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: info@finemesspottery.com . 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!

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:

L
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: 

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

Studio:


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.
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