Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Friend in Need


A couple of times over the last 16 years I have asked readers for help. I hate to do it, because I know you are mostly potters & so probably not the wealthiest! This time a friend is in desperate need, & we are running out of solutions. I know that many of you will not be in a position to help, but if you can, you will be doing a great kindness and it's deeply appreciated. If it's not feasible to give money, maybe you could share the fundraiser to your social media? 

I have known my friend Jon for nearly 40 years. In that time we have helped each other through hard times and crises. In every tough time, he has been there for me, despite having troubles of his own. That's how he is with all his friends - the one we all lean on. Jon has worked all his life but, like so many people, has never had a good enough job that he could get ahead. He was laid off in the fall and shortly after was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. 

Recently he suffered a medical emergency: a cut got badly infected and required emergency surgery. More surgery will likely be needed to remove dead tissue & repair the wound with a skin graft. Jon will be too unwell to work for the foreseeable future. 

He has applied for disability, but that decision can take many months, & he only has a few weeks of unemployment left. I feel certain he will qualify - we just need to keep a roof over his head until it comes through. So I started this fundraiser

As I said above, I really, really hate asking, because I know you all have demands on your money, families to care for, retirement to think about. (That's a big one, for the self-employed. No 401ks for us!) But if you have any room in the budget, or maybe you hit a lucky scratch ticket this week, any help you can give would be deeply appreciated. And I hope you have in your life a friend as good as Jon. 


Monday, March 20, 2023

Cracks Happen

 Last week I finished a couple of large platters - white stoneware with sliptrailed rims. I was super excited about them, in part because I haven't been making platters for quite a while. 

Yesterday I was reminded why I rarely make platters - the breakage & loss rate is much higher than other things I make, so the hours of work are often wasted. Both of my largest platters cracked right down the middle! Although to be fair, it was my own fault - these cracks are obviously shrinkage cracks & could have been avoided with slow drying, & placing the platter on newspaper. 

I posted the cracked image on facebook, because stuff like this, it's all part of the process. For me the point of social media is to let people get a real glimpse, not just to show the successes. Several good hearted people suggested ways to "salvage" the piece - kintsugi, or so alternative use. While I understand the impulse not to let the work be wasted, part of being a potter is learning when to let go. There are both philosophical & practical reasons to do this. From a practical standpoint, the most expensive resource that goes into making is not labor, & it's certainly not clay: it's propane, for the firing. Firing something that I already know is cracked would be tremendously wasteful of kiln space! Philosophically, I think a lot of people fundamentally misunderstand kintsugi. We think of it just as  a pretty technique - which it is! - but the idea behind it is acceptance of transience and change. It is honoring the history of a beloved object while accepting that it, like everything else, will change over time. A piece that is not yet fired has no history. In this case, acceptance of transience means allowing it to return to clay, to become something else. 

Tl;dr: cracks happen! They suck, but we move on. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Kiln Surprise!

The best thing about clay - one of them, anyway - is that there’s always something more to learn. I’ve been firing this kiln for a little over a year; my previous kiln was built for the Gail Nichols-soda-salad method. This kiln uses the more common spray-in method. I find any little change can produce a different result! In this case, there were 2 changes. I used the same amount of soda, but in hot water, and , due to a surprisingly quick climb, sprayed the soda all in right at ^10. (I then fired to 11, but I have done that before with no major effects.)

There is much more soda glass on these pieces than I usually get! I can think of ways either one of these changes could account for this. Don’t get me wrong, I love surprises, I love learning about firing, & I love the pearl grey color on the b-mix. I know these will be harder to sell, though; it’s harder to see the tranquility of grey than the vitality of peach or orange. 

The brown clay pieces are truly stunning. No complaints there! 

Anyway! I went out in the single-digit cold in my bathrobe to have a look. Time to put real clothes on and start unloading!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Safe Travels to one of the Greats: Dan Anderson, 1945 - 2023

I studied with Dan in the early 90s & was deeply saddened to hear of his passing this month. In a way, it's difficult to believe; he just seemed more alive than most people.  

I learned a lot from Dan - about ceramics, obviously, but more important stuff, too: to own your enthusiasms, to not hide your quirks, to not fear looking silly. Dan was always unapologetically himself; the walking, talking embodiment of the aphorism, "Embrace your weirdness, for it is also your genius." 

The ceramics world - indeed the whole world - will miss him. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Clay in the News: Balloon Dog Pops

A small sculpture valued at $42,000 (£35,000) by the renowned artist Jeff Koons has been broken at the opening night of an art fair in Miami by a woman who gave it a little tap.

The blue sculpture, part of Koons’ famous “balloon dog” series, was perched on a pedestal featuring the name of the American artist when the woman – an unidentified art collector – was said to have tapped the sculpture, which then fell to the floor and shattered into smithereens.

Read the whole thing here: 


Friday, February 17, 2023

Dopamine Dining

 I keep reading this phrase: dopamine dressing. I hadn't heard it until recently but I immediately knew what it meant. We've all done it! Colors that make you happy, jeans that make your butt look amazing, clothes that just feel very you & make you happy. 

I've started to think of using handmade dishware as dopamine dining. A mug or bowl that you love, that reflects an attitude of joy or serenity or high energy, or makes you smile - gives you what I call joy-zings but what might also be called dopamine hits. If you improve your experience of ordinary activities - & what could be more ordinary than preparing & eating food & drink? - you've improved your daily life. And guess what? Your daily life is the only life you have!

Tl;dr: Buy & use handmade pottery. See ya at the Maine Pottery Tour, May 6 & 7! 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Flash Sale! I think


One of my New Year's resolutions was to learn to use social media better for business. I usually keep my New Year's resolutions, or at least make a mighty effort; this one was challenging, as I feel older & less tech savvy by the day. 

But I think I got it figured out! Here goes: for 48 hours - midnight February 15th though midnight February 16th - enter code FEBFLASH at checkout in the Fine Mess Pottery online shop to receive 15% off! 

I hope somebody actually buys something so I know if I did it right! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Zero Days & Nearo Days

I've been doing a lot of hiking over the last couple of years. Often I am in the company of a good friend who is training for an Appalachian Trail hike, & who introduced me to the concept of Zero Days. 

In distance hiking, Zero Days are not a bad thing - they are resupply days, or days when you just give your body a rest. In my daily life, occasionally I will have a day when I just can't. Can't anything. On those days I just lay around reading, or streaming a show. As any self-employed artist knows, we can't afford many nonproductive days, & I used to hate myself for them; but understanding them in the context of a thru-hiker, I see those days differently. Sometimes you need that break. 

And, as I have come to realize, my days are never truly zero days; more like near zero. Nearo Days. Yesterday was one such day: supposed to be a teaching day, but 14" of snow said otherwise. Bonus studio day, right? NOPE. I spent no time in the studio, despite having leatherhard mugs that need handles & a jaunty jar that needs assembling. I just...couldn't. Things I did do: sent out invoices for the Maine Pottery Tour, & worked on updating the mailing list & the spreadsheet. Also shoveled a boatload of snow! So my zero days are not (usually) sit-around-eating-bon-bon days; it's my creative muscle that needs a rest. 

I do, on much rarer occasions, have literal zero days; unless "make coffee" and "keep breathing" count as accomplishments. I have learned to forgive myself for these days; maybe they aren't manifestations of laziness, but instead my brain insisting on a needed break. 

Today will be a teaching day, & tomorrow is looking like another snow day. Looks like were making up for the first, snowless month of winter, all in a week's time. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Going for it!

The poster for the 2022
Common Ground Fair

I have been on the fence about doing art fairs again after a long pandemic break, & then just unsure whether I wanted to go to the trouble & expense of rebuilding my booth, which I deconstructed after more than 25 years of service & one facelift. In the spirit of The Big Push - my New Year's Resolution - I decided to go for it, starting with the Common Ground Fair in Unity. 

There's no guarantee that I will be accepted, of course! The Common Ground is a competitive juried event. I didn't apply to this fair last year, & the two years before that I was accepted (but the fair, of course, was cancelled both times due to the pandemic) but if I recall correctly I was not chosen in 2019. It sucks, of course, to be juried out, but that is a necessary risk of applying to the best shows. The best shows in Maine, anyway; I've made a decision that I will not be applying to any show more than about 100 miles away. This is largely for environmental reasons - all those emissions from all those artists driving all those trucks & vans to all those art fairs! We forget that the flip side of "Shop Local" is "Sell Local." I have other considerations as well, mostly travel time & travel expenses.

Anyway, I've sent in my application & my ten bucks, now we wait & see. 

Today in the studio, I am finishing a jaunty jar & making some pasta bowls for Bay View Company, and also reclaiming clay - not my favorite job, but I'll turn it into a meditation. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Buffalo Cauliflower on Free Form Plate


The cauliflower was only OK - needed thicker batter. But the plate! I need to make more plates like this. All food looks good on it. 

I'm not gonna publish the cauliflower recipe until I get it right. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts


I have sort of a ritual with my hiking buddy, who goes by Hiking with Yowie on instagram. (Here's me, btw) We do our hike (or snowshoe, or bike ride, or paddle), then we find a local restaurant & have lunch. Yowie is vegetarian, so we always look for a place that has good choices in that vein. Last week we hiked the Gannett Woods trail to Shed Pond, then came back to Augusta & ate at State Lunch. We both had salads as our entrĂ©es, which were fine, but most memorable was the appetizer: Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts. 

I liked those so much I decided to try them at home! I've had an air fryer for over a year, but until recently basically only used it to heat up fishsticks. It can be a quicker way to prepare healthy foods (& an energy saver!), so I made a resolution to learn to do more with it. First I learned homemade chicken nuggets - no batter, no oil, but juicy, spicy, & quick! - and now I have figured out this new dish.

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

10-12 Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
Optional: diced red bell pepper, 3/4s cup
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup Dry Roasted Peanuts, no salt
1 clove & 2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Honey
1/2 teaspoon Ginger
Splash of Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/4 teaspoon Cornstarch

I rarely measure when I cook, so these are approximations.

  • Mix soy, ginger, honey, hot sauce  & 2 cloves garlic together. Whisk in cornstarch to thicken. Heat in saucepan until just boiling. Reduce heat & stir in peanuts. Remove from heat after 2 minutes.
  • Toss cut brussels sprouts (& bell pepper, if using) with 1 clove garlic & cook in air fryer 9 minutes at 400°. 
  • Place cooked vegetables into bowl. Pour sauce mixture over & toss to thoroughly coat. 

Makes 2 servings if side dish, one if main course.