Sunday, November 21, 2021

No Pots Yet, But...Cookies!

 I think I mentioned last year that I watch a lot of cookie decorating videos. I get new ideas for slip trailing, and I find it relaxing. It's been a stressful couple of years - more than that, really! I feel like we had been hovering at DEFCON2 since 2016. Cookie videos take my mind off all that. 

Eventually, of course, I want try the things I see. Last year I did & it went surprisingly well; maybe because of that, I got a little overconfident. Even though my design this year was a lot simpler; the process was messy, & skirted the ragged edge of disaster. I wasn't careful with the consistency of my "flood" icing, and as a result it flowed off the cookies & onto the counter, the decorating board, the cookies beside it...basically everywhere. I was able to make them look ok - good even - but clean up was a bear. 

Anyway! I've promised my mom cookies for a Christmas luncheon she has planned with some friends, and I have an invite to a cookie decorating party next month, so this is just the beginning of Christmas cookies for me. 

Pottery will hopefully begin again soon...It's just really hard to get into the studio & make stuff when the shelves are overflowing with greenware, and nowhere to fire it. The plumbing probably will not get done this week - the holiday & all - but maybe next. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Hofstadter's Law

 Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

Never has Hofstadter's Law seen so much exercise than with this kiln building project! To think I thought it would be done in July. HAAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA [stops to take breath] HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Today's iteration of Hofstadter's Law saw the propane tech arrive for his long delayed visit - I scheduled this back in September! - only to discover he did not have the parts to install my set up. This isn't really the tech's fault, or mine, or anybody else's; he just didn't have information that I didn't know he needed. 

Anyway. I sort of expected this would happen, so I'm not terribly upset about it. It is, as they say, what is it. My one point of stress is that I owe many people a mug from the first firing - that's how I financed the rebuild. Those people might understandably be upset given that I expected to deliver their mugs in mid-August. SO SORRY FUNDERS! I did send them an email as soon as I knew about the further delay. 

Anyway. I guess I can keep piling up greenware. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

So, I applied for a Grant

Towards the end of October, the Maine Arts Commission announced a grant opportunity: the Arts Jobs grant. Usually grants have some very specific parameters, and though I always read through them, usually by the 4th sentence I'm thinking, "Well, that lets me out." Not so the Arts Jobs grant! 

I've decided to apply for funding for the Maine Pottery Tour. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, right? Give it whirl, shoot your shot, pay ya money & take ya chance, right? No harm in trying. 

I mean, that's how it ought to go, but I can only do it if I do it with my whole self. I can only find the confidence to apply at all if I am 100% convinced that I should win this grant - no wait, I will win this grant, because it's an awesome project and I deserve it! I have that electrified feeling like when you are about to ask your crush out on a date. 

I have to keep reminding myself that the worst thing that happens is, my project isn't funded, and that's exactly what happens if I don't apply at all. Things will just go on as they have been. I have to keep reminding myself that it's not: Win & you get the money! Lose & it's into the shark tank with you! 

Now, it's been decades since I applied for a grant and it's fair to say I didn't know what I was doing, even then*. But I am remembering: I did win that grant. Actually I won an earlier one, too, a tiny undergraduate grant. HEY Y'ALL I AM BATTING 1000 ON GRANTS! So far. 

After approximately ten million rewrites & reviews, I have submitted this application. Deadline is Thursday - hey, I made the deadline, so far so good! - & I don't know when the notification date is, but the award cycle is December 1 of this year, so the notification must be soon. Wish my luck! Or break a leg, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. 

In other news, the propane guy is coming tomorrow! Although I can think of several things that could delay it further, assuming all goes well I could be loading a bisque by this time tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

World's Oldest Profession - One of them, Anyway!

Fingerprints point to 5,000-year-old Orkney pottery class

Fingerprint on a fragment of potteryIMAGE SOURCE,JAN BLATCHFORD
Image caption,Analysis suggests the fingerprint was left by a 13-year-old boy

Archaeologists believe fingerprints on fragments of clay found in Orkney were left by experienced potters and their young apprentice 5,000 years ago.

Experts have newly identified a print left by a 13-year-old boy.

Previously finger marks left by a young male, possibly the same boy, and two adult men were discovered on fragments of pottery at Orkney's Ness of Brodgar.

Archaeologists suggest the prints were left as experienced potters showed novices how to shape a piece of clay.

They have been excavating at the complex of ancient buildings at the site in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site since 2003.

Only a small number of fingerprints have been discovered so far.

University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, which leads the excavations, said the latest fingerprints were found by ceramics specialists Roy Towers and Jan Blatchford while they examined the site's huge collection of sherds - fragments - of pottery.

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands, MainlandIMAGE SOURCE,PA MEDIA
Image caption,Orkney's Neolithic archaeology have World Heritage status

The institute said it was possible to work out the age and sex of a person from a fingerprint.

It said the distance between ridges, for example, increased as an individual grew, while male ridges were usually broader.

The latest prints were examined by Prof Kent Fowler, director of the University of Manitoba's ceramic technology laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada.

By measuring the density and breadth of the fingerprint ridges, and accounting for the shrinkage of the clay during drying and firing, he could determine two adult men aged about 19 along with one, or possibly two boys aged 13 and 14, had left finger marks on the Ness of Brodgar pottery.

Prof Fowler said: "The presence of younger and older prints on all the Orkney sherds so far is interesting and might relate to teaching and learning the craft."

Nick Card, the director of the excavations, said: "This is yet another exciting discovery at the Ness, and although it is early days we could be seeing the emergence of a pattern developing for the production of pottery in the Neolithic, which would have implications for the division of labour and tasks."

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Thursday Inspiration: Taylor Sijan

 It's been a while since I've done a Thursday Inspiration post! Ever since Mr. Business Guy gave me hell for spending so much working time on things that don't actually make any money, to be exact. He's not wrong - my business has definitely made more money since taking his advice - but he is kind of a killjoy. Anyway, I have a new clay crush: Taylor Sijan. This work checks all the boxes for me: 



✅Wonk embraced

You can see lots more at @taylorsijan on Instagram. If you want to follow me on Insta, you can find me @lorikwatts. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Up On The Roof...

Took a break from making pots for the far-too-far-off first firing of the new kiln to address a leak in the roof of my summer studio. The shed that serves as the studio was a half-assed affair 13 years ago when Doug built it out of found materials, but it has served well enough. Earlier this summer I noticed some water was getting in when it rained hard, and then when it rained at all. What with the kiln rebuild, my classes, making ware, &, the repair kept getting bumped to the bottom of the to-do list but I finally made it up the ladder, and good thing, too! 

The asphalt paper we used for the roofing material had been torn, maybe in a windstorm. A big flap of it was loose, letting water in under the remaining part. That got wet & stayed wet in our massively rainy summer & fall, and became host to an extremely yukky nest of black ants. The wood got punky in some spots & the ants just chewed highways in others. 

I'd have taken a video of the ants boiling up out of the wood, but I was too UUUURRRRRRGGGGHH while pinwheeling away in revulsion & also trying not to fall off the roof. So, maybe video next time. By a weird coincidence, you know how Amazon occasionally screws up & sends you something you didn't order? Just a couple of weeks ago, a spray bottle of clove-based ant & roach killer arrived. I don't have roaches & didn't know I had ants, but I saved it anyway. It came in handy! I brushed away all the nasty ants & as many of their nasty eggs as I could, then sprayed the whole area with this clove spray. 

I've covered the whole thing with a heavy tarp - it rained last night & will rain tomorrow, & that patch of roof needs to dry completely before I shingle over it. If I can't get more than a one-day stretch of no rain, I may go up with a heat gun & try to dry it while hopefully not setting anything on fire. What it really needs is the roof pulled off & the plywood replaced, but that is not in the cards this season - maybe in the spring. 

This calls for a song: 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Potters Plan, God Laughs

Check out the snazzy new pivot-hinge door tho! 

Ok, let's play Good News, Bad News:

Good News: Construction on the kiln is completed! We finished up on Wednesday, with Tyler welding the bolt mechanisms for the door, while I glazed the interior of the kiln & brushed the protective coating on the inside of the door. I still need to wash the contact wall of the opening, but other than that...we've done all we can do. 

Bad News: I can't fire until mid-November. The holdup? Getting the propane connected. It has just generally been hard to schedule...well, basically anything home or building related for like a year now. (Last spring when I was trying to get my house painted, I left messages with maybe 7 companies before anyone even called me back. Most were scheduling for 2022 at that time. I did manage to get the job done, though.) Fall is also a busy time of year for those in the heating industry! So it'll be mid-November before Suburban Propane can come out. 

I keep reminding myself, this is more of a nuisance than a crisis, & that despite being eager to fire, this will only cause me to have a crap holiday season - which sucks but I can be a little frugal for a little while; it will be fine. 

Those of you who have pre-ordered mug from the first firing: thank you so much for your patience! I do have all the mugs, plus many extra, made & waiting to be bisqued. If you would like to pre-order a mug from the first firing, you can do so at this link. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Neat Trick!


I learned a great trick fromTyler, while we were working on the kiln! If there's a horsey person in your life, you recognize this: it's a curry brush. It's also a great tool for shaving softbrick, when you need to remove just a little bit, to fit an odd shape or to flatten the face of a softbrick wall: 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

With My Freeze Ray


Just kidding - this is actually one of the snazzy new burners for the kiln. I just thought it looked more like a sci-fi weapon. 
We didn't quite get these positioned today, but we did get the door completed! I am so excited to have a door on this kiln. You know that moment when you place the last pot on the shelf, & think "Whew, I'm done! Hot bath here I come" followed immediately by "OH &#%@ I STILL HAVE TO BRICK THE DOOR?" Well, those moments are done for me forever. 
The door is on a pivot hinge, to accommodate the space between the kiln & the shed. 
Probably not a lot more progress will happen this week, until the bolts arrive for the door. I do have to make a few changes to the stack - or more correctly, I have to swap out some brick. There are a few brick from the old stack that I am not 100% sure are superduty - & I do need superduty for the bag wall. I should have used the dubious brick in the stack, where it won't matter, because (obviously!) it doesn't get nearly as hot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Stack, The Arch, & More

Achievement unlocked: the stack is up! As is the arch. 

Tyler built the angle iron frame & laid the brick for the arch on Monday. Sadly I was not able to be here for that! Trying to work around my teaching schedule was going to delay construction, and I really really need a kiln. I have orders piling up! Anyway, I came home Monday night to a completed arch, with a blanket of insulating kaowool. We removed the form in the morning & laid a layer of Quikcrete. I had a brief moment of wishing I hadn't discarded the boxes of broken pottery bits I used to save, thinking one day I might make a mosaic! I decided a couple decades ago that I am probably not going to make a mosaic! & even if I wanted to, there are plenty of shards in the world. But I am kind of enjoying the sleekness of the plain concrete finish. If I change my mind I could always add another thin layer of concrete & lay buttons & mug handles & porcelain doll heads in that. 

We built the stack yesterday as well. There was a little design question to resolve: what material to use for the upper portion of the stack. Technically, to fire, the stack only needed to reach the top of the arch, because this kiln will utilize forced-air burners. (More on that later, but here's the scoop from Ward Burner on the differences.) But in order for the hot gas escaping the kiln to vent above the roof of the shed, the stack has to reach that high, and do so without creating a draw that would interfere with the firing. 
Options: a piece of culvert, elevated above the last brick layer to let air in (ugly, will need to be replaced every couple of years); a double-walled stainless steel tube, also elevated, made for kilns & such (less ugly, more durable but spendy - maybe $300 for a 3 foot length) or...hey, we've got all these brick! 
The stack could not be solid, like a conventional stack, because of the draw issue, but Tyler had an idea: we could build it in a checkerboard pattern, leaving gaps between the brick to pull in air. So that's what we did & it looks so cool! Can't wait to see it firing - I am hoping to see a bit of light thru the gaps. 

Next, the door, the burners, the plumbing - that last bit will be the hold up, since it will happen just whenever the propane tech can get here. 

If you'd like ot support this project or just want a great new mug, you can pre-order a mug from the first firing at this link

Friday, September 10, 2021

Walls UP!

 We made a lot of progress on Wednesday! Next is the angle iron exoskeleton, then the back wall, then the arch, then the rest of the stack. Last will be the plumbing, and that will require a licensed propane technician to complete. The timing for that is out of my hands, & unfortunately it might take a while! It was going to take a month for him to come un-plumb, when I was in the deconstruction phase. I begged & pleaded & they did finally accommodate me, but that probably won't work a second time. So, we're probably looking at mid to late October before the kiln will be serviceable. 

You can see the burner channels in the back, & the soda ports. We placed these ports higher than in the old kiln, as I am planning to switch to the spray-in soda method. Previously I was using the Gail Nichols soda-salad application method, which I enjoyed & got good results, but I've been doing that for 11 years & I am up to try something new. Not 100% new - I have used the spray-in method before, at Watershed, & gotten good results - but this will give me an opportunity to play around with it some more. 

Right now I am not able to be much help - Tyler is cutting the angle iron that will make the frame. We got a massive amount of rain last night here in Augusta, so everything is soaked & there are puddles everywhere, so he's not going to be using the arc welder! We can get the pieces up & clamped in place this afternoon. 

In between classes & this I have been able to make a few things! Lots of mugs, a few bowls, some small lidded jars for an order. During the deconstruction I just couldn't motivate myself to make anything - some kind of psych block, I guess - but now I'm thinking OMG I NEED POTS! 

I've mostly been making my floral slip trailed ware. I have a couple of other flowers I want to work on rendering in slip in a recognizable way, but I can feel Dotopia calling me as well. 
If you would like a mug & to help support this project, you can pre-order a mug from the 1st firing at this link. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Hold On & Power Thru

 I feel like everybody has a lot less in the tank these days, with the pandemic stress piled on top of all the usual stressors, and the political hostility cranked to 11 these last few years. In Maine this summer we've also had to contend with multiple heatwaves with over 90° temperatures. I'm aware that other places had it far worse at times! But this is unusual, for us, and they just keep coming. Today it will be over 90°, I have to teach an extra class in an un-air-conditioned facility (for a co-worker who has covid) where we will be firing the gas kiln. 

I keep telling myself, just power thru. It won't last forever, it won't kill me, just hold on & power thru.

I've never been more delighted to welcome pumpkin spice. 

The heat will probably be over today (though there is still plenty of summer left for another one, or more!) but covid won't be done until either almost everyone is vaccinated, or almost everyone gets sick. Plan A seems like the obvious better choice, but some people don't see it that way, so that stressor is not going away any time soon. 

In addition, the kiln rebuild has hit some snags! The big one this week came from the delivery company, Estes Express, which was supposed to bring the brick yesterday. 

They did not bring the brick yesterday. 

What's more, they did not tell me they weren't bringing the brick yesterday, even after I contacted them in the morning to ask if they could narrow down the delivery time. I didn't find out until 4 pm that my brick weren't even loaded on the truck. 
I know mistakes happen, but this was multiple, compounded mistakes. Then when I called this morning to reschedule the delivery, they told me the brick would be coming today - a day when I can not be here to receive them. Which I had already specifically told them. 

We sorted it out, & rescheduled for tomorrow, but at this point I'll believe it when I see it. In the end it's a minor thing...just power thru it, Lori. 

Updated to add: Estes Express really is a clown show! I just got an email that they have scheduled my brick delivery for today, when I have specifically told them both by email & by phone that I will not be available to take delivery today. I think I got it straightened out - again - but who the hell knows at this point. Maybe they'll show up today anyway, & I won't be here! Maybe it'll come tomorrow, or maybe I'll wait around all day & then they'll say "oops!"
So frustrating. 

Updated to add: The eagle has landed! The brick arrived today around noon. LET THE BUILDING BEGIN

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Progress! Slow, but progress

The kiln project is not very photogenic at this stage! But it is coming along. The old kiln is gone - or rather it is in stacks of (mostly reusable!) brick in pallets in the kiln yard. The plumbing is disconnected, the rubble brick (mostly) in my truck waiting for a dump run. 

One bummer note: I cancelled my participation in the Common Ground Fair. I thought I could squeeze in a kiln rebuild & still have pots for the event but...well, maybe I still could have! But there were too many things that had to go exactly right for that to happen. The big one that loomed for me is that the burners are scheduled to be delivered the first week in September. There's like an 8-week lag between order & receipt. The kiln itself will be built by then but obviously I won't be able to fire without burners...and then it will take some time to get them plumbed, and I can't schedule the propane guy until the burners have arrived...and what if they come a week late? That's something neither I nor Tyler can control. I decided to cancel out of hte fair while they still have plenty of time to fill in an alternate. 

To my surprise, they offered me a booth refund! I think this might be a pandemic thing but either way it was very generous. That money will go directly to the kiln project. 


Back from my dump run! As always I saw lots of bald eagles, including this guy: 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Begun Is Half Done

 ...or so a wise friend once told me! By that metric I am done the deconstruction of the kiln. 

I took down the stack, down the the level of the shed roof. I stopped there because I am going to need some pallets to put the soft brick on, rather than the wet ground; and also because it seemed like a good place to stop. I am not crazy about heights, so I am relieved to get all the roof-of-the-shed work out of the way. 

Next steps:

  • Get some pallets! I think Portland Pottery has some, or sometimes hardware stores give them away; in a pinch I could always buy pallets
  • Take down the rest of the stack
  • Borrow some post jacks to jack the arch form up under the arch. I need to lift the weight of the brick so I can remove them without destroying them. 
  • After that it's just brick by brick until only the angle iron frame is left. That'll be fun, getting that to the dump. 

Here's all the brick I unstacked, tossed down & restacked today! No wonder I am exhausted & smell like a goat. 

This is happening! If you want to support this project, or just want a new mug, you can order a mug out of the first firing here. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Nice Day to Start Tearing Down a Kiln!


Yesterday, not so much! It was a deluge of rain among the last shreds of Hurricane Elsa. I drove to Belfast, to deliver pots to Mainely Pottery, a lovely little gallery & studio who started carrying my work just as the pandemic descended up on us. 

(As a side note, Mainely Pottery is for sale! 5 waterfront acres in Belfast, Maine - a shopping destination - with a long-established business. There are 2 buildings - a full pottery studio & the gallery - and plenty of room to put up a little house or a yurt, if you wanted to live there or supplement pottery sales with AirBnB. As you can see, I have given this some thought! If you have a little money or are the kind of person banks don't laugh their collective asses at,  this is your chance to live the dream: make & sell pots on the coast of Maine. Me, I'd have to win the lottery a little to make this work but you? Maybe you could do it.)

Ok, back about me! After weeks of talking about it, today I am taking the first steps in the kiln-rebuild process: ordering the shelves & beginning the arduous task of taking down the old kiln. I'll start with the stack, which means (EEK) a ladder on the roof the get to the highest courses of brick. Not sure how long this will take but the answer is "forever" if I don't get started. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Law Of Old Kilns


Are you familiar with the Law of Bad Hair? That refers to that phenomenon that happens when, after weeks of hating your hairstyle & wanting a change, the day of your appointment finally comes...and on that day, you wake up & you hair looks perfect, exactly as you hoped it would when you chose that style in the first place. 

Call it the law of old kilns: my last few firings - all of the ones I have done since scheduling the rebuild - have been amazing. This one is no exception. I used about 6 lbs of soda (1/2 ash, 1/2 bicarbonate) in a 20(ish) cf kiln. 

The very first piece I unloaded sold as soon as I posted it. It's unlike my other work - mostly I was determining how the underglaze decals from San Bao would perform in soda. Answer: like a champion! I don't expect to use decals in most of my work, but they are a fun change. This one was applied at leatherhard. There's no glaze on the exterior, so all the color you see is just the Bmix clay interacting with the soda vapor. 
Also in that kiln, work for the upcoming group show at Monkitree, Exploring Maine: A Maker's Journey. Here are the pieces (probably!) for that show. 

Just about everything in this kiln was spoken for, headed to a store or gallery, right down to the gap-fillers: these minis are on their way to Maine Local Market, a new store in Hallowell. 
Additionally I have pots for the Portland Pottery Café, pots for Bayview Company, pots for Mainely Pottery. 
One of the reasons I need a new kiln - aside from the ever-flattening arch - is exactly that: when I unload a firing, a few days later all the pots are gone! Not what you would call a problem, exactly, or, at least, a nice problem to have; but it meant I can't take on any more shops, and I can't build up inventory for shows. My kiln capacity is the bottleneck to how much work I can make. 

It remains to be seen if I can budget the time to fill the new kiln in a timely manner; I mean, I will, because I'll have to, but whether I can do it & still keep all of my classes is the question. 

Anyway! Usually when I unload I have a few pieces to list in the online shop, which I offer here, but this time I don't think I will, once I sort out which pieces are going to what shops. Sorry! 😞 If you'd like to order a mug out of the first firing of the new kiln, you can do that at this link

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Goodbyes are Hard...Even this One


The last firing of the old kiln is loaded. I'm feeling, as the cool kids used to say, some kind of way. 

I built this, with my own hands. I laid out the plans & placed each brick. It served me well. Could I have done better? Why, yes! But it worked, and it changed my life. 

Since I left SIUE in 1992 I always planned on building a salt or soda kiln. I didn't know it would take 18 years to make it happen! And when it did, my work could come into its own. 

I am excited, of course, for the new kiln: a hinged door! tice as much stacking space. It's an investment but so worth it. Not to mention: check out that ever-flattening arch. I could fix it again, but I'd have to keep fixing it every year, until I couldn't anymore, and then I'd be desperate. If I have learned one thing as an adult it's to deal with stuff before it's a crisis. 

Anyway! One last voyage. I've spent 11 years learning this kiln, & it gives me good results every time now. Here's hoping this is the best ever. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Tomorrow! cried Toad

Tomorrow!" cried Toad. "I will do it all tomorrow!"

It me. I'm Toad. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

First Raku, Broken Toe & All

The first raku of the 2021 season was a great success! It was a promising beginning. I made some minor adjustments to the kiln, trying to get that perfect fuel/oxygen balance in the firing chambers, the perfect interval of time between pulling the pots from the chamber & placing them in the post-firing reduction chambers (which is a fancy way of saying, piles of sawdust under trash cans!)

This flame? The perfect backpressure. 

We got some fabulous results; some from Laguna glazes, some from mixed glazes. Next session my  

This one is FAB - I actually do have this

R-13, a glaze available from Laguna
I don't have this White Crackle recipe, sorry!
Bright Buff, also available from Laguna

It was a long & sometimes uncomfortable day for my poor little tootsie. I am taking today to put it up & hopefully give it like a second to heal; but no more than a second because I need to be unloading, glazing, and firing my orders. 

My Tuesday classes will be rakuing next session. Already planning some things to try! 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

It's Always Something

 The painters finished our house this week - I have been wanting to get this done for 10 years! 15, really, but 10 years ago I did as much as I could myself, and then just had to tolerate being the junky-looking house on our street. Painters cost money! & rightfully so; it's a shit-ton of work, and people deserve to be paid for work. Anyway it's finally done, & we are delighted with the results.

Next on the list is, of course, the kiln rebuild. Tyler stopped by yesterday to take some measurements & assess how much brick from the existing kiln could be reused. In the meantime I am working on one last firing cycle before the big teardown. Loading a bisque today & firing tomorrow... 

...only slightly hindered by my broken toe.

Yep, I'm hobbling. I stubbed it hard on a rock, and it blew up & turned purple. It can be hard to know if a toe is actually broken or just bruised but a friend who works as an ER doc saw a photo I posted on social media & called it: "That is definitely broken." 

Not that it matters; the treatment is the same. Buddy-tape it to the toe beside it, and stay off it. LOL, as if that is an option. I can put off gardening & housecleaning, but I have classes to teach & a kiln to load, so putting my feet up & eating bon-bons is just not in the cards. 

My poor little toe!
 It's always something, isn't it? One damn thing after another. But I like to keep in mind: if that's my worst problem, there are no problems. 

Anyway! Off to load my bisque. I'll do a little bit, and then take a break if the toe starts to throb. 

If you'd like to pre-order a mug from the first firing of the new kiln, you can do that here. The rebuild is happening one way or another, but pre-orders will help pay for it. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Maker's Journey

I & the other members of the professional organization I belong to, the Central Maine Clay Artists, will be part of a group show at Monkitree this summer! I've done many fairs & sales but it has been years since I've had work in a gallery show. 

There are reasons for that!

When I was young and full of energy, right out of grad school, I planned to be the kind of academic potter who got on the cover of Ceramics Monthly. I applied to themed gallery shows alot. I got in sometimes, too! Trouble was, I had to charge so much to cover the jury fees, which were $25 -$45 (a pile of money in 1992 making $6.75/hr) - and you have to charge enough to cover the shows you applied to & didn't get in, also - the shipping to & from (and again, prices had to cover the shipping costs of the ones that didn't sell - and the packing material. The galleries always took 50%, too, which I never minded - a good gallery earns that fee, and it costs money to keep a business like that open - but it meant I had to double all those previous fees in order to cover them. I was making functional ware, so if I applied with, say, a pitcher, it might have to be three or four hundred dollars. Which made it harder to sell. Which meant the price of the ones that did sell had to go up to cover the shipping and so on of the ones that didn't, etc, etc, world without end, amen. Were there people willing to pay those prices, in the 90s, for functional ware? Sure, and there are now, too, but mostly for the work of potters they've heard of. If the price was a vicious spiral, reputation was whatever the opposite of that is - a fortunate spiral? If you became known, more people were willing to pay more money for your work, and that increased your reputation so that more galleries wanted to carry you, creating scarcity, pushing the price you could ask up, etc, etc, world without end, amen. It does work for some people! Maybe they are better potters, maybe they were luckier, maybe they were better at networking. No shade here - I'd have done it if I could have picked that lock. 

All of that also applied to time - the time I spent applying, packing & shipping ware, unpacking the ones that didn't sell (not to mention the time & cost of bringing pieces to a professional photographer, which was the only option, then) was time that I didn't spend making stuff, resulting in fewer pieces to sell. 

Anyway I stopped doing that once I started doing art fairs & discovered the joy of selling directly to the people who were going to use the pots. Art fairs cost money & time, too, but the ratio of time making/time selling/money made was a happier one for me. I supplemented - I still do - with consignment & wholesale. 

Yikes that was a long & mostly irrelevant story. But a gallery show after all this time is exciting! Especially since I get to skip over all the tedious applying and shipping. The show is called Exploring Maine: A Maker's Journey:

Potters explore new shapes and designs with Maine in Mind.  

Central Maine Clay Artists offer artistic and functional designs that allow you to take Maine with you. Each of the clay artists has their identifiable style but with this show they are exploring new shapes and designs that gather inspiration from the state that offers so much- powerful ocean, scenic lakes, rugged mountains, delicate wildflowers, exceptional dining, dramatic seasonal changes, and so much more. 

I love the theme, because, you know how you've got your body of work, and you like your body of work & want to keep making it, but there are also a bunch of other, half-formed ideas pressing on the inside of your head? Maybe you make them but they don't fit with your main work so they sit in the studio getting dusty, or maybe you don't quite find the time to make them. This show is specifically for those ideas. For me, it's the torn-edge dark clay slab plates & platters. I have a few, and have committed to make about 15 pieces for A Maker's Journey.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021

My Annual Attempt at Bleeding Hearts

 Every year in May, when the bleeding hearts bloom, I set myself the challenge of replicating them in slip. They seem like naturals, with their precise rows of heart-shaped blooms, but like everything clay-related, it's harder than it looks! Here's my clumsy attempt from 2017:

Not terrible, and the foliage is actually pretty good, but it does have a little bit of that baby-drawings quality. 

This year I tried it a few times on the flat table surface before moving on to three dimensional forms. As often happens, I got better with practice! In particular I was pleased with the last one. 

Buoyed by this success, I felt ready to try it on a mug form. Not as great! Ah well, if it were easy it would hardly be worth your time to read about. Anyway it's not terrible, just, you know. Needs practice. 

In other news, it's 48° & pouring out, not a great day to work in the summer studio. We really need the rain but I imagine a lot of people are disappointed it happened this weekend. My wheel is in the summer studio, so I recycled clay today & started on some handbuilt work I need for a group show at Monkitree this summer. 
Pottery stairs are out, for local peeps who want to brave the rain! 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Mugs & Stories

 As I have mentioned here before, the wildlife imagery I use is never of the "iconic" variety. I'm not opposed to moose & lobsters, but they are not really personal to me, so until I have a story to tell, their images don't interest me much. Dragonflies, now those are a different story! Conttontails, pumpkin seeds, ladybugs...all more interesting to me than the critters the tourism department has decided stand for Maine. 

I just listed a whole bunch of new mugs, all with a wildlife story to tell. 

Read my ladybug story at the link! 

Read my salmon story at the link! 

Read my cottontail story at the link!

Read my dragonfly story at the link

Lots more in the Fine Mess Pottery shop

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Problems with Square Up - Anyone Else? (ETA: got it fixed, this time)

WHAT THE HELL? I don't know, 
and nobody at Square knows either. smh

UGH so frustrating. I spent all day Sunday photographing pots, then Sunday evening I started to list them in my online retail shop, hosted by Square Up. Technically I guess it's hosted by Weebly? I don't know what the exact relationship is there - I just know that some of the things I need to do to sell online happen at Square Up, and then for something I get transferred to Weebly. Not this particular problem - this one is new - but I have had a lot more problems with Square Up since they partnered with Weebly. It got super complicated just to list stuff & now items are not even available for sale when I do list them! 

After trying everything I know how to do, I reached out to their support team - no answer yet - and on social media - the folks there suggested a few things but ultimately were unable to fix the problem. I have been using Square for years but I am thisclose to just deleting the whole page & going back to building my own listings on my website, with Paypal Buy Now buttons. Each one is a little more work but at least I know they will work. 

There are other options, too - Wix, Squarespace (which is a different company from Square), Amazon Handmade , even Etsy 😬- but honestly I don't know if I want to make a big change just to be in a position again where someone else controls whether I can sell items or not. 

(What I would really like is a Square Basic option: just list items with photo, description, price, and how many you have. It's available until someone buys it, then it's not. Easy-peasy. All that other shit just makes it complicated & creates more things to go wrong.)

Anyway, has anyone else had this problem? More to the point, does anyone out there know how to fix this problem? 

ETA: I finally got on the phone with Square Support. Via email they suck & had not gotten back to me within their 48 hour promised window, but on the phone the hold time was short, and though I did have to talk to 2 separate people to get it solved, it did get solved. (Whoever responds for Square via social media tried hard to help also but they couldn't figure it out.) The problem was a new setting under fulfillments that Square (or Weebly? who knows) now requires the user to set. I don't know how I was supposed to know about this setting that I have never had to deal with on any listing before, especially since the first 2 people I talked to at Square did not know about it either. So, on the plus side, at least it's fixed. On the down side, Square, that is some really crappy service. 
Also, Square? quit adding shit & changing shit. Just when I get it figured out you change some random thing & I'm back where I started. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021


Some of you have been readers of this blog for a loooong time - maybe you remember that time I built a soda kiln in my backyard. That kiln has served me well, but now it's time for an upgrade. 

11 years is not a ridiculously short life for a kiln, and it is true that soda is harder on brick than salt is. Nevertheless, this kiln would have lasted longer if I had chosen a heavier gauge of angle iron for the exoskeleton. I'm very glad I had the experience of building it myself, but I found when I contemplated the rebuild I was just dreading it. UGH LIFTING HEAVY THINGS UGH BRICK DUST IN MY EYES 

I knew it would take me most of the summer - time that I would much rather spend making pots. With that in mind, I decided to call in an expert: Tyler Gulden. In addition to making pots & teaching at Bates College, Tyler is a master kiln builder! You can see a few of the projects he has worked on here

Worked with Tyler at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts, back in 2006, & we've been friends for years. Every time someone tells me they want to build a kiln, I send them his way, because not only is he the best - this is not a glow up, he really is - but his rates are crazy low, compared to other kiln builders. 

So excited about this kiln! It will be modelled on the soda kiln at Watershed, with some adjustments necessary for the different fuel & pressure. The stacking space will be almost twice that of my current kiln, and - the very best upgrade of all - the door will be on a hinge. You know that feeling when you're like WOO-HOO, DONE LOADING followed immediately by oh crap still gotta brick up? Yeah well that's all over for me (after these next 2 firings, at least.) The additional cost is pretty minimal - about half a day of labor - and when you factor in the cost of replacing broken door brick & the time mixing door mud, bricking & mudding up every time - it is more than a bargain. 

Here's the kiln design it will be based on. Now imagine a sliding-hinge door!

In the meantime, I am squeezing out two more firings before deconstruction begins. Tine to get making! 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Hello 21st Century! I am in you.

Somebody cash-app'd me money for a purchase from the pottery stairs! That was a real thing, that happened. I added Cash App ($FineMessPottery) as an option to pay, because I think some of the money that doesn't find its way back to me is because the buyer just forgets. Cash App, being immediate, fixes that problem. 

Other stuff has happened, too: the pottery tour was an amazing success - we promoted the heck out of it, both paid & earned publicity; but also, I think the social moment contributed a great deal. People have been dying to get out & do things, they have a little stimulus money and some pent up demand, many people in Maine are vaccinated, and it was a mostly outdoor event. Whatever the reason, I and most of the studios who have checked in had more visitors & sales than in previous years - we had more than twice as much in sales as we usually have. We were digging out old dusty boxes of forgotten pots, just to keep the shelves full. 

So that was fun.

There's always a moment right around mid-April (usually right after I get a "But I don't WANNA use dropbox! Why can't you do the extra work?" email) that I think: fuck this, I'm out. This is the last year I am doing this. But then the event happens & it's so fun & it makes me so happy to do well & to see the other studios do well, and by the last day I am thinking, Can't wait til next year! 

This year is that in spades. 

Tomorrow is Mother's Day - my family will be all together for the first time in a year and a half! Burgers & dogs, salad & yogurt parfaits - nothing fancy. Just so happy to have a chance to be together. 

Hope your spring is also going aces. XO