Monday, December 18, 2023

Bowls for the New Year

 Making bowls for the New Year's Eve firing! (At the rate I am going to New Year's Eve firing might be a bisque!)

Because I can never *quite* take my teacher hat off, I want to point out a technique in the video. This is only 4 pounds of clay, but it's really useful for larger pieces: centering in sections. I weigh out my clay, then cut the ball in half (or more! There's no limit on how many pieces you can center on), put the first piece on the wheel & center that; then scrape it all dry with my rib and slap the next half on. See how easily the 2nd piece comes on round!
I've also opened the way I would a larger ball - using my right pinkie knuckle & the strength of both hands. Again, very useful for when you are throwing a larger ball.

Monday, December 11, 2023

This Year's Cookies!

 My compulsion to make stuff - & make it fancy - does not end with pots! I also make soap, & in December, I make Christmas cookies. The fun for me is the decorating, & I'm happiest when I am learning new things. This year I tried out an airbrushed design. Check it out here:

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Review: 23 for 2034

In late 2018, I made a "19 for 2019" list of things I would like to do or habits I would like to acquire in the new year. That went well the first year, less so the 2nd (for REASONS!), and I didn't even try in 2021. I just revisited my list for 2023, Some stuff I acheved, some I made progress on, & some I forgot I had even planned to do it! We did get a dishwasher installed - it's awesome & saves me even more time than I thought it would. I do my stationary bike ride nearly every day, I am selling much more online, and I got a time tracker - I average about 11 making hours in the studio a week. Those are some successes, and then there are the items like "learn to use instagram to sell!" & "kayak the Nonesuch" and "get back to writing postcards to voters." Yeah, those didn't happen. Like, at all. Nor did I start cleaning out my car regularly or making clay videos for Patreon. I made a little progress on the attic - called a carpenter, started talking about how much it might cost.

All in all I think the lists help me focus on how I would like my life to be, & help me identify steps to bring the reality closer. So even though I failed dismally at some, the exercise brought about enough positive changes that it's worth doing again. 

Who's with me? (LOL! Like last year, I literally do not know if anyone at all is reading these. I took out the stat counter a couple of years ago, so I may just be shouting into the void.)

Sunday, November 26, 2023

3 Days in the Studio

 Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Yesterday: Packing & shipping! I think I mentioned that in the last few months, online sales have finally become a significant income stream for me. Keep in mind that "significant" probably has a different meaning for me than for most folks; this month my online sales will be about $500. For many people that would cover their lunches out, or their wine consumption, or something else fun but trivial. For me, if it sustains, it is life-changing. Well, at least a little life-changing! Obvious best part, more money. Less obvious: connecting with these folks online who love handmade ware. 

Of course, it's not money for nothing; I have to photograph & list all these items, then promote them online before sale. After sale there's packing, & shipping. Not complaining! I've never shied away from work. I might have to teach one less class in the spring, though, because there's just not enough hours in the day to do everything. This makes me sad even though it was the plan all along. 

Today: more packing & shipping (yay!) and then re-arranging the studio into wetwork mode. Then I can sit down at the wheel & make stuff. I always have more on my list than I can actually do, but I am sorta hoping I can carve out time to make another batch of soap. 

Tomorrow: Mondays are teaching days, from 10 am to 9 pm. Not really time to get anything else done. This will be the last week for 2 of my classes, as Portland Pottery is winding down into the holiday break. 

I hope all is well with you, clay friends, & your holiday season is delightful. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Chonky Cats & Rustic Pots


Another firing is in the books! This time the excitement came when I ran out of propane at the very end of the firing. I don't know if other people fuck up as much as I do, but I always try to be honest about it, because if we're all pretending to be flawlessly professional, then we all secretly feel like losers. I make mistakes, but somehow I'm still afloat as a potter, & doing better all the time. So, if you are also a screw-up, welcome to the club! Pretty sure it contains everybody. The fun people, anyway. 

After many years of having to explain why I needed propane in the middle of the summer, or shortly after a delivery, my LNG company had gotten on a good automatic delivery schedule - their algorithm or whatever was correctly assessing when I would need a delivery. But then I started firing more often, because I am selling more pots! & that threw everything off. 

Anyway. Cone 10 was already down, & I was letting the kiln fire a bit longer. I came out to check it after the last soda application, and - huh - it was firing in oxidation.  I suspected bad news then, but I just pushed the damper further in, until I got the backpressure I wanted, & went back inside. Checked again 10 minutes later, and again, no reduction. I knew then what the problem must be & that it would not sustain a reduction, so I just shut it off, closed up all the ports & damper, & hoped for the best. 

"The Best" is, of course, subjective. When I first opened this kiln I was not entirely thrilled. The surfaces were more rustic than I've previously gotten - drier & more mottled, gray, bone, & tan rather than peachy-gold. I took advice I have often given to students: live with it for a while before deciding. Well, those rustic pots have grown on me! I've been using some of them & I find the subtle surfaces intriguing. 
Anyway! Long story short (too late LOL), I've listed the new pots in the online shop! They'll be available online until December 14th. 

Oh, one more weird thing: Facebook has started to send me money. I don't exactly know why, but I did fill out some kind of online form to be able to take payments thru fb; I thought it was to sell directly from the site. I still think it's something to do with that but what happened instead is, facebook sends me money I guess based on engagement? Not a lot but still, yay money! Especially money that doesn't cost friends & followers anything. So, if you enjoy this blog and want to see work in progress, unloading photos, a few demo videos, follow Fine Mess Pottery on facebook. Like & share stuff if you like it & think your friends will like it! 

I hope I didn't break some kind of rule doing that. 😄

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Safe, but Sad

You may have read about my home state lately; we were the latest site of that very American phenomenon, the mass shooting. In Maine's case, the situation was dragged out by a 2-day search for the gunman. The attack left 18 dead & 13 wounded. I didn't know any of the victims, but Maine is a small town; nobody is more than 2 degrees removed from anybody else. I'm certain I know someone who is directly affected. We're all grieving the loss of a sense of safety in our communities. 

Lewiston is about 30 miles from Augusta, where I live; a straight drive up Route 202. During the long, frightening stretch between the murders & finding the gunman's body, we all feared he might be out there, planning to strike again. Schools & businesses closed and people stayed in their homes with the doors locked. Like many people, I thought he was probably already dead - the dude wasn't John Rambo or some kind of movie villain, and it seemed unlikely to me that he could evade law enforcement for so long. We couldn't assume, though, so we stayed home & stayed safe. 

Much has been made of his mental health struggles. He was held in a psychiatric facility for a couple of weeks in July, as a result of having threatened the military training center where he served in Saco with violence. His family state he was hearing voices. 
In part of my mind I wonder if they were playing up that part, because it's so painful to believe someone you love could choose to do such a thing. I think that because we've since learned that he'd recently broken up with a longterm girlfriend & recently been fired from his job. The places he shot up were places he might expect to find his ex - she was registered to play in a cornhole tournament at the bar where he killed people, and the bowling alley was a place they had gone together. He killed himself just outside his former place of employment. All this sounds to me like just another angry guy with an assault rifle. 
Anyway - thank all of you for reaching out. I'm safe, my family is safe, but in a way none of us are safe until the scourge of gun violence is addressed. It's time to comfort the grieving, hold your loved ones close, and work together to find a solution. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

Everything Matters

My October firing is in the books! 

After the last firing, during which my sprayer failed, necessitating a frantic drive around town to find a barely-adequate replacement, I ordered two good sprayers with metal wands online.(I actually wanted this one, because it looks so sci-fi; but it's more than twice as much as the ones I got.)  Always good to have back up! The new device performed admirably - better, I'd say, than the original. It sprays in a finer mist than the first, which allows more of the soda to volatize before falling to the burner-channel floor. As a result, the coating of soda glaze was thicker, for the same amount of soda. 

This is no bad thing, but it does mean I'll have to make some adjustments to get the coat of soda just how I like it. There was more grey than I am usually aiming for in this load. It's a pretty grey - light & pearly, flashed with honey-brown - I just want to adjust the ratio a bit, so the next pots will be honey with some grey, rather than grey with some honey. Still, overall very happy with the results. 

I am lately aiming to fire once a month, because my accounts have been doing really well, & I want to keep them stocked up, and have enough to add some new stores this winter. Also, twenty years after Doug built my first website, online orders have become a significant stream of income for me! If I knew how, I would tell you - I'm all about lifting other potters up - but honestly ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Here's what I do know: 

  • Facebook has always been a good way to generate a sale or two, when I post updates to the online shop. I know everyone hates Meta, & not without reason, but for artists, nobody has yet created a tool to so effectively reach customers.
  • I've been posting to Insta, & cross-posting to the Fine Mess business page, a lot more since my friend gave me her old iphone. I don't post literally every day but maybe 10 times a week? Much of it is pottery process, interspersed with some cats, hiking, & gardening. 
  • I had a post go semi-viral last summer, seen by about a million people. There was nothing unusual or amazing about the post, so I don't know why, but I did gain hundreds of new followers as a result; and as a result of that I get more interaction per post, which in turn make the FB algorithm show posts to more people. 
  • Interactions seem key, so sometimes I will ask for feedback about a new technique or a piece I am working one. 
The takeaway, if I had to guess, is just more posting. I post pots in progress, & I think the audience gets interested & invested in the work. I dunno; what do I know? I'm just guessing. 

Anyway the shop update is live! Check it out here
Actually there's only one pot left for sale - & I just updated last night! I better go make stuff. 
Aiming for October 29th for the next firing. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Inconvenient Ideas

 Does this happen to you? You've got important stuff to do - in my case a firing deadline to meet - when an idea pops into your brain and just will not! leave! you! alone! until you make it real. That happens less than it used to- or maybe I'm just better at stomping them down until a better time -  but every so once in a while such a notion will hijack my brain. 

On my commute to class on Monday, I started thinking about a series of images reminiscent of Tarot cards, only more personal: the Three of Cats, the Two of Kayaks, the Page of Snacks; and some Major Arcana: The Potter, The Kiln, Caffeine. I really don't have time to do all of these, but I did do one:

It took me all day, because I really don't know how to use graphics programs; I made a lot of false starts & did a lot of clicking around; in particular I had struggled to make the background transparent, which it needs to be if I am going to use this image for anything. I did, already, upload it to my teespring site where, much to my aggravation, the featured image keeps reverting to the BLANK back side. That seems to be a system glitch, so I am going to have to let that go. 
It has seemed to satisfy whatever noisy, insistent muse put these ideas in my head in the first place, however; at least for now. Tomorrow I will be back in the studio, trimming & slip trailing & mixing glaze - like I should have been doing today. But whaddaya gonna do? 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Monday, August 7, 2023

A Sigh of Relief

Ooo looks pretty good!

Pretty good indeed!

Even in the back!

A few pieces from the firing

What a relief! After what I started referring to as the Murphy's-Law firing, I was very anxious what the results might be. Well, I can put that to rest - it's all peachy-tan & pearl grey, no disasters of any kind. I did have one plate warp too badly even to be a second, & one lidded jar crack, but every firing yields a few failures. 
Takeaway: those burner/blower/damper setting once again produced results. I'm starting to get this kiln dialed in. 
I'll photograph these properly on Wednesday (assuming my dental appointment isn't too horrible) and list some in the online shop. Of the rest, some will go to Portland Pottery, & some to the Maine Potters Market; but the majority will be held back for the Common Ground Fair. See you there, September 22, 23, & 24. 

Friday, August 4, 2023

The Murphy's-Law Firing

What's inside?? I hate not knowing

 Man, I was not even lying when I called this the Murphy's Law firing! Let's have a brief recap of all the things that went wrong, chronologically:

  1. I originally planned to fire Wednesday BUT, though I candled overnight, first one then the other of the pilots fluffed out. I caught the right one pretty early, but woke up to the left blown out around 4 am.
  2. I made the fateful decision to relight & candle for only another hour before turning the burners proper on
  3. This is a big one: THE CONE PACK BLEW UP. 
  4. I let the kiln cool & unloaded the entire thing to eliminate the cone pack debris, reloaded, & rescheduled the firing until Friday (today)
  5. I thought I had left the hex (or whatever it was!) behind, because this shaped up to be a picture-perfect firing, just like the July firing was. Humming right along. 
  6. Yeah no
  7. Halfway through the application of the soda, the sprayer stopped working. Not clogged - that I could fix. Just wouldn't take on any pressure, so couldn't spray. At this point I had a gallon of soda mix left and cone 9 was over. 
  8. What to do, what to do?? It might be fine as is, but it might not! I left Doug to keep an eye on the kiln & started driving around town looking for a suitable sprayer, with a metal wand. I had NO luck with this. 
  9. But I did find a little hand-held pump spray bottle, which I hoped might serve to get the soda into the chamber. But the time I got home 11 was over up top & ten was down on the bottom. 
  10. I sprayed the rest of the soda anyway. I dunno how well it worked. By the time I finished & gave the soda time to vaporize & burn clear, eleven was flat all around. Like, flat-flat. 
I can not stand the wait!! This could still be an amazing firing or it could be all manner of fucked up.

There are lessons to take, of course, some of which I already knew; always make cone packs WAY in advance, always do a full candle, always have a back-up sprayer (I ordered 2 online today.) The truth is, we never runout of mistakes to make, but - a further truth - things turn out ok a ridiculous amount of the time. Let's hope this is one of those times. 

Monday, July 31, 2023

Mind the Gap

Details matter! The image is of the gap between the kiln shelf & the bottom of the pot, which is raised up by three wads of high-refractory clay material (called wadding*) which prevents the pot from sticking to the kiln shelf when the soda coats everything in the chamber with soda glass. After the firing, the wadding just pops off, leaving pale marks where it previously stuck. 

I find the higher this gap is, the more glaze gets deposited on the bottom, creating some color & sometimes a bit of shine. The wad marks - pale dots where the pot rested on the wadding where no soda vapor could get deposited - are often quite handsome. 

Wad marks on a mug

Because the wadding is basically wet clay, the weight of the pot tends to squish it almost flat. It will still do its job of preventing the pot from sticking to the shelf, but the bottom won't get any soda, so will just be white. Not the end of the world, & not the end of the pot, but I do like the ones with more distinct wad marks better. 

To achieve this, I find I have to make the wads ahead of time, so they are a bit drier & stiffer when I place them on the pot. I can't make the wads too early, because if they dry to much, they won't stick to the bottom long enough to get the pot into the kiln. Like a lot of things in clay, the pots are fine if I don't do it, but they are just a little bit nicer when I do. 

Speaking of things that I should really remember to do ahead of time: I was supposed to fire today, & I would have, except my cone packs exploded! Regular readers must get tired of hearing all the ways I manage to screw up, but maybe you can draw inspiration from it: If a ginormous fuck-up like Lori can do this, so can I! Actually I don't know if I screw up more than most people, but since I am a ceramic educator as well as a potter, I believe in being open about my mistakes. I make em! A lot. But then I fix em & move on. 

The culprits. You can just tell they are plotting something.

I fixed the exploded cone pack by unloading the entire kiln to dump out the little bits of debris inside the pots, then reloading the whole thing. I was mad at myself at first - the exploding cone pack was definitely caused by my dumbness - but it's summer in Maine, I was outside, the birds were singing, & loading kilns is fun! If that's the worst mistake I make this week, I can live with it. Anyway, the last firing was absolutely picture-perfect, the cones falling in synchronicity, so I was overdue to have a Murphy's-Law firing. 

Anyway, once I got over calling myself a moron & started enjoying the work, I decided that, far from a moron, I am in fact a genius! (LOL ALL DAY) Or at least reasonably clever in this instance, as I realized that when I scheduled the firing I built in some time in case something goes wrong! So I'm still on schedule. 

Barring some other mishap, I'll be firing this load on Friday, probably unloading Monday. I hope to have new work in the online shop on Wednesday! 

*Wadding Recipe

1/3 Kaolin

1/3 Alumina Hydrate

1/3 Coffee Grounds

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Coming Soon, I Promise!

Weirdly, I had a Facebook post go mini-viral this week: more than 3/4s of a million views, 23k likes, hundreds of comments. It was just an ordinary, throw-away post: a pic of the footring of a bowl in which I sliptrailed a little filigree. I have no idea why that one took off when my posts usually get 20-30 likes, at most. I tried for days to keep up with the comments, but just couldn't get to all of them. out of like 850 comments there were maybe...8? negative ones. Of course those lodge in my brain. It reminds me that there is a person behind every social media post. Being publicly negative about a handmade item just seems like a jerk thing to do. Like, why go out of your way to ruin someone's mood? 

One can't predict virality, of course, even of the mini variety, so I was completely unprepared to take advantage of it! Many people have messaged or emailed me, wanting to buy pots...and I don't have any, because I'm in the middle of the making cycle. I make stuff, then I sell it. I don't just leave it laying around! I respond that I expect to have ware for sale in mid-August, and give them a list of stores where they can find my work; but I can't help but feel like this was a missed opportunity. 

This was the post: 

See what I mean? Perfectly ordinary post, nothing amazing. Has this ever happened to you?

Anyway, firing a bisque this week, glaze next week, post for sale the week after that! Hope your summer is going amazing. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

PINCHED at Maine Craft Portland

 I missed this opening, but the show is still up for the rest of the month. Ingrid is a friend - I met her when I worked at Watershed - and a rare professional pinch potter. CHeck it out! 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Goodbye Twitter, Hello Threads!

If you do the socials at all, I'm sure you've hear of the slow, unscheduled disassembly of twitter as its new owner, Elon Musk, methodically eliminates everything that made twitter fun and replaces it with Nazis & bitcoin pushers. I deleted my Fine Mess Pottery account months ago, stopped using my news-&-politics account then too, and just deleted that one today. I kept it for so long because when Musk purchased it I had just gotten to the coveted 5k followers, which meant I could follow other accounts with reckless disregard for the ratio. I held out hope that he would hire somebody competent or just get bored with his toy & sell it. 

I have accounts on alternative sites - notably Post & Spoutible - but neither of those sites has enough active users to generate the level of activity that makes it fun. Enter Threads! 100 million users strong after 5 days. Yeah, yeah, I know - Zuck. You don't like him, you don't trust him, he gathers your info, etc. But I'm already on FB & Instagram, & as an artist those are very valuable ways to reach people who are interested in what I do. If, in exchange, some algorithm learns that I like superhero movies, home organizing listicles, and that I often click on but rarely buy boho clothing, well, I guess I am ok with that. YMMV. 

Anyway, if you followed Fine Mess Pottery on Twitter, you can now find me at lorikwatts on Threads! Currently there is no desktop version, so I can't link, but I hope to find you there. I am following all the clay people & craft artists that I can find. Let's make a community! 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Throwing a One Piece Lidded Jar


Next week I'll have a video of the trimming and decorating process! 

If you found this post valuable, toss a coin to your witcher potter at this link

Thursday, July 6, 2023

A Potter's-Eye View


After a couple of false starts - including wearing the thing backwards, generating a long, close-up video of the top of my head - I've figured out the GoPro I bought secondhand a couple of years ago. I originally got it for outdoor adventures, but I'm starting to see some professional social media uses for it as well. Only problem - and I know there must be a way around this - is it takes hours for the GoPro video to upload.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Outlook: Headache

 Guess what I am spending my afternoon doing? Did you say, Rebuilding your entire Outlook contact list? You're right! I am rebuilding my entire Outlook contact list, hundreds of addresses, because of an update that provided me with a new "view" tab. I do not give a shit about a new "view" tab! I absolutely DO give a shit about my entire fuckin contact list! 

There might be some technical fix; I've tried several. It finally occurred to me that it might be faster to just rebuild it than continue to try things that don't work. 

Doesn't mean I'm happy about it. So, Microsoft, do us all a favor, huh? Don't update for shit that doesn't matter - nobody cares about a new "view" tab, nobody, AT ALL - and in future make sure your updates don't fuck up what's already there. 

Love, Lori

Sunday, June 25, 2023


 The firing was perfect! Nearly. There were 4 pieces that were a little dry & will need to be refired but everything else was peachy-tan, with a little grey shading where the soda landed glad I made notes of all the settings! 

I've been kayaking all afternoon & my arms are like fettuccini, so I won't be putting up my photo set up, and these pots are all on their way to various stores this week. I did take a couple a shots this'll just have to picture a whole kiln coming out like this: 

Thanks for sharing in my joy, my dear readers who have heard me bitch about so much stuff over the years! It's always nice to have good news to report. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Notes on Today's Firing



Just getting this info down while it's fresh. This was one of the fastest firings of this kiln yet & i just have a good feeling about it, so in case it turns out amazing I want to record exactly what I did.

Pilots on at 10 pm
Burners proper on at 4 am (then I went back to bed)
Color in the kiln by 7 am when I got up for real
^05 down by 9 am
9 falling up top by 1:30; started spraying soda
Finished soda around 2:15
Kiln off just before 3. 

Burner/blower/damper positions as in this post. Back pressure as seen above, if the video works. It doesn't always. :( 

In other news, I saw my good friend Tim Cichocki today! He dropped by to pick up some pots of mine for the upcoming firing of his groundhog in Norridgewock. That's happening at the end of July. 

Also today: got an email from the state - I've won a small grant to rebuild my art fair display from the ground up. I've repainted & freshened it up a number of times but at a certain point it's just lipstick on a pig. Time to get a fresh new pig. 




Tuesday, June 20, 2023

New Teaching Studio: Work in Progress


I am often asked if I teach classes at my studio. The answer is no, I don't - I'm really not set up for that - but I do teach at Portland Pottery. That's an hour away for folks in Central Maine, so I often direct people to Kennebec Clay Works. Their membership rolls are almost full, though, but now we have a new option! 

Work in Progress in Lisbon opened in May. The owner - my friend & the longtime studio assistant at Portland Pottery - is Teresa Pennington. WiP is offering memberships, one-on-one instruction, and beginning to intermediate classes. There's also a little gallery that sells Teresa's work. 

Check it out next time you're in Lisbon! 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Burning Question

So, a weird thing happened this morning. 
I candled my bisque overnight, but when I came out in the morning to turn on the burners proper, I found flame coming out of the primary air intake of the pilot. I had never seen this before & immediately turned off the gas - that's kinda my go-to move whenever anything unexpected is happening with the propane. I wish I had taken a photo to illustrate this post, but oh well. Probably anyone who would know the answer already knows what the primary air intake looks like.

The only difference I could observe between the pilot that was behaving normally & the one that was doing this unusual thing was the primary air intake was open a little wider on the odd one. That one was also a little harder to light last night. I don't remember opening or closing either of them but who knows? 

I spun the disk to close the intake a little more, so it matched the other, then re-lit the pilots. Nothing unusual happened after an hour, so I went ahead & lit the burners. 

Anybody have any ideas why that happened? I'm not gonna blow myself up, right?

Friday, June 9, 2023

Lego Studio!

My friend Sondra's grandchildren made me this little Lego studio, complete with kiln & wheel & a little Lego potter! Adorable. 

This real potter had an amazing day: 9 hours in the studio. That is so rare for me! Usually the first half or more of the day is taken up with household stuff: cooking, cleaning, errands. Sometimes I don't even get in to the studio until 4 pm. I'm going to try to do this more often - get in early, spend all day - because it really is my happy place. It's really, really hard for me to prioritize creative work over caretaking, but there has to be a balance. 

Although to be fair the world is full of happy places for me. Woods, ponds, my hammock, my big chair by the window, complete with cat(s). 

Anyway, today I threw & trimmed, sliptrailed & pulled handles, ground & washed kiln shelves. . Tomorrow I will throw & trim & sliptrail, & hopefully mix some glazes. It's been so rainy lately that stuff is taking forever to dry but I am hoping to load a bisque on Thursday, fire Friday. 


Saturday, May 6, 2023

Day Dawns Bright


It's 5 am; the flower moon is setting on Day One of the 2023 Maine Pottery Tour. Come See me at Fine Mess Pottery in Augusta today! 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Occupational Hazards

 I was so eager to get a glimpse of the results of Wednesday's firing, I singed my bangs at the spyhole! One eyebrow is a bit crispy also. 

We'll be unloading this kiln tomorrow morning during the Maine Pottery Tour. Come join us! Or visit any time during the weekend to shop, see demos, maybe paint a plate! For some unknown reason I feel more ready for the tour this year, or maybe just more accepting that yes, things will go wrong, things will be forgotten, & it will all still work out just fine. 

Hope to see you at the Maine Pottery Tour! 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

My favorite day

unloading day pots

I'm always happy on unloading day. Well, almost always. I certainly am today! This kiln load was a little light, because I have an unloading scheduled for May 6, during the Maine Pottery Tour, & I wanted to make sure I have enough pots left for that. 
The soda was a little heavy this time...weird because I always weigh out the soda & measure the water, it ought to be the same every time. Maybe the damper was closed a bit more than usual? I don't know what else would cause a noticeable amount of variation. 

Although I do like variation! I like having some peachy, some grey, some bone, some darker pieces when I set up my display. 

This result was 1300 grams of soda - 600 soda ash, 700 baking soda - in 3 gallons of warm water, sprayed while cones 8, 9, & 10 were falling. I typically lay 11 down. 

These pots will mostly be available during the Maine Pottery Tour. A few will be making hteir way to shop - Bay View Company, Monkitree, and  - new! - the Maine Potters Market. (More on that later! :) )

My kiln is probably cool now so I'm' off to finish unloading. I hope to see you during the Maine Pottery Tour

Monday, April 17, 2023

In the News: Kennebec Clay Works & Native Clay

 This is my friend Malley Weber, who owns Hallowell Clay Works, & Kennebec Clay Works here in Augusta


There’s a plastic bag on the bench in Malley Weber’s pottery studio with a handwritten label: “Ted’s stream.”

Inside the bag is clay.

It’s blueish green. There’s a spot of mold growing on it. The texture is a little crumbly and coarse, not quite like the smooth stuff that’s used for classes here at Kennebec Clay Works. Weber calls it “wild clay,” and she collected it from, as she wrote on the bag, the bank of a neighbor’s stream with his permission.

April is mud season, when Mainers often think twice about driving down a dirt road or trekking into the woods in a new pair of hiking boots. Weber, however, thinks about wet earth year round. She is one of a very small number of potters in the state who digs clay from the ground herself and uses it to make ceramics. (And while the conditions right now might be ideal for mud pies, they are actually terrible for harvesting clay. Imagine trying to dig up a bucketful.)

“The minute I started working with clay, I was kind of curious about, where does this come from?” said Weber.

Most artists order clay from commercial suppliers for the simple reason that digging your clay and cleaning it up to use is a huge amount of work. But it does form naturally in the ground, and Maine is rich in deposits that tell the story of the glaciers that were here 14,000 years ago. When the ice melted, it released sediment into the area, and then the ocean flooded the space where the glacier used to be. The result is a blanket of blue-green marine clay called the Presumpscot Formation.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Pottery Stairs: A Very Short Story

Spring has sprung here in Central Maine - we're in the 60s today but we've had a couple days in the 70s. Red is spending his daytime hours in his outdoor pen. It's almost time for the pottery stairs to make their appearance! 

Which reminds me: I never told you my Jon Hamm* story! Some background: usually, I never see the people who purchase items from teh pottery stairs; they make their selections, then take one of the stamped, addressed envelopes, and go on their way, sending me a check or cash once they get home. Once in a while I run out of envelopes, & then occasionally someone will knock on the door to pay for hteir purchase. 

I can't remember if it was last summer or the one before, but one time I answered one of these knocks & standing one my front steps was...Jon Hamm. I know that isn't very likely, but it surely did look like him. I didn't recognize the woman with him, but she was Hollywood-beautiful. Whatever; celebrities use pottery, too. I didn't want to be rude or intrusive, but I was very curious: could this really be Jon Hamm at my door? So, as he fished in his wallet for the fifteen bucks, I said, "You look so familiar to me." He smiled & said, "How 'bout that."

It was that reply that convinced me, actually. I think most people would have said, Yeah, I don't know, do you go to this & such place? or I don't think so, we're not from around here or whatever. "How 'bout that" is what a guy would say if he knows exactly why he looks familiar but doesn't feel like talking about it. 

Anyway, that's it, that's the whole story, & I never did find out if it was really him. 

Happy spring, everyone. 

*Probably. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Friend in Need


A couple of times over the last 16 years I have asked readers for help. I hate to do it, because I know you are mostly potters & so probably not the wealthiest! This time a friend is in desperate need, & we are running out of solutions. I know that many of you will not be in a position to help, but if you can, you will be doing a great kindness and it's deeply appreciated. If it's not feasible to give money, maybe you could share the fundraiser to your social media? 

I have known my friend Jon for nearly 40 years. In that time we have helped each other through hard times and crises. In every tough time, he has been there for me, despite having troubles of his own. That's how he is with all his friends - the one we all lean on. Jon has worked all his life but, like so many people, has never had a good enough job that he could get ahead. He was laid off in the fall and shortly after was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. 

Recently he suffered a medical emergency: a cut got badly infected and required emergency surgery. More surgery will likely be needed to remove dead tissue & repair the wound with a skin graft. Jon will be too unwell to work for the foreseeable future. 

He has applied for disability, but that decision can take many months, & he only has a few weeks of unemployment left. I feel certain he will qualify - we just need to keep a roof over his head until it comes through. So I started this fundraiser

As I said above, I really, really hate asking, because I know you all have demands on your money, families to care for, retirement to think about. (That's a big one, for the self-employed. No 401ks for us!) But if you have any room in the budget, or maybe you hit a lucky scratch ticket this week, any help you can give would be deeply appreciated. And I hope you have in your life a friend as good as Jon.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Cracks Happen

 Last week I finished a couple of large platters - white stoneware with sliptrailed rims. I was super excited about them, in part because I haven't been making platters for quite a while. 

Yesterday I was reminded why I rarely make platters - the breakage & loss rate is much higher than other things I make, so the hours of work are often wasted. Both of my largest platters cracked right down the middle! Although to be fair, it was my own fault - these cracks are obviously shrinkage cracks & could have been avoided with slow drying, & placing the platter on newspaper. 

I posted the cracked image on facebook, because stuff like this, it's all part of the process. For me the point of social media is to let people get a real glimpse, not just to show the successes. Several good hearted people suggested ways to "salvage" the piece - kintsugi, or so alternative use. While I understand the impulse not to let the work be wasted, part of being a potter is learning when to let go. There are both philosophical & practical reasons to do this. From a practical standpoint, the most expensive resource that goes into making is not labor, & it's certainly not clay: it's propane, for the firing. Firing something that I already know is cracked would be tremendously wasteful of kiln space! Philosophically, I think a lot of people fundamentally misunderstand kintsugi. We think of it just as  a pretty technique - which it is! - but the idea behind it is acceptance of transience and change. It is honoring the history of a beloved object while accepting that it, like everything else, will change over time. A piece that is not yet fired has no history. In this case, acceptance of transience means allowing it to return to clay, to become something else. 

Tl;dr: cracks happen! They suck, but we move on. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Kiln Surprise!

The best thing about clay - one of them, anyway - is that there’s always something more to learn. I’ve been firing this kiln for a little over a year; my previous kiln was built for the Gail Nichols-soda-salad method. This kiln uses the more common spray-in method. I find any little change can produce a different result! In this case, there were 2 changes. I used the same amount of soda, but in hot water, and , due to a surprisingly quick climb, sprayed the soda all in right at ^10. (I then fired to 11, but I have done that before with no major effects.)

There is much more soda glass on these pieces than I usually get! I can think of ways either one of these changes could account for this. Don’t get me wrong, I love surprises, I love learning about firing, & I love the pearl grey color on the b-mix. I know these will be harder to sell, though; it’s harder to see the tranquility of grey than the vitality of peach or orange. 

The brown clay pieces are truly stunning. No complaints there! 

Anyway! I went out in the single-digit cold in my bathrobe to have a look. Time to put real clothes on and start unloading!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Safe Travels to one of the Greats: Dan Anderson, 1945 - 2023

I studied with Dan in the early 90s & was deeply saddened to hear of his passing this month. In a way, it's difficult to believe; he just seemed more alive than most people.  

I learned a lot from Dan - about ceramics, obviously, but more important stuff, too: to own your enthusiasms, to not hide your quirks, to not fear looking silly. Dan was always unapologetically himself; the walking, talking embodiment of the aphorism, "Embrace your weirdness, for it is also your genius." 

The ceramics world - indeed the whole world - will miss him. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Clay in the News: Balloon Dog Pops

A small sculpture valued at $42,000 (£35,000) by the renowned artist Jeff Koons has been broken at the opening night of an art fair in Miami by a woman who gave it a little tap.

The blue sculpture, part of Koons’ famous “balloon dog” series, was perched on a pedestal featuring the name of the American artist when the woman – an unidentified art collector – was said to have tapped the sculpture, which then fell to the floor and shattered into smithereens.

Read the whole thing here:

Friday, February 17, 2023

Dopamine Dining

 I keep reading this phrase: dopamine dressing. I hadn't heard it until recently but I immediately knew what it meant. We've all done it! Colors that make you happy, jeans that make your butt look amazing, clothes that just feel very you & make you happy. 

I've started to think of using handmade dishware as dopamine dining. A mug or bowl that you love, that reflects an attitude of joy or serenity or high energy, or makes you smile - gives you what I call joy-zings but what might also be called dopamine hits. If you improve your experience of ordinary activities - & what could be more ordinary than preparing & eating food & drink? - you've improved your daily life. And guess what? Your daily life is the only life you have!

Tl;dr: Buy & use handmade pottery. See ya at the Maine Pottery Tour, May 6 & 7! 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Flash Sale! I think


One of my New Year's resolutions was to learn to use social media better for business. I usually keep my New Year's resolutions, or at least make a mighty effort; this one was challenging, as I feel older & less tech savvy by the day. 

But I think I got it figured out! Here goes: for 48 hours - midnight February 15th though midnight February 16th - enter code FEBFLASH at checkout in the Fine Mess Pottery online shop to receive 15% off! 

I hope somebody actually buys something so I know if I did it right! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Zero Days & Nearo Days

I've been doing a lot of hiking over the last couple of years. Often I am in the company of a good friend who is training for an Appalachian Trail hike, & who introduced me to the concept of Zero Days. 

In distance hiking, Zero Days are not a bad thing - they are resupply days, or days when you just give your body a rest. In my daily life, occasionally I will have a day when I just can't. Can't anything. On those days I just lay around reading, or streaming a show. As any self-employed artist knows, we can't afford many nonproductive days, & I used to hate myself for them; but understanding them in the context of a thru-hiker, I see those days differently. Sometimes you need that break. 

And, as I have come to realize, my days are never truly zero days; more like near zero. Nearo Days. Yesterday was one such day: supposed to be a teaching day, but 14" of snow said otherwise. Bonus studio day, right? NOPE. I spent no time in the studio, despite having leatherhard mugs that need handles & a jaunty jar that needs assembling. I just...couldn't. Things I did do: sent out invoices for the Maine Pottery Tour, & worked on updating the mailing list & the spreadsheet. Also shoveled a boatload of snow! So my zero days are not (usually) sit-around-eating-bon-bon days; it's my creative muscle that needs a rest. 

I do, on much rarer occasions, have literal zero days; unless "make coffee" and "keep breathing" count as accomplishments. I have learned to forgive myself for these days; maybe they aren't manifestations of laziness, but instead my brain insisting on a needed break. 

Today will be a teaching day, & tomorrow is looking like another snow day. Looks like were making up for the first, snowless month of winter, all in a week's time. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Going for it!

The poster for the 2022
Common Ground Fair

I have been on the fence about doing art fairs again after a long pandemic break, & then just unsure whether I wanted to go to the trouble & expense of rebuilding my booth, which I deconstructed after more than 25 years of service & one facelift. In the spirit of The Big Push - my New Year's Resolution - I decided to go for it, starting with the Common Ground Fair in Unity. 

There's no guarantee that I will be accepted, of course! The Common Ground is a competitive juried event. I didn't apply to this fair last year, & the two years before that I was accepted (but the fair, of course, was cancelled both times due to the pandemic) but if I recall correctly I was not chosen in 2019. It sucks, of course, to be juried out, but that is a necessary risk of applying to the best shows. The best shows in Maine, anyway; I've made a decision that I will not be applying to any show more than about 100 miles away. This is largely for environmental reasons - all those emissions from all those artists driving all those trucks & vans to all those art fairs! We forget that the flip side of "Shop Local" is "Sell Local." I have other considerations as well, mostly travel time & travel expenses.

Anyway, I've sent in my application & my ten bucks, now we wait & see. 

Today in the studio, I am finishing a jaunty jar & making some pasta bowls for Bay View Company, and also reclaiming clay - not my favorite job, but I'll turn it into a meditation. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Buffalo Cauliflower on Free Form Plate


The cauliflower was only OK - needed thicker batter. But the plate! I need to make more plates like this. All food looks good on it. 

I'm not gonna publish the cauliflower recipe until I get it right. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts


I have sort of a ritual with my hiking buddy, who goes by Hiking with Yowie on instagram. (Here's me, btw) We do our hike (or snowshoe, or bike ride, or paddle), then we find a local restaurant & have lunch. Yowie is vegetarian, so we always look for a place that has good choices in that vein. Last week we hiked the Gannett Woods trail to Shed Pond, then came back to Augusta & ate at State Lunch. We both had salads as our entrées, which were fine, but most memorable was the appetizer: Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts. 

I liked those so much I decided to try them at home! I've had an air fryer for over a year, but until recently basically only used it to heat up fishsticks. It can be a quicker way to prepare healthy foods (& an energy saver!), so I made a resolution to learn to do more with it. First I learned homemade chicken nuggets - no batter, no oil, but juicy, spicy, & quick! - and now I have figured out this new dish.

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

10-12 Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
Optional: diced red bell pepper, 3/4s cup
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup Dry Roasted Peanuts, no salt
1 clove & 2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Honey
1/2 teaspoon Ginger
Splash of Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/4 teaspoon Cornstarch

I rarely measure when I cook, so these are approximations.

  • Mix soy, ginger, honey, hot sauce  & 2 cloves garlic together. Whisk in cornstarch to thicken. Heat in saucepan until just boiling. Reduce heat & stir in peanuts. Remove from heat after 2 minutes.
  • Toss cut brussels sprouts (& bell pepper, if using) with 1 clove garlic & cook in air fryer 9 minutes at 400°. 
  • Place cooked vegetables into bowl. Pour sauce mixture over & toss to thoroughly coat. 

Makes 2 servings if side dish, one if main course. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Doing Well by Doing Good, 2023


It has been s few years since I sponsored a cat at Kennebec Valley Humane Society. As I am working on getting my groove back, I decided it was time to do so again. As with everything in this business, it all starts with inventory. Yesterday I threw 20 little cat-dish-sized bowls, which I will sell to raise money to sponsor a cat's adoption fee. 

I expect these to be fired in mid-February, and the sale to commence shortly there after. 

Also this week, I got the ball rolling on the 2023 Maine Pottery Tour, learned to make Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts, and hiked to Shed Pond. So beautiful! 

Friday, January 13, 2023

It All Starts with Inventory


As I said in an earlier post (which I published but then accidentally deleted, well done, Lori), I am sort of starting over in 2023. I got very lackadaisical in my studio work over the last couple of years - maybe just hard to gear up again after the pandemic, or maybe just getting older; that's what we are here to discover. I would like to get back to bringing more energy to the business. Actively seeking accounts, making video tutorials, applying for fairs & grants, all that stuff. 

It all starts with inventory. I can't create or respond to opportunities without it, so this month is all about making. 

Yesterday it was plates! I rarely make plates, except as class demos, but I got this set in my mind as sometimes happens, the desire to reify it was quite overwhelming. I put off a bunch of other stuff that I really should be doing, because I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate until this set of plates was a thing in the world. 

Today I am making jaunty jars, & small bowls, applying for the art fairs I have neglected for the last couple of years, & sending out an organizing email for the Maine Pottery Tour.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

I'm Ready: 23 for 2023

23 for 2023

  1. Catchphrase: Try Harder
  2. Learn to use my air fryer. For real, not just fish sticks.
  3. Clean my car regularly. Started this today! I'm a tidy person...except my car. It's gross. 
  4. Stationary bike 5 miles/day
  5. One social thing/month. For introverted me, this has to be intentional. 
  6. Rebuild art fair display. Not looking forward to this! But it has to happen. Maybe it'll be fun...?
  7. Take time regularly to really appreciate the abundance of love, comfort, and beauty my life has been blessed with. Truly, I used to know I was the luckiest person in the world. I am no less blessed now; more so. I just don't notice it as much. 
  8. 10+ hours in the studio each week - actual making tasks (as opposed to kiln maintenance, admin, cleaning)
  9. Back to blogging! Blogs have fallen out of fashion; I'm pretty sure no one is reading this, or, like, less than 10 people. (I no longer have a stat counter, so, who knows, it could be a million. But I think 10 is more likely.) In a way this is freeing! I don't have to worry that I am being boring or sloppy. It's a place to put my thoughts, like it was in the beginning. If you are out there, thanks for reading & I love you! I hope you aren't bored. :)
    Anyway, one blog post a week, average.
  10. 5 Postcards to voters/month. Maybe I can do better than this - sometimes, anyway - but trying not to be unrealistic or overload myself.
  11. The year of the dishwasher! I think this will claw back about 3 hours a week for me
  12. Learn to use instagram to sell 
  13. Utilize social media better generally for promotion & audience building
  14. 5 new outlets - preferably wholesale, but well-established, local consignment is good, too
  15. Stay hydrated! The 8-glasses-a-day thing turns out to be bullshit, but still, staying hydrated is a good thing. Let's say 40 ounces a day, min. 
  16. Do better about birthdays (2 of them, anyway.). I suck at birthdays, not entirely by accident. I know I am forgetful & I know I have a lot to remember, so at some point I made a decision that I had to let go of something. Better, I decided, to control what I forget, than just start dropping balls. I sort of decided that, since I don't really care about my own birthday, it would be ok to not try to remember other people's birthdays. Just clearing something from my plate so I don't forget crucial things. I still feel that way, but 2 of my nephews are kids, & I am going to remember their birthdays this year. 
  17. Explore an idea I have: making clay videos for Patreon. 
  18. Kayak the Nonesuch River, through the Scarborough Marsh
  19. Get back to Acadia! It's a couple-three hours away but so much to see & do. I hate that I haven't been there since 2019. 
  20. A purge! I have a lot of stuff. Don't we all? More comes in the door every day. I need to get rid of some of it, & create some sort of habit or process to do that regularly. 
  21. Related: clear up two massive clutter sites, my desk & the tool closet
  22. Related: create attic storage area
  23. Spend more time with Doug
A lot of this list seems a little, idk, grim, I guess. Work more! Work harder! I think that's because my personal pendulum has swung to far in the direction of recreation: Hiking, biking, kayaking, binge-watching, book-reading, & cat-cuddling. I don't need nudges to do easy, laidback stuff - I do plenty of that without prompting. I want to see if I can get back to being a go-getter! I am prepared for the possibility that I am just not that person any more. If I don't end up doing these things, or I do them & I am less fulfilled in my life rather than more, I will have learned something about myself. 

Happy New Year, everyone! Hope your is everything joyful.