Sunday, October 13, 2019

Dot Cottage or Something

I told you I had a good firing, right? But I don't think I mentioned that in that good firing were the first pots of my new line!
UGH A LINE, right? Sounds so...production-y. I'm a studio potter! But I do produce things. I've got this idea that I can straddle the, er, line, and using a simplified design scheme, create a body of work in which the items are more or less reproduceable. Soda firing guarantees that each pot will be one of a kind, anyway. 




I haven't settled on a name for my new line...I'm thinking Dot Cottage, for the pattern & the color scheme, but am open to suggestions!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

3 Days in the Studio

Way back when this blog was new, I used to post almost every day, although the posts were not all particularly useful or profound. Sometimes I just typed out my to-do list.

This was before I knew anyone was reading - the internet can feel like shouting into a void, and that's not always bad! Like singing in the shower, writing without an audience is freeing in that it doesn't matter if your posts are good or not! To push through this inertia (which I am hoping is not the leading edge of depression!) I am going to post my to-do lists again for a while.

So, 3 days in the studio: yesterday, today, & tomorrow:

  • Yesterday: I had some deck clean-up to do before I could even get started. Half-full, rained-in plastic bins with sodden packing materials, pots that have been sitting out for weeks gathering just general outdoor dirt - it doesn't seem like that should have taken hours, but it did. I also selected some pots for the Portland Pottery Café, priced & packed those & typed up an invoice. 
  • Today: I have even more grinding, sorting, pricing & packing to do. I have a few pots to bring to Monkitree - got some really great butter dishes out of this kiln. After that (if it doesn't take all day, which it probably will) I need to clean up the winter studio - during the months of disuse, somehow it becomes even less tidy than when I am in there working? Stuff kind of piles up in there. It's time to bring the wheel back inside & start the next making cycle, so I need to clear myself some space. 
  • Tomorrow: Assuming I get all that stuff done (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA as if) and further assuming the weather is decent as predicted, I might just go for a hike! I've actually never been to Cadillac Mountain, and October is a fine time to hike - not too hot & the crowds have gone home. 
There's lots more I could be doing - photographing pots! posting items to the online shop! replenishing low glazes! - but overwhelming myself with tasks seems, lately at least, to be a recipe for none of them getting done. I've got some household stuff to do, too, so if I can complete this list + that one, I will pat myself on the back and allow myself to be happy. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How's your October? I've got a new Mug!

I've had sort of a bumpy fall, for no good reason - just have been in a holding pattern for a few weeks now, able to make myself do the tasks necessary to keep the lights on & the pets fed but not much more than that. You may have noticed the dearth of posts! Recently I've been overwhelmed trying to do even stuff like respond to emails or [shudder] phone calls. Could be upset over events in the national arena, could be the leading edge of a depressive episode - I'm not sure. Depression is something I struggle with periodically, as regular readers know.

I received a little boost on Tuesday, though, when I unloaded a really great firing! While soda usually generates more seconds than your standard stoneware firing, only two out of maybe 60 pots were unacceptable from this firing. I was pleased by the even-but-not-too-even soda distribution - just uneven enough to create a handsome directional effect, just a little silver kiss, on most of the ware.

We (that's the royal "we!") have a little tradition here at Fine Mess Pottery: we (snicker! 😉) choose one mug from the lot, and use it for a few weeks, until the next firing, after which we wash it well & stick a price tag on it! I find it helps me identify the functional strengths & weaknesses on my work...and it's fun. If you ever start making pots that you are not drawn to use, change it up. You aren't making good pots.

Sometimes it only takes a little boost to break a down spiral. Here's hoping! I am pedaling my FitDesk right now (exercise has been shown to be helpful in staving off depression!), using my temporary new mug, and planning my day.

Hope your October is going well.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Pots by the Pound, Saturday October 5

Maine Craft Weekend is coming up, October 5 & 6th! Here at FIne Mess Pottery I am celebrating with my annual Pots by the Pound Sale.

Because I now teach 6 classes, I have what might be a literal ton of demo pots. And that's only the ones that I fire! I do a lot of demos, usually planning at least 2 per class, plus demos by request. Some just get wedged up, but many go through the whole process (there are a lot of glazing techniques to demo also!) In addition, every firing produces a few pots that are just not quite up to snuff. You know the story: soda blobs, tiny cracks in a rim, pasty color. I wouldn't sell any pot that's functionally compromised, but lots of things that make a pot not-great don't affect function at all. The demos, of course, may not even have flaws, they just aren't a fit with my body of work.
All that is to say, I have a lot of pots to shift! Here's how Pots by the Pound works:
  • Each pot will have a colored sticker, coding a price per pound: red for $1 a pound, blue for $2 a pound, yellow for $5 a pound, green for FREE! (Yes, there will be a few free ones.)
  • Customers make their choices, then we weigh all the same-color-code pots together. Weight is rounded up to nearest pound.
  • Price is determined by multiplying the weight of the group of pots by the price code of their sticker. So, if your pile of blue-sticker pots is 3.5 pounds, that rounds up to 4; 4 x $2 is $8. 
This event has been a great lot of fun in previous years, both for me & for shoppers. I hope my local peeps will stop by. Early October is a great time for a road trip in Maine.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Always More to Learn

Amaco Velvet underglaze on Waxy White Glaze (recipe below), on Laguna's 900 claybody
Students are like those fabled bumblebees that didn't know they couldn't fly; sometimes they don't know they can't do a thing, so they go ahead & do it, and we all learn something! That happened in one of my classes last week.

If she had asked me, I would have told Jesse not to do it; putting underglaze on top of glaze, I would have predicted, would have crusty, unpleasant results. And I would have been so wrong! She did it, and - surprise! - the underglaze maintained its brilliant, right-out-of-the-jar colors, but took the waxy sheen of the glaze. Not all of them - blue turned watercolor-y and periwinkle, the black & brown were...not great - but the hot colors were amazing. Red & orange & yellow like I've never seen in reduction.
So I tried it, with the few underglazes I had lying around, and had the same results! All of the underglazes used were Amaco's Velvet series; I applied mine in 3 coats. (Jesse didn't know exactly but she said "thick." I used Flame Orange, Radiant Red, and Royal Blue. As you can see, the Royal Blue turned more of a watercolor-y periwinkle; the others are right-out-of-the-jar hues.
Amaco's velvet underglaze on Waxy White Glaze
on Laugna's 570 porcelain

We only tried one glaze (so far!), and that is this one:

Waxy White (not sure the origin, but I got it at Portland Pottery)
^10 reduction

4100 Custer Spar
1200 Gerstley Borate
700 Dolomite
1500 Talc
500 EPK
2000 Silica

Monday, September 2, 2019

Home Improvement

As anyone who lives in an old house knows, they always need something. Some needs are immediate: leaky roof! Furnace quit! Others wait until you have the time & money, or else the luck, to make it happen.

So it is with studio outbuildings. I have a weakness for old things, in the process of enacting the 2nd law of thermodynamics; it's hard for me to feel creative in a new, perfect space. Someone once said of the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, its own studio located in an old chicken barn: "It's conceptually impossible to mess it up." Which somehow (at Watershed, at least) makes it feel conceptually impossible to mess up. You can't make a mistake! You can only have a learning experience.

But I digress! What I wanted to tell you was, a combination of luck & time came together to provide for me a new door on my summer studio! The old one was a solid interior door Doug found in our cellar (repository of many unexpected things.) After 10 years the elements, alas, had had their way with it and it was falling apart.

In June I found an old mullion-window door at a yard sale for $5. Now, I have a few yard-sale weaknesses: small kitchen appliances are top of the list (NO LORI YOU DON'T NEED A SINGLE-HOT-DOG STEAMER) but old doors and windows call to me also. I mostly manage to resist, but this one was too perfect. The mullion panes and the very low price decided me.

Unfortunately for me there are many more things to consider when choosing a door than price! (And windows.) This door was too tall & a little too wide for any of the potential places I could use it, and the hinges were on the wrong side. Luckily we own a circular saw, and several screwdrivers! After making the necessary changes, I have a new studio door that lets in light, and allows me to see out even when its too chilly to prop it open. From the outside it lends the studio a beckoning cosiness: "Come in, Lori, make beautiful things, leave the turmoil of the world outside..."

In fact, I think I hear it right now! I've got butter dishes to finish and jaunty jars to begin.

Happy Labor Day, all! May all your labors be happy ones. And all your days.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Pottery Stairs Are Out!

Come by, local peeps, and grab your bargains!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tis the Season: Raku!

It was raku week at Portland Pottery, at least in my classes. I'd actually been planning these firings for a few weeks, but I always build in time for unexpected obstacles: in this case, the bisque schedule, some brutally hot weather (Al Gore was right!), and my own Lyme Disease diagnosis - more on that later.

Here's our Instagrammable moment:

Many thanks to students for great camera work:
It begins.
Got my good side!
Ooo fire!
Almost done!
The process is fun and exciting, and I try to do it with each class during the warm months, because in a communal studio like Portland Pottery, students get very little experience of firing. There are racks where they place their work to be fired...then the pots go away for a while...then [something happens, who knows what]...and the pots come back changed. I'm exaggerating a little - I talk to my students a lot about firing (too much, some might say!) and when the kiln is firing I bring them in to look into the spy hole. It's not the same as loading, keeping an eye on the firing, and unloading, though. Raku allows student to participate in each step, and to be responsible for the outcome.

Speaking of, we got some great outcomes:
Terra sigillata & horsehair




Portland Pottery (and your so very truly) will be offering a raku workshop Saturday, September 14th! Bring 4-5 bisqued pots of an appropriate claybody, and wear long pants, closed-toed shoes, and cotton clothing.
You can use a claybody that's specific for raku, or any groggy stoneware will usually be fine. High grolleg porcelain performs surprisingly well also! To register call (207) 772-4334.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

C is for Slab Building

I have some students who are exclusively slab builders, so I have been searching recently for new techniques to show them. Found this one described online, do I decided to give it a try.

It starts with a rolled slab, about 3/8s of an inch. I find a very common mistake among students is to roll their slabs too thin! In addition to being much harder to build with, an overly-thin slab results in a flimsy pot that chips easily and, to my mind, feels cheap. I can think of reasons why you would make a thinner pot - sometimes you can use daintiness in an aesthetic way, for special-occasion pots, in which the very fragility of the piece proclaims the specialness of the occasion, or makes clear that this is a decorative, not utilitarian, piece. But if you mean to use it regularly, give it a little substance!

But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes, the slab. Once rolled and thoroughly compressed, cut two concentric circles. This will create a ring of clay, one circle being the outer diameter and the other the inner. The difference between the larger and the small of the two will be the height of the walls. The greater the difference, the harder this will be to build. To minimize any such difficulties, you want tgive this slab a little while to firm up. How long depends on the air conditions; 15 minutes is a good starting point but on the humid day I built mine that was not nearly enough. Building on a drywall board is helpful, too, as it allows the slab to dry from both directions.

Save the circle bit from the middle! It will become the bottom.

Now we're going to cut a wedge out of the ring, which will make a "C" shape. The wider the wedge, the more vertical the sides will be; a shallower bowl will be harder to build and may need to rest in or on a mold.
Like this one! This bowl is not especially shallow, but I lost
patience waiting for my slab to dry in our humidity. 

I found a wedge of at least a quarter of the ring made a good, useful shape.



Now we're going to bend the slab so that the edges overlap. There will be an opening in the middle.

Scoring & adding clay slurry (or magic water, or vinegar, or whatever your attachment preference) is going to be key in holding the seam together.

Now for the bottom. The circular bit that was cut out at the beginning is a little bit drier now, let's use that.

Optional, of course, but I like to put a texture on it.


This textured circle becomes the bottom - TWIST! - from the inside. Score, slip, etc, then:

There is, of course, a lot of smoothing, paddling, and other futzing - especially on the bottom! - to make it look nice. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hi Google, Fix Please!

A few folks have contacted me to let me know that some older posts here redirect to some widget-server thingy. I just noticed it myself, yesterday, and I have no idea why it's happening or how to undo it. I'm told it's something to do with the html, a long-forgotten widget I installed maybe, but since I can't get to the post, I can't edit out the widget, or even verify that there is one. 😕

I have contacted Google to see if they can help, but in the meantime, I have to beg your forbearance. Older posts will (probably!) eventually be available again, but it might be a slow process of finding the individual dead links, tracing another path to the post, and editing the html of individual posts to remove the offending code.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Few Stems

My perennial garden is a source of recurring joy for me. Crocuses popping in March remind me that the drear Maine winter will, eventually, end; watching for the late-spring splashes of color gets me through April & May. June is a riotous festival of blooms, as peonies with their big showy heads blossom in tandem with irises, lady's mantle, yarrow, and wild asters.

It's true that whichever one is happening at the time is my favorite, but I do take a particular joy in the blooms of July, the month of radial symmetry" daisies, brown-eyed susans, echinachea. Just a few cheery stems brighten a room.

I made some little vases with this bloom-season in mind:

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Click here to purchase!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

An Urn for Traveller

I never take custom orders. I find them very stressful, and as a result put off starting the project until it looms over my head longer than it would have taken to make it. I usually make 3 or 4 or whatever it is, to increase the chances of success, so it takes 3 or 4 times the resources - materials, time, fuel - that it would take to make a similar piece spontaneously. I am left with a couple of oddball pieces that don't fit my usual body of work, and nothing to do with them except maybe sell them as seconds.

Also, they aren't fun.

I did make an exception to this rule, though, for a friend who wanted an urn for a dog who had passed. He wasn't her dog; he belonged to a friend of hers. I had met Traveler, though, and it is no secret that I have a soft spot for animals.

I agreed to this custom order for a couple of reasons. Barbara is a friend - I 100% would not do this for a stranger or a slight acquaintance. She used to own The Artisan's Barn, a craft gallery in Readfield, and carried my work for several years before she retired, so she is well familiar with the concept of handmade variation; and she was willing to let me make ALL the design decisions - color, shape, handle, all the details. My mission was just "make a nice urn" that would fit the cremains of a 110 pound dog.

I did a bit of math to determine the size: with pet cremains, figure one cubic inch per pound of living weight. The volume of a cylinder is
π
r
2 x h
[Pi (3.14 etc)] x [the measurement of the radius, squared (multiplied by itself)] x the height
For ceramics we need to figure in shrinkage; I usually multiply by 1.15 to accommodate 15% shrinkage. 

Even so, I made three. One was too small; one was, idk, it was fine but I didn't love it. One was, to quote Goldilocks, just right.

I think of Traveler, sweet boy, and feel glad that I can honor his life in this small way.