Friday, July 27, 2007

What a Difference a Glaze Makes, part 2

These examples are roughly the same shape. They're the salt and pepper shakers I make both in singles and/or in sets. These are singles because they are experiments with form and glaze. The pear on the left is glazed in only celadon. It's an early one. The second has an underglaze of black applied to the piece when was raw clay. I brush the underglaze on using a slowly spinning wheel. Same form - very different outcome: One composed, quiet, the other zany and playful. The black & white one reminds me of an Italian clown's striped leggings.

This is how I make them: I put about 1 1/2 lbs. porcelain on the wheel, center, then make a donut shape by opening a hole that goes straight down to the wheelhead in the center. I form a cone-shape that's about about an inch+ tall, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top with a tiny hole at the apex. The hole is small enough that the head of a dressmaker's pin would pass through--bead sized.

Then I carefully pull the sides up into a pear shape closing the form at the top and sealing the air within. (You can modify the shape once the pear is sealed, manipulating the trapped air.)

I set it aside for a day or until it becomes firm enough to have the application of a stem and/or leaves on the top. Keep it on the batt. Sometimes I carefully indent the top before affixing the stem. A leaf or two can be formed and added too, but keep in mind how you're going to deal with the underside of the leaf when it comes time to glaze. I usually make them pretty form-fitting to the pear.

Then I let the pear dry on the batt. When it's ready to come off, I smooth the bottom, sign the clay and set it on the self to be fired. Sometimes I wax the very bottom and just set it on the kiln shelf; other times I stilt the piece, as in this shot.

How do they work you ask? You will notice there are no holes in the top. Everything goes it and comes out the bottom. It's physics. You turn the pear over and pour the salt/pepper in through the cone which now acts as a funnel, gently rotate the pear upright and when you want seasoning, just shake the thing straight up and down. The cone has retained the granules inside by forming a donut-shaped reservoir inside, when you shake it the salt or pepper flies up to the top on the inside and some falls out the tiny hole at the top of the cone. Depending on how large the hole is, the more stingy or generous the fall-out is. One customer, after puzzling over how the thing worked, suddenly 'got it' and said, "Isn't it great when physic works?"

Monday, July 23, 2007

GIGO - Garbage in; Garbage out.

Well, not exactly. But every time I load the kiln, I have this idea in my head about how the pieces will look when they come out. Most of the time, everything clicks; some of the time, it doesn't. Now that can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing.

A glaze ruuuuns right-off-the-pot and onto the kiln shelf.
(Forehead slap) Why didn't I put a set-tile under that?
Maybe I should incorporate a set-tile into the piece? no no no

That combination of glazes never acted like THAT before!

Did I calculate the glaze right?
How thick was it when I put it on?
Has it changed from the last time?
Where's my notes!

Ugh! I don't like that at all!
Why did I waste that piece?

Did the kiln fire right?

ANOTHER learning experience?

I'm going to stick to one glaze from now on.

It's Hammer Time.


Wow Wow Wow
I'm only going to do (white, black, green, That Glaze) from now on!

I LOVE it!
Where's my notes?

Ooooo, That's a keeper! I'm going to take it into my house and live with it forever basking in it's gloriousness.
(That is, until an even better, more beautiful pot comes along.
Or a show comes along.
Or a customer comes along who can't live without it. (It had better be a good price. Oh, where's my camera? Need a picture of it before it goes out the door.)

I've put pots away thinking they were the pits and have unpacked them later and thought, "Hum, that's a nice pot. Why didn't I like it? I'll have to do that again."

It's all in what you think the pot will look like after it's fired. If it doesn't measure up to your mental picture, you might judge it to be a failure while everyone else may think it's great. It's all in your expectations. I try not to have expectations, but it's hard. I've learned to let a piece "cure" for a while. (In some cases, they fester.)

If the construction is fine with no technical flaws and it's a saleable piece, take it to a show or offer it for sale. You'd be surprised how many people may love it and want it. You just never know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What a Difference a Glaze Makes

This tumbler didn't come out like I pictured it in my mind. The glazes ran 'way more than I expected, although I've done this before, but on a flat surface where they behaved themselves. This isn't quite IT overall. I want the base darker. I'll brush the rim to match and the flare at the bottom of the vessel, then wax the thing. Then do the body. This was an experiment: I threw the top and base separately. I scored the base heavily, bisqued them separately, then glazed both pieces and set them in the kiln on short kiln posts. (The inside of the base wasn't glazed.) Musta' been all those fumes because a couple of these guys got drunk and s-l-i-d ever so slightly off-center. I still like the look. It's worth repeating, I think.

"Cup Committee Meeting" When I photographed this group and looked at the result, I thought it looked as if they were all talking to each other. (I must eat lunch)

I had a lot of fun making these. I wanted them loose with interesting variations. They all have names: Sluggo, Unkempt Lady, Nose, Three Bumps, One Bump, Three Knuckles, etc. They came out pretty much like I expected. I mean, they're WHITE. Total emphasis on form here. I'll make these again, only bigger and more 'out there'. They're fun for you hand.

This tumbler was done after I did a series of smaller ones with more applied bumps. (Pictured below) It has a nicer shape, is larger and just classier looking. Not a whole lot of difference in the raw clay and finished piece. Easy to drink out of because of the lip-fitting flared top, Nice balance in the hand and easy to clean out because you can get your hand inside easily. I really like the size. It's about 10 oz. without filling to the top.

This is "Warts and All". This little devil and all his kin ran like a bandit. Pictured is the only surviver that can stand without leaning. Lovely interior, though, don'tchathink? A note will go in my glazing journal: Do NOT use this combo on anything vertical!

A cylinder form that has been paddled to make a square bottom works well with this glaze. It's a fake ash matt and the runs are very nice. Simple form/show-off glaze.

The grouping below is "Nice Family" because every one has one stamp at the bottom that is the same; the top stamp is different on each. This is a glaze combo I'm very comfortable with. I've used it before with stamped pieces and it pools nicely in the cavities. Celadon is always satisfying.

Smile for the camera, you mugs!

Unloaded my kiln and now I need to photograph the pieces. I have a set-up in my basement 'way back in the corner where I can exclude all light except a tungsten bulb in a clamp-on lamp. It's usually hanging from a floor joist.

Years ago I swallowed hard and bought an entire roll of neutral grey from a photo supply company which I 'temporarily' hung using a rope threaded through the core so that it would roll out easily. Ceramics is murder on dark paper surfaces, so if it gets scuffed, I can just cut off a slab of it and roll out more. The roll rests on an antique table we bought for a song from an auction in the UK. The thing was stripped and all the grain risen, but after of years of curing in various basements, it's almost ready to refinish. heh

I rigged up two hurking big sheets of foamcore on either side of the table. I have another two smaller pieces of the stuff taped together like a book cover. I can place it anywhere in order to bounce light back to the underside of a piece if it needs it. Once upon a time, I got a bunch of roses in a shiny, gold foil box. And packrat, I, now use in the same way as the foamcore pieces to bounce a warmer light if needed.

For years I used an SLR on a tripod with an extended trigger shutter to take shots, but now have a great digital camera that I love to use. Believe it or not, we have a little portable tripod that has knocked around in our various houses for years that fits it perfectly. Today I'm going to locate that autoshutter trigger and see if it fits too. (I told you I was a packrat. Ya never know.)

Photos to come.


I promise.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

This new site looks like a good resource. I joined and elected to receive the glaze book, (what a stunner of a cover!) but if you go further into the site, there are two other choices--I'm assuming these are alternates and that all the books are not offered at once; only the choice of one download-able per subscription. The cover of the 33 Tried and True Glaze Recipes (pictured) is enough to make any potter salivate.

(Except that my printer went "BIORK" when it got to page 17 and kept wanting to reprint everything from the start all over again. Oh, you infernal machine of little brain capacity!) Had to resort to printing every page individually, but it was worth it.

I think they're ahead of the game here; much more of our interaction in the future will be through electronic networking and we're only seeing the beginnings of it. CLAYART, the email ceramic discussion group, is/was a pioneer in the establishment of a professional network. After all, artists are the ultimate cultural hunter/gatherers. We are sensitive to influences of our time; many times much more so than the general public. We are usually either at the front of the wave, 'way ahead of it or the creators of the wave in the first place.

From all I read about marketing in Europe and the U.S., social and commercial networking will become a huge part of our lives. With accessibility becoming more portable through hand-helds and future devices, we will become connected in many new ways. I already do a good bit of my shopping and almost all of my correspondence electronically. For the past 6 months I've been reading blogs pretty heavily and although there's a lot of stuff out there I'm not interested in, there's a heck of a lot more out there I would have never have had access to and people I wouldn't have ever, ever found.

It now makes a whole lot more sense to have my own web page to market & sell work. I've already gotten my electronic toes wet (zzzzttt Bad metaphor) selling to a niche of buyers. It has been surprisingly successful. The future may be a combined blog and selling site.

It's not a matter of Either/Or. It's AND. The electronic connection is just another enhancement and opportunity.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

And Sometimes, I give mugs away

Sometimes I make special mugs just to give away. When I saw Beowulf & Grendel in Canada about a year ago, I was so taken with the movie that I started actively trying to get it shown in the U.S.

It needed a distributor, but first it needed a track record. I and some other fans began working to get it included in the Seattle International Film Festival. It did get put on the roster and the film's director, Sturla Gunnarsson, was lined up to come ands speak before the screening.

In the meantime, I had played around with the idea of making mugs with an applied streamlined Viking helmet design. I made several and tested different glaze effects, coming up with a final design that worked well both in form and glaze coloration. Some mugs went to people who had worked to get the film out there, some went to cast members and one to the screenwriter, Andrew Berzins.

When the film was shown at the Seattle International Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to meet Sturla and give him the mug. A group of us spent the evening having dinner with him and talking about the rigors of filmaking. What this cast and crew went through to bring this movie to the screen is a monument to tenacity. The website,, is still up and the DVD is available for purchase. "Wrath of the Gods" , making it's rounds at various film festivals, is a documentary about the incredible problems that were faced and dealt with in order to make the movie. It is also available on DVD and can be found at

So here's to you, guys, may you continue to make more great movies!

Monday, July 2, 2007

But Seriously, Folks

Pictured; Sea Star Mugs

The below list has been circulating around potter's groups for some years and yes, it does make it look like you're only dealing with one mug instead of in reality, multiple pieces of work. When I make mugs or bowls or anything in groups, I always make extras just in case some quirky thing happens and one sticks to the kiln shelf or I drop it on the concrete because it burned my fingers while trying to unload my kiln too fast. (Yes, I am learning to be more patient.)

The Real Point: There is very little understanding about the process of making things by hand. Meeting the general public at shows makes that very apparent. The whole complex of skills it takes to make anything by hand? Most people haven't a clue. Sure, I'd say 99% have seen a potter throwing on a wheel or will tell you they saw "Ghost". Throwing is just one tiny part of making pottery. Occasionally, someone will tell me they took some classes or had done pottery before. These are kindred souls who really understand.....

"How long did it take you to make that?" is a question artists are always being asked. There are any number of responses that spring to the tongue and twitter the mind. You could go the James McNeil Whistler route and say, "All my life." But that seems a big flip and you're likely to turn the questioner off Big Time. Some people are trying to equate the answer with Time X Hourly Wage = Reasonable Cost. But I can tell you right up front, if potters charged even the minimum wage for what they do, nobody could afford to buy handmade work. If you start enumerating steps as in the process list for a mug, you will see an immediate eye-glaze and an equally fast drift-off. They don't really want to know.

What I recognize is this: The customer is trying to make contact with you. And the "How much time?" question is really an opener, since they don't know the technical stuff and therefore can't ask a technical question. A good artist-salesman (unfortunately, we must all become that if we want to keep making art) doesn't have to answer the question directly. I usually answer with another question like, "I'm curious. What is it about the piece that attracted you?" It's a great non-threatening response and a way to get to know the person who is interested in what you're produced.

And they're curious about the person who makes the art. After all, it is rare you get to meet the creator of any art on a one-to-one basis. Museums are not run by artists, unfortunately, and rarely are galleries. Shows seem to be fading. Some artists still do them, but most of the time it's a whole lot of work for very little return. Artist's costs are going up yearly. Many shows have changed and lost their edge, becoming a 'free entertainment outing for the family' kind of event. It can be very discouraging to spend 4 demanding days in a booth surrounded by your best work watching plastic-looking-garden-art-bubbleblowers go by in the hands of customers. It can be a real heartbreaker.

With the advent of cheap goods flowing into the marketplace, the artist's niche is getting smaller and smaller. So where does the artist go? They join co-ops, open their studios to the public, join groups, get a webpage. I don't care for co-ops because of the requirement to be on a sales floor-type schedule. I do only one or two shows each year just because I like the particular shows and enjoy being in touch with customers and getting valuable, immediate feed-back. But I'm going more and more into the direction of selling on the internet and seeking out galleries.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Bit of Potter's Humor

Customer: Why does this mug cost so much?

Potter: Well, to make it, I must:

1. Drive to Tacoma or Seattle and buy 500lb. clay, (1+ hour trip each way and pay ferry fare/bridge toll) or pay extra to have clay delivered to studio. Rule: Always buy clay in the larges amount you can afford-it's cheaper that way.

2. Unload 50 lb. boxes of clay and stack in studio.

3. Cut and weigh out amount needed.

4. Wedge (knead) clay.

5. Center clay on wheel and throw the mug shape.

6. Remove from wheel and let dry 24 - 48 hours; depending on humidity.

7. Put mug back on wheel and trim.

8. Hand-pull or create the handle.

9. Let handle dry 1 to 5 hours; depending on humidity.

10. Attach handle to trimmed mug.

11. Cover handle in hot wax or wrap in plastic to slow drying on very dry days.

12. Let mug dry 1 week minimum to "Bone dry". If mug cracks at this point, trash, recycle clay and start over at step 3.

13. Load mug into kiln in the garage and fire to 1850 F - about 10-12 hours.

14. Unload kiln and take mug to studio for glazing. If mug has cracked during first firing, discard or put it in the bottom of lowerpots or use as fill.

15. Measure & mix and seive glaze(s) making sure they are at the right consistency for coverage.

16. Put hot wax on the bottom of mug so it does not stick to kiln shelf. Or, if glazed on the bottom, use stilts. (Be sure to buy more at the supply store next trip.)

17. Choose design and glaze mug.

18. Let mug dry thoroughly.

19. Load mug in to kiln, making sure it has enough space. If glaze scratches or gets bumped on journey, wash with hot water and start back at step 12.

20. Fire glazed mug to 2450 F, 10 - 14 hours depending on firing cycle.

21. Hold firing temperature at 2450 F for approximately 25 minutes. Frequently check kiln during entire firing cycle to make sure it goes right.

22. Wait about 14 hours for kiln to cool to under 400 F before opening.

23. Remove and check mug. If cracked, start over at step 1.

24. If mug has miraculously survived to this point, clean sharp bits off bottom and other spots by hand with a grinding stone.

25. Pack mug in bubble wrap, place in crates, haul crates to van, drive to show, unload crates, set up booth and shelves
unwrap mugs, arrange tastefully in display. Discard any that did not make the trip in one piece.

26. Stick price labels onto mug.

27. Offer mug for sale.

28. Last, but certainly not least instruction; Try not to attack the foolish person who innocently asks,
"Why does this mug cost so much?"

AND, let us not forget all the hidden steps not numbered in here: Pay Puget Power, answer phone, wash down studio and reprocess used clay, develop and test new glazes, read professional publications, attend meetings, photograph works to enter juried shows (or pay a professional photographer to do it), attend workshops and seminars, develop sales tags & show graphics, come up with new mug forms and techniques, work, eat, sleep.