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 ace, 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 jalapeños. 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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    Thursday, June 9, 2016

    Coming up: Raku, Seconds Sale

    Saturday, June 25th 1 - 5, Raku Workshop at Portland Pottery. We'll be doing the American version, in which we place the glowing hot pots into combustible materials, then smother the flames to create strong post-firing reduction atmospheres. The results are ranges from oil-spot colors, to metallic copper to bright turquoise, and everything in between. Wear close-toed shoes and cotton clothing: there's gonna be some fire. Call Portland Pottery to register, or for more information. 207-772-4334

    Saturday July 16th, Seconds Sale at Old Hallowell Days. I always have lots of pots that are seconds not because there's something wrong with them - although I've always got some of those, also - but because I made them during my class demos, so they are less detailed & finished than my "real" work; or because I try a new technique that requires some practice, so the first few are not impressive. That, or the technique ultimate does not become part of my toolkit, so those pots are sort of outliers from the rest of my work.

    Gotta do something with all those perfectly good but not quite good enough pots! I sell some from my front yard, and this summer I will have an additional venue: the Central Maine Clay Artists are holding a Seconds Sale as part of Old Hallowell Day, July 16th, a Saturday. I expect at least three or four of us to participate, so there should be a lot to choose from.

    Hope to see you at one of these events!

    Sunday, June 5, 2016

    Stencils Part Deux: Making My Own

    I played with the commercial stencils for a while, as I mentioned last post, and I like them, but to me they look conspicuously commercial. Though I like the crisp perfection of the image - the better to contrast with the softer qualities of my work - I want to personalize it.

    One thing I discovered is that I don't really know how to make a stencil. I mean, it seems pretty straightforward - just cut out wherever you want to slip to go - but there are some mental twists in there. The shape you want is the negative space of the stencil, which is the positive space of the drawing on the stencil; and because the image is a cut-out, and enclosed negative space has to be connected somehow. I don't know, it just felt like trying to screw on the bat pin wingnuts from underneath, or throw with the wheel turning in the opposite direction: my brain doesn't work that well in reverse.

    So I looked at lots and lots of stencils, which also gave me a sense of how detailed I could get. I am going for a lacey kind of a look, floral or otherwise botanically-inspired...let's see what we got.

    I started my copying over an image I downloaded, with some minor changes, just to sort out how to use the tool. The wood burner tool did turn out to be a good way to cut the stencils, but makes an unpleasant smell, due to the melting plastic. Maybe I should switch to the exacto? (My brain: but but [shows me image of blood and flayed-open hand]) Ugh, maybe not. Anyway I think it would be hard to get the same detail & smooth curves that the woodburner creates. Its use is not entirely intuitive, though: at first I used it as you would use a knife, pressing against a cardboard surface. This created jagged edges and little bits of partially melted plastic in the open spaces. Solution? Hold the plastic sheet up in the air while I burn out the pattern.

    Next effort:

    At this point I noticed that burning against a surface was not making a clean cut
    Finished burning the design by holding the plastic in the air.
    A nice thing about making my own stencils is I can make sizes and shapes that work for what I need to do. The commercial ones were too wide and stiff to work well on three-dimensional surfaces, but I can design these to any shape that works. Need a stencil for the rims of bowls? Why yes. Yes I do. So I'll make one!

    Now to test them out...

    Hmm...a little blobbier than I had hoped. (I know, I know, I'm being Goldilocks here: this one's too mechanical, that one's too loose...but I am aiming for a sweet spot.) I see some potential here to add some detail with a sgraffito tool, so that's one way to go.

    The woodburing tool came with different tips...maybe I should try and find a finer one. 

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    Friday, June 3, 2016

    Stencil Me In

    You know who I love? Karen Dicenso! Karen is the voice on the phone (one of them) when you call Portland Pottery. (Like, say, when you call to register for the upcoming Raku Workshop! Seriously, do, it's gonna be fun.) She also teaches in the adjacent classroom during my Thursday pm class. We trade ideas back & forth.

    Last week she had a good one: she brought a painting stencil to class, along with a "pounce" brush, and underglazed a slab with it. She then used that slab as the bottom of a thrown and altered form, and also to build a mug with the pattern on the inside. I loved the crisp qualities of the stencil image juxtaposed with the softness of the thrown oval, and the natural handbuilt wonkiness of the mug. I'm all about those tensions: human vs machine, tight v loose.

    I wish I had taken a photo, but I didn't. Here's my version, though. I used thick porcelain slip instead of underglaze, to get more of a raised pattern. I also used a natural sponge to try and create more of a lacey texture; not sure how successful that was.
    I call this my Georgia O'Keefe pot. Shake the Dew Off the Lily!
    Because I all about those contrasts, the next time I tried this technique, I wanted to introduce a different quality of mark-making - my fave, slip-trailing. So the stenciled slip decoration is crisp, the trailed slip is squishy...I am sensing some possibilities here.

    You can see the "pounce tool" here, in the slip cup. I use quotes because it's really just a bit of foam rubber on a stick! But it really does work better than a brush. You can get them literally anywhere. Okay, not literally: there probably isn't one in your coffee cup or nder your mother's couch cushions, or even at Hannaford. But any craft supply store will have them, as do Home Depot & Target.

    This technique works best if you can stencil onto a flat slab - my efforts to stencil onto a thrown piece were...messy. It might work better with a small stencil, or a stencil cut from more flexible material, like maybe tyvek paper.

    Those commercial stencils are all fine and good, but the thing I am really excited about? I bought a pack of blank stencil sheets! I also bought an exacto knife - those of you who know me know I am not fond of them, too many bad memories - but a friend told me they cut better with a woodburning tool, which I already have.

    Going to try to create a stencil that captures the delicacy and profusion of bleeding hearts. Photos soon! I hope.

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    Thursday, June 2, 2016

    Two Deadlines

    I can never get my act together enough to apply to the shows I'd like to be represented in. I always seem to miss the window between oh-that's-ages-away, no-need-to-think-about-it-yet and OOPS TOO LATE. Both of these shows are in the OOPS TOO LATE categories for me now - even if I had work that would fit thematically (and I do, actually!) I couldn't get it professionally photographed in time. Too late for me, but maybe not for you!

    Strictly speaking, the Strictly Functional deadline has already passed, although they do have a late entry deadline coming up June 10th.

    Applications for NCECA's first Annual show - replacing the Biennial & Invitational, I guess? - are due soon also. The title this year is The Evocative Garden, and man I am kicking myself because I could so have rocked that theme. But, oh well, I snooze, I lose! Maybe you don't though: deadline in June 15th.

    Good luck!
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