Sunday, July 14, 2019

An Urn for Traveller

I never take custom orders. I find them very stressful, and as a result put off starting the project until it looms over my head longer than it would have taken to make it. I usually make 3 or 4 or whatever it is, to increase the chances of success, so it takes 3 or 4 times the resources - materials, time, fuel - that it would take to make a similar piece spontaneously. I am left with a couple of oddball pieces that don't fit my usual body of work, and nothing to do with them except maybe sell them as seconds.

Also, they aren't fun.

I did make an exception to this rule, though, for a friend who wanted an urn for a dog who had passed. He wasn't her dog; he belonged to a friend of hers. I had met Traveler, though, and it is no secret that I have a soft spot for animals.

I agreed to this custom order for a couple of reasons. Barbara is a friend - I 100% would not do this for a stranger or a slight acquaintance. She used to own The Artisan's Barn, a craft gallery in Readfield, and carried my work for several years before she retired, so she is well familiar with the concept of handmade variation; and she was willing to let me make ALL the design decisions - color, shape, handle, all the details. My mission was just "make a nice urn" that would fit the cremains of a 110 pound dog.

I did a bit of math to determine the size: with pet cremains, figure one cubic inch per pound of living weight. The volume of a cylinder is
2 x h
[Pi (3.14 etc)] x [the measurement of the radius, squared (multiplied by itself)] x the height
For ceramics we need to figure in shrinkage; I usually multiply by 1.15 to accommodate 15% shrinkage. 

Even so, I made three. One was too small; one was, idk, it was fine but I didn't love it. One was, to quote Goldilocks, just right.

I think of Traveler, sweet boy, and feel glad that I can honor his life in this small way.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Morning in Belfast

I don't know if I've ever done an art fair in a more beautiful location that Belfast, Maine. It was insufferably hot yesterday, so we didn't get a lot of visitors, but today promises to be sunny and 70s - the perfect Maine summer day.

As often happens after an extremely hot day, we got some thunderstorms last night. I didn't take my tent down but I did remove all the pots from the shelves & put them in crates on the ground. That turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as winds did not get about 10 mph in Belfast last night! Still, better no to take the chance.
As always, I worried about the display; in particular if I would have enough pots to fill it. I do! Hopefully at the end of the day I will have none. 😉

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Murphy's Law is Not So Bad!

If I didn't clarify before, my last firing was only a Murphy's Law firing if Murphy's Law was about screw-ups. Everything that went wrong in this firing was something I did wrong or failed to do! It's something of a pattern: I have a few super-smooth firings in a row, then I get over-confident - or maybe lazy is the word I want here - and make things harder for myself. For example:
  • The cone pack exploded because 
    1. I made the packs just a few hours before lighting the burners
    2. I didn't poke vents in the clay of the pack with a needle tool, to allow the water vapor to escape more easily; and
    3. I turned up the burners too quickly
  • The burner fluffed out repeatedly because the thermocouple was failing. That's nobody's fault - thermocouples don't last forever - but usually I have extras around. 
  • I forgot to buy wood shavings and soda ash ahead of time
  • And, as I was reminded when I unloaded, I forgot to do my basic kiln hygiene and knock the stalactites off the underside of the arch! These turn into ugly, lumpy grey-green drips in the firing, and I lost some pots on the top shelf to them. 
All in all, though, I have to say I was incredibly lucky. The soda glass is evenly distributed, the colors are rich and clear, even the exploded cone pack didn't damage anything! Most importantly, the steins that I need for Watershed's Salad Days event came through beautifully. (Enough of them, anyway! One was lost in the bisque to a separating handle, and two got the aforementioned ugly soda drips on them. that still leaves more than I need!)
It's 87° today, so I am going to take a bit of a break from the heat. I still need to grind a few bottoms, then sort, price, and pack the pots for Belfast Arts in the Park.

Some of these pots should be available online after the 13th. 

I'm gonna make some notes here about the firing schedule that worked out so well so I can refer to it for future firings:
  • Lit one burner on 1# pressure at 9 pm
  • Lit all burners on 1# pressure at 10 pm (TOO FAST - Cone pack exploded)
  • Tapped burners up just a bit at midnight
  • Went to bed!
  • 4 am - red heat, turned up burners
  • ^012 falling at 7 am, turned up burners & pushed in damper
  • G-D f*ckin burner went out about 4 times between ^012 & ^3
  • ^6 falling at noonish - started adding soda mix
  • Kiln stalled for over two hours at ^6. Stopped adding soda & put kiln in lightest possible reduction
  • ^8 falling, resumed soda. Finished soda maybe an hour before the kiln went off
  • Had only one cone pack, in the typical hot spot, so I laid ^11 down to make sure the cool spot got to ^10

Monday, July 1, 2019

Belfast Arts in the Park

Wow, it's July already, and only a few days away from Belfast Arts in the Park. I'll be in Booth 111, with the hopefully-wonderful pots from the Murphy's Law firing! Come see me.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Murphy's Law Firing

My last firing was smooth sailing all the way - a high pressure day, a steady climb, body reduction by 7 am, all the pretty cones falling evenly. The universe demands balance! So this firing takes Murphy's Law as its inspiration. A cone pack explodes! A burner fluff out, twice so far! Ooops, I'm out of wood curls! Pelting rain last night right when I had to adjust the burners!

It's not promising. I'm tempted to turn it off & try again on Wednesday.

But that's silly! There's no reason this annoying firing can't produce beautiful pots. and firing on Wednesday would put a squeeze on an already-tight timeline for my upcoming fair, Belfast Art in the Park. So I'll just keep an eye on that f*cking burner, send Doug out for wood shavings, and hope for the best.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Week 1 Skill Challenge: Throw a 1-lb Cylinder 6 Inches High

I do these weekly challenges with my students. This session I am tying each one to the week number; week 1 we have a one-pound challenge, week 2 we'll have a 2-pound challenge, and so on.

They wouldn't be challenges if they were easy, but they are doable! You will need to get all the clay up into the wall for this to work - no extra thickness at the bottom! Some tips:
      • The centered hump of clay should be relatively tall & narrow, with a flat top, before you open it. About 3" at the bottom, 2" at the top.
      • Open with your thumbs bent & pointy. 
      • Establish a flat interior bottom before you begin pulling up 
      • Make sure you begin your pull with your outer fingertips right against the wheelhead. 
      • At the beginning of each pull, press in with your outside fingertips (for me that's my right hand) to make a little ridge of clay that you will bring up the wall. 
      • As soon as you begin pulling, move your outside fingertips so they are putting pressure a little bit higher than your fingertips inside the pot. This will prevent the wall from spreading outward. 
      • Pull as many times as you need 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Always a Silver Lining

I've been working like a mad potter for the last few weeks, toward a firing to provide work for the Belfast Arts in the Park , happening July 6 & 7, and immediately after that, Watershed's Salad Days, July 13th. Briefly coming up for air to check what happens after those events, I realized the answer is...nothing.

I mean, not nothing-nothing; I'll still have stores to supply and the online shop. But, since I didn't get into the Common Ground Fair, and was only wait-listed for the Portland Fine Crafts Show, I've got no big events coming up for the rest of the summer. That's not ideal, of course, and suggests that I should review my application images - hopefully I can do better! But a good show is always going to be in demand, and unless you are, idk, Bob Briscoe or someone, sometimes you are going to jury out. Even knowing this, I didn't make any "safety" applications, because honestly I'd rather do no show than price, pack, schlepp, unload, set up, stay all day, then do it all in reverse, for $250.

Well, I got my wish...sort of! My real wish would have been to get into the shows, of course, but failing that, I kinda...have the summer off! Or half of it. I mean, I'll still teach my classes & supply the aforementioned stores but I'll have no big deadlines pressing on my mind, or my time. OH THE PLACES I'LL GO

I have brains in my head
I have feet in my shoes

I can steer myself any direction I choose!*

*With apologies to Dr. Seuss

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Steins for the 'Shed

So, you know about Salad Days, right? If not, I've been remiss! Salad Days is a huge lawn party to benefit the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. For $40, you get a handmade plate, designed specially for the event, all the salad you can eat, and a day of bluegrass music with all your potter and potter-supporting friends on Watershed's 30 rural acres. This year it's happening July 13th, a Saturday. (The "Days" part of the name is something of a misnomer, referencing the expression which means "the days when you could only afford to eat salad," itself somewhat odd, since - these days anyway - salad is kinda spendy! But I digress.) The event happens from 10-3.

In addition to the famous Salad Days plates, designed & created by a different artist every year, there's a Salad Days Stein Sale. Click the link, go on, I dare ya! WHOSE POTS ARE THOSE, RIGHT THERE AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE?? That's right, Yours So Very Truly! I was super excited to get the invite to make steins for the event. I got a start on them last week.

Like, whoa! Those look ginormous. I weighed out 2 1/4 pounds of clay, and they are about 7 1/2 inches high. which our old friend arithmetic tells me will shrink to 6 1/2, not at all an absurd size for  a stein.Trust the math, right? Math don't lie.

And anyway they look a little less silly-big with the handles on:

They've asked for 10-12; I made 15, for safety, but that means that (hopefully!) even if you can't make it to Salad Days, there will be a few Salad Days steins available. Actually, I'm enjoying them so much, I think I might make a few pilsner shapes as well.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Must Be Summer!

The Pottery Stairs are out!

I've had people ask if I can email them when the stairs are out. I can't promise that - the only reason I am able to sell items for $5-$15 is because there's no effort involved beyond putting them out there. But I will try to post it to the Fine Mess Pottery facebook page every time. Deal? Deal.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Meet Periwinkle, Our Sponsored Cat!

I visited Kennebec Valley Humane Society this afternoon, to choose a cat to sponsor with the proceeds of the Cat Dish Fundraiser. With the help of the staff there, I decided on Periwinkle. She is a big beautiful 4-yr-old tabby, brown with russet undertones - truly a lovely cat. She's very spunky & playful. Periwinkle has been at the shelter since March.
Like my Snowball, Periwinkle has food allergies, so will need a special diet. This was part of the reason I wanted to sponsor her - it can be harder to adopt out a cat with any special needs. Her adoption fee was $75, but now it's FREE!
Thank you to all who bought dishes & shared posts to help make this happen! We will keep an eye on Periwnkle online & hope she finds her forever home soon.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

One Left!

We did it! 10+ cat dishes sold; on Wednesday I will drop into the shelter and choose a cat to sponsor. Thank you all who bought a dish, or shared the post to help make it happen.

There's one dish left! I don't need to sell it to sponsor a cat, I already have enough, but selling it would help defray the cost of materials & shipping. Any takers?
Last one! $15, free shipping!
Either way, onward & upward! I will report back on Wednesday. 🙂

Update: Will have to visit KVHS tomorrow! Turns out they are closed on Wednesdays.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

One Good Thing

A little over a year ago, I did the first cat dish fundraiser, followed quickly by the second. Together we were able to sponsor the adoption fees for 3 shelter cats, all of whom found their forever homes shortly thereafter.

At that time, I had 5 cats; in the intervening months, a sixth cat has managed to worm his naughty, adorable way into our home. Six really is the limit, though; if I needed any further persuading, Skinny is my first-ever sprayer, which means finding and wiping up cat pee is my new hobby! Toward that end I bought a blacklight, to help find the invisible pee spots.
Like they use on Bones. only it's for pee!

But I digress.

It's time once again for the Sorta-Annual Cat Dish Fundraiser! If I can sell 10 of these sweet little dishes, I can sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS.  I've got my eye on an older cat named Sweatpants, if she hasn't found a home by the time this fundraiser is done. 

Let me highlight a couple of my favorites: 
Cat Dish 2: Serene Green
Cat Dish 1: Spring Tartan
There are lots more in the online shop. Check them out & choose your favorite! I sold some during the Maine Pottery Tour, so I only need to sell five more to sponsor a cat. 

Because I can't adopt them all! 

I know this may not come to you at a good time to buy; and I know you have causes & obligations of your own! Believe me I understand not having money to support every good cause that comes along. If you can buy one, awesome! If not, maybe you can share this post, so it can reach a person who can. Thanks!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Building Community

I had a date on Friday, with my community! I gave my students at Hallowell Clay Works an assignment, to make a serving dish perfect for a specific food, then make that food & bring it to our studio-wide potluck. I of course also brought a dish, in a dish; I made a tomato & cucumber salad. We expanded the invitation to the whole studio, so we could meet the people who make the beautiful things we're been seeing on their shelves.

Most of the time I write about being a studio potter, but I am also a ceramic educator. I've successfully built or had a hand in building ceramics programs at three or four institutions now; in a couple of cases the programs doubled in size during my tenure (not all down to me, of course, but I did my part.) I find that the key is community. Clay has a really steep learning curve! It's easy for students to get frustrated and give up when the beautiful items they dream of making remain out of reach for months and months. What keeps people coming back, to pay money to be frustrated over and over again? Community.

Friends. Encouragement. People to tell your stories to. People to commiserate with when things don't go well, and to cheer for and with you when they do. I have come to realize that my main contribution as a ceramic educator is not merely to teach people how to make stuff, but to knit together communities of supportive friends.

Almost 20 years ago, Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. In it, Putnam describes the decline of social capital in the late 20th century, with decreasing participation in activities and groups that pull people outside of their existing in-groups. 
Bowling Alone was written prior to the existence of social media, but I tend to think, despite its name, that social media has the effect of dividing us further rather than bonding us. People we don't interact with in mundane ways can be reduce to one point of view we disagree with. Thus we grow ever more isolated in smaller and more limited circles.

So what, tho, right? The answer: 
But does it really matter that social capital is declining? Putnam argues that, indeed, it does, as social capital "has many features that help people translate aspirations into realities." (p 288) Putnam identifies five such features. First, social capital makes collective problems easier to resolve, as there is less opposition between parties. This results in improved social environments, such as safer and more productive neighborhoods. Second, it makes business transactions easier, since when people trust each other, there is less of a need to spend time and money enforcing contracts. As a result, economic prosperity increases generally. Third, social capital widens our awareness of our mutual connectivity. This can improve the quality of our civic and democratic institutions. Fourth, it helps to increase and speed up the flow of information, which, in turn, improves education and economic production. Finally, social capital improves our health and happiness through both psychological and biological processes which require human contact.
In particular, in 2019, we are politically polarized as we've never been before. We need places where we can come together and see the whole person, not just their ideology. Places where we can experience our commonality.  We need community.

Art is positioned to serve that function! In fact it happens naturally, but I've learned in my role as instructor that I can foster and nurture the bonds that create community.

That's what Friday night was. A bunch of fun people, great food, and the salvation of our society.

Or something.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Still Worthy

Luckily I haven't had to in a while, but longtime readers will remember that sometimes I write about depression in this space. With that in mind, I enjoyed a particular moment in Avengers: Endgame, which Doug & I went to see last night. Technically I suppose a Spoiler Alert is in order here, but I don't think I am giving away much of the plot or its resolution with this. But, I'll put in a page break, just in case.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Pottery Tour Wrap Up

It's Monday, May 6th, and real life has resumed after being submerged in work to make the Maine Pottery Tour happen.
For my event here at Fine Mess Pottery, I really can't complain! We had, idk, 80 visitors? Sales were about 15% above last year. My guest artists each had some sales as well, so I am pretty happy. One odd thing: there was a HUGE disparity in attendance Saturday vs Sunday. Like, more than 60 people Saturday vs less than 20 on Sunday. I was a bit surprised, because the Kennebec Journal sent a reporter & photographer out on Saturday, and the article came out Sunday morning. I thought that would bring some folks out. Still, not complaining!
My Raffle Prize
Some things that worked:

  • When I remembered to ask, most people said they learned about the event thru social media. 
  • I did get some repeat customers who were reminded to visit by receiving a postcard.
  • Another studio on the tour, Peeper Pond, in Scarborough, felt that their 15+ signs were a bigger driver of traffic. Ash Cove Pottery in Harpswell had a similar experience. They are both on a less-beaten path, so I can see signage being super important for those locations. 
  • I again offered a raffle item to collect address (e- & physical) for my mailing list. I got 27 new addresses - a goodly number! - but several people filled out the form with just a phone number. My signage was not clear enough, apparently! 
  • Martha & me!
  • So glad I had my guest artist, Martha Hoddinott of A Lakeside Studio Pottery, there to help me! I underestimated how many people would be there at one time, and I'm sure I would have missed sales if I had been there alone. Thanks Martha!
  • We saw a huge jump in visitors to the website when the Maine Public & Maine Public Classical spots started airing - 200 to 400 visitors a day in the week before the Tour. But I didn't hear anyone say they learned about the tour via public radio. So, I'm not sure how to evaluate the success of that approach. I mean, clearly hundreds of people were interested enough to visit the website. Lots of them came from facebook, but many, many people just typed the name into their browsers or cam to the site via google or bing, too. I hope to continue the sponsorships next year -but will have to see how the other studios feel about it. 
  • I'm not sure I need to offer snacks! It feels rude not to have anything, but nobody except em ate the snacks. Next year maybe just coffee, tea, and water. 
  • Martha bought flowers for the displays! It really, really punched up the visual appeal. Maybe next year we'll direct more money to flowers & less to brownies. 
On to the next thing: a new cat dish fundraiser! Once again I've made some little catfood-sized dishes, and once again, if I sell 10 of them I will sponsor a cat at Kennebec Valley Humane Society. We're halfway there: with the dishes that sold during the pottery tour, we only need to sell 5 more. It's
on my list this week to photograph these individually & get them listed in the online shop.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Good Pots Good Day

Too tired to say much more, but here are some photos from Day 1 of the Maine Pottery Tour.
We had a nice crowd for the unloading - that was fun! Especially because the firing was good. It would have been...well, less fun if I were unloading crap pots.
One of my visitors was a photographer, & she volunteered to take my cell & snap some shots. Good lesson here, for me: always wear a hat, if I think there's a chance someone might take my picture! I always hate my hair, in photos.

A reporter and photogra[her from the Kennebec Journal also came by. They spent a couple hours talking to me & visitors, and I'm told we'll be in the paper tomorrow! Pretty excited about that.
Excited, but, as I said, super tired! Gonna go take a bath, then maybe watch a show or otherwise shut my weary brain off.
If you're anywhere near me, come visit tomorrow! The Pottery Tour continues, 11-4.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Watch the Load

...then visit on Saturday morning to watch the unload! I am mildly nervous about this - I occasionally have crap firings, and it would NOT be fun to have an audience for the unveiling of one. But, you know, that's part of the process...and what I htink is crap might be perceived differently by visitors.

Come visit during the tour! To learn more, click here:; or to download a map of the Central leg of the tour, click here. For a Google map you can follow on your phone, click here

Monday, April 29, 2019

Almost Time...

...for the Pottery Tour, of course, but also almost time for another Cat Dish Fundraiser! Together, last year we were able to sponsor the adoption fees of three shelter cats, and all found their forever homes!
The dishes for the next round of kitty-saving are in the kiln right now! I always have fun glazing these because they are low-consequence: I can try anything I want, I can't lose money I wasn't going to make anyway! Here's how they looked before I loaded them:
This load will fire on Wednesday, unloading Saturday morning at 10 am, during the pottery tour! hope to see you there.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Pottery Tour Event: Kiln Opening!

An excellent idea that was totally always part of the plan and not at all forced by timing! 😉 Either way, stop by the studio at 10 AM Saturday! I will be unloading a firing. You can help, or just get first dibs.

131 Cony St

Or, download a map of the Central Region and visit all 12 Central Maine stops!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Pinker Shade of Pale

Ugly pink bisqueware! But it will get better. At least I hope it will.
With just over a week left before the Maine Pottery Tour, I am scrambling to get a firing cycle completed. It's a nice problem to have - I thought i had plenty of inventory, but sales over the winter were better than expected, so I need to squeezed out enough to fill the shelves. Today I have two classes to teach, so I may not get much studio work done; Friday & Saturday promise to be glazing marathons, in order to fire on Sunday. If that doesn't happen, I may quite accidentally be including a kiln opening as a tour event on Saturday morning! that wouldn't be the worst thing, although, given how disappointing my last firing was, it's a bit of a roll of the dice - I wouldn't want an audience for the unveiling of a crap firing.

On the other hand, people DO love an unloading! And it's not like i have no pots, I'd just like more, to give the shelves that compelling sense of abundance that makes people want to take some home with them.

Probably my best plan is to shoot for firing Sunday, then, if need be, I can push it back.

So much to do!
Local peeps - all of you peeps, actually - I hope I see you! May 4th & 5th.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Karen Makes a Textured Vase

One of the many things I love about the clay community - our community - is the enormous generosity of my fellow potters. When we learn something, we don't hoard it; we are excited to share with others. Case in point: my student Karen Carpenter recently demonstrated for the class a technique she learned from another potter, to make an evenly textured surface on a curved vertical vase.

The roller she uses here is from MKM Tools.

Did you find this post valuable? Buy me a coffee!

^^LOL if anyone does this for *this* post I'm gonna have to buy Karen a coffee!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Pottery Road Trip!

Above is a Google map of the 37 stops on the Maine Pottery Tour, plus a couple of lunch & shopping suggestions (AKA sponsors.) You can send this map to your phone - or so I'm told - or if you are old-school like me, you can download maps of the legs of the tour you want to visit at these links:

Central Region of the Maine Pottery Tour -12 Stops; Fine Mess Pottery is one of them!
Coastal Region of the Maine Pottery Tour - 11 Stops
Southern Region of the Maine Pottery Tour - 13 Stops

Hope to see you then!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Joyful Abundance

Do you have a magic twanger? I do. Something in my brain that just lights up under certain stimuli. It sounds like I'm talking about a sex thing, but I'm not - my magic twanger responds to aesthetic cues. Like, making these minis! Like a lot of artists, I spend some time thinking about why I make what I make. Not why I make stuff - the inherent satisfaction explains that well enough - but why I make the specific things I make, in the specific way. The magic twanger provides a clue.

The minis give me a feeling of abundance, a sense of thriving. There are so many, all different, all the same! A healthy lilac in bloom will give me the same feeling: so much, so much bounty! Actually lots of the metaphors that come to mind are garden-related: a tomato plant heavy with fruit, bees trundling over blossoms. Teeming life.

Reading that, the word that comes to mind is "fecundity," so maybe it is a sex thing after all. 😄

Friday, April 12, 2019

Test Recipe: Honey Celadon

Firing temperature : cone 10 | Surface texture : matte | Color : golden yellow | Atmosphere:Reduction Soda Wood

Published in "Atmospheric Glazes" by Lisa York, in the Dec 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly.



Do not apply thick or it may shiver or become runny.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

New Pots in the 2nds Shop!

 Two tiny tiny rough spots on the interior are what renders this gravy boat - otherwise my favorite piece from the firing! - a 2nd. Not enough to compromise the function, mind you! Juuuuust enough of a flaw to put it over the line. Silver lining? Somebody out there will get a great bargain, and this pot will serve its useful purpose in the world.

 This pot doesn't actually have a flaw - just a demo that doesn't really belong anywhere. I was demonstrating a couple of things - the spiral pattern on the inside is a pattern of dark clay inlaid in white. The resulting slab was placed over a hump mold, so my beginners could see that process. Got lucky with the Malcolm Davis Shino - the Mad Dog, as my friend Peg likes to call it - like you sometimes do with that glaze and its wonderful carbon-trapping properties.
It's about 6 inches wide. Check it out here!
Nothing wrong with this pot either! It was a throwing demo, which I then used to demonstrate stamping & slip trailing. Just a basic workhorse shino on this one; pretty nice all the same. It's also about 6" wide, destined to be somebody's go-to bowl for cereal, soup, mac 'n'cheese, even ice cream.
Maybe you? Check it out here

I used this pot as a glaze demo when the little loop on the side proved to be too small for the pate knives I bought for that purpose. That'll teach me: Always do the math! This little pickle fork fits just fine, though, so this pot has found a new purpose in life: it's a pickle dish! Do you need a pickle dish? 
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