Tour 2018


For the past seven years, much of my time in the late winter & early spring has been occupied organizing the Maine Pottery Tour. This year the tour is bigger and better than ever, with more than 40 studios participating. You can see full list of Maine Pottery Tour studios here, and plan your pottery tour roadtrip with our online interactive map.

One of the more enjoyable tasks of this big job is designing the postcards. I want the cards to look nice, obviously, and to represent the three regions and the diversity of work on the tour. It's a tough balance, as I always have more images of amazing work than I can use, yet I need to have more than I can use to have a selection that fits together nicely. The image above is the postcard for the 2018 Maine Pottery Tour. Refrigerator worthy, you think? Watch your mailbox, and save the dates. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Good news & Good news

Last week I posted the second online the second fundraiser cat dish sale. It took a few days this time but I did manage to sell 10 cat bowls - enough so I could sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS. That's the good news.

The other good news is that the cat I had planned to sponsor - Grizzle, who had been at the shelter since November, found his family before the sale was over! Which means I got to go in today & choose a different cat to sponsor.  Meet Harley!

Harley is a 7 year old spayed female, with medium-long gray fur. Her details state that her intake to the shelter was March 19th, but that was because she was returned to the shelter after a previous adoption. Harley needs a family with some patience for her slow, cautious adjustment. (Sounds like a not-atypical cat reaction to a new environment to me, tbh. Some cats hide for a while until they know they are safe. General Chamberlain stayed under the bed for 3 weeks! and then only emerged when I was in the room for a couple of months after that. Nevertheless he became one of the most affectionate cats I've known.)

If you've been thinking about getting a cat, here's a chance to take home this sweet girl for free!

Still a few dishes left! I can start building towards the next adoption sponsorship.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Little Good in the World

Help a cat find a home! 

You probably know that I suffer from depression. (If you don't, you must be new here! Welcome.) That is, I am not always in a depressed state but the way my brain chemistry works, I am susceptible. I've been in this brain for a long time, and I know what that slippage feels like; and I have learned some steps I can take to avert it.

Getting plenty of exercise, getting outside - those are a couple of steps. (I would say "Getting plenty of sleep" but that's a useless prescription, as sleeplessness is as much a symptom as a causal factor of depression.) Also really helpful? Do some good in the world. That's where I was going with all this. Today the good I want to do, is to help a cat find a forever home.

I had an online fundraising event for this purpose early in February. The two sponsored cats were adopted soon after, and let me tell you, that felt good, to know that I had a part in that. I don't have much money (hello, I'm a potter) but I do have a little skill, and I can put that skill towards doing some good in the world.

Here's how it works: I've listed a bunch of these little dishes in my online shop. They are about 4" in diameter, and maybe 2" tall - just sweet little bowls appropriate to feed sweet little cats! And sweet big cats, too. If I can sell ten of them, I can sponsor a cat's adoption fee.

Click the link, scroll down a few inches, and choose your dish. Help lift my winter funk - and maybe your too! - by doing a little piece of good in the world. And, bonus, get a little gem of a dish, to feed your kitty, or catch your change, keep your keys, or serve your dipping oil. 😊

https://squareup.com/store/fine-mess-pottery

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rice Paper Underglaze Decals

One of the joys of teaching ceramics is it keeps me exploring new techniques. This week I brought to class some rice paper underglaze decals that I found online. I got them from The Ceramics Shop, but they appear to be discontinued there, so I found the original source: Ying Zhou Rice Paper decals. 

They are so easy to use!! Choose a design, cut the shape you want, press on the pot; wet the back, pat it down, let it dry, peel up the paper. You don't even have to peel up the paper, strictly speaking, if you are using it on leather hard because it will burn away in the bisque. My students loved them - I did, too! 



Probably did not need this much water. I might should have just used a damp sponge or soft, wet paintbrush. 

I pressed down gently with my fingertips, because the surface was curved & if the paper is buckled at all, or there are air pockets between the decal & the pot, those spots won;t transfer. Wait about 10 - 15 minutes for the paper to dry a bit. Doesn't have to be 100% dry. 



This is a slightly different dish - the left edge isn't a flaw, it was cut that way. 

You can also use these on bisqueware. 

Obviously they will want a transparent glaze on top. They are said to be suitable for cones 04-11.

The decals are (I guess?) adhered to the paper with honey, so they have a shelf life, and they are somewhat delicate and need to be stored with care so they don't flake off the paper before you get a chance to use them. As delightful and fun as these are, I sorta feel like I am cheating, using a manufactured design. Next I am search for a company that lets me upload a design and make custom rice paper decals.

After I have played with these a bit more. 😉
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