Yesterday I was just getting ready to cut and slam wedge some native clay that had been sitting on the wedging table to dry out, as I often do to pick out the odd little rock or left over hard chunks of debris. Found this little fellow “hunkered down”, as they would say here in the South. He had chewed and burrowed his way about an inch into the clay.
Earlier in spring and summer, we are pestered by some much smaller black beetles, resembling this one, actually, only about 1 to 2 millimeters in length. They come out once the sun goes down and make their way into the studio, seeking out leather-hard pots and damp clay. Groups of them will actually burrow right through the sides of pots. Sometimes I think they make a point to go for those pots you have spent the most time on trimming or carving a design into …pure coincidence, of course.
Since we don’t have screens on the windows and the studio is kind of open, we usually try and wrap or cover pots with dry cleaner’s plastic. We have to also make sure we turn the lights to the studio off when we leave, since they don’t seem to nibble in the dark.
As potters, we subject our hands to a good deal of abuse. Prolonged handling of clay and loading kilns, seems to just suck the moisture right out of my hands, sometimes to the point of being quite painful, especially if a crack develops. If your hands are out of commission, you can’t make pots. I thought I would share some of the things I personally like to use to help maintain and protect my hands and fingers.
I have tried many kinds of hand creams to keep my hands from drying out and cracking over the years, but not very many actually penetrate the skin or do much good. The two ones I’ve had the best luck with are Corn Huskers Lotion and Bee Balm Lotion (BeeBalm is actually my favorite). Both can be bought at my local pharmacy, and the Bee Balm can even be bought through at least one of my pottery suppliers.
Its also unavoidable sometimes to get abrasions, cuts, scratches, hangnails, etc.. While an adhesive bandage works great under normal conditions to protect and keep a cut clean, it has a tendency to just be cumbersome and usually won’t hold up or even stay on after a few minutes of throwing, let alone continue to keep bacteria out once it gets wet. And clay has bacteria.
Several years ago I was reading about a new product on the market called New Skin. It was a new kind of waterproof, flexible liquid bandage that you could just brush on like nail polish. As soon as I tried it, I was sold. While I don’t think its recommended for big deep cuts, it seems to work great on scratches, minor cuts, etc., and is quite unobtrusive.
I also found these handy dandy little First Aid Cots in the bandage section of the pharmacy, right by the New Skin, bandaids, etc… They roll on like little finger condoms and can even go over a bandage, keeping your digit dry and clean. Much more localized coverage than a latex glove, although just as effective. They work great.
I also like to keep some little nail clippers at hand and around the wheel. They’re handy for trimming bits off fast-growing nails when they get too long and start to gouge the clay, and are perfect for nipping off hangnails before they get out of hand.
Regional artists of various mediums, not just clay, donate a piece of work: their interpretation of a bowl.
Friday, November 16th, 6 to 9 pm
Cathedral Square Gallery, 260 Dauphin St, Downtown Mobile
Tickets: Just $35 from the 15 Place web site
“…eat hearty soups, drink assorted beverages, munch on artisan breads and gourmet cookies, dance to a great band, BAYRUNNER this year, and at the end of the evening take our bowl home.”
Once again this year our self-representing artist collective of local and regional working artists, The Coastal Artisans, will be holding our Annual Christmas Art Show and Sale on the first Saturday of December at the Mobile Botanical Gardens.
This will be our second year and will once again be held in conjunction with the Garden’s Master Gardeners Christmas greenery and Poinsettia Sale.
To learn more about this event and our artists, please visit our website:
My pottery teacher of years ago once told me (warned me, actually, when I expressed interest years ago in potting full time) “Pottery is a hard way to make a living”. It is very true. A potter needs to be a skilled artist, technician, manufacturer, marketer, administrator, and sales person, among other things, as well as being physically able and have a thick skin.
Throwing pots on the wheel, in reality, only represents a small portion of what goes into producing a finished pot. For every two three days of throwing, there are four or 5 days of doing other tasks. Pots still need to be trimmed, have handles attached and decoration applied, and patiently monitored as they dry slowly before they are loaded into the bisque kiln. If they survive the bisque firing , they are then glazed and loaded into the gas kiln. Because our shelves are so badly warped we also “wad” the bottoms of our pots before the final firing (wadding: dry china clay and alumina hydrate mixed and formed into balls which are strategically stuck to the bottom of the pots to evenly support the base of the pot on the kiln shelf).
A few examples of other tasks we do involve: clay preparation (digging clay, pounding/sifting/”slaking” it down, mixing it, moving it back to the drying area, pugging it (if you have a pugmill, we dont) wedging/kneading it for right consistency); Glaze preparation (measuring out raw materials and mixing glazes in 5 gallon batches; testing of new recipes or color variations also done in smaller batches; doing glaze chemistry); Kiln building/maintenance; Lifting/Carting bags of raw materials & clay; Loading/unloading the kiln; Shipping; Setting up web site / online sales; assembling and maintaining a sales display to take to shows, for example; preparing for and traveling to shows; Find ways to market work (new shows, online marketing, wholesale & consignment opportunities, etc.); etc
When things go wrong with pottery, they tend to go really wrong. Its very disheartening & demoralizing when you have lost half or more of a kiln load of pots that you have worked weeks to produce, due to some glaze, clay, or firing problem. Its even more disheartening when equipment is inevitably going to conk out when you most need it (usually in the last stretch toward a show). Things can go wrong even when you do things right.
We just had a string of bad firings where some of our usually most reliable glazes, thanks to an ingredient problem, not only came out unrecognizable, but fluxed out and ran all over and destroyed shelves. (Raw materials used in pottery are different clays and minerals all mined from the earth, are only as pure as the mine, and can change over time and according to the mine.) The problems are still not quite resolved. I lost I would say at least 1/3 if not more of the work I’ve made this fall due to one thing or another, but mostly due to these glaze problems. Its not just the financial loss, but the emotional strain that hits hard, and doubly so when you have to cancel that show that you were counting on the income from. When you make pots you’re not just manufacturing; you are so connected to your product in every aspect of production, its a lot more, well, personal. For a while there I didn’t want to see clay.
A friend of mine similarly had some very bad luck with some commercial clay (for which, incidentally, the shipping cost more than the clay) she made all of her pots out of for her fall show season. A week after her big fall sale, a customer brought back $300 worth of pots, then another customer did the same. All or most of the pots had quarter-cent sized hunks of the side of the pot popping off. Lime pop-outs apparently, which can take up to 3 months after the firing to appear. Months of work, large financial commitments (show fee, natural gas, clay, etc), and possibly her reputation tarnished, all because of a faulty raw material or the clay not being mixed properly by the supplier. The supplier was very gracious to replace the clay, but the propane has been burned, the pots have been sold, the money has already been spent, and the remainder of her inventory is questionable… and her pride bruised.
We keep making pots because there is always something that pulls us back. Art for arts sake? Bull. Working artists still have to eat and still have expenses like everyone else. Its not impossible to survive off of one’s work but making pots for a living (or any art full time) takes commitment, perseverance, and drive, it is not for the faint hearted.