Saturday, June 30, 2012


SO very relieved and pleased that this firing was successful. I think I only lost 3 pieces to the inevitable firing mishaps: mostly soda blobs. That is some kind of record. What I did differently: not much, actually. Kept the damper pulled out during the soda application. Used less salt. Mixed up a different bucket of a glaze that performed poorly last time. So, w00t! Sometime-whiner I may be, but I know how to accept a blessing. I've got some grinding, pricing and packing to do in the warm sunshine.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Too Nice to Be Inside...

...but I have to work! What to do? Why, head out to the summer studio and do some handbuilding!

I love handbuilding; I just happen to love throwing-and-altering more.  Like, I love chocolate sundaes, I just happen to love caramel sundaes more. But sometimes you feel like chocolate, no? Also a factor: it's harder to sell handbuilt work, because the further pots are outside of people expectations (round, shiny, symmetrical, for starters) the more they challenge the viewer's aesthetic. Some people enjoy the intellectual work involved in having their aesthetic challenged, and some - collectors, say, or other potters and artists - have a broader aesthetic to start with. Slab-built pots are "potters' pots" the way that tenmoku and shino are potters' glazes. They are most appreciated by people with an eye that has been honed by much exposure to ceramics of all sort; an educated eye, if that's not too pretentious. Add to that, I have to charge more for my handbuilt things, because they take longer to make, and you see what I mean.

I think I finally have a venue where it will do well: Portland Pottery's new Cafe and Store. There are so SO many potters in the studio, and practically every potter in Maine has to go there at some time or another. Among the work displayed there, mine and many other potters', I had a single slab built cylinder. I noticed that it stood out like it were waving or doing a little dance. It sold almost immediately.

That was a couple of weeks ago. And now comes today, and a perfect way to be outside, yet cool, and also get some work done.

These will be amber celadon inside, with vertical stripes of satin black outside; and of course they russet color of soda glass over flashing slip.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Winter is Coming

If you haven't noticed, I've been on a bit of a blog break. (Yes, a week and a day is a blog break, for me.) Sometimes, I just don't have anything to say; other times, everything I have to say is whiny-ass bullshit, and it's better to say nothing. So, I hunkered down with a paperback copy of Game of Thrones, and the book-on-CD version of Clash of Kings, the first two books in George R.R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire about the mythical medieval kingdom of Westeros. But books end, and I can't stay burrowed forever. 

In the aftermath of my bad firing a couple of weeks ago, I received many kind and encouraging words here in the comments, and I thank you for that. It really does help, and I was able to shake it off, mentally speaking. While I am hanging on, hanging in, chinning up and bearing down, however, math goes on. A bad firing essentially means no paycheck for that firing cycle, and that is No Fun. I don't mean to overstate my difficulty; we aren't going hungry. I've been a potter long enough to know to fill the freezer and the cupboards whenever I do have money, and it's summer in Maine: our garden is producing peas and swiss chard and raspberries and chives and strawberries. I am keeping up with everything i need to keep up with, in the short term. It's just that, in the words of the Starks of Winterfell (obviously the books are still in my head, and vice versa,) "Winter is coming."

The words serve to remind: however easy things may be now, hard times are coming. Be ready. And I am anxious because now should be the time that I am paying down my credit card debt and paying certain bills in advance. Because winter is coming. Instead, I can't afford to buy cones!! I will be firing with a skeleton crew, so to speak: 012, 05, 9, & 10, because I am out of the others. (Outside of the symbolism, this doesn't trouble me much; the missing cones are all guide cones, and I don't really need them. I am sufficiently familiar with this kiln and how it climbs that I can judge by color what I need to know.)

I have not, however, just been lying around reading and wallowing. I've been working like mad, making, bisquing, glazing, and preparing the kiln. I feel really good about this work, and I am being almost paranoid about preparing the kiln, to prevent any further avoidable failure. It took me forever to glaze this load, and it will be the stripey-est and dottiest I have done in a while. The plan is to finish loading today, fire on Wednesday, and unload Saturday.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Joanna Howells

See lots more of Joanna's porcelain work here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Here's What Worked on My Foaming Kiln Shelves

The Foaming Kiln Shelves! It sounds like the name of a band. 

Remember I had that little problem with the ceramic-bonded silicone carbide kiln shelves dissolving into an icky black foam all over the pots? It's a great pain in the neck and an ache in the ass, and really what needs to happen is, I need new kiln shelves. But after some trial and error, I've found a work-around, for now. 

As I did before, I scrub the shelves as completely as I can with the shelf grinder - which is down to a little nubbin now; time for a new one. Then I use the wire brush attachment to the power drill, and that makes a HUGE difference - I can do a much more thorough job in a much shorter time, without aggravating my wrists. I finish with a once-over with the hand wire brush, then wipe with a wet sponge.

Now here was the risky part: I then brushed both sides of the shelf with kiln wash, watered down to a consistency as thin as skim milk. This resists the soda enough so that the shelf does not deteriorate, but isn't enough material to start flaking off onto the pots. There were a lot of things wrong with the last firing, but neither melting nor flaking kiln shelves were among them.

I will, eventually, replace these shelves; just think how many pots I could make in the time I would save if I didn't have to dink around with all this maintenance. I keep visiting the Advancer pages, whispering, "Oh, tell me again how you don't even have to grind them!" Not to mention the weight...[sigh, swoon]


Monday, June 11, 2012

Out with the Old

The kiln yard is finally clear of the rusting steel shell of the old kiln. Two nice men, one of whom looked like the Incredible Hulk, the other like sunshine-fresh Mr. Clean, carried it off yesterday free of charge. The kiln yard looks, if not clean, at least spacious: gone is the maze of rusty hulks to negotiate while carrying boards or buckets. As I understand it, Misters Clean and Hulk will sell the scrap steel, and everybody's happy.

The worst pots from the last firing, way too many of them, I've smashed with a hammer. There were many seconds: bowls with kiln kisses resembling wads of spittle in the middle; a casserole that looks perfect until you turn it to see a crawl spot the size of a dollar bill; mugs that have (now ground) kiln drippings right on the lip. These I've tagged to sell when I put out the front-yard shelves again: if you live in Augusta, stop by. There will be a lot of offerings this week.
I compared the last firing to a bad kiss; and (as a commenter pointed out) like kissing, a bad one won't stop us, because  the good ones are so very good. The keepers are priced and sorted, and I have nearly enough ware for a bisque already.

So I'll have an Altoid, apply a bit of lipstick - not too much! - and pucker up again. I have a pretty good hit rate for toads-to-princes, so I am undaunted.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Ragged Edge

This was a crap firing. There were way too many kiln-kisses gone bad, turned into big honking goobers and crusty woogies, rendering otherwise nice pots into seconds. This firing was a bad kisser: too much tongue, mouth too wide, engulfing the lower half of your face. I am bummed, and more than bummed: I was counting on these pots for two outlets that are awaiting inventory. Not everything sucked, of course, so I will be able to bring them some, and more later, but the selling season in Maine is so short. They need work now.

I read a blog post by Carter Gillies, a fine potter from Georgia, which he wrote just after a disappointing studio sale. Carter reflects on the precariousness of his situation, and he might as well be talking about mine. Though he was downhearted in the post, I finished reading it with a lightness of heart, as I had been relieved of a burden: it's not just me. Because sometimes I see all around me potters who seem to be doing very well, and I think: maybe I just suck at this. But I look at his pots and I read his philosophy and I think, if a great potter like that is struggling, too, then no, it's not just me.

I feel like I am always one car calamity, one bad firing, one lost account, from ruin. But looking back, I have survived all those things. I call it "riding the ragged edge of disaster," and it may be my superpower. (I probably am just one serious illness from calamity, but I have much company in that, and it reflects a systemic ill more than any failure of mine.)

Anyway! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and this firing, while disappointing, did produce some nice pieces.All of the salt and pepper shakers look good, lots of good refrigerator magnets and buttons...
I'm gonna go weed the garden. I need to tear something up.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mud Dreaming

The other morning, I woke up from a dream of a pot; kind of a low, diamond-shaped pot, one I've never made before. The image was pretty clear, down to the rim and handle details. I immediately did a sketch of it, so it wouldn't slip away the way dreams do. The obtuse corners were rounder than they would be it I'd cut and reassemble the sides, but sharper than if I'd just squared off from the inside with a fingertip. I had an inkling how to go about this, and I made the first one with my class on Tuesday. The shape still held some fascination for me, so yesterday, back in my studio, I set about refining it. Here's how it went:

First, I threw a bottomless ring. I started with three pounds of clay, which made a ring about the diameter of the wheelhead. 
While the ring was still on the bat, I cut it in half. I then folded the halves to mark the center.  
Using a trimming tool, I cut a small notch out of the inner side of the ring, at the center point.

I bent the piece along the notch, making an obtuse corner.
I threw a flat pattie of clay, with a deep finger spiral, and then stretched it into an oval, and cut the oval into a diamond which would match the bottom of the walls.
After the appropriate scratching and slurrying, I paddle the bottom to help secure the joint.
The handles are pulled and then rolled into spirals.
One of my students asked me,"What would you use it for?" Actually, I don't know. Some shapes just want to be made. Sweet dream, baby.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Carol Long

When I first saw this work I felt a little stitch of envy so sharp it was almost painful: "This, yes, this." I could look at these pots forever. I covet these pots.

See lots more of Carol's work here.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Work Your Fingers to the Bone, What do you Get?

Well, shirt.

I've been proud of myself lately: I've really been in the groove, making like a mad bastard, after my little self-pep-talk about production. And what do I get for it? Not bony fingers, like the old song suggests; instead I get tendonitis!

Actually I don't know that it's tendonitis, but it is wrist pain on the back side, with no attendant numbness, and happens when I've been throwing for a while. It's mild, fortunately, but frightening nevertheless: what if it got worse? What if I couldn't work?

I'm not gonna panic, here; The Vulcan in me says to rest my wrist, and research some treatments.

I have no health insurance, so professional intervention is a last resort, but Dr. Google has some suggestions for me:

Home Treatment
Home treatment options for tendonitis include:
  • Icing the wrist to reduce inflammation and increase blood flow
  • Using over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease the swelling and manage pain (Warning: only use pain medication at times of rest to reduce the chance of further injury)
  • Exercise to strengthen the injured area once symptoms have been reduced


Wrist Stretches

Gently roll your wrists clockwise for 15 seconds, then reverse direction. Go as far into the full range of motion as you can, feeling the stretch as you do so. Another stretch is to hold one hand out with the palm up and, with your other hand, gently ease your fingers backwards in the direction of your elbow, feeling the stretch through your palm and inner wrist. Release, then turn your hand over so the palm is down. Again gently pull your fingers toward your elbow, feeling the stretch over the back of your hand and top of your wrist.

Thumb Stretch

Make a thumbs-up with one hand. With the other hand, gently press the base of the thumb forward -- don't pull backward on the thumb tip. This stretch is especially helpful if you regularly type or text message on a wireless device, since repetitive motion is one cause of wrist tendonitis.

Flexion Exercises

Wrist flexion is when you pivot your wrist downward so that your palm moves closer to the inside of your arm. For flexion exercises, begin with your hand outstretched and in line with your forearm, palm down. Keeping your forearm still, lower your hand so your fingers move to point toward the ground. Go as far as your wrist and hand allow without pain, then raise your hand back to the starting position. Repeat five to 10 times.

Extension Exercises

Wrist extension is the opposite of wrist flexion -- moving your wrist so that the back of your hand approaches the top of your arm. Wrist extension exercises begin in the same position as the wrist flexion exercises. Again keeping your forearm still, raise your hand so your fingers move to point toward the ceiling. Go as far as you can without pain, then return to the starting position. Repeat five to 10 times.

Tendon Gliding Exercises recommends tendon gliding exercises -- not to build strength, but to improve lubrication in the tendons for greater ease of motion. To do them, start with a flat hand. Touch your fingertips to the top of your palm --- or as close as you can get --- then release. Touch your fingertips to the center of your palm, then release. Then touch your fingertips to the bottom of your palm and release. For your thumb, move it back from your palm as if you're hitch-hiking, then try to touch the base of your pinky finger. Do all of these slowly and gently, and repeat up to 10 times.

I am greatly encouraged that the livestrong article suggests that, once the episode is past, stretching can prevent recurrence. I am sort of kicking myself, because when I used to type for 7 hours a day, I stretched my wrists frequently. I already knew my calling would require daily back seems like those were two pretty easy dots to connect. 

Oh, well. I do have lots of non-throwing work to do, so it seems like I'll be doing that today.