Remember my funky burner thing from last week? This one:
The consensus of my equipment-clever friends and readers was that the burner for some reason did not have enough gas pressure to create its Venturi effect. The burner was turned all the way up but the pressure definitely did not seem right, just before the flames appeared where they weren't supposed to be.
The possibilities included something - a bit of rust or debris - blocking the tiny little orifice thru which the gas flows.
Luckily I never discovered whether that was, in fact the problem. On Monday night I had a conversation with my husband - I told him about the burner troubles and the possible fixes. You may think this is the dullest possible thing one could talk to a non-potter about, but Doug is an unusual guy. The physics of things interests him, and the kiln and burners are apart of that. I told him what our friend Tyler suggested as a remedy - taking the burner apart, removing the brass orifice plug, etc. He didn't say much, made some sympathetic noises - he knows how much I hate kiln maintenance.
When I came home from class on Thursday he had taken it apart, cleaned it all out, and put it back together! It hums along just like it should now. No more FLAMES BAD.
Now, he has taken a burner apart & put it back together before - I have an old one lying around. But that was years ago. He took apart the old one first, to remind himself, and then cleaned & thereby repaired my burner! It's sooty and gross and he barked his knuckles on the kiln brick getting it off the pipe, and now I don't have to do it.
Some guys bring you flowers and candy. Some write you poems.
A mind is like a glaze recipe: you throw in ideas, give them some time and energy, and they blend to create something new.
I've been cogitating on a handful of stories I encountered around the same time, and in my mind they are fitting together to form thoughts. First was the Roberto Lugo video I shared earlier; it's powerful, and one of the ideas Lugo discusses is the power of ceramics to bring people together. Second is this story out of Nebraska, about a man who hated Muslims until they became his neighbors, and in getting to know them he found his heart changed. And the third, sadly, is about the distressing events this week in which nearly 70 Jewish community centers had to be evacuated because they were the targets of bomb threats.
Yeah. That happened, in our America.
Like so much that has happened lately, I feel powerless to do anything about it, but I don't feel like I can just say, "Oh, yeah, a bunch of Nazis threatened to bomb my friends, neighbors, and compatriots, totally normal, no big, let's talk about my wacky burner situation!"
It's not totally normal, or any other kind of normal, and anyone who has any kind of a platform has an obligation to say so. My Republican friends keep saying "Just because I am conservative doesn't mean I am a bigot" and I believe them - so this is for them, too. All who reject bigotry as an American value should condemn this intimidation campaign. Politics is one thing, but surely all reasonable people can agree on rejecting Nazis. Our grandparents fought and died for this!
(This goes without saying, but if you are a Nazi, or any other kind of bigot, you should boycott this blog! I totally deserve to lose your readership, so buh-bye.)
Which brings me back to my thesis: in clay I see one road to an understanding of our shared humanity.
I taught my first pottery class in 1994. Over the years, I have had thousands of students, of a broad variety of races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and religious persuasions. I currently have many Christian and Jewish students, and a handful of Muslim students, and of course many whose beliefs are unknown to me.
I have never once observed or overheard bigotry in the clay studio.
It may be that clay just attracts a certain good-hearted kind of person, but I think the causality goes both ways. Like the Nebraska man who found he didn't hate Muslims once he actually knew some Muslims, it's hard to hate a person who seems just like you. In clay class, students all struggle with the same challenges: learning to center; oops, collapsed; how do I get this dang handle to stay on; rats, it cracked in the firing; yikes, massive glaze run! And we celebrate successes together: Look, first handle! Biggest thing I've ever thrown! Kiln unloaded today, show everyone your beautiful pots. Clay studios are tight-knit communities, and communities have the power to transcend differences. We make dear friends based on our shared enthusiasm and experiences.
Now I hope we can take the love we've grown in our clay spaces into the wider world. A Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, and an atheist walk into clay class. They talk, they laugh, they commiserate and they encourage one another. They walk out friends. They take that friendship into the world, and become a shining example of what can be when we recognize that we are all just people.
Keb Mo says it better:
Well I feel just like you
and I cry just like you
But I heal
Just like you
and under my skin
I'm just like you....
Ugh, there is SO much to learn, in clay, so many new things to go wrong! The best that we can hope for is for things to go wrong when they don't do any harm, and by that measure I am a winner today.
I finally had a chance to fire the kiln I loaded last week. Candled just fine, no surprises...one of the valves was locked in ice, but I chipped/ melted it out, all good. Reached body reduction, all good...but when I went out to check if ^05 was falling yet, I noticed one of my burners was behaving weirdly.
It's a measure of how dedicated I am to you, my darling readers, that I almost went for the camera before shutting it down, but then I thought: no, when propane and fire are doing unexpected things, the time to put an end to it is right freaking now. So I turned it off, then waited a bit and relit it - and it did it again.
The flame, which ought to come out the end of the burner and (mostly) into the kiln, was igniting way down at the primary air. I have never had that happen before, and I don't know what has caused it to happen, but in addition to just not being a safe state of affairs, it meant that a bunch of the heat was not going into the kiln. The firing was not going to proceed properly no matter what.
Luckily I have no urgency about this firing - it's always good to have pots but nobody pounding down my door in the middle of February. I have time to ask people way smarter than I am (Hi, Tyler Gulden!) what the problem might be and how to fix it.
So, now I have a sunny Sunday afternoon off, with just a tiny nagging worry that I might have to invest in a new burner. It's pushing 50°, and in February in Maine, it's criminal to let such a day go to waste.
One advantage of a Maine winter is the joy of watching birds at the feeder. Not only do we get a greater variety, but they are more clearly visible against to backdrop of the snow. My morning routine involves a stop at the picture window to smile at my little friends, who have no idea or capacity to wonder who their benefactor is; they are the poster children for living in the moment.
I have two of those plastic tube type feeders - super cheap & functional, the birds love them - a thistle
Oops, thistle sock is empty!
We'll have to settle for sunflower seeds
seed sock that's always covered with finches, and a suet cage that the squirrels already know how to open. I have dedicated squirrel feeder as well but do they appreciate it? Noooooo.)
All those are fine, but lacking something in the aesthetic department. "You know what I'd love?" I asked myself. "A handmade feeder. But they are so expensive!"
Because they are cool and fun and always up for something new, I decided to do this as a project with my handbuilding class. This feeder is constructed of two pinch pots - the body, and the tray - and a slab roof. There's a hole through the bottom and the lid, through which a leather cord is threaded, allowing the feeder to hang, and allowing water to drain out so the seed doesn't rot.
One important feature are small slabs attached on the interior above the openings through which the seed falls. Without these the seed will just flow out, like a bucket with a hole in it! The feeder is of an unglazed brown stoneware, brushed with red iron oxide - fully mature stoneware does not need glaze to make it impervious to water.
I think I will add a version of this piece to my spring line. My next step is to work out this design as a thrown form. I think it would need to be 3 parts: tray, body, and lid. I could throw the tray and body as one piece, but that would make cutting the seed holes harder.
I'll try it both ways.
Also, not sure the leather cord is the best solution. It looks nice, especially with the iron-brown surface, but might it rot, or fray? This is, of course, the purpose of a prototype, to get the bugs out. Though hopefully there aren't any bugs in there, yuck. Another advantage of winter, I suppose: at least there's no bugs.
Today is mean to be a cleaning day - and boy does my house need it! - but I feel this new design calling me into the studio.
So, remember last year when I came back from NCECA & made myself a damp box? (Quick reminder: it's just a rubbermaid container with a lid, from the supermarket, with about an inch of plaster in the bottom.)
I had mostly been using it to help students - often they pull handles and then don't have time to attach them in the three hour class period, but the damp box will easily preserve a handle until next week's class. In December I made a bunch of press-molded buttons and pendants, stored them in the damp box...and then promptly forgot about them.
Today - yet another snow day, no drought this year! - I was cleaning up my studio. Well: cleaning is maybe an exaggeration. I was picking things up from one place and putting them down in another, and I came upon the long-forgotten damp box full of buttons. They are as wet as they were when they went in. In fact, I am having to leave them uncovered for a while, because they are a bit too wet to finish the edges and backs. I'll finish these off, then drill the holes: tiny, 32nd/ inch holes for buttons, bigger, 16th/ inch holes for pendants.
Best part: I did the work so long ago, it feels like a bonus, like when you find money in the pocket of a coat you haven't worn in a while. 😎😎😎😎😎
During our most recent Snowpocalypse, I felt the sudden urge to make soap! Today was the big reveal:
I was a little worried due to a mishap that occurred in the making - I had gotten it all poured, with all the swirls and flourishes just how I wanted them, and then realized I'd forgotten to add the fragrance. There followed some frantic pouring and mixing (and spilling) and re-pouring, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the finished batch, but all in all I'm quite pleased.
The scent is After the Storm, and I'm hard-pressed to describe it...it's very fresh and clean. If I say, it smells like a patch of violets in the air after a thunderstorm, I sound ridiculously corny but that's as close as I can get.
Snow again here today (six inches, or what we call a "dusting" here in Maine) and then Snowmaggedon Sunday and Monday. Every time we have a major storm, it lands on a class day! This winter is getting expensive. I try to make up for it by getting into the studio and making pots every snow day but while that does represent income, payment is deferred until I finish and sell those pots.
Anyway! This soap, After the Storm, needs time to cure. It will be available March 9th (right around the time the first crocus greens will be up!) and you can be sure I'mm share the link to purchase here.
I've heard some people clean their homes, on a snow day. I take the opportunity to make an additional mess.
Soap mess before
I was thinking of firing today, but when it came time to candle I wasn't 100% sure that my Thursday class would be cancelled - which would mean I couldn't fire. Also, I was snug and warm in bed & didn't want to go out in the cold to turn the burners on. 😄
Instead, I dug out my tools and materials and made a batch of soap. It's been a year or so since I had the urge, and I had to concentrate a bit to remember the steps. Just when I had the swirls the way I wanted, the molded gold stars in place....I realized I hadn't added the scent. Nobody wants an unscented soap! Well - dogs do, But that's another recipe.
So, I scooped it all out of the mold, put it back in the crock, added the scent, divided it into two batches, added more colorant, started to make new swirls...and dumped a tub of it all over the
Soap mess after - and a Fine Mess it is, too
counter. I started scooping like mad to get it off the counter before it started to harden, because then cleaning it up would be a nightmare...and in the process smeared it on my arms under the rubber gloves. Lye burns don't suck as bad as you might think, but they don't feel good, either. 😕
I had enough to fill one mold, and half of another. This was fine as the second one was destined to become color inserts in future batches, anyway. The shade of purple is a bit redder than I had in mind; I hope I am remembering correctly that this colorant continues to develop as the lye reaction occurs. It maybe more in the violet range tomorrow morning.
The scent is After the Storm, which is meant to have lighter and darker purple swirls, with some gold mica streaks, but with all the pouring and re-pouring and mixing, who knows what is will be? It'll smell nice, that much I do know, because my whole house smells nice now. I'll have to wait until morning for the rest of my answers.
We got snow yesterday and last night, enough that I cancelled my Tuesday classes. We are forecast to get snow - big snow, actually - tomorrow. Today, though, it's in the mid-40s and sunny: perfect kiln loading weather.
I had to dig out the kiln from yesterday's storm first, of course. Not to mention the driveway.
So, funny story! When I shovelled out my driveway. I pushed some of the snow into the parking lane on my street. Not a lot, and certainly not into the travel lane, but I don't have a snow blower, and sometimes it's hard to find places to put the snow, as we get later in the winter. We are the only ones who ever use the parking spot in front of our house, so no harm, no foul, right? Wrong.
Turns out it is illegal to put your snow in the parking lane. How do I know this? Because some very responsible citizen called the cops on me. No lie. The officer was very nice, and quite apologetic. even; he even stayed to help me push the snow back into a more acceptable configuration. It could have been a sour experience but the young man was so nice it wasn't, at all.
Anyway! Back to the firing.
This load is mostly refires and pots that were already glazed but didn't fit into my last firing. This will be the first firing since I added and additional layer of brick to the stack, to increase the draw, so will be the tell whether one layer was enough. If not, I'll be hauling my cowardly ass back up the ladder and onto the roof to pile on one more course. Be afraid, do it anyway: good advice.
Weather forecasts are sometimes wrong, and storm predictions are often overblown, so I am not sure how tomorrow is going to go. If it looks like big snow, I will cancel my Thursday class and fire at home. I hope it doesn't - rescheduling classes is inconvenient, for me and for students. But on the other hand there is no better way to spend a snow day than firing a kiln. My favorite kind of situation: win-win.
A few weeks ago I started a project that has been on my list for over a decade: replacing the address numbers on my house. Finally, the finished result!
I'm delighted with them, although if you look close at the photo you can see the top 1 is broken - I was careless in transporting them green, and that's what happens. I decided to go ahead and use it anyway, because after waiting 10+ years I didn't want to wait another firing cycle.
The lady at the hardware store where I bough the screws suggested I sell these. An obvious idea, I guess, but not one that I thought of. Whaddaya think, $10 per number, limited selection of colors. four week turnaround...would it be worth suspending my no-custom-orders rule?
Just wanted to share something fun I have been demonstrating in my classes this week: an underglaze decorating technique involving carving through a layer of wax to create an image and low relief texture at the same time.
It starts with bonedry greenware. Bone dry is better than late leather hard only because the water-based wax resist dries faster. I brush on a layer of wax; water-based wax resist is better than paraffin because it is less brittle, but either one will work. (Optionally, you could paint your intended design on the greenware with food coloring first, if you don't want to freehand it.) It needs to dry completely, which will take a little longer on greenware than it does on bisqueware. The rest goes like this:
Carve thru wax and into the clay with a sgraffito tool
Brush on underglaze
Wipe excess off with sponge
Do it some more...
This piece will get some more carving on the lid, then I will re-cover it with wax, allow it to dry, and then repeat the process with a different color of underglaze; I'm thinking white. It will be bisqued, which will burn away the wax, and then either glazed with a transparent stoneware glaze - maybe celadon - or I might just let the soda vapor do its thing.
Can't say I am sorry to see that dratted Fire Monkey make his exit. Bye-bye, Fire Monkey, don't let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya. Truth be told the Fire Monkey kicked my ass. The year of the Fire Rooster brings better things! It portends an increase in civility, which will be a welcome change, and promises we'll see "maximum integrity." Seems like that is already underway.
The good news is that I was born in the year of the Dragon - the Wood Dragon, to be exact. (I know
Looking forward to this! Of course, I don't expect the Rooster to do all the work. I have been more energized in the last few weeks (The lexapro has helped! Which I couldn't get without the ACA. Just sayin'.) Positive events and career progress don't just happen by themselves, with or without the help of mythical beasts. Like all goals, they require planning; I hark back to my favorite inspirational quote: "A goal without a plan is just a wish."- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Now is a good time as any to start setting those goals and making those plans. Goal Setting 2017
Rebuild my inventory. That's job one. The rest all depends on this. To that end, I will block out my glaze firings, to give me a framework in which to schedule other aspects of production.
Start sending out a newsletter! I actually spent the bucks - AND YOU KNOW HOW I HATE TO DO THAT - for Publisher, to reify this. The right tools matter, and I tried dinking around with OpenOffice to get this done last year, and it didn't go well.
This actually needs to be an annual event, but it doesn't get done unless I type it out, so: I need to review my accounts, decide which are performing well as is, which consignment accounts would be better as wholesale, and which, sadly, are not making money for either of us.
Get a truck! This is a biggie and a toughie. It's been an obstacle to doing art fairs for a while, so I decided to do it in reverse: apply for a fair I want to do, which will then force me to get a truck to make it happen! Of course, I might not get in the fair, there's never a guarantee; but either way I need a truck. I have my eye on a real vintage doozie, but any truck (that runs) is better than no truck.
That's probably enough. I have not forgotten that pushing myself too hard resulted in the Great Burnout of 2016, so will continue to build in self-care. I'm kind of excited that there is now a yoga studio in downtown Augusta, just a half mile from my house! I can't afford to go every week - most weeks I only have $15 (or less) discretionary income, and a yoga visit is $12 - but I promise myself to get there once or twice a month. Welcome, Fire Rooster, and be blessed, my muddy buddies. 💙
Lori Keenan Watts (aka me) is a potter, gardener, and avid reader from Augusta, Maine. Though I started my university education in surface design for fabric, clay quickly grabbed me by the heart and redirected my creative impulses. I have been a potter for over 25 years -- hard to believe. The most valuable years of my ceramic education were spent in graduate study at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, under the tutalage of Dan Anderson and Paul Dresang.
My aesthetic is guided by my love of the material itself. What fascinates me and makes a pot compelling for me is the clay-ness of clay: the squooshiness that becomes the adamantine solidity. I also like patterns, unexpected proportions, and when the flame comes along and dissolves part of my careful decorating efforts! I am obstinate about this aesthetic, to a point which might be called pig-headed, but hey, if you don't like what you make, why bother?
My happy little family also includes my husband, musician and photographer (and author of the book Alewife) Doug Watts; five cats; and a turtle, all foundlings and rescues of one stripe or another.