Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thursday Inspiration: Noel Bailey

See lots more of Noel's wonderful work here.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pots from the Firing!

These mugs are available here
Despite its frustrating start, I was very pleased with the results of the firing. I did see some effect of having to abort and restart: there were a couple of tension fractures where I would not have expected to see them, unfortunately on two of the bigger pieces. Still functional, but, ya know....

Still, not complaining! Good body color, a lot of nice movement in the glazes. Now comes the sorting, pricing, packing, and delivery.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"You Gotta Make Jewelry"

I've been meaning to add jewelry items to my line for a while. Many potters have told me, "You gotta make jewelry!" as it utilizes the small spaces in the kiln and, for whatever reason, more people will pay for bodily ornamentation than for utilitarian items.

I wasn't resisting, exactly, but I really wanted it to be simple, and it seemed like all of the good simple designs were already in use (like this one, and this one.) I have no doubt that someone is already making one like this somewhere, too, but I haven't seen it, sooo...
Anyway! Finally I am in the jewelry business.
The pendant is about 1.25" of soda-fired porcelain, on an 18" brown leather cord, with lobster clasp and a 2" extender. I got about 5 out of the firing that were this bright, peachy orange; the others range from cream to black, many with mottlings of peach or silver. I am offering them for $18, which seems to be in the neighborhood of what others are asking. (Want one? ) Whaddaya think? 

No Harm Done

As you may recall, I wrassled the demon Crudebake in the form of high winds in my first effort to fire off this load. The demon won the battle - I aborted the firing - but lost the war. With the kiln half out, everything looks great (with a few expected warps & cracks.)

Particularly pleasing to me, the large things seem to have suffered no losses so far.
I can't jinx it once it's already fired, right?

More pics to come.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday Inspiration - Barbara Chadwick

We've got a two-fer this week, as Barbara Chadwick is both a potter and a sculptor, and I find both directions of her work quite compelling. I am a sucker for house imagery; whenever my life is in transition (gotta love those "life changes") I have dreams of houses, in various stages of construction or demolition. The third one down is entitled "Jump: Maybe You'll Fly" and feels like it could have been made for me personally. You can see more of Barbara's work at her own blog, or at Mudfire gallery.

Burners and BTUs

One of my goals for 2013 is to do business more effectively, and more efficiently, in terms of time and money. Toward that end, I've been trying to make my firngs faster and more efficient. As part of the latter, I needed to figure out the current BTU needs of my kiln.

This is not something I've spent a lot of time thinking about, which makes me a typical potter idiot, just cluelessly happy-assholing around, using whatever burners come to hand, according to Marc Ward of Ward Burner System. Okay, Marc didn't say that, but I feel it was implied. Or else I am projecting - could be that, too.

Kiln material, size, and firing temperature all contribute to BTU requirements. (Backing up just a teensy bit: BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, one of which is the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.) Hard brick kilns will require more energy than soft brick kilns to reach a given temperature for the simple reason that they are less well insulated and lose more heat through the walls. Larger kilns will require more energy because duh. A hard brick kiln will need 16,000 - 20,000 BTUs per cubic foot, to reach ^10; a soft brick kiln will need 10,000 to 16,000. Since mine is half-n-half - hard brick interior, soft brick exterior - let's thread the middle ground and say I need 16,000 BTUs per cubic foot to reach ^10.

So, now I need to know how many cubic feet in there; not stacking space, but the whole enchilada. What would be a simple equation - width x depth x height - is comlicated by the arch. How to figure that?

The equation looks like this: Width x depth x wall height + (2/3 x arch rise) For me this comes to just under 32 cubic feet. 32 x 16000 = 512000 BTU to reach ^10.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Potter's Loud Lament

From Homer's Epigram's fragment 14: "Potters, if you give me a reward, I will sing for you. Come, then, Athena [goddess of pottery], with hand upraised over the kiln. Let the pots and all the dishes turn out well and be well fired: let them fetch good prices and be sold in plenty in the market. Grant that the potters may get great gain and grant me so to sing to them. But if you turn shameless and make false promises, then I call together the destroyers of kilns, Suntribos (Shatter) and Smaragon (Smash) and Asbetos (Charr) and Sabaktes (Crash) and Omodamos (Crudebake) who can work this craft much mischief. Come all of you and sack the kiln-yard and the buildings: let the whole kiln be shaken up to the potter's loud lament. As a horse's jaw grinds, so let the kiln grind to powder all the pots inside."

You thought it was a joke, about the kiln gods! Not only did the Greeks acknowledge Athena as the Goddess of Craft, there were five, count 'em, FIVE demons who existed solely to torment potters: Suntribos (the Shatterer), Smaragos (the Smasher), Asbetos (Charrer), Sabaktes (Destroyer) and Omodamos (Crudebake). These are the Daimones Keramikoi: fear them.

Geez Louise! No wonder it's such an uphill struggle.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Drive-by: Sharing a Good Link

I aborted my firing last night after the kiln stalled for more than 3 hours at ^3/6 (side-to-side unevenness; that part was not unusual. It evens out later.) It hasn't done that for more than two years, since I corrected the height of the bag wall!

Needless to say I was grumpy but I am guessing weather conditions are the cause:  Here in Central Maine we were experiencing sustained high winds almost steadily for the full duration of the firing. My thinking is that the wind created such a strong draw - on a kiln that is already inclined to draw too hard - that the hot gasses were just being sucked out of the kiln before they could heat things up. I will re-commence firing on Wednesday, and we shall see what we shall see.

While I was looking for some online confirmation - someone else who had had a similar experience - I discovered this really great discussion by Vince Pitelka on firing. It seems to be about a specific kiln at the Appalachian Center for Craft, but much of it is applicable to firing any reduction kiln. If anyone is curious about reduction or any other gas firing, I just wanted to direct them to this great resource - and to say again thank you to the giants among us who are willing to share.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Firing Feb 17th

I had planned on firing today but that just didn't happen, so I am moving the firing to Sunday. This should be interesting, as we have company this weekend, and me being busy with the firing will mean most of the shopping, cooking, and cleaning for our visitors will fall to Doug. Well, not most: part of the reason I had to put off the firing was making some of these preparations. I hate to de-prioritize firing but I just can't bring myself to welcome guests with a dirty house and no food.

Anyway! Here are two pieces that will be in this load that I am very excited about! I think of them as the bustiers. The resemblance to lingerie was accidental on the first piece, but once I recognized it, I made the second more deliberately. I didn't want to get too literal about it, but I couldn't resist the stripes.
I hope to post some images of the fired work on Wednesday or Thursday. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy VD!

Portland Pottery is offering a pottery workshop for couples, tonight from 6-8:30. A one-hour pottery lesson, then dinner for two in the cafe. (Click here for details: downloads a PDF)I'm a delighted to be facilitating this event. Each participant will make a small bowl, which we will then conjoin to make a condiment dish. 2-gether 4-ever, get it? We'll also do a little togetherness-throwing. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's Up?

So, what's new and exciting? Well, I got a dry erase board; that's a big thing! I know, I know: I need to get out more. (Although, I don't mind a sedate life. I had an exciting life once; it sucked.)

Why is a dry erase board such a good thing? Well, I am a visual person. It allowed me to chart my current projects and priorities in a way that keeps them always in front of me, and to see that though I am always busy, and almost always working, I am not directing my efforts in focused ways, so I end up spinning my wheels.

Right now I have three major work projects going on, and, of course, several minors and budding ones. The big three are:
  1. Current firing cycle: I am loading on Friday and firing Sunday. I am on track with this to fire Sunday. I'd post a photo of the glazed pots - lots of stripes and dots again - but my camera is in Westport, Massachusetts with my husband at his book signing.
  2. Kickstarter. I have done everything except the video, including writing the script, but video is a new medium for me, and getting over the intimidation hump has proved difficult. I need to get some footage of my various processes and a face-on camera appeal.
  3. Improving my firing economics. This has two facets: 
  • Determining if my burners are as efficient as they can be - and it's looking like no, they aren't; but it's really freaking complicated and I am lucky to have the assistance of a very knowledgeable friend in this matter.
  • Determining whether I can fire to Cone 6 and get the same or better results. These are not mutually exclusive; if I can re-work my burners and lower my firing temperature, the possibility exists that I will be able to pay myself this year. So exciting!
Anyway, where I was going with all that, is that the dry erase planner lets me see that I should be spending the majority of my time on those three thing, and I had not been doing that. I'd been blogging, because it's fun; I'd been researching and trying out new projects for my classes - important, but I already have a lot of demos up my sleeve. I'd been trying to organize the Maine Pottery Tour - I want it to grow this year, and it will, but maybe I should settle for a little growth, and let the chips fall. And I'd been doing website work - again, important but far from urgent. I just was not spending time according to importance: poor prioritizing.
All that was pre-dry erase board. I hung it, and divided it into five sections: one for each major goal; one for "Other:" all the stuff that needs to be done that is not one of those projects; and one for "Upcoming," projects on the horizon that don't need my attention right now, but that I also don't want to let sneak up on me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Keep Sharing Such Pretty Post Like This"

"I love to read more of this. Keep up." 

The spambots are stepping on my last nerve. Always some vague ungrammatical comment, with a website link. If it gets any worse, I'm going to reinstate Google's Captcha comment-verifier. Sorry, I know people hate it, but I can't make a part-time job of deleting auto-comments.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sometimes It's Hard

Potter Julie Guyot has an interesting post up about those times when you're just not feeling it. Julie has been suffering a creative block for a couple of months, and right now, she's sort of hating being an artist. That's a tough thing to admit, because Loving What You Do and Following Your Passion is supposed to be the big selling point of being an artist. It's a brave post, and most makers will relate to some part of it.

The sentence I most related to was this one: "Several times I have seriously considered just giving up and getting a 'regular job' so that I can feel like a valued member of society. " I know how she feels. I find it endlessly aggravating that we live in a world that values my ability to answer the phone politely over what I do it the studio, or even my abilities as a ceramics educator. The only time I ever hate being an artist is when I am clicking those pay buttons and writing those checks, the ones that keep my household afloat. I hate when I have to decide which one can safely wait a week, or when i have to gamble that a check will come in before this other one is due. I got a check last week and paid two bills that were due, and it came to exactly the amount of my deposit. I had to bring back bottles to buy cat food; Doug and I will do just fine on staples - rice, beans, eggs, pasta - until the next check comes in.

I will count one giant blessing, though: I never, ever, hit a creative dry spell. I think maybe that's because I teach classes, and as part of my job I constantly look for new ideas and techniques for my students. I give to them, and to me at the same time. If anything my work suffers ADD: often I get distracted by a new technique before I have fully explored the last one.
I can relate to Julie's post, though, because it sounds like income-stress is contributing to her dry spell, and because I know how people behave as if what we do isn't really work because it's fueled by passion. (I invite folks of that opinion to come and grind shelves with me. Experience the passion!)

Anyway Julie says she'll keep plugging away until motivation returns, and I will think good thoughts for her, that it does so soon.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pottery Basics Video Series

Bowls 102: Trimming on the Potter's Wheel I did a little more editing on this second video, and recorded it in the landscape orientation, so I don't look squat; at least, no more so than I am in real life.

Thursday Inspiration: Maren Kloppmann

See lots more of Maren's sleek, minimalist porcelain work here.