Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chillin' at the 'Shed

Chillin' indeed; though the calendar says it's mid-April, the weather says it's more like the 109th of January. Nevertheless anytime is a good time to hang out at Watershed; it's a magic place where magic things happen. Well, sometimes.
I was firing at the 'Shed because the arch of my own kiln needs some work; after the last glaze firing, a tie rod broke and the arch spread a bit, causing a few brick to slip out of the curve, like snaggly teeth. this repair promises to be like a lot of jobs - begun is half done...but I haven't begun yet, and it's unlikely that I will before the Maine Pottery Tour. I did go ahead & bisque in it, with no noticeable difference. I am tempted to try a glaze fire, but I need to shoo that lazy demon off my shoulder, and listen to the angel on my other shoulder that says I might as well fix it instead wait until it causes a real problem.

Now you see 'em...
Now you don't!

I loaded & bricked up on Thursday, and fired on is technically my day of rest! HAHAHAHAHA as if. Today I am doing all the housecleaning that gets neglected when I am preparing to fire.

Some of the magic this visit was happening next door, at Straw's Farm,
where the spring lambs were doing whatever it is they do.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Harley, the Pottery Tour, and Other News

A couple of weeks ago I ran a little fundraiser to sponsor the adoption fee of a cat at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. That cat - Harley - has found a home! When the world seems to be getting shittier and more hateful by the minute, it is a balm to do a kindness, however small. (Here's a lovely thread on some other good things happening in the world - just stumbled upon it while I was editing this post. Coincidence? I think so!)

This will definitely be a recurring event, but probably not again for several months; I am currently knee-deep in organizing the seventh incarnation of the Maine Pottery Tour. There are still some cat dishes left, though (including what I thought was the best one!) if you want to beat the rush.

Speaking of the Pottery Tour, you should come! 43 studios this year, all spiffying themselves up, making new work, and planning adventures for visitors. Check out a full list of studios at the website, or plan your pottery road trip with this online interactive map.

Though much of my time has been spent lately organizing this event, I am making new work! I just finished up some jaunty pitchers, and a couple of heavily slip-trailed baskets. I am hoping the action of the soda vapor will cut the sweetness a bit, like a pinch of salt (!) on a caramel.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Demo: Thrown Vase with Contrasting Clay Spirals

This was the demo I did for my Tuesday night class! A couple of notes about this:

  1. Clay matters! In addition to their contrasting colors, you want to use clay bodies that fire to the same temp (thanks, Captain Obvious!) and have approximately the same shrinkage rates. 
  2. No matter which two clay bodies you choose, let your vase dry slowly
  3. It's not shown on the video but after the vase became leatherhard, I trimmed the rim a bit. Adding the clay makes the center imperfect, so it came up doing a bit of a hula. I don't always think of irregularity as a flaw; I've been known to exhort my students to "Embrace the wonk!" In this case though it just seemed distracting. 
  4. The music quits about 2/3s of the way thru. Sorry about that! I could have spent more time tweaking it but decided the clay work was the important part. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine Pottery Tour 2018

For the past seven years, much of my time in the late winter & early spring has been occupied organizing the Maine Pottery Tour. This year the tour is bigger and better than ever, with more than 40 studios participating. You can see full list of Maine Pottery Tour studios here, and plan your pottery tour roadtrip with our online interactive map.

One of the more enjoyable tasks of this big job is designing the postcards. I want the cards to look nice, obviously, and to represent the three regions and the diversity of work on the tour. It's a tough balance, as I always have more images of amazing work than I can use, yet I need to have more than I can use to have a selection that fits together nicely. The image above is the postcard for the 2018 Maine Pottery Tour. Refrigerator worthy, you think? Watch your mailbox, and save the dates. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Good news & Good news

Last week I posted the second online the second fundraiser cat dish sale. It took a few days this time but I did manage to sell 10 cat bowls - enough so I could sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS. That's the good news.

The other good news is that the cat I had planned to sponsor - Grizzle, who had been at the shelter since November, found his family before the sale was over! Which means I got to go in today & choose a different cat to sponsor.  Meet Harley!

Harley is a 7 year old spayed female, with medium-long gray fur. Her details state that her intake to the shelter was March 19th, but that was because she was returned to the shelter after a previous adoption. Harley needs a family with some patience for her slow, cautious adjustment. (Sounds like a not-atypical cat reaction to a new environment to me, tbh. Some cats hide for a while until they know they are safe. General Chamberlain stayed under the bed for 3 weeks! and then only emerged when I was in the room for a couple of months after that. Nevertheless he became one of the most affectionate cats I've known.)

If you've been thinking about getting a cat, here's a chance to take home this sweet girl for free!

Still a few dishes left! I can start building towards the next adoption sponsorship.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Little Good in the World

Help a cat find a home! 

You probably know that I suffer from depression. (If you don't, you must be new here! Welcome.) That is, I am not always in a depressed state but the way my brain chemistry works, I am susceptible. I've been in this brain for a long time, and I know what that slippage feels like; and I have learned some steps I can take to avert it.

Getting plenty of exercise, getting outside - those are a couple of steps. (I would say "Getting plenty of sleep" but that's a useless prescription, as sleeplessness is as much a symptom as a causal factor of depression.) Also really helpful? Do some good in the world. That's where I was going with all this. Today the good I want to do, is to help a cat find a forever home.

I had an online fundraising event for this purpose early in February. The two sponsored cats were adopted soon after, and let me tell you, that felt good, to know that I had a part in that. I don't have much money (hello, I'm a potter) but I do have a little skill, and I can put that skill towards doing some good in the world.

Here's how it works: I've listed a bunch of these little dishes in my online shop. They are about 4" in diameter, and maybe 2" tall - just sweet little bowls appropriate to feed sweet little cats! And sweet big cats, too. If I can sell ten of them, I can sponsor a cat's adoption fee.

Click the link, scroll down a few inches, and choose your dish. Help lift my winter funk - and maybe your too! - by doing a little piece of good in the world. And, bonus, get a little gem of a dish, to feed your kitty, or catch your change, keep your keys, or serve your dipping oil. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rice Paper Underglaze Decals

One of the joys of teaching ceramics is it keeps me exploring new techniques. This week I brought to class some rice paper underglaze decals that I found online. I got them from The Ceramics Shop, but they appear to be discontinued there, so I found the original source: Ying Zhou Rice Paper decals. 

They are so easy to use!! Choose a design, cut the shape you want, press on the pot; wet the back, pat it down, let it dry, peel up the paper. You don't even have to peel up the paper, strictly speaking, if you are using it on leather hard because it will burn away in the bisque. My students loved them - I did, too! 

Probably did not need this much water. I might should have just used a damp sponge or soft, wet paintbrush. 

I pressed down gently with my fingertips, because the surface was curved & if the paper is buckled at all, or there are air pockets between the decal & the pot, those spots won;t transfer. Wait about 10 - 15 minutes for the paper to dry a bit. Doesn't have to be 100% dry. 

This is a slightly different dish - the left edge isn't a flaw, it was cut that way. 

You can also use these on bisqueware. 

Obviously they will want a transparent glaze on top. They are said to be suitable for cones 04-11.

The decals are (I guess?) adhered to the paper with honey, so they have a shelf life, and they are somewhat delicate and need to be stored with care so they don't flake off the paper before you get a chance to use them. As delightful and fun as these are, I sorta feel like I am cheating, using a manufactured design. Next I am search for a company that lets me upload a design and make custom rice paper decals.

After I have played with these a bit more. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Meet the Artists of the Maine Pottery Tour

It's 9° outside, with a bitter wind. We still have most of the accumulation of snow from our three major storms in the past two weeks. Despite all that, spring is on its way! As is the Maine Pottery Tour, an event I put together every year to promote and celebrate ceramic arts in Maine.

This year the tour includes 43 studios, including 14 new participants. Start planning your pottery road trip! 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Gertrude's Day!

I think I've found my personal patron saint! My professional one, of course, is St Spyrdion, he of the potsherd metaphor, patron saint of potters.

Today is famously the feast day of St. Patrick of Ireland, who drove out the snakes and today inspires great feats of song and alcohol consumption. My own brother and sister-in-law perform Irish music (go see them today at Billy's Chowder House!) and my favorite Pandora channel year round features the Pogues and the Irish Rovers. There is, however, another saint honored today: St Gertude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats, cat lovers, and gardeners.

St. Pat gets all the attention, but St. Gert sounds like my kinda gal.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Slab Built Pickle Tray

I have a little quirk. When I am making something, I like to imagine a specific use to which it might be put. I think this results in better pots - I'm sort of running a simulation in my head which helps me to anticipate needs for handles, or a wider rim, or other functional feature. But really, imagining the pots in use is just part of the fun.

I recently made a small serving tray that I decided would be perfect for pickles, or relishes - the kind of little dish that is often on the table for special-occasion dinners, or that you might bring to a potluck. It's made of a single slab, folded, with flattened coils added to the rim. Check it out:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

New, Tool!

Good news! The second of our sponsored kitties, the shy, sweet Patcha, has been adopted. In celebration I treated myself to a new tool: the Bat Mate, from Xiem tools. Firstly, though, a question: why, why-o-why, did they not call it the Bat Mat? Hear how it trips off the tongue: Bat-mat. Bat-mat. Bat-mat.
I would have called it the Bat Mat, because that what it is: a circular chamois (I think?) mat with holes spaced for bat pins, that goes on the wheel head under your bat. It prevents the bat from doing that annoying shimmy thing while you are trying to center. I've been preventing that by smudging some clay on the wheel before putting the bat down, but that takes a minute, to make sure it's nice & even, and wastes a bit of clay. I have known about these for a while but was resistant to buying one because, as the the World's Cheapest Human, I didn't want to spend the nine-ish bucks for something that I could do without. I've changed my mind about that! My time has value, too, and a device that makes my studio work a little more efficient every day is easily worth the price.

After using it, I can say, it very effectively prevents the aforementioned annoying shimmy! It does not, however, solve the other problem I had hoped it would, of the bat being so firmly stuck down to the wheel that I need a tool to lift it up. I guess next I'll be needing a bat lifter. Or just keep using the paint scraper I keep by the wheel for just such purpose.

In other news, I placed the seed order today! Sugar snap peas, Czech black hot peppers, four sorts of tomatoes. Spring inches ever closer!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Anything But

There exists a thing that I call "procrastination energy." I get a boatload of stuff done when I am trying to avoid an unfavorite task. Here's me doing literally anything but starting on my kiln repairs:

OH LOOK WE'RE OUT OF LIP BALM! Can't have that [makes lip balm]



It's not quite true that I haven't even started; I replaced the threaded rod so at least it can't get any worse, while I am getting around to it. I brought my castable bricks inside and repaired the breaks in them with a high temp air-set mortar called Quickbond 3000. I had to do this a few years ago, and  I wrote a blog post about it then, too. I thought I had, and when I found it, I was amused at the difference in how the brick look! Though they are somewhat resistant to soda, they acquire some every firing...enough to make them look like there's lichen growing on them, after 7 years in service. The white steaks on the bricks are old repairs; the grey ones are the new. Sticking them back together is tiresome and messy but not at all difficult, and they will be ready to use in a few days - not that I'll be ready to fire in a few days! I still have to tend to my sagging arch.

Oh, btw, here's a link to that soap, if you're interested!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Wouldn't you just know it? I feel like after 7 years together, this kiln & have have just hit out groove - I was getting good firings (almost) every time, coming in under 11 hours, good color, even soda...but when I went to unload this last firing, I see that one of the threaded rods that holds the angle iron skeleton together has rusted through.

The others are still in good shape - this was the one right over the door, so it got some heat and some soda every firing. Since it has broken, the walls have leaned outward somewhat, so simply replacing the rod is not really an option. Looks like I am going to have to take down the arch, and the two side walls, at a minimum- and if I am doing that I might as well re-do the back wall as well so I can replace the angle iron with a thicker gauge.

Even though this rebuild was not entirely unexpected, and even though mid-January is, business-wise, not a terrible time for it to happen, allow me to say: Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!

In other news, Sylvester - the kitty whose adoption fee we fully sponsored with the cat dish fundraiser - was adopted last weekend! I had hoped to do another cat dish fundraiser in a few weeks but of course the kiln rebuild is going to bump everything back.

At least the order I had in this firing looks good. I'm gonna need that $$.

And again I say, damn it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Look What We Did, Together!

Last night's fundraising sale of cat dishes drew an overwhelming response! In just 4 hours I sold out of cat dishes and raised enough to fully sponsor the adoption of one cat and partially sponsor another.

Meet the beneficiaries:

Update: Sylvester was adopted last weekend!! Yay so happy. 
Sylvester is an 8-year-old short haired grey & white neutered male cat who has been at the shelter since November. Sylvester's adoption fee is fully sponsored!

Patcha is a 3-year-old shorthaired brown tabby. She is spayed (all KVHS cats & dogs are spayed or neutered.) Patcha has been at the shelter since October, poor lamb! The shelter staff says she is timid around strangers so it has been hard for her to find her people but that she is quite sweet and affectionate once she gets to know people.

I'll keep checking back for both of these kitties, in hopes that they find their forever homes soon. You can see all of the KVHS cats here; if you are interested in Sylvester, Patcha, or any of the other available cats, call the shelter at  (207) 626-3491 or email

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Because I Can't Adopt Them All

Why is cat lady an insult? I've never understood this.  I can testify: being a cat lady, or a cat person of any kind, is truly delightful. If people wish to live happy, fulfilled lives, they should aspire to be cat ladies.  (Likewise SJW: Social Justice Warrior. Who wouldn't want to be a warrior for social justice? The internet is weird.)

My affinity for felines is well-known. Currently I have five, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another. Five is about my upper limit; when I have to start being deliberate about making sure everyone gets enough attention each day, I know my home is full up.

I wish I could adopt them all! But alas, that is right out. With so many still needing homes, I want to do what I can. I don't have a lot of money, but I do have a little skill, so I am using it to embark on a fundraiser. Here's the plan:

14 little catfood dishes, each about 4" in diameter, each unique, each priced at $15, including shipping. As soon as I sell ten of them, I sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS. Maybe I could do this in an ongoing way: every time I sell a dish, I post a new one. Every time I get to 10 sold, I sponsor another cat. Here's a preview:

Are there any cat ladies or cat gents out there in the pottery world? If your feline friend deserves a new dinner dish, or you want to help another cat find its forever home, click here and scroll down a few inches.

ETA: Holy cats, you guys, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your overwhelming response. I have sold ALL of the little bowls, so I will go to KVHS to bring them my donation, and meet the cat I am going to sponsor. Because so many of you were willing to help, I will so this again - after I've had a chance to make more bowls. ๐Ÿ™‚
Update: We were able to fully sponsor one cat's adoption fee and partially sponsor another. Read more about the kitties here. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Value of Repetition

It wasn't that long ago - maybe five years, maybe eight, I forget - that I still had this idea that I ought to decorate every item that I made differently from everything else. I didn't have any qualms about throwing the same forms, but I always tried to stamp, slip-trail, and glaze them differently.

It's funny how long it took me to see that the same value that lies in repeating thrown forms lies in repeating decorative schemes as well. This is how proficiency is gained! And because of my process, they are all one of a kind anyway. Tonight it was three- and 4-pound mixing bowls. I glazed every one of them with a pattern of curliques on the outside and a glossy white on the inside. By the last one my motions were quick and smooth, with nary a stray dribble.

This approach has had a salubrious effect on my production as well. Much of my glazing time was spent on staring at pieces, deciding on their surfaces. If I only have to decide once every dozen or so pots, obviously things move along faster! And the tenth curlique-glazed bowl goes much faster than the first one.

The marks are unique to each bowl even if I were trying to make them identical (I'm not), and the soda adds a spontaneity that guarantees each piece will be one of a kind. It was a relief to put that worry down.

Hoping to fire these this week.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Cut Paper Slip Resist

Another demo post I've had in the hopper for a while!

I like the look of a checkerboard pattern, but it can be a little too tight for my liking...and also (truth now!) a lot of work, to brush slip on each individual square. For a checkerboard pattern that's a little more dynamic - and also easier to achieve - I sometimes use squares of cut newspaper.

I cut several layers of newspaper at once. I don't usually measure but cut squares (or "almost" squares) about 2" each side.

This works best on leatherhard ware. Here's how it looks on a platter:

I keep a little dish of water beside me as I work. Dip each square in the water, then drag it gently against he edge of the bowl to wipe off the excess. Arrange the paper squares in rows, corner-to-corner:
 Go around with a fingertip and make sure there are no wrinkles or bulges at the edges that slip can get underneath, and that the squares are stuck down well.
Brush your slip over the surface. The brush strokes will show, at least a little, so consider that when you are applying your slip. I usually brush all in one direction.
When your slip has just begun to dry - just enough for the shine to fade - you can start removing the paper. The edges will be easy; for the inner squares I use a needle too to get underneath them to start peeling.
Since I started this blog post, like, a year ago, this piece is long since finished & gone. I glazed it with  ^10 shino & fired it in Portland Pottery's stoneware kiln. The slip fired to a blue-y black, the bare clay a yummy rust brown. Obviously a transparent or translucent glaze is a good choice here.

You could, of course, use any shape for your paper resist. With some care you can even do relatively delicate shapes. Torn paper makes for a nice dynamic line.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fun with Marketing

One upside to my decision to keep soap in the realm of "hobby" is that, while I still sell soap, marketing for it has become far less consequential. I can have more fun with it and not worry whether I sound professional or just perplexing. Case in point: the newest soap off of the curing rack, Green Planet.
It's always been a challenge for me to describe soap scents. Top notes of this, base notes of that...does anybody know what heliotrope actually smells like? For my new soaps, I tried instead telling a little story in sensory images, that give a sense of the fragrance, instead. Like this:

I did something like this with some plates last fall; instead of describing what the plates looked like, I did a little character sketch of the imaginary person whose favorite plate this would be. (We have favorite mugs; why not favorite plates?) It worked, I guess, because I sold the plates pretty quickly...but all to the same person, so I'm not sure it's an indicator.

Still, writing descriptions like little stories is more fun. Fun isn't everything but it's not nothing either.
If this little story makes you want this soap, you can get it here. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Tool: Mug Rounder!

As you can see by the background, I've had this post in the buffer for a while! Sometime last summer, I made myself a new tool. (Actually made a whole bunch of them, thinking I might sell them, but I didn't get around to that either!) See, I do a lot of stamping and other alteration on my pots. I don't always mind if the piece is no longer round afterward- in fact sometimes it's the whole point! Sometimes I like the tension between the squishiness of the alterations, as with stamping, and the crisp machine-roundness that the wheel contributes. I found an easy way to get that back. It works like this:

Ooops, not round anymore!

No worries! Enter the Mug Rounder™ (J/K, you know I didn't trademark that shit.)
Gently press the mug rounder into the mouth of the mug. Once it's in place, give it a light spank. 

Et voilรก, my mug is round once again! The mug rounder is just an enclosed thrown form. I made mine about 3 3/4" at the widest point, and they taper to accommodate smaller diameters, but obviously if you typically make wider-mouth mugs you could make one any size you want. It's only bisqued, because it needs to remain porous; otherwise it will stick to the wet clay and not release cleanly.

Hope you all are staying warm (or cool, if you are in Australia! Thinking of you, Tanya!)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Dear 2018

Speaking of reflections, check out this Sun Dog! It's a reflection of sunlight on ice crystals in the air. 
Longtime readers know that the week between Christmas and New Years' is my favorite of the year. (Well. Except possibly the Wigwam Weekend! and all the other days that the air outside doesn't hurt my face.) I love that all the holiday hulabaloo is done, but it doesn't yet feel like we've returned to routine. I use these days to reflect on the past year and think about the next. I am a big fan of New Year's resolutions, on the grounds that even a partially kept resolution typically has a more salubrious effect than none at all, but I don't make them lightly. This week gives me time to think about what I could do better or more or differently, to being my life - and, increasingly, my world - closer to ideal.

This year's Week of Reflection opened with a Sun Dog: bright spots of light flanking the sun as the light bounces off ice crystals in the atmosphere. (No, I didn't take the photo; that's a sun dog that appeared over Chicago a few years ago.) It seemed fitting.

I learned a lot in 2017, actually, but the big takeaway is to focus my energy. Boiling it down, in the personal realm:
  • I  can only do what I can do, and I can't do more than that. I also learned that what I can do - what all of us can do - is more than we think!  
  • I hate this one but...I learned to walk away from some people - even if I feel that at heart they are good people. I hate it because it feels like giving up, but people have to make their own choices. It's arrogant of me to think I can change a mind that's determined not to change. 
  • As a direct result, I grew closer to the people who nourish my joy, and I hope that I do the same for them. I want to use my emotional energy lifting people up. 
Professionally, I had the same big takeaway: FOCUS. I make pots. I make & sell soap. I teach classes. I do workshops. I sell wholesale, at shows, and consignment. This is a lot of spreading my energy around! It's time to pare down a bit.

I ๐Ÿ’“ teaching my classes. Some days I honestly can't believe my luck that someone would pay me to hang out with fun people and do fun creative projects and talk about my favorite subject. It also lends some stability to our household income; with Doug & I both being self employed, it can get a little chaotic because payday is just "whenever the checks arrive." So teaching stays.

Obviously I'll be making pots! and also selling pots. I am finding that shows fit my work style very well: I work better (or at least more!) when I am aiming for a specific event. I'll keep my existing wholesale accounts, and maybe pick a couple more, but I think I will be ending my consignment relationships. They are a lot of work for a small trickle of money, and more than the work, they keep a bunch of inventory tied up collecting dust while waiting to sell. Better to have the pots on hand to fill an art fair display or provide work when a wholesale account needs it.

Soap. Ah, soap. For sure I will keep making soap, and for sure I will sell what I make, but I've decided that soap will remain a hobby. I have a daydream of a line - Sweet Life Bath & Body - and maybe even a store in downtown Augusta. But there are only so many hours in a day and a week and a year, and I can't do both this and be a potter. Upside: this frees me to make whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it, and not try to design a line or produce consistently, or market the line, or mess around with the perfect packaging. Just lye and fat, doin' their thing.

I'll be cutting back on workshops, offering only the two I am already committed to in 2018. Because I dread the very thought of failing or being unprepared in front of an audience, I spend so much time on preparation for workshops that the otherwise-reasonable amount I am paid for the ends up not covering my time.

Happy New Year, dear readers! Here's hoping in 2018 you spend time with the people you love and doing things that bring you joy.

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