Tuesday, October 30, 2018

When October Goes



The great Barry Manilow captured the melancholy of late October, as we spin into the dark half of the year. My wallow in that bittersweet feeling needs to be brief, however, because October's end means a very busy time in the studio.

First, I've got new pots in the online shop! Here are a couple of my special favorites:
Got several nice butter dishes out of the last firing! Check this one out at this link

Several sweet little sugar bowls too! Check this one out at this link.

Three big beautiful vases available too! Check this one out at this link
The online store will be open & adding new items every week until the first week in December. 

I'm also preparing for the opening of the Holiday Pottery Shop, which opens in about two weeks. This year the shop is at 160 Water Street in Hallowell. OMG you should see this big beautiful space!! It's the site of the former Harlow Gallery, and has me musing about renting it to open a year 'round store, after the Holiday Pottery Shop pops back down. That's probably little more than a daydream but...it could work. There's space in the back for a wheel & work table & even an electric kiln to bisque, so I wouldn't lose studio time....it could work....

ANYWAY. I've got enough to think about in the present. Orders, consignment stores that need inventory, oh and....

A new cat!

I didn't really mean to get a sixth cat! Actually I tried pretty hard not to get a sixth cat, but cats happen, especially to me. SkinnyCat has been hanging around our house for about a year & a half - he was our neighbors' cat, although they seemed to be a little rough with him; they had small children and Skinny was always limping or seeming injured. Around the beginning of September, we started to notice that Skinny was not looking too good: he was even skinnier, was losing fur and covered with scabs. Then we noticed that he wasn't going home anymore, he was just living in our shed. When we walked over to speak to his people, their apartment was vacant! They had moved away without SkinnyCat! We'd been leaving food out for him anyway, but we started making sure he got two meals a days & had a safe warm place to sleep in the shed while we looked for someone to take him. I actually did find someone willing to take him, but it took about 6 weeks...by which time my husband Doug had really bonded with Skinny, who is an affectionate little lap cat. He (Doug, not SkinnyCat) just looked at me and said, "I don't think I can let him go."

Doug's mother is very ill, & the whole family is having a hard time with it; if one more cat provides him with some comfort, that seems a small ask. So here we are, introducing SkinnyCat to his new family.

Anyway that's my autumn so far! How's yours?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The New Messy Minute is out!

Hey all - long time no post! I'd say sorry but honestly I'm probably the only one who notices. 😊 Hoping you are having a fabulous fall. I just sent out the Fine Mess Newsletter, the Messy Minute - you can sign up for the mailing list by emailing me at info@finemesspottery.com. To check out the Messy Minute in .pdf form, click here. [ETA: A reader clued me in that that .pdf opens as 127 pages long! They are all the same page, but even so it takes like 40 seconds to open. I have no idea why that happened; I built it in Publisher & saved it as a .pdf, nothing fancy. Anyway, you can still read it there if you want, or just shoot me an email & I'll send it to you. ]

I missed a couple of editions, but hopefully back on track now!

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Workshop Adventure!

Just wanted to offer a heads' up about what looks like an amazing workshop featuring Maine's own Tim Christensen in Palermo, Sicily!

In this exciting and multifaceted class, participants will learn two different, though related, media and techniques: Black and white sgraffito on porcelain, and dry point etching on PET resin. We will focus on the skies and sea of Sicily, working outside as much as possible to capture the light drenched and ever-shifting natural beauty of this enchanted place. Artists will leave with bisque-fired porcelain pieces suitable for display or further firing, and stabilized for travel, as well as a number of plates for printing. If time allows, artists will learn to wipe and pull prints from their plates. Artists should expect to be able to make one completed sgraffito piece or etched plate per day of class. All tools and materials will be provided, and of course bring your own tools if you have favorites! This will be a fun exploration of technique, with a special focus on strengthening visual memory skills.


The venue, Casa Pergola, is owned by two friends of mine, Paul Mahoney and David Henderson, both artists and American ex-pats. I watched long distance as they transformed the former olive mill into a beautiful destination villa with handcrafted details in every corner. Paul & David are fun & funny, charming & talented, and their company a,one would make the trip worthwhile.

I so so wish I could attend this workshop...but next best thing would be you going & coming back to tell us all about it.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Late Night Company


The weeks leading up to an art fair usually involve some late nights in the studio. Last night was one, as I try to squeeze out one more firing before the Common Ground Fair. My summer studio is outside, and I never know who will drop by: raccoon, skunk, even an opossum once. They are hard to photograph - mammals mostly have the good sense to skedaddle once they're spotted.

Last night I moved a toolbox out of my way and discovered this praying mantis whiling away the evening & listening to the Savage Lovecast with me. Honestly if anyone could use Dan Savage's advice, it's a praying mantis.

I was charmed by her steady gaze, as though she were as interested in me as I was in her. Sorry there's no object in the photo to give you a sense of scale; I didn't want to spook her. A mantis is a pretty big bug; this one was about 4 inches long. I relocated her shortly after the photo, despite her obvious charisma - I didn't want to have to worry about accidentally squishing her.

I finished up some Jaunty Jars last night, trimmed a few bowls, decorated some tall vases; today I'll throw small things to fill the firing. It's my last day to make stuff for this bisque, and I intend to make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

All the Pretty Cones


They will be prettier once they are all lying down, of course, but it's hard to get a photo of them, then! The pots, too, are never so beautiful as when they are glowing with the heat that creates them. All those little knobs belong to sugar bowls, and all those sugar bowls are coming with me to the Portland Fine Crafts show on Saturday. Come see me in Booth 69!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What Do You Do While the Kiln is Firing?

Me, I clean. There are some logical reasons for that - the studio is never more empty than when all the ware is in the kiln - and some squishier ones, like for some reason I just can't make myself start a new making cycle in the midst of the old one. NO OVERLAP, it's some kind of brain-cramp of a rule that I can't get past. So, I clean.

Sometimes I clean my house. Often I clean my studio - see above. Sometimes I drag all the random crap that has drifted into the shed like seaweed on a beach, throw three-quarters of it away, and then organize the rest. It's lucky I have firing days, because some stuff only happens then.

Today I had a flea infestation to address. As you may know, I live in the House of Many Cats, not entirely accidentally. We apply flea preventative medications regularly, but fleas do love hot, humid weather, and I found one on Finn McCool just yesterday - only two weeks after he'd had his monthly treatment. Time for drastic action! Which means, time to close the cats up in bedrooms, drag all the furniture into the kitchen, and shake Borax on all the carpets to kill flea eggs. It has to sit for a few hours before getting vacuumed up, so I still had time to do dishes & laundry & all my regular cleaning stuff as well. I did straighten the studio a bit as well, and re-arranged things so it's easier to glaze in there. Maybe that's why I don't like crossing the streams - I use the space differently during the glazing part of the cycle.

The bisque is nearly done now, and Doug & I will settle down to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

I love Groot, don't you?


Thursday, August 2, 2018

'Tis the Season - for Raku!


I never tire of glowy-kiln images! I am always the one with the tongs, so not in  position to appreciate the visual spectacle while it is happening; I'm busy making sure all the pots survive the journey & no one gets burned. That's me, there, in the silver jacket & face shield. I know lots of people who raku without all the protective gear, and I will never be one of them! Just call me snowflake, I see no reason to be in pain if it can easily be avoided.

The photo above was taken after about half the pots were out.


We got some lovely pots out of the firing! I find I get better results if I don't try to cram as many pots as possible into the kiln: fewer pots means I don't have to hurry before the last ones cool off. I can take my time & position the pieces in the sawdust in a way that will benefit them, instead of just however they land. For example, bowls should be place rim down in the combustible pile! Copper lustres will turn bright & metallic, and all glazes will avoid the unfortunate crusty texture that comes with getting sawdust (or dry leaves or newspaper or whatever) in the puddle of still-molten glaze inside a bowl. Here are a few results, with thanks to Holly Johnson of Hurricane Mountain Pottery for all the photos I used today.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

TTFN, Pottery Stairs!

Just checking in with my pottery peeps! It's been a month or so since I posted, and in that time I have been busily making. Wholesale is all delivered for the season, and my next event is not until the end of August, but I am (for once!) not waiting until the last possible second.

And of course there are also consignment outlets to keep full.

Usually in the summer I would have a steady drip of income from the Pottery Stairs, but things have gone awry this year. While theft has always been factored in to the cost of my honor-system stand - occasionally someone would take an envelope & not send the money, or even every once in a while an outright theft of a piece or two - this year it's crazy. Like, every day a couple of pieces just disappear. Even when people took envelopes, which I take as meaning they intend to pay, only one of four envelopes returned to me with payment.
The Pottery Stairs in better days

While it's tempting to see this as further evidence that the world is getting shittier, I think two things account for the change. The outright thefts - someone just seeing something they like & taking it - are probably one person, or maybe two, together. The payments that never arrive are probably due to economic strains: people intend to pay, but every pay period, that pottery envelope is the least important thing, until it falls behind the radiator and is forgotten. Gas, oil, power, and food costs have all risen. Augusta's not a wealthy city, and real wages have fallen particularly hard in rural areas since last summer. People are hurting.

Whatever the cause, for now there's a moratorium on the Pottery Stairs. It's not just the loss of product - these are seconds, so any cash that comes in from them is essentially found money - but it bums me out. And with only one of four envelopes coming back with payment, it's not worth the hit my mood takes when the thefts occur; no one like to be stolen from, however minor the loss. So it's Ta-Ta For Now, Pottery Stairs.

Was that a bummer? Could you use a cute cat pic to cheer you up? If so, here is a cute cat pic:
Jack (orange), Petey (grey), Noodle (white w/ black) & Finn (black w white)





Friday, June 22, 2018

The Real Test

Though I have already successfully fired a bisque under the newly repaired arch, it hardly counts as a test. I could bisque in a trash can, with some minor modifications, or in a hole in the ground ( I actually have done that.) Today I am unloading the first glaze firing!

I am a bit nervous about it, because even small changes to the kiln can affect the way it fires - and in addition to patching up the arch, I made a couple of other changes. I dropped the height of the bag wall one course. I used to need the extra height, or the soda would get sucked straight out the flue - this little kiln used to draw like a mad bastard. When I rebuilt the stack (2 summers ago? ) I built it one course smaller, which - I hoped - would diminish the draw a little. I'm only just now getting around to testing that idea, because the kiln was firing so beautifully I didn't want to rock the boat. If I can fire successfully with a lower bag wall, though, that will increase the stacking space, which will increase my yield: I'll get more pots & therefore more money, for the same amount of propane.

Assuming, of course, it works out. Let's see what we've got:


First peek looks good! My big fear - that the top half of the kiln would be pasty & dry - is alleviated. Now to go lower; we'll be looking for good coverage there as well, and hoping hoping for no major cool spots. 

w00t! Still looks good!

At that point I stopped taking photos, but here's the scoop: Most of the load was really good, but the bottom layer was a little cool. Probably salable, but they will be much better pots if I refire them, and really I lost almost none of this load to the usual mishaps: soda drops, random cracks, little hunks of kiln shit landing in bowls, so I don't mind pulling a few to get a jump on my next firing. So, mostly good news! I think if I had laid ^10 down flat, that would have been just enough to bring the bottom layer the rest of the way. 

Some of these are for a standing order (YAY STANDING ORDERS!) but most will be coming with me to the Center for Maine Craft tomorrow, where I will have my own mini pop-up shop from 10 to 3. Come see me! The Center is located at the travel plaza in West Gardiner - take exit 51 if you are coming north on 295. 
See you there! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Shapes & Colors of June

The flowers of mid-June make the best bouquets! The enormous raspberry heads of peony, the delicate deep purple shapes of Siberian Iris, the fizzy lemonade froth of Lady's Mantle. All easy to grow, too,  at least here in Maine.

I made the little pitcher that serves here as a vase. As often happens, it was unappreciated when it came out of the kiln - many more immediately eye-catching pots came out of the same firing, and it was overshadowed. Over time it's quietly served its functions, and become a favorite. Like people, you get to know pots slowly.

Happy June, the second-best month in Maine - the best being September, but it's a tight call.

Friday, June 15, 2018

OM4 70 Neph Sy 30

Testing a new flashing slip recipe - I kind of just made it up, with crowdsourced suggestions. Let's do it.

Results to follow next week.

Kiln repair went well, I am unloading the bisque today. More info about that (for the kiln geeks among you - I love you, kiln geeks! 💙) soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Jacked Up


OMG I think this is going to work...sort of, anyway.
I propped the arch for on four jackposts, high enough to lift the weight of the arch from the walls. This allowed me to straighten the walls a little and pop in the fallen brick. I couldn't completely correct the spread tho - I'd need to pull down the walls for that. I might do that next summer but for now I need to get this kiln working again - I have orders to complete. So! Because the walls had spread, there was an inch & a half gap in the front ring of the arch, and a much narrower wedge of gap in the second ring.

Solution? Castable.

On the suggestion of my friend Tyler Gulden - let me here put in a 100% sincere plug for him: if you have a few bucks to hire your kiln built, he's the guy you want, and his services are affordable to the point of ridiculous!Anyway, on his suggestion I got a commercially produce high-alumina castble product called Noxcast 32, durable to 3200°F and non-reactive to soda. When I do my someday-rebuild, I am going to line the interior of the kiln with this stuff!

It comes in a 50 lb bag - way more than I need but whatev - and cost about 50 bucks. If it works it'll still be a bargain!

I needed it not to stick to the wooden arch form, so I melted paraffin wax & poured it into the gap, then heavily applied cooking spray. I mixed the castble into a thick-but-pourable consistency, then scooped & dribbled it between the brick until the space was filled.


 It will need to set overnight but by tomorrow AM I should know if we are good to go!

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