Monday, December 31, 2018

RIP Warren MacKenzie

Just read that Warren MacKenzie passed away this morning. He was and will continue to be a great inspiration to thousands of potters and ceramic artists, and a towering example of a life well lived.

Rest well, giant.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

In the Nineteen

Longtime readers will know that I am fond of the week between Christmas and New Years': the hullabaloo surrounding Christmas has died down, but we are not yet back into the regular routine. It's a tiny little slice of calm which I call the Week of Reflection. I use it to think about the passing year's successes and failures, and what I would like to accomplish in the coming year.

I do this both personally and professionally; there's a great deal of overlap between them, for me. In 2018, I think I could have hustled harder! (No point doing this if I'm not going to be honest with myself.) I'm not especially good at time management at the best of times, and this past year was definitely not the best of times. The world is on fire, and it distracted me a bit! Sometimes in good ways - I spent a lot of time writing postcards to voters - and sometimes in just time-wasting ways - reading new websites and twitter for far longer than is useful. Then I read pottery blogs & Pinterest to soothe myself.

That's always been a pitfall for me, actually, but I just recently found a way around it that I haven't tried before, that seems to be working: A FitDesk!
It creates kind of a win-win situation: the longer I noodle around online, the better workout I get. If I don't feel like working out, I'm going to have to find something constructive to do.
I know there's a logical leap in there - there are lots of ways to waste time that don't involve a computer - but those don't tend to be traps that I fall into. It seems to be working! I don't even have to put "Gym" or "workout" on my to-do list - it just happens. So I'm excited to start the New Year with a new good habit already in place.

I also treated myself to one more little gift: a mopping robot! I am a tidy person by nature (yes, I know, I made a strange professional choice) and two people, six cats, a turtle, and a pottery studio are more conducive to mess than cleanliness. Dirt is distracting to me (to a point! I like to say I 'm neat but not a neat freak) but cleaning is basically an infinite job. Now when I start to stress out, I can put the mobot to work and forget about it. The house is cleaner, I save time, and my mind is at ease.

There's lots more I have to reflect on, in the brief time I have left in the week; most especially I have to set business goals. I am feeling tempted to make a change, in the form of a me out of it!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Then There Were Six

Hey, pull up a chair! Pour yourself a coffee (in a handmade mug!) & tell me what's new with you. Me? Making pots, trying like hell to sell them; teaching classes, still at Portland Pottery & now at Hallowell Clay Works; and - oops - got a new cat.

That makes 6.

Skinny Cat joined out family in October. We've known him for about a year & a half - he was a neighbor's cat who just liked to hang out on our deck when it was sunny. Somewhere near the end of August/ beginning of September, we noticed the cat we referred to as "skinny cat" (to differentiate him from "scruffy cat," "little gray cat," and "chubby cat," all neighborhood visitors) was not looking too good. He was now VERY skinny, with scabs under patchy fur. Shortly after that we noticed that he wasn't actually going home anymore; at night he just found a hiding place in our garage.

Doug went over & knocked on the neighbor's door, meaning to ask them if they were missing their cat...and they had moved away. Without Skinny! We called the shelter, thinking maybe on moving day they hadn't been able to find him, though that seemed a long shot - they never came over & asked if we'd seen him, even though they knew our deck was a favorite spot of his.

We spent six weeks trying to find a home for him, and in the meantime tried to make the garage comfy. Doug often smokes out in the garage, so he and Skinny spent a lot of time together. By the time I was able to persuade someone to take him, it was too late! They had bonded. Doug's mother has been ill & it has generally been a pretty stressful time for him, so I decided: if one more cat provides him with some comfort, is that really too much to ask?

It's not.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Like most of you, the last thing I need is more pottery. Also like most of you, I adore using other potters' work! On Thursday - opening night of Portland Pottery's annual Holiday Show & Sale, I became enchanted with a mug & just couldn't resist. The potter is Janna Dewan (follow her on Instagram at @JannaLikeBanana ), the clay is earthenware, the vibe is....melancholy circus? Minor-key carnival? Can't quite describe it but it's that tension that appeals to me, the rollicking, busy decorative marks, toned down with a somber wash of black underglaze.

Merry Christmas to me. And to you.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Mind the Gaps

One of the themes I keep returning to with this blog is the business of art. Like artistic talent, people often think business sense is an inborn trait, but, also like talent, is actually a set of skills you can learn.
I can't say I have learned them yet, but I keep trying! One thing I have learned is to maximize output vs cost. That sounds so dreary and dry! But it can be fun, like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle. In the case of firing, the cost is propane, via kiln space. Fill as much of the kiln space as I can without compromising the ware (a logic problem of its own) and my cost per piece goes down. Fill it with something fun to make, and charming and easy to sell, and I've got myself a win-win-win. 

I do love to make these mini-bottles! I throw them off the hump and can get myself into a very relaxing, almost hypnotic rhythm. I've just finished glazing them with dots, stripes, and curliques, a simple and fun task like filling in a coloring book. They fit in the space between the bowls and butter dishes, that would otherwise be wasted. When they emerge from the kiln - god willin and the creek don't rise - they will be like jelly beans or gumdrops, sweet and full of bright cheery appeal. I find that sometimes a person who doesn't feel like spending $60 on a bowl still wants to take something of the day home with them...sometimes that person will be happy to spend $15 on a tiny little bottle. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

White Tea & Bamboo

The Fine Mess online store will be open for just 5 more days this season! I will close the store on the 12th, to guarantee any orders will arrive in time for Christmas, and because I have a show on the 13th for which I will need the pieces. I just listed a new soap - check it out here!
To order, click here

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Apple Green Conversion

It's been a couple of years since I expanded my glaze palette. Mixing glazes is not my favorite thing to do (if it's yours, please let me know! 😄 You might be utterly unique.) The glaze kitchen tends to get cluttered up with bikes and gardening equipment, so I have to clear it out before I even begin. Every firing seems to be pushed against a time limit (and whose fault is that?) so adding an additional task - mixing a test glaze - isn't feasible. But! I am starting to get antsy for new colors & surfaces. The green in currently have I rarely use - it's a little dark for the candy-coated vibe of my ware. This, though: this promises apple green! That would be right up my alley.

It's not currently chemically quite right for soda; and I will want to do a ^6 conversion on it also, to have both possibilities. I am doing a lot less ^6 these days - I find the soda glass itself is just not quite as luscious, somehow, so I've been unwilling to quit ^10 entirely. Keeping two sets of glazes and two sets of claybodies is actually something of a strain on the space limitations of my studio, in addition to the ever-present risk of getting a piece or a glaze in the wrong firing, with results either disappointing or disastrous, depending on which way it goes. Right now I fire to ^6 for a couple of orders, both of which have more glazed ares and less bare clay or flashing slip. It works well for these,but one of the questions I need to answer in the new year is whether it's worth the storage space & the risks.

I look forward to the Week of Reflection to decide this and other questions.

The easier conversion, obviously, is the one to make this glaze (hopefully!) appropriate for soda firing. It has the necessary percentage of whiting, so I would only need to replace some of the silica with boron. There's a goodly amount of silica in this recipe, too: 28%. I am thinking to switch out 3% of it with boron and run it up the flagpole. ETA: NOPE

Which is to say, run it through the glaze calculation software & see what  it turns up.

Here's the recipe as-is, which I got from Claybucket

Coleman Apple Green
Cone: 9 – 10
Color: transparent green
Surface: glossy
Firing: reduction
Recipe:    (percent)
Whiting …………… 17.95
Custer Feldspar …. 43.59
EPK …………………. 10.26
Flint …………………. 28.20
Totals:        100 %
Also add:
Chrome Oxide ………  0.25
Red Iron Oxide ……… 0.77
Here's how it looks when Elaine Coleman uses it over porcelain:

Here's the recipe with the alteration I hope will adapt it for soda, with the changes highlighted:

Apple Green for soda
Cone: 9 – 10
Color: transparent green
Surface: glossy
Firing: reduction

Recipe:    (percent)
Whiting …………… 16
Gerstley Borate............1.95
Custer Feldspar …. 42.59
EPK …………………. 11.26
Flint …………………. 28.20

Totals:        100 %

Also add:
Chrome Oxide ………  0.25
Red Iron Oxide ……… 0.77

Now, this recipe also has a large percentage of potash feldspar (Custer Spar) at 43%. It's probably worth trying a 1-for-1 substitution of Custer for Neph Sy - that might be enough (again, GlazeMaster might have something to say about it.) If that doesn't do the trick itself, I'll have to remind myself which frits are best for these colorants and for soda.

The first mix is on my to-do list for today; I'll be testing it in my own kiln next week and in the Portland Pottery stoneware kiln as well, so I can see how it performs without the influence of soda.
Photos next week!
After all this, I decided it would be smart to mix it as-is first, because every now & then a glaze surprises me & does just fine in soda. 

*Why why why doesn't spellcheck know the word "celadon?" I mean "tenmoku" & "shino" I get but celadon is just the name of a color. 😕

Friday, November 30, 2018

One Thing I Love About Potters

We are endlessly resourceful! When I arrived at Hallowell Clay Works yesterday to teach my Beginning Throwers, I found that Malley had devised an ingenious solution to thoroughly mixing her terra sigilata overnight:

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

When October Goes

The great Barry Manilow captured the melancholy of late October, as we spin into the dark half of the year. My wallow in that bittersweet feeling needs to be brief, however, because October's end means a very busy time in the studio.

First, I've got new pots in the online shop! Here are a couple of my special favorites:
Got several nice butter dishes out of the last firing! Check this one out at this link

Several sweet little sugar bowls too! Check this one out at this link.

Three big beautiful vases available too! Check this one out at this link
The online store will be open & adding new items every week until the first week in December. 

I'm also preparing for the opening of the Holiday Pottery Shop, which opens in about two weeks. This year the shop is at 160 Water Street in Hallowell. OMG you should see this big beautiful space!! It's the site of the former Harlow Gallery, and has me musing about renting it to open a year 'round store, after the Holiday Pottery Shop pops back down. That's probably little more than a daydream could work. There's space in the back for a wheel & work table & even an electric kiln to bisque, so I wouldn't lose studio could work....

ANYWAY. I've got enough to think about in the present. Orders, consignment stores that need inventory, oh and....

A new cat!

I didn't really mean to get a sixth cat! Actually I tried pretty hard not to get a sixth cat, but cats happen, especially to me. SkinnyCat has been hanging around our house for about a year & a half - he was our neighbors' cat, although they seemed to be a little rough with him; they had small children and Skinny was always limping or seeming injured. Around the beginning of September, we started to notice that Skinny was not looking too good: he was even skinnier, was losing fur and covered with scabs. Then we noticed that he wasn't going home anymore, he was just living in our shed. When we walked over to speak to his people, their apartment was vacant! They had moved away without SkinnyCat! We'd been leaving food out for him anyway, but we started making sure he got two meals a days & had a safe warm place to sleep in the shed while we looked for someone to take him. I actually did find someone willing to take him, but it took about 6 which time my husband Doug had really bonded with Skinny, who is an affectionate little lap cat. He (Doug, not SkinnyCat) just looked at me and said, "I don't think I can let him go."

Doug's mother is very ill, & the whole family is having a hard time with it; if one more cat provides him with some comfort, that seems a small ask. So here we are, introducing SkinnyCat to his new family.

Anyway that's my autumn so far! How's yours?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The New Messy Minute is out!

Hey all - long time no post! I'd say sorry but honestly I'm probably the only one who notices. 😊 Hoping you are having a fabulous fall. I just sent out the Fine Mess Newsletter, the Messy Minute - you can sign up for the mailing list by emailing me at To check out the Messy Minute in .pdf form, click here. [ETA: A reader clued me in that that .pdf opens as 127 pages long! They are all the same page, but even so it takes like 40 seconds to open. I have no idea why that happened; I built it in Publisher & saved it as a .pdf, nothing fancy. Anyway, you can still read it there if you want, or just shoot me an email & I'll send it to you. ]

I missed a couple of editions, but hopefully back on track now!

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Workshop Adventure!

Just wanted to offer a heads' up about what looks like an amazing workshop featuring Maine's own Tim Christensen in Palermo, Sicily!

In this exciting and multifaceted class, participants will learn two different, though related, media and techniques: Black and white sgraffito on porcelain, and dry point etching on PET resin. We will focus on the skies and sea of Sicily, working outside as much as possible to capture the light drenched and ever-shifting natural beauty of this enchanted place. Artists will leave with bisque-fired porcelain pieces suitable for display or further firing, and stabilized for travel, as well as a number of plates for printing. If time allows, artists will learn to wipe and pull prints from their plates. Artists should expect to be able to make one completed sgraffito piece or etched plate per day of class. All tools and materials will be provided, and of course bring your own tools if you have favorites! This will be a fun exploration of technique, with a special focus on strengthening visual memory skills.

The venue, Casa Pergola, is owned by two friends of mine, Paul Mahoney and David Henderson, both artists and American ex-pats. I watched long distance as they transformed the former olive mill into a beautiful destination villa with handcrafted details in every corner. Paul & David are fun & funny, charming & talented, and their company a,one would make the trip worthwhile.

I so so wish I could attend this workshop...but next best thing would be you going & coming back to tell us all about it.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Late Night Company

The weeks leading up to an art fair usually involve some late nights in the studio. Last night was one, as I try to squeeze out one more firing before the Common Ground Fair. My summer studio is outside, and I never know who will drop by: raccoon, skunk, even an opossum once. They are hard to photograph - mammals mostly have the good sense to skedaddle once they're spotted.

Last night I moved a toolbox out of my way and discovered this praying mantis whiling away the evening & listening to the Savage Lovecast with me. Honestly if anyone could use Dan Savage's advice, it's a praying mantis.

I was charmed by her steady gaze, as though she were as interested in me as I was in her. Sorry there's no object in the photo to give you a sense of scale; I didn't want to spook her. A mantis is a pretty big bug; this one was about 4 inches long. I relocated her shortly after the photo, despite her obvious charisma - I didn't want to have to worry about accidentally squishing her.

I finished up some Jaunty Jars last night, trimmed a few bowls, decorated some tall vases; today I'll throw small things to fill the firing. It's my last day to make stuff for this bisque, and I intend to make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

All the Pretty Cones

They will be prettier once they are all lying down, of course, but it's hard to get a photo of them, then! The pots, too, are never so beautiful as when they are glowing with the heat that creates them. All those little knobs belong to sugar bowls, and all those sugar bowls are coming with me to the Portland Fine Crafts show on Saturday. Come see me in Booth 69!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What Do You Do While the Kiln is Firing?

Me, I clean. There are some logical reasons for that - the studio is never more empty than when all the ware is in the kiln - and some squishier ones, like for some reason I just can't make myself start a new making cycle in the midst of the old one. NO OVERLAP, it's some kind of brain-cramp of a rule that I can't get past. So, I clean.

Sometimes I clean my house. Often I clean my studio - see above. Sometimes I drag all the random crap that has drifted into the shed like seaweed on a beach, throw three-quarters of it away, and then organize the rest. It's lucky I have firing days, because some stuff only happens then.

Today I had a flea infestation to address. As you may know, I live in the House of Many Cats, not entirely accidentally. We apply flea preventative medications regularly, but fleas do love hot, humid weather, and I found one on Finn McCool just yesterday - only two weeks after he'd had his monthly treatment. Time for drastic action! Which means, time to close the cats up in bedrooms, drag all the furniture into the kitchen, and shake Borax on all the carpets to kill flea eggs. It has to sit for a few hours before getting vacuumed up, so I still had time to do dishes & laundry & all my regular cleaning stuff as well. I did straighten the studio a bit as well, and re-arranged things so it's easier to glaze in there. Maybe that's why I don't like crossing the streams - I use the space differently during the glazing part of the cycle.

The bisque is nearly done now, and Doug & I will settle down to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

I love Groot, don't you?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

'Tis the Season - for Raku!

I never tire of glowy-kiln images! I am always the one with the tongs, so not in  position to appreciate the visual spectacle while it is happening; I'm busy making sure all the pots survive the journey & no one gets burned. That's me, there, in the silver jacket & face shield. I know lots of people who raku without all the protective gear, and I will never be one of them! Just call me snowflake, I see no reason to be in pain if it can easily be avoided.

The photo above was taken after about half the pots were out.

We got some lovely pots out of the firing! I find I get better results if I don't try to cram as many pots as possible into the kiln: fewer pots means I don't have to hurry before the last ones cool off. I can take my time & position the pieces in the sawdust in a way that will benefit them, instead of just however they land. For example, bowls should be place rim down in the combustible pile! Copper lustres will turn bright & metallic, and all glazes will avoid the unfortunate crusty texture that comes with getting sawdust (or dry leaves or newspaper or whatever) in the puddle of still-molten glaze inside a bowl. Here are a few results, with thanks to Holly Johnson of Hurricane Mountain Pottery for all the photos I used today.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

TTFN, Pottery Stairs!

Just checking in with my pottery peeps! It's been a month or so since I posted, and in that time I have been busily making. Wholesale is all delivered for the season, and my next event is not until the end of August, but I am (for once!) not waiting until the last possible second.

And of course there are also consignment outlets to keep full.

Usually in the summer I would have a steady drip of income from the Pottery Stairs, but things have gone awry this year. While theft has always been factored in to the cost of my honor-system stand - occasionally someone would take an envelope & not send the money, or even every once in a while an outright theft of a piece or two - this year it's crazy. Like, every day a couple of pieces just disappear. Even when people took envelopes, which I take as meaning they intend to pay, only one of four envelopes returned to me with payment.
The Pottery Stairs in better days

While it's tempting to see this as further evidence that the world is getting shittier, I think two things account for the change. The outright thefts - someone just seeing something they like & taking it - are probably one person, or maybe two, together. The payments that never arrive are probably due to economic strains: people intend to pay, but every pay period, that pottery envelope is the least important thing, until it falls behind the radiator and is forgotten. Gas, oil, power, and food costs have all risen. Augusta's not a wealthy city, and real wages have fallen particularly hard in rural areas since last summer. People are hurting.

Whatever the cause, for now there's a moratorium on the Pottery Stairs. It's not just the loss of product - these are seconds, so any cash that comes in from them is essentially found money - but it bums me out. And with only one of four envelopes coming back with payment, it's not worth the hit my mood takes when the thefts occur; no one like to be stolen from, however minor the loss. So it's Ta-Ta For Now, Pottery Stairs.

Was that a bummer? Could you use a cute cat pic to cheer you up? If so, here is a cute cat pic:
Jack (orange), Petey (grey), Noodle (white w/ black) & Finn (black w white)

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Real Test

Though I have already successfully fired a bisque under the newly repaired arch, it hardly counts as a test. I could bisque in a trash can, with some minor modifications, or in a hole in the ground ( I actually have done that.) Today I am unloading the first glaze firing!

I am a bit nervous about it, because even small changes to the kiln can affect the way it fires - and in addition to patching up the arch, I made a couple of other changes. I dropped the height of the bag wall one course. I used to need the extra height, or the soda would get sucked straight out the flue - this little kiln used to draw like a mad bastard. When I rebuilt the stack (2 summers ago? ) I built it one course smaller, which - I hoped - would diminish the draw a little. I'm only just now getting around to testing that idea, because the kiln was firing so beautifully I didn't want to rock the boat. If I can fire successfully with a lower bag wall, though, that will increase the stacking space, which will increase my yield: I'll get more pots & therefore more money, for the same amount of propane.

Assuming, of course, it works out. Let's see what we've got:

First peek looks good! My big fear - that the top half of the kiln would be pasty & dry - is alleviated. Now to go lower; we'll be looking for good coverage there as well, and hoping hoping for no major cool spots. 

w00t! Still looks good!

At that point I stopped taking photos, but here's the scoop: Most of the load was really good, but the bottom layer was a little cool. Probably salable, but they will be much better pots if I refire them, and really I lost almost none of this load to the usual mishaps: soda drops, random cracks, little hunks of kiln shit landing in bowls, so I don't mind pulling a few to get a jump on my next firing. So, mostly good news! I think if I had laid ^10 down flat, that would have been just enough to bring the bottom layer the rest of the way. 

Some of these are for a standing order (YAY STANDING ORDERS!) but most will be coming with me to the Center for Maine Craft tomorrow, where I will have my own mini pop-up shop from 10 to 3. Come see me! The Center is located at the travel plaza in West Gardiner - take exit 51 if you are coming north on 295. 
See you there! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Shapes & Colors of June

The flowers of mid-June make the best bouquets! The enormous raspberry heads of peony, the delicate deep purple shapes of Siberian Iris, the fizzy lemonade froth of Lady's Mantle. All easy to grow, too,  at least here in Maine.

I made the little pitcher that serves here as a vase. As often happens, it was unappreciated when it came out of the kiln - many more immediately eye-catching pots came out of the same firing, and it was overshadowed. Over time it's quietly served its functions, and become a favorite. Like people, you get to know pots slowly.

Happy June, the second-best month in Maine - the best being September, but it's a tight call.

Friday, June 15, 2018

OM4 70 Neph Sy 30

Testing a new flashing slip recipe - I kind of just made it up, with crowdsourced suggestions. Let's do it.

Results to follow next week.

Kiln repair went well, I am unloading the bisque today. More info about that (for the kiln geeks among you - I love you, kiln geeks! 💙) soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Jacked Up

OMG I think this is going to work...sort of, anyway.
I propped the arch for on four jackposts, high enough to lift the weight of the arch from the walls. This allowed me to straighten the walls a little and pop in the fallen brick. I couldn't completely correct the spread tho - I'd need to pull down the walls for that. I might do that next summer but for now I need to get this kiln working again - I have orders to complete. So! Because the walls had spread, there was an inch & a half gap in the front ring of the arch, and a much narrower wedge of gap in the second ring.

Solution? Castable.

On the suggestion of my friend Tyler Gulden - let me here put in a 100% sincere plug for him: if you have a few bucks to hire your kiln built, he's the guy you want, and his services are affordable to the point of ridiculous!Anyway, on his suggestion I got a commercially produce high-alumina castble product called Noxcast 32, durable to 3200°F and non-reactive to soda. When I do my someday-rebuild, I am going to line the interior of the kiln with this stuff!

It comes in a 50 lb bag - way more than I need but whatev - and cost about 50 bucks. If it works it'll still be a bargain!

I needed it not to stick to the wooden arch form, so I melted paraffin wax & poured it into the gap, then heavily applied cooking spray. I mixed the castble into a thick-but-pourable consistency, then scooped & dribbled it between the brick until the space was filled.

 It will need to set overnight but by tomorrow AM I should know if we are good to go!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It's Fine, I'm Sure It's Fine

That's what I keep telling myself, but I'm not sure I 100% believe it.  Like a lot of repairs, the kiln has to get worse before it can get better, freaking me out a little bit every step of the way. I had to (of course, but still) remove some of the brick around the doorway in order that the arch form fit in, and though I was pretty careful to stack the brick exactly as they were in the doorway part of me wonders if I will be able to put them back correctly. Half-assedness is so ingrained in my nature that even when I try to be meticulous a fair amount of half-assery slips in.

It doesn't help that I am making this up as I go along. The Kiln Book covers building an arch but not repairing one without taking the whole thing down & starting again. My consolation is, if this doesn't work, taking it down & starting again is always an option.

It's clearer than ever how much the walls have spread. Note to self & all other kiln builders: next time, make holes for two tie rods: when one breaks, the other will hold long enough to replace the broken one. Just think, for the 5 minutes it would have taken to drill 2 additional holes I could have avoided all this work, if not forever, at least for several years.

I've now completed the easy to figure out how to jack up the form under the brick. It may be that my plan to support the center, just enough to pop in the missing brick, will need revisiting; possibly there is no way to do this without pushing up the whole arch. Right now the plan is to use a pair of jack posts to hold the form in place while I do the repair. Will let you know how it goes.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Speaking of Arches

Photo by Monica Hurley Lawson
My husband & I recently traveled to his home state of Massachusetts. His mother is in the hospital recovering from a fractured femur. While there we visited War Memorial Park in West Bridgewater, where we saw this amazing dry-stacked stone arch bridge. The stones of the central arch are interleaved with the arches on either side, and each relies on the others to buttress its weight. Each span is about 15 feet wide.  Delicate little snowflake that I am, I am groaning about building an arch with bricks cut specifically to fit the form; the builders of this bridge had to make random flat fieldstones fit. I am awed and delighted by the craftsmanship that went into this structure.

Photo by Doug Watts
These arches have been standing for almost 200 years! Would that my kiln arch were so sturdy. (Yes, I know, apples to oranges, comparing the durability of a barrel arch to a spring arch.)

Speaking of, the baby step I took today on that project was to take down the bag walls, which I had to do with a sledge hammer, they were so thoroughly glazed together. Next I will build a 2x4 frame to place the arch form on; then I will lift the form up with a pair of jackposts to remove the weight of the arch from the walls. Taking down the bag walls was a small step, but the day was not wasted; we devoted most of it to gardening - got our raised beds full of compost, bought some hot pepper seedlings, and watered a new patch of lawn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Progress in Progress

Did I mention I hate kiln building in all its forms? But I do love me some feeling of accomplishment. I've had to break down the task of repairing my arch into extremely tiny baby steps - re-read the chapter, take the measurements, look up the table, buy the plywood, and so on - which is my strategy for dealing with jobs that I dread doing. After enough steps are done the job begins to gain some momentum, and working on it gets easier.

So it is with my arch form! The form is built, and now I need to get some 2 x 4s to prop it up under the remaining bricks of the arch.

Baby steps are all fine and good, but there is some time pressure here - it's almost June & stores are waiting on their summer orders. When I get tired of the whine of the saw & the thunk of the hammer, I retreat to the summer studio to throw. I estimate the repair will be completed by the end of the holiday weekend, and I hope to have enough to fill a bisque shortly after.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Bricks are Numbered

I build my kiln in 2010; not the first kiln I've ever built, but the first one that I've been the brains of the operation. I love every aspect of making pottery - the wetwork, obvs, that's easy to love, but also glazing and loading and firing. I even love mixing glazes, in a way: the methodical concentration necessary creates almost a meditative state that shuts down the shouting of the world. Somehow I have never come to love kiln building and maintenance! Maybe I just haven't done enough of it. That's what I tell my students when they tell me they don't like pulling handles (and I am right.)

Possibly about to put a few more hours of kiln building experience under my belt. For several weeks I approached my flattened-arch situation by walking out every day & staring at the loose bricks for a while and then going back in the house. Finally I decided to grab a mallet & try to tap the bricks back into place. I didn't actually think it would work - they dropped for a reason - but I knew it would either a) work or b) cause the loose bricks to fall, thus ending the endless indecision over whether I really needed to go through the whole tiresome business of building an arch form.

The answer, of course, is yes, yes I do need to go through the whole tiresome business, and at least I have got that clear now so I can begin.

Since I sort of expected this result - that the bricks would fall - I put some scrap insulating foam board inside the kiln, so they would hit the floor and break. As you can see, I have numbered the remaining brick so I can just put them back where they were - they aren't all the same, some are #1 arch brick, some are #2 [insert extremely childish LOL here], and some are straights. I don't want to have to figure it all out again, so I went to work with my trusty sharpie marker.

As you can see, it's a bonded arch, so entire sections don't fall if one brick gets loose

This job still seems intimidating, despite the helpful numeration, and the fact that I built this arch in the first place, so I need to break it down to baby steps:

  1. Measure span & rise...or I may have those values in an old blog post. 
  2. Do the math to arrive at the radius of the imaginary circle this arch would inscribe were it continued. 
  3. Get plywood & slats
  4. Draw the necessary fraction of the imaginary circle on the plywood, twice
  5. Cut 2 slats the depth of the interior of the kiln, and screw the plywood to the slats to properly space the arch supports
  6. Attach slats between the plywood forms, along the curve
  7. Profit!
  8. No wait
  9. Ugh that's enough for one day

So, that's my to-do list for tomorrow! Fun City.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Devices Fail Me

Hello, friends! Long time no post...not that I didn't want to! My laptop conked out at the least convenient time, just a week before the pottery tour. Not that there is ever a convenient time for such an occurrence.

(In spite of that the tour went well - we had about 60 visitors and a steady stream of sales all day. In asking participating studio for their results, it seems sales varied between less than $100 to over $2000. [Note to participating potters, for future tours: the first one to break 5K can buy me a beer. 😉] I can't point to anything specific to explain the disparity, though I know the top earning studios did do a ton of promotion.)

My laptop failure can be a learning experience for you all, at least! Remember my motto, I screw up so you don't have to?  Well, here's the lesson: don't plug your laptop into a zipcord. I live in an old house, with not enough power outlets. I used an extension cord so I could sit up in bed & read the news or watch Dr Who - or write blog posts! I used the first extension cord I put my hand on, a zip cord - the kind with only the two slots, no space for the ground wire. I also have an adapter to make it possible to plug a three-prong plug into a two-prong hole.

Yeah, don't do that...

While waiting for my laptop to return from St. Louis, where the Geek Squad sent it to be fixed - I hope it had fun, I love St. Louis, used to live there - I thought I'd buy the cheapest available option as a stopgap. I found a $98 tablet, decided I could use that for a couple of weeks, and then pass it on to Doug, who is still working on an iMac he bought in 2004. So I bought the Smarttab.

Yeah, don't do that either...

Turns out there's a reason why it's the cheapest tablet available...because it is, hmm, how you say?...a piece of shit. It loaded pages so slowly that the connection timed out. I brought it back for a refund the same afternoon. Instead I dug out my old laptop, which at least allowed me to receive & respond to emails, although web browsing was mostly either impossible or too slow and aggravating to be worth it.

My beloved Gray Lady also experienced a minor failure. Well. not so much a failure as one of those expected maintenance issues: brakes & shocks. You know you are going to need to replace brakes & shocks, you just don't know when. Again: just before the pottery tour was a super inconvenient time to be without my truck! Luckily Doug has a friend with an actual lift in his garage, and they did the repairs themselves. No waiting! And, buying parts at the auto parts store cost about a third of what the repair shop will charge you for them, so it was way, way less expensive than it would have been. Crisis averted.

My kiln also has been out of commission for a while due to a flattening arch. For several weeks I have been addressing this by staring at it, trying to decide how to begin or even if I really needed to do anything. Finally, during a slow stretch of the tour weekend, I decide to hit it with a mallet. My thinking was, either I can tap those bricks back into place, or they will fall and definitively answer the question of whether a repair is necessary at this time, or if I can put it off until things get worse.

The bricks fell, of course; but only 6 of them. Well: 3 whole bricks and three halves. So, arch repair it is. I dug out my Olsen and started reviewing the math. This afternoon I with my trusty mallet began removing the castable layer so that I could get to the arch from above. I have two possible plans: Either A) Build a support for the remaining bricks and drop the missing ones back into place, with spacers if necessary, then re-apply a casable layer (this is the minimal plan) or B) Since building the arch support is really the pain in the ass part, if I am doing that much anyway maybe I should just take the whole arch down, straighten the walls, and replace the angle iron frame with a thicker gauge - essentially floor-up rebuild. Or, hell, the floor is in worse shape than the walls, if I am doing that maybe I should replace those brick. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me want to go to bed & pull the covers over me.

Wow, this post got long! I have another machine-failure story to tell you - a tale of three lawn mowers - but perhaps I will save that for another day.

Friday, April 27, 2018


Remember this piece? I posted it a couple of weeks ago when it was leatherhard - I was playing around with some colorants in porcelain slip in class. I don't think of my demo pots as entirely "real;" I mean, I can see that they exist and are not imaginary! But they sort of don't count, as the purpose of them is to teach or explore an idea - the success or failure of the piece itself is incidental. In the case of this particular piece, I thought it was a bit too treacly-sweet for my taste, although I could see that it was the kind of piece that someone would love.

The kiln has done its magic, though, and made an okay pot into an intriguing one! There's no applied glaze on this piece, and no flashing slip either - all that hard shine is soda glass, and the charcoal coloration is all carbon trapping.

Got lots of good pots out of this firing - most will be available for the Maine Pottery Tour.

Ciao, my dears - more later.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chillin' at the 'Shed

Chillin' indeed; though the calendar says it's mid-April, the weather says it's more like the 109th of January. Nevertheless anytime is a good time to hang out at Watershed; it's a magic place where magic things happen. Well, sometimes.
I was firing at the 'Shed because the arch of my own kiln needs some work; after the last glaze firing, a tie rod broke and the arch spread a bit, causing a few brick to slip out of the curve, like snaggly teeth. this repair promises to be like a lot of jobs - begun is half done...but I haven't begun yet, and it's unlikely that I will before the Maine Pottery Tour. I did go ahead & bisque in it, with no noticeable difference. I am tempted to try a glaze fire, but I need to shoo that lazy demon off my shoulder, and listen to the angel on my other shoulder that says I might as well fix it instead wait until it causes a real problem.

Now you see 'em...
Now you don't!

I loaded & bricked up on Thursday, and fired on is technically my day of rest! HAHAHAHAHA as if. Today I am doing all the housecleaning that gets neglected when I am preparing to fire.

Some of the magic this visit was happening next door, at Straw's Farm,
where the spring lambs were doing whatever it is they do.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Harley, the Pottery Tour, and Other News

A couple of weeks ago I ran a little fundraiser to sponsor the adoption fee of a cat at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society. That cat - Harley - has found a home! When the world seems to be getting shittier and more hateful by the minute, it is a balm to do a kindness, however small. (Here's a lovely thread on some other good things happening in the world - just stumbled upon it while I was editing this post. Coincidence? I think so!)

This will definitely be a recurring event, but probably not again for several months; I am currently knee-deep in organizing the seventh incarnation of the Maine Pottery Tour. There are still some cat dishes left, though (including what I thought was the best one!) if you want to beat the rush.

Speaking of the Pottery Tour, you should come! 43 studios this year, all spiffying themselves up, making new work, and planning adventures for visitors. Check out a full list of studios at the website, or plan your pottery road trip with this online interactive map.

Though much of my time has been spent lately organizing this event, I am making new work! I just finished up some jaunty pitchers, and a couple of heavily slip-trailed baskets. I am hoping the action of the soda vapor will cut the sweetness a bit, like a pinch of salt (!) on a caramel.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Demo: Thrown Vase with Contrasting Clay Spirals

This was the demo I did for my Tuesday night class! A couple of notes about this:

  1. Clay matters! In addition to their contrasting colors, you want to use clay bodies that fire to the same temp (thanks, Captain Obvious!) and have approximately the same shrinkage rates. 
  2. No matter which two clay bodies you choose, let your vase dry slowly
  3. It's not shown on the video but after the vase became leatherhard, I trimmed the rim a bit. Adding the clay makes the center imperfect, so it came up doing a bit of a hula. I don't always think of irregularity as a flaw; I've been known to exhort my students to "Embrace the wonk!" In this case though it just seemed distracting. 
  4. The music quits about 2/3s of the way thru. Sorry about that! I could have spent more time tweaking it but decided the clay work was the important part. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine Pottery Tour 2018

For the past seven years, much of my time in the late winter & early spring has been occupied organizing the Maine Pottery Tour. This year the tour is bigger and better than ever, with more than 40 studios participating. You can see full list of Maine Pottery Tour studios here, and plan your pottery tour roadtrip with our online interactive map.

One of the more enjoyable tasks of this big job is designing the postcards. I want the cards to look nice, obviously, and to represent the three regions and the diversity of work on the tour. It's a tough balance, as I always have more images of amazing work than I can use, yet I need to have more than I can use to have a selection that fits together nicely. The image above is the postcard for the 2018 Maine Pottery Tour. Refrigerator worthy, you think? Watch your mailbox, and save the dates. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Good news & Good news

Last week I posted the second online the second fundraiser cat dish sale. It took a few days this time but I did manage to sell 10 cat bowls - enough so I could sponsor a cat's adoption fee at KVHS. That's the good news.

The other good news is that the cat I had planned to sponsor - Grizzle, who had been at the shelter since November, found his family before the sale was over! Which means I got to go in today & choose a different cat to sponsor.  Meet Harley!

Harley is a 7 year old spayed female, with medium-long gray fur. Her details state that her intake to the shelter was March 19th, but that was because she was returned to the shelter after a previous adoption. Harley needs a family with some patience for her slow, cautious adjustment. (Sounds like a not-atypical cat reaction to a new environment to me, tbh. Some cats hide for a while until they know they are safe. General Chamberlain stayed under the bed for 3 weeks! and then only emerged when I was in the room for a couple of months after that. Nevertheless he became one of the most affectionate cats I've known.)

If you've been thinking about getting a cat, here's a chance to take home this sweet girl for free!

Still a few dishes left! I can start building towards the next adoption sponsorship.