Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Beautiful Balloon Basket

Woven clay baskets present some challenges. Because there's a lot of air space, they obviously don't hold up well without support, at least until late leatherhard. Building within a mold is one solution, but gravity works against you: the horizontals stick to the verticals and complicate matters. You can build over a plaster or clay hump mold but then there is a very narrow window between "dry enough to stand on its own" and "oops, shrank too much and cracked around the mold."

Answer? Balloon molds! Balloons come in many shapes and sizes. The great advantage of them is that they are compressable, to accommodate the shrinkage of the clay, and they naturally shrink over time as they lose air. You can leave your clay basket over the mold all the way to bone-dry if you wish. Here's my demo from class:

Like a lot of my demos, I didn't spend a lot of time on spiffying up the details of this pot; mostly I wanted to offer the technique to my students. I used flattened coils, but you could extrude straps if you prefer a more consistent look. It begins with draping the verticals over the balloon. I use short-ish coils, and attached them at the "top" - really the bottom - but you could use longer straps and have them hang down on either side. 

Then I wove the horizontal pieces over and under the verticals. This is much easier than when you are building inside a mold, because you can get the vertical coil entirely out of the way, and put the horizontal piece exactly where you want it. The rubber of the balloon is just tacky enough to hold the coil in place until you put the vertical piece back down. I score and slurry at each contact point (Thanks, Captain Obvious!)

When I have all the cross-pieces laid down, I fold the remaining length of vertical strap over the last horizontal piece.
Last, I attach a flattened coil to be the foot. A thing I did not do, that you should: level this piece while it is still on the balloon! Place a bat or light board on the coil once it is leatherhard, and a level on top of that; shave away clay as needed to balance the bubble.
(Mudtools makes a great tool for doing the shaving. Love this tool!)

 And violet! Or something.Programming note: If you look to the right-hand column near the top, you'll see something new to this blog: a tip jar! I've been blogging less, and in particular have been doing fewer of the labor-intensive tutorial posts, in part because of some business advice that I got: to spend more time on the aspects of my business that generate actual income. (This was good advice! Not to be all TMI [j/k obviously, TMI is pretty much what I do here!] but there is now a comma in the balance of my savings account) I do enjoy sharing techniques and ideas, though, so will continue to do so as time allows. I know most of my readers are potters and clay students, so I completely understand not having a lot of disposable income! But if you find a particular post very helpful, or there's one that you keep coming back to as a reference and wish to show your appreciation, well, the tip jar is there if you need it! One dollar is a customary tip, so we aren't talkin' big bucks. Just click on the image of the jar, it will take you to a Paypal link. Bless you from the bottom of my muddy little heart!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Misty Water-Colored Memories

This photo recently appeared in my Facebook feed. It's my graduate school cohort, in 1992 (I think?), at the Wagner Complex, which was where the art department of SIUE was housed back then.Wagner is where my passion for clay really took root. That's me, in the middle, in the light-colored dress.

So many faces, so many old friends! Some I am still in touch with, some I had forgotten, one who died tragically young. It was an intense time! A community of artists, engaged every day in the practice of clay...The way I remember it, we were utterly immersed. We ate,drank, and slept clay. It was magic.

I've never done anything quite like it since then. Now I am daydreaming of a Watershed-session reunion of this group.
Good times.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Done List

I'm a big list maker. Without them I sort of flail around, starting things and then getting distracted. I keep my lists on paper - going to my phone or computer to check a list just gives me another opportunity to get distracted. Usually, I have one to-do list, divided into sections reflecting current goals and priorities. Today, for example, looked like this:

A reasonably doable and balanced to-do list, right? Here's how my done list reads: 

  • Dishes
  • Change bedding 
  • 2 loads laundry
  • Make soup
  • Unclog bathroom sink
  • Clean litterboxes
  • Pay CC1
  • Check balances


Notice anything out of balance? Yeah, me too. Now granted, it's only 10:30 in the morning; plenty of time to get some studio & fitness items in. The point is that I tend to prioritize home tasks over fitness or studio goals. The financial stuff gets done, too, because there are immediate consequences for not doing so, but, ya know, there are no immediate consequences of putting off changing the bedding a few more days. On the other hand I've put that particular task of several times now, and some day has to be the day I do it. None of the items on the "Home" list are busy work; they all needed to be done. It does kind of point up, though, why I never seem to have enough studio time, or workout time for that matter: I put everything else first. I don't think today is an anomaly; quite the opposite. 

The Done List was a very useful exercise for me! I have to be mindful to prioritize my priorities, or, put more simply, put first things first. 

I can now add "Blog Post" to my Done List! Now to off to the studio, to even things out a bit. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Location: Stable on Front, Bath, Maine

In keeping with my goal to add a new account every shopping season, Fine Mess Pottery will now have work at Stable on Front, a fine craft store in Bath, Maine.

SOF is owned by an artist, Caroline Davis, and her background informs the mix of work on display. She carries two other ceramicists, Liz Proffetty and Tyler Gulden, both fine potters and good friends of mine.

I feel so good about Caroline, the aesthetic of the store, and the company I'd be keeping, that  I broke a couple of my rules: first, I agreed to do consignment. I don't rule consignment out entirely, but I much prefer wholesale, for practical reasons - a check in hand - and squishier ones: I think the store is works harder to sell pieces if they are literally invested in them. It's a reflection of how much they believe in the work.

This store is also relatively new. I've had relatively new stores go an entire seasons without sending me a check; I've  had stores have no idea what they actually sold until I came in to check. I've had stores vanish with my pots. These are all reasons I avoid new stores. But Caroline has been involved with retail through the Stable Gallery in Damariscotta, of which this is an offshoot; she is not what you'd call a flight risk. Also, Bath is only a half hour from me, I can easily stop in the bring new inventory or just to see how things are going.
It's spring, time once again for list-making and goal-setting! Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

And The Winner Is...

The 2016 Maine Pottery Tour is officially at an end.

We had great weather: warm & sunny Saturday, cooler but dry Sunday - the predicted rain held off until this very minute. I had more visitors than last year, but about the same in sales (EDIT: After I counted it all up, it was actually a bit more, about 25% more.) I sold a lot of studio seconds & bargain pots. I am quite content to sell those pots instead of "firsts" - I have other places I can sell the firsts, but the seconds I only sell out of the studio. (Well: Portland Pottery does hold a sidewalk sale event year, and I put a few second-pots in that.)

I also made a contact for a possible workshop, got the name Fine Mess Pottery out to hundreds if not thousands of people, and made some new friends. And - I shit you not - somebody actually did hop on a plane to visit!
Patty & me
Patty Magdziarz of Paradise Bay Pottery came from Arlington Heights, Illinois, to visit several studios on the tour. We should have had a prize for furthest-travelled! Thanks, Patty, for making the trip.

One of the potters on the tour - Cathie Cantara of Homeport Pottery in Kennebunkport had a piece featured in today's's Boston Globe! We don't know for sure how they found her, but I did just send information about the potters on the tour - inlcuding links to out websites - to several lifestyle reporters for the Globe. Maybe it did some good!

And last but not least, the winner of the soda-fired stoneware casserole: Heather Abt, of Portland! Heather was the very first visitor I had Saturday morning, right at 10 am, which set the tone for a successful event! Thanks, Heather, for visiting, and I will deliver your prize next week!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Loose Stack, Good Stack!

I decided to wait unloading the kiln until tomorrow morning, so I could do it as a Pottery Tour event, but I couldn't wait that long to take a peek; so peek I did. Looks good! Specifically, the soda vapor looks unusually evenly distributed.

You might remember that this load was stacked loosely, because I didn't have enough pots to stack it tightly. I also was taking the opportunity to test the theory that a loose stack might give me better soda distribution. It kind of looked like that is correct, so I posted it to the Soda & Salt Fire facebook group, and lo, turns out everybody, or almost everybody, already knew that! Well, that's me, always the last to know.

I'm kind of excited about this information, because it means that I can fire more often. I always feel guilty firing when the kiln is not packed solid, because I thought I was wasting propane heating up empty air. But it's not a waste if it gives me better pots.

So, hey, learning experience - in a good way, for a change!

If you are local to me, or want to hop a jet for Augusta, ME (we do have an airport) come visit me for the Pottery Tour tomorrow. I'll be unloading the kiln early, because I can hardly wait to see the rest!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two Days!

Two days until the pottery tour on Saturday! As usual I have a crazy lot to do, too much, actually, to get done. And my lawnmower broke. Repeating to myself: It'll be fine. This is not a crisis. I don't have Ebola, I'm not in Syria: those are crises. This is not. 

Messy lawn, whatevs.

I fired the kiln yesterday, in spite of a couple of hilarious (well, sort of)  mistakes I made in loading, due to being in a rush. I forgot to put one of the cone packs in, so I was flying blind on one side...and on the side that did have cones, I had all of the cones facing the same direction! Duh. That wasn't too big a deal, once I realized what had happened...I just had to keep moving my head from side to side while looking in the spy, so I could see which cone was which.

Thinking I may have to build one more layer on to the stack? It is the same height it was before the rebuild but doesn't fire quite the same. Yesterday it struggled to reach temperature, took 14 hours when it should have been done in less than 12. I know that weather can affect the firing as well, and it was a bright, high-pressure day, but it seems like I had this problem last time, too, and I was firing in the rain.

Some potters keep kiln logs, for this very reason. Maybe I should do that! HAHAHAA! J/k, not gonna happen. Sometimes you just gotta accept that you are who you are, and deal with the consequences of that.

Anyway, it's all good. In two days I will be wondering what I was all lathered up about.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tight Schedule, Loose Firing

Trying to squeeze out a firing before the Maine Pottery Tour, with not quite enough time and not quite enough pots means a loose stack and a tight schedule.

I got the kiln loaded last night, but today and tomorrow are taken up with classes. When I get home late Tuesday night, I will brick up the door and light the burners. Wednesday I will fire it off, and then late Friday, I will unload. Or...

I debated (am still debating) doing the unloading as a pottery tour event. It's a chance for visitors to see that exciting moment of the great reveal - kind of a natural for the tour, actually. But I don't have a lot of inventory - my constant problem - so Day 1 would start out a little thin. The opening could be right away Saturday morning, but pots are never ready to go right out of the kiln, they need spiffying up; mostly they need the bottoms sanded.

And then there's the chance that the firing will not be good. The kiln has been a little weird since I rebuilt the stack, so there is that possibility. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but it could be embarrassing.

One good thing: this is a chance to test a theory that I have, that tight stacking might interfere with the flow of vapor through the kiln, resulting in dry areas.Will let you know how that turns out.

I keep reminding myself: either way it will be fine. Things usually are, even things that I get all wound up about.

Even when things go wrong, they are usually fine.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pottery Tour Giveaway

Trying a new incentive to bring visitors for the Maine Pottery Tour: all guests at my studio can enter to win this soda-fired lidded casserole dish. I'll have entry slip for people to fill out (suddenly realized: I can add them to my mailing list as well!! Oh wait, I guess that's obvious) and do the drawing Sunday at 3 pm, an hour before closing.

The Pottery Tour, if you don't already know, if April 30 - May 1 this year. We have 35 participating studios. If you'd like to download a map to plan your pottery road trip, you can do that here.

I'll be open 10- 5 on Saturday, 11- 4 on Sunday during the tour.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

EZ Up Bait & Switch: A Mini Rant



Do you see a "free shipping" option there? No, neither do I. I wasn't a math major but pretty sure all those numbers are higher than zero. Those are the only shipping options on the page.

I'm kind of irritated right this second, because I'm trying to purchase an EZ-Up canopy, and the website offers free shipping on all orders over $99. My order is well over $99! But when you get to the checkout page, it's like they forgot they ever mentioned free shipping. What the hell?

If they really had never mentioned free shipping, I probably would just wince and pay it. But as it is, I feel tricked, and I balked. I called, but no one's home on the weekends.

Come on, EZ Up, this is bullshit. If you advertise free shipping, you have to actually make free shipping available. Get your act together.

ETA: Screw it, I just went & bought one on Amazon. It's not my favorite place to shop, but when Amazon says the shipping is free, the shipping is by-God free. The tent - same model, new- was also, cheaper by $18.

Friday, April 8, 2016

2016 Maine Pottery Tour

Three weeks, less a bit, until the 2016 Maine Pottery Tour! This year it's a bit early - April 30 - May 1 - to avoid  conflict with Mother's Day weekend. I was actually fine with Mother's Day weekend, but then I am not a mother. My Mom is, though, and she has Opinions. Also, many of the potters on the tour are either moms or dads who like to keep Mother's Day for family. Cool, I get it; the week before it is!

This is either the fifth or the sixth year, depending on how you count, that I have been organizing the tour. We have 35 studios this year. To see an interactive map of the pottery tour, click here.

Check out the Facebook page to see peeks of what's on offer on the tour this year.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Tidbits

Often, when you attend a workshop or lecture, the best thing you learn is not necessarily the topic of the presentation. I call these little gems "tidbits," and I learned a great one at NCECA.

I was watching George Rodriguez in the Process Room - George makes these sculptural pieces that are just encrusted with springs. He said he preferred having the sprigs already made so he could work more immediately, instead of having to make a sprig, put it on, make another, put it on, and so on.

I like to work with sprigs, too, and I also find the making of the somewhat disruptive to my creative process - but they are tiny, and dry out quickly. Wrapping them in a bunch of plastic would work but it's sort of clumsy to dig into the wrap to use them.

So, here's the great idea that possibly everyone else has already thought of: a damp box! Not a giant cabinet lined with thick plastic, just a little rubbermaid container from the grocery store with a couple inches of plaster poured into the bottle. The plaster holds water but keeps it away from the pieces, the plastic prevents the moisture from escaping, so you get a perfect little humid environment. George said he has kept pieces for weeks in his damp box.

I made myself one, though I have yet to use it. It occurred to me while I was making that this would be even better for my students. My studio is at home, so timing is not a problem for me; but they only have a few hours a week in which to work. (Yes, they can come in during open studio hours, but most of them have other pesky obligations like work and families) It often happens that they will pull six handles, but only have time to attach four before 9 pm rolls around. Damp box to the rescue! Those last two handles will now keep until next week's class.

Here's mine. Just needs a cup of water, and it's ready to be of service!

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