Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Glaze Challenge

People often ask if I offer classes. I teach, but not at my studio. I'm not set up for that, and more than that I am far, far too much of an introvert to feel comfortable with other people in my space on the regular. Just in the last year or two introversion has become fashionable, with entire articles written about how to interact with us, as if we were some rare species of  gnu that might shy away or bite if not handled properly. Or maybe an orchid, that would wither if exposed to too much personal interaction.

These articles make me laugh - I promise you, you've been successfully interacting with introverts all your life without an instruction manual! I'm not a fragile flower (although I am a snowflake, I must be, strangers [mostly unpleasant ones] tell me so every single day!) and I don't require delicate handling. I do recharge myself with alone time, and being social is work for me. But as I often say, anything worth doing is a lot of work! Some things which are work are also fun.

ANYWAY. Got off track. As I was saying, I don't offer classes here, but I do teach a few classes at Portland Pottery. I teach adults, at mixed skill levels. Beginners are the easiest - anything I show them advances their knowledge. ANY project will grow their skills. My later intermediate & advanced students are trickier; I want to help them pursue their own projects but I also want to push them a little. It's easy when you are finally making things you like to stop striving for new skills - that's why you need a teacher.

Our latest class project was designed to push people to try new surface treatments. I found and printed out some color/ pattern swatches, snipped them to about 2" x 2" so they wouldn't be recognizable as paintings, fabric, ceramics, or whatever. I put the bits of paper in a bowl and had students reach in & pull one out. That then was their assignment: replicate that as a ceramic surface, using any method available. Here are some of our results:

I am missing a few - I swear I took photos of all of them but somehow the photos are nowhere.

Underglaze was a popular approach, and some people tried underglaze crayons for the first time. There were wax/latex patterns, and brave efforts to try and apply glazes in such a way as to replicate the look.

I often do some version of a class project, and thins was one of my favorites! It was great fun for me to see the different approaches people took. I will find ten more snips online, and we will do this project again.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Firing at Watershed: Results!

As commonly happens, the firing at Watershed was great! That soda kiln is a joy to fire.
Look at these even cone packs!
I had six participants in the workshop - small enough that (I hope) everybody got a satisfying number of pots in the kiln. A couple of people had some larger items, always a challenge, but it worked out. I was especially pleased that my friend Cindy of CC Ceramics got in a big piece that she has carried around to four firings now, trying to fit it in! Sh hasn't seen it yet but it's fabulous - you can just see it, it is the carved piece in the rear on the left side, it's peachy & silver, I think she'll be delighted.

I myself had only a few pieces in; this firing wasn't really about me, although I like to have a few things just to dial up the fun factor. The lidded jars at the very top are mine; they will probably eventually find their way to The Cat Doctor, to house the remains of someone's beloved feline.

Look at the very bottom shelf - see that large oval piece? That belongs to Jeanne Hardy, a potter from Belfast. Jeanne participated in the Maine Pottery Tour, so we have emailed back & forth but this was the first time I'd met her. She got lots of nice pieces out of the kiln but that one sticks in my mind, such a great shape. She called it a "hod" which I keep thinking is maybe a kind of boat? Basically any word that I don't know what it means I decide it must be a kind of boat. Anyway I loved the form, a wide, simple oval. It would make a great salad serving dish. Except for the dots (I 💙 dots!) it doesn't look at all like something I would make but I could totally see it in my house.

Here are the pots unloaded.
At this point we still had to grind and wash the shelves, a dreary job but a quick one, as I had so many hands to help.

It's a rainy start to Memorial Day weekend here, and I am doing an biggish indoor project - I am transforming a bureau into a kitchen island. I'll be posting progress over at Wicked Cozy, my Maine-lifestyle blog. I've also got a couple of small orders to knock out, and a few pendants to assemble. Holidays don't mean much to the self-employed! Luckily the work is mostly fun, like I'm always on holiday. Well. Except for kiln maintenance. Oh and mixing glazes. Not fun!

Hoping your holiday weekend is fun, or productive, or meaningful, or whatever you wish it to be.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scenes from a Firing

Most photos by Cindy Chiuchiolo - thanks Cindy!
Last weekend I did a firing workshop at Watershed with a superfun group of ladies from Maine and Massachusetts. We were graced with perfect weather - low 70s and sunny skies. We glazed Saturday morning, loaded Saturday afternoon, candled the kiln overnight, and fired on Sunday. The kiln had a pokey start - I was worried for a bit there that we might be in for a late night. But it caught itself up and we started spraying the soda by 4 pm. ^10 went down around 6:30 - in tandem with ^11, with the bottom a bit behind. As I always do at Watershed, I had a blast, and I hope participants did, too.

The soda kiln at Watershed is designed a bit differently than mine - higher soda ports, looser bag wall - in addition to just being a bigger kiln. The soda spray method definitely works better on this kiln than the soda salad method of application does! Once I tried the soda-salad method in the Watershed kiln. Everything above the bagwall was dry as chalk. The spray method creates a more even application of soda, which is either good or bad, depending on what you are looking for. While I have generally been happy with the work out of this kiln in the past, I do miss my juicy soda spots!

We'll be unloading on Wednesday, as well as grinding and washing the shelves, sweeping the kiln pad, and all the other little things necessary to observe the girl scout rule in a communal space.   Watch here for the unloading pics!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Challenging Aesthetics, Or, The Last Juicy Mug from The Juicy Firing

There was a super- juicy area in this last kiln - no dry spots (YAY) but there was a region that got heavy soda, so much glaze it flowed in rivulets on some pots. As it does when it's fired in reduction, the thick soda glass turned charcoal...wait, no, silver...what's another pretty word for grey?

I just mean - in selling these pots, I never describe them as just grey. Dove grey, maybe, or pearl grey.  People think they don't like grey. Shopkeepers think people don't like grey. But these pots, with their juicy grey rivers of soda? Are flying out of here. Every time I post one it's gone in an hour. (KNOCKS WOOD, really hard. Nothing to hear, here, jealous gods, move along!) So I only have one left, of the mugs from the super-juicy spot in the super-juicy firing. It has some grey, flecked with gold.

Why are these the mugs in huge demand, in a world where bright colors are king? I have some thoughts about this, about how people make aesthetic judgments.

There may be some aspect of aesthetics that is hardwired - a preference for bright color would make it easier to find food: fruit, obviously, and edible flowers; and flowers can mark the locations of edible roots, or, later, berries. It must be a pretty mild preference, though, (if it's there are all) because historically plenty of cultures have favored neutrals and muted tones. Most of our aesthetic is formed by what we see every day. And what we see every day is formed by our aesthetic. It's a feedback loop. But there are little cul-de-sacs of  preference that form when people spend a lot of time with a less-mainstream aesthetic.

The people who bought these magical grey, wonky, fluid mugs? All people who, while not potters, have spent some time looking at and thinking about handmade ceramics. For most people, their ideas of what is beautiful are shaped almost entirely by machine-made objects. Things that are asymmetrical in form or surface, things which have uncontrolled aspects, these look weird or flawed to most people. The same for colors: what is thought of an normal is informed by what we see every day.  In Western culture, we favor neutrals for background aspects - walls, floor, window treatments, even furniture - and but we are drawn to brights for more intimate objects - towels, throw pillows, and yes, pottery. We also favor the kind of symmetry that comes from machine work.  (I have a world of thoughts about this: how people think they want handmade but the handmade most people like best looks a lot like mass produced ware. )Yes, this is a very broad generalization, and yes, many people fall outside of it. Don't @ me , I know! That's the point: the exceptions. Where do they come from?

They come from exposure to things outside the mainstream aesthetic. From you, from us, with our wacky, wonky, handmade pots! Every time you show them or post them or use them with friends, you are changing the world a little bit. You are changing the cultural aesthetic just a titch. I like to think that at the same time we are making the culture a little more accepting of differences, quirks, oddballs. If you can love a pot that is a little off-center, why not a person? If you can love a mug that doesn't fit anyone's mold, maybe you can see as lovable a person who doesn't fit society's mold. It's OK - no, it's beautiful! - for us each to be unique.

ANYWAY! Sorta wandered off into the weeds, there (but they are very beautiful weeds!)  If you want the last super-juicy mug from the super-juicy firing, you can buy it here. Who knows when the kiln will grace me so again?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rivers of Glaze

Sometimes pots turn out pretty much like I planned. Sometimes, not so much! In this case the kiln seemed to have ideas of its own:
$36 - Click here for purchase information

It's a very nice mug in the hand, too - an intriguing landscape of impressed hearts for fingers to explore.
"Not what I expected" is sometimes better than I expected!

UPDATE: This mug sold within an hour of posting! 😊😊😊

Monday, May 15, 2017

Blue and Russet Vase with Flowers

Click here to purchase this vase!
I while ago I did a step-by-step on a thrown and altered form that has been fascinating me for a little while now, but I think this is the first time I've shared a fired result. Everythign about this one hit the way I hoped it would - the soda distribution, the way the textures caught the glaze, just the joyousness of the thing. It's for sale, here.

As an aside, I have switched - mostly  - to Squaredup from paypal. It's cheaper, and I have the little swipe device, so I can use the same account for in-person sales as for web sales. Squareup also automatically deposits at the end of the business day (their business day, but whatev, they had to choose sometime) instead of making you log on and request your money. Listing items in my Square store is a little...non-intuitive, though. I have to list them in the library, then import them to the store, and only then can I do things like add a second or third photo. And I haven't found a way to just add a "square" button to pay, like paypal offers, to incorporate into my own website. So, not sure if I am done with paypal entirely. I'm interested to know what your experiences have been.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bowls of a Different Sort

Chocolate bowls with Raspberry Fudge frozen yogurt, whipped cream nuts & berries
It's Mother's Day! My family typically come up here from the Portland area for lunch and just hanging out. Usually we sit on the deck but it a wet one out there today so we'll be staying warm and dry.
I decided to do something special for dessert: chocolate balloon bowls. I had them at Portland Pottery's Valentine's Day Date Night event, and just fell in love with the idea. So pretty! So clever!

Readers of this blog know I am not shy to try new things even when I don't know what I am doing, but this time I prepared reasonably well; I watched a few youtube videos, and asked the chef at PP  (Chef Manda! I just love her) for any tips she could pass along. Nevertheless, hilarity ensued. But then eventually success:

If you, like me, enjoy reading about other people's debacles - maybe you, like me, find it comforting to know that other people are fuck ups, just like you are, but they figure it out, and so will you - you should read this entry, my first efforts to make chocolate bowls. If you prefer to skip right to the lessons-learned bit, you should read the update, which is the got-it-figured-out part.

Mom & me. In real life we're less blurry
Lunch as great, dessert was great, now I am settling into a sugar-crash coma. Tomorrow I'll get back to making clay bowls.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Pots!

Oh man! It feels like forever since I have had pots to post! I'll have links to purchase these up soon, but for now, have a look! it was a very juicy firing, lots of soda, well distributed. The kind of firing that gives you that happy feeling that keeps you making. Anyway, check 'em out.

↑ This one is posted!  Wanna buy it? Click here. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

And the Winner is...

Who's Afraid of a Little Rain?

We aren't Wicked Witches! We won't melt!
I actually already had my first three sales of the day - the first was at 10:01 am, before I had a chance to take down the tent walls. Promising!

It's 12:35 now. I've already had 12 visitors, and group made a purchase! Maybe the rain is a blessing.

2:30, still gangbusters!

5 pm, Very tired but happy. We had 26 visitors, many doing the tour, as opposed to just driving by & seeing signs, or coming by because they are friends. Almost everybody bought something, and everybody was interested to peer into the cooling kiln. I'm off the grab a burger & a brew at The Quarry Taproom, & grab my 10% off.

Day 2

Looks a little brighter, no sun yet but it's predicted. I can hardly wait to open the kiln! After peering in on & off all day yesterday with visitors, the suspense is killing me. The fluidity of the glazes & distribution of soda look good (based on the few inches I can see through the spy!) but of course I won't know until the door is down.

11:30 AM - Visitors, to help me unload the kiln!
Here goes:

Thanks, Bev & Vlad!

I'm quite delighted with the results of this firing - only two pots affected by the cone pack exlosion, both are still good enough to be seconds. Lots of great color, cone ten flatter than my fourteen-year-old self. More photos this week, when I have two minutes all in one place. 

I had a visitor from Tennessee! She has always wanted to try the potter's wheel, and I was able to oblige her:

There was live music, also, courtesy of Sonny Probe, AKA my dear husband Doug Watts.
I am hearing from several potters on the tour that this has been the best year yet! We've yet to break $800 (my best year) but have had the most visitors of any Tour yet. and there's still almost two hours to go! 

Friday, May 5, 2017

POP Goes the Cone Pack

My Friday night date
It's been like 15 years since I had a cone pack explode. NO WAIT it's only been a few hours.

I am squeezing in a firing so I can do a kiln opening during the Pottery Tour. I bricked up around midnight, candled the kiln for a couple of hours, and then started slowly turning up the burners. Not slowly enough, apparently! I also may have skipped a step when I made the cone packs - I'm not sure I poked vent holes in them. That could have been the deciding factor. I wouldn't be surprised - I was just so tired. Oooh, it'll be suspenseful, like The Girl on the Train! Stop by Sunday morning at 11 to see how much ware got splattered. Here's your map to the studios in and around Augusta. (Also, bring your map to The Quarry Taproom for 10% this weekend! Thanks Taproom!)

In the intervening years since my last cone pack detonation, I've become much more sanguine. Stuff happens, people make mistakes, I make mistakes, it is what is it. It was too late in the firing to turn back, turn off the kiln, let it cool and clear the debris, so I guess we're just going hope for the best. I am pretty optimistic, because of the placement of the exploded pack:between two stilts, hanging over the burner channel. It's too much to hope for that nothing is damaged, but perhaps it will be minimal. I'm flying without instruments on that side of the kiln, however, so will be relying on color comparisons between the two sides.

Lateral topic shift: in part I am sanguine about this because it is the least of my worries! Due to the vote yesterday, by next year at this time, I may not have health insurance. I won't go long about it - this is not Lori's Insurance Woes Blog - but the short of it is, the bill that passed the House yesterday allows insurance companies to price people with pre-existing conditions right out of their pools, while cutting subsidies at the same time. (And you should see the list of pre-existing conditions! I bet you have one, I know I do.) It would clobber self-employed people, unless they have a spouse with insurance through their employer. I mean, I get not wanting to pay hard-earned money to help other people - everybody likes to have more money. including me! But I side-eye people who happily accept benefits that others, like me, subsidize - public schools & state universities come to mind - but balk when someone else, like me, needs help.

To be fair, it seems like almost everybody hates this bill. The 17% must be the people who are always calling me "libtard" and "snowflake." (It passed the House anyway....hmmm. Add that to the list of things I don't get. )

Not that it matters whether I get it or not. I am learning to do what I can, and not be paralyzed by anxieties of what might be. It's like the exploded cone packs: What will be, will be. It is what it is.

Anyway! Thanks for letting me talk through my worries. Lots to do today to be ready for the Tour!

Mind like moon.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Good News for Tour-ists

Have I mentioned the Maine Pottery Tour is this weekend? Oh. Have I mentioned you can register to win a hand-painted, thrown & altered vase here at Fine Mess Pottery? Oh. Well, have I mentioned that you can get 10% off your meal at the Quarry Taproom if you show them your pottery tour map or postcard? Oh! Well, you can.

The Quarry is my current fave Maine pub, though I admit that is an every-changing preference. ( I love pubs! I try to find a good old-fashioned pub in every city I visit.) They have 30 beers on tap, y'all! Count 'em; thirty! It's also just a couple of miles downriver from me here in Augusta, and practically right across the street from Hallowell Clay Works, another stop on the tour. If you visit a studio on the tour be sure and ask for a flyer or a postcard, and stop in at the Quarry for lunch. You can download a printable version of the map at this link (Central), or this one (Coastal), or this one (Southern.)

In other tour-related news, I am glazing today & tomorrow, firing Friday, and unloading at 11 on Sunday. You can get your new pots fresh out of the kiln!

Hoping to see you this weekend!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

And A Fine Mess It Is

This happy chaos is me trying to squeeze in a firing to be unloaded Saturday morning, as a Maine Pottery Tour event. This was the first time I used the summer studio this year - in the winter it's just the kiln shed. Starting to think the unloading might end up being Sunday morning instead of Saturday. Still, I got a lot of work done today! I cleaned up all the leaves & debris that accumulated in the space over the winter, unloaded the bisque kiln, applied flashing slip to all of the pots that are going to get flashing slip, and waxed all the bottoms & lids. (Oh and during a break I designed another t-shirt!) Tomorrow I am in Portland all day, teaching classes and, in between classes, working at my branch office doing computer-y things like writing the FMP newsletter (The Messy Minute! Shoot me an email at if you want to be on the mailing list.) So glazing won't happen until Tuesday, and then I only have the morning before I have to leave for Portland again. So, glazing and loading Wednesday, firing Thursday...I dunno, it could work, but it's a tight squeeze.

I have to keep reminding myself that it will be fine, either way. It's almost always fine! Things turn out okay a ridiculous amount of the time. The chaos resolves, more or less, the event happens, more or less, and afterwards anything that went wrong is just a funny story.

Sweet Gypsy Rose

I'll be introducing a new soap at my open studio event for the Maine Pottery Tour: Sweet Gypsy Rose. I just took it out of the mold - so pleased with the color & design. Smells lovely, too - like roses, of course, but light, not cloying.

Smell it for yourself next weekend!

Okay, I'm off - lots to do. XO

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Week and a Day

Only just over a week left before the sixth...or is it the seventh? annual Maine Pottery Tour! I do the organizing for the tour, but am also a participant, so the last week is dedicated (mostly) to getting my own studio ready. Today I loaded a bisque with the pots that will eventually be glazed for the kiln opening that will happen Saturday morning, May 6th.

Opening the kiln is the most exciting part of being a potter, but the pots are usually not...quite...ready for prime time when they first see the light of day in their finished form. They usually need a bit of attention to the bottoms and maybe a little steel wool to make the unglazed surfaces silky. So I need to have enough pots to fill the display even before the kiln opening. So I have been digging in bins and opening boxes, sorting out the best pots that are ready to go.
Bisque is loaded!

The pot in the photo about is the drawing prize! Visitors can enter to win by filling out a slip with their names & addresses. This builds my mailing list and draws visitors, and someone gets a free vase. Win-win!

My to-do list is dauntingly long, and includes making soap (hot process, so it will be ready in a
week); unloading, glazing, reloading and firing these pots;  spiffying up the yard; and assembling necklaces. And that's all before the grunt work of actually setting up! I've invited my friend Liz Downs of Ditch Lily Pottery to be my guest artist, so she'll be setting up with me on Friday.
If you'd like to come visit me durin gthe tour, you should check out studios near me, too! Click this link to get a printable version of the Central leg of the tour. Or, click this link to go to a Google map of the central leg. 
Hope to see you!
Saturday May 6 10 -5
Sunday May 7 11 - 4

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Not Remotely Pottery Related, but

,,,I made a new t-shirt! I took the photo last summer while delivering ware to Handworks, a gallery in Blue Hill, Maine. Doug came with me and we decided to make a day of it.

We visited Blue Hill Falls, which changes direction when the tide comes in or goes out. So cool! We waded in the gelid water and made a remarkable discovery: starfish come in colors! Beautiful, jewel-tone colors. There were masses of them, but I just couldn't capture the colors with the underwater shots; but I did get this small grouping on a rock that the departing tide had just uncovered. On the way back we stopped for lobster rolls at a little roadside stand. It was a great day.

So, I made a t-shirt commemorating my very Maine day. You can get it on a tank or a tote, too! Check it out here.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pop Quiz!

This is for the clay students reading this blog. I know you are out there!

My upside down plates have come out of the bisque, and guess what? One of them cracked pretty spectacularly. I sort of thought it might. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to why the one cracked and the other didn't?

Turn your computer upside down for the answer!

Actually, there's a bit more after the break.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Upside Down Plates

Potters, in my experience, are generous folks. One of the joys of teaching in a communal studio like Portland Pottery is learning from my fellow potters. It's a regular even to see something wonderful and ask the maker to share it.

Last week I learned from Brian Buckland how to make these upside-down plates, with undulating lines from a twisty cut-off wire. Brian learned it from Tyler Gulden, and so on and so on, it's turtles all the way down.

It's also a joy to be the one sharing!

Here are the steps, pictorally:
Center a three pound hump low & wide, as if you were throwing a regular plate
Throw a foot ring
With a wooden rib, make a deep undercut - about a half-inch 

Cut of plate from the bat with a twisty wire, but leave it on the bat. You can cut straight or not, depending on the pattern you want. 

Place a second bat on the foot ring. Line up the pin holes to get the plate as close to the center of the second bat as you can. 
Flip the plate between the two bats, like a clay sandwich
I couldn't get a good picture of the next bit, but you have to reach between the bats and get your fingertips (gently!) into the undercut, and peel the plate off the first bat. Be very careful , as it's easy to mess up the rim. This bit takes some patience, and some practice.

Even if you are very careful, it will look like crap when it first comes off the bat. Don't worry! It's supposed to.
See? Looks like crap. 
It should be pretty close to center, because you lined up the two bats pretty well, but make whatever adjustments necessary to get it as close as you can now that it's unstuck. Now you are going to snap the bat back on the wheel, and with a sponge, persuade the wall to come up until it is shaped like a plate or shallow bowl:
Optionally, you can trim out some of the center. This is probably a good idea so you can compress the center - I am a little worried that the ones I didn't trim out will crack.

If you are really, really good, your plate might be done! Mine all needed trimming underneath after they'd dried to leatherhard.
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