Monday, January 30, 2017

NCECA Demo, at last on YouTube!

So, hey, remember when I went to NCECA in Kansas City to demonstrate thrown and altered butter dishes? The video of that demo is finally available!
Well. Sort of. Turns out you have to purchase the Process Room videos. You can catch a bit of my demo in the teaser, though; enough to get a sense of how the tray to the butter dish is stretched. I'm tempted to buy the video - not for my demo OBVS but because it looks like the others were pretty fab, which I was too nervous to notice at the time.
Anyway, check it out. My bit starts about 11 seconds in.

  You can get a copy here, if you're interested.

Update: AAAARGH for some reason the embedded video keeps vanishing. If it's not appearing, you can see in here on Youtube. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Better Be Today

Today, a Sunday, is the last day above freezing predicted in Central Maine for quite some time, so I guess I better get as much of my kiln maintenance done today as possible, or be cursing myself out in the bitter cold. My to-do list today looks like this:

  1. Prepare kiln for firing
  • Clean out burner channels
  • Grind shelves
  • Rebuild bag walls

  1. Mix Wadding
  2. Make Cone packs
  3. Postcards to Senators
  4. Handles on mugs
  5. Cat flea treatment

Sounds like fun, right? (If you said "NO," you are today's winner!) As you can see above, the wood curls method of soda application makes a much bigger mess than the spray-in method. The kiln fires better if I pull down the bag walls in between every glaze firing and clear out the channels. I am considering switching for this reason alone, but I hate to give up the pronounced directionality and rivers of soda that I get from the wood curls. So, I dunno. 

Beauty is where you find it. Just look at these bag wall bricks! Maybe I will save them for garden edging, and rebuild the bag wall with new brick. Which will necessitate a trip to the Dirty Lew and INFAB Refractories. Which may or may not have Superduty hardbrick. And aren't open Sunday. Ugh, maybe I'll just keep it simple. 

Anyway! I'm wasting daylight, so catch ya later.

UPDATE: The channels are cleared, the bag walls rebuilt, the shelves are ground, the wadding is mixed! Not a moment too soon, either - snowflakes have just started flying. Doug took care of the flea treatments, so that just leaves postcards and cone packs. And it's not even 2 o'clock! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Well, that didn't go as planned!

Remember I was going to make simpler mugs for the Mug Season fundraiser? Hahaha, j/k, really they ended up covered with stamps and slip trailing. Character is destiny, I guess! Above are a couple of my favorites.

I was especially pleased with the quilted look, created with a homemade stamp. It's just a bit of clay rolled into a tapered shape, with a flattened end. I pinched that end into a rough heart, then rolled a very thin coil, and attached a heart-shaped outline to the flattened end. It is only bisqued - a stamp fired to maturity sticks to wet clay and won't make a clean impression.

 It's big-ish, for a stamp, probably about an inch and a half, so I had intended it for an accent stamp - just one per mug. But its proportion seemed to suggest a different approach, and here we are.
Still have a few more mugs to go; I am having so much fun it's unlikely these will be simple, either! Oh, well, best laid plans and all that. Expect these mugs to be available at coffee shops in Central Maine starting in April.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Value-Added Oddballs

Remember the 90s? I sure do. We wore old flannel shirts and called it fashion. The bands had the best names: Alice in Chains. Radiohead. Rage Against The Machine. We argued in the public sphere over Keynesian vs Lockean economics (not "what are facts?" LOL) And in business, the buzzword was "value-added." It refers to increasing prices by increasing the usefulness, features, or appeal or the items sold. As a hand-maker of functional items, maximizing the appeal and utility of my ware is a given. That's in my studio work.

I have a whole other hoard of pots taking up shelf space in my basement: the demos I do for my classes at Portland Pottery. I don't fire all my demos, but many I do, either because I need to do a glazing demo, or I just liked the pot; or because I hate to waste them. Many are simple one-serving bowls, because I do that demo alot, but others are odd sizes and shapes whose function does not immediately spring to mind. I often sell demos for very short money from the Pottery Stairs, a little stand in my front yard. Staying afloat in this business has sometimes required me to use a little ingenuity: time to try a little 90s-style upselling!

Enter a 10-lb bag of soy wax. I already have several scents, which I use for soap making. In fact this whole project started when I decided to make myself a chocolate scented candle. I love the smell of chocolate even more than I love the taste, so in keeping with my New Year's Resolutions of self-care, I set out to make myself a present.

This pot started its life as a square rolled slab, with four squares cut out of the corners. It has a wonky charm, but it's small and oddly proportioned; no obvious use comes immediately to mind. I like it (small and oddly proportioned are part of its appeal, for me.) Now it is a chocolate scented candle.

It's burning right now, breathing out its sweet soothing scent. Seemed like a good day to practice some self-love. I didn't use a colorant, because for brown that's powdered cocoa, and I was afraid it might make the candle smoky.

I had some (well: approximately a shit-ton) of wax left over, and lots of little bowls and oddball pots, so hey, while I already had the mess out, decided to make a bunch more candles. I went with chocolate and coconut, the scents I have the most of.
These four are coconut:
 I position the wick first. Usually it stays upright, but if it gives me any lip, I melt a bit of beeswax in the bottom using the microwave, and stick the metal plate on the wick to that. Once the wick is in place, the microwave is no longer an option! The wick has a little metal disc at the bottom of it.

With the wick standing upright, I scoop the wax flakes into the pot, and then pour about a tablespoon of fragrance over the wax. Then I put it in a baking pan or cookies sheet, and heat it in the oven, to about 275. Soy wax melts at a pretty low temp. When it's melted, it will fill in the air spaces (like silica fusing in a clay body during a firing) so the level of wax will drop. I top it off and then put it back in the oven.

These have a tiny sprinkle of gold mica, just to distinguish them from the chocolate candles, But then - duh - I should be able to tell by the smell! Soy wax melts at a low temperature, so when the wick has burned down, it's easy to pour out the remaining wax. Run the pot through the dishwasher, and you've got a fresh clean bowl, to use for anything you want.

My hope is to sell these value-added pots, which previously went for $3 - $5, for $10 - $16, depending on size. I'll post a few online, if we ever get a day sunny enough for me to take decent photos.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Signs of Spring

HAHAHA, j/k. More like, a suggestion that winter might conceivably not last forever: we've already scheduled the first raku workshop of the season. It's happening Saturday, June 3rd.

Participants should bring 5-8 mid sized pieces - please no ginormous items, or beads or buttons, or anything else so tiny I can't get ahold of it with tongs! Ware should be of a claybody with a little grog in it, or else a high grolleg porcelain; ask when you register if you aren't sure your claybody is appropriate for raku. Items should be bisqued between ^08-05. (Too high and they aren't going to get the deep carbon black on the unglazed areas that is characteristic of American raku.) Students should wear long pants, cotton clothing, and closed toed shoes.

My classes will begin rakuing much earlier, of course - possibly as early as April. But if you aren't one of my students, and you'd like to try raku, or you've already tried it & can hardly wait to fire it up again, you can register now at Portland Pottery, 207-772-4334.

Monday, January 16, 2017

15 Mugs, Plus a Few

It's early, but not too early, to be preparing for Mug Season. This, you may recall, is an April fundraiser by the Central Maine Clay Artists group, my muddy buddies. Coffee shops around central Maine carry our mugs for sale (at the low, low price of $18) and offer a free cup of coffee to patrons who purchase them. Half of the price reimburses the artists, and half goes to support local arts education programs.

Because it is such a low, low price, I use this event to indulge my rare impulse to make simpler mugs*, with little or no stamping or slip trailing or sprigs; few curliques or geegaws of any kind. It's good and refreshing and but spurs me on to even more elaborate geegaws when I have finished.

Speaking of curliques and geegaws, have you seen my stairs? I may or may not be finished with that project, but either way lived up to my mantra: Why do when you can overdo?

On a gloomier note, as of yesterday, a new item has been added to my weekly to-do list: a job search. Right this second I am not super intense about it, but I need to get an idea what's out there, because it seems Congress and the incoming administration are moving forward with their plan to strip self-employed people of our health insurance. I'd be less worried about this if they had any plan at all to replace it, but so far all they've offered is Health Savings Accounts, which is just saving your own money to pay your medical bills. When my father had cancer, his bills would have been well over a million dollars, except that he had insurance. HSAs are tax-free, so they'll be super helpful for the sort of person who has hundreds of thousands of dollars to put away for a rainy day. I don't know about you guys but I was thrilled when my savings reached one thousand, striving as hard as I could. So an HSA is not gonna be much help to me. An office gig might be in my future.

I feel sort of guilty about this, because it seems like, if it comes to it, I'll be taking someone else's job - maybe someone who doesn't have the skills to create their own job, like I do. I hate that: in order for me to be okay, I might have to push someone else down. But I'm not sure what else to do. Don't know if God listens to doubting heathens but I'm praying just in case, that someone in charge gets ahold of some wisdom.

A bit of wisdom never comes amiss.

Ugh, didn't mean to be a downer (thinking of changing the name of the blog to Lori's Pottery & Depression!) For today the sun is shining, I'm at my wheel, it's a good world where good things can still happen.

*Batteries are dead in my camera - will post photos later, after the mugs get handles.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Finally Finished!

I am just about breaking my arm patting myself on the back today for FINALLY getting the last course of brick on the stack. I stopped 2 courses short when I rebuilt last year, because previously the kiln drew a little too hard; but the new version drew not enough. Or sometimes didn't; some firings I had with the shorter stack were perfect, but two others were...well, let's say less perfect. I knew since the last firing, in December, that it had to be done - I couldn't keep rolling the dice. (Rolling the dice is a bad business plan. Write that down.) I was just waiting for enough of the snow & ice to melt away so it wouldn't be a suicide mission.

I'm a little nervous of heights. Not phobic, but maybe a little more cautious than your average person. Doug, on the other hand, spent his high school and college years doing tree work with his father, and has no natural fear of heights. He would have gladly stacked that last layer for me, but his lack of caution makes it even more stressful to see him just casually clamber around up there just like he's on the ground, than it is to just do it myself. He did come out and hold the ladder for me; I also felt like, if I fell, I wanted someone right handy to call 911.

I got lucky, and acquired the brick for free: Portland Pottery is rebuilding the bag walls in their large gas kiln. The brick were a little rough but perfectly adequate for my needs. On a related note, I am having an urge do grab some of those broken brick and collage all over them. They'd make good bookends, maybe. There's something so wonderful (in my imagination, at least) about the coarse broken edges and the decoupaged floral images.

But! One project at a time. Or, well: maybe two. Or three. Definitely no more than four.😀

Maybe I'll finish the staircase today, load tomorrow, and fire Sunday.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Flexible Flyer Platter Molds

While visiting my friend, Malley Weber, at her new teaching studio, I saw the greatest idea! Check this out:
That's plaster, in a Flexible Flyer! What a great way to make a large platter mold. Alternatively, if you aren't into plaster in the studio, you could use the Flyer itself, with some cooking spray or a length of fabric, as a slump mold.

As it turns out, this form will be used to make wall pieces for an upcoming show at the Harlow Gallery - practically right across the street from Malley's new space. Which, BTW, is an absolutely fabulous studio. This is me right now:


Students glazing
Check it out:

If you are looking for pottery classes in the Augusta/ Hallowell area, Hallowell Clayworks is the place to be. Click here for more info, or check out the Facebook page.

In the meantime, Flexible Flyers are easy to find this time of year! Time to start cranking our some slab-built platters. (Building that large, remember to obsessively compress! Sorry, it's automatic, couldn't stop myself.)
Malley, mixing glazes

Hanging the sign

The fabulous space!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Busy Bees

The New Year is in full swing now: classes have begun at Portland Pottery! See all the busy bees in my Monday night beginners' group.

The session that begins in January is usually the slowest of the year, but not this year. My classes are all full, with the exception of a couple of slots on Tuesday afternoon. Looking forward to a full, fun, creative year sharing my passion.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Okay, So...About Those Resolutions

I had a weird 2016. Well: we all did. But my personal 2016 was a weirdly passive year for me. I found it hard to get into the studio, to make soap, to write this blog, to do anything creative, really. The push to be ready for my presentation at NCECA got me through March and then...I... dragged. My production slowed to a crawl, and I was not even firing every two months. When it became clear I was not going to be able to will myself out of it, I took on more classes, because even when I am willing to let myself down, I rarely fail to meet obligations I have made. It seemed a better choice than just re-reading old books and worrying.

I made enough to fill orders, and to keep my consignment locations full, but my website has read "Out of Stock" for months now, and I haven't been refreshing the inventory in stores.

I didn't have a word for this feeling until recently, when I was poking around pottery blogs, and found a series fellow artist Whitney Smith had done on burnout. It all sounded very familiar. I had just been pushing so hard for so long in so many different directions, and feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere. It was all too much. Or not enough. Everything seemed like too much effort for too little reward. The need to make dried up.

What a sentence! What a scary feeling, for an artist. I couldn't help but wonder: what if it doesn't come back?

Just lately, maybe in the last two weeks, the feeling has started to lift. I was able to start the stair project, which would have required an unthinkable degree of initiative in October. I have a bunch of refires that I need to clear from the studio, so I haven't been doing much throwing, but I do feel the desire to do so returning. And you may have noticed that I am blogging more.

Usually when I make resolutions, they are about working more, trying harder, doing better. See where that got me! The burnout period was scary enough that this year I want to take steps to prevent it happening again. So this year my resolutions are about self-care:

  • Give myself permission to enjoy my downtime. My pattern has been to feel guilty whenever I am not doing something productive, so my head never really gets downtime. Making is not a moral imperative. It's not wrong to relax. 
  • Budget for enjoyable things. The last few years I have been focusing hard on paying down credit card debt. I'm proud of the progress I've made, but I made it by basically sending every spare penny to my credit cards. No money to grab a burger at our local pub, no money for new clothes, no money for home improvement projects that aren't absolutely necessary. You can see how this can lead to the feeling that work is pointless! While it is satisfying to see those credit card balances shrink, it's a pretty deep hole I am trying to fill, and I need to enjoy the fruits of my labor, too.  
  • Limit my consumption of news and social media. This is a big one: while I believe we as citizens have a duty to stay informed, I don't need to know every foolish thing that a foolish person tweets. I find it's best to stick to the more staid information sources, those with a long history of accurate reporting: NPR, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Washington Post, the New York Times. I am no good to anyone stuck in  a cycle of outrage and despair. 
  • Quit worrying so much if my efforts are good enough. One of the reasons I have not blogged as much is, as I started to gain a greater readership, I started to self-censor. That's boring. That's self-absorbed. That's too much like something I did a few years ago. It was almost like stage fright. But the heck with it - people don't have to read it, If it gets boring, they'll just skip it. And I won't even know, because I will have turned off my stat counter! Ditto my class lessons: I make Herculean efforts to make he lessons interesting, but sometimes they are going to fall flat anyway, and that's okay. Not everything has to be fabulous. Sometimes good enough is good enough. 
I will, of course, need to set business goals in order to right the ship. It's on the list, but first I need to right my head.

Meet the New Year...

The Week of Reflection this year (or, wait: last year) took the form of elbow grease, as I labored to transform my front hall stairs from ugly to fabulous. I'm going to take a moment to reflect now, but only a moment, because the fun part of the stair project begins today: putting on the final colors.

I join the rest of the world in rejoicing that the shitshow that was 2016 is over, but let's not kid ourselves: in the public sphere, at least, 2017 will be all about managing the aftermath. We will have a president who refuses to believe US intelligence agencies when he doesn't like what they have to say; we will still be the country where literal Nazis, giving, literally, Nazi salutes, held a convention at the Ronald Wilson Reagan Federal building. (Whatever you - or I - may have thought of Reagan as president, he was a patriot, and no Nazi.) Swastikas painted on synagogues, children being taunted in school for Hispanic ancestry. The world has gone mad, our nation is bitterly cleft, and the ugliness of humanity has been empowered.

But what's a potter to do? I am living my life on parallel tracks: on the one hand, I feel like our American democracy is at peril, a fear which demands my attention and action....on the other hand, the cats still need to be fed, the kiln shelves still need to be scraped, those mugs will need handles before they get too dry. Everything has changed, and nothing.

So, I live. I mix glazes, scoop litterboxes, I tend my garden. (Figuratively, of course: it's January, in Maine. The garden is one thing that does not need tending.) In between I call my senators, and volunteer for organizations that may protect those who will be hit harder by the coming storm than I will. And I hope that in passions outside of the public sphere - like, say, clay - we can find common ground.

I do have New Year's Resolutions, because I love New Year's Resolutions! But my staircase is calling, so these will have to wait. Until then, I found this lovely clip of music scientifically designed to release stress. Enjoy, and have a lovely New Year's Day.

Bless you all.