Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Run With It - My Attempts at Monoprinting

I tried out Chris Dufala's monoprint technique last night in class. (I have a long standing tradition of trying things for the first time in class. Hilarity ensues! Sometimes.) Chris has a detailed step-by-step at this link, which is way more helpful than my fumbles might be, so I'll just briefly describe what I did:
  1. Paint an image on plaster. You have to think backwards, because whatever you paint first will be the top layer. So, the black outline and shading on the rose was what I painted first, and then the red behind it. 
  2. Let it dry to not-shiny. Pour thin slip of the claybody you are using over the image - a thin layer! My first mistake was using too much slip.
  3. Slap an already-rolled slab quickly onto the slip layer. I found it helpful to compress the slab downward with a rib or fingertips. Maybe a roller. 
  4. Peel the slab up. God willing and the creek don't rise, your image will be on the other side!
My images only partially transferred, giving them a deteriorating, peeling-wallpaper kind of look.

You all know how I love the Law of Entropy! Deteriorating patterns & images are what makes my world go 'round.  So I loved the little slab images too much to throw them away but they weren't big enough to make something out of themselves, so....Throw a pot to use them on!

This is what I love about going to NCECA, and workshops generally: when you can take someone else's technique, and use it to make your own work stronger. It's nothing like copying - what I make couldn't be further from what Chris makes, and the uses I hope to put this to are completely different from what he is doing.

Though this was an off-the-cuff pot, I can see this in future "real" work (as opposed to demos.) Maybe not with the tear-throughs...maybe cut windows, looking through at a peeling floral pattern.

Whatever it ends up being, you'll see it here first!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Just Another Workday

Some people are eating ham today. Some people are dyeing eggs. Some went to church. Me, I made flyers and postcards.
That's right - pottery tour stuff again. There's an incredible amount of little fiddly work that needs to be done, to make it all come out right. But who am I kidding? I get a great deal of satisfaction in making it all come out right.
Check out the postcards!

There are three, one each for each leg of the tour. The backs will list the participating studios with their addresses. I ordered them from Next Day Flyer last year and that worked out pretty well, so will probably do that again.

Upcoming Entry Deadlines

This isn't usually my schtick; missing deadlines is more my thing - but I happen to be aware of a handful of shows you all might be interested in:

  • The 2016 NCECA Invitational: Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change. I guess the word "invitational" doesn't mean what I thought it means, because this one has a call for entries. The deadline is soon - April 16th. Apply here.
  • The 2016 NCECA Student Juried Exhibition: Entry deadline September 23rd, 2015. The call is not yet open on the website but when it is you will find it here.
  • In the Kitchen - an exhibition at Hood College in Frederick, MD. October 22 - December 4. Entry deadline, August 31. Apply here.
  • The Slip Cast Object Revisited. Plinth Gallery, Denver, CO Entry deadline, April 10th
  • Tabletop, An international juried exhibit of ceramic works designed for food, drink, and the table. At The Art League, Alexandria, VA. Entry deadline May 1. Apply here.
  • The Strictly Functional Pottery National. September 26 - October 31 at Kevin Lehman's pottery in Lancaster, PA. Entry deadline June 1. Apply here.
That's it, that's what I got. If you like being reminded f entry deadlines, you don't want to count on me - but check out Carole Epp' Musing About Mud - that's kind of the go-to for stuff like this. Ceramic Arts Daily also has a Call for Entries page, but it's fairs and festivals and gallery exhibitions and some rinky-dink stuff, all mashed together. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Yikes! Is it too late to do this? It's a week now since I returned from Providence, and I hit the ground running, getting ready for Mug Season, the Maine Pottery Tour, and of course firing and delivering work.

Here's a quick highlight reel:
Wednesday was the gallery day. The bus tour was...spotty. The shows (the ones I saw!) were great, but there was one that the bus couldn't get to (WAT??) one where nobody was home, one that had an additional cost to get into (yes, I am the world's cheapest human. But after paying for the conference, and then paying additionally for the bus tour - didn't that used to be included?? - I was cranky about being asked to pay an entrance fee for a show. So I didn't.)
I took a boatload of photos on the gallery day, with my little iThing; you can see them here. (I was going to post them all here but time just does not allow.) My most favoritest piece that I saw all week was the giant wall of porcelain panties at Brown University.

Misty Gamble is the artist. The panties are cast porcelain with added beads and rhinestones. Hilarious and masterfully done. The subject matter of her work - not just panties, but femininity - mirrors some of my interests back when I was sculpting, and maybe even now.

Frederick Douglas Opie gave a non-traditional keynote, about the role of ceramics in Incan, Mayan, and Columbian cultures. Opie, a professor at Babson College, is more a food guy than a clay guy, and the address was like a college lecture. Some people didn't enjoy the departure, but me, I'm always up to learn something new. I think, too, the point about ceramics being a marker of status made people uncomfortable. We want to think we like what we like because that's what we like, but in fact the possession of handmade claywork - the more esoteric the better - marks us as people who have the education and sophistication to appreciate it, and the disposable income to purchase it. Yeah. Uncomfortable. Sounds like snobbery, among people who think of themselves as the very earth of the earth. But status is what makes us humans go 'round, and every human culture has had status markers. Doesn't mean your preferences are fake - quite the opposite, your preferences (and mine) and the status they denote are very real, and you will have markers of some status - high, low, or in-between -  no matter what.

It's an interesting thing to think about, but a discussion for another day.

Though I spent most of my time watching demos - they are why I go to NCECA - there were some good discussions as well. Here are the ones I would have gone to, if I weren't busy ogling pots in the gallery expo, where the largest collection of inspiring functional pots could be found.
  • Heidi McKenzie, The Basics of Business in the Arts
  • Dustin Miyakawa, Become Your Own Photographer
  • Paul Lewing, Teaching and Selling as Performance
  • Panel discussion: The Social (Media) Experiment 
My fellow travellers attended discussions of injury treatment & prevention in the ceramists' hands; ceramics in psychiatric healing, and clay and community in the St. Croix valley.

I was in New Bedford, at an opening featuring former staff, residents, and Salad Days artists from Watershed on Thursday evening, but had I not been, would surely have attended the Pottery Slam: Claystories - and maybe even told a story myself. I am shy in crowds but put me at the front of the room, and I can fly with it. Strange but true.

And now: the demos. SO AMAZING, so inspiring.
  • Martha Grover was the first one I saw. You can see a similar demo here; and I'm told that all of the NCECA demos will eventually be on youtube. I was delighted to learn that Martha, a Maine native, will be returning here soon. I managed to elbow my way through the throngs to give her a business card and invite her to do the Pottery Tour, when she completes her move. Martha was part of a series on quick-hit, 30 minute demos in the Process Room, about which more later.
  • Linda Christenson! Watching Linda work was just..soothing. She has a lovely personality, and makes very serene pots. I used to live in Minnesota, even met Linda on the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour a couple of times, and her accent really brought me back there. She threw, and talked about clay and life as a potter.
  • Gustavo Perez - in the same ballroom with Linda. I didn't respond to his work at all, but learned a lot from watching him. My favorite quote of the conference came from him: "It can feel like there is no energy to work, and it is then, exactly then, that you must go work." And also, related: "It is a matter of discipline to work when you feel it, and then, when you don't." These are nudges that I needed!
  • THE PROCESS ROOM! was where I spent the majority of my time. I don't know if this is a new thing, but it is the best. ever. I watched Martha Grover, Jason Barnett (? Not sure. Margaret Bohls was scheduled, and Jason substituted, so his name is not in the program), Jennifer Allen - though I was in the hall, peering in for much of that one - Shawn Spangler, Amy Santoferraro, Winnie Owens-Hart, and
  • Chris Dufala. Chris demostrated  method of image transfer using undergalzes painted on plaster that I had never seen before. I was amazed and determined to learn it, if not for my own work, for my students. There is a link to instructions of Chris' monoprint process on his website.
  • Like everyone else, I was disappointed that the process room was too small to accommodate the interest.  The overflow room set up the next day even overflowed! My suggestion: next yer put it in one of the ballrooms: three tables, one active, one being cleaned up, one set up for the next artist. It'll be full every hour of the day. 
  • This is an out-of-the-box item on my wish list, inspired by the morning yoga: Let's have a fitness room, with exercise bikes & ellipticals, and a loop of past NCECA demos playing on a video screen.
There was much more, but I am realizing it's just too much to type up this morning, so going to wrap up the wrap up. It is extremely unlikely that I will be in Kansas City next year - unless a money-anvil drops out of the sky - but if you are there, enjoy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fast and Easy

When you google "fast & easy" you get mostly recipe links. But one of the phrases google suggested to me was "fast and easy ways to get pregnant."

Um. I guess I thought the fastest and easiest was the one everybody already knows?

None of that has anything to do with this post.

I just wanted to say, this firing - the one that went off an hour and a half ago - was the fastest and most even firing I've done in this kiln. It was a ^10 firing - the ^6 ones are quicker, of course - and it took 11 hours. I candled overnight, but started turning the burners up around 7 AM, and it went off at 6 pm. That has never happened before!
I just changed one tiny little thing.

It's always scary to change something about the way you fire, if you have a way that works reasonably well, because if you try to improve on it, you can make it MUCH worse. And then you've lost a month's worth of work, because you just had to go experimenting!
In this case, this kiln has always fired unevenly - hotter on one side than the other. At first blush, you might say, Well, duh. It's got two burners on one side, and only one on the other. I guess that could be it, but it's a pretty small kiln - maybe 22 cf - and I have fired many kilns with two burners at the back and none at the front, and those can be perfectly even. So I was never completely satisfied with that explanation, but I didn't care that much, because the kiln was giving me good pots.

Not sure what possessed me to try and change it this time. I knew the kiln on the one-burner side always had much heavier back pressure, and I knew that a reducing lame produces less heat than an oxidizing flame, and this effect becomes more pronounced the heavier the reduction. The primary air was already all the way open, and I couldn't easily change the secondary air - the ports are hardbrick. But just today, I thought: the soda port.
My ports are low, so I can dump the soda mix right into the burner channel. Maybe low enough, I thought, to serve as a kind of secondary secondary air. Tertiary air?
Just pulling the brick didn't work; that side of the kiln lost all back pressure. Instead I found a fraction of brick and blocked a little less than half the port.
Perfect! I got a long steady flame, bright orange, no smoke, on both sides of the kiln.
Oh, I lied. I said I only changed one thing but I just remembered I changed another. I started to wonder if I could manipulate the flow of air into the kiln using the passive damper. Not just control how much, but where. So I blocked just a couple of inches far to the cool side of the damper.

Not sure if one or both of these adjustments was responsible, but the kiln climbed quickly and evenly right up through ^8. Got a little uneven after that, but not out of hand. I drew a line to indicate the position of the damper, and the brick blocking the passive, so I can find the sweet spot again.

Unloading this kiln on Wednesday.

Loot from the Conference

I saw so much over the last few days, my head is swimming with ideas - which I guess is the point of NCECA. I took a bunch of photos, but I need to go through them and attach the correct names to the works, and then I can share them.

Seeing work. Watching demos. And let's not forget SHOPPING! Part of the fun of the conference is getting some new tools that send you back to your life dying to make something with them. I got:

  1. A couple of sprig molds from the Marvelous Molds company. I do prefer to make my own sprig molds but these looked so much like something I would have made, I couldn't resist. I'm saving the link because I'd like to get some for soap, also.
  2. A roller from MKM Tools! Again, I make myself tons of rollers, and I don't love most of those wooden laser-cut ones - the patterns read as quite mechanical. If you use them sparingly, though, they can be a nice counterpoint to a squishy or wonky pot, in the same way the a tight, architectural thrown rim works when you then twist and bend it out of round. This roller had a delicate floral pattern that I thought would work well with some of the bolder, slip trailed floral stuff I've been doing.
  3. Underglaze chalk - I got three colors. I had a black one, which I got from Portland Pottery, and I was impressed by how well the detail of a soft charcoal-like drawing is preserved under a clear glaze. I had been meaning to get more colors to test out, anyway.
  4. Brushes - some fine line camel-hair brushes, and a set of acrylic-bristle brushes to use with latex. There is nothing special about these brushes, except that the set of six brushes was only $2.Latex resist destroys brushes pretty fast no matter how careful I am, so it's good to have some cheapies.
I have lots more to say about the conference - what worked, what didn't, best moments - but I am firing the kiln load right now that got delayed due to high winds last Sunday, and I need to go and peek at the cones. I'm also getting the house ready for our Central Maine Clay Artists group to come over, where we'll divide up the mugs to be distributed for Mug Season, our annual fundraising event for local arts programs.

Aaaand, cone 3 is flat so I better start mixing up the soda salad.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mad Dog Shino

Now you'll recognize me at NCECA
One nice thing about working at Portland Pottery is I always get a handful of pots out of each kiln load. I don't fire all my demos - I'd be buried in a mountain of not-quite-polished pots - but every firing there are a few.

This one is a trick I love to show students. It's Malcolm Davis Shino, onto which I brushed liquid wax resist...and then didn't do anything else. Just glaze, then wax. No second layer of glaze, no water sprayed on, no sponging.
The mug, before firing

It's the only glaze I know that will do this. The wax prevents the soda ash from rising to the surface of the glaze, and then provides carbon for the glaze to trap as it burns off, creating the contrast between the waxed and unwaxed areas.

It's a highly changeable glaze, its results varying wildly from firing to firing, prompting my students to proclaim that the "M.D." on the bucket stands for Mad Dog. It was a good dog this time, though.

Perhaps because of the high percentage of Neph Sy in the recipe, MD Shino has performed well for me. with NO alteration, at ^6 also. Here's the recipe:

Malcolm Davis Shino
Soda Ash                     16.3
OM-4                           13
EPK                             17
F-4 Soda Feldspar         9.3  
Neph Sy                       38.6
Red Art                          5.7
This version is best on white clay; for a version for brown clay, just out the red art one-for-one with EPK.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mariah Blows the Stars Around

They may call the wind Maria; I call it a giant pain in the ass.

Though it was slow to get rolling, I was very excited to finally be firing. The past winter had not been conducive (not that the so-called "spring" has been a hell of a lot better so far!) but I finally got the kiln loaded and candled overnight last night. I started turning burners up around 4 am, to get the wax burned off before light, so it wouldn't worry neighbors and passers-by; but by 10:00 am I knew I was in trouble. The wind was gusting hard, and picking up.

This isn't a problem for the reason a lay person might expect, that the wind makes everything feel colder. It's not appreciably harder to bring the kiln to temperature in the 12°F than in 70°. The wind does affect how the flame moves around the kiln, though, and high winds cause my kiln to draw too hard. The wind essentially sucks the heat out the stack before it can do its good work inside. Not all of it, of course, and not immediately, but the kiln will climb very unevenly, and the bottom will be a lot hotter than the top. 

I looked up the forecast and found that Augusta has a high wind advisory until 8 pm tonight, so my feeble optimism that perhaps it would die down was misplaced. Nevertheless I spent an hour arguing with myself about whether to abort the firing. I've already invested several hour of propane! The winds are not as bad as that time the firing was really really awful! Maybe it will be okay! I won't be able to complete this firing for a whole week if I bail now!

Yeahno. Sure, it might turn out alright. But what's the point of experience, if you don't learn from it? Experience tells me that this firing will either burn way more propane than it should, or turn out badly, or, more likely, both. What's to be gained by continuing? Yes, postponing will make a delivery late, but guess what? That delivery is also going to be late if the pots are bad and either have to be re-fired or re-made entirely.
I am aggravated about this, but was there ever anything so futile as anger at the weather? I'll just take out my frustrations on some dust bunnies and coffee stains. Then I'll start packing for NCECA! Just typing those words helps my mood. 

On the topic of wind, Harve Presnell has a few words to add.

PS. Is there really a place where people call rain Tess, or fire Joe? "My Joe was postponed due to Mariah?" "Looks like it's going to Tess tonight?" YEAH I KNOW IT'S JUST A SONG. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Maine Pottery Tour Update

This is the time of year that my life gets eaten by preparations for the Maine Pottery Tour, and that's doubly true this year, as the tour has doubled in size, plus some.The whole-tour map is finished, but I'm continually updating the website and still need to create flyers, posters, and postcards. It's going to be the best one yet, no doubt. There are 40 stops on the tour this year:

It's kicking my butt, though. I always forget how much work it is! I started working on pottery tour stuff when I got up and I just looked and four hours have gone by. That's enough for today.

I do still make pottery! I am loading my glaze kiln today, and firing tomorrow. I may not get a chance to unload it before NCECA, so I'm excited to go, and I'll be excited to get home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sling & Slip

Though I'm in the firing end of the making cycle in the studio, I am still doing wetwork demos for my classes. This platter is made by securing cloth over the top of a container and then draping a thick slab over it. Some call it a sling mold (say this in the voice of Billy Bob Thornton.) I like sling molds because any size platter you want to make, there is a container in the world that will serve as the mold for that platter. Look in the home storage department at Target for larger ones, or in the food storage aisle at the grocery store for smaller ones. This one if held in place with rope but a big rubber band would work or, if your mold is wood or cardboard, you can staple the cloth in place. I leave the clay quite thick - maybe 5/16ths inch. I hate a flimsy platter.

If I catch this platter at the exact right moment I won't need to put a foot on it: I can just take it out of the mold and tap it on the tabletop to flatten the bottom. If I miss my moment, I'll throw a ring for the foot.

It was two demos in one: I showed my students how to make the sling mold, and then used the platter I made to show them a couple of slip techniques. The checkerboard pattern I made by cutting squares of newspaper and sticking them to the damp clay, then brushing white slip over them; the flowers are a brush embroidery technique.

But that was yesterday, and yesterday's gone. Today I a back in the glazing/firing end of the cycle. I'll be applying flashing slip and waxing pots all day.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Wheel Week at Cony High

Every year, my town's high school ceramics program hosts potters for Wheel Week, in which each of five potters spends a day throwing and talking to the students about clay, creativity, and being an artist. Today was my day! Wheel Week is always fun for me; the kids ask great questions, and the school is in my neighborhood, so many of them know about my studio, or have seen the pottery stairs in my yard during the warmer weather.

In other news, we adopted a new cat today! Doug and I had agreed to bring another fur friend into the mix, and today I chose a big black and white kitty. He was named Survivor at the shelter, but I am thinking we will change that; whatever it was he had to survive, those days are past him now. It's Easy Street from here on out. He's a timid guy, and reminds me very much of Waldo. So far the other cats have not had much reaction at all, which is all to the good, since cats' first reaction to a new feline is usually hostility. I'll post a photo after he has had some time to adjust.

ETA:  Here he is! Still hiding but he did eat a little bit this morning. Baby steps!

Finn McCool

It's almost spring, and time for new beginnings.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

On Second Thought...

While scraping and grinding kiln shelves, I turned on a burner to melt the snow out of the kiln. I bricked up the door to hold the heat in a bit, so the burner could do its job; and in doing so I was reminded: my castable blocks are in rough shape.

I've got a pail of refractory cement right here, and a trowel; I guess now is as good a time as any to make these repairs. It feels like I just did this, but actually it's been three years or so. It's gritty messy work, but kind of satisfying in a way. Leaves me feeling like I dun good. And bricking up will be so much easier when its done.

Since I am doing gritty messy work today, I might as well add "mix up door mud" to the list.

It doesn't change my firing schedule, because I can squeeze loading, candling, and firing the bisque into one day if necessary.

ETA: Yeahno. It's 10 degrees outside; if I wait until Wednesday I can load in 46 degrees. Call me a big baby, but I'm holding off. 
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