Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Urn, Shrouded in Glaze

I have finally reached the last stage of work on this custom order. Strangely, I found that I was - I don't know - superstitious? about photographing the urn while Allegro's markings were visible. It seemed too intimate, as though I were invading her privacy. She is gone, of course, and this is a bit of ceramic material, so maybe I am completely silly. In any case I chose to respect the feeling. 

It is low-fire, so that I could control the markings precisely, and I used Amaco's Superclear, a lead glaze, for the topcoat. I just thought I'd soon be in need of an urn myself if this piece were ruined by bubbly or cloudy glaze. One thing about those lead glazes: you can count on them. It's gonna be a perfectly clear, glassy surface. And it seems quite unlikely that it would ever be used for food. 

I hope my customer likes it. 

Before the Firing

I feel way organized! Four days before the firing, I've made cone packs, finished glazing and mixed soda salad, wadding, & door mud. Today I am starching and packing the pots for transport, and dreaming of the day when I can skip this step, and do the glaze firing in my kiln. 

Of course, this all happened because I was originally planning to fire this weekend, but when the weather turned crappy (miles beyond merely crappy, actually: 35 degrees and pouring rain, the worst possible weather for loading and firing), I changed my plans. This is yet another example of my poor business acumen: it's the holiday season! Those pots could be in stores, where people could be buying them! Every day that I put off firing is a day when someone buys something else for their loved one for Christmas! If I were a smart businesswoman, I would have put my personal discomfort behind the opportunity to sell more stuff.

Guilty as charged, and I actually do feel a tiny bit guilty about it. On the other hand, I am better prepared this year, so my existing accounts are sufficiently stocked; they will certainly not run out before this load is delivered. 

And I am warm and dry, with a cat on my lap. Cross your fingers for good weather Wednesday and Thursday!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

That's a Stretch

Now that I am a lady of a certain age (45 to be exact, although you could mistake me for 43, easy)I find that my back tweaks more easily. I've always been told that wheelthrowing is bad for the back, but that doesn't seem to be the trouble for me. I throw sitting down with my right foot on the pedal, my left leg bent so my foot is a little behind me, and my arms close to my body. I never seem to feel any discomfort after a day of throwing.
Glazing, now, with all its bending and lifting (those five gallon bucket -- whoa!) can cause some aches, as can teaching my classes. Beginning classes are especially tough, as after my demonstrations, I am constantly kneeling, bending, and reaching to correct hand positions. Also, the studio where the classes are conducted has concrete floors: great for easy clean up, but hard to stand on for hours.
I've found that what I call "half-assed and homemade" yoga helps more than I would have believed! Actually I usually call it "stretching" to my students, as the word "yoga" sounds a little intimidating. I used to picture this when I thought of yoga:
I thought yoga was something that required a rubbery, superhuman flexibility. Well, you know how beginning pottery students will often bewail their lack of skill? My answer is always: "You aren't supposed to be good at it. That's why you are taking a class." Yoga is the same: you don't start out flexible" you get there eventually. Nor is there any moral imperative to ever get good at it: you do as much as suits you, and no more.
What suits me are a few very easy poses that, done for just a couple of minutes each day, eliminate back discomfort for me. YMMV, obviously.  These poses ought to erase the idea that yoga is too hard!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What I Would be Making if I Weren't Shopping & Cleaning for the Holiday

There's nothing like not being able to get into the studio, to inspire clay ideas. I see this in brown stoneware, oval, about 10" high and soda fired; the spirals are a stamped design, perhaps with yelow or purple glaze "inlay." But I will also make it in B-mix, and leave the stamps natural. And vary the size and shape of the spirals. This is my carrot: when my chores are done, I get to go make these. The doodle is hanging on my computer to remind me.

Custom Urn, Still in Progress

This is the custom order I was talking about. While I never lost interest in this project, I sort of lost my nerve when it came to painting on the markings. I felt that the addition of the little heart shape in white on the belly was the point at which this urn would begin to symbolize this particular cat (Allegro -- isn't that a beautiful name?), and I was a little intimidated. I finally decided that putting it off any longer was not going to improve my chances of getting it right, and forged ahead. I still need to do additional coats, as I am painting white (and green, for the eyes) over black, but I have gotten past the sticking point.
This urn is made of white earthenware clay. I normally work in stoneware, but it was important that the colors be true, and stay where I put them, so I made the switch to low-fire. Will re-bisque to vitrify the undergalze, and then fire a final time, glazed in Portland Pottery's electric kiln.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Step Along the Way

One nice thing about platters is that I get a larger surface to decorate. Though I often use a single large stamp as a focal point, this time I went with an overall, wallpaper design. It actually looks a little wallpaperish, perhaps in a Victorian home.

I made the roller of clay. It works best bisqued, because if I leave it green, it falls apart relatively quickly. Some potters see this as a plus, as it forces them to remake their decorative tools regularly; but I get too attached to mine. I hate reaching for a stamp or a roller, only to find that is has a big chip out of it. The little squiggle you can see in the photo above the slip bottle is a bit of wire I use as a stopper; that way I can store the slip (or glaze, depending) right in the bottle without having the tip clog up. 

Expected firing schedule: Bisquing Thanksgiving Day (Doug's gonna have to be in charge of that one, as I will have my hands full of turkey, turnip, pies, and so on); glaze firing December 5, unloading December 6. Do you ever have a terrible temptation to do what you know hardly ever works? I am dying to glaze only the middle spiral, and let the soda work its magic on the rest, because the contrast of the clay & slip can be so handsome. But in my experience, soda doesn't take to the horizontal surface that well, and firing them on end has resulted in major warpage in past. Still, I've got plenty of time to decide. 

Maybe I should do "100 Platters in 100 Days!" Yeah, right. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

If It's Not One Thing...'s everything. Remember Boxer, the horse from Orwell's Animal Farm, whose response to every problem was "I will work harder?" Sometimes I feel like Boxer. Just when I get a little caught up, boom! The car, or the house, or the pets need a major expenditure. I guess I should be thanking my lucky ones that the expenditures have not been anything medical. Small favors, and all But why are they so small?

Just found out I need a new roof, sooner than later. And the chimney needs...pointing, or whatever it is they do to chimneys. I am shooting for spring, as any sooner seems unlikely (read: completely impossible.) Doug and I can do a lot of stuff ourselves; my bathroom sink is, at this posting, disassembled on the floor in an effort to correct a recalcitrant clog. Roofing is not in our skill set. 

So, you know, I will work harder. Make more and bigger things, seek out more outlets. It's a blessing, if it pushes me to spend more time in the studio. At least, I am sure I will feel that way tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


John Glick

Tara Wilson

Jane Shallenbarger

Keith Phillips

I haven't got any new work of my own (not finished, anyway), so I decided to post some images of pots by my current clay crushes. As I have been before, I am struck by how different the pots that I like to see are from the pots that I like to make. I do try to identify qualities that twang my magic twanger (aesthetically speaking) and incorporate them, but blessedly, they usually emerge from the process unrecognizable. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quicker Trimming

I had a whole bunch of same-size lids to trim -- a recurrent circumstance. Normally, I place the leatherhard lid on its corresponding pot, and re-center both on the wheel before I trim the lid to its final shape. This time I tried a different way to see if it would be quicker, and it is, much! I centered a hump of clay with an exterior diameter at the top a little less than the interior diameter of the lid. I carefully ribbed off any water or slurry, and then placed each lid in turn to be trimmed on the centered hump of clay. This method saves time as there is no need to re-center: when the lid is placed on the hump, it's automatically on center. It has the disadvantage that you can't see what the finished combined shape of lid and pot together will be, but in this case, I was making my standing cat-urn order; I've made so many of these things I could do them in my sleep. Speed is of the essense, as well, as I sell them to my client at a deep discount (better than wholesale), so the quicker I can turn them out, the better. Though they don't fetch very much, this order is worthwhile to me because the vet's office never tries to order specific colors, shapes, or decoration; they only care that the jars be appropriate containers for cremains. I often use them to test new glazes and stamps, and to break in new metal ribs.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tomorrow's Gonna Suck

There's just no way around it. I am devoting tomorrow to doing all the dreary things that I have been needing to do for a while, and have put off to the point that I am now dreading them:

1) Finish that custom order, which will be the last custom order I ever take, ever, ever, ever, ever.

2) Pack pots for shipping. Why is packing so tiresome? Answer: Nobody knows. It just is. 

3) Fix the Toilet of Eternal Leakage.


4) Install a duct on my perfectly good dryer, which is just sitting there unused because I am too chicken to drill a hole in my wall.

Yes, tomorrow will indeed suck; but by sacrificing this one day, I will improve all the days that follow after it. Good deal!

Slab Plates

A student, Martha Mixon, recently brought in some slab plates she had been working on using these square cardboard plates that you can buy at the grocery store. My version is in B-mix 10, and carries the impression of a lace doily on half of the plate.
This is not a new idea, of course, and I have used it often with kids' classes, but I had forgotten about it, and the shape is new. I like square plates better than round, anyway, and if I am going to make round plates, the wheel is a better choice. The key to slab work, IMHO, is to keep the slabs nice and thick -- thicker than your first inclination, by a lot. So many slab-built pots -- plates and platter especially - end up feeling flimsy, fragile, and cheap, just because they are too thin.
I press the slab into the cardboard mold using a sock filled with sand, and wrapped in an old bit of nylon hose.
This avoids (mostly) causing lumpy fingerprints that have to be tediously ribbed out afterwards. It's also important, once the plates are leatherhard, to remove them from the molds and lightly paddle the edges, to help prevent cracking.
Thanks Martha! I am thinking of celadon for these; or else copper red in the texture only, and otherwise, just soda: a riskier choice, as my reds have not developed well in the soda kiln. But if it turned out...

And Now for Something

...completely different. 

I did something quite out of character today. While tethering my dog behind a convenience store, I noticed a vignette that struck me. A beautiful vine dotted with brilliant red berries and golden fall foliage climbed around a prosaically dull meter in a corner where some graffiti had sprouted. Something about it twanged the same twanger that I sometimes feel looking at thrown and altered work; something about the tension between the contrasts of organic and mechanical.  

Normally I would have made a mental note of it, taken a moment to enjoy it, and gone on with my day. But lately I have been playing with my husband's camera, for more than just pottery shots. I wouldn't call myself a photographer, but sometimes I point the camera at things and press the button. I felt a little silly (in a classic Yankee who-do-you-think-you-are kind of way) but I let Doug's example inspire me: he would never feel like he had to explain why an image was important to him, nor let errands get in the way of a creative moment; much less worry that the Big Apple clerks would think he was weird. 

So I went back to the house and got the camera and took a few shots. This one is the best. I am pleased not just with the photo, but with myself for honoring creativity wherever it presents itself. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can't Be Good All theTime

Screw it, I am making the bourbon sets. Never mind all that other shit I really should be doing. I am not doing it anyway. Some things just demand to be made.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Goal Without a Plan... just a wish. I have a lot of wishes in the works. If you haven't gathered, the dark of the year is when I do my best navel-gazing: evaluating where I am and where I want to be, and what it takes to get there. I made some good progress in the past year, since my last prolonged episode of pondering. My reach exceeded my grasp, but I got much further than I would have had I not reached in the first place.  I had hoped we'd rebuild the kiln; instead we built the kiln shelter and amassed about 10 percent of the necessary brick. I do spend more time making pots, and as a result make more and hopefully better pots. I got three new consignment outlets to sell the extra inventory. And I had one big project that resulted in many new techniques and forms in my standard vocabulary. Planning works a little like prayer: you don't always get what you plan for, either.

Speaking of, I have learned a little motivational trick using my planner. Non-artist friends are often surprised when I tell them I have to motivate myself to get into the studio. They sort of picture a potter's life as a grinning jubilee of fun-fun-fun! in the studio. Don't get me wrong, I often do have fun in the studio, and that thumpingly good feeling of satisfaction I get when I have made something that I know is good, is compelling all by itself. But that doesn't mean that I don't get up sometimes and just feel like lazing around re-reading the Harry Potter series. The intellectual engagement necessary to make good pots can be a challenge to bring myself around to. So I trick myself using a much shallower system of reward: I give myself happy-face stickers for time spent in the studio. I also earn stickers for working out, and sometimes foil stars for completing tasks that I've been avoiding. If I get fifty stickers in a month, I buy myself something. Nothing grand: perhaps a lipstick, or a CD.

I just had a sudden, embarrassing thought: what if it is just me? What if other potters are gleefully shoving aside the Netflix when it arrives, because it will only subtract from their studio time!?! Maybe other potters have to be restrained from staying up all night, and dragged away for meals. Maybe I really am just lazy. 

No, I can't be the only one. Can I? If you need motivational tricks to get yourself working, share them with me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two More Lookies

The plate on the top has black slip stripes, with dots of Satin Matte Black and Coilles Clear. The plate on the bottom is soda fired with a copper red center and Satin Matte Black vermiform design.

To Do Today

1) Mix Bauer Orange Flashing Slip:
41.9 EPK
41.9 OM 4
5.7 Borax
10.5 Zircopax

2) Mix Oestrich Shino for Soda test:
40 Nepheline Syenite
30 Spodumene
17 Kentucky OM#4 Ball Clay

3) Gallery sit. Boring! But it's a short day, being Sunday, and maybe I can use the time to look up a few more flashing slips to try.

4)Trim cat urns.

What I really want to do today is make bourbon cups, with little square trays to carry sets of them; but there probably isn't going to be time for that. Maybe I can sketch them out while I am gallery-sitting, to try to keep the inspiration alive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Joy of the Unnecessary

There's something about the unnecessary accessory that appeals to me. In a way, handmade pottery is all an unnecessary luxury, when plastic or cheap mass-produced ware will serve the same function as well. Sometimes I like to make things that push that quality, that sense of unnecessary luxury, to a point that almost feels decadent. The sets I was working on yesterday feel like that to me: not content to be mere salt and pepper shakers, they have to have their own little tray, to literally underline their preciousness.

Now I read that, and it sounds stupid, as it often does when I try to explain why I make what I do. I am better off quoting Stephen King, when asked why he writes horror: "What makes you think I have a choice?"

Anyway, getting to the point: Lookie what I made!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Words, Words, Words

Since I got back together with Zapp, (our breakup was totally my fault; I just wasn't ready. This time we are taking it slow.) I have been getting emails listing upcoming art fair deadlines, which serves to remind me how much I miss doing fairs. I notice that both Art Fair on the Square, in Madison, and The Uptown, in Minneapolis, are now accepting apps. I love both of those cites, and Minneapolis has the added temptation of free lodging (right, MJ?) but I have listed here before the obstacles to doing the circuit again: 1) no appropriate vehicle; 2) no display; 3) hundreds of dollars in up-front costs. Add to that my fear that I won't have time to make enough work to make the fair(s) worthwhile, and it's a daunting prospect. I barely make enough now to keep my consignment outlets happy. Still, part of me says if I applied and was accepted (and there's no guarantee of that: these are tough, top-shelf shows in the outdoor circuit) I'd find a way to make all the rest happen. Carrot-and-stick seems to be how I roll. 

I have another, more doable idea for the carrot, as well, but it would probably be a one-time thing, and not lead to a life change, the way re-entering the art fair world might do. Also, is there an echo in here? It seems like I was typing the exact same words last year at this time. Might be time to do something about that. 

I am the Hamlet of potters, all talk, no action. Why couldn't I have been born a Fortinbras? 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November Goal Setting

This month is all about inventory for the holiday season. The kiln project is on hold, except for accumulating brick, until warmer weather. I need to do a firing prior to Thanksgiving, and to that end I'll need to make a bunch of pots and mix a bunch of glazes. In addition, it's time to fill my recurrent cat-urn order. It's going to be a busy month. With that in mind, big picture goal-setting for November is quite moderate. 

Basically this month I want to do some thinking about priorities for time expenditure, and come up with a daily or weekly schedule for the major aspects of business: producing, marketing, and management. (You would think having only one employee - me - would make management easier, but labor relations can be surprisingly dicey!) Hopefully I can come up with a model that will work for the upcoming year. I also want to choose a big project to focus on, which will serve the function that the 100 Mugs show did last spring: to keep me excited and motivated to be in the studio. Excited to create a successful event, motivated to outrace the looming spectre of failure. A bit of carrot-and-stick seems to work for me.

 I have two potential projects in mind, which I will explore in later posts. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pulling Handles

A small platoon of mugs with their handle blanks attached, waiting to be pulled. I like to attach first, then go back and pull them (maybe with a blog post in between!), because even the few minutes it takes to finish the board of pots and go back to the first one allows for a stronger attachment and fewer handles pulling free while I am making them.
One take-away from the 100 Mugs project: some of my favorite pieces were the simpler, less busy mugs. To that end I tried to minimize the stamped decoration on these, to leave room for the sig and soda to work their magic without distraction. Not that I am giving up stamping any time soon; I am just too enamoured of the tension between the mechanical qualities the wheel imparts and the soft squishiness of clay, as recorded and made evident by stamping. This group of mugs was preceded by another bunch that sport what I call "outies:" the stamps are concave, so I have to push outward on the wall of the pot to make the clay bulge out to take the impression.