Monday, December 26, 2016

A Project for the New Year: House Numbers

Ugly, right? 
I've been meaning to make numerals for my address for a while. I still have the crappy hardware store numbers that came with the house when I bought it. There is no excuse for this, since this is such a quick and easy project! Finally, I am getting a round tuit, a thing I have been needing for a while.

Here's my slab, all rolled out. I like a rolling pin for this; I find it compresses better than either a slab roller or the toss & stretch method. (I am going to type variations on the word "compress" a tedious number of times, but it can't be said often enough: if you are making flat things, compression is key to avoid warping and cracking.) I roll on both sides, flipping often, in several different directions, because why? Congregation calls back: "COMPRESSION!"

Can I get a witness?

I especially like those big, heavy, solid maple rolling pins, but that is partly aesthetic. I love a good tool. But I digress. 

Once the slab is rolled to about 3/16ths of an inch, it's time for more compression! A flexible metal rib is best at this wet stage. Both sides, several directions. 
I used food coloring to paint out the numerals. 

Just for the pretty, I decided to texture my numbers with this roller I got from MKM tools. I make most of my own rollers, out of clay, but MKM has some nice ones. They are also just lovely little objects, so sometimes I can't resist. Again, beautiful tools make me happy. 

I place another bat on top of the slab while it is drying to a leather hard stage. My studio is quite cool overnight - low 50s - so it isn't necessary to cover it with plastic, but if yours is a more usual indoor temperature, you probably should drop a sheet of plastic loosely over top. The weight of the second bat, and the absorbency - do not use plastic bats for this! - will help prevent warping. 
If I need to turn the slab over, I do so by holding both bats like a sandwich and flipping the slab between the bats. 

Once the slab is early leatherhard, it's time to - you guessed it! - compress some more. Flip (using the bat-sandwich method) and compress the smooth side. A very bendy rubber rib is best at this point. I like those red gummy ones, I forget the manufacturer - Mudtools, maybe?
It's time to flip the bat sandwich again, then remove the top bat and cut the numbers.

Remove the slab from around the numerals, not the other way around. 

The edges will need extra attention - I run a fingertip over them to smooth and compress. Now: STEP AWAY FROM THE CLAY.

These will want to dry slowly with plastic loosely over top. 

Once they are firm enough that I can move them without bending them, but not yet brittle (a fairly narrow window, with thin items) I will want to make holes in them for the screws. I know, I know - thanks, Captain Obvious! - but I have been known to forget this step. 
I slide the numeral to the edge of the bat, so I can drill the hole while still allowing most of the piece to be supported. A drill bit makes the tidiest hole, but a fettling knife will work in a pinch. 

Now there's nothing left but the drying: again, slowly, lightly covered. On drywall, if possible; if not, a sheet of newspaper helps to wick away moisture from the underside, so the top doesn't dry faster and cause curling or warping. 

Now that these are in progress, I can't wait to replace the ugly old ones. It's a mystery to me why I waited so long to do this!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Getting on with the Business of WInter

I am known as something of a holiday curmudgeon. This is not an entirely unfair characterization: New Year's Eve is Everyone is Having Fun Except You Night; Valentine's is Prove You Love Me Day. Independence Day is loud, and the people who most need a day off usually have to work Labor Day. Thanksgiving is okay as long as there are no TVs nearby - parades and football bore the arse right off me. See what I mean? Curmudgeon, right?

So when I choose to be alone on Christmas Day, the assumption is more curmudgeonry. (I just made up that word. Do you like it?) Though it's true I don't like to participate in the cultural frenzy associated with Christmas, my solitude is not sulking. I take advantage of the day the world stops as a moment of quiet contemplation.

My contemplation may take a different form than most; work is my meditation. I do projects, ones I have been wanting to do at least all year. This year I have three in mind, though obviously will not get these all done in one day. Or even week. One is small, one is big, one is...only bigger, because it is more daunting.

  • Small: Ceramic numbers, for my house. This is easy, it just takes getting around to it. 
  • Bigger: Refinish my front hall stairs. This is a ton of work but nothing new to learn: I already know how to scrape and sand and paint. Every day for more than ten years I have looked at theses stairs wishing they looked better but despite my finest efforts of waiting them out and looking at staircases on Pinterest, they have refused to refinish themselves. 
    A start
  • Biggest: A mosaic for my entry hall. This is not a thing I have ever done before, although I have some ideas on how to approach it. The design I can handle; the ceramics are old hat; but the installation - that's where I will be challenged. 
Though all appears cold and dead, the real business of winter is renewal. It's time to be getting on with it. 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Happy Holidays from the House of Many Cats.

Comfort & joy, indeed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Today's To Dos

Happy Monday! It's going to be a busy day here at Fine Mess Pottery. I have an order due in January (bless them!) and a few other projects I've been meaning to get to. Though I still have gift shopping to do, the busiest part of December is done for me, so I start looking toward 2017.

 My list looks like this:

  1. Throw 30 small jars for order
  2. Roll out slab - making street numbers for my house!
  3. State capitol: get a start on saving the world
  4. Holiday shopping
  5. Call INFAB Refractories - do they have superduty firebrick I can pick up tomorrow?
  6. Call for oil - don't want to be caught without in this cold snap
  7. Check if slab is leatherhard - cut numbers
  8. Create template for email newsletter
What does your list look like today? 😊

Friday, December 16, 2016

Never Miss a Chance to Wear a Boa

The Portland Pottery Holiday Party was fabulous last night! As I said yesterday, I didn't have any pots, but I did have a top hat & a boa! Couldn't resist sharing the photo
- I may never be this clean again until next year's party.

The show is mostly pottery, but lots of other great items too. I got these marvelous hand puppets for my little nephews They were an amazing bargain at only $20 - look how much work went into them.

The show & sale is still up thru Sunday. If you are in Portland, you should check it out!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hilariously Awful

It seems the Fire Monkey* had one more shine for me this year: my firing was truly BAD. Much of the kiln did not reach temperature - the cones fell but they were apparently in isolated hot spots.
There were a few pots in the isolated hot spots as well, including this vase. It's an ill wind indeed that doesn't blow some good, and the pots that came out well were mostly the more labor intensive ones, and the ones that came out poorly can mostly be refired.

It does mean that I won't have pots for the Portland Pottery show, although I will still be bartending, dressed to the nines, as is my tradition. I don't have many opportunities to break out the boa, and I refuse to miss one.

I'm bummed, of course, but also philosophical: bad firings happen. (Not usually this bad but hey. Some firing has to be the worst firing. Although come to think of it this was nothing close to the worst firing I've ever had.) You'd think this would be an opportunity for one of my famous, epic, pity parties, but no; I find myself laughing: what else can go wrong? As long as it's not illness or injury, I'm grateful.

In other news, I resolved my camera dilemma by kicking the can down the road. When I went to purchase a new one (I was looking at one of these) I discovered that it does not have an infared remote. I thought that would be standard on mid-range & up cameras but I was wrong-wrong-wrong. What I ended up doing was just buying a camera exactly like the 12 year old one I had that died - an Olympus c-750 ultrazoom - which I know is adequate for website work although not for application photos. Upside: it was only $20 on Ebay, being an elderly version at this point. I was looking forward to the wifi feature - upload without cables, etc. - but that's for next time.

Anyhoo: since I don't have to set up a display table, maybe I have time to get my hair highlighted. The way my luck is running it'll probably turn green, but if so I'll put a red bow on it and call it holiday cheer!

Bless you all, readers. 💙

*I speak metaphorically, of course: I am well aware that this is my own fault! Bad Lori! Bad! This is why we do not put things off until the last minute.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Potters Plan, the Monkey Laughs

Waiting for cones to fall is always a good time to do some reflecting. (It's a better time to clean the studio, but reflecting helps me avoid exactly that.) The firing
is at ^6 right now - yes, at 8 am. Last minute Lori strikes again: I have one last sale this year - the Portland Pottery Holiday Sale, opening Thursday night thru Sunday.

In some ways that sale marks the end of the year for me, and I can't say I am sorry to see this one go. I wrote in February that the Fire Monkey can be irascible and unpredictable, and indeed, it was. Is, still, for a few more weeks. The loss, too young, of Bowie and Prince, require no more response than sorrow, but the Fire Monkey's more recent antics have repercussions for us all.

For example: I had planned for the first time ever to replace my car before it died out from under me. I was thinking a (used, obviously) little truck, maybe a Colorado or a Tacoma. Something I could use for art fairs.The economy's humming along, I thought; orders & class enrollments are good. I had reason to believe they would continue. Then the Fire Monkey flung his flaming poo, and that all changed. Now the Magic 8 Ball says recession is likely in the next couple of years, and I do not want to be caught with a car note when it happens. I also need to be saving hard, because it is more than likely I will lose my health insurance, not next year but the one following.

I haven't stayed afloat this long by ignoring my Magic 8 Ball.

In some ways what happens in Washington is like the weather: sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't, not a lot you can do about it. Sometimes you have health insurance for a few years, sometimes someone comes along saying, "Haha, hope you didn't get used to it, sucker!" We vote, we call our legislators, but ultimately we roll with whatever happens, because what other choice do we have?

Still, I find a slim silver lining: if I am not buying a little truck, that frees up some of the money I had meant for a down payment to buy a couple of other things I have been needing for a while: a laptop & a new camera. My old laptop - which was old when I bought it in 2011 - was finally so slow that I could hardly bear to use it, which accounts in part for my sharp decline in blogging. I bought a new one last week. I am also getting a camera - my good one shuffled off this mortal coil over the summer, and I've been relying on my cell phone, which is obviously not adequate for my needs. I am leaning towards a Nikon Coolpix b500.

My ^8 is falling: time to apply the soda! Trying something different this time.  I'll be hurrying the unload a bit, but if there is time before the show I'll post some pix.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Basics

I've been noticing ceramic supply house selling "kiln wash" like it's some mystery material, like the secret sauce on Big Macs.

Pretty sure the secret sauce is just thousand island dressing, and I'm positive that kiln wash is just this:

50% Kaolin
50% Alumina Hydrate
by weight. Or actually by volume will work, too - it's not that fussy.

For the professional potters among my readers - I know you already know this. I also have readers who are students or beginners, and I hate to see them wasting money on something so simple. If it's just you, mix it about the thickness of milk; if you are in a teaching studio, mix it more like heavy cream - students have a lot of glazing mishaps. Mix it yourself, and save your money for wonderful things like new ribs, or whoopie pies, or Bailey's Irish Cream, or whatever it is that makes you happy.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Holiday Pop Up Time Again

In yet another example of the unbelievable swiftness of time, this afternoon I have a meeting to attend: our pre-opening get-together for the Holiday Pottery Shop. We'll go over procedures, choice working hours, sign up for jobs like Housekeeping and Deco committee. Opening day is November 18th.

We are lucky to have snagged the same space we had last year, 100 Water Street in Hallowell. We had the most successful year yet in that space and are hoping to exceed this year. 10 potters - I think? - all members of the Central Maine Potters Association, along with maybe a dozen consigning artists, will show work and man the shop for the holiday season.

Shop local, shop handmade: it's all here! Hope to see you this season.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Looking Ahead: Spring Soda Workshop At Watershed

My Fall Workshop Buddies
It's never too soon to start thinking about spring. I am hosting a soda firing workshop at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine, May 20-21st of 2017. That might seem far away, but I find
that people need time to plan, and especially hobby potters sometimes need time to make work especially for a particular firing. Here's more info:
Soda Firing Workshop
Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts,
May 20th & 21st

What is soda firing? you may ask. Soda firing is a kind of stoneware firing, during which sodium carbonate is introduced to the atmosphere of the kiln. The heat of the kiln creates a soda vapor, which in turns into soda glass wherever it meets silica in the kiln. The fire becomes an active participant in your glazing process. The results are spontaneous and directional: sometimes brilliant, sometimes earthy, always lively.
It's all happening Saturday & Sunday , May 20th &21st, 2017. On Saturday morning starting at 9 am, we'll glaze. I'll bring flashing slip, wax & glazes; you bring 2 cubic feet of bisque fired ^10 stoneware, and any brushes or tools you like to use for decorating. Saturday afternoon, we'll load the kiln. I'll bring wadding & door mud, you bring work gloves (if you want. Not really necessary.) We'll probably be done by 4 pm.Sunday we'll fire the kiln. I'll be there at 8 am - you can arrive anytime after that.
We'll start putting the soda in the kiln sometime between 3:30 pm and 5 pm -you should plan to be there for that. The kiln could go off as early as 5:30 pm, or as late as 8:30 pm.The cost for the workshop is $100. A $50 (nonrefundable) deposit will reserve your spot.I am only taking six participants in this firing, to make sure everyone gets enough work in the kiln to make it fun and worthwhile. 
Click here to reserve your spot, or give me a shout at with any questions you may have. Only two spots left!
Wow, that was quick: the workshop is full! Thanks for all your interest. I may try to offer another, also in May if the kiln is available; if not there will be one next fall for sure.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tutorial: Slab with Contrasting Clay Pattern

I had occasion recently to spend some time at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. If you ever get a chance to do a residency at Watershed, take it; it's a magical place. I was running a soda firing workshop - their soda kiln - not to mention their glazing area! - is much larger than mine at home, so works better for group firings.

Firing, as you may know, is a lot of waiting around, punctuated by fifteen seconds work every so once in a while. In the meantime, there's lots to explore at Watershed: woodland paths, the sculptural contributions of previous residents, sheep and pigs to coo at. (Not me. Well, I like the sheep. Pigs creep me out. I admit it's irrational, but I lived in Iowa, and read too many stories of pet pigs killing their incapacitated owners. Hey, some people don't like clowns! With me it's pigs.

But I digress.)

In the main house, there's a small sales area. While checking that out, I saw a really wonderful butterdish The construction was just folded slab but they were made of unglazed porcelain with an inlaid contrasting pattern. The inside was just the white of the clay. I couldn't tell who made it, or I'd happily credit the artist here. I set out to see if I could duplicate the clay-inlay technique.

I didn't want to use porcelain, because I didn't want the extra steps of (purchasing and) adding in mason stain, or screwing around with babying the piece along to keep the porcelain from warping and cracking. I used instead two contrasting stoneware bodies. If you attempt this, the claybodies will need to fire to the same temperature (thanks, Captain Obvious) and have approximately the same shrinkage rate. the claybodies I used are Laguna's 910 (brown) & 510(white), both ^10 bodies with shrinkage of about 14%.

I started with a thick slab. It needs to be thick to begin with because I will need to roll the holy heck out of it in the next steps. Then I set it aside while I made the pieces to inlay.

The inlay pattern is create by a millefiore technique. If you've ever played around with Sculpey, you may have used it to make buttons or beads. I rolled out two thin strips, one of white clay and one of brown. I spread water (not slurry) on the white one and place the brown on top of it, then rolled the rolling pin over the two together.

Starting on a long edge, I rolled the two like a jelly roll. You can roll from the short edge also, which is easier but gives you a more irregular spiral pattern on the finished piece. I roll the coil a little thinner to compress the two together, then...

Slice! I use a flexible metal rib to do this; the edge is thinner and therefore distorts the design less.There may be an air pocket in the spiral - this is no problem.

Now I brush some water on the thick slab and stick the slices on.

I move the slab + slices onto a piece of plastic, the lay another on top of that. You can roll harder this way, without the slab sticking to the rolling pin. I am wishing right now I had one of those heavy maple rolling pins, which are just great as objects but also better tools than puny kitchen rolling pins.

Keep rolling, flipping over occasionally.

Keep rolling, until there are no visible seams between the original slab and the added slices.

Peel off the plastic, and give it a couple of rolls with the pin, to compress the surface and remove the plastic texture.

Now we've got a slab to build with. I let it breathe for a while to firm up, then just made a simple cylinder with a folded bottom, but you could make a platter or a butter dish or anything that you could make with a plain slab. Have fun, and if you try this send me photos!

I'll be building a mug with this slab, so I cut it to an oblong rectangle 5" wide by 13" long. Part 2, coming up!

Did you find this post useful? Drop a dollar in the tip jar in the column to the right!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Soda Buddies

Last weekend I ran a soda firing workshop at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. We opened the kiln on Wednesday - I love that ta-da moment. Here are my Fab 5, minus one who couldn't be there for the unloading (missed you, Reen!)

The results were good - dare I say, fabulous? But the firing was not without its adventures. Most notably, I had purchased a new sprayer for the workshop, and the hose kept popping off during the firing, spraying anyone in its path with a jet of hot soda-ash infused water. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, I got it right in the face, including one eye, and was uninjured. But it certainly kept things interesting.The firing also ran longer than I had hoped; in the past, the kiln has reached temperature around 5:30 pm, whereas we ran until about 8:30 this time. This kiln has recently been rebuilt, and this was my first time firing it since. In retrospect I should have partially closed the passive damper much earlier than I did. After I did so, it was only about 15 minutes before the last 10 cone fell.

Nevertheless, good results make it all worth it! I think everyone was happy. Next Soda Workshop I'm hosting at Watershed is in the spring: May 20 & 21st. Watch this space for sign up info.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Season of Abundance

It's fall. Okay, technically it's summer for another ten days, but, ya's fall. Like every September, I am about buried in a mound of tomatoes right about now. I also have cilantro, garlic, and jalapeños. Now all I need are some limes, chili powder, and cumin, and I have the makings of fresh salsa. I will make approximately a boatload, and freeze most for later. 

Basil and oregano are in abundance, too, and I am pureeing up a storm with my tomatoes to freeze for future spaghetti sauce. I'm also clipping and drying those herbs, along with thyme and rosemary. I love this admittedly illusory sense of self-sufficiency, and every year I am tempted to go further: Keep bees! Maybe chickens! Does Augusta have an ordinance about goats? 

Fall does this to me; it puts me a mode of producing, and hoarding: what is instinct, except millennia of collective memory? Mine is telling me, make and save. Make and save. Winter is coming.

In the studio, too, I am a busy bee. Making and saving, also for winter, in a different way: for the shopping season. I am incredibly bad at guessing what people will want to buy, so I just make what I want to make. Here's what I want to make:
  • Mugs! So many mugs. 
  • I got a little burned out on butterdishes in the spring, but I am ready once again to embrace one of my favorite forms. (Speaking of: I've been asked a few times about the video of my Process Room demo at NCECA. The answer is, I don't know. There have been many videos from the conference posted to NCECA's YouTube page, but none from the Process Room yet. Believe me, when it appears I'll share it here like five minutes later.)

  • Altered oval vases! These are a new fave: fun shapes, lots of surface to decorate. Also, they demand handles. 
  • Wine Chillers: These seem like such joyful pots to me; it makes me happy to imagine them in use. Holiday dinner. Date night. First night in a new apartment. 
  • Serving bowls! Obvs.
  • This will probably be the last kiln load I'll throw in the summer studio before the whole operation moves upstairs. That's a bummer in some ways, because making stuff in the summer studio feels like camp. Everything is fun upta camp! (Throwing a little Maine dialect atcha.)But I have more room in the winter studio, more shelf and table space. I can make more stuff, more quickly! It's fall. That urge for making is upon me.

    It's fall. 

    Sunday, September 4, 2016

    Unloading Day, Belated

    I realized I didn't do my usual unloading day post after the last firing, because most of the pots in the kiln had immediate destinations. Also because that was the day the camera died - after I took the photos - and I had only a foggy idea how to get them off the chip.

    But, got it figured out! As I said, most of these pots are gone - many to Gray Fox Gallery, in Rockland - so I didn't do individual pottery portraits. Hopefully after the next firing I will have pots to repopulate my online store! Anyway, here's how the last firing looked. It was very...stripey. In a good way!

    Looks good thru the spy hole...

    These are ^10. When I fire ^6 the pieces have more applied glaze, less bare soda areas. The ^6 glazes really are as good as the ^10, but at ^6 the soda glass itself is just less...luscious, I guess. It's subtle, but I can see & feel it. I also discovered that if I am meticulous about cleaning out the burner channels after each firing I can increase the efficiency dramatically - enough so there is not much difference between ^6 & ^10 propane consumption. So, with all that, I am starting to wonder if it is worth the storage space (and potential for disaster!) to keep around clay and glazes for both.

    But all that is for another day.

    The studio is still full of bisqueware, probably enough to fill another firing, and though I am having sort of a grasshopper summer, I have been glazing a few every day, so look for another unloading day, coming soon.

    Thursday, September 1, 2016

    Rhymes with Hug

    A mug is the most intimate of pots. Unlike a plate or a bowl or a butterdish, you spent quality time with a mug: every morning, with coffee; cold winter afternoon, with hot chocolate: and in the evenings nothing beats a mug of chamomile tea to help you sleep.

    As you hold and sip, your hands embrace a mug, your fingers run over its surface. You learn its eccentricities. You get to know a mug. It's no coincidence that "mug" rhymes with "hug."

    Oh, wait. Yes it is. It is a coincidence.

    Moving right along.

    We were talking about mugs, in class. Handles. Lips. The landscape of surface that entertains your fingertips. There should always, in my mind, be more to a mug than meets the eye. I borrowed several examples for class from the Portland Pottery Cafe, where they have may mugs & other pots for sale. Here are a few:
    Steve Zoldak

    This one is me.

    Me again
    Marie Palluotto, Red Door Pottery

    Tyler Gulden

    Sorry for the crap photos - my good camera died.

    So, funny story! I had a birthday last week. My Tuesday night class are mostly repeat students, some for several years, so we all know each other pretty well. We had cupcakes.

    This week, I bring in these mugs from the cafe to discuss what makes a good mug, and in discussing the last one, the Tyler Gulden mug, I uttered these fateful words: "This one is my favorite. I thought about asking Tyler for this glaze recipe, but then I realized, I don't even want the glaze, I just want this mug. If I ever have $50 all in one place..."

    My students! What scamps. They had one person distract me with questions, awhile another ran over to the cafe to purchase the mug for me, as a birthday present! You guys. I heart you.

    I am looking forward to getting to know this mug.

    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    The Quality of the Day

    "To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." - Henry David Thoreau

    This - this right here - is the main reason I make pots. While I wouldn't describe what we do as "the highest of arts" - not sure that is a crown anyone can claim - to affect the quality of the day is exactly what I am trying to do when I make a pot.

    Making things affects the quality of my day, when I make them; especially the throwing day, and the unloading day. It is such a satisfying feeling, to make something, and to know it is good. But that isn't what I mean. I want the pots to be out in the world, affecting the quality of the users' days. I want them to enjoy their morning coffee a bit more, get a little joy-zing when they water their plants or unload the dishwasher. A beautiful object, that is also useful, can do that just through intimate association. An object that is special in some way can remind you that you, too, are special: unique, beloved to someone; perhaps yourself.

    If a pot makes your day go a tiny bit better, the potter has done her or his job.

    I may have mentioned the Nudge theory here before. I may have been using the term incorrectly; I made it up but then it turns out it is an actual behavioral science term that means something specific to do with manipulation. I just want to make the world better by making individual people's days better, in the smallest of ways. I want them to touch the marks I made with my hands with their fingertips, and feel connected to another person, the maker. I want them to take those good feelings out in the world and smile at the cashier at Rite-Aid, let a driver into the lane of traffic, refrain from correcting someone who doesn't need correcting at work. This is a lot to hope for, from a mug, but I like to think some days it works.

    In more prosaic news, my camera has conked out. I have anotherone, pretty good, but it doesn't fit my tripod, or have a remote control, so it won't work for taking pottery photos. Dammitdammitdammitdammit. But I guess nothing lasts forever. In a month that saw a roof replacement, a chimney rebuild, and a number of auto misfortunes, it may be a while before I can replace that camera!

    Still I am not in a mood to complain. Maybe this is my Nudge theory in action, but homemade pickles and handmade earrings are reminding me that I am special, and I am loved.

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    All Down at 4

    It was an unusually fast firing today - body reduction by 9:30 am, everybody down by 4 pm. This might be because I did a very thorough clearing out of the burner channels, or perhaps because this firing was stacked rather loosely, as per my last learning experience - a lovely one, for a change! Or maybe it's the atmospheric conditions, I keep hearing they can affect firings, but haven't observed a consistent effect; not in this kiln, at least.
    It's miserably hot here in Maine today, though I am in the shade on the deck, with the comfort of a cold brew. (Tuckerman's Pale Ale, out of Conway, NH, if you're interested.)

    It only took an order to bounce me out of my ennui; once I had a deadline I got moving,  quick-quick like mongoose. I also notice I now have enough bisqueware piled up that I can fire again right away. More ware fits in the bisque firing than the glaze, so every once in awhile I have enough to fire two glaze kilns in short interval.

    But that's not today. Today my hard work is done, and I have a silly project to work on: I'm designing a t-shirt, and you can help!

    I need a good clear image of melting or melted cones - ideally three, with one still standing, with a relatively clean background. If you have one that might work, send it to me at: . If I use your photo, I'll give you a free t-shirt!

    In the meantime I am doing a google image search but so far the options aren't great. Perhaps another beer would assist my creative process...

    Monday, July 11, 2016

    Muse is Snoozin' (Or on Strike Due to General Awfulness)

    A slump is like a soft bed: easy to get into, hard to get out of. Unlike a soft bed, a big push never seems to break me free of a slump. Sometimes I give in to it for a while, and let it break on its own. Other times I need to get myself over it, and what works for that is baby steps. I break down tasks in to the smallest possible bites ("Buy paraffin.Turn on wax pan. Dip pot bottoms.") and get a few of the tiny steps completed. Sometimes it generates enough momentum to get me out of the slump, but even when it doesn't getting something done, rather than nothing, it always preferable.

    This happens to me, this inertia, when particularly awful things happen in the world, and we here in the US had a horrifying last week. It feels so pointless to work. I want to do something to help, to make the world kinder, but all I can do is watch helplessly.

    Well: watch, and vote. Voting still matters.

    I guess maybe everyone is feeling like this, and we all get up and we go to work and we do what needs to be done. I just hope we all, when given the choice, choose kindness. Online or IRL, choose love.

    Anyway. Hoping for a better week.

    Monday, June 20, 2016

    More is More: A Step-by-Step

    I almost always find that the more time I spend with a piece the better I like it. Logic dictates that there is some upper limit to this effect, or the correct amount of time to spend on a pot would be infinite, and nothing would ever get done (which - hmmmm - is not so different from what actually does happen.) I've been working on a series of thrown and altered oval vases that require so many steps I lose count. 

    Each starts as a thrown cylinder with no bottom. As I remove the cylinder from the wheel I press it into an oval.
    After it has dried a short time - like, maybe an hour - I cut a vertical ogee shape out of one side, then bring the edges of the cut together, to make a swoop. I do the same thing on the other side, to give the piece an undulating shape. 

    After it reaches a leatherhard stage, I add a bottom; I find vases work better with than without! Now onto my favorite part: the decorating.

    First a couple of springs! This sprig is a thistle, which a student made from an old belt buckle and gifted to me. 
    Next, handles; you know me and handles. Anything that is good without handles is better with handles. These are asymetrically balanced, landing at the outermost curves of the shape on each side. 

    But what is a vase without some slip-trailing? I like the crisp precision of the slip line contrasted with the animated quality of the profile of this pot.

    I made several versions of this today, some with only one swoop, some with more sliptrailing, some less. It's fun to have the time to pursue an idea down whatever rabbit hole it takes me.
    Another in the series. The green stripes
    are food coloring, to help me plan
    out the sliptrailing.

    Did you find this post useful? Drop a dollar in the tip jar in the column to the right!

    Thursday, June 9, 2016

    Coming up: Raku, Seconds Sale

    Saturday, June 25th 1 - 5, Raku Workshop at Portland Pottery. We'll be doing the American version, in which we place the glowing hot pots into combustible materials, then smother the flames to create strong post-firing reduction atmospheres. The results are ranges from oil-spot colors, to metallic copper to bright turquoise, and everything in between. Wear close-toed shoes and cotton clothing: there's gonna be some fire. Call Portland Pottery to register, or for more information. 207-772-4334

    Saturday July 16th, Seconds Sale at Old Hallowell Days. I always have lots of pots that are seconds not because there's something wrong with them - although I've always got some of those, also - but because I made them during my class demos, so they are less detailed & finished than my "real" work; or because I try a new technique that requires some practice, so the first few are not impressive. That, or the technique ultimate does not become part of my toolkit, so those pots are sort of outliers from the rest of my work.

    Gotta do something with all those perfectly good but not quite good enough pots! I sell some from my front yard, and this summer I will have an additional venue: the Central Maine Clay Artists are holding a Seconds Sale as part of Old Hallowell Day, July 16th, a Saturday. I expect at least three or four of us to participate, so there should be a lot to choose from.

    Hope to see you at one of these events!

    Sunday, June 5, 2016

    Stencils Part Deux: Making My Own

    I played with the commercial stencils for a while, as I mentioned last post, and I like them, but to me they look conspicuously commercial. Though I like the crisp perfection of the image - the better to contrast with the softer qualities of my work - I want to personalize it.

    One thing I discovered is that I don't really know how to make a stencil. I mean, it seems pretty straightforward - just cut out wherever you want to slip to go - but there are some mental twists in there. The shape you want is the negative space of the stencil, which is the positive space of the drawing on the stencil; and because the image is a cut-out, and enclosed negative space has to be connected somehow. I don't know, it just felt like trying to screw on the bat pin wingnuts from underneath, or throw with the wheel turning in the opposite direction: my brain doesn't work that well in reverse.

    So I looked at lots and lots of stencils, which also gave me a sense of how detailed I could get. I am going for a lacey kind of a look, floral or otherwise botanically-inspired...let's see what we got.

    I started my copying over an image I downloaded, with some minor changes, just to sort out how to use the tool. The wood burner tool did turn out to be a good way to cut the stencils, but makes an unpleasant smell, due to the melting plastic. Maybe I should switch to the exacto? (My brain: but but [shows me image of blood and flayed-open hand]) Ugh, maybe not. Anyway I think it would be hard to get the same detail & smooth curves that the woodburner creates. Its use is not entirely intuitive, though: at first I used it as you would use a knife, pressing against a cardboard surface. This created jagged edges and little bits of partially melted plastic in the open spaces. Solution? Hold the plastic sheet up in the air while I burn out the pattern.

    Next effort:

    At this point I noticed that burning against a surface was not making a clean cut
    Finished burning the design by holding the plastic in the air.
    A nice thing about making my own stencils is I can make sizes and shapes that work for what I need to do. The commercial ones were too wide and stiff to work well on three-dimensional surfaces, but I can design these to any shape that works. Need a stencil for the rims of bowls? Why yes. Yes I do. So I'll make one!

    Now to test them out...

    Hmm...a little blobbier than I had hoped. (I know, I know, I'm being Goldilocks here: this one's too mechanical, that one's too loose...but I am aiming for a sweet spot.) I see some potential here to add some detail with a sgraffito tool, so that's one way to go.

    The woodburing tool came with different tips...maybe I should try and find a finer one. 

    Did you find this post useful? Drop a dollar in the tip jar in the column to the right!