Monday, May 30, 2011

Functional vs Utilitarian

Banana Split boat, as promised. Sorry for the crap photo, but you get the idea. I threw a flat-bottomed bowl about 7 inches in diameter, then, at leatherhard, cut an inch-wide strop put of the middle, and reassembled the halves.

This project got me thinking about the difference between function and utility. Now, this boat is perfectly functional; it won't leak, for example, and it's not made of lead or pesticide or something. But you wouldn't call it utilitarian. Those little peaks - so like a circus tent! - are just dying to break off in the sink.

Although function is an important aspect for me, in some cases if feels right to add details which make a piece less functional. In this case, because it's a sundae boat, it contributes to the sense of specialness, of frivolity, for the bowl to require a bit more attention. Some shapes, too, have cultural associations: inverted scallop shapes are associated with festivity. So are dots, which I will try to incorporate during the glazing.
Thinking too much? Maybe. But now I am thinking about another sundae. I'm gonna wait until this dish is finished, so I can take it for a test drive.

How Can You Mend...

...a broken pot? You can't, not really. But you can mend a cracked pot (as opposed to a crackpot, which there's no real fix for, either.) I recently learned a way to mend cracked greenware and leatherhard ware. One of my students came back from a workshop with a method that has worked for her, so far: paper clay.

Like this:

Tear up tissue paper into small shreds.

Add a little water to make a "mashed potato' consistency.

Add about 2/3 as much thick slurry, of the same claybody as the pot you are trying to mend.

Apply thickly to the cracked area.

Remove most of the slurry, but leave enough to the crack is totally filled.

Let dry ever-so-slowly. I have a leatherhard pot pictured here but I am told it fixes bone dry ware as well. If you've tried it, give me a shout -- I'd love to have verification.

And, I am delighted to say I invented a repair for cracked bisqueware!!! I fill a glaze pen with a high-clay-content shino, and completely fill in the crack; and then glaze over it with something other than shino. I have successfully mended BIG cracks this way. I think the shino stretches as the crack expands in the firing, so the fix holds.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Put That Coffee Down!

Coffee's for closers only.

I love this scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, in part because the Alec Baldwin character gets it so wrong. "You got the prospects comin' in; you think they came in to get out of the rain? Guy doesn't walk on the lot unless he wants to buy." But nobody is coming into the real estate office at all.
Just as nobody knocks on my door and asks, "Does a good potter live here? I'd like to place an order." This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again: making the ask is key. There may be better or worse ways to do it, but the worse possible way is not to ask at all.

But I am learning. For once I thought to save out the best pots from Sunday's firing to be my samples, instead of immediately placing them out on consignment, or selling them online. And, lo!, I got an order, right off the bat, despite bad timing: it's Memorial Day weekend, and stores already have their inventory for summer. Lesson: there's always a reason not to ask. Ask anyway.
Here are the pots in my sample selection:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Students & Members: Register for the June Firing at Fine Mess Pottery!

Cost: $30

Available to Portland Pottery students and members of the Munjoy Hill Potters Association only. Fee includes glazes and firing for up to one cubic foot of pottery (approximately one milk crate full) in Fine Mess Pottery's soda vapor kiln. Firing will occur June 25th; pots must be glazed and delivered by June 21st. Contact Lori for details, or questions about future firings, at

Space is limited to 10 participants. Click the Buy Now button to register through Paypal, and thanks!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday Inspiration*

For some time now I have been sending my students an inspirational link every Thursday. I wanted to show them Gail Kendall's work, but I had a hell of a time trying to find a site with more than a couple of images. I practiced the fine art of Google-fu for a while before remembering that I have the ability to construct a collection of images. D'oh!

Anyway. I thought it was important for you to see this work in part because it is all handbuilt; I sometimes think that because I am a thrower myself, handbuilding gets the short shrift, and that I do not sufficiently emphasize the strengths of those ways of working. Yes, it's slower; but if you aren't working production and getting paid by the piece, what does that matter? The metric of success is not the number of pots on the board at 9 pm, but how compelling (in whatever form that takes; beauty is only one possibility) the finished pieces.

*Yes, I know it's Friday. XO

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sell Your Best Stuff

A couple of months ago, I got a mug out of the kiln (Portland Pottery's kiln, actually) that I really really loved. I've made a lot of pots that pleased me in that time, but this one was compelling. And not just to me; I consistently got "wow"s in response to it. I decided to keep it around, until I had duplicated it.

This was in direct conflict with my standing policy to sell my best pieces. I spent 2 months making that shape over and over, and creating that glazing scheme over and over, only to get a lot of mugs that were nice -- very nice, in fact -- but just not the same. At one point I glared at the Amazing Smoky Heart Mug, as I have come to call it, and cried, "I wish I never met you!" as one might to a heartbreaking lover. I would have been delighted with all those other mugs, if only I hadn't had the Amazing Smokey Heart Mug for comparison. And, perversely, though I just built a soda kiln, it's a straight stoneware look. Which only proves that I was right in the first place. The Amazing Smokey Heart Mug is holding me back. As I should have in the first place, I am setting it free; also known as selling it.

Sell your best stuff. You can make more best stuff, but you can never truly make the same best stuff, and it's better not to try. 

Full Steam Ahead

Look at the steam! We've had a lot of rain lately, and my bricks are stored under inadequate (to say the least) cover. On the list: build a roof extension off the summer studio to keep the door bricks out of the weather. This is still early in the firing; my next step is to soak some newspapers in slurry and seal up the door. This is a messy process but well worth it in terms of fuel efficiency and controlling the atmosphere.

I am full-steam in another sense as well: since finishing the kiln, it feels like I am always firing, about to fire, or cleaning up after firing. Which is called being a potter. So far I have had no trouble finding homes for the inventory; my theory was correct in that lack of pots was the main obstacle to sales. It hasn't traslated to much more money (not yet) as I still have a mountain of kiln-building debt to kill off, and fuel costs are kicking my ass. Still, I am gaining on it.

This firing will unload Thursday. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Glazes to Try

Just a jumble of recipes I want to try. I like storing them here because then I can'r LOSE them, whihc I already lost the tenmoku redipe that I liked from the last firing. Unless it's the one on this list, which it might be; I remember it contained 8% iron. 

Anyway. I got thse from a list Linda Arbuckle published. Hers has approximately 0ne million glazes on it, with notes; but it's hard to read since it's all rtf with no breaks between the recipes. Still, it's a treasure trove. Check it out.

Vert Antique

Cone: 8-10
Color: Vert antique. Medium green
Testing: Tested
Surface: Semi-gloss
Firing: Reduction
Glaze type: Stoneware
Transparency: Opaque
Visual texture: Speckled lightly because of the presence of Rutile
Crystals: None
Bubbles: None
Flow: None
Durability: Good
Custer spar 56.80
Dolomite 13.60
Whiting 10.60
Zinc oxide 3.00
EPK 16.00
Rutile 2.00
Copper carbonate 2.00
Cobalt carbonate 3.00
Very interesting "antique" green with speckles darker on dark
burning clays and lighter on light burning clays (Vérité de Monsieur
de la Palice). Hum!

KCAI Tenmoku
Glaze name: Tenmoku
Cone: 9
Color: brown to black
Testing: Untested
Surface: shiny, glossy
Firing: reduction
Custer feldspar 56.00
Silica 20.50
Whiting 16.00
Ball clay 7.50
Red iron oxide 8.00
Bentonite 2.16

Wood's Black Slip
Cone: 10
Color: Black
Firing: Ox. or Red.
Glaze type: Slip
Transparency: Opaque
Redart 50.00
Ball clay 25.00
Manganese dioxide 15.00
black stain 12.00
Black iron oxide 5.00
From Ruthann Tudball's "Soda Glazing"

Glaze name: slip UF shop black
Cone: 8-10
Color: Black
Surface: unglazed
Firing: Ox. or Red.
Glaze type: Slip
Transparency: Opaque
Redart 40.00
Custer feldspar 20.00
Ball clay 40.00
Red iron oxide 5.00
Cobalt carbonate 2.00
Manganese dioxide 5.00
Chromium oxide 1.00

Slip Nancy's Black Wood/Soda
Cone: 9-10
Color: Black
Surface: Unglazed
Firing: Wood
Glaze type: Slip
Transparency: Opaque
Visual texture: None
Gerstley borate 60.00
Mason 6600 black stain 40.00
From Nancy Barbour. A bit too patent leather if used on large areas, so
I add a bit of RIO to mellow it. Used at different stage for a
variety of black and grey. Mimicks ink. Thick=black, thin= grey.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

You'll Find Inspiration Between Ice Cream and Intellect

Inspiration comes when it comes, and from whatever source. 
I was having a very productive streak Thursday and Friday.  Loaded & fired a bisque; made lots of big vases and mugs; glued the corks on wine stoppers;  and took care of my gallery-sitting obligation. Not to mention mowing the lawn and mulching the garden, cleaning the house (well, sort of) and grocery shopping. Also got in a 4 mile walk on the rail trail on Friday; it was beautiful. So I was cruising right along, but when I woke up this gray morning, I just didn't feel like doing anything at all. I went back to bed with Pat Conroy's South of Broad, which might be a good book if it weren't exactly like all the other books Pat Conroy has written. Actually I'd given up on Pat after Beach Music, but then somebody gave me this book, and I'm a sucker for a freebie. Plus I was thinking, those books can't be as redundant as I remember. Wrong!
Anyway. Conroy put me to sleep, but when I woke up again I still fell gloopy and unmotivated. I've been told I should learn to just go with it when that happens, but I didn't today. Today I tried something which has sometimes worked in the past: desserts. Not cookies or pudding cups, or anything that comes in cellophane. It needs to be something fancy and special, which requires some preparation but doesn't take all day. Answer: Banana  Split!
I already had the ice cream (just for the lidded bucket, don'tcha know) and Hannaford is right across the street. Yes, honey, I spent the Clynk money - reserved for pet food emergencies - on this. Now we are even for that 12-pack of Natty Ice from last month.
Wow, this is getting long, and I haven't even gotten to the ceramics yet.
Anyway, I bought chocolate syrup and a banana, and I already had some raspberries; and then I started fantasizing about a perfect dish for a banana split. Size and approximate shape are dictated by function, but within those parameters, an infinity of variation is possible. Something joyful and fun but also very utilitarian...Can I make fun, joyful boats within the soda-fire palette? I can feel the gears beginning to turn.
I managed to make a split anyway btw, as you see above, in a beautiful bowl by Watershed's 2010 Salad Days artist, whose name escapes me, and which no amount of Google-fu has produced. [Edit: Sean O'Connell. Thanks, CC!] But now I'm off, excited and motivated, to make banana split boats. And then maybe some sundae cups!
Photos later.

Friday, May 6, 2011

And Now for Something...

...completely different. Today was given over entirely to gardening and yard work. We bought a new mower as our old mower had been difficult to use ever since losing one of the wheels. I was able to give the old one to a neighbor who thought he could weld the broken bit of the frame, and godspeed to it. Even better, we were able to replace it with a used one for only $100, and it's not even a piece of shirt!

But that was just the beginning. I pulled up weeds, mulched, cleaned out the car, and dug through old boxes of pots in the shed and found some good ones I had forgotten about. And speaking of sheds, mine has been an eyesore since I bought the house, but it's sort of low on the priority list, so an eyesore it remains. And if a  thing is destined to be ugly, you might as well work with it. It's like I tell my students when they throw a pot they don't like: If you already hate it, alter it! Stretch it, bend it, cut it, squeeze it. You've got nothing to lose. 

And I already hated my shed -- although since any shed is better than no shed, "hate" is perhaps the wrong word. So we've begun to make it part of an assemblage, beginning with the blue-to-the-wheels bike, and the blue planter below. The planter will hold morning glories that will climb twine up to the blue bike and engulf the front of the shed. I've got some other items in mind to add, and I will keep you updated as this outdoor artwork grows. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Get Confused

Between Twitter and Facebook, and all the other social not-working venues, I can forget what I've posted where. I just realized this morning that I never posted the pots from the last firing on this blog! Anyway, here goes:

All of these are destined for The Artisan's Barn in Readfield, Maine, except for the strpeiy mug third from the top. That one was sold after I posted it on Facebook. So I guess the time spent on social sites is not utterly goofing off. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adjusted Wax White Glaze

...or AWWG for short. If you recall, one of my favorite glazes, Wax White, was failing to fully flux unless I reached full 11 - and my kiln has some cool spots where I am lucky to get to 9. This most recent firing was more even, but I still don't want to fire to Cone 11. So, I repalced half of the Custer Feldspar in the recipe with Nephelyne Syenite. And, lo, it worked! The surface had the same buttery quality that I love, but it was completely smooth at Cone 9. Here it is:

AWWG Cone 9

20.5      Custer Spar
20.5      Neph Sy
12          Gerstley Borate
7            Dolomite
15          Talc
5            Tennesee Ball Clay
20         Silica

Add: Zircopax, 5%

For the variation here, add 0.5% chrome.