Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Week of Reflection, 2015

There were many weeks in 2014 that I felt like this tree. 
I think it's telling that I questioned whether I even had time to do a week of reflection this year.

On the other hand, this is the first year that I haven't had to put heating oil on my credit card. My business is in the black! This is largely due to two factors; I've blogged about both before:
  1. A new pricing equation, that starts with how much money I need, divided by how much I can make, to arrive at a per pound price. 
  2. Work more. Work all the time! like this:

That is only a slight exaggeration. It's so nice to be profitable, however slightly, that I hesitate to change anything, but common sense tells me this is not sustainable. That is a blog post for another day, however.

I did make a change to the way I work in 2014, as well: I shifted the balance of my working hours between long-term business activities - blogging, research, networking, social media, and experimentation - and short term ones - teaching, making, and sales events. In short, I spend more time making stuff and trying to sell it, and - surprise! - I make and sell more stuff. I would never delete teaching from the equation, because so much of my joy in clay is sharing what I know; but though I could probably find more teaching opportunities pretty easily, I don't want to shift the balance any further in that direction.

One thing that I am still dead set against is trying to produce what I think will sell: as I've said before, that only results in pots that even I don't like, and I am no better at selling bad pots than good ones. But I do allow myself to sit with a good idea longer. Whereas before when I made mugs, say, I'd make a dozen of the same shape, and then decorate them all differently, now I decorate all twelve the same; then make another twelve for my next decorating idea. I trust the process - and the kiln - to produce variation. I make more pots this way, and I explore ideas more fully.
A board of pots following a single design scheme
I sit with a shape for longer, also; instead of making five casserole dishes and then moving on, I'll make fifteen. Keeping my mind in the same groove makes a smoother work process. I hope this is in part due to my aesthetic maturing: I've reached a point where I am pleased with more pots than not when I unload the kiln. Even as I type that, my mind flags a danger, of the work becoming too rote, but some of my very favorite potters return to decorative schemes repeatedly, and the work does not get stale. Instead the ideas ripen and mature into a fully realized body of work. That is what I am hoping for.

Next up for the Week of Reflection: 2015 goal setting!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

8:5:3:1 Plus Honey

As you will have noticed, my joy in making things does not end with pottery! Soap has been a major interest for the last couple of years, and now I am trying my hand at lip balms.

Lip balms are both simple and complicated: you can just melt beeswax and coconut oil and get something that will serve. Because I can never do things the easy way, I've been trying out various proportions and kinds of wax, oils, and fragrance to get a balm which is, in the words of the infamous Goldilocks, "just right." Not too hard, not too soft, not too oily, not too strong-smelling. Also important: doesn't melt if you keep it in your pocket!In some ways it's like formulating a glaze: I need the right balance of flux and refractory at ^body temperature.

This batch is made of beeswax, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, and honey. The proportions of the first four are 8:5:3:1; the honey a half-teaspoon in 60 grams, I'll have to figure out later what that comes out to in parts. I'll probably also switch out the grapeseed oil for sweet almond oil next time, only because the grapeseed oil has a shorter shelf life.

I am starting to have a fantasy of a retail store selling handmade home goods.(I even have a name for it: Nesting Instinct.) In my dreams I make all the pottery and bath and body products...and somehow also manage the store. Guess I'll have to ask Santa for an extra 48 hours in every day.

Happy Festivus, all. Keep on making.

Update: Like Papa Bear's chair, this batch was too hard. Need to increase the proportion of liquid oil.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The After

I can't remember whether I promised to post the "after" photo to go with the "before" here or on my facebook page; in any  case, here it is. The gravy boat halfway up on the right was my favorite from this firing; if it doesn't sell over the holiday shopping season, I'll photograph it so you can have a closer look.

This was Wednesday, a rough day at my house: we had to have a cat euthanized. William was almost 17 and in some ways the heart of our household. He greeted visitors, spent every possible moment in a lap, and the other cats adored him. (not exaggerating: one in particular followed him around like a shadow.) It sucks to lose them but it's the price of loving them, and well worth it in my book.

Folks who only know me online probably think that all I do all day long is say goodbye to pets because I always mention it. We do have a lot of pets, so we lose a lot; and it feels...not right, I guess...to carry on as if nothing happened. Rest easy, Sweet William; I'll see you on the other side.

Back to our clay story, already in progress:

This firing reminded me how very small differences can make a big difference in results! There was a tiny gap between the bag wall (recently rebuilt) and the back wall of the kiln. I stuffed it up with a bit of wadding, and thereby addressed this issue I was having that there was an area in the center of the kiln which seemed a little dry. Some of the soda vapor must have been being sucked straight up the stack.

Lesson 2 of this firing: salt is not soda! I tried adding a small amount of salt this time, and discovered that some glazes that perform just fine in soda do not like salt much! I had a few pieces get blistery and bubbly. Not so badly that you can't use them but they are definitely seconds.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lisa Orr on Ceramic Arts Daily

I'm sure many of you subscribe to Ceramic Arts Daily, and if so you know how they just deluge your inbox with videos, book suggestions, and I-don't-know-what-else. It's really out of hand, so I just have them go to a separate folder; otherwise they will fill up my inbox and maybe cause me to miss important emails. As a result, I have a folder with hundreds of emails from them, that I almost never open. Hint, CAD: send a few less and people might actually see them!
It's churlish to complain, though, when much of the content is so valuable. You can't possibly watch all the videos - or anyway I can't - but I have a little time now that my classes are on their December break so I am watching a few this morning. This one is really cool:
I was doing something like this with porcelain slip on paper, to make snowflake Christmas ornaments (yeah-yeah, ornaments: so sue me); but I never thought to use them to build with, or to slip both sides. So clever! As I was typing this it occurred to me that they would make good sprigs also. I'm off to deliver pots this morning; but when I get back I need to make pots, so I can try this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Show! And a dumb story

Last night was Portland Pottery's big holiday party! Every year I tend the bar for this event, and I like to overdress for it, just for fun. This got a lot harder last year when I reached size 12, officially plus-sized. Here's me shopping in Goodwill for this year's dress:

Me, flipping hangers: Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. HEY THERE'S ONE THAT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE IT WAS MADE FROM THE CURTAINS AT MOTEL 6!! Oh, wait, it's a size 6 that someone put away wrong....[Keeps flipping] Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

I did finally find a pretty fabulous dress, that fit...size 14. Even though I'm no heavier than last year at this time! Whatever, looks great, I'll take it.

I get dressed, get in the car, and....rrrrrrrip. Right up the back.

So I went in my dowdy office-party dress.

FML. Going to the gym. 

The show's still up until Sunday. You should go!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Full Kiln, Full Day

Few things make me happier than a kiln filled right up to the arch. Sorta gives you that I-done-good feeling. I'll brick it up in the morning - I had to bring the doormud inside to thaw overnight! I'm working at the Holiday Pottery Shop from 10-6 tomorrow, so will candle this load from 6 - 10 pm, then fire it off overnight Sunday into Monday morning. That will allow me to unload Wednesday morning, so I'll have all day to grind, sort, price, and pack the pots for Portland Pottery's big holiday sale which opens on Thursday. That will be my last event of the season - good thing, too, I'm pooped! Sort of tempted to spend the last two weeks of the year alternately cleaning my house - that's been pretty neglected -  and sleeping.

That's not yet, though. I'm not even done with today yet! Still have to make a batch of soap - lilac, by special request from my mother. I suspect that lilac will be sort of an old-lady-ish soap scent but then my mother is, well, an old lady. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'll make this batch hot process so it will be ready by Christmas.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Is It Supposed to Look Like That?

Why, no. No it is not.

Not entirely sure what happened to this mug! I had adjusted this glaze - Magic White - with the addition of a small amount of silica, because it was inclined to crawl, and a bit of CMC gum, because it was very fragile in the dry state. Only this mug and one other exhibited this very weird curling and flaking, though I used the glaze on many pots in this load, which is scheduled to fire on Monday. The other possible contributing factor is that this bisque got a little hotter than usual - probably ^04 - 03, where I prefer not to bisque above 05, because the ware gets too vitrified to accept glaze well. I guess that could account for it: the body is not absorbing moisture, so the glaze is only drying from one direction.

That doesn't explain why it only happened on two pieces. Not that I'm complaining! Just a weird vagary of the ceramic process, I guess; or the action of one of those five demons I was telling you about.

No matter! I'll wash it and glaze it again - in something else, thankyouverymuch.