Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Some Things Never Change

This month archaeologists made an intriguing discovery at a dig near the Israeli city of Yavne: a site of an unusual number of kilns, and at the mouth of one of the, a small jug containing seven gold coins:
A hoard of seven ancient gold coins was found hidden inside a small clay juglet during a dig in the area of Yavne, in the central region of the country, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday.The coins date back to the Earlier Islamic period of the seventh-ninth centuries CE. They were found last week at the entrance to a kiln at the site.“This may be a potter’s personal savings,” the IAA said in a statement. The jug, which was partially broken, “may have been a piggy bank,” it said.
Seven coins. Sounds about right! My own personal clay bank contains more than seven coins, but not many, and none of them are gold; still the parallel remains. Part of my interest in ancient clay is the reminder that in so many ways, people are just people: so much in common even across millenia. 

The coins in Yavne were still in the bank; I hope this means the potter lived their whole life secure in the knowledge that they were there if needed, and yet they were never needed. Across the temporal distance between us, I wish that potter well

And you, too! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Making Cycle

In an effort to better plan my production, I am trying to realistically detail the phases of my making cycle. I am lucky to enjoy all phases of the making cycle, although not, of course, equally! (ETA: I lied. I do not actually enjoy kiln maintenance, including shelf-grinding. That shit can suck it.)

Anyway, the cycle looks like this; all of these are interspersed & overlapping with my teaching days, not to mention art fairs & other sales event, so it's actually a lot less tidy than this will make it look:
2 1/2 weeks of wetwork: throwing, trimming, decorating, handles. This usually takes the form of one throwing day, two finishing. This is not carved in stone (or even in stoneware!) of course - if I am making more highly decorated piece, I might need a third day of finishing between throwing days. When people think about what a potter's life might be like - assuming the get past Ghost, which, no - they usually picture a life at the wheel, but in fact I only have four or five throwing days in a cycle. Things aren't divided up as tidily as all that - it's rare that I would throw more than 3 or four hours in any given day, so most wetwork days contain both throwing and decorating, and sometimes nothing is at the right stage, so I'll go mix glazes or (UGH) grind shelves. 
3-4 days of drying: This is when I am most likely get a day off. I mean, I take days off like normal people do, but if I am able to schedule them, I try to make them land in the drying time (Kiln-cooling days are also good for this!). It's also a good time to mix glazes, grind shelves, make cone packs, list items online. 
3 1/2 days: Loading, firing, cooling & unloading the bisque. During the firing or cooling day I will rearrange the studio for glazing.  
3-4 days of waxing, slipping, and glazing: This is quite variable also! If I am glazing Dotopia pots, I might only need 2 1/2 days. A kiln load of OOAK pieces might even need 5. 
4 1/2 days: Loading, firing, cooling, unloading the glaze kiln. I try to clean the studio during the firing/cooling days, and arrange it into a wetwork space once again - put away the glazes & the folding tables, get any leftover bisqueware out of the way. 
 A week of grinding, sorting, pricing, packing, shipping, and delivering. 
That all adds up to about 5 weeks, so I really should be able to fire more than I do, even assuming I give myself a week in between to breathe - not exactly a vacation, because I still teach my classes, but 6 weeks a year of working less hard, and 2 actual vacation weeks, as in, not working.

More firings mean more pots - yay - and more pots mean more work on the other end, selling those pots. This is a natural consequence, because shelves full of pots motivates me to go out & find outlets. This is backwards, I know: I should be making to fill existing outlets, but that's not how I roll.
Maybe I could work on that, in the new year. I have a lot to work on! I'm coming up with my "20 for 2020" list, since "19 for 2019" was so helpful. Not entirely successful, but I made more progress on things that matter to me than I would have without it.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

We Have Always Been Artists

I have sometimes told myself a little story of how people discovered ceramics: a grass cooking basket (this actually works as long as the fire stays below the water level), lined with clay to hold water better, catches fire maybe with some, I dunno, mammoth fat or something in it that would burn hot. Afterward the cook discovers something amazing: the lining of the basket is changed, is now solid and permanent in shape, and impervious (well, sort of) to water. (I have a similar story I tell myself about soap, involving fat, & lye-filled wood-ashes.)

Firing, of course, is only half the story of clay, and perhaps not even the large half. Before we learned to fire, we longed to form: to reify images in our minds.

Or so goes the story I tell myself. In fact, we can't know what our prehistoric ancestors were thinking, but we can see some of the things that they made, and some of those things were made of clay. 14000 years ago, in the cave of Tuc Audoubert, an artist sculpted these bison from the clay of the cave walls. They aren't fired, but the cave has protected them from the weather all these millennia, and though they have cracked - as a clay artist myself, familiar with all the technical things that can go wrong in the process - I'd be willing to bet most of those cracks happened in the lifetime of the artist. Yet they remain, the marks of the artist's hands still clearly visible. 

It is a shivery feeling, to imagine those moments of making, when an artist - just like you! - knelt on the cave floor, patting and prodding the clay into the desired shape. His or her life was so so different from yours, and yet inside, the same, in at least this one way.

This discovery was made in 1912 by three French brothers. Read more about it at this link!

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Week of Reflection is Upon Us!

I love the week between Christmas and New Years'. All the shows are done, all the carols are sung and the Yule logs burned; all the cookies are frosted, the stockings stuffed with care and then unstuffed with abandon.

Not that I do any of that stuff. A Christmas of quiet contemplation is more my style. I am called upon to go to several gatherings, which I can usually just about manage, with some recharge time in between.

But this week! This is the week of no parties, no shopping or wrapping, no special-occasion foods to assemble; and for me, no classes to teach, no firings scheduled, no orders due. (No money*, either, as I have yet to get paid for holiday sales, but that's no problem: I am living on Hannaford & Dunkin Donuts gift cards this week!) Nor yet any Maine Pottery Tour stuff to do, which will start in January. This is the Week of Reflection, during which I consider the past year - what worked, what didn't, what I learned - and make a plan for the next.

Ah, 2019! The year of the cleaning robots and the Fitdesk, all rather extravagant purchases for a poor potter, and all well worth the cost. In the past I sometimes found myself falling down an internet hole, a tremendous waste of time. Some people would fight this tendency head on, perhaps even successfully! Me, I take more of a jujitsu approach: go with the flow. That's where the Fitdesk comes in. If my computer is always on the desk of this stationary bike, then even if I fall into an internet hole, the time is not wasted - I get my workout in. (Example: I have pedaled 9 miles this morning, having my coffee, reading the news, and writing this post!) This has done wonders for my heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. It's also much harder to fall down an internet hole, as my legs let me know when I've been at it too long. Win-win!

The robots solve a different problem, by way of going around it. I am by no means a neat freak, but I am tidy: neat but not a freak, I like to say. Doug, not so much. It would not be an exaggeration to say he's an utter slob. I don't plan to do that tiresome thing of bitching about my spouse to people who don't even know him - and anyone who does know him, knows how great he is: he's smart and fun and funny, and possessed of an intellectual curiosity as big as the sky. He laughs at my jokes! He loves to try new things! And he has never cleaned anything on his own initiative in his life. We could fight about this, and in fact, we have fought about it, with me arguing that cleaning up is just part of being a grown up, and him saying he shouldn't have to spend his time cleaning to my standards, and I knew he was a slob before we married. (The kicker here is that we are both right.) The robots - a Roomba vacuum and a Braava mop - don't address the disparity, but they do allow the house to be clean enough not to be a distraction to me, without me either doing all the work myself, or nagging him into doing it. Win-win!

What I learned: sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something, is with money.

There's lots more reflection & looking ahead to do this week. I am working on an outline of my making cycle, to help me plan better in 2020; I also need to think about new outlets I would like to approach. Stick with me, and if you are doing some reflection yourself this week, share those links in the comments.

*If you want to help with that, you could buy me a coffee or leave me a tip or maybe buy a tshirt!  But honestly I know no one reading this has much money to spare, either, so no worries if it's not in the cards right now. 😉

Friday, December 13, 2019

Halfway from Kiln to Kitchen

Squeezing it in just under the wire, I unloaded  -well, mostly!- a glaze kiln yesterday morning, quickly spiffied up the bottoms, priced 'em, packed 'em, and drove 'em all down to Portland Pottery for the holiday show. I didn't have much time to think about how I would display them, which changes every year for this show, as my display space is different.

I did have the presence of mind to throw a few kiln bricks into the car, knowing I would need risers to create some variation in the space. Beyond that I decided I'd figure something out on the way down. And I was right! The studio had rolls of brown paper, and the soda-tinted kiln bricks complimented the pots very well. Sometimes half-assed is best! I only wish I had know I'd have access to an electrical outlet; I could have strung some lights on the undersides of the shelves to brighten things up. 

I had noticed during the firing that one of my shelves had broken. By the time it happened, we were well into body reduction - too late to turn it off if I wanted pots for the show, and anyway, it seemed likely that any pots ruined by the break were already ruined. I had reason to be optimistic about minimal damage - this is not the first time I've had a shelf break mid-firing. My optimism was well-placed: only one pot was damaged by the cracked & tilted shelf. the angle of it was quite astonishing - you'd have thought they'd all slide off into the burner channel, but only the pot the broken edge came to rest on was ruined. 

I really need some new kiln shelves. 

Anyway, the opening night party was awesome as usual. By tradition, I overdress for the party, mostly because I rarely have occasion to wear my fancy clothes & hats. This year I used one of my ordinary hats, though, and just stuck a big gold silk poinsettia on it. 

I said at the top of this post that I had mostly unloaded the kiln; because I was pressed for time, I unloaded only the things I needed for the show. Still have to get a couple dozen cat urns, which need to be ground, packed & delivered to the customer today.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

It's Time Again! The Holiday Show

Portland Pottery's annual Holiday Show & Sale is next weekend! I am a glazing fool today, trying to squeeze out one more firing before the show opens Thursday night. 

As usual, I will be tending bar at this event; also as usual, I will overdress for the occasion. I take advantage of the rare opportunity to wear my party dresses, boas, and fancy hats. Life is short!

In other news, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Ornament party was lightly attended but we made some adorable things! Here are just a few: 

It was a ton of fun. Next year I will get out a December email about upcoming events; I think I am falling down on the promotion job. If you want in on the mailing list that I am totally going to do better at keeping up with, give me a shout here & put "Mailing list" in the subject line.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Moment of Inertia

Found this great video explaining what the moment of inertia means, a helpful concept to keep in mind when deciding what shape handle to attach to a mug. The upshot for me & the way I explain it to my students is that, the further the handle is out from the body of the mug, the heavier the mug will feel. It's part of why 4-finger handles, though intuitively it seems they would feel more secure, often feel like you have to grip the handle more tightly - so they are less comfortable, mentally & physically. (The other reason is there's no finger left over to go under the handle for balance.)

Yes, I know I am a snore. That's why I have a blog, so I don't accidentally bore my friends right to death.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Christmas Sweater Ornament Party!

Friday, December 6
6 - 7:30 pm
Drop-in event at Hallowell Clay Works
157 Water St, Hallowell

It's fun cooking up ideas with my clay buddy Malley Webber, of Hallowell Clay Works fame. Mostly because I happen to have the appropriate cookie cutter, I suggested we do an Ugly Christmas Sweater Ornament party!

Like everything I do, it's more work that I thought it would be...rolling & cutting the clay is only the beginning. I realized once I started that people are going to need images & help getting started - most people need a little priming to get their creative juices flowing. To help out, I've been doing web searches for "ugly christmas sweater" images.

That phrase has changed with the popularity of Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, as now there is a whole genre of "utterly repulsive Christmas sweaters," including Santa's-ass, reindeer-face-as-boob, humping-reindeer, elves-on-the-toilet, and profanity-laced-holiday greeting. These are pretty far from the original idea of ugly christmas sweaters, which were originally just sort of tacky & over-decorated. I'm sure such low comedy has its place at parties, but they aren't quite what I am looking for.
I had better luck searching for "Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies," the designs for which are largely based on the classic ugly Christmas sweaters. Downside: now I want a cookie! I found lots of good designs, though:

In addition to not being repulsive, the cookie designs have the advantage of being already simplified. 

I will be printing out some sweater outlines for people to draw out their designs first - so many people who are not artists forget this step! You get a better result if you plan what you are doing before you begin. 
This is gonna be so much fun! I hope you can join us. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Ghost of a Snail

Demonstrating plates, and a slip decorating technique last night! After I ribbed out the chrysanthemum pattern I had made, I was left with a spiral and the faint impression of the pattern. Decided to keep it - the gods of chance aren't always buttholes!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Star(fish) of wonder

Oh, holiday season! What a blessing you are Blessing, of course, for anyone who sells things, because that's a time when lots of people buy things! Like the Grinch, I know, of course, that Christmas means "a little bit more;" but anyone who sells things for a living can't pretend the shopping aspect of the holiday season is unimportant.

One of the things people like to buy in the lead-up to Christmas is tree ornaments. These can veer into the hokey; indeed the hokeyness can be part of the charm, connecting us with generations of traditional imagery. As an artist, though, I am always looking to put a fresh creative spin on things. Stars are part of Christmas imagery? Cool, let's run with that, see where we get.

I live in Maine, which informs some of my creatives choices, so where I got with that was starfish! I took a clay cast of a dried starfish I stole from my sister's house, then used that to make multiples. They are soda-fired porcelain so the colors range from dry or glossy white to salmon to toasty brown. They resemble real starfish, actually.

They are a little fragile, but no more so than the delicate glass bulbs adorning Christmas trees everywhere. The making is pretty easy - squash some clay in the mold, pop it out, fettle & sponge the edges; drill a tiny hole. They do have a high-ish breakage rate, but they take up virtually no space in the kiln, my major expense. With all that in mind, I think I can keep the price pretty low - I'm thinking $12 retail

I'll have these for sale at the Portland Pottery Holiday Sale, December 13-15th, and hopefully some at Hallowell Clayworks.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hot Stuff

Lookin' for some hot stuff, baby this evenin'
I need some hot stuff, baby tonight
I want some hot stuff, baby this evenin'
Gotta have some hot stuff
Gotta have some love tonight...

Thursday Inspiration: Noelle Hoover


I haven't done a Thursday Inspiration for a while, on the advice of Mr. Business Guy, who pointed out how much time I was spending on business activities that do not, in fact, generate any income, while neglecting others that would. I couldn't resist this one, though - Noelle Hoover, a potter I discovered via Pinterest in a show at AKAR that is all handmade butter dishes.
 I gotta say, these butter dishes are WAY underpriced, IMHO. $60! And the gallery takes half, so $30 for all that work. Now, they are slip cast, so the cost on labor is amortized over many pieces - but she still had to do the finish work on the castings, assemble, glaze, and fire these pieces.
Unsurprisingly, they all sold out of that show.
Here are a few more works:
Check out more of Nicole's amazing work at her website.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Balloon Rounder

I can't take credit for this one - learned this from my students (who maybe got it off Pinterest? don't know.) It's genius, though - the balloon is squishy enough that as the pot shrinks it compresses, so you can just leave it in, keeping the pot round as it dries.

To be fair I have not tried this myself - as I was typing the last paragraph, it occurred to me that the balloon *might* be squishy enough to distort right along with the pot, if say, the pot dried to fast or something like that. 

Anyway, it's any idea. I will let you know how this student pot turns out.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

This Part

My dining room has looked like this for a week!
My making cycle is about 5 weeks long; one of those weeks is devoted to distribution. That's what this week has been: finding homes for the pots from the last firing, and, in this case, the ware from seasonal stores (common in Maine) that are closing until spring.
I should finally get my dining room back today (not that we ever dine in it, except at Thanksgiving.) Today we the last step in the distribution process - photographing the pots I've chosen for the online shop, and creating their listings. Should have those links for you later!

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Last week I was soliciting names for my new wholesale line. This week I have one! I got lots of good suggestions, but nothing that rang the bell until one of my students came up with "Dotopia." SO, Dotopia it is!
I had my first sales meeting for this line yesterday. It went - well, not swimmingly, as I didn't come away with any order, but the buyer was very excited about the work, just not in a time frame to order right now. Was also a little hesitant about the $400 minimum order. I thought that was standard? But it's been several years since I have pursued wholesale in a formal way, as opposed to here-are-some-pots, do-you-want-them? I don't have a minimum in that case, because these are established accounts, and the pots are already made.

Potters out there who wholesale: you have a minimum order, right? How much do you ask?

If you own or buy for a store, and you think you might like to carry this work, here's the spec (HAHA get it spec/speck? as in dots!! I slay me 😂)...anyway the spec sheet for Dotopia! 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Dot Cottage or Something

I told you I had a good firing, right? But I don't think I mentioned that in that good firing were the first pots of my new line!
UGH A LINE, right? Sounds so...production-y. I'm a studio potter! But I do produce things. I've got this idea that I can straddle the, er, line, and using a simplified design scheme, create a body of work in which the items are more or less reproduceable. Soda firing guarantees that each pot will be one of a kind, anyway. 

I haven't settled on a name for my new line...I'm thinking Dot Cottage, for the pattern & the color scheme, but am open to suggestions!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

3 Days in the Studio

Way back when this blog was new, I used to post almost every day, although the posts were not all particularly useful or profound. Sometimes I just typed out my to-do list.

This was before I knew anyone was reading - the internet can feel like shouting into a void, and that's not always bad! Like singing in the shower, writing without an audience is freeing in that it doesn't matter if your posts are good or not! To push through this inertia (which I am hoping is not the leading edge of depression!) I am going to post my to-do lists again for a while.

So, 3 days in the studio: yesterday, today, & tomorrow:

  • Yesterday: I had some deck clean-up to do before I could even get started. Half-full, rained-in plastic bins with sodden packing materials, pots that have been sitting out for weeks gathering just general outdoor dirt - it doesn't seem like that should have taken hours, but it did. I also selected some pots for the Portland Pottery Café, priced & packed those & typed up an invoice. 
  • Today: I have even more grinding, sorting, pricing & packing to do. I have a few pots to bring to Monkitree - got some really great butter dishes out of this kiln. After that (if it doesn't take all day, which it probably will) I need to clean up the winter studio - during the months of disuse, somehow it becomes even less tidy than when I am in there working? Stuff kind of piles up in there. It's time to bring the wheel back inside & start the next making cycle, so I need to clear myself some space. 
  • Tomorrow: Assuming I get all that stuff done (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA as if) and further assuming the weather is decent as predicted, I might just go for a hike! I've actually never been to Cadillac Mountain, and October is a fine time to hike - not too hot & the crowds have gone home. 
There's lots more I could be doing - photographing pots! posting items to the online shop! replenishing low glazes! - but overwhelming myself with tasks seems, lately at least, to be a recipe for none of them getting done. I've got some household stuff to do, too, so if I can complete this list + that one, I will pat myself on the back and allow myself to be happy. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How's your October? I've got a new Mug!

I've had sort of a bumpy fall, for no good reason - just have been in a holding pattern for a few weeks now, able to make myself do the tasks necessary to keep the lights on & the pets fed but not much more than that. You may have noticed the dearth of posts! Recently I've been overwhelmed trying to do even stuff like respond to emails or [shudder] phone calls. Could be upset over events in the national arena, could be the leading edge of a depressive episode - I'm not sure. Depression is something I struggle with periodically, as regular readers know.

I received a little boost on Tuesday, though, when I unloaded a really great firing! While soda usually generates more seconds than your standard stoneware firing, only two out of maybe 60 pots were unacceptable from this firing. I was pleased by the even-but-not-too-even soda distribution - just uneven enough to create a handsome directional effect, just a little silver kiss, on most of the ware.

We (that's the royal "we!") have a little tradition here at Fine Mess Pottery: we (snicker! 😉) choose one mug from the lot, and use it for a few weeks, until the next firing, after which we wash it well & stick a price tag on it! I find it helps me identify the functional strengths & weaknesses on my work...and it's fun. If you ever start making pots that you are not drawn to use, change it up. You aren't making good pots.

Sometimes it only takes a little boost to break a down spiral. Here's hoping! I am pedaling my FitDesk right now (exercise has been shown to be helpful in staving off depression!), using my temporary new mug, and planning my day.

Hope your October is going well.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Pots by the Pound, Saturday October 5

Maine Craft Weekend is coming up, October 5 & 6th! Here at FIne Mess Pottery I am celebrating with my annual Pots by the Pound Sale.

Because I now teach 6 classes, I have what might be a literal ton of demo pots. And that's only the ones that I fire! I do a lot of demos, usually planning at least 2 per class, plus demos by request. Some just get wedged up, but many go through the whole process (there are a lot of glazing techniques to demo also!) In addition, every firing produces a few pots that are just not quite up to snuff. You know the story: soda blobs, tiny cracks in a rim, pasty color. I wouldn't sell any pot that's functionally compromised, but lots of things that make a pot not-great don't affect function at all. The demos, of course, may not even have flaws, they just aren't a fit with my body of work.
All that is to say, I have a lot of pots to shift! Here's how Pots by the Pound works:
  • Each pot will have a colored sticker, coding a price per pound: red for $1 a pound, blue for $2 a pound, yellow for $5 a pound, green for FREE! (Yes, there will be a few free ones.)
  • Customers make their choices, then we weigh all the same-color-code pots together. Weight is rounded up to nearest pound.
  • Price is determined by multiplying the weight of the group of pots by the price code of their sticker. So, if your pile of blue-sticker pots is 3.5 pounds, that rounds up to 4; 4 x $2 is $8. 
This event has been a great lot of fun in previous years, both for me & for shoppers. I hope my local peeps will stop by. Early October is a great time for a road trip in Maine.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Always More to Learn

Amaco Velvet underglaze on Waxy White Glaze (recipe below), on Laguna's 900 claybody
Students are like those fabled bumblebees that didn't know they couldn't fly; sometimes they don't know they can't do a thing, so they go ahead & do it, and we all learn something! That happened in one of my classes last week.

If she had asked me, I would have told Jesse not to do it; putting underglaze on top of glaze, I would have predicted, would have crusty, unpleasant results. And I would have been so wrong! She did it, and - surprise! - the underglaze maintained its brilliant, right-out-of-the-jar colors, but took the waxy sheen of the glaze. Not all of them - blue turned watercolor-y and periwinkle, the black & brown were...not great - but the hot colors were amazing. Red & orange & yellow like I've never seen in reduction.
So I tried it, with the few underglazes I had lying around, and had the same results! All of the underglazes used were Amaco's Velvet series; I applied mine in 3 coats. (Jesse didn't know exactly but she said "thick." I used Flame Orange, Radiant Red, and Royal Blue. As you can see, the Royal Blue turned more of a watercolor-y periwinkle; the others are right-out-of-the-jar hues.
Amaco's velvet underglaze on Waxy White Glaze
on Laugna's 570 porcelain

We only tried one glaze (so far!), and that is this one:

Waxy White (not sure the origin, but I got it at Portland Pottery)
^10 reduction

4100 Custer Spar
1200 Gerstley Borate
700 Dolomite
1500 Talc
500 EPK
2000 Silica

Monday, September 2, 2019

Home Improvement

As anyone who lives in an old house knows, they always need something. Some needs are immediate: leaky roof! Furnace quit! Others wait until you have the time & money, or else the luck, to make it happen.

So it is with studio outbuildings. I have a weakness for old things, in the process of enacting the 2nd law of thermodynamics; it's hard for me to feel creative in a new, perfect space. Someone once said of the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, its own studio located in an old chicken barn: "It's conceptually impossible to mess it up." Which somehow (at Watershed, at least) makes it feel conceptually impossible to mess up. You can't make a mistake! You can only have a learning experience.

But I digress! What I wanted to tell you was, a combination of luck & time came together to provide for me a new door on my summer studio! The old one was a solid interior door Doug found in our cellar (repository of many unexpected things.) After 10 years the elements, alas, had had their way with it and it was falling apart.

In June I found an old mullion-window door at a yard sale for $5. Now, I have a few yard-sale weaknesses: small kitchen appliances are top of the list (NO LORI YOU DON'T NEED A SINGLE-HOT-DOG STEAMER) but old doors and windows call to me also. I mostly manage to resist, but this one was too perfect. The mullion panes and the very low price decided me.

Unfortunately for me there are many more things to consider when choosing a door than price! (And windows.) This door was too tall & a little too wide for any of the potential places I could use it, and the hinges were on the wrong side. Luckily we own a circular saw, and several screwdrivers! After making the necessary changes, I have a new studio door that lets in light, and allows me to see out even when its too chilly to prop it open. From the outside it lends the studio a beckoning cosiness: "Come in, Lori, make beautiful things, leave the turmoil of the world outside..."

In fact, I think I hear it right now! I've got butter dishes to finish and jaunty jars to begin.

Happy Labor Day, all! May all your labors be happy ones. And all your days.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Pottery Stairs Are Out!

Come by, local peeps, and grab your bargains!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tis the Season: Raku!

It was raku week at Portland Pottery, at least in my classes. I'd actually been planning these firings for a few weeks, but I always build in time for unexpected obstacles: in this case, the bisque schedule, some brutally hot weather (Al Gore was right!), and my own Lyme Disease diagnosis - more on that later.

Here's our Instagrammable moment:

Many thanks to students for great camera work:
It begins.
Got my good side!
Ooo fire!
Almost done!
The process is fun and exciting, and I try to do it with each class during the warm months, because in a communal studio like Portland Pottery, students get very little experience of firing. There are racks where they place their work to be fired...then the pots go away for a while...then [something happens, who knows what]...and the pots come back changed. I'm exaggerating a little - I talk to my students a lot about firing (too much, some might say!) and when the kiln is firing I bring them in to look into the spy hole. It's not the same as loading, keeping an eye on the firing, and unloading, though. Raku allows student to participate in each step, and to be responsible for the outcome.

Speaking of, we got some great outcomes:
Terra sigillata & horsehair

Portland Pottery (and your so very truly) will be offering a raku workshop Saturday, September 14th! Bring 4-5 bisqued pots of an appropriate claybody, and wear long pants, closed-toed shoes, and cotton clothing.
You can use a claybody that's specific for raku, or any groggy stoneware will usually be fine. High grolleg porcelain performs surprisingly well also! To register call (207) 772-4334.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

C is for Slab Building

I have some students who are exclusively slab builders, so I have been searching recently for new techniques to show them. Found this one described online, do I decided to give it a try.

It starts with a rolled slab, about 3/8s of an inch. I find a very common mistake among students is to roll their slabs too thin! In addition to being much harder to build with, an overly-thin slab results in a flimsy pot that chips easily and, to my mind, feels cheap. I can think of reasons why you would make a thinner pot - sometimes you can use daintiness in an aesthetic way, for special-occasion pots, in which the very fragility of the piece proclaims the specialness of the occasion, or makes clear that this is a decorative, not utilitarian, piece. But if you mean to use it regularly, give it a little substance!

But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes, the slab. Once rolled and thoroughly compressed, cut two concentric circles. This will create a ring of clay, one circle being the outer diameter and the other the inner. The difference between the larger and the small of the two will be the height of the walls. The greater the difference, the harder this will be to build. To minimize any such difficulties, you want tgive this slab a little while to firm up. How long depends on the air conditions; 15 minutes is a good starting point but on the humid day I built mine that was not nearly enough. Building on a drywall board is helpful, too, as it allows the slab to dry from both directions.

Save the circle bit from the middle! It will become the bottom.

Now we're going to cut a wedge out of the ring, which will make a "C" shape. The wider the wedge, the more vertical the sides will be; a shallower bowl will be harder to build and may need to rest in or on a mold.
Like this one! This bowl is not especially shallow, but I lost
patience waiting for my slab to dry in our humidity. 

I found a wedge of at least a quarter of the ring made a good, useful shape.

Now we're going to bend the slab so that the edges overlap. There will be an opening in the middle.

Scoring & adding clay slurry (or magic water, or vinegar, or whatever your attachment preference) is going to be key in holding the seam together.

Now for the bottom. The circular bit that was cut out at the beginning is a little bit drier now, let's use that.

Optional, of course, but I like to put a texture on it.

This textured circle becomes the bottom - TWIST! - from the inside. Score, slip, etc, then:

There is, of course, a lot of smoothing, paddling, and other futzing - especially on the bottom! - to make it look nice.