Monday, April 30, 2012


Help me choose! I have to pick a teapot for Portland Pottery's annual show; the one I bitch about every year, because I have to make a teapot for it. I'm the one who hates making teapots, remember?

But to quote Will Munny, "I ain't like that no more." This year I caught the teapot bug and made nine in one day, most of which were in this last firing. I took shots of my favorites:






Sunday, April 29, 2012

It Was the Best of FIrings, It Was the Worst of Firings

That pretty much says it. I got some lovely pieces out - most of the big pieces, yay - but there was a full shelf above the bag wall that was a little dry. And by "a little dry," I mean "fish-belly white." I mean, "makes Casper the Friendly Ghost look swarthy." I mean like this:

I may have over-used the passive dampers; a little more soda or a little salt would have helped, too.

BUT. Not to focus on the negative: lots of goodies in here, too. The wax trick seems to have worked its magic again, although still no clue why. All of the teapots were successful, all of the casserole dishes, most of the mugs. A lid glazed down on one of the honey jars, and though unsticking lids is my superpower - ask my students  - this one was well and truly adhered, with an inch-wide glaze bond.

I've spent most of the day out in the not-quite-warm sunshine, buffing the bottoms of ware with a Kemper stick and steel wool. I've missed my brief window for photographing the pieces; I'll take a few shots tomorrow. You can help me decide which teapot to enter in Portland Pottery's Annual Teapot Show!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Useless Degrees

Whenever I drive through an area bleak with shuttered factories or mills, or the hollow core of a city, I find myself thinking, "This place needs an injection of artists."

Sculptors, potters and painters go where accountants fear to tread. Drafty, dingy warehouses that no longer house any wares make great studio spaces: it is conceptually impossible to mess them up. It is very freeing to have no concern about splattering the walls. Old warehouses and mills can become professional offices, too, but they often don't, or don't right away, because the depressed neighborhoods around them won't support the services such businesses provide.

So, in come the artists. A degree in art is a degree in creative thinking; artists are resourceful, and can do as well or better with less. They can use the spaces with minimal improvements: bare lightbulbs and concrete floors are fine; perfect, in fact. They can work in the economically depressed neighborhood for the low rents, because they are bringing their product elsewhere to sell it. And they bring the money back home.

Artists need to get haircuts; their cars need repair, they purchase beer and coffee and sandwiches. Businesses nearby the formerly-empty warehouses benefit. Maybe they even hire another waitress or mechanic.

Artists hold events to display their work; they bring people from outside to come, to look, perhaps to buy. These people provide activity and life; perhaps they visit other shops while they are there. Because of the artists, there's a concentration of interesting things to see in this neighborhood! People come back. Off-beat restaurants and clubs, book stores and independent movie houses open to serve this market for unusual experiences.This becomes a hip neighborhood, if we are still allowed to say "hip." It has cache. People want to live there.

The rents go up. Higher income people move in. Some of the warehouses-come-studios are converted to condos, then offices. These higher income people can support the financial managers, the lawyers and insurance agents who occupy these offices.

The artists get squeezed out, except a tiny handful of the very successful. But no matter: they'll find another neighborhood to resurrect.

I've seen this, exactly this, in the warehouse district in Minneapolis, and in the Old Port in Portland, and other places as well. Artists are the dandelions and earthworms of the economic ecosystem. They inhabit inhospitable places, and make them livable for other entities.

If only there were more of us! No area need be depressed for long, as long as there are artists around.

Useless degree, my ass.

48 Hours

That's how long before I can start unloading the kiln. The firing itself was uneventful, if that can can be said about such an exciting process - although I didn't realize until too late that I didn't have any salt, so it was straight soda this time.

What can I do with my 48 hours? How about, make 48 bowls!! I am still reaping the bounty of the 100 mugs in 100 hours project, and as I said, I got a lot of really good mugs out of that. (Also some stinkers: but that's unavoidable.)

In other news, here's how the stack looked before I bricked up:

"But wait, what's going on with those teapots? It looks like...yes, I think..."

You're right: they are completely covered in wax. When I glazed for the last firing, I used wax over the flashing slip in some places, because removing errant drips from the slipped surface is tough to do without leaving a scar. And "Errant Drips" is pretty much my secret name. (That should be my Twitter handle!) So I waxed areas that I thought would likely be receiving said drips. Just wax, nothing in it. And look what I discovered upon unloading:

Look close, especially on the right-hand side of the photo. See that rectangular mark? That is the edge of the waxed area. To be clear, the inside of the rectangle is where there was no wax. The area that had been waxed is juicier and more lush with soda glaze, and took a richer color. It feels nicer, too. I don't have a good explanation for this. Here's the flashing slip recipe:

41.9 EPK
41.9 OM 4
5.7 Borax
10.5 Zircopax
The wax, of course, burns away long before anything active happens with any of those ingredients...or so I thought.  The results say different. Maybe the wax leaves just enough carbon to change the outcome?

Much as I hate not knowing why, (and I will find out) it doesn't really matter why. I coated most of the flashing-slipped pieces in this load with wax, and will find out Sunday whether or not this was some kind of fluke. Of course, I forgot the salt, so if I get a different result, that could account for it. Will keep you posted!

Okay, off to make bowls.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Loading the Kiln in Late April

There is a certain joy to loading in the spring: it's neither too warm nor too chilly. I can hear the distant hum of my neighbor's lawnmower, and a pair of cardinals calling out to each, over and over again: "My territory! Fuck off!"

After our recent much-needed and copious rain, you can almost watch the plants grow.

I've had some bad luck this week, of the automotive variety: the phrase "car trouble" is nearly redundant at my house, so closely are the two associated. But like most things, it all turned out okay, or will, very soon. I was in a deep funk over it yesterday, but then my students made me laugh in spite, and broke the evil spell.

And, really, who cares? That's why God made credit cards: so you can get your car fixed, and then load a kiln with pots to sell, to pay for it.

This kiln will unload on Sunday the 29th. Some of the pots are heading for Bayview COmpany in Saco, and some will stay right here for the Maine Pottery Tour & Sale.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I'm Melting....

These are silicone carbide shelves. Q) Are they supposed to melt like that?

Well. I thought the answer was a resounding NO, but it turns out that ceramic-bonded silicon carbide is less impervious to the aggressive fluxing action of the soda, and can suffer from "progressive grain boundary corrosion." Son of a bit.

These were bought used, for short money, along with some others that are holding up like champs - those must be nitrite-bonded.

I can't afford new shelves right now, so my option is to grind the living shirt out of these, and the - reluctantly, because I am well aware of the pitfalls - apply a thin coat of kiln wash to the undersides as well as the top. Oh, what a world, what a world.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Ayumi Horie

In the process of searching for images for this post, I learned that Ayumi will soon be moving to Maine! This is wonderful news. Welcome!

See lots more of Ayumi's work here.

The Temptation of Lori

A friend called my attention to a job listing this week: here in my hometown, a company is hiring a full-time receptionist, at an annual salary of 40K, full benefits, vaca, and so on. 40K is a lot for a receptionist in Maine, and especially in Central Maine; if figured per hour, it's about 30% more than I was getting at the IPTOG.

You may be surprised that I would find such an position tempting, but it gets wearing, never having quite enough money. I still owe the heating oil company for the delivery over a month ago, and I've almost paid my property taxes. I eat a lot of rice, in late winter and early spring. What's more, I had an encounter with the misery-inducing norovirus, during a firing which left me acutely aware that there's no calling in sick at this job. If I had shut down the firing because I was ill I would have wasted hundreds of dollars worth of propane, so I just stumbled around, dumping angle irons full of soda into the kiln in between bouts of vomiting.

I was always an outstanding receptionist. I have a natural talent for it, and it plays to some of my strengths: my enjoyment of people and love of order. Anything is more fun when you are good at it.

And then I remember: to do that, I couldn't do this, not really. I remember that during the periods of my life when I had office work full time, I literally felt that I was thinking less interesting thoughts.

I'm not a fan of Mitt Romney, but he had one thing right: there is dignity in work (including parenting, IMO: but I'm off-topic.) I don't and wouldn't belittle anyone's honest work; unlike some artists I meet, I don't feel that sense of superiority to folks working in less obviously creative fields. Sometimes I experience the creative compulsion as a burden: if only I didn't need to do this thing, my life would be a lot easier.

And then I go downstairs to light the second burner, and smell the steam coming off the bricks; I fill up my new coffee cup, fondling the handle and feeling the deep thrum of satisfaction: I made this. And I remember, it's not all unpaid bills and vomiting.

And, you know, it's April. Late winter and early spring are prime time for unpaid bills, for me; and a regular gig is no proof against vomiting. I can already see things picking up for the season. I will get out the calculator and a number 2 pencil and see what I need to do to get me to that number, though: 40K is a lot of money but not a crazy-lot. It should be within my reach.

Maybe I can have it all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jonah Lehrer on How Creativity Works

I heard this great talk on NPR yesterday, from the Commonwealth Club of California. It's all about the nature of creativity and the conditions that foster it. Long, but worth it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

500 Teapots Call For Entries

I found out about this a bit late for myself: I have teapots in process but there's no way they will be finished, never mind photographed, by the upcoming deadline for entry into Lark Books planned 500 Teapots publication. But it might not be too late for you! Check it out here.
The deadline for submission in April 20th; you can submit up to 4 entries.

Lark already has a 500 Teapots book, with which you are probably already familiar. I would so love to be in the new one! But I guess I'll just have to wait for volume 3.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What's Happening With the Tour

  1. Here's an updated map of participating studios. The map is extra-super cool; if you click on a marker, it gives you not just the address, but the phone, website, and a photo of the work. I made it at; I tried at first on Google Maps but found it hard to share the map, and couldn't figure out how to turn it into a jpeg. Making a jpeg or a pdf is easy at Zeemaps, but it isn't free; it costs 98 cents. Fair enough, says I.
  2. Brandon Lutterman, a potter and sculptor from Wiscasset, has joined the tour
  3. My dear friend Tim Cichocki will be my guest artist here at Fine Mess Pottery
  4. Portland Pottery, Monkitree in Gardiner, and Branch Pond Flowers and Gifts, have all agreed to sponsor the tour.
If you haven't heard about it yet, it's happening Mother's Day weekend, May 12th & 13th. Saturday 10-6, Sunday 11 -4. Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Seconds for Spring!

I was thinking I would save all of my pots, even the seconds, for the Maine Pottery Tour, Mother's day weekend; but we're almost out of cat food.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Herd of Teapots!

These are thrown as closed forms, then the lids are cut out. I attach a flattened coil on the underside of the lid to prevent it sliding around when the pot is in use.

Not that I expect these to get a lot of use. They are perfectly functional, except one which has an opening a bit small for a teabag; and the spouts should pour like ya see inna pictures. Once they are fired, though, they will be one- or two cuppers. But what do I know? Maybe people use teapots for a single cup of tea.

I had a great time making this lot, but I might be all teapotted-out until next year.

Thursday Inspiration: Matt Long

You can see Matt making one of his hip flasks here, and see lots more of his pots here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's Teapot Day!

It's that highly unusual event, rare as papal elections or the transit of Venus. That would be, the day when I actually feel like making teapots!

Part of what stops me from enjoying teapot-making is ADD: there are so many fiddly little steps to them, by the time they are ready to be assembled, I no longer feel like making teapots. I have solved part of the problem by employing a rubbermaid container from my kitchen: I can, at least throw the spouts while I'm still enamored with the process, without having them dry out too much to use. I will also lay out a sheet of plastic and pull some long handles, and cover it with another sheet, so the handles will be firming up while the bodies dry, also.

I've got a guest artist visit this afternoon at UMA - just a few miles from my house - so by the time I get back, maybe these will be ready to assembled.

There's kind of a funny story about how I came to be inspired to make teapots today, but I haven't got time (got handles to pull! :) ) but I'll relate it when I show you how these turn out.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Extruses, Extruses

I don't have an extruder in my studio, but I do like to play with the one at Portland Pottery. Theirs is a North Star, which has the ability to make hollow extrusions - pipes of different shapes. This herb tray was a long, square pipe cut into four bits, with added slab bottoms, and a hex-shaped pipe cut along one side and folded in at the ends. A student pointed out that this would also work if the pots had no bottoms, and both tray and pots were filled with soil.

There are holes in the bottom of each little pot to allow for drainage, and the whole set is unglazed: I thought the earthy look was appropriate, and I find plants don't like a glazed interior, even when there is drainage.

I've planted thyme and cilantro in this set, and basil and oregano in other planters.

I sell these sets, sans dirt & seeds, for $48.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"For People Who Don't Like to Center"

My Students Are Awesome, Alumni Edition:

A former student, Maya Jaafar, dropped in to class a couple of weeks ago, and she was making the coolest little dishes! I asked her to show the class what she was doing, and she told us, "This is for people who don't like to center." Here's how it works:

Take a ball of clay, between 1/2 a pound and 1 pound - Captain Obvious says, More clay for a bigger dish! - and flatten it into a thick disc. Press this to the wheelhead.

With a rolling pin, roll the disc out into a roughly round shape, about 3/16 inch in thickness.

Now impress this stuck-down slab with a texture. I have rollers for this purpose but anything will do.

Using a needle tool and the turning of the wheel, cut away any irregularities to the circle. I cut away far more than I needed to for this one; making future dishes, I only had about 1/4 inch extra all the way around.

Run your needle or wooden knife under the outer 1/2 inch or so if the textured circle, pushing it upward to make a shallow wall. Then smooth the edges with a sponge or chamois. You will need to cut the dish off the wheel, the same as if you had thrown it.

And voilĂ : little spoon rests, saucers and pet dishes. Simple, sweet, and neat. I learn so much from students! Maya also writes a blog, called Maya Makes Things. Check it out!

Just Workin'

I may not be posting as much as I would like to, but not because I haven't been working! I have been making pots - I have casseroles awaiting trimming even as I type - and I have been madly trying to organize the Maine Pottery Tour, with some success! Potters Malley Weber, Mary Kay Spencer, Martha Hoddinott, and Robbi Portela will be joining the tout in Central Maine, as well as Cathie Cantara of Homeport Pottery in Kennebunkport.

Monkitree, a gallery in Gardiner, has agreed to be a sponsor of the tour. I am still looking for sponsors, whose name will be on over 1000 flyers distributed in dozens of locations throughout Southern and Central Maine. Sponsorship is only $20; if you know of any business that might be interested, they can contact me at ; or get more information about the tour here; or dive right in with a sponsorship here:

It's only 20 bucks, right?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012