Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Basics

I've been noticing ceramic supply house selling "kiln wash" like it's some mystery material, like the secret sauce on Big Macs.

Pretty sure the secret sauce is just thousand island dressing, and I'm positive that kiln wash is just this:

50% Kaolin
50% Alumina Hydrate
by weight. Or actually by volume will work, too - it's not that fussy.

For the professional potters among my readers - I know you already know this. I also have readers who are students or beginners, and I hate to see them wasting money on something so simple. If it's just you, mix it about the thickness of milk; if you are in a teaching studio, mix it more like heavy cream - students have a lot of glazing mishaps. Mix it yourself, and save your money for wonderful things like new ribs, or whoopie pies, or Bailey's Irish Cream, or whatever it is that makes you happy.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Holiday Pop Up Time Again

In yet another example of the unbelievable swiftness of time, this afternoon I have a meeting to attend: our pre-opening get-together for the Holiday Pottery Shop. We'll go over procedures, choice working hours, sign up for jobs like Housekeeping and Deco committee. Opening day is November 18th.

We are lucky to have snagged the same space we had last year, 100 Water Street in Hallowell. We had the most successful year yet in that space and are hoping to exceed this year. 10 potters - I think? - all members of the Central Maine Potters Association, along with maybe a dozen consigning artists, will show work and man the shop for the holiday season.

Shop local, shop handmade: it's all here! Hope to see you this season.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Looking Ahead: Spring Soda Workshop At Watershed

My Fall Workshop Buddies
It's never too soon to start thinking about spring. I am hosting a soda firing workshop at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine, May 20-21st of 2017. That might seem far away, but I find
that people need time to plan, and especially hobby potters sometimes need time to make work especially for a particular firing. Here's more info:
Soda Firing Workshop
Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts,
May 20th & 21st

What is soda firing? you may ask. Soda firing is a kind of stoneware firing, during which sodium carbonate is introduced to the atmosphere of the kiln. The heat of the kiln creates a soda vapor, which in turns into soda glass wherever it meets silica in the kiln. The fire becomes an active participant in your glazing process. The results are spontaneous and directional: sometimes brilliant, sometimes earthy, always lively.
It's all happening Saturday & Sunday , May 20th &21st, 2017. On Saturday morning starting at 9 am, we'll glaze. I'll bring flashing slip, wax & glazes; you bring 2 cubic feet of bisque fired ^10 stoneware, and any brushes or tools you like to use for decorating. Saturday afternoon, we'll load the kiln. I'll bring wadding & door mud, you bring work gloves (if you want. Not really necessary.) We'll probably be done by 4 pm.Sunday we'll fire the kiln. I'll be there at 8 am - you can arrive anytime after that.
We'll start putting the soda in the kiln sometime between 3:30 pm and 5 pm -you should plan to be there for that. The kiln could go off as early as 5:30 pm, or as late as 8:30 pm.The cost for the workshop is $100. A $50 (nonrefundable) deposit will reserve your spot.I am only taking six participants in this firing, to make sure everyone gets enough work in the kiln to make it fun and worthwhile. 
Click here to reserve your spot, or give me a shout at with any questions you may have. Only two spots left!
Wow, that was quick: the workshop is full! Thanks for all your interest. I may try to offer another, also in May if the kiln is available; if not there will be one next fall for sure.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tutorial: Slab with Contrasting Clay Pattern

I had occasion recently to spend some time at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. If you ever get a chance to do a residency at Watershed, take it; it's a magical place. I was running a soda firing workshop - their soda kiln - not to mention their glazing area! - is much larger than mine at home, so works better for group firings.

Firing, as you may know, is a lot of waiting around, punctuated by fifteen seconds work every so once in a while. In the meantime, there's lots to explore at Watershed: woodland paths, the sculptural contributions of previous residents, sheep and pigs to coo at. (Not me. Well, I like the sheep. Pigs creep me out. I admit it's irrational, but I lived in Iowa, and read too many stories of pet pigs killing their incapacitated owners. Hey, some people don't like clowns! With me it's pigs.

But I digress.)

In the main house, there's a small sales area. While checking that out, I saw a really wonderful butterdish The construction was just folded slab but they were made of unglazed porcelain with an inlaid contrasting pattern. The inside was just the white of the clay. I couldn't tell who made it, or I'd happily credit the artist here. I set out to see if I could duplicate the clay-inlay technique.

I didn't want to use porcelain, because I didn't want the extra steps of (purchasing and) adding in mason stain, or screwing around with babying the piece along to keep the porcelain from warping and cracking. I used instead two contrasting stoneware bodies. If you attempt this, the claybodies will need to fire to the same temperature (thanks, Captain Obvious) and have approximately the same shrinkage rate. the claybodies I used are Laguna's 910 (brown) & 510(white), both ^10 bodies with shrinkage of about 14%.

I started with a thick slab. It needs to be thick to begin with because I will need to roll the holy heck out of it in the next steps. Then I set it aside while I made the pieces to inlay.

The inlay pattern is create by a millefiore technique. If you've ever played around with Sculpey, you may have used it to make buttons or beads. I rolled out two thin strips, one of white clay and one of brown. I spread water (not slurry) on the white one and place the brown on top of it, then rolled the rolling pin over the two together.

Starting on a long edge, I rolled the two like a jelly roll. You can roll from the short edge also, which is easier but gives you a more irregular spiral pattern on the finished piece. I roll the coil a little thinner to compress the two together, then...

Slice! I use a flexible metal rib to do this; the edge is thinner and therefore distorts the design less.There may be an air pocket in the spiral - this is no problem.

Now I brush some water on the thick slab and stick the slices on.

I move the slab + slices onto a piece of plastic, the lay another on top of that. You can roll harder this way, without the slab sticking to the rolling pin. I am wishing right now I had one of those heavy maple rolling pins, which are just great as objects but also better tools than puny kitchen rolling pins.

Keep rolling, flipping over occasionally.

Keep rolling, until there are no visible seams between the original slab and the added slices.

Peel off the plastic, and give it a couple of rolls with the pin, to compress the surface and remove the plastic texture.

Now we've got a slab to build with. I let it breathe for a while to firm up, then just made a simple cylinder with a folded bottom, but you could make a platter or a butter dish or anything that you could make with a plain slab. Have fun, and if you try this send me photos!

I'll be building a mug with this slab, so I cut it to an oblong rectangle 5" wide by 13" long. Part 2, coming up!

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Soda Buddies

Last weekend I ran a soda firing workshop at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. We opened the kiln on Wednesday - I love that ta-da moment. Here are my Fab 5, minus one who couldn't be there for the unloading (missed you, Reen!)

The results were good - dare I say, fabulous? But the firing was not without its adventures. Most notably, I had purchased a new sprayer for the workshop, and the hose kept popping off during the firing, spraying anyone in its path with a jet of hot soda-ash infused water. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, I got it right in the face, including one eye, and was uninjured. But it certainly kept things interesting.The firing also ran longer than I had hoped; in the past, the kiln has reached temperature around 5:30 pm, whereas we ran until about 8:30 this time. This kiln has recently been rebuilt, and this was my first time firing it since. In retrospect I should have partially closed the passive damper much earlier than I did. After I did so, it was only about 15 minutes before the last 10 cone fell.

Nevertheless, good results make it all worth it! I think everyone was happy. Next Soda Workshop I'm hosting at Watershed is in the spring: May 20 & 21st. Watch this space for sign up info.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Season of Abundance

It's fall. Okay, technically it's summer for another ten days, but, ya's fall. Like every September, I am about buried in a mound of tomatoes right about now. I also have cilantro, garlic, and jalapeƱos. Now all I need are some limes, chili powder, and cumin, and I have the makings of fresh salsa. I will make approximately a boatload, and freeze most for later. 

Basil and oregano are in abundance, too, and I am pureeing up a storm with my tomatoes to freeze for future spaghetti sauce. I'm also clipping and drying those herbs, along with thyme and rosemary. I love this admittedly illusory sense of self-sufficiency, and every year I am tempted to go further: Keep bees! Maybe chickens! Does Augusta have an ordinance about goats? 

Fall does this to me; it puts me a mode of producing, and hoarding: what is instinct, except millennia of collective memory? Mine is telling me, make and save. Make and save. Winter is coming.

In the studio, too, I am a busy bee. Making and saving, also for winter, in a different way: for the shopping season. I am incredibly bad at guessing what people will want to buy, so I just make what I want to make. Here's what I want to make:
  • Mugs! So many mugs. 
  • I got a little burned out on butterdishes in the spring, but I am ready once again to embrace one of my favorite forms. (Speaking of: I've been asked a few times about the video of my Process Room demo at NCECA. The answer is, I don't know. There have been many videos from the conference posted to NCECA's YouTube page, but none from the Process Room yet. Believe me, when it appears I'll share it here like five minutes later.)

  • Altered oval vases! These are a new fave: fun shapes, lots of surface to decorate. Also, they demand handles. 
  • Wine Chillers: These seem like such joyful pots to me; it makes me happy to imagine them in use. Holiday dinner. Date night. First night in a new apartment. 
  • Serving bowls! Obvs.
  • This will probably be the last kiln load I'll throw in the summer studio before the whole operation moves upstairs. That's a bummer in some ways, because making stuff in the summer studio feels like camp. Everything is fun upta camp! (Throwing a little Maine dialect atcha.)But I have more room in the winter studio, more shelf and table space. I can make more stuff, more quickly! It's fall. That urge for making is upon me.

    It's fall. 

    Sunday, September 4, 2016

    Unloading Day, Belated

    I realized I didn't do my usual unloading day post after the last firing, because most of the pots in the kiln had immediate destinations. Also because that was the day the camera died - after I took the photos - and I had only a foggy idea how to get them off the chip.

    But, got it figured out! As I said, most of these pots are gone - many to Gray Fox Gallery, in Rockland - so I didn't do individual pottery portraits. Hopefully after the next firing I will have pots to repopulate my online store! Anyway, here's how the last firing looked. It was very...stripey. In a good way!

    Looks good thru the spy hole...

    These are ^10. When I fire ^6 the pieces have more applied glaze, less bare soda areas. The ^6 glazes really are as good as the ^10, but at ^6 the soda glass itself is just less...luscious, I guess. It's subtle, but I can see & feel it. I also discovered that if I am meticulous about cleaning out the burner channels after each firing I can increase the efficiency dramatically - enough so there is not much difference between ^6 & ^10 propane consumption. So, with all that, I am starting to wonder if it is worth the storage space (and potential for disaster!) to keep around clay and glazes for both.

    But all that is for another day.

    The studio is still full of bisqueware, probably enough to fill another firing, and though I am having sort of a grasshopper summer, I have been glazing a few every day, so look for another unloading day, coming soon.

    Thursday, September 1, 2016

    Rhymes with Hug

    A mug is the most intimate of pots. Unlike a plate or a bowl or a butterdish, you spent quality time with a mug: every morning, with coffee; cold winter afternoon, with hot chocolate: and in the evenings nothing beats a mug of chamomile tea to help you sleep.

    As you hold and sip, your hands embrace a mug, your fingers run over its surface. You learn its eccentricities. You get to know a mug. It's no coincidence that "mug" rhymes with "hug."

    Oh, wait. Yes it is. It is a coincidence.

    Moving right along.

    We were talking about mugs, in class. Handles. Lips. The landscape of surface that entertains your fingertips. There should always, in my mind, be more to a mug than meets the eye. I borrowed several examples for class from the Portland Pottery Cafe, where they have may mugs & other pots for sale. Here are a few:
    Steve Zoldak

    This one is me.

    Me again
    Marie Palluotto, Red Door Pottery

    Tyler Gulden

    Sorry for the crap photos - my good camera died.

    So, funny story! I had a birthday last week. My Tuesday night class are mostly repeat students, some for several years, so we all know each other pretty well. We had cupcakes.

    This week, I bring in these mugs from the cafe to discuss what makes a good mug, and in discussing the last one, the Tyler Gulden mug, I uttered these fateful words: "This one is my favorite. I thought about asking Tyler for this glaze recipe, but then I realized, I don't even want the glaze, I just want this mug. If I ever have $50 all in one place..."

    My students! What scamps. They had one person distract me with questions, awhile another ran over to the cafe to purchase the mug for me, as a birthday present! You guys. I heart you.

    I am looking forward to getting to know this mug.

    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    The Quality of the Day

    "To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." - Henry David Thoreau

    This - this right here - is the main reason I make pots. While I wouldn't describe what we do as "the highest of arts" - not sure that is a crown anyone can claim - to affect the quality of the day is exactly what I am trying to do when I make a pot.

    Making things affects the quality of my day, when I make them; especially the throwing day, and the unloading day. It is such a satisfying feeling, to make something, and to know it is good. But that isn't what I mean. I want the pots to be out in the world, affecting the quality of the users' days. I want them to enjoy their morning coffee a bit more, get a little joy-zing when they water their plants or unload the dishwasher. A beautiful object, that is also useful, can do that just through intimate association. An object that is special in some way can remind you that you, too, are special: unique, beloved to someone; perhaps yourself.

    If a pot makes your day go a tiny bit better, the potter has done her or his job.

    I may have mentioned the Nudge theory here before. I may have been using the term incorrectly; I made it up but then it turns out it is an actual behavioral science term that means something specific to do with manipulation. I just want to make the world better by making individual people's days better, in the smallest of ways. I want them to touch the marks I made with my hands with their fingertips, and feel connected to another person, the maker. I want them to take those good feelings out in the world and smile at the cashier at Rite-Aid, let a driver into the lane of traffic, refrain from correcting someone who doesn't need correcting at work. This is a lot to hope for, from a mug, but I like to think some days it works.

    In more prosaic news, my camera has conked out. I have anotherone, pretty good, but it doesn't fit my tripod, or have a remote control, so it won't work for taking pottery photos. Dammitdammitdammitdammit. But I guess nothing lasts forever. In a month that saw a roof replacement, a chimney rebuild, and a number of auto misfortunes, it may be a while before I can replace that camera!

    Still I am not in a mood to complain. Maybe this is my Nudge theory in action, but homemade pickles and handmade earrings are reminding me that I am special, and I am loved.

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    All Down at 4

    It was an unusually fast firing today - body reduction by 9:30 am, everybody down by 4 pm. This might be because I did a very thorough clearing out of the burner channels, or perhaps because this firing was stacked rather loosely, as per my last learning experience - a lovely one, for a change! Or maybe it's the atmospheric conditions, I keep hearing they can affect firings, but haven't observed a consistent effect; not in this kiln, at least.
    It's miserably hot here in Maine today, though I am in the shade on the deck, with the comfort of a cold brew. (Tuckerman's Pale Ale, out of Conway, NH, if you're interested.)

    It only took an order to bounce me out of my ennui; once I had a deadline I got moving,  quick-quick like mongoose. I also notice I now have enough bisqueware piled up that I can fire again right away. More ware fits in the bisque firing than the glaze, so every once in awhile I have enough to fire two glaze kilns in short interval.

    But that's not today. Today my hard work is done, and I have a silly project to work on: I'm designing a t-shirt, and you can help!

    I need a good clear image of melting or melted cones - ideally three, with one still standing, with a relatively clean background. If you have one that might work, send it to me at: . If I use your photo, I'll give you a free t-shirt!

    In the meantime I am doing a google image search but so far the options aren't great. Perhaps another beer would assist my creative process...

    Monday, July 11, 2016

    Muse is Snoozin' (Or on Strike Due to General Awfulness)

    A slump is like a soft bed: easy to get into, hard to get out of. Unlike a soft bed, a big push never seems to break me free of a slump. Sometimes I give in to it for a while, and let it break on its own. Other times I need to get myself over it, and what works for that is baby steps. I break down tasks in to the smallest possible bites ("Buy paraffin.Turn on wax pan. Dip pot bottoms.") and get a few of the tiny steps completed. Sometimes it generates enough momentum to get me out of the slump, but even when it doesn't getting something done, rather than nothing, it always preferable.

    This happens to me, this inertia, when particularly awful things happen in the world, and we here in the US had a horrifying last week. It feels so pointless to work. I want to do something to help, to make the world kinder, but all I can do is watch helplessly.

    Well: watch, and vote. Voting still matters.

    I guess maybe everyone is feeling like this, and we all get up and we go to work and we do what needs to be done. I just hope we all, when given the choice, choose kindness. Online or IRL, choose love.

    Anyway. Hoping for a better week.

    Monday, June 20, 2016

    More is More: A Step-by-Step

    I almost always find that the more time I spend with a piece the better I like it. Logic dictates that there is some upper limit to this effect, or the correct amount of time to spend on a pot would be infinite, and nothing would ever get done (which - hmmmm - is not so different from what actually does happen.) I've been working on a series of thrown and altered oval vases that require so many steps I lose count. 

    Each starts as a thrown cylinder with no bottom. As I remove the cylinder from the wheel I press it into an oval.
    After it has dried a short time - like, maybe an hour - I cut a vertical ogee shape out of one side, then bring the edges of the cut together, to make a swoop. I do the same thing on the other side, to give the piece an undulating shape. 

    After it reaches a leatherhard stage, I add a bottom; I find vases work better with than without! Now onto my favorite part: the decorating.

    First a couple of springs! This sprig is a thistle, which a student made from an old belt buckle and gifted to me. 
    Next, handles; you know me and handles. Anything that is good without handles is better with handles. These are asymetrically balanced, landing at the outermost curves of the shape on each side. 

    But what is a vase without some slip-trailing? I like the crisp precision of the slip line contrasted with the animated quality of the profile of this pot.

    I made several versions of this today, some with only one swoop, some with more sliptrailing, some less. It's fun to have the time to pursue an idea down whatever rabbit hole it takes me.
    Another in the series. The green stripes
    are food coloring, to help me plan
    out the sliptrailing.

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