Sunday, August 12, 2018

What Do You Do While the Kiln is Firing?

Me, I clean. There are some logical reasons for that - the studio is never more empty than when all the ware is in the kiln - and some squishier ones, like for some reason I just can't make myself start a new making cycle in the midst of the old one. NO OVERLAP, it's some kind of brain-cramp of a rule that I can't get past. So, I clean.

Sometimes I clean my house. Often I clean my studio - see above. Sometimes I drag all the random crap that has drifted into the shed like seaweed on a beach, throw three-quarters of it away, and then organize the rest. It's lucky I have firing days, because some stuff only happens then.

Today I had a flea infestation to address. As you may know, I live in the House of Many Cats, not entirely accidentally. We apply flea preventative medications regularly, but fleas do love hot, humid weather, and I found one on Finn McCool just yesterday - only two weeks after he'd had his monthly treatment. Time for drastic action! Which means, time to close the cats up in bedrooms, drag all the furniture into the kitchen, and shake Borax on all the carpets to kill flea eggs. It has to sit for a few hours before getting vacuumed up, so I still had time to do dishes & laundry & all my regular cleaning stuff as well. I did straighten the studio a bit as well, and re-arranged things so it's easier to glaze in there. Maybe that's why I don't like crossing the streams - I use the space differently during the glazing part of the cycle.

The bisque is nearly done now, and Doug & I will settle down to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

I love Groot, don't you?


Thursday, August 2, 2018

'Tis the Season - for Raku!


I never tire of glowy-kiln images! I am always the one with the tongs, so not in  position to appreciate the visual spectacle while it is happening; I'm busy making sure all the pots survive the journey & no one gets burned. That's me, there, in the silver jacket & face shield. I know lots of people who raku without all the protective gear, and I will never be one of them! Just call me snowflake, I see no reason to be in pain if it can easily be avoided.

The photo above was taken after about half the pots were out.


We got some lovely pots out of the firing! I find I get better results if I don't try to cram as many pots as possible into the kiln: fewer pots means I don't have to hurry before the last ones cool off. I can take my time & position the pieces in the sawdust in a way that will benefit them, instead of just however they land. For example, bowls should be place rim down in the combustible pile! Copper lustres will turn bright & metallic, and all glazes will avoid the unfortunate crusty texture that comes with getting sawdust (or dry leaves or newspaper or whatever) in the puddle of still-molten glaze inside a bowl. Here are a few results, with thanks to Holly Johnson of Hurricane Mountain Pottery for all the photos I used today.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

TTFN, Pottery Stairs!

Just checking in with my pottery peeps! It's been a month or so since I posted, and in that time I have been busily making. Wholesale is all delivered for the season, and my next event is not until the end of August, but I am (for once!) not waiting until the last possible second.

And of course there are also consignment outlets to keep full.

Usually in the summer I would have a steady drip of income from the Pottery Stairs, but things have gone awry this year. While theft has always been factored in to the cost of my honor-system stand - occasionally someone would take an envelope & not send the money, or even every once in a while an outright theft of a piece or two - this year it's crazy. Like, every day a couple of pieces just disappear. Even when people took envelopes, which I take as meaning they intend to pay, only one of four envelopes returned to me with payment.
The Pottery Stairs in better days

While it's tempting to see this as further evidence that the world is getting shittier, I think two things account for the change. The outright thefts - someone just seeing something they like & taking it - are probably one person, or maybe two, together. The payments that never arrive are probably due to economic strains: people intend to pay, but every pay period, that pottery envelope is the least important thing, until it falls behind the radiator and is forgotten. Gas, oil, power, and food costs have all risen. Augusta's not a wealthy city, and real wages have fallen particularly hard in rural areas since last summer. People are hurting.

Whatever the cause, for now there's a moratorium on the Pottery Stairs. It's not just the loss of product - these are seconds, so any cash that comes in from them is essentially found money - but it bums me out. And with only one of four envelopes coming back with payment, it's not worth the hit my mood takes when the thefts occur; no one like to be stolen from, however minor the loss. So it's Ta-Ta For Now, Pottery Stairs.

Was that a bummer? Could you use a cute cat pic to cheer you up? If so, here is a cute cat pic:
Jack (orange), Petey (grey), Noodle (white w/ black) & Finn (black w white)





Friday, June 22, 2018

The Real Test

Though I have already successfully fired a bisque under the newly repaired arch, it hardly counts as a test. I could bisque in a trash can, with some minor modifications, or in a hole in the ground ( I actually have done that.) Today I am unloading the first glaze firing!

I am a bit nervous about it, because even small changes to the kiln can affect the way it fires - and in addition to patching up the arch, I made a couple of other changes. I dropped the height of the bag wall one course. I used to need the extra height, or the soda would get sucked straight out the flue - this little kiln used to draw like a mad bastard. When I rebuilt the stack (2 summers ago? ) I built it one course smaller, which - I hoped - would diminish the draw a little. I'm only just now getting around to testing that idea, because the kiln was firing so beautifully I didn't want to rock the boat. If I can fire successfully with a lower bag wall, though, that will increase the stacking space, which will increase my yield: I'll get more pots & therefore more money, for the same amount of propane.

Assuming, of course, it works out. Let's see what we've got:


First peek looks good! My big fear - that the top half of the kiln would be pasty & dry - is alleviated. Now to go lower; we'll be looking for good coverage there as well, and hoping hoping for no major cool spots. 

w00t! Still looks good!

At that point I stopped taking photos, but here's the scoop: Most of the load was really good, but the bottom layer was a little cool. Probably salable, but they will be much better pots if I refire them, and really I lost almost none of this load to the usual mishaps: soda drops, random cracks, little hunks of kiln shit landing in bowls, so I don't mind pulling a few to get a jump on my next firing. So, mostly good news! I think if I had laid ^10 down flat, that would have been just enough to bring the bottom layer the rest of the way. 

Some of these are for a standing order (YAY STANDING ORDERS!) but most will be coming with me to the Center for Maine Craft tomorrow, where I will have my own mini pop-up shop from 10 to 3. Come see me! The Center is located at the travel plaza in West Gardiner - take exit 51 if you are coming north on 295. 
See you there! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Shapes & Colors of June

The flowers of mid-June make the best bouquets! The enormous raspberry heads of peony, the delicate deep purple shapes of Siberian Iris, the fizzy lemonade froth of Lady's Mantle. All easy to grow, too,  at least here in Maine.

I made the little pitcher that serves here as a vase. As often happens, it was unappreciated when it came out of the kiln - many more immediately eye-catching pots came out of the same firing, and it was overshadowed. Over time it's quietly served its functions, and become a favorite. Like people, you get to know pots slowly.

Happy June, the second-best month in Maine - the best being September, but it's a tight call.

Friday, June 15, 2018

OM4 70 Neph Sy 30

Testing a new flashing slip recipe - I kind of just made it up, with crowdsourced suggestions. Let's do it.

Results to follow next week.

Kiln repair went well, I am unloading the bisque today. More info about that (for the kiln geeks among you - I love you, kiln geeks! 💙) soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Jacked Up


OMG I think this is going to work...sort of, anyway.
I propped the arch for on four jackposts, high enough to lift the weight of the arch from the walls. This allowed me to straighten the walls a little and pop in the fallen brick. I couldn't completely correct the spread tho - I'd need to pull down the walls for that. I might do that next summer but for now I need to get this kiln working again - I have orders to complete. So! Because the walls had spread, there was an inch & a half gap in the front ring of the arch, and a much narrower wedge of gap in the second ring.

Solution? Castable.

On the suggestion of my friend Tyler Gulden - let me here put in a 100% sincere plug for him: if you have a few bucks to hire your kiln built, he's the guy you want, and his services are affordable to the point of ridiculous!Anyway, on his suggestion I got a commercially produce high-alumina castble product called Noxcast 32, durable to 3200°F and non-reactive to soda. When I do my someday-rebuild, I am going to line the interior of the kiln with this stuff!

It comes in a 50 lb bag - way more than I need but whatev - and cost about 50 bucks. If it works it'll still be a bargain!

I needed it not to stick to the wooden arch form, so I melted paraffin wax & poured it into the gap, then heavily applied cooking spray. I mixed the castble into a thick-but-pourable consistency, then scooped & dribbled it between the brick until the space was filled.


 It will need to set overnight but by tomorrow AM I should know if we are good to go!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It's Fine, I'm Sure It's Fine

That's what I keep telling myself, but I'm not sure I 100% believe it.  Like a lot of repairs, the kiln has to get worse before it can get better, freaking me out a little bit every step of the way. I had to (of course, but still) remove some of the brick around the doorway in order that the arch form fit in, and though I was pretty careful to stack the brick exactly as they were in the doorway part of me wonders if I will be able to put them back correctly. Half-assedness is so ingrained in my nature that even when I try to be meticulous a fair amount of half-assery slips in.

It doesn't help that I am making this up as I go along. The Kiln Book covers building an arch but not repairing one without taking the whole thing down & starting again. My consolation is, if this doesn't work, taking it down & starting again is always an option.

It's clearer than ever how much the walls have spread. Note to self & all other kiln builders: next time, make holes for two tie rods: when one breaks, the other will hold long enough to replace the broken one. Just think, for the 5 minutes it would have taken to drill 2 additional holes I could have avoided all this work, if not forever, at least for several years.

I've now completed the easy part...now to figure out how to jack up the form under the brick. It may be that my plan to support the center, just enough to pop in the missing brick, will need revisiting; possibly there is no way to do this without pushing up the whole arch. Right now the plan is to use a pair of jack posts to hold the form in place while I do the repair. Will let you know how it goes.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Speaking of Arches

Photo by Monica Hurley Lawson
My husband & I recently traveled to his home state of Massachusetts. His mother is in the hospital recovering from a fractured femur. While there we visited War Memorial Park in West Bridgewater, where we saw this amazing dry-stacked stone arch bridge. The stones of the central arch are interleaved with the arches on either side, and each relies on the others to buttress its weight. Each span is about 15 feet wide.  Delicate little snowflake that I am, I am groaning about building an arch with bricks cut specifically to fit the form; the builders of this bridge had to make random flat fieldstones fit. I am awed and delighted by the craftsmanship that went into this structure.

Photo by Doug Watts
These arches have been standing for almost 200 years! Would that my kiln arch were so sturdy. (Yes, I know, apples to oranges, comparing the durability of a barrel arch to a spring arch.)

Speaking of, the baby step I took today on that project was to take down the bag walls, which I had to do with a sledge hammer, they were so thoroughly glazed together. Next I will build a 2x4 frame to place the arch form on; then I will lift the form up with a pair of jackposts to remove the weight of the arch from the walls. Taking down the bag walls was a small step, but the day was not wasted; we devoted most of it to gardening - got our raised beds full of compost, bought some hot pepper seedlings, and watered a new patch of lawn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Progress in Progress

Did I mention I hate kiln building in all its forms? But I do love me some feeling of accomplishment. I've had to break down the task of repairing my arch into extremely tiny baby steps - re-read the chapter, take the measurements, look up the table, buy the plywood, and so on - which is my strategy for dealing with jobs that I dread doing. After enough steps are done the job begins to gain some momentum, and working on it gets easier.

So it is with my arch form! The form is built, and now I need to get some 2 x 4s to prop it up under the remaining bricks of the arch.

Baby steps are all fine and good, but there is some time pressure here - it's almost June & stores are waiting on their summer orders. When I get tired of the whine of the saw & the thunk of the hammer, I retreat to the summer studio to throw. I estimate the repair will be completed by the end of the holiday weekend, and I hope to have enough to fill a bisque shortly after.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Bricks are Numbered

I build my kiln in 2010; not the first kiln I've ever built, but the first one that I've been the brains of the operation. I love every aspect of making pottery - the wetwork, obvs, that's easy to love, but also glazing and loading and firing. I even love mixing glazes, in a way: the methodical concentration necessary creates almost a meditative state that shuts down the shouting of the world. Somehow I have never come to love kiln building and maintenance! Maybe I just haven't done enough of it. That's what I tell my students when they tell me they don't like pulling handles (and I am right.)

Possibly about to put a few more hours of kiln building experience under my belt. For several weeks I approached my flattened-arch situation by walking out every day & staring at the loose bricks for a while and then going back in the house. Finally I decided to grab a mallet & try to tap the bricks back into place. I didn't actually think it would work - they dropped for a reason - but I knew it would either a) work or b) cause the loose bricks to fall, thus ending the endless indecision over whether I really needed to go through the whole tiresome business of building an arch form.


The answer, of course, is yes, yes I do need to go through the whole tiresome business, and at least I have got that clear now so I can begin.

Since I sort of expected this result - that the bricks would fall - I put some scrap insulating foam board inside the kiln, so they would hit the floor and break. As you can see, I have numbered the remaining brick so I can just put them back where they were - they aren't all the same, some are #1 arch brick, some are #2 [insert extremely childish LOL here], and some are straights. I don't want to have to figure it all out again, so I went to work with my trusty sharpie marker.

As you can see, it's a bonded arch, so entire sections don't fall if one brick gets loose

This job still seems intimidating, despite the helpful numeration, and the fact that I built this arch in the first place, so I need to break it down to baby steps:

  1. Measure span & rise...or I may have those values in an old blog post. 
  2. Do the math to arrive at the radius of the imaginary circle this arch would inscribe were it continued. 
  3. Get plywood & slats
  4. Draw the necessary fraction of the imaginary circle on the plywood, twice
  5. Cut 2 slats the depth of the interior of the kiln, and screw the plywood to the slats to properly space the arch supports
  6. Attach slats between the plywood forms, along the curve
  7. Profit!
  8. No wait
  9. Ugh that's enough for one day

So, that's my to-do list for tomorrow! Fun City.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Devices Fail Me

Hello, friends! Long time no post...not that I didn't want to! My laptop conked out at the least convenient time, just a week before the pottery tour. Not that there is ever a convenient time for such an occurrence.

(In spite of that the tour went well - we had about 60 visitors and a steady stream of sales all day. In asking participating studio for their results, it seems sales varied between less than $100 to over $2000. [Note to participating potters, for future tours: the first one to break 5K can buy me a beer. 😉] I can't point to anything specific to explain the disparity, though I know the top earning studios did do a ton of promotion.)

My laptop failure can be a learning experience for you all, at least! Remember my motto, I screw up so you don't have to?  Well, here's the lesson: don't plug your laptop into a zipcord. I live in an old house, with not enough power outlets. I used an extension cord so I could sit up in bed & read the news or watch Dr Who - or write blog posts! I used the first extension cord I put my hand on, a zip cord - the kind with only the two slots, no space for the ground wire. I also have an adapter to make it possible to plug a three-prong plug into a two-prong hole.

Yeah, don't do that...

While waiting for my laptop to return from St. Louis, where the Geek Squad sent it to be fixed - I hope it had fun, I love St. Louis, used to live there - I thought I'd buy the cheapest available option as a stopgap. I found a $98 tablet, decided I could use that for a couple of weeks, and then pass it on to Doug, who is still working on an iMac he bought in 2004. So I bought the Smarttab.

Yeah, don't do that either...

Turns out there's a reason why it's the cheapest tablet available...because it is, hmm, how you say?...a piece of shit. It loaded pages so slowly that the connection timed out. I brought it back for a refund the same afternoon. Instead I dug out my old laptop, which at least allowed me to receive & respond to emails, although web browsing was mostly either impossible or too slow and aggravating to be worth it.

My beloved Gray Lady also experienced a minor failure. Well. not so much a failure as one of those expected maintenance issues: brakes & shocks. You know you are going to need to replace brakes & shocks, you just don't know when. Again: just before the pottery tour was a super inconvenient time to be without my truck! Luckily Doug has a friend with an actual lift in his garage, and they did the repairs themselves. No waiting! And, buying parts at the auto parts store cost about a third of what the repair shop will charge you for them, so it was way, way less expensive than it would have been. Crisis averted.

My kiln also has been out of commission for a while due to a flattening arch. For several weeks I have been addressing this by staring at it, trying to decide how to begin or even if I really needed to do anything. Finally, during a slow stretch of the tour weekend, I decide to hit it with a mallet. My thinking was, either I can tap those bricks back into place, or they will fall and definitively answer the question of whether a repair is necessary at this time, or if I can put it off until things get worse.

The bricks fell, of course; but only 6 of them. Well: 3 whole bricks and three halves. So, arch repair it is. I dug out my Olsen and started reviewing the math. This afternoon I with my trusty mallet began removing the castable layer so that I could get to the arch from above. I have two possible plans: Either A) Build a support for the remaining bricks and drop the missing ones back into place, with spacers if necessary, then re-apply a casable layer (this is the minimal plan) or B) Since building the arch support is really the pain in the ass part, if I am doing that much anyway maybe I should just take the whole arch down, straighten the walls, and replace the angle iron frame with a thicker gauge - essentially floor-up rebuild. Or, hell, the floor is in worse shape than the walls, if I am doing that maybe I should replace those brick. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me want to go to bed & pull the covers over me.

Wow, this post got long! I have another machine-failure story to tell you - a tale of three lawn mowers - but perhaps I will save that for another day.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Transformation


Remember this piece? I posted it a couple of weeks ago when it was leatherhard - I was playing around with some colorants in porcelain slip in class. I don't think of my demo pots as entirely "real;" I mean, I can see that they exist and are not imaginary! But they sort of don't count, as the purpose of them is to teach or explore an idea - the success or failure of the piece itself is incidental. In the case of this particular piece, I thought it was a bit too treacly-sweet for my taste, although I could see that it was the kind of piece that someone would love.

The kiln has done its magic, though, and made an okay pot into an intriguing one! There's no applied glaze on this piece, and no flashing slip either - all that hard shine is soda glass, and the charcoal coloration is all carbon trapping.

Got lots of good pots out of this firing - most will be available for the Maine Pottery Tour.

Ciao, my dears - more later.

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 Friday...today 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. 
Enjoy!

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. 😊

https://squareup.com/store/fine-mess-pottery

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. 😉

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 Toy....er, 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]

GETTIN CLOSE TO VALENTINE'S DAY I COULD SURE USE THE TWENTY TWO BUCKS I MAKE IF I SELL EVERY BAR OF A BATCH OF SOAP....[makes three batches]

OH MY THE RUG IS LOOKIN A LITTLE DINGY...[shampoos rug]

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

Uh-oh


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 customerservice@pethavenlane.org

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. 🙂
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.


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