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!