Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Legged Tour

In addition to preparing for my firing - which is starting to remind me of those kind of recurring dreams where you are trying, trying to get somewhere and things keep interrupting you: a long, slow train, you forgot something, your car door won't close, and so on - I have been working on promotional materials for the Maine Pottery Tour. I've finally finished up the tri-fold flyers, which contain on the back the map that is the primary way people find us. Now that there are eighteen studios participating, it seemed wiser to split the tour up into three legs, because the map became overwhelming and hard to read. They look like this:

The map above is the Central Maine wing of the tour:
  1. Fine Mess Pottery – 131 Cony St, Augusta, ME  
  2. Malley Weber – 6 Orchard Lane, Hallowell, ME 
  3. The Potter's House – 82 Stevenstown Road, Litchfield, ME
  4. A Lakeside Studio Pottery – 12 Cedar Point Road, Wayne, ME
  5. Maple Lane Pottery – 36 Greeley Road, Windsor, ME 
  6. Loken Pottery -26 Bowman St, Farmingdale, ME 
  7. Mudgirl Pottery – 846 Memorial Drive, Winthrop, ME 
  8. Whitefield Pottery – 442 Howe Road, Whitefield, ME 
  9. Rob Sieminksi – 63 Bog Pond Road, Philips, ME 

    Here's the Southern wing:
    1. Gallery on the Green, 11 Oak St, Alfred
    2.  HomePort Pottery, 131 Beechwood Ave, Kennebunkport
    3. Heather Abt, 30 Everett St, Portland
    4. Peg's Pots, 51 Woods Rd, Peaks Island

      To use an interactive online map, click here.To download a .pdf, click here.

    And, finally, a mid-coast leg:

    1. Liz Proffetty, 118 W Old County Rd, Newcastle, 
    2. Ash Cove Pottery 75 Ash Cove Rd, Harpswell
    3. Alexsondra Tomasulo, Clark's Cove Rd, Walpole
    4. Tyler Gulden, Clark's Cove Rd, Walpole
    5. Fireside Pottery, 1478 Camden Rd, Warren

    6. To use an interactive online map, click here. To download a .pdf, click here. 
      My bum is tired of sitting and my eyes are screen-sore.  So happy to be spending the next couple of days in the primal world of loading and firing!

To Honor an Inspiration: Don Rietz

The ceramic world has lost another legend: Don Reitz passed away this week. Such as he hardly needs some blogger in pajamas to post images in order to be an inspiration; nevertheless, I will.

Everybody dies. If we live long, well loved, admired by many, and having left the world with a great and tangible legacy....well, that is as good a passing as one could hope for.

I hope there's clay, in the next world.

The Reitz family has asked, in lieu of flowers, that donations be send to Archie Bray or the Watershed Center in Don's name.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Students are Awesome, Part a Million and One

Ellen is reaching for the sky!
Patricia is calling these "butter temples" because "dishes" just doesn't seem to cover it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Joy-Zings and Murmurs

A few weeks ago I heard that The Artisan's Barn in Readfield is closing. Today I was told that the owners of another Central Maine store that carries my work are looking to sell their business. I'm not going to name them here because I don't think it's public yet, and anyway I wouldn't want a google search to reveal something that I said that might affect their situation; they are getting out because they just aren't making enough money for the time they put in. Or practically money at all.

Honestly, I don't think this reflects badly on either store. It's just a marker of how very damn hard it is to make any money selling handmade goods. If my understanding is correct, both stores would have been out of business a long time ago were it not for the owners essentially providing free labor, and labor donated by artists in exchange for a lower commission percentage.

It isn't really anyone's fault. It costs more to produce handmade things, and not just a little more. That makes handmade harder to sell to the majority of people, who work for their money, too, and have to choose how to spend it in the way that best benefits their families. I'm not even necessarily talking about people like many artists, who might be choosing "pay the electric bill" over "handwoven dishtowels." Even people who are very comfortable financially might not see why they should spend $28 on a dishtowel, even if the money would be insignificant to them. Why should they care if a weaver somewhere worked for two hours to make it, if their experience of drying dishes seems no better, to them? If we charge enough for both the maker and the seller to get paid a living wage, the price is out of most people's reach. And if the people who could  purchase handmade don't see what they get out of it, well...

Find them here!
 I myself have handprinted dishtowels, a treat for myself a couple of years back, and you know what? It does enhance the experience of drying dishes, for me. I also have hand-dyed pot holders, a purchase at CraftBoston one year. I bought them because I loved the quilter's work so much it felt like I just had to take some part of it with me, and though they were only $30 for three, I remember thinking it was a profligate purchase, for me. They give me a little zing of joy every time I see them. Years of joy-zings, for only $30! A bargain, as it turns out. I've had mugs that seem to murmur soothingly on some subsonic level, and a pair of salad tongs that make my heart sing. If only everyone heard that song, felt those zings.

I guess I'm feeling a little down with this news; starting to get the feeling that I am a wheelwright in a hovercraft world. So, blah, let's talk about something happier, like NCECA.

Oh, wait, that's not happier, not for me, because I'm not there. Wasn't there; it's over now. Every year I promise myself I will get there next year, and every year there just isn't money to make that happen. But next year is the real next year; NCECA is in Providence, RI, only a four hour drive from Augusta. If I can't get to Rhode Island, I might as well give up. But I can. I'll wear a red carnation so folks who only know me online will recognize me.

See you in Providence.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Signs of Spring

I'm told that meteorological winter ended over a week ago. That's the three months period in which the temperatures, on average, are the coldest. You couldn't prove it by 2014, not by a long pull.

There have been, however, some promising signs. The first green tips of crocuses came up about a week ago; I also saw a large group of robins, huddling for warmth. And, not least, preparations for the Maine Pottery Tour are underway.

At my house that means not just making pots, but making maps and sending emails. I've just finished the online version of the Central Maine portion of the Tour, which you see above. Click a marker for info about that studio! You can see a printable version of the map here as well; and I expect to soon have PDFs available, with addresses and contact information. Until then, here's the list:

  1.  Fine Mess Pottery - that's yours truly
  2. Malley Weber - Hallowell Clayworks
  3. The Potter's House - Mary Kay Spencer
  4. A Lakeside Studio Pottery - Martha Hoddinott
  5. Maple Lane Pottery - Robbi Portela
  6. Loken Pottery -Barb and Neal Loken
  7. Mudgirl Pottery - Diane Harwood
  8. Whitefield Pottery - Libbey Seigars

Friday, March 14, 2014

Quick Hits

First, here's the fired piece from my earlier post. It's a measure of how pleased I am with this plate that I don't even mind that it cracked on the edges - I know why it cracked, and I know I achieve this glaze result again.

Second, I recently had occasion to make a cheesecake. I used to make cheesecake pretty regularly, but that was before merely thinking the word "cheesecake" caused me to gain five pounds. Those were the days, my friend! But never mind that. For the first time when making a cheesecake, I had a standing mixer to help, and boy did it help. A much lighter result.

I swear I am going somewhere with this.

In addition to making a better cheesecake, the mixer made a beautiful pattern in the cake batter. I want to capture this somehow with slip:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Sue Dunne

See lots more of Sue's botanically-inspired work here. Come on, spring!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Veil Lifted: The Magic of the Bisque

Sometimes I feel like we give the bisque firing the short shrift. Who gets excited about unloading a bisque? Who invites people to watch, or posts pictures? The glaze firing with its shiny surfaces and appealing colors gets all the attention, but really, the bisque firing is when all the magic happens.

The ware is just dried mud when it goes into the kiln. If it wasn't coddled, it wouldn't last a single rainy afternoon. Then by some hot miracle, it becomes permanent ceramic material. Ware exists over 25,000 years old that has undergone this change. Bisqued pottery laughs at rain!

It's enough for most ceramicists to know that it does happen, but did you ever wonder what, exactly causes those changes to occur? I can't say I completely understand the process, but here's as much as I do get:

  1. In the early part of the firing, the remaining physical water is driven off. You may think your ware is perfectly dry when you load it in the kiln, and it may be damn close, but - surprise! - there's always some water left hiding between the clay platelets, because the clay can never be drier than the atmosphere. So unless we have literally zero humidity for an really extended time- in which case your greenware is the least of your worries -  there's always going to be some water to drive off. This is the water that can cause your piece to go boom if too much of it turns to steam while still deep in the walls. That's why we candle below 212° F. But you knew that.
    The next few things happen concurrently, or at least, their temperature ranges overlap. 
  2. The carbon and sulfides begin to burn off around 575°, and continue to do so until 1500° or so. You want all these gone before the glaze firing, because they can cause pinholing and other glaze flaws if they have to push out through a layer of glaze. They are what make the bisque smell so noxious. 
  3. Between 840° to 1110°, the heat breaks apart the kaolinite (clay) molecules into metakaolin and water. Metakaolin lacks plasticity, has smaller platelets, and is more absorbent than kaolinite. At this point the ware could no longer be slaked down; it's a part of history, now. But wait, there's more:
  4. At 1060° F, quartz inversion occurs: the room-temperature stable form of silica - alpha-quartz - changes its crystalline structure and becomes beta-quartz.  It's funny, but more potters are aware of quartz inversion than of the conversion of kaolin to metakaolin, which is the really significant event of the firing. But quartz inversion is a hazardous time for the bisque, because the ware will go through a sudden 2% increase in size. Cracking and splitting (aka dunting) can occur if parts of a piece go through quartz inversion ahead of other parts. All this happens in reverse as the firing cools.
  5. Beginning about 1600° F, the points of the hexagonal-shaped clay platelets begin to fuse whereever they touch. This is why bisqueware is stronger and harder to break apart than greenware. 
I lied, before, when I said all the magic happens during the bisque. There's still vitrification, and all the wonderful events within the glaze. Still, bisquing is a pretty amazing process. All of that Alpha Quartz and MetaKaolin stuff sounds like little, molecular superheroes in the kiln. And they are, for us; if it weren't for them, we couldn't do what we do. And we'd all have to eat off of deer shoulder blades, yuk.

Oh, yeah. I unloaded my bisque today.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Latex and Lace

Even as I type, I am firing the first bisque of the spring. Despite a long candle, I heard an ominous pop when I turned the flame up this morning...let's hope that's not an omen for the whole firing season! I'm not too freaked out about it, though. If you work with clay, sometimes stuff breaks. If you get all upset about it you are in for a lifetime of heartburn.

Just because I haven't been firing my kiln, does not mean I haven't been firing any work. I do also teach classes at Portland Pottery, and so typically have a few pieces in each of their firings. They have two gas kilns, and fire about once a week. Because some of my classes are at night, I often have the honor of shepherding the kiln through the latter stages of the firing. Usually the pieces I fire there are class demos, and as such not necessarily my best efforts, but every so once in a while I put one in that I have high hopes for.

In the kiln we fired on Thursday was such a one. It was a square plate made in a sling mold, which itself was made out of the square pottery boxes in which my clay from Laguna comes. These boxes are 12 inches on a side, fitting an 11" slab, which shrinks nicely to a diner plate size. This slab was cut with a stretched spring, creating an undulating surface.

It sort of kicked around my studio for awhile, one of those too-good-to-throw-away, not-sure-what-to-do-with pots, until I decided to bring it back to class to demonstrate the use of latex resist. This piece has two dipped layers of glaze - iron-saturate and celadon - with curlique resist patterns between them. I thought it was done, but then, as sometimes happens, a spontaneous demonstration broke out when I found a spritz bottle and an old bit of lace in my bag o' tricks. I filled the sprayer with watered-down cobalt glaze, then laid the lace over the piece and sprayed through it.

There's a bit lore among potters that if a piece looks too good going into the kiln, you won't like it when it comes out. If so, this one is doomed. But it seems to me that it stands a better chance than if it looks like shit going in, 'cause it ain't gonna get better! Anyway, I'll find out on Monday, when this kiln is unloaded.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kiln Shelves on the Edge of Forever

If I had a time machine - let's say it's a single-use, like those little plastic cameras they leave on the tables at wedding receptions - three possibilities would be in a tight competition for which single use I put my one chance at time travel:

  • The obvious, of course: kill Hitler, or Pol Pot, or one of those other murderous bastards who really needed killing before they could commit their bloody acts; or
  • Go back and tell my 1982 self, with my handful of graduation-gift money, to buy shares of Microsoft; or
  • Go back to December 2013, and tell my last-December-self to just scrape and grind the kiln shelves then, because I am going to hate it ten times worse when I go to bisque at the leading edge of mud season, and find my shelves not ready. It's like have some really inconsiderate studiomate. Except it's me.
I'd probably go with option 3. I've watched enough Star Trek to know that messing with the timeline is dangerous business, so the one with the least far-reaching effect seems wisest. Also, it's doubtful I could pull off a murder, if I could even bring myself to kill someone who hadn't done anything yet; and getting my 18-yr-old self to listen about anything sounds even more improbable than the time machine premise of this whole exercise.

While I am waiting for time travel to be invented, however, I might as well be grinding these shelves.

I'm back. That is my least favorite job! I'm never excited to mix glazes, either, but once I get started I can kind of get into it. Shelf grinding is just, well, a grind.

I'm considering an investment: either some kind of power tool to make this go more easily, or replace all of my shelves with Advancers. The top half of my stack are Advancers already, and they are far far easier to clean, and don't need kiln-washing. Not to mention they are easier on my back.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pottery Tour Already?

Well, it is March, however little it may feel like spring. Just back from a great meeting of the Central Maine Clay Artists. Usually I hate meetings - one of my downfalls in office environments - but these are fun, like hanging out with friends. I always come out of them energized. We elected a new president, too! Congratulations, Martha - that's what you get for missing a meeting!

Today we talked about two projects, Mug Season and the Maine Pottery Tour. Mug Season is an April fundraiser jointly put on by The Central Maine Clay Artists and local coffee shops: buy a handmade mug, get your coffee free. Half of the proceeds go to the artists, the other to local arts programs. We chose which shops to work with (there are always more wanting to participate than we can cover) and decided who would be contact person for each. I've got the Downtown Diner, here in Augusta.

Then we went on to discuss the Pottery Tour, happening hard on the heels. The tour is moved back this year to the first weekend in May, because I was hearing a lot of feedback that Mother's Day weekend was not working for a lot of people. I still kinda like Mother's Day Weekend, because it's easy to remember and it seems like a good activity to do with one's Mom, but hey, I'm not a little tin god; if most people prefer an earlier date, well, let's try it.(Here's the Facebook link for that one, also, if you're so inclined.) So many good ideas out of this meeting! Unified-look signage, postcards, joint promotion!

The last two years, I have invited guest artists, but will be skipping that this year. I find I can be sanguine about bad weather or low sales if it's just me - shit happens, right? - but I am a big ol' ball of angst if I feel like I am letting someone else down by allowing it to rain. That, and I expect to have a mega ton of stuff, much of it clearance. Seems wrong to ask someone to compete with clearance prices. Oh, and will likely be having household company that weekend too.

In other news, I sliced my Lemon Berry Soap loaf this morning! Here's what the big reveal revealed:

Six weeks to cure before it's ready to roll. (Or slide. Bubble. Whatever.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nothing Left To Do But...

...make soap! My greenware shelves are full and I am waiting on the last pots - some jars that will serve as cat urns, for an order - to dry enough for the bisque. I ain't going out into the glaze kitchen in the single digit weather, I promise you that, so any buckets that are low are just gonna have to wait.What better time to get some saponification going?

This loaf has a raspberry lemonade scent. The blue band will hopefully be a translucent star in the finished bars. There are also some pale blue cubes buried under the pink and lemon layers. Tomorrow morning is the big reveal!

Speaking of soap, I spent some time last night designing some labels from an Avery template. You know you can get a pre-made template for any shape of label Avery sells at, right?  I've been using Avery 22808, a round, brown kraft label to identify my soaps. The names were hand written, which I'm sure is all very charmingly homemade, but I think people trust products more if they carry some of the polish of commercial goods. Slicker packaging seems to be a way to make people more comfortable with a handmade product, because it mimics the way commercial goods are presented. Oh, this person can't be a clown, or in any way half-assed! Just look at those tidy labels!

Or, as Mr. Business Guy used to say, "Presentation: it's HUGE." This is applicable to pottery as well.

I got some cellophane bags, to replace the tissue and white paper as packaging. They aren't quite what I want, but I don't like those little sleeves (the soap shrinks, and then its pants fall down!), or the fancy papers that hide the soap. I am unwilling to add 50¢ or more to the price of each bar for those cunning boxes with the cut outs, so cello bags will do for now. I also got a label maker ($6 on Ebay!), so I can print up the name of each soap, and put it in the center of the circle. And also because I've always wanted a label maker.

It occurs to me that I really should make another label for the back with the ingredients. I haven't, in part because I make such small batches that I couldn't afford to wholesale them, so anyone who gets a soap is dealing directly with me. But again, it seems more professional, and people do have preferences about animal products or other materials.