I am more or less of a recreational raku-er. Ceramics can be a solitary pursuit; raku - for me at least - is a team sport. I regularly offer raku workshops for Portland Pottery, and occasionally do a firing with my classes. In a communal studio like Portland Pottery, students have little exposure to the hot side of things. They make the work, put it on a cart and then...well, it goes away for a while, and comes back changed. It's not practical to involve students in the firing of the stoneware kiln, apart from peeking into the spyholes on occasion, but we can load, fire, and unload the raku kiln all in one evening. It gives students a chance to be directly involved and take some of the mystery out of the firing process.
The workshops are a bit different. Often they are folks who already know and love raku, but don't have their own kilns, sprinkled with a few beginners who have heard about it and want to try it. It's been a great season for raku, with the workshops filling up quickly and we've had some gorgeous results. I've got one last workshop to teach, and I want to shake things up a bit, with new glazes and some terra sigs to use with horsehair and feathers.
Our last raku of the season is Saturday November 1. Give Cooper at Portland Pottery a cal if you want in; 207-772-4334.
You know the one. Maybe it's you. The student who struggles time after time, collapsing pots and making misshapen lumps. The student beside you seems to sail effortlessly forth, her very first efforts round and smooth. I've seen you both before, and I am here to tell you, it's okay.
Hand-eye coordination is not talent, and should not be taken as a measure of your potential as a potter. I've taught clay for twenty years, and I can say, early skill makes no difference to the kind of potter you'll become. The truth is that anyone with sufficient patience can master the skills of throwing, handbuilding, glazing, firing. If you want those skills, they are yours, if you devote the time to it. For some it will require a greater tolerance for frustration. That steep initial learning curve looks daunting, and it is steeper for some than others, but it is the least part of your life as a potter.
The differences I see between students who go on to become fine potters and students who either wander off into other interests (nothing wrong with that!) or become makers of dull ware are: a love of the material and intellectual curiosity about it; a deep interest in process; and a willingness to make the extra effort to make the work good. The detail work, the exploration, the mindfulness, the willingness to risk failure: these are the things that lead a potter to fine work. Early skill? Not so much. It's not a hindrance, I'm not saying that. It just doesn't matter.
In fact I kind of hate the word talent. It implies a kind of some-got-it, some-don't fatalism. There are the Picassos of the world, people whose minds work so differently that they change the way we all think about something, but they are so vanishingly rare they need have no part in this discussion. If you think you need to be the Picasso of clay - or if you think you are the Picasso of clay - you're wrong. Okay, technically, somebody reading this could be the Picasso of clay: see again vanishingly rare. And that's okay.
Keep throwing. Keep making. A little extra time in the studio makes a big difference. Comparisons are odorous: they stink. So don't side-eye they person beside you with their tidy little board of sleek pots. They could go on to make incredible, engaging, fascinating work. Or not. So could you. At this point nothing points to the one over the other.
Being a potter sometimes means finding yourself in a tight situation, moneywise. (Oh, sure, I can think of potters who never have that trouble. I hate them, don't you? KIDDING. Really I want to BE one of them.) To stay afloat, we have to be resourceful. Who among us hasn't torn through their house muttering, "Surely there's something here I can sell on Ebay...!" Oh...you haven't? You either?? Okay, it's just me then.
This time what I turned up is a k-cup coffee maker, a fancy-schmancy one, the Keurig K75 Platinum. I feel a little twinge of guilt selling this, as it was a loving gift, but we received it in July and still haven't even opened the box, and to be honest, are unlikely to. Better to sell it to someone who will use it, and use the cash to keep on keepin' on.
Which brings me to: Want a coffee maker? It's brand new, literally never even opened, and comes with 72 k-cups to get you started. Starting bid is $85, which is a mad steal over the lowest price I found for it elsewhere, which was $149. And that didn't even include the k-cups!
So, Day One didn't suck, or not too badly, anyway; which is to say, at least I'm in the black on this event. We got about seven visitors, all of whom were either students of mine, previous customers, or drive-bys. Knowing that I won't actually lose money puts me in a much better mood to appreciate that events such as this often need some time to grow, and I can hope for improvement every year. Also, I've still got all of today! At art fairs Sundays are usually the least-good day, but not always, and today is much warmer and sunnier than yesterday - a great day to get out for a drive, maybe visit some studios.
The craft beer - Gritty McDuff's - was a huge hit. With Doug. I favor the hot spiced cider, though I learned it's best to enjoy it also in moderation. Otherwise, surprise juice cleanse! Not to be all TMI.
It's odd to do a post-mortem before the event is over, and I don't wish to disparage anyone's efforts; I know a lot of hard work at the Maine Crafts Association went into the creation and planning of this event. They are taking a different approach than I have in organizing the Pottery Tour, which happens in the spring, and it's valuable for me to look at what they've done and see how it compares to my approach. So, a few thoughts:
In creating this event, MCA went with the-bigger-the-better. They probably didn't have much choice really, since they are a huge statewide organization. I've been taking a grow-as-we-go approach, the idea being to grow the audience at the same time we grow the event - I don't want 100 customers to have 80 studios to choose from. My thinking is that I'd rather the participating studios all have successful events, and then invite nearby studios for next year, instead of everyone having a slightly crappy event in the hopes of growing into success in following years. As it happened some people had crappy events anyway, so starting small was no proof against that.
Not sure the craft breweries are a logical pairing. Sure, there's bound to be some overlap in the audience, but a brewery tour seems like a very different event than a craft tour. If you are on a brewery tour, do you really want to stop at the pottery studios? Alternate? Also, not to be a pearl-clutcher about the whole thing but is a beer-tasting road trip really a good idea? I sent a few people to The Liberal Cup yesterday - though they were looking for lunch, not brew - but got no visitors who came to me from there, or any other brewery. Also, I can't say the word "breweries." It keeps coming out "brurries." Ooops, customer, gotta go.
I think of pottery as artwork that is not finished until it is in use, so once in a while I like to post image of my work, truly finished! This is an oversized casserole - four quarts? I forget. Big enough, anyway, to cook a whole chicken, with carrots and basil, and stuffed with an onion.
I put the chicken in the oven in the morning, so I wouldn't have to fuss with preparing lunch or dinner. I spent the day instead preparing for Maine Craft Weekend, which starts tomorrow. I'm all set up, got Paypal at the ready, threw a bunch of earthenware plates for visitors to paint, and got mini-kegs of Gritty McDuff's IPA and Best Brown Ale. Still, I admit I am not optimistic about this event. Every time I mention it to anyone (who is not another potter!) they've never heard of it. I haven't seen posters around or read any press about it. Maybe I'm wrong; I've been accused before of living in a Lori-and-Doug-sized bubble, so I could be missing the buzz. We'll see.
And, really, it's all good. Worst thing that happens is I have to box all this stuff up again and haul it inside. With no more money than I had before. But with two mini-kegs of really good beer! No matter what the outcome, that won't go to waste.
This weekend, October 11th & 12th, is Maine Craft Weekend! Craft studios, galleries, and craft breweries are holding events for the public to visit, see what we do, and shop! My studio will be open Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 11-4, and, getting in the spirit of things, I'll be offering craft beers to visitors while they last (which, truth be told, might not be all that long at my house...fair warning!) We'll have pottery, handmade soap, photography, and my husband will be signing copies of his book! I'm also going to throw a few earthenware plates to give folks the chance to paint on themselves (for a small fee, of course!)
My studio is only open to the public twice a year: once for the Maine Pottery Tour and again for this event, so don't miss it! I'll be looking for you, brush in one hand and an amber bottle in the other.
You can never tell where your next great idea might come from, although Pinterest is a good bet. That's where I got this one. It was on a blog dedicated to Christmas projects - I think?? It's in French and I am, sadly, unilingual despite growing up in Maine where half the population speaks French. (Well. Not half. About five percent of families speak French at home.) I've often wondered why nobody here wigs out about all the signs reading "Ici on parle Francais" the way they do elsewhere about the Spanish equivalent. I guess it's just what you're used to.
ANYWAY. Enough about my linguistic deficiencies, moving right along. THE IDEA! is this:
In the original, it was a suggestion to make your own gift wrap. I think it would be great for texturing slabs or
printing with slip or glaze.
Quick, somebody try it & send me a photo!
Today I am throwing. Lidded casseroles for sure, perhaps those days-of-the-week mugs I mentioned, some jaunty jars and a cake stand for an order. Though yesterday still felt like summer (until the sun went down!) I am beginning the last of my Christmas orders. If they don't get 'em by mid-November, they don't want 'em!
We've scheduled one final raku firing for the year for November 1st, a Saturday, from 1-4. I've asked the studio staff at Portland Pottery to mix us up Lemon Luster (recipe coming soon!), a gorgeous metallic yellow that can also do peach and turquoise and copper; and I've mixed two terra sigs, a white and a red art, for anyone who'd like to try horsehair raku.
I have this dopey idea that I want to make Days-of-the-Week mugs, like the underpants you loved so much when you were nine. Or the ones I loved so much, anyway. I'll give them some scalloped designs and lacey edging...I dunno, the very dumbness of the idea is what appeals to me.
I have half a dozen partially written blog posts in queue - just can't see to finish a post of substance. But I'm still here, still plugging away, and I hope you are too. TTFN.
Lori Keenan Watts (aka me) is a potter, gardener, and avid reader from Augusta, Maine. Though I started my university education in surface design for fabric, clay quickly grabbed me by the heart and redirected my creative impulses. I have been a potter for over 25 years -- hard to believe. The most valuable years of my ceramic education were spent in graduate study at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, under the tutalage of Dan Anderson and Paul Dresang.
My aesthetic is guided by my love of the material itself. What fascinates me and makes a pot compelling for me is the clay-ness of clay: the squooshiness that becomes the adamantine solidity. I also like patterns, unexpected proportions, and when the flame comes along and dissolves part of my careful decorating efforts! I am obstinate about this aesthetic, to a point which might be called pig-headed, but hey, if you don't like what you make, why bother?
My happy little family also includes my husband, musician and photographer (and author of the book Alewife) Doug Watts; five cats; and a turtle, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another.