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. 😕