Sunday, March 31, 2013

Icy Water

No throwing today; no bathing, either, or dish-washing. We ran out of oil yesterday - Saturday afternoon, and not just any Saturday: the one just before Easter. I guess I should count my blessings that it wasn't Christmas Eve, and anyway it's no one's fault but my own: I was trying to squeak through March without an oil delivery. Well, I succeeded; but not the way I had hoped.

Fortunately it's not very cold, and I have an electric space heater for the studio, so, onward! (Funnily enough, the electricity went out for about an hour, as well: Frontier Days here on Cony Street! I try to keep a sunny outlook but I admit I started to get a little exasperated. I read by a window until the power returned.)

I did trim some more teabowls for the first test firing of my new line, which, as regular readers know, (O hai regular readers! Mwah!) will be ^6 reduction soda: same palette, same forms (or many of the same), same utility; just less propane. My hands aren't in water too much while trimming, anyway. But trimming is done now, and it seems like a good chance to try something I've had in mind for a while: sketching out some shapes and glaze schemes, with watercolor pencil.

By nature I am a mud potter: throwing, shaping, stamping, slip decorating, all the things that happen while the clay is wet are easily appealing to me. Like a lot of ceramic artists, for years I thought of glazing and firing as just something I had to do to finish the things l loved to make. I tried to choose (or create) glazes that would enhance my shapes and textures, but could be applied with simple dipping or pouring. That has been changing in the last few years, and I feel like my work has taken great strides forward - come to a new level, if I may say so - since I have been treating glazing as just as active and creative a process as wetwork. I want to see if planning out some glaze designs in advance will further develop that aspect of the work.

Watercolor pencils seem like a natural because of the analogy to soda: carefully applying the color, and then along comes this fluid force to melt and soften the marks.  It's fun! And it's a better use of icy water than throwing.

BTW, the watercolor sketches - these, and some others - are available as part of the $100 reward level for my Kickstarter campaign. Even the $10 will get you a card based on one of the sketches! I am leaning towards using the teapot for the thank-you card, but we'll see what else comes out of the brush.
EDIT: Now available for a $29 pledge: the full glaze notebook in PDF form! Also, for Canadian potters who would like a hard copy, you can get one for a $41 pledge, to cover the additional shipping.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pillow Soap Dishes

I’m always looking for small items to tuck in the small spaces in the kiln between larger things. Pendants, refrigerator magnets, and buttons fill this bill nicely, but now that I’ve adopted soap making as a hobby, dishes to hold said soap seem like a natural. Obviously there are many ways to make soap dishes, and I have a few online now, but while playing around I came up with a quick way to a really appealing, pillowy shape. 

First I throw a cylinder without a bottom. It can be just a tallish mug shape, but the larger the diameter of the ring, the more dishes you are going to get. The height of the ring will be the length of the soap dish, and a soap dish that’s almost big enough is like underpants that are almost big enough: irritating. Pull it taller than you need, because it’s going to shrink (thanks Captain Obvious) and also because the next step is going to make it shorter. 


With a rib outside and my fingertip inside, I stretch the outward in three places, so it’s a cylinder with three bulging bands.


Using my wire tool, I cut the cylinder into lengths of about 5 inches. If I’ve made a mug-shape, that will be in half.

Soon after removing from the wheel, roll the cut ends under, with the outer surface becoming the top.

Voila! Pillow soap dishes! The ridges raise the soap up so it doesn't get gloppy.

Kickstarter update: The campaign, it seems, is gonna come right down to the wire: we are at 89% with 5 days remaining. If you've got a minute, I hope you'll pledge. A $30 pledge gets a notebook of all my glaze recipes, with firing notes (a special reward, just for potters) but you can pledge as little as one dollar. Believe me it all helps. Check it out here.

Many thanks to readers who have already pledged. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday Inspiration: Charity Davis-Woodard

Ceramic Arts Daily did a profile of Charity a couple of years ago; you can see it here. I usually try to link to the artist's website, but Charity's website seems to be offline.

I am especially enamoured of the little metal finial on the soy bottle.

Also, blah-blah-blah, Kickstarter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Especially for Potters!

This morning I got to thinking: most of my online audience are other potters. Maybe my Kickstarter campaign should offer something especially for them, something that will be useful in pursuing our shared passion.

So I created a new Reward level: for a $30 pledge, I will send you a bound notebook of all my slip and glaze recipes, both ^6 and ^10 with firing notes.

Yeah, most of them you will eventually be able to find online, but they are scattered, throughout this blog and my springpad notebooks. This book collects them all in one place, with information about the results I've gotten using different applications and firing conditions. The best part is, right now it's backers-only, but $30 will be the retail price for the glaze book when it is available to the public. This is really just purchasing a resource book, and in the process supporting a fellow potter.

I have another new reward level, too: for a $250 pledge, I am offering a lidded 2-quart casserole, becaus esomeone mentioned to me that it's a pretty big jump between $100 and $500.

Thanks for your patience while I eat, sleep, and breathe Kickstarter. Succeed or fail, it's a good thing the campaign is only 30 days long or I might worry the hair right off my head! If you can help, by pledging or spreading the word, many thanks. If you already have, thanks a million million.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two Approaches

Sometimes someone else's thinking is so unlike your own that it throws you for a moment.

I have been working on this Kickstarter campaign ("Oh, what's that, Lori? You have a Kickstarter project? You should have said something! " said absolutely nobody at all.) While remaining optimistic, I have been prepared for the possibility that it will not reach its funding goal, and therefore fail, Kickstarter being an all-or-nothing deal. Since the project - to convert all my ^10 reduction soda glazes to ^6 reduction soda, hopefully seamlessly - is a really good idea, I plan to make it happen one way or another; which means thinking about how I will fund all those unprofitable test firings and glaze ingredients. How exactly that will happen is not what I am here to write about today.

Instead, my mind got hung up on something a friend (let's call him Mr. Business Guy) said to me when I mentioned this to him. He shook his head vehemently and said, "No. Work without a net. If you build yourself a backdoor, you won't push as hard; you won't try every possible avenue, call in every favor, take every reasonable action to make it happen."

This struck me at first as sort of nuts; my approach has ever been to always, always have a back-up plan. Why deliberately allow your options to be only either full success or absolute failure? He really is better at business than I am, though, which shows in our circumstances, so I was not inclined to dismiss this advice out of hand. Was Mr. Business Guy right? Do my Plans B hold me back? I think of the years I worked part time at an office job, unable to commit fully to the world of conventional work or to my true calling. Should I have made the leap years before, and let my terror of being homeless provide the impetus to success?

Maybe, if money was the sole bottom line. This is often how I come down on issues regarding business practices for artists. If would be so much easier if all we wanted was to make money. Easier, but so much duller. We serve dual bottom lines: money, as in, enough to live on; and our aesthetic: that which makes us artists in the first place. Having no financial plan b might have pushed me harder to sell pots; and it might have forced me to sacrifice the aesthetic bottom line.

The campaign is at 71% funding, with 10 days to go. There is reason to be optimistic, so maybe all this fretting over Plan B will be unnecessary. However, more generally, as an approach to business, to life, to accomplishing anything, I'm still on Team Back-up Plan.

Just the Poster Alone!

Just looking at this poster makes me happy. This event, the Pottery Invitational, is happening at the Worcester Center for Crafts, Friday April 5th - Sunday, April 7th. Don't know if I'll make it - it's about 2 1/2 hours away, and that's a firing weekend for me - but thought I'd pass it along, if only so the poster can make you happy, too.

Almost forgot: blah-blah-blah-Kickstarter. 70% now, yay!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Helpful Cat Wants to Help

I have five cats. (Is that enough to qualify for crazy cat lady? I don't know.) My cats all have different levels of friendliness, but this one - the only girl  - wants to cuddle only when I am working. Active work, that is - no way is she going to quietly sit on my lap when I'm typing, but she'll ride on my shoulder all day if I am, say, cleaning the house. Studio work also gets her attention, as you can see in this clip. She'll do that for hours, if I let her - nuzzle my hands, my banding wheels, everything one the table, and then come back to cuddle me again. I do eventually have to put her out of the room, but as I said, it's the only time she's cuddly (with me, anyway: she cuddles her co-cats all the time), and I want her to have some affection.

She also occasionally steps on wet bowls (not too often - she doesn't seem to like the feeling) and rubs against fresh slip decoration. I tell her it's not too late to stick her back under the dumpster where we found her and her two littermates, but she doesn't seem to concerned.

Oh, also: Blah, blah, blah, Kickstarter.  :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Straight Up Studio Day!

I'm giving myself a gift today: I am going to spend the entire day in the studio, making, trimming, handling, decorating. This has become something of a rarity for me, as I work to organize the Maine Pottery Tour and to drum up support for my Kickstarter campaign (the experience of which, succeed or fail, will eventually be a blog post of its own.) So, today, no phone calls, no email, no Facebook. And errands and housecleaning are right out. Just clay. (Okay, maybe a little yoga.)

Though my attention has been divided, I have managed to get a few things made. Here are some leatherhard casserole dishes that will hopefully be dry enough for the next bisque.

I am trying to restrain myself with the stamping and slip decorating, to leave some space for the glaze to be wonderful. In terms of shape, I like the third one down the best; it seems the most graceful.

Today will be smaller things: mugs and ice cream bowls and finishing up some butter dishes. I'm turning off the computer now! Type to you tomorrow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Back Stretch

Man, time flies! It has been 15 days since I launched my Kickstarter campaign, which leaves 15 days more for me to meet my goal. I'm 32% funded now, which is not bad, but Kickstarter funding is all or nothing: I've got to get the full amount, or none. I'm in the dreaded "lull" period now, which everyone warned me about, and it's making me crazy, which everyone also warned me about.
I know this can get done. If every visitor to this blog  pledged just one dollar, funding would be complete in less than a week. If every visitor pledged $5, I'd be done in a day and a half.

Since I already sound like the pledge drive, I might as well go full PBS and tell you about the Reward levels:
  • Backers at the $5 level will receive a porcelain pendant necklace on a leather cord. This is a $15 item!
  • Backers at the $10 level will receive a thank you card based on an original design sketch, and your name on the Many Thanks page of my website.  
  • A $25 pledge pre-orders a teabowl from the test firings, as well as a thank you card made from an original design sketch, your name on the Many Thanks page of my website.
  • A $50 pledge gets backers a thank you card based on an original design sketch, your name on the Many Thanks page of my website, and a mug in one of the new designs.
  • For $100, backers get  an original watercolor design sketch, matted and ready for framing; your name on the Many Thanks page of my website; a mug in one of the new designs; and a personalized thank you card.
  •  A $500 pledge(just throwin' it out there!) pre-orders a cake stand complete with cheesecake made by me, frozen and shipped to you, and also the thank you card and website mention.

There are more but I'll leave off for now.

I also want to thank the many helpful readers who have directed me to resources which will help me in my quest to re-formulate my glazes for ^6 reduction soda. I know I can do this and I appreciate your help. It's going to take a bunch of test firings, out of which there will be very little salable ware, which is why I am looking to crowdfund this effort.

As you know, I'll be sharing everything I learn here. And I wasn't being a wise guy: a pledge of a single dollar will make a difference. Seriously, thanks for any help you can give.
The campaign will be active until April 6th.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Learn So Much from my Students, Chapter a Million

I declared a botanical theme for this session's classes (the advanced and intermediate folks, at least; the beginners have enough to think about without throwing a theme at them.) In that vein, one of my students brought his professional skills to bear. He used to decorate cakes for a living, and after I mixed up some slip of an appropriate consistency, he showed me how to make "frosting" roses.

It takes some practice and I can't say I've mastered it, but I can make something that is recognizably floral, at least. (When my student, David, makes them you'd swear you can smell the rose.) I got the pastry bag, rose tip, and rose nail at Joann Crafts. Getting the slip to the right consistency took a few tries: too stiff and it won't even emerge from the bag, too thin and the flowers lose their shape. A blender worked much better for preparing the slip than hand-mixing, because mechanical blending results in fewer lumps.

Here's me, giving it a shot:

Thursday Inspiration: Susan O'Brien

Susan's work makes my heart do the happy dance! It makes me itch to go make pots and also makes me feel like I should just quit right now, because I will never make anything that amazing, ever. Do you know that feeling, a kind of bittersweet, achy mix of inspiration and despair? Sounds bad but it's not; fortunately the former feeling wins out.You can see lots more of it here.

For those of you who are at NCECA: have fun, my friends! I so wish I were there, but as we Red Sox fans say, wait'll next year. Next year is Milwaukee, only a day's bus ride away, and I think there may be a couch with my name on it. See you there? I'll wear a red carnation.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Map of the Maine Pottery Tour 2013

Here's how the tour is shaping up! I have an additional studio marker to add to the map, but I am still waiting on an address.
Click here to see a version with interactive markers that provide you with the address and contact information of the studios.

I made the map using a website called ZeeMaps, a not-entirely-free service, but I needed it to make sure the markers were accurately placed. Though I am glad they are out there, it's still fair to say that they are a moderate pain in the ass. I don't mind paying a buck to have the file emailed to me after it's created, and I don't even mind the ads stuck all over the online version. You can get a version without ads, but it's $17 - no thanks. But I get it, they are just trying to get paid like everyone is. What irritated me was that after I paid for my map, the image they send me was read-only, which is different from last year. I had to go to an online file conversion site to make a .jpg so I could label the various markers.

The tour is still almost two months out but I am started to get excited about it. It's nice to thin about sunny May, with the bright tulips lining the drive, when we are have a late winter snowstorm out my window.

The Cup that Holds your Wine

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? - Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I admit I'm not much of a wine drinker. I like Pinot Grigio, Reisling, and White Zinfandel alright: having come of age in the 80s, when wine coolers were the drink of choice for party girls like me, sweetness is a plus. Helps if it's pink, too. Ah, how fondly I remember the days of Matilda Bay wine coolers! I was known as Two-liter Lori then. Two drinks makes me tiddly now, and I'll have a hangover to look forward to, in the bargain; not to mention that all my rowdy friends have settled down.

But I digress.

Where I was going was, I've never "gotten" wine stems. As a person who designs drinking vessels for a (so-called) living, a container so fragile, spindly, and unstable seems a poor choice for one devoted to the consumption of alcohol. Maybe it's a sort of self-regulating mechanism? If you knock over your glass, you're cut off. If so it doesn't work very well. The quote above reminds us that ceramic wine cups were and are the choice for much of the vino consumption in human history. Kahlil Gibran was speaking of the inseparability of joy and sorrow, a thing which makes sense to me: the random factor that I deliberately introduce into my work, which gives me relatively high firing losses, makes all the sweeter those pots that survive to serve beautifully in the world.

After reading this quote I was inspired to make some wine cups. I kept the basic shape of the bowls, which will hold about 6 ounces after shinkage. I like the smooth curves and the way the bellies will snug into your palm. I may even be inspired to take one for a test drive, when they are finished.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Drive-by Post: Slip Embroidery Results

I finally got the results of my slip embroidery experiments out of the kiln! The top is blue slip on b-mix with Bauer Orange Flashing Slip, the bottom blue slip on b-mix with no flashing slip or glaze.These aren't the best photos - thanks Captain Obvious! - but I wanted to get them shot while I still had some light, before they go to their destinations. Also out of this kiln, lots of work by friend and fellow potter Cindy Chiuchiolo, of CC Ceramics. Here are a couple:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday Inspiration: Hannah Niswonger

You can see lots more of Hannah's wonderful work here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Little Excitement!

I hate excitement.

As Cindy and I were preparing to add our second batch of soda, we had a visit from the Fire Department. One of my neighbors had called and reported an illegal fire. I was surprised about this for two reasons: first, most of my neighbors know what I do and what to expect when the kiln is firing, and second, I checked with the fire department before I ever put the first kiln here, back in 2005, and they had no problem with it. They assured me they just had to respond to the call. They asked a few questions, then went on their way.

One of my visitors. Okay, not really,

My worried neighbor lived in the one apartment building which has a direct line of sight to the kiln. The residents there tend to come and go pretty quickly and I don't meet all of them. I'd seen this lady before, but she had seemed singularly uninterested in talking, so we hadn't met. She watched my interactions with the fire fighters but did not approach. I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself, afterwards, and I did so, but I doubt she will remember it in the morning because she was well and truly drunk.

She was also, not to be uncharitable, maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have no fear that she will read this as, no snark intended, I think it unlikely that she can read. I told her I was sorry to have alarmed her and asked if she would like to come over and see the kiln up close, She declined, citing a deep fear of fire. Aha. But at least she seemed friendly now, and I thanked her for keeping an eye out for the neighborhood. So hopefully I've put out that fire, metaphorically speaking.

The Kickstarter continues to climb, slowly. You can check it out here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Will They All Fit?

No, but a whole boatload of them will.
These are some of the pots Cindy of CC Ceramics and I glazed up to load for tomorrow's firing. The large, sculptural vessels are Cindy's as well as some smaller carved bowls and unomis. There's another whole board to the left, with some big pieces on it, and there was no chance that all of it was going to fit but I was amazed how much we did get in. Here's the kiln, partially loaded...

I could have fit more stuff, but I didn't want to stilt one of the larger thin shelves on the span, i.e., unsupported. Still we got easily three-quarters of the ware in. We're all bricked and mudded up now, ready to light tonight at midnight.

In other news, my Kickstarter project is is climbing slowly...keeping my fingers crossed.
Wadding recipe; 1 part Kaolin, 1 part alumina, 1 part coffee grounds

Friday, March 8, 2013

Glaze Your Shinos First

This tip is an oldie but a goodie for reduction firing potters: glaze your shinos first, so they have time to fully dry before the firing. This one was glazed on Tuesday. See the white mottling on the dry glaze surface? That's soda ash, which is the ingredient in shino which does the carbon trapping. As the glaze dries, the soda ash migrates to the surface. The more soda ash on the surface, the more carbon trapping you get - the key to that smoky, iridescent look for which we love shino.
This is one of the mugs for the Central Maine Clay Artists Mug Season fundraiser. I'll post a finished photo so you can see how the carbon trapping comes out.

Buddy Firing!

Being a potter - or any kind of artist, really - can be pretty solitary. This weekend I am looking forward to firing my kiln with my friend and fellow Potter Cindy Chiuchiolo, of CC Ceramics. This is a case when I have to give social media some credit. You know how you meet people, and like them, but then circumstances change and your lives move on, and you never see them again? Cindy & I would have been like that - we met when we were both working at the Watershed Center for the Arts. Our desks were a few feet apart, and we got to be friends, but Cindy's internship ended and she moved back to her native Massachusetts, and I moved on to another position. We might not have encountered each other again, in the old days. Thank you, Facebook! (BTW, Cindy's cat has his own FB page. Here's a shout-out, Dark-dark!)

Lots to do! I got sucked into computer-y stuff yesterday, with the launch of my Kickstarter project (5% funded!), but I did manage to get everything waxed and do a little grocery shopping. Today I want to slip my pots and glaze a bunch of them, so there will be more table space in the studio for Cindy's work. We'll spend Saturday glazing and loading, and fire the kiln on Sunday. So excited!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

So, Who Died and Made Cone 10 King?

When I was a graduate student, there was a kind of snobbery in academic circles about ^6. It was thought of as a thing you pursued only if you had no access to a gas kiln, a kind of fake stoneware. As recently as 10 years ago, when I bought the Watershed Glaze Book, it included earthenware glaze recipes, and ^9-10 recipes, but no ^6.

Cone 6, and thinking in the ceramic world, have come a long way. The days when ^6 necessarily meant oxidation are over, too.

Now I can look at potters like Mark Knott, Steven Hill and Julia Galloway, all firing to ^6, and it looks to me like this lower temperature can be every bit as subtle and compelling as ^10. We've long known that ^6 stoneware is just as durable. Since 30% of the fuel is consumed in the last 100 degrees of the firing, it leaves me with a question: why are we still firing to ^10?

Or at least, why am I?

An ancillary question is, how did ^10 become the standard in the first place? Who died and made ^10 king? Keeping in mind that I am just speculating (not to say "making shit up") but I imagine that, in those regions where stoneware is the naturally occurring clay, before the introduction of oil, propane, and natural gas, wood was the only available fuel that could create a sufficiently high firing to mature the body. And what do you get with wood? Why ash, of course! And wood ash below ^10 is lumpy and gritty - not the most utilitarian surface. (Crusty ash can be beautiful - don't take me wrong!) So any glazes would have been formulated to be compatible with the melting temperature of the ash. Make sense so far? And now we have this long and venerable history, not to mention about a bajillion favorite glazes, in ^10.

But it's just as easy now to make a body that matures at ^6, and just as easy to mix up's just the long and arduous task of conversion.

That's where I come in. I've launched a Kickstarter project. to develop a new line of pottery  - which will very much resemble my old line, but fire to ^6. and because I am a ceramic educator as well as a potter, I will be sharing my process and glaze recipes with student, workshop participant, and - of course! - with readers of this blog. The bummer is all the test glazes, pieces, firings that will likely not produce any salable work for months. And the expense!

That's where you come in. I know many of my readers are other potters, who probably have no more money than I do, but if you can support the project, I'd greatly appreciate it. I am not exaggerating when I say even a pledge of $1 helps. If you can share it with other people who might be interested, that would be awesome also. Thanks for any help you can give, and watch here for details of the project as they emerge.
Thank you.

Thursday Inspiration: Amy Chase

See lots more & learn about Amy's amazing work here. Do people still say "awesome sauce?"

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Maine Pottery Tour: Year 2

When I initiated the Maine Pottery Tour last year, it was in the hope that it would grow into the kind of annual event that people look forward to every year. Well, it's growing!!

So far eight studios have confirmed participation:

Me- Fine Mess Pottery. I will also have two guest artists.
Malley Weber
Mary Kay Spencer, The Potter's House
Martha Hoddinott, A Lakeside Studio Pottery
Barb and Neil Loken
Robbi Portela, Maple Lane Pottery
Liz Profetty
Tracy Adams, Salt Box Pottery

All of these are in a strip across what's called Central Maine (which is well south of the geographical center) to mid-coast. This is the region that I am "managing" for want of a better word: organizing the folken, handling the publicity. But we welcome studios in other areas of the state as well. If you are a potter in Maine and you'd like your studio to be part of the tour, give me a shout at
It's happening Mother's Day weekend, May 11th & 12th, though a couple of studios will only be open Saturday - more details to come.To get all the updates as they come, visit