Friday, March 30, 2012

Opening Night!

I have been back at the office gig for a couple of days, as their receptionist had to take some personal time, so I am filling in. The office closed early today, because President Obama is visiting Portland, which meant the city was randomly closing streets to thwart any would-be assassins.

Getting out early meant I got home in time to unload the kiln while it was still light. Do I always say it was the best firing yet? Well, this time I really mean it. Oh, there was the usual amount of running, sticking, and goobers requiring grinding, but the colors! I'm so pleased.

I've run out of light to take photos of individual pieces, but will try to snap a few tomorrow before these get boxed up to go to their various destinations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Hard to Take a Good Photo of a Flame you'll just have to take my word that I've got an impressively dark-red flame squeezing out of every crevice. Body reduction by 11 AM is good news, and that was holding the kiln back so I could get some errands done. (Doug watches the kiln for me when I am running to the bank or the grocery store, but I wouldn't ask him to manage any change in the firing.) I threw a few sticks in there for good measure, to try to address my shino imbalance. Probably a wasted effort, since I'm pretty sure I loaded all the shino into the better-reducing half of the kiln; and since the issue is probably not insufficient reduction, but instead late reduction. The bland-shino side is also the hotter side, and I am reluctant to put any part of the kiln into reduction prior to 012, which means that 012 is down on the hotter side before body reduction commences. I am an adventurous soul but an experiment that puts half the entire load at risk is daunting to say the least. So, ya know, I'll probably try it next time.

Anyway! I'm sold on candling. I have not been a fan in past, as I suspect it uses more propane, but I just can't take any more of that 2 am bullshit. The smoke is clearing now, and it's about time to enter the lighter climbing reduction.

A Sticky Business

I had it in my head to show my students a technique using wax resist between glazes, when I ran into two obstacles: the apparent discontinuation of the thicker form of water-based wax resist; and my inability to find a glaze trailing pen that had not been clogged up by said resist. In my studio, I use paraffin wax, but it's not great for thin lines, tjanting tool notwithstanding. The staff at portland Pottery also prefer that we use water-based wax rather than paraddin or beeswax, since the kilns are indoors and the smell of burning wax can be pretty overpowering. But I digress.

Anyway, while looking for a glaze trailing pen, my eye lit upon the Elmer's glue bottle that is always around to assist with glaze mends, when you don't want to handle or whatever to get shifted out of place while being loaded, since only gravity is holding it in place until the firing.
Hmm...wonder if Elmer's would work in place of wax?

It didn't, exactly; it worked more like latex. The glaze clung to it, but the dried glue itself removed very easily from the pot, leaving a clean resist pattern.

Elmer's compares to latex like this:

  • It's a whole bunch cheaper. That's a plus, obviously.
  • It dries a lot slower. Minus. It took about 15 minutes for the glue to be dry enough that it wouldn't run when I turned the pot. A student suggested thickening the glue with cornstarch. It took almost an hour for the glue to be dry enough to remove.
  • It came off the pot much more easily than the latex resists I have used.
  • If you rinse your brush immediately, you won't destroy the hairs the way latex resists and wont to do.
Next I tried it on an unglazed pot, and had similar results, although it was a little more difficult to get the glue off the bare bisqued clay.

One of the things I love about my profession is that there are always new discoveries to be made.

In a related note, I recently bought some of Amaco's latex resist. (If I had discovered the glue trick first, I would have saved my $13.) It is in every way a superior product to Laguna's similar resist, except that it is smellier. The consistency is better, it removes more easily and even seem slower to destroy brushes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

American Craft Show NYC

Hey readers - Has anybody done this show? I am sorely tempted to throw prudence to the wind and start out (or, re-start, after 9 yrs away from art fairs) with this very high-end show. It has the advantage, for me, of not requiring that artists apply through Zapp, which would necessitate me buying or borrowing a better camera, or saving out pots to have a professional photographer shoot them; which, lucky me, there's a good one in Portland, around the corner from Portland Pottery, where i have to be a couple of days a week to teach my classes anyway. But if I can just choose the best from the shots that I take after each firing, that's one less obstacle. The application fee is only $25: very reasonable considering that I have seen fees of more than twice that for upscale shows. I think this is because it is still a relatively new show.

I kind of like, also, that there is no jewelry category for this show, and then I feel like a jerk for liking that. What, I'm afraid of the competition? Well, yes. Of course, it could cut both ways: jewelers always walk away with more money, but it's possible that their presence draws in people who would not otherwise attend. [Edit: Oops, I was wrong. There is in fact a jewelry category. Can't remember where I got the idea that there is not.]

Sometimes it's hard to discern between caution and timidity, except after the fact. The least expensive booth is around $1500, a pretty scary number for me, not to mention the cost of traveling to and staying in New York City; but I am ever-so-tired of doing almost well enough. Maybe it's time for a bold move.

All of this assumes that I can even get in, which is by no means a sure thing. Anyway: if you have feedback about the American Craft Show NYC, now would be a good time to share it. XO

A Day at CraftBoston

My sister and I spent the day at CraftBoston yesterday. We took the DownEaster train down from Portland, which I highly recommend: it was only $40 for a round trip ticket, and it saves the trouble of parking in Boston, not to mention the gas money.

It was sort of a research expedition, though I did make a purchase while I was there. I wanted to remember how a professional show looks and feels, as well as get some ideas for the booth that I am mentally building, as preface to physically building it. I did learn a few things, and was reminded of others. In no particular order:

  • Lighting is key. I knew this, but was strongly reminded: insufficient lighting can cause a booth to just disappear.
  • I really, really need to raise my prices, on the big things, at least; although even my mugs would be at the rock-bottom end of the range at this show.
  • I won't be using black walls or curtains. This is, I'm sure, subjective, but the booths I felt drawn to used lighter colors.
  • While all the booths looked nice and professional, they weren't as utterly fabulous as I was remembering. This is good news because I now feel confident that I can build something which won't be insufficiently fabby; maybe even something that stands out as fabbier than average.
  • There should be something - more than one thing - near the front of the booth which is very affordable. Wandering around among the $1200 garments and $12000 furniture can make one start to regard the show as more of a museum, because buying something is completely out of the question. It was pretty exciting when I came across items that I could afford: a wooden spoon here, a pot holder there. I almost bought the wooden spoon just because I could, and I did buy three of the hot pads.
  • Attending this show actually made me less enthusiastic about doing this show: observing and reading between the lines I got the sense that sales were disappointing. I hope I'm wrong, but that was the feeling I got. Several people told me they'd "made a lot of good contacts" - the "great personality" of art fair descriptors.
  • I was surprised to see some knuckle-busters. Apparently not everyone has made the jump to Square. There was wireless service in the building, too, so Paypal was an option.
  • The Buffalo wings at The Whiskey Priest are the best!
The show is still open until 4 pm today.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

♫ Glazin' Pots in the Hot Sun... ♪

I keep humming to the tune of I Fought the Law.

Maine is having the most amazing, record-breaking warm spell. Though intellectually this worries me for Al-Gore-related reasons, I can't help but enjoy it today. Anyway, doggedly refusing to enjoy it has not been proven an effective way to combat global climate change. It's just upwards of 80 today, and I've reconstituted the glaze pavilion. Probably I will have to move back inside in a week or so, when we get back to seasonal temps, but it's worth it.

I have glazed maybe half of the 100 mugs, and a few casseroles and bowls. I may not get a kiln load finished today - I am making a point not to hurry, but just to take whatever time is needed to make each piece the pot it cries out to be. There will be lots of blue, purple, turquoise and white in this load: summer colors for a summer mood.
I was shooting for firing tomorrow, but I can already see that isn't going to happen. Saturday I have plans to visit Crafts Boston, so that makes Sunday the soonest the firing could occur. Luckily we are past the time when freezing might be a problem, so I can (hopefully) load tomorrow and be all ready to go for Sunday.

I better make cone packs! My oven broke so I can't quick-dry them if I forget.

Thursday Inspiration - Chandra Debuse

See lots more of Chandra's work here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Try Something New in Every Firing"

I can't remember who told me that. It's good advice; I wish I could say that I always follow it, but often I am scrambling to get the kiln loaded and the things that absolutely need to be fired, fired; too often I can't risk any bisqueware on something new.
This time, however, I have no great urgency, and, after all, I have 100 mugs to glaze; I can take the chance that some of them will not come out well, and hopefully learn something and improve my skill at the same time. Since brushwork is an area that I could stand some improvement, and since I was having visions of mugs that contrasted romantic and stark qualities (and also playful/stark), I am trying my hand at some more-or-less botanically correct roses, in plain black stain. Alright, if not botanically correct, at least recognizable.

I am in hopes that the soda will soften the stain in one direction, while the other side will remain more clear. I may paint a few more - it's a nice day and I am working out on the deck, first time this year. The stain I used is 60% Gerstley Borate and 40% Mason 6600. In past it has only worked over flashing slip when the slip was bisqued on already. After I finish brushing, I spray the pieces with laundry starch so that I won't smudge the work when I handle the mugs to glaze the inside, and to load them in the kiln.

I expect these out on Wednesday the 28th.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Booth Layout

Yeah, this is what I did all day instead of loading the bisque. But hey! It's cold out there. And the day isn't over yet.
Yes it is. So here's a lesson: I wouldn't let myself do what I was really inspired to do - in this case, go buy a hot wire tool and build a practice pedestal - because I was supposed to load a bisque today. So, guess what, I ended up getting neither done!
But the booth design isn't (quite) nothing; it was work I was going to have to do eventually anyway. And I can load and fire the bisque all in one day anyway.

Booth Ideas

This is kind of random, and also long and rambling: one of those processing-out-loud posts I sometimes do. I have been thinking once again about a future art fair booth. We have all seen those booths that compel you to enter: I want to go to there, à la Liz Lemon. At the same time a booth has to be highly portable, and collapse into as little space as possible: every square inch that the booth takes up in your vehicle is space that could be carrying inventory. It needs to be lightweight, because who knows how far you'll have to lug it? And for me at least, it needs to function indoors and out, so, waterproof, more or less, and able to withstand wind. It will also have to conceal wear and tear, because all that wind, rain, lugging and packing can take its toll. Add in the necessity of frugality, and designing this booth starts to sound like a daunting task.

The photo above is of my long-ago booth set up; I think that shot was taken at the ACC fair in St. Paul in maybe 1998? It works in some ways: The pedestals nested for travel, and the textured paint hid chips and dings. But it has long since been repurposed, bit by bit. And I would like to do better in a few ways:
  • The old booth does not take advantage of wall space, either visually or for the display of work. If I used painted hollow-care doors, I could attach short shelves at varying heights, to highlight special pieces. Those doors aren't heavy, but they are awkward in that they don't get any smaller, so I'd be lugging this 7-foot slab of wood, sometimes a whole city block. Hard to transport on a hand truck, too. But what if I alternated with panels of wooden lattice?
  • Or, hey, how about this: if I reinforced the lattice on the back with a frame of 2x4s, and if it was only a couple or maybe 3 feet wide, it would be sturdy enough to hold hooks for mugs, making use of the space for display. The lattice would let the wind through, making it Omaha, Nebraska-proof.
  • Panels of painted canvas would diminish the weight and the packing space consumption. I could alternate them with the lattice panels or hollow cores doors. Not both, as the whole will start to look like a mishmash. Or - making it complicated now- maybe hollow core doors for indoor shows, and lattice panels for outdoor shows? I'd have to get the expensive spray-on stuff to fireproof the canvas, but it's a one-time pain in the ass. Not that ACC ever carried out the threat to fire-test the rugs or wall panels, but they could; and also, it's just safer, with so many booths in the hall, if they are flame retardant.
  • Okay, the floor: ugh. I had that rug because I didn't want to pay $80 to rent a 10 x 10 square of grey or beige carpet for three days, a couple times a year. That shit adds up! (That goes for the curtains, too. Lesson learned long ago: always bring your own.) At outdoor shows, the floor will probably just be the grass or pavement...for indoor shows, maybe I could do a pattern, with colored duct tape? Or would that look cheesy? Hmm.
  • My old booth was somewhat lacking in storage pace for extra inventory, shopping bags, packing materials, price stickers, pens, sunscreen, a cooler, just all the stuff you need during the day at the event. Two of the pedestals were open at the back with shelves for such things, the circular ones had lids so I could store things inside, and the back curtain was two feet forward from the perimeter or the booth, but it was clumsy and inconvenient. When I plan the new layout, I will take those things into account.
  • Pedestals: I think I can build them, cheap and light, from foam insulating board. I plan to make a small one, to discover how best to cut the board and smooth the edges. There are hot wire tools for this, as cheap as $7 or over $100; it might be worth seven bucks to make this big job easier.
There's more, I can feel it rattling around in my skull like marbles in a coffee can. I haven't even touched on creating the "I want to go to there" feeling. But that's what I've got for now. I've been thinking about a new booth for years, but suddenly the mode has changed form "thinking" to "planning," and that's all to the good.

Monday, March 12, 2012

One-Handled Bowls

So, I got this idea: why do serving bowls have to have two handles? Unless they are enormous, I guess, and then you need them for helping to keep a grip on the full bowl. Bur outside of that, the handles are pretty much decorative, right?

As that thought percolated, another joined it: hanging bowls. Bowls that you can hang on the wall, when you aren't using them. We make platters with holes or hooks or outward-curved feet, to accommodate a hanging wire. That doesn't work as well for a bowl, because of the weight distribution, but what about hanging the bowl from handle? The single handle, there for the purpose of hanging? The bowl would have to hang bottom out, which is fine because the foot of soda-fired ware often has a subtle beauty; and then I wouldn't feel like the decorating I do on the outside of bowls is a waste of time: the outside would be on display whenever the bowl was not in use.

These bowls are five pounds, and a little bit thick; I've been trying to throw thicker lately. For something like this, a batter or serving bowl, I think it's more functional.

I made sure that the rim stayed pretty flat, after I bent it inward to accommodate the handle. I think this will ensure that it hangs well, and not at a weird sticking-out angle, and it also allowed for simple trimming - no need to throw a wet chuck or a donut to work around an undulating rim. (Which is nothing against undulation! I love me an undulating rim, I'm just saying they do require some accommodation.)

Here's the trimmed, drying bowl. Now I am thinking I may brush or glaze-trail a small image or pattern into the circle within the foot; something that gives the user a reason to hang it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Map of Maine Pottery Tour 2012 far!

View Maine Pottery Tour 2012 in a larger map

I am eager to add pins to this map, so, local potters, give me a shout if you'd like to participate. The tour is happening May 11-15th.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Embryonic Pottery Tour!

When I lived in Minnesota, I looked forward every year to the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. I still have a Robert Briscoe pitcher and a Linda Christianson mug from those days. It was a sign that spring had arrived and a fun way to spend a day with friends - or family, since the tour always lands on Mother's Day Weekend.

For a few years, I have been thinking, "Why can't we do that here?" There certainly aren't isn't any shortage of potters.This year, finally, I did something about it: I invited 23 potters of my acquaintance to open their studios the weekend of May 11-13th. I'd already decided to have my studio sale then, and will do so regardless of the response; but I just think it's a great opportunity to combine resources and all benefit from the visibility. I am thinking a Kennebec Valley Potter's Tour; but it will depend on who wants to participate.

I chose Mother's Day weekend, because it lands before we all get crazy-busy with summer events and projects, and because it seems like a fun way to spend the day with your mom, shopping and visiting studios; and because there's at least a reasonable chance that the weather will be neither too hot nor too cold.

I already have one enthusiastic "Yes!' My friend Malley Weber, of Hallowell Clayworks, has agreed to participate. Thanks, Malley!

Watch here for updates, but it's a go. We're doing it.

Update: Liz Proffetty, a potter from Newcastle, ME, will be joining us also!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Queen of Cups

100 Mugs in 100 hours is, of course, last week's news; but I gave myself a laugh this morning when I remembered that my signifier card, back when I read tarot, was the Queen of Cups.

I can't say I ever believed that tarot cards have any special powers: they are cardboard and ink, where's the magic? But even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Monday, March 5, 2012

102 Mugs in 84 Hours

I reached my goal last night around 8 pm: 100 mugs in 100 hours. I ended up with 102 mugs - I was on a roll, why stop? - and actually completed the challenge with 16 hours to spare. A couple of thoughts about this project:

  • It was a lot of work, but it wasn't a crazy lot of work. It required prioritizing studio work over errands and such, which is always hard for me, and also can't happen every day: I do have to go to the bank and return library books and get cat food sometimes. But it reminded me that I could be getting a lot more pots made than I actually do. Remind me of that the next time I am whining about not having enough inventory.
  • This approach was so effective that I may try it in other forms. I couldn't do 100 butter dishes, for example, or even 50, in 100 hours (which suggests right off the bat that maybe I am under-charging for the butter dishes?) but I could probably do 20. Setting a more specific goal (as opposed to "make some casseroles today") seemed to help keep me on track.
  • Obviously, this will only work for those days dedicated to wet work; but glazing, glaze-mixing and kiln-clean-up days already have a built-in specific goal, in that it all has to be done by loading day.
  • I made mugs in multiples of 12: 12 of this shape, 12 of that, and in some cases I felt I wasn't done with a shape after 12 so made another dozen or half-dozen. I made some mugs that I probably wouldn't have thought of, except I had exhausted (temporarily) my interest in my go-to shapes.
  • And, just YAY! I did it, and without making any sloppy or thoughtless mugs. In fact I wedged up two, because they were ugly, in that trying-too-hard way. I was afraid that by focusing on quantity I might be tempted to rush past the details that distinguish studio pottery from production pottery, but that didn't happen. Even when I chose to forgo decoration or throwing marks, it was with an eye to what I might like to do with glaze.
Thanks to all of you who followed along on Facebook and Twitter. It was a great motivator to know that people were watching. You are the best, mwaaahh!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Matt Nolen

Matt does lots of other work, besides bathrooms; but it is the bathrooms that most make me laugh with simple delight. See lots more of Matt's work here.