Sunday, October 28, 2012

What's New in the Studio

I've got cake stands drying; these are the ones I made with the quarter trick last week. So far, so good: no cracking or warping [knocks wood.]

And I've got serving baskets, a couple of which morphed into colanders:

Aaaaand, my newest shape: stoneware steamers!

They work (I hope they work!!) Like bamboo steamers: put them on the rim of a cook pot of water, and boil the water. The steam is forced up into the lidded piece, and the vegetables therein cook. Each piece also has an underplate, so the steamer doubles as a serving dish. I got the idea using my bamboo steamer and wishing it looked nicer and didn't have that funny smell.

It seems like it should work: steaming is not like putting a piece right on a burner, and if you put the steamer over the water and then bring it to a boil...well, I'll say again: it seems like it should work. In any case I can't wait to take one of them for a test drive!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday Inspiration: Mary & David Cuzick

See lots more of the Cusick's amazing work here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pots from the Last Firing

I was pretty excited while I was unloading this last firing: the colors were brilliant, the soda glass was generous but not gloppy, and if there were more kiln kissed than usual, well, what are ya gonna do? It's all part of the process. I was excited, that is, until I started doing the final finishing before sending them off to stores: sanding the bottoms, testing handbuilt pieces for leaks, checking for warping and cracking. Speaking of cracking...

Two of the three large tureens exhibited tiny cracks at the rim. The cracks are not structural - the pieces still ring if I tap them with a pencil - and they wwon't compromise the function. But a crack is a crack, and the tureens are instantly rendered unsuitable for sale in stores. Seconds. Most likely these were caused by handling too early (or too late?): when the piece was not yet rigid, but was too dry to accommodate any deformation of the rim. Those cracks were probably there, in microscopic form, before the pieces even went into to bisque. My language was more colorful than usual when I discovered the cracks("Aww, fuck me with a phone pole!") but that lasted moments only; I am always more sanguine once I figure out why something happened. And then I discovered that 4 of the 6 plates for an order had warped; the air turned blue.

There was other warping in the kiln, as well; probably about a third of the firing were seconds. But hey, the glass is 2/3s full, right? Here are some of the successful pieces:

The butterdish and mugs will be headed for Portland Pottery; the salt and pepper shakers - there were four or five sets - will be available on the website; or purchase right here, if you'd like!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Quarter Trick, Revisited

Thanks to my cyber-buddy and fellow potter, the fabulous Emily Murphy, for passing on the idea of the quarter trick, which came to her via Jordan Taylor of Stony Meadow Pottery. The original purpose of the trick was to divide the mass of clay for a large platter into two pieces instead of trying to power-center the whole lump at once,  to better judge the thickness of the center/bottom of the piece, and to improve compression with the aim of discouraging cracking.

While I have not had a problem with platters cracking (warping, yes) my cake stands are another matter. I found that I could only get a cake stand that wouldn't crack by throwing the plate and the stand in two parts and assembling at leatherhard. Since there aren't infinite, random things that cause center cracks (much as it may sometimes seem so!) the cause sort of has to be insufficient compression, differences in thickness, or water absorption. It seemed like I was compressing enough - I spent what seemed like a silly-long time at it - and I know to never leave standing water in a pot while I am throwing. I did find that it's difficult for me to judge whether the thickness of the plate within the ring is the same as the thickness of the plate without. Enter the Quarter Trick!!

I weigh out 5.5 pounds of clay to make the plate part of the cake plate, which wants to shrink to 9" to fit a standard cake diameter, so needs to start out about 10.5", with my claybody. A cake stand is best thrown upside down. I throw what is basically a pie plate, with tallish sides and without the wide rim.  Compress the living daylights out of the floor of that puppy, then place a quarter into the center.

Next, I plop a 3-lb ball of clay in the center, right on top of the quarter, center that, then open down to the quarter and pull up the ring. I can then remove the quarter and smooth the spot - taking the opportunity to compress a bit more, for luck - the wire it loose.

The piece will ned to dry to quite leatherhard before removal from the bat (tx, Captain Obvious) but will need only minimal trimming at the edge. A rubber rib works well to smooth the top surface.

Thursday Inspiration- Loren Lukens

See more of Loren's amazing work at Brace Point Pottery.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Holding Out for Amazing

Got most of my list done, and now I am just waiting for the cones to fall. This is that rare firing that I am excited about every single piece in it; Tuesday can hardly come fast enough for me.
I have the oval platters I made with the texture roller in there; the soup tureens; the mugs with my new glazing scheme; some fun striped salt & pepper shakers, an order of cat urns, and one of plates, as well as various mugs, bowls, and butter dishes.

The last hour of the firing - the one between nine-going and eleven-soft - is difficult for me, because I am tired and I want to be done. I know that if I turn it off now, things will be fine. All my glazes will flux at nine, and be fine. But if I want to get anything amazing out of this load, I have to hold on until I see eleven start to go.

Hold out for amazing, I always say.

Things To Do While the Kiln is Firing

  1. Paper up the door: my least favorite job, wet and messy as it is, but it's important: it prevents heat loss through the tiny gaps between the bricks, and also prevents oxygen from seeping into the kiln through those same gaps. 
  2. Clean up the studio! During a firing is the best time to do it, as that's when the studio is most empty.
  3. ...not to mention, clean up the rest of the house. Usually the few days before a firing I am totally involved in preparations - waxing, glazing, making wadding and cone packs and door mud - and it is ASTONISHING how messy the house can get lacking a few days attention. No, I'm not a neat freak. I just hate mess.
  4. Post my belated Thursday Inspiration.
  5. Return phone calls and emails, neglected (like the housework) during preparations for the firing.
  6. Loading a kiln always stirs up ideas for new pots, so making stuff goes on the list!
Six is a doable list, I think...
  1. Or, you know, bugger it all and get an eBook and a six of Shipyard. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the Zone

Give me more to glaze, more!! Even though I never look forward to glazing, once I begin it can be as compelling as throwing. And in fact I do have more to glaze, but I have to interrupt myself to do an important errand: I've been given the task of finding a vacant space in the town of Hallowell in which to locate a pop-up store for the Central Maine Clay Artists group that I've recently joined. I hope to visit a couple of spaces today, and the group will make a decision on Sunday.

I also hope to get the kiln loaded and candling before I turn in tonight...gonna be a long day, so I'll see ya on the flip side.

Look for Thursday Inspiration on Friday this week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chrysanthemum Slip Design

Thanks to my student Cynthia for the video! The first 5 minutes are a plate-throwing video; at about the 5-minute mark, the slip decorating on the wheel begins.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Website work is like glazing; I don't look forward to it but once I start, I can get into it. I had a number of things on my list to do while the bisque kiln was firing: things like "Clean up studio" and "Mix glazes;" but instead I edited photos and posted new items to the website.

In particular, I added a few items to the Bargains page. I did and do have some doubts about the Bargains page in the first place.  Items on that page are one-offs, so the time-cost of building the page for each -about a half-hour - doesn't get spread over several transactions, and they are inexpensive pieces (Thanks, Captain Obvious! We wondered why they were called "bargains") so there isn't much pay-off for the investment of time.

However. I have a lot of "seconds" - mostly items that are outside of my current body of work, either because they were class demos, or because they date from before I built the kiln and everything changed. In a few cases they have a flaw which is so minor I hardly count it. In good weather I sell some from my front yard, but I make too many, between minor flaws and class demos - plus I have years of supply built up - for that venue to make much of a dent. It seems a shame not to monetize them in some way, even if it is not the most efficient use of my time. And on a chilly, rainy day when I didn't really feel like mixing glazes anyway? Better to do website work than just noodle around on Pinterest.

Anyway. Check it out if you are just noodling around yourself. :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Pots in the Pottery Shop!

I added several new items to the pottery shop, if you are interested:
A purple/oribe sugar bowl, with a turtle stamp on each side, $32
A faceted mug with medallion details and oribe interior, $20
A shino sugar bowl so yummy I almost kept it! You at least want to see this one close up. $32
A purple & oribe gem jar to stash your treasures, $30

Thursday Inspiration: Matthew Patton

See lots more of Matthew's amazing glaze work here and here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seated Lid Demo

One of my students has been taking video of some of my demos, with her phone. After I got over my two seconds of stress about not wearing makeup, I thought this was a really cool idea. In this video I am making two kinds of seated lids - the sort that sit on a flat ring on the inner rim of a pot. Another student has just asked me how to make a replacement plate for the spinning tray in her microwave, out of stoneware, so the video begins with me trying to field this question.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Slab Building from Templates

Slab Built Butter Dish in progress
As I've said, I find I can't throw enough to fill a kiln in the time frame of my firing cycle without injuring my wrist due to overuse. Ain't no big! I love handbuilding anyway, and even more so now that I am teaching the Monday morning handbuilding class at Portland Pottery. (New session starts October 15th, if you're interested!) The only issue is that handbuilding can be more labor intensive than throwing, meaning I either raise prices or - and I like this better - find more efficinet ways to work.

One way to speed up the making process for forms that I build from slabs is to create templates. Templates in no way render the resultant pieces identical, any more than wheel throwing with calipers does. I've figured out dimensions for 2 templates so far:

  • Butter dish lid: 18" x 3"
  • Mug: 12' x 4.5"
On my to-do list this weekend: head to AC Moore and get some construction paper, and reify them. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mishima in a Sling Mold

Mishima, misleadingly named for a Japanese city from which it did not originate, is a method of inlaying slip, engobe, or soft contrasting clay into carved or impressed texture. As I'm still having fun with my homemade texture roller, I decided to try some mishima decorating with my Monday-funday Handbuilding class. It worked so well I reprised the demo for the Tuesday Afternoon Delights and the Tuesday Awesomeness gang.

It was a sort of two-fold demo: I started by making an ad hoc mold from a rubbermaid bin and an old sheet. This is great if you want to build a larger platter or shallow bowl than you have a mold for; any container can become a sling mold. I just lay the sheet over the top, then tie a rope or bungee cords around the bin to hold it in place.The device looks a bit like a bassinet, when the sheet is secured in place. You can adjust the curve to be deeper or more shallow.

I rolled out a relatively thick slab - 1/4 inch or thereabouts. I then used the handy-dandy hot-glue texture roller that I made a couple of days ago in my home studio to impress a texture, before laying the slab in the mold. I trimmed the edges, and then lightly paddled the edges to compress.

I left it alone for a couple hours, hoping it would firm up some, but it really didn't; it was raining outside and quite cool in the studio, and of course the bin was plastic. I decided to go ahead with the mishima so the class could see the technique, even if it was less than ideal; but actually it worked just fine even on wet clay.

I spread thick slip from the sides of the bucket over the surface of the platter, then used a rubber rib to remove most of the slip, leaving behind whatever had sunk into the texture.
After letting the piece dry for a few more hours, I added a rim, made of flattened and stretched coils. Once it was leatherhard enough to move without distortion, I threw a foot - basically just a cylinder with no bottom, which I altered to be a loose rectangle - and attached it by laying the platter on top of it, while the foot ring was still quite wet. 
I ended up altering the foot much more than it appears at the top of this post, because the foot seemed so...static - in contrast to the loose, dynamic rim. (This is a constant issue when combining thrown and handbuilt elements.)

This piece will not be dry enough for the next bisque, but will make it into the one after that; I expect it to be finished around the end of this month.If it comes out especially well, I'll list it in the Pottery Shop!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Headwaters of Inspiration

"The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
 Marcel Proust 

I have an on-again, off again project at my other blog, for which I try to take a photo every day, usually while I am out on my morning walk. I try not to fuss over whether it is a good photo or not: the idea is to see. It's so easy to look but not to see. So I try to take photos of things, interesting or beautiful or ugly or curious. Those are my favorites, the curiosities, the ones that make you tell yourself a little story in your head.

Today I took a photo just a block from my house, of this  - what? exhaust duct? Vent of some kind? I've lived here for seven years, and I have never noticed this thing before, although it's not small - it's maybe ten feet high. It is at the back of a building, but still perfectly visible from the road.

This shape would make a great teapot body. I could interpret it somewhat literally, out of slabs, preserving the industrial character of it; or less literally, as a thrown piece, and focus on preserving the proportions. 

Inspiration comes from seeing what is really there.