Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fire Down Below

Because my propane-fired kiln is outside, I am often asked how I can fire in the winter. Doesn't the cold prevent the kiln from heating up? Internally I chuckle at these inquiries. The difference betweencomfortable and uncomfortable, for people, is less than 100 degrees, and the first 100 degrees are the easiest for the kiln to achieve. I'm regretting those chuckles now, because, at -5°, the winter cold does in fact make s difference. Not to the ability of the flame to heat the kiln; that's still a negligible effect. The problem is getting enough propane to the burners to burn! Propane's phase shift from liquid to gas is -44°. It's stored as a liquid by keeping it under great pressure. When some of the pressure is relieved by opening the valve, some of the propane turns to gas and escapes out the valve, down the pipe and to the burner, where it (hopefully!) is burned to create heat for the kiln. This phase change - from liquid to gas - is endothermic, meaning it consumes heat energy to happen.

The closer the external temperature is to the liquid-point (there's some chemistry term for that, can't think of it right now) of propane, the less pressure is required to keep it in a liquid state. The tank loses pressure as it empties anyway, and the endothermic phase shift makes the tank even colder than the air around it.

If the air around the tank is -9°, as it was when I got up this morning, I would still be able to grill a steak using my propane tanks. The firing, however, takes hours - 11 hours even if everything goes perfectly. The tank is getting colder and losing pressure the whole time. The burners wouldn't stop burning, but it would be as if I were turning the valves down, down, down.

I might be able to finish the firing... I do have completely full tanks, which matters (pressure!). But it's possible that I will attempt to do the firing and just burn a bunch of propane and stall out before I reach temp.

Also - not that this affects my plans! - loading in the sub-zero suh-hu-huhuhucks. The my hands hurt, the wadding keeps freezing, the wax on the bottoms is brittle and flakes off.

So, firing this week is a big ol' nope. Instead, let's enjoy some Sonny Boy Williamson!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

ACC: Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

For weeks now I have been both excited and stressed about the upcoming ACC Baltimore Wholesale Show. So much to do: Define the wholesale line! Take photos, create forms, plan a production schedule. Build a booth! (What space will I use to build it? To store it afterwards?) Will it fit in the Grey Lady? No? Okay, check out trailers. Where will I stay? 

I'd already paid the $400 upfront they ask you for, to hold your space. When the contract arrived, I put off reading it in detail, the way you do when you are stressed about something. (On the plus side, I tend to do lots of other things in the process of procrastinating. I got a lot done!) The first thing I noticed were the FEES. Some I expected: of course I'd have to pay for pipe* and drape or carpeting, if I was going to need it. (I wouldn't, because it's $256 to rent a 10x10 square of carpet. I didn't even bother to find out how much the pipe & drape was) But mother of dog: WIFI? It's $135 to access WIFI?? Before I had even finished reading the contract, the expenses were looking like this:

  • $1200 booth fee (I knew about that, obvs)
  • $65 "facility fee" Wut? Just make it part of the booth fee, you knew there was going to be a facility involved, the show doesn't take place between dimensions
  • $40 Membership fee. Um, okay, I can see that, I guess.
  • $135 for the freakin' wifi, WTF
  • $301.80 Mandatory labor to unload the truck/trailer. FUCK THAT NOISE 
  • Electricity: $95 for 500 watts...that's FOUR bulbs. $120 for 1000W. That's not more than I expected's an indoor show. Everyone is going to need lights! Just be honest and roll it into the booth fee. 
  • Exhibitors are not permitted to use power tools to erect their booths: must hire labor from the hall to do that, so who even knows how much that would end up costing.  
I know some of these are requirements of the hall, but that doesn't actually matter to me: what matters is a show that I could barely afford to do before got pushed into the prohibitive range by a bunch of hidden costs. If these expense were stated upfront, as the booth fee was, I would never have applied.  Nor are these expenses stated anywhere all in one place - I really had to go looking for them. I admit I side-eye the organization a bit, about this: making it hard to know what the real costs are until after the deposit is paid, surely results in more forfeited deposits. Hey-hey-hey, money for nothing, right, ACC?

And - icing on the cake - I asked for my booth not to be on the perimeter. Guess where they put me? If you guessed on the perimeter, you win! That wouldn't have been enough to cancel,but it was enough for make me feel a little dubious, even before the additional expenses.

Man I am bummed about this. I've lost my $400 deposit - of course - but also what I had hoped was a way to really grow my business. And it seems I never finish learning how much I have to learn. 🙁

I know there is a bright side here - hey, now I can relax and enjoy the remainder of my break, and just make pots - and I will focus on it shortly. I just need a minute to process my disappointment.

Oh hey, Happy Festivus! Perfect: it's the airing of grievances!

*When I first typed this, I typo'd it to "pope and drape." Like, no wonder it's spendy! His time is valuable. 😀

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Potters' Holiday

My last show for the year, the Portland Pottery Holiday Show & Sale, finished up over the weekend. It was a world of fun - for me anyway! - and I think sales were pretty good although I won't know for sure until early January. Sales are always important, but for me that show is more about celebrating and connecting with my community, and marking another year still standing. I always overdress for it, and this year was no exception.

That was fun but now it's done, and I am on to my next firing, which must happen soon as it will hold an order due the last week in December. Today is expected to be above freezing, which is good news for me as I have shelves to scrape & other work to do to prepare the kiln for a bisque.

As I mentioned before, my mind has already leapt ahead to shows and events in 2018. My to-do list for the rest of December, and into January, looks like this:

  • Build booth for wholesale show. I have a lot of ideas, and a couple of sketches, but two needs keep running up against each other: weight/ portability and ease/ speed of construction and deconstruction. It's pretty likely I will be doing these events alone, as Doug can't always take time away from his work, so whatever form it takes it needs to be doable with only one set of hands. 
  • Develop product line. This sounds easy - I mean, I already know what I make, and what, more or less, I need to charge for it. What I need to do now is determine which forms I can offer as closely reproduce-able, make samples, make up a price list with photos, make up order forms, etc.  
  • Apply to summer shows. The best shows have early deadlines. Right now I am weighing whether to jump in with both feet and apply to shows like the Uptown and Saint Louis, or play it more carefully by staying more-or-less local while I get my bearings in the art fair world again. I know what the smart way to play it is, and I know what I really want to do, and they are not the same thing! 
  • PINGO: Pottery Bingo, a game I hope to create for my students.
I feel like I am repeating myself, maybe because these thoughts are chasing each other around in my brain! If Yoda were here, he'd say, "All her life has she looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never her mind on where she was. Hmm? What she was doing.” Maybe I'll make a New Year's Resolution to be more mindful in the present moment. (Is that ironic? I am making future plans to resolve to live in the moment more. 😃)

Well, those shelves are not going to grind themselves. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

See You There!

More than 90 potters and other artisans will be showing work at the annual Portland Pottery Holiday Show & Sale. If you're in Maine I hope you'll stop by! The "official" dates of the sale are the 15th, 16th, and 17th...but I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: there's an opening night party, with food, wine, and music on Thursday the 14th. You can find me at the bar, pouring drinks and singing snippets of Christmas songs.
Yeah, that's the boa. Life's short, right?

To my right (wait...your right, my left..I guess) is my good friend Mary Frances, a potter-turned-lawyer (who even knew that could happen?) I don't see enough of her these days, but hopefully we will be laughing until the wine comes out our noses Thursday night.

Even if you can't make the party, the sale is worth a look-see - it's a good chance to discover new favorite potters, and re-discover us oldies. 

Happiest of holiday seasons to you & yours!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The November Messy Minute is Out!

A bit close to the wire, I'll admit, but I sent out the November Issue of The Messy Minute, just messy minutes ago. It includes a new Pottery Puzzler, for those of you who like to play along at home.

You can see it online here, but because of a Publisher glitch (a real one, not operator error like my usual glitches!) I was unable to publish it as a .pdf, which would have preserved my links & been easier to read. So annoying! But it's late November, and that means, at this potter's house, there are more important things to do.

If you'd like to be on the mailing list for The Messy Minute, give me a shout at

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hand & Wrist Stretches

I threw pots today like it's my job: big bowls, small bowls, mugs. So many! Awesome, right? Right! But now my hands and wrists are sore - not like carpal-tunnel-sore, more like worked-out-really-hard-at-the-gym sore. Luckily the intertubes have an answer for everything! I ran through this sequence of stretches on each hand, and it's like magic how much better I feel. Did you work those phalanges hard today? Try these exercises:

Welcome, 2018!....oh wait

I've been wanting for years to get back to doing art fairs. Now it's happening! Unfortunately the things I need to do to make it happen, need to happen NOW, right at the time that I am also preparing for this year's holiday events and orders. The future is now.

I like the art fair lifestyle, and the very direct relationship between how hard you work and how comfortably you live. It's been out of the question for a long time because I didn't have an appropriate vehicle, and because the margin is so thin: the added expense of renting a vehicle could push a marginal show into the not-worth-doing category...and you can't always know ahead of time which shows will be marginal! But you may recall that in the spring I bought a little truck. I'll still have to rent a trailer for out-of-town shows, but it opens up a world of possibilities for me. Almost too many - I am experiencing some option anxiety. All the shows I used to do are in the Mid-West, and driving changes that calculation. And who knows if the shows that were good in 1999 are still tops?

I am not new to all this - for several years art fairs were my primary sales vehicle. I am very rusty. I will need a new indoor booth, for example. Sort of having option anxiety about this too! It needs to look great, and also be lightweight and portable, and (relatively) easy to set up. How the hell did I do the lights??
This is where keeping a blog becomes a great resource! I have had many thoughts and written many posts about art fair displays over the years. I have those thoughts easily accessible now that the time has come to get building.

This was my old indoor booth.

Looking at it now, it's nicer than I remembered; I also remembered I did a longish post about 5 years ago (my wheels turn slowly) detailing its strengths and weaknesses. I could do worse than recreate this booth! But my February show is a wholesale event, and that seems to call for a different booth: fewer pots, just examples of pieces I am taking orders for, with more room to move around.

I drew a layout for a new booth around the same time, and I still would like to build this booth
- for my retail shows. It's probably too busy for this wholesale event. I think the wholesale booth should be walls with shelves, maybe three pedestal and a counter to sit behind. Eventually the walls might have patterns reminiscent of the patterns on my pots (yes, I know the conventional wisdom on this! Don't @ me. 😉) but for now, given time constraints I think I'll go with white or pearl gray.

Ugh, so much to do before February! And so much to do before December 1st, when my next event for this season happens - that's Art of the Hill, at the East End Community School in Portland. Come see me in booth 39! Maybe I will have wrought some of these changes to my booth (but I doubt it.)

As valuable as I find all this ruminating, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. The most fabulous booth in the world won't matter if without any pots in it! Today I am making bowls and mugs. Tomorrow will be trimming, decoration and handles.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Fattie of the Firing

It's fun to look through the pots after unloading and try to choose a favorite - what I call the "fattie." If I'm lucky, choosing the fattie will be a difficult task! This as such a firing. While photographing pots yesterday I had a chance to mull it over.
This Jaunty Jar is s strong contender! It almost appears to be inhaling.
Click to see more

I love the luscious quality of the glaze, edged with the silver/charcoal of trapped carbon.
Click to see more

This quiet little pot still managed to grab my attention.
Click to see more

I have a weakness for butterdishes - making them and using them - and this one took the soda glass so perfectly.
Click to see more

There were tons of great mugs in this load! 

Can a set collectively be The Fattie?
See more at the link

Blue, and soda, and excessive slip trailing, and roses! This vases combines many of my favorite clay qualities.
See more at the link

The Fattie is ultimately a subjective choice, and factors play in that don't come through in photos, like a silky surface or perfect weight: substantial but not clunky. In the end I settled on the butterdish: that is my Fattie of the Firing. All the factors came together, plus one: the lid fits so perfectly: it neither shifts not sticks, and it fits almost the same in either direction! (They almost always fit better one way than the other.)
All of these are currently available in my online store, but I will need inventory for my December shows, so they will probably only there until the beginning of December.

Do you choose a favorite? Do you keep it or sell it? (I always sell my favorites! Sometimes I charge a little more for them, though.)

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Peek Thru the Spyhole

Yesterday's firing was textbook; like ya see in the pictures, if anybody made movies about firing. Almost perfectly even, light to moderate reduction the whole way...I'm almost worried that it was too perfect, that the demons who torment potters will have a nasty surprise inside for me.

But that's silly...right?

I'll find out on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

It's a Fine Mess, Indeed

Most people think throwing is the messiest part of being a potter. Not so! I can throw all day, and, with the help of a towel across my lap, come away with only a few flecks & streak of clay. The same for my studio: as long as I am careful to empty my splash pan, the mess stays on the wheel.

Glazing is a whole 'nother story. My clothes, the floor, my face, even my hair: all typically gets splashed. It is the finest mess of all, however, because it means soon there will be new pots! I finished loading in the dark (so early, lately!) and bricked up; the kiln is candling now. Unloading hopefully on Wednesday!

oh - don't forget to turn your clock back tonight.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ACA: CYA, and all the rest of you

I know many potters and artists read this blog, and many of you are self-employed. If that's you, you need to know: Affordable Care Act enrollment begins today! The enrollment period is only 45 days this year, half as long as in previous years, and for some reason they are shutting down the website for 12 hours every Sunday. (I know that sounds crazy, but I fact-checked it: the website is closed for maintenance for 12 hours every Sunday during the enrollment period. That's stupid, but whatever, we'll work around it!) Enrollment is not difficult but it's kind of long & tedious, and it's easier if you have last year's tax returns handy - it'll save you a little bit of figuring.

The budget is lower for getting the word out this year, so I wanted to use this vehicle to reach however many I can. I hope you will do the same! If there are potters or other artists, or other self-employed people on your Facebook friends list, or among your Twitter followers, make sure they know it's time to enroll!

Click here to begin your ACA enrollment.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Not Just Better: SuperBetter!

My track record with productivity tools is...not great. I mean, nothing disastrous happens but usually I find them to be more effort than they are worth. I still swear by my paper monthly planner - I hate electronic calendars. The little day squares are so tiny! I keep track of everything on my planner - Exercise. When orders, checks, and bills are due. Appointments and social events, obvs. Even my daily weigh-in!

In that light I should be reluctant to gush about yet another e-tool for self-improvement. Except, that doesn't really capture SuperBetter. It's more about reaching goals, even if the goal is "beating depression*" or "forgiving yourself for not being perfect." More tangible goals work, too. Mine is to grow my pottery business.

Here's what I love about SuperBetter: it's set up like a game. You have bad guys to battle, quests to win, power ups to help you with all that. It's fun, and it's specific: when you can't think of what the next step might be, SuperBetter has an idea for you.

This week my SuperBetter quests are about getting shit done in the studio and about self-care, so important for everyone, and crucial to me to avoid my old nemesis, depression*, as we turn into the dark half of the year. So far it's fun! You can set your quests, power-ups, and bad guys to battle yourself, or the game has some built-ins of each. Today I battled The Sticky Chair, for example, and was able to get moving and get things done. My power-ups include 2 Minutes of Yoga, and Cuddle a Cat. Give it a try! If you want me to be your ally within the game, invite me at

Speaking of cats, we've had one hanging around all day for a few months now. We dubbed him Skinny Cat because, well, he's skinny. At first we weren't too worried about Skinny Cat, because he wasn't interested in food we offered him, and his fur smelled nice - like a perfumed hand had been petting him. Just this last week or two, though, he seemed to be here all the time: I'd come in from glazing around 9:30, and Skinny Cat was still in the yard. My husband got up and 5:30 in the morning, and Skinny Cat was still there. He'd started to try and snake past our feet to get into the house, and to beg for food. (Yes, we fed him...) Last week was a very rainy one, and Skinny Cat came into the studio soaking wet on Wednesday. Thursday evening he still hadn't gone home, despite torrential rain all day. We started to think he must be living in our shed - but he was wet & it was getting colder, so Thursday night we brought him in the house.

We had to keep him apart from the other cats, who have hated him through the windows for months. Finn, my laid-back tuxedo, is particularly offended by Skinny Cat. Adopting him was never an option, but we talked about bringing him to the shelter. I know how awful it feels when a cat is missing, though, and I wanted to give him another chance to go home, if he had one. Friday was dry and relatively warm, so I put Skinny back outside - with a collar on. My thinking was, if he comes back without the collar - or doesn't come back - I will know that he has people. He stuck around all day Friday, but when we made no move to let him in Friday night, he wandered off.

This morning, for the first time since August, Skinny Cat is not here. His people must have seen the collar, & decided to keep him in. SO glad I gave him a chance to go home! I hope finding the collar on their cat was not too upsetting to his people; I just couldn't think of any other way to find out if  he was somebody's cat. Seems like Skinny Cat had his happy ending all along, though, so, that can be my Daily Gratitude.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Potter is a Person in your Neighborhood

I frequently get calls and emails asking if I give lessons. I don't - not at my studio, anyway. I do teach both wheel-throwing and handbuilding at Portland Pottery, which is nearly 60 miles away but until recently the only option, other than colleges & universities, for those wanting to take pottery lessons in southern and central Maine.

That's all changing! A couple of years ago some enterprising folk opened Chase's Garage in York, a smaller studio with a gas-fired stoneware kiln. Last year my friend Malley Weber re-opened and expanded her teaching studio, Hallowell Clay Works, moving it to Water Street in Hallowell. I wrote a bit about HCW last year when it opened.

Over the last several months two more teaching studios have opened near me: Neighborhood Clay in Damariscotta, and Community Clay in Rockport. I just wanted to say, welcome to the neighborhood! It's always good to bring joy, creativity, and learning to more people.

In other news, I just found out that the Maine Pottery Tour, my pet project in late winter and spring for several years now, was listed in the 2018 Ceramic Arts Yearbook and Annual Buyers Guide.

That's us at #10!

The guide goes out (went out already, actually) to Ceramics Monthly  & Pottery Making Illustrated subscribers, and will be distributed at the 2018 NCECA conference.

Cool, right? This has the potential to bring a whole new audience to the Pottery Tour.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pots by the Pound and Other News

Fall has brought a flurry of activity with it! We got a last blast of summer weather last week, including one day in the upper 80s. This was fabulous for the tomato garden, and I am daily processing and freezing that harvest. Ditto the pole beans!

Claywise, I am getting ready for the next big thing: Maine Craft Weekend. I've skipped it for the last couple of years, but this year I decided to take a different approach. Instead of treating it like a little brother to the Maine Pottery Tour - getting out the good shelves, etc. - I decided to hold a much needed studio clearance sale.

"Clearance sale" sounds so janky, with a side of desperate. To make it a little more fun, I added a twist: I am holding a Pots by the Pound sale. Here's how it works:

Pots with red stickers are $1; pots with blue stickers are $2; pots with yellow stickers are $5; and so on. Customers choose their pots, then weigh them, all together - red stickers with red, blue with blue, etc. Got five pounds of red-sticker'd pots? That'll be five bucks please. I'm counting on the fun and the novelty to bring people out, and my promotional efforts, of course! I really do have a lot of seconds and demo pots that I am tired of looking at.

Once that is done, I have four events to gear up for: the Holiday Pottery Shop(Starting late November), the Portland Pottery Holiday Show (Dec 14 - 16), Art on the Hill (Dec 1-3) and...wait for it...ACC Baltimore!

I used to do this big wholesale show every year. It made my financial life much smoother: write the orders in late February, spend the next few months filling them, call them back for holiday orders. I knew that I could count on at least as much as the orders I had written coming in for those months.

The last time I did ACC Baltimore, the show coincided with the North American Blizzard of 2003. As you can imagine, the blizzard put a damper on the event. Baltimore is not like St. Paul or even Portland; they don't expect 30 inches of snow. The whole damn city was shut down for four days.

Now, being snowed in at home is one thing. You saw it coming, you dutifully bought your milk and bread the day before, you hunker down with your books and wait it out. Being snowed in in a hotel room...that's a whole 'nother thing. When I say the city was shut down, I'm telling you, even the Seven-Elevens were closed! I ate out of vending machines the whole time, with the pickings getting slimmer by the minute.

They didn't cancel the show. Of course they didn't. So we dragged our asses and our wares into the hall to await all the people who weren't there because travelling in a blizzard is a Bad Idea and they wisely stayed home.

Anyway! That sucked really hard, I lost a bunch of money, and later that year my van broke down. I haven't had an appropriate art-fair pony since then, until now. Now I ride the Grey Lady into battle!

If you can't tell, I am pretty excited about this! Art fairs were once my main gig, and though it's hard work, it's also exciting and ever-changing and immerses you in an intense, if brief, community with your fellow artisans. The thought of returning in part to that life gladdens my heart...and makes my back ache, in anticipation.

But first things first! Today I am painting my ware shelves and making wine chillers and sugar bowls, and sending out postcards for Pots by the Pound. Hope to see you here!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thrown & Assembled Birdbath

This one has been on the list in my head for a looooooong time; although to be fair, it is a long list. It finally came to be as part of a class project.

I have many, many repeat students at Portland Pottery. They know how to throw and slab build and attach handles; in many ways, they are grown-up potters! (They are, in fact, grown-ups, all; I am not currently teaching any kids classes.) It's easy for students, having gained enough skill that they are pleased with their results, to coast along at a static skill level. To break that plateau and insure that they continue learning and continue improving, I often create skill challenges to give them a little push.

This one was a challenge to make a pot that would be taller than 18", after firing. In my case I achieved this with three bottomless thrown cylinders stacked together - the bowl was fired separately. I haven't yet epoxied it in place. I intend to, but right now the fit of the foot into the rim of the stand is enough to keep it secure.

The exterior is unglazed, with just a little iron oxide to warm up to color of the clay.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art on the Hill

A few weeks ago, after a long break from art fairs due to lack of an appropriate vehicle, I did a sidewalk show - the Portland Fine Craft Show.  I worked like a mad bastard to get ready for the show, schlepped and hoisted and waited and smiled in what I hoped was a welcoming and not maniacal way during the show, and remembered the deep satisfaction that comes with art fairs.

I remembered: work is awesome. (A friend of mine is fond of saying, "Work is great. It's jobs that suck. " I know what he means!)  Working your ass off for weeks and then seeing, directly, the reward for that work - that is a fabulous feeling. I also was reminded: I work better with a specific event or goal in mind. Or at least I work harder!

That is the way of it, with self-employment: you eat what you kill. Maybe that's why I always got restless, in conventional employment situations; it's hard to feel the direct connection between how hard you work and the rewards you reap.

With all that in mind, and with the trusty Grey Lady always ready for saddle or pack, I registered for another fair: Art on the Hill, put on by the Society of East End Artists at the East End Community School in Portland. This is the school at the end of the Portland peninsula that used to known as Jack Junior.

Summer's not even technically done yet, but with this goal in mind (and, of course, the Portland Pottery show, and the Holiday Pop up Shop) the urge to make is coming on strong.  I know how events sneak up on me! Time can change from "more than plenty" to "oops too late!" in the space of a day. (Or, in the words of Hermione Granger's homework planner, ""Don't leave it till later, you big second-rater!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What I found on my Vacation; or Welcome Home, Fish-Boy!

One thing I hope I have learned from many years of self-employment is that even if you love your work, you gotta take a break. With that in mind, this past week has been my vacation! Other people taught my classes, and I took a break from all things pottery-related. Well - almost all things. I did spend an afternoon cleaning & organizing the studio so it would be ready when I am.

Instead, I did some hiking and some biking, and caught up on projects that have been nagging at my mind for some time. I cleaned out two big storage closets that seemed full but in fact still had plenty of space - just needed to be organized. I donated six bags of office clothing to Goodwill, despite a nagging superstitious fear that in doing so I may have precipitated some unforeseen event that will cause me to again have to get an office job.

Doug & I also just did some tooling around, visiting yard sales & junk shops, a favorite pasttime. One of those was one I visited in the spring, on my way to Blue Hill to deliver pots, and it was then that I encountered Fish Boy - a piece of yard statuary depicting a cherub embracing someone's ichthyologically incorrect idea of a fish.
I was immediately enchanted by Fish Boy, due to his charming oddity, but also because saving fish is Doug's business. He's a consultant for riverine ecosystem restoration. Fish Boy seemed made for us, but at $185 he ws right out of the budget. Nope, uh-uh, no way. So I reluctantly left him behind and went on my way.

Yesterday, when we returned to the junk barn (not sure it has a name), I remembered Fish Boy, and went to look; but he was gone from his place in a dusty corner. I mentioned this to Doug, and the Junk Barn lady heard me. She pointed out Fish Boy, out near the roadway, welcoming visitors. We had driven right past him.

I went out to look, and discovered that his price tag now read $48. This would still be a splurge for me, on something very silly. But I was so perfect.

I dragged Doug out to look at it with me. He declared it the ugliest thing he had ever seen. This just made Fish Boy more appealing to me. I went back in and asked the shop owner if there was any possibility that Fish Boy could be had for less.
"Forty dollars," came the answer.


Now Fish Boy enjoys a place of honor in my overgrown garden among the sedum and echinachea.

My vacation has been a marvel, and now I'm excited to get back to work.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tonight, We Ride

Saddle up the Nopetopus and nope on outta there.

I am always telling my students that saying no is a very useful skill as a potter. People hear you are taking pottery lessons, and they start asking you for things. Can you duplicate this item I found at Williams-Sonoma? Can you make sushi plates glazed to match the koi in my pond (yes, that happened)? Can you make me a stein with a hinged lid and a lion roaring on top?

I get requests all the time that I could maybe do, but I just...don't want to. I have reasons sometimes - my studio is not a good space to give lessons, for example. But this shirt is a reminder...I don't need a good reason. "I don't want to" is reason enough.

"Nope" is a complete sentence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Smell of the Crowd

The crowd actually smelled pretty good yesterday at the Portland Fine Craft Show. It was a hell of a long day - I had to get up around 4 in order to be in Portland in time to set up for the show. We got a great day though, low 70s & dry.
The night before I remembered around 8 pm that we would be on asphalt - no way to stake the tent. I scrambled to Lowe's to find a weighting solution that wouldn't be too ugly. I ended up with white sandbags, about 40 pounds each. Good thing, too! Though it wasn't super windy, city streets can channel breeze in such a way that it gets magnified. I had no trouble - 40 lbs per leg seemed to do the trick - but I saw several people who had to grip onto their tents when we'd get a gust.

I did a firing specifically for this show, and was glad I did - it was a good one, crisp bright colors and some lovely juicy rivers of soda. My bet was a little off, though: I leaned towards mugs and ice cream bowls & other small things, and people wanted serving bowls, vases, and jaunty jars. If I'd had more of the larger items, I could definitely have sold more.

This was The Grey Lady's maiden art fair, and it reminded me of the days when that was my life: make, fire, load, travel, sell, come home & start all over again. Damn, it is a lot of work! Someone I had forgotten that: a shit-ton of work, and all crammed into a few days.

 Also, I need to figure out how to load the truck more efficiently: if this had been a better show for me I wouldn't have had enough work. It didn't suck but I wasn't dancing in the street. Wait, yes, I was, but only because the music moved me to do so. It was an amazing violin and synth duo, I am still trying to figure out the group's name.

But I digress. If it had been one of the more high volume shows I have done - The Uptown Art fair, or The Saint Louis Art Fair - I wouldn't have had enough work there. So I gotta figure that out, how to get more stuff in the small bed of my truck.

Next up I find homes for the leftover inventory. Not too worried about that - it really was a good firing, so I think my wholesale accounts will be happy, but I've got to unpack everything & figure out what is going where.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

FAB Raku Results, & Recipe

These pieces are all wearing the same glaze: the aptly named FAB Raku, a copper luster variation (Thanks, Captain Obvious.) It can also do some brilliant turquoise crackle results, and some yellow/peach/puce (I know, it's a terrible color name! But a beautiful color. All I am saying, is give puce a chance. 😄)
It is a very variable glaze, but all of its variations are great - provided it gets hot enough. It also does an interesting toadskin thing when it is not quite hot enough which most people probably would not consider a successful surface but it has some nice qualities, especially on sculptural work.
It is a glaze that likes to be hot, though: maybe 03? Hot enough that thin or delicate earthenware bodies warp in the kiln.

Because Portland Pottery is right in the middle of an urban neighborhood, we try to use a minimal-smoke approach - which means combustibles on the ground, trashcans over top after a few seconds of free burning. We use pine or cedar pet bedding as our combustible - it's cheap & easily accessible, but contains some pitch which will create black smoke marks on the finished piece that need to be scrubbed off to see the colors. Different combustible material will give you different glaze results, to a certain extent - it's all about how fast they burn and how loose they are to let oxygen through. My very favorite combustible is dry leaves: they burn quick and clean, and create very little rough texture - but good luck getting enough, in June.

 It's tricky to get the FAB into the pile of combustibles while it is still molten enough to get the wonderful copper results but not so molten that is gets a crusty sawdust texture. You can see a bit of the texture on the third photo.

Here's the recipe. This ia for a 4000 gm batch, so WILL NOT translate as percentages - you'll have to do the math on that. (Hint: multiply everything by 2.5.)

FAB Raku

Frit 3110             2800
Gerstley Borate    200
Flint (325)            200
Soda Ash              400
EPK                      200
Copper Carb         140
Bentonite                80

More oxygen in post-fire gives more turquoise, less gives more copper. Join e for the next raku workshop at Porland Pottery on September 16th, from 12-4 pm, or mix it up yourself & have some fun!

To register for the workshop, call 207-772-4334. Bring 5 - 8 bisqued pieces, made of porcelain, groggy stoneware, or a body made specifically for raku. Wear cotton clothing & closed-toed shoes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Interrupt This Blog... bring you a special bulletin:

I, Lori Keenan Watts, potter, teacher, wife, sister, daughter and Mother of Cats, denounce Nazis, Nazism, and all forms of racism and white supremacy. At this moment in our history, I feel it's important for all of us, as citizens, using any platform we have, to be clear about this. There is only one side of decency, and it is the one that stands against bigotry.

My grandfather was a gentle person. (He was known in his hometown as the guy whose chickens died of old age.) Nevertheless when his country called, he went. He went to Germany to fight the Nazis, and he was awarded the Purple Heart when he was shot.

Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents didn't fight that war just to have that vicious ideology take hold here. We, as a people must reject it, and not just in our hearts: out loud, to our friends and family, and even on our blogs! I know it's awkward to talk about it, because politics or whatever, but this is too important to politely pretend it isn't happening and just go on about our business.

I have no doubt that the vast, vast majority of Americans feel the same way as I do: racism has no place here. But with the horrifying events in Charlottesville, it appears the Nazis and other hatebags have been emboldened.

I denounce them. Say it with me: I reject them and their hate-filled ideology as evil and UnAmerican.

Thanks for reading.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The August Messy Minute, and the new Pottery Puzzler!

The August edition of the Messy minute is out! You can check out a half-assed version* of it at this link, or, if you'd like to get The Messy Minute (the real one, without all the blank spaces!) in your inbox, shoot me an email with "Subscribe" in the subject line.

A favorite feature has returned: The Pottery Puzzler. See if you can get it right!

*EDIT: Here's a better one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Garden Inspired Slip Inlay

This time of year inspiration is right outside my door. Blooming now: purple coneflowers! Their simple and easily recognizable shape makes them naturals for slip decoration.

To do this slip inlay, I first painted my image with food coloring.
Next I coated the interior of the bowl with water-based wax. Paraffin will work, as well, but it is a little more brittle, so harder to cut cleanly through.

Once the wax dried, I carved out the image with a sgraffito tool. Then I brushed on a white slip - underglaze will work for this as well. The slip sticks to the carved surface, but beads up on the waxed surface. I used a rib to remove the excess slip - one of the red ones from Mudtools works great (I call them Gummy Gummy Bears, get it? ) because it's soft enough not to scrape any of the wax away.

The wax will burn away in the bisque firing (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) I'll choose a transparent or translucent glaze t show my slip work to best advantage. I'm leaning towards a shino, but I could see this in Amber Celadon...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In the Groove

Hey all, it's been a bit since I posted! For a good reason, though - I'm not in a depressive funk this time, I am making pots, boatloads of them. I've got my groove back.

My groove likes to have an endpoint, a goal in sight, apparently; and in this case I am filling a kiln for the Portland Fine Craft Show. I'll be in booth #98, y'all, come see me! This is the third year of the show, and the first year it will be happening without its sister show, the WCSH Sidewalk Art Festival. Though I am sorry to see the art festival go - it was a long-standing tradition - no one knows how it will affect the craft show. More visitors? Fewer? I could see a case for either.

Anyway - I am making stuff as if it's going to be a blockbuster, because once I'm in the groove, I stay there for a while. Today was my last wetwork day, shooting for a bisque next weekend.

While I've been doing all this making, I am enjoying a newly discovered pleasure: podcasts. (Yes, yes, I am old and behind the curve. So sue me.) While I enjoy Invisibilia and Hidden Brain and the rest of NPR's brainiac lineup, my current fave is less intellectual: I've been queuing up the Savage Lovecast, columnist Dan Savage's call-in sex advice show. To be sure, it's not for everyone! But I find it entertaining, and not so intellectually demanding that I have to pay close attention. It serves my need to distract just enough of my brain so I don't overthink forms and decoration. What's your favorite podcast?

Anyway! I'm tuckered out after my long day in the studio 😊😊😊! Pots are drying now, and on Wednesday I'll start scraping & washing kiln shelves.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Berry Bowl, in Berry Season

It's raspberry season once again, and my unmowable slope is earning its keep. For a week or so in July, I get a full colander every day.

The little berry colander is one of mine; the scallop tray beneath it was made by my friend Joanna Skolfield, of Blarney Stone Pottery.

For more about my Maine garden & a raspberry dessert soup recipe (I know - but it's good!) check out my other blog, Wicked Cozy.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New Pots, Born on the 4th of July

Today is my favorite day! Not Independence Day - it is, and I like that too - but Unloading Day! As usual I am excited and a tiny bit worried about what I will find. I don't have any reason to believe things didn't go well; the firing itself was uneventful. Most of of the posts in the kiln are for orders, though - someone somewhere is waiting for these pots. The demons that torment potters seem to know that sort of thing, and plague us accordingly. I'm off to find out...

I'm back! Here's how it went:
First peek looks a little pale

That side's better!
Here's me unbricking the door:

So, good news/ bad news: The good news is, everything that I needed for my orders came out exactly as I hoped it would! The area in the kiln where they were loaded got the most soda. The bad news is that there were some dry/ cool areas, so some items will need to be refired. The further good news is, everything - literally everything - was either good or salvageable - no losses. 

If it doesn't sound like I'm dancing around and whooping for joy, well, I'm not. The pieces on order were good - THANK YOU KILN GODS - but of the other pieces, nothing really made me want to whoop for joy.

So which would you rather have: a kiln load of pretty-good, easily salable pots, or a load with some stinkers and some fabulous, whoop-out-loud pots?

I guess I know now which I would choose.

However! I did manage to complete the collection I need for my little side-project: I need 15 good cat dishes for a fundraiser I hope to run. Looks like I have 16 good ones!
Will keep you posted on this.

So, some good some bad, tralalala life goes on! It's Independence Day, so enjoy a video to celebrate the birthday of the USA!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

As I Always Say...

This is something I tell students all the time: round is overrated. Some of the most beautiful pots in the world are asymmetrical; if ya like em perfectly round, they've got plenty of those all Walmart.

Skill comes, with time and practice. In the meantime it's important to enjoy and appreciate the wonky, spontaneous qualities of your early pieces. Once you can make them round every time, you'll strive to get back dome of the wonk!

Get the shirt here.


It's sort of a running joke in my family - my Dad and his tomato plants. There are reels and reels of home movie footage of beautiful green growing fruit. He was so proud of his garden.

So, not for nothin', I grew up to be a gardener, and I sort of specialize in tomatoes. And this year I have blossoms already on some of my plants! In the middle of June.

Dad would be proud.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Garden Inspired

I loooove sliptrailing. Usually my sliptriailng is just dots or other patterns, but occasionally I get inspired to do some representational marks. Even the abstract marks are botanically inspired, and in June there is a lot of botanical inspiration to be had in my garden.

Bleeding hearts have tugged on my mind for some time. The simple repetitive shapes, the multiplicity, the distinctive foliage - they seem made for slip decoration. It's harder than it looks, though, and my first several tries were either just bad - blotchy, unrecognizable - or just didn't really capture the charm of the plants. Theses are a bit better, but I'll keep working on it.

The green you can see peeking out from beneath the slip is food coloring - I find it helpful to loosely paint out my marks. It saves me wasting slip by trailing, wiping off, trailing, wiping off, and so on.

These blossoms are loosely inspired by creeping phlox.

These are more generic but I think I could minimally adapt them to reference poppies. The difficulty with slip trailing is with depth - trying to represent some blooms or petals behind others can sometimes turn into just a blobby mess! On these last two the food coloring serves to mark out the spacing for the scalloped design - this has greatly improved my placement! It has he advantage over pencil or needle tool in that the lines are clearly visible but do not have to be removed later - the food coloring just burns away.