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.