Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Signs of Spring

HAHAHA, j/k. More like, a suggestion that winter might conceivably not last forever: we've already scheduled the first raku workshop of the season. It's happening Saturday, June 3rd.

Participants should bring 5-8 mid sized pieces - please no ginormous items, or beads or buttons, or anything else so tiny I can't get ahold of it with tongs! Ware should be of a claybody with a little grog in it, or else a high grolleg porcelain; ask when you register if you aren't sure your claybody is appropriate for raku. Items should be bisqued between ^08-05. (Too high and they aren't going to get the deep carbon black on the unglazed areas that is characteristic of American raku.) Students should wear long pants, cotton clothing, and closed toed shoes.

My classes will begin rakuing much earlier, of course - possibly as early as April. But if you aren't one of my students, and you'd like to try raku, or you've already tried it & can hardly wait to fire it up again, you can register now at Portland Pottery, 207-772-4334.

Monday, January 16, 2017

15 Mugs, Plus a Few

It's early, but not too early, to be preparing for Mug Season. This, you may recall, is an April fundraiser by the Central Maine Clay Artists group, my muddy buddies. Coffee shops around central Maine carry our mugs for sale (at the low, low price of $18) and offer a free cup of coffee to patrons who purchase them. Half of the price reimburses the artists, and half goes to support local arts education programs.

Because it is such a low, low price, I use this event to indulge my rare impulse to make simpler mugs*, with little or no stamping or slip trailing or sprigs; few curliques or geegaws of any kind. It's good and refreshing and but spurs me on to even more elaborate geegaws when I have finished.

Speaking of curliques and geegaws, have you seen my stairs? I may or may not be finished with that project, but either way lived up to my mantra: Why do when you can overdo?

On a gloomier note, as of yesterday, a new item has been added to my weekly to-do list: a job search. Right this second I am not super intense about it, but I need to get an idea what's out there, because it seems Congress and the incoming administration are moving forward with their plan to strip self-employed people of our health insurance. I'd be less worried about this if they had any plan at all to replace it, but so far all they've offered is Health Savings Accounts, which is just saving your own money to pay your medical bills. When my father had cancer, his bills would have been well over a million dollars, except that he had insurance. HSAs are tax-free, so they'll be super helpful for the sort of person who has hundreds of thousands of dollars to put away for a rainy day. I don't know about you guys but I was thrilled when my savings reached one thousand, striving as hard as I could. So an HSA is not gonna be much help to me. An office gig might be in my future.

I feel sort of guilty about this, because it seems like, if it comes to it, I'll be taking someone else's job - maybe someone who doesn't have the skills to create their own job, like I do. I hate that: in order for me to be okay, I might have to push someone else down. But I'm not sure what else to do. Don't know if God listens to doubting heathens but I'm praying just in case, that someone in charge gets ahold of some wisdom.

A bit of wisdom never comes amiss.

Ugh, didn't mean to be a downer (thinking of changing the name of the blog to Lori's Pottery & Depression!) For today the sun is shining, I'm at my wheel, it's a good world where good things can still happen.

*Batteries are dead in my camera - will post photos later, after the mugs get handles.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Finally Finished!

I am just about breaking my arm patting myself on the back today for FINALLY getting the last course of brick on the stack. I stopped 2 courses short when I rebuilt last year, because previously the kiln drew a little too hard; but the new version drew not enough. Or sometimes didn't; some firings I had with the shorter stack were perfect, but two others were...well, let's say less perfect. I knew since the last firing, in December, that it had to be done - I couldn't keep rolling the dice. (Rolling the dice is a bad business plan. Write that down.) I was just waiting for enough of the snow & ice to melt away so it wouldn't be a suicide mission.

I'm a little nervous of heights. Not phobic, but maybe a little more cautious than your average person. Doug, on the other hand, spent his high school and college years doing tree work with his father, and has no natural fear of heights. He would have gladly stacked that last layer for me, but his lack of caution makes it even more stressful to see him just casually clamber around up there just like he's on the ground, than it is to just do it myself. He did come out and hold the ladder for me; I also felt like, if I fell, I wanted someone right handy to call 911.

I got lucky, and acquired the brick for free: Portland Pottery is rebuilding the bag walls in their large gas kiln. The brick were a little rough but perfectly adequate for my needs. On a related note, I am having an urge do grab some of those broken brick and collage all over them. They'd make good bookends, maybe. There's something so wonderful (in my imagination, at least) about the coarse broken edges and the decoupaged floral images.

But! One project at a time. Or, well: maybe two. Or three. Definitely no more than four.😀

Maybe I'll finish the staircase today, load tomorrow, and fire Sunday.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Flexible Flyer Platter Molds

While visiting my friend, Malley Weber, at her new teaching studio, I saw the greatest idea! Check this out:
That's plaster, in a Flexible Flyer! What a great way to make a large platter mold. Alternatively, if you aren't into plaster in the studio, you could use the Flyer itself, with some cooking spray or a length of fabric, as a slump mold.

As it turns out, this form will be used to make wall pieces for an upcoming show at the Harlow Gallery - practically right across the street from Malley's new space. Which, BTW, is an absolutely fabulous studio. This is me right now:


Students glazing
Check it out:

If you are looking for pottery classes in the Augusta/ Hallowell area, Hallowell Clayworks is the place to be. Click here for more info, or check out the Facebook page.

In the meantime, Flexible Flyers are easy to find this time of year! Time to start cranking our some slab-built platters. (Building that large, remember to obsessively compress! Sorry, it's automatic, couldn't stop myself.)
Malley, mixing glazes

Hanging the sign

The fabulous space!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Busy Bees

The New Year is in full swing now: classes have begun at Portland Pottery! See all the busy bees in my Monday night beginners' group.

The session that begins in January is usually the slowest of the year, but not this year. My classes are all full, with the exception of a couple of slots on Tuesday afternoon. Looking forward to a full, fun, creative year sharing my passion.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Okay, So...About Those Resolutions

I had a weird 2016. Well: we all did. But my personal 2016 was a weirdly passive year for me. I found it hard to get into the studio, to make soap, to write this blog, to do anything creative, really. The push to be ready for my presentation at NCECA got me through March and then...I... dragged. My production slowed to a crawl, and I was not even firing every two months. When it became clear I was not going to be able to will myself out of it, I took on more classes, because even when I am willing to let myself down, I rarely fail to meet obligations I have made. It seemed a better choice than just re-reading old books and worrying.

I made enough to fill orders, and to keep my consignment locations full, but my website has read "Out of Stock" for months now, and I haven't been refreshing the inventory in stores.

I didn't have a word for this feeling until recently, when I was poking around pottery blogs, and found a series fellow artist Whitney Smith had done on burnout. It all sounded very familiar. I had just been pushing so hard for so long in so many different directions, and feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere. It was all too much. Or not enough. Everything seemed like too much effort for too little reward. The need to make dried up.

What a sentence! What a scary feeling, for an artist. I couldn't help but wonder: what if it doesn't come back?

Just lately, maybe in the last two weeks, the feeling has started to lift. I was able to start the stair project, which would have required an unthinkable degree of initiative in October. I have a bunch of refires that I need to clear from the studio, so I haven't been doing much throwing, but I do feel the desire to do so returning. And you may have noticed that I am blogging more.

Usually when I make resolutions, they are about working more, trying harder, doing better. See where that got me! The burnout period was scary enough that this year I want to take steps to prevent it happening again. So this year my resolutions are about self-care:

  • Give myself permission to enjoy my downtime. My pattern has been to feel guilty whenever I am not doing something productive, so my head never really gets downtime. Making is not a moral imperative. It's not wrong to relax. 
  • Budget for enjoyable things. The last few years I have been focusing hard on paying down credit card debt. I'm proud of the progress I've made, but I made it by basically sending every spare penny to my credit cards. No money to grab a burger at our local pub, no money for new clothes, no money for home improvement projects that aren't absolutely necessary. You can see how this can lead to the feeling that work is pointless! While it is satisfying to see those credit card balances shrink, it's a pretty deep hole I am trying to fill, and I need to enjoy the fruits of my labor, too.  
  • Limit my consumption of news and social media. This is a big one: while I believe we as citizens have a duty to stay informed, I don't need to know every foolish thing that a foolish person tweets. I find it's best to stick to the more staid information sources, those with a long history of accurate reporting: NPR, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Washington Post, the New York Times. I am no good to anyone stuck in  a cycle of outrage and despair. 
  • Quit worrying so much if my efforts are good enough. One of the reasons I have not blogged as much is, as I started to gain a greater readership, I started to self-censor. That's boring. That's self-absorbed. That's too much like something I did a few years ago. It was almost like stage fright. But the heck with it - people don't have to read it, If it gets boring, they'll just skip it. And I won't even know, because I will have turned off my stat counter! Ditto my class lessons: I make Herculean efforts to make he lessons interesting, but sometimes they are going to fall flat anyway, and that's okay. Not everything has to be fabulous. Sometimes good enough is good enough. 
I will, of course, need to set business goals in order to right the ship. It's on the list, but first I need to right my head.

Meet the New Year...

The Week of Reflection this year (or, wait: last year) took the form of elbow grease, as I labored to transform my front hall stairs from ugly to fabulous. I'm going to take a moment to reflect now, but only a moment, because the fun part of the stair project begins today: putting on the final colors.

I join the rest of the world in rejoicing that the shitshow that was 2016 is over, but let's not kid ourselves: in the public sphere, at least, 2017 will be all about managing the aftermath. We will have a president who refuses to believe US intelligence agencies when he doesn't like what they have to say; we will still be the country where literal Nazis, giving, literally, Nazi salutes, held a convention at the Ronald Wilson Reagan Federal building. (Whatever you - or I - may have thought of Reagan as president, he was a patriot, and no Nazi.) Swastikas painted on synagogues, children being taunted in school for Hispanic ancestry. The world has gone mad, our nation is bitterly cleft, and the ugliness of humanity has been empowered.

But what's a potter to do? I am living my life on parallel tracks: on the one hand, I feel like our American democracy is at peril, a fear which demands my attention and action....on the other hand, the cats still need to be fed, the kiln shelves still need to be scraped, those mugs will need handles before they get too dry. Everything has changed, and nothing.

So, I live. I mix glazes, scoop litterboxes, I tend my garden. (Figuratively, of course: it's January, in Maine. The garden is one thing that does not need tending.) In between I call my senators, and volunteer for organizations that may protect those who will be hit harder by the coming storm than I will. And I hope that in passions outside of the public sphere - like, say, clay - we can find common ground.

I do have New Year's Resolutions, because I love New Year's Resolutions! But my staircase is calling, so these will have to wait. Until then, I found this lovely clip of music scientifically designed to release stress. Enjoy, and have a lovely New Year's Day.

Bless you all.


Monday, December 26, 2016

A Project for the New Year: House Numbers

Ugly, right? 
I've been meaning to make numerals for my address for a while. I still have the crappy hardware store numbers that came with the house when I bought it. There is no excuse for this, since this is such a quick and easy project! Finally, I am getting a round tuit, a thing I have been needing for a while.

Here's my slab, all rolled out. I like a rolling pin for this; I find it compresses better than either a slab roller or the toss & stretch method. (I am going to type variations on the word "compress" a tedious number of times, but it can't be said often enough: if you are making flat things, compression is key to avoid warping and cracking.) I roll on both sides, flipping often, in several different directions, because why? Congregation calls back: "COMPRESSION!"

Can I get a witness?

I especially like those big, heavy, solid maple rolling pins, but that is partly aesthetic. I love a good tool. But I digress. 

Once the slab is rolled to about 3/16ths of an inch, it's time for more compression! A flexible metal rib is best at this wet stage. Both sides, several directions. 
I used food coloring to paint out the numerals. 

Just for the pretty, I decided to texture my numbers with this roller I got from MKM tools. I make most of my own rollers, out of clay, but MKM has some nice ones. They are also just lovely little objects, so sometimes I can't resist. Again, beautiful tools make me happy. 

I place another bat on top of the slab while it is drying to a leather hard stage. My studio is quite cool overnight - low 50s - so it isn't necessary to cover it with plastic, but if yours is a more usual indoor temperature, you probably should drop a sheet of plastic loosely over top. The weight of the second bat, and the absorbency - do not use plastic bats for this! - will help prevent warping. 
If I need to turn the slab over, I do so by holding both bats like a sandwich and flipping the slab between the bats. 

Once the slab is early leatherhard, it's time to - you guessed it! - compress some more. Flip (using the bat-sandwich method) and compress the smooth side. A very bendy rubber rib is best at this point. I like those red gummy ones, I forget the manufacturer - Mudtools, maybe?
It's time to flip the bat sandwich again, then remove the top bat and cut the numbers.

Remove the slab from around the numerals, not the other way around. 

The edges will need extra attention - I run a fingertip over them to smooth and compress. Now: STEP AWAY FROM THE CLAY.

These will want to dry slowly with plastic loosely over top. 

Once they are firm enough that I can move them without bending them, but not yet brittle (a fairly narrow window, with thin items) I will want to make holes in them for the screws. I know, I know - thanks, Captain Obvious! - but I have been known to forget this step. 
I slide the numeral to the edge of the bat, so I can drill the hole while still allowing most of the piece to be supported. A drill bit makes the tidiest hole, but a fettling knife will work in a pinch. 

Now there's nothing left but the drying: again, slowly, lightly covered. On drywall, if possible; if not, a sheet of newspaper helps to wick away moisture from the underside, so the top doesn't dry faster and cause curling or warping. 

Now that these are in progress, I can't wait to replace the ugly old ones. It's a mystery to me why I waited so long to do this!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Getting on with the Business of WInter

I am known as something of a holiday curmudgeon. This is not an entirely unfair characterization: New Year's Eve is Everyone is Having Fun Except You Night; Valentine's is Prove You Love Me Day. Independence Day is loud, and the people who most need a day off usually have to work Labor Day. Thanksgiving is okay as long as there are no TVs nearby - parades and football bore the arse right off me. See what I mean? Curmudgeon, right?

So when I choose to be alone on Christmas Day, the assumption is more curmudgeonry. (I just made up that word. Do you like it?) Though it's true I don't like to participate in the cultural frenzy associated with Christmas, my solitude is not sulking. I take advantage of the day the world stops as a moment of quiet contemplation.

My contemplation may take a different form than most; work is my meditation. I do projects, ones I have been wanting to do at least all year. This year I have three in mind, though obviously will not get these all done in one day. Or even week. One is small, one is big, one is...only bigger, because it is more daunting.

  • Small: Ceramic numbers, for my house. This is easy, it just takes getting around to it. 
  • Bigger: Refinish my front hall stairs. This is a ton of work but nothing new to learn: I already know how to scrape and sand and paint. Every day for more than ten years I have looked at theses stairs wishing they looked better but despite my finest efforts of waiting them out and looking at staircases on Pinterest, they have refused to refinish themselves. 
    A start
  • Biggest: A mosaic for my entry hall. This is not a thing I have ever done before, although I have some ideas on how to approach it. The design I can handle; the ceramics are old hat; but the installation - that's where I will be challenged. 
Though all appears cold and dead, the real business of winter is renewal. It's time to be getting on with it. 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Happy Holidays from the House of Many Cats.

Comfort & joy, indeed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Today's To Dos

Happy Monday! It's going to be a busy day here at Fine Mess Pottery. I have an order due in January (bless them!) and a few other projects I've been meaning to get to. Though I still have gift shopping to do, the busiest part of December is done for me, so I start looking toward 2017.

 My list looks like this:

  1. Throw 30 small jars for order
  2. Roll out slab - making street numbers for my house!
  3. State capitol: get a start on saving the world
  4. Holiday shopping
  5. Call INFAB Refractories - do they have superduty firebrick I can pick up tomorrow?
  6. Call for oil - don't want to be caught without in this cold snap
  7. Check if slab is leatherhard - cut numbers
  8. Create template for email newsletter
What does your list look like today? 😊

Friday, December 16, 2016

Never Miss a Chance to Wear a Boa

The Portland Pottery Holiday Party was fabulous last night! As I said yesterday, I didn't have any pots, but I did have a top hat & a boa! Couldn't resist sharing the photo
- I may never be this clean again until next year's party.

The show is mostly pottery, but lots of other great items too. I got these marvelous hand puppets for my little nephews They were an amazing bargain at only $20 - look how much work went into them.

The show & sale is still up thru Sunday. If you are in Portland, you should check it out!
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