Nov 18 2011

Ritual

cylindersAccording to the Oxford Dictionary:

ritual (rit – u – al) noun:   a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone

Growing up I never could fully appreciate the value of rituals and routine.  For example, my mum would always get up an hour before anyone else, have her smoke, do her hair, drink her coffee, put the radio on, contemplate her navel, and let her brain thaw, before waking the rest of us up and facing the world. If someone interrupted that time, boy, it would throw her off for the day…or at least her morning.  I  was able to accept and work around this ‘state of being’ in the morning, but I didn’t quite understand the why behind it, how such a routine could be so ingrained.  A lot of this seemingly impenetrable ritualistic adult behaviour, that not only my mother was guilty of, but many others,  I merely chalked up to these individuals being inexplicably fixed in their ways. I remember thinking “I don’t ever want to be like that”.  Boring (isn’t that just a typical kid response?) .

As I get older, however, I do recognize and acknowledge that rituals and routine to some extent, can be a healthy thing and actually help us function and relate better to the world around us.  I see it most noticeably with my kids. Regular bedtime, regular dinner time, regular school hours and the framework that goes along with it.. I think it actually helps them thrive. They know when things are supposed to happen, what to expect and what is expected of them. They don’t have to think about it.  And, I hate to admit it, but with them in a routine, its a lot easier on me as well.  With certain things predictable and stable, it leaves more energy to learn, be creative, and grow.

I was in the studio yesterday, scraping off bats, and getting ready for a new throwing session. I came to the realization that I am probably more fixed into my routine than I like to admit.  With kids and the many other less than constructive distractions in my life, I have been forced to work ‘smarter’.  Having worked in the studio for a number of years now, I have unknowingly developed a working pattern.  I use specific tools every time, I have a clear vision of what needs to be done/made, and I have a pretty good idea what would annoys and/or distract me as I try to work (like remnant clay shavings forgotten and left to get stuck on my throwing tools ..or having no place to put pots after I throw them, especially when ware racks have been cluttered up with general ‘stuff’ that should be stored or displayed elsewhere.. That makes me mental), so I like things I need close at hand and ready to use, without me having to stop and disrupt my concentration and throwing rhythm.

Anyhow..  as I sat there, I realized I go through the exact same process, in the same order, practically every time I get ready for a new throwing cycle:  clear area of scrap clay, take reclaim out to the clay mixing area, scrape off bats/tiles, if switching from native clay to porcelain clean the tools/wheel area/bats, sweep around my wheel/where i have to walk, lay out tools, make sure I have clay towel, clear tables/shelves, wedge clay and weigh it out into balls then cover them, change throwing water (if its cold outside, use hot water so hands don’t ache), go inside to get a drink/make pitstop/psyche up/stretch, back to studio, put tunes on, sit down, and, finally, commence.  Its not a compulsion, its just something I do.

Going through this ritual, helps me be more centered and focused on throwing.   It didn’t used to be this way. In my old studio, while it was pretty clean, I didn’t have a groove and working didn’t have a nice flow to it.  As a relative novice, I was still trying to work things out and feel comfortable in my space, and with my throwing. There was no continuity, no routine, and lots of distraction, and unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t see it.

These rituals and routines are a necessary thing in order to be more productive.  Repetition of tasks, like scraping bats and wedging clay, over time become second nature and almost mindless, allowing more mental energy and focus to be spent on things like throwing, working out shape and design, etc., so by the time you reach the wheel, you’re mentally prepared.


Oct 27 2011

Potters of Japan

Someone the first part of this video series by Peeler Ceramic Art Films, on Facebook and I thought I would share it here as well.  I’m not sure what date these originally came out, but they kind of look like they’re from the 60s or earlier.  I love seeing these older pottery documentaries and hope you do too.

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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Oct 22 2011

Clay

I like this time of night, after everyone has gone to sleep, I can slip out to the studio and do some late night throwing.  I’ve been working on a fairly big order of mugs, and I’m over half way there.  Some mugs are in the bisque kiln as we speak, and the rest line the shelves waiting their turn.  I have to shift gears now and throw some other things. I’ve found that the gas kiln just filled with only mugs (my kiln at least) doesn’t make for a very good glaze firing.  I have to fill the kiln with pots of a variety of sizes and shapes so the flame has different paths to go, for the kiln to fire off best and most efficiently.   Spent a good chunk of the day wedging clay, weighing out balls, and prepping my wheel for another throwing cycle.  I’m ready. In fact, I am boiling the kettle right now so I can warm up my throwing water and get going.  Its so much easier to get into a groove with no interruptions.

Clay MixerThe week before I went to Canada the last time, we mixed some new batches of native clay. As you know, we use a 1915 dough mixer to do the actual mixing, but we also use a converted concrete mixer to help make a smooth clay slurry or slip.  Clay that we have ‘slaked’ down (dry clay is added to water breaks down into a slip or liquid clay) or turned into a slurry goes into the mixer first, then dry ingredients are added.  Just as when mixing bread dough, as the clay gets mixed and becomes dryer, it starts to pull together and away from the mixer walls, then its a matter of finding the right consistency you’re looking for. I like the clay to be plastic, yet still moderately soft when it comes out of the mixer.  A rough gauge to determine this is to take a small piece of clay out of the mixer,  roll it into a little coil, then twist it. If the coil breaks easily, the clay is what is considered ‘short’, and needs to mix longer. If the coil twists easily without cracking, its just the right consistency.  If mixed correctly, again, like dough, the more the clay is mixed, the better the consistency; it gives the particles more of a chance to align and become ‘plastic’ (or ‘elastic’ in consistency, in the case of bread dough).

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Its loud and can be treacherous work, if you’re not careful. Its dusty (silica dust) too, so its important to wear a mask with a NOISH approved air filter. If you don’t have your wits about you and mess up and reach into the mixer for some reason while its going and the mixing paddle (for lack of a better word) is rotating,  before you know it, it can grab you and pull you right in. Really.  That puppy is strong and you can lose your arm or worse (!).  Sickening thought, isn’t it?  Kind of like using a pugmill. You never stick your hand in the hopper while the auger is moving, or you can say goodbye to your hand.  So much for that peaceful zenlike impression you had of making pottery!

Its a lot of work mixing your own clay, but the process doesn’t end there. After its mixed, we haul it inside where it ages some in a barrel, then it gets run through a pug mill, then I wedge it. I’ve found that despite being very careful to screen the clay, there is still a little junk left in the clay, so after it comes out of the pugmill, I wire cut the clay, pick foreign matter such as wee rocks or other undesireable bits out, and slam wedge it on my table.  Slice, pick bits out, slam the two pieces of clay down on the table.. slice, pick bits out, slam. And so it goes until the clay looks right.  Its a bit of a process, but I’d rather pick bits out now than when I’m throwing/finishing a pot, or worse yet, find popouts on pieces coming out of the kiln.  The slam wedging also helps to work air bubbles out, and helps to make the clay easier to work (easier on my wrists) when I do my final spiral wedging.  If I were just making brick or flowerpots I might not be so particular, but when the clay is going to be used for functional ware, I find its well worth the extra steps.


Oct 22 2011

Forgive me father..

throwing

Forgive me because I have not blogged in ….months.

Seems time folds when I’m busy or preoccupied.  Spring is always a flurry of activity getting ready for shows, the winding down the kiddos’ school year, and teaching obligations.  Last spring, I agreed to teach kids at a local art center and taught in an after school program at my daughters’ school, above and beyond my adult students and doing production work.

I haven’t really mentioned much about her before, but my eldest daughter, who will be 9 tomorrow, is developmentally delayed. While she can walk around, eats table food, and can belly laugh at her younger sister, she cannot talk or communicate in any typical manner, does not feed herself, and still wears diapers.  She more or less functions at the level of  a 1 yr old, in some respects, only she can walk around and hit things with the strength of a 9 year old.  Not terribly self-reliant, I’m afraid, and can’t really be left to entertain herself for any period, even when I need to work.  She goes for clinical therapy for speech/gross and fine motor skills once a week, and has been in a special ed class since the age of 3.   Its been pretty trying and I won’t say our life has been typical, by any means. When she is conscious, and home, I get little work done in the studio, as I am the principle caregiver and sometimes the only person who can snap her out of a fit or episode. Fun.

When school ended last year, and my girls were denied enrollment at the school’s summer program, I was resigned to the fact that my pottery production would have to slow down significantly in June and July. When August finally rolled around, I was relieved, but first, I had planned a trip to Canada to see my dad and situate (and hopefully ship down) some of the things I still had in storage there.

Before I left though, I learned that my dad, who is now 87, had, after struggling with his driver’s tests (in Ontario, you have to take a test to renew your license every year once you reach 80), decided to finally give up his license. He also sold his car  evenbefore my youngest daughter and I arrived

Its always shocking to see an aging parent after you haven’t seen them for a year.  My dad, who has been battling some health problems these last few years, was showing his age and slowing down quite visibly.  With the loss of his car, he wanted to sell his house and decided it was time to move into a retirement home.  (Talk about a lifestyle adjustment ..)  So the week we were there, that’s what we worked towards. Aside from packing/sorting/organizing, we listed his house and commenced showing it 2 days later, and we toured various retirement facilities about town, one of which he really liked, and the lease was signed so he could move in Sept 1. Great. My daughter and I fly out on the 10th or so, with a few days to spare before she had to go back to school.  I start gearing up mentally to work on pots…

I learned that after I left, he had had 2 falls (!). Days later, when his scheduled doctor’s appointment rolled around (he refused to go before that), the doctor, learning of of his falls, whisked him off to the hospital for xrays (thankfully no broken bones), a blood transfusion, and they admitted him for a few days to deal because of some other issues.  That was August.  Poor thing, he has been in and out of the hospital ever since.

We got word after three weeks of the house being listed that the it had sold and would be closing Sept 20.   I made plans to return to finish moving things to his room at the ‘home’, pack and ship my stuff south, take care of the rest of the house contents, etc., and do all the rest of the things in prep of the closing date.

I arrived on Sept 8, and my dad was back in the hospital. It was a difficult week to be sure, but thanks to a few very exceptional friends who came to my rescue, everything fell into place and somehow got done, and I was still able to spend some time with my dad in the hospital every day.  By some miracle, I handed the keys over to the lawyer on the 18th and was able to spend my final evening there with my dad. I had spent so much time and energy before I left for Canada the second time, making arrangements, and mentally preparing myself for the daunting task what needed to be accomplished that week, and then on actually getting it all done, that when I got back, the drive home from the airport in Pensacola seemed almost surreal.

So my dad and his situation, on top of everything else, has been, as one would expect, consuming, especially being so far away.  I’ve spent most of my studio time since I’ve been back working on orders and shows we have coming up in November.  I’m glad to say that there is talk now that my dad will be discharged back to the ‘home’ soon and will be receiving some extra care as he transitions back from the hospital.  Thank goodness there are resources and services available! Hoping we have a small reprieve until I fly back up, so I can get what I need to get done here and keep plodding forward, one day at a time.


Mar 27 2011

Spring is here

The pecan trees have finally started to leaf out so its fair to say that spring is here and there’s no turning back. As the weather warms up other visitors come out as well. Here are just a few of the guys that have come out here in last week or so.

Tree frog at nightGreen Tree Frogtree frogGeckoWater mocassin - cottonmouth


Mar 22 2011

Please help

Days don’t go by without thinking of the people of Japan. What to say.. what to think.. what to do.. I think I heard on the radio yesterday that the dead/missing number was up to 21,000. Its all so much to take in.

Living on the Gulf Coast, it seems a lot more close to home. I have friends in Mississippi who were literally almost swept out to sea and others who’s homes were completely wiped out when Hurricane Katrina hit a few years ago. You see the photographs of the devastation, but I don’t think you can truly grasp what devastation of this type is until you see it first hand or know someone who has gone through it. I think of what I saw in Mississippi, only multiply it times 5 (!). ..and Japan has the additional threat brought on by the pending meltdown of 4 nuclear reactors.

We’ve been bombarded with info from online and the news (satellite photos of before and after, and countless video clips), but very little of the coverage, it seems, puts a human face to this tragedy. Euan Craig, a potter who lives with his familiy just outside of Mashiko Japan, gives a very moving and personal account on his blog. He is just one small voice.

Please help:

“Japan earthquake & Tsunami: How to help
” from yahoo news


Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund

Handmade for Japan – “Handmade for Japan is an online auction of unique, handmade art donated by concerned, invited artists. One hundred percent of all net proceeds collected via the auction will be donated to Global Giving’s Earth and Tsunami Relief Fund”
On Facebook
On eBay – online auction March 24-27, 2011
On Twitter

Mashiko Pottery Foundation by Ken Matsuzaki

The Leach Pottery launches earthquake appeal for Mashiko Village

.

It almost seems surreal as we go about our regular routines here on this side of the globe. I finish up teaching a class session this week, have managed to clean the studio readying for a new work cycle, and have started on a new lot of carved porcelain pieces. Also have started working on taxes. ugh.. I wish I had a secretary. .. and, like every potter I know, a clone.

The other night the moon was supposedly the closest its been to Earth in around 18 years. Such a lovely clear night.

Full moon March 19, 2011


Mar 21 2011

Ups and downs of firing

Just catching up here. Didn’t I just finish talking about things that can go wrong just as one’s getting ready for a show…? Perhaps I jinxed myself.

From 2 weeks ago:

Woke up this morning ..well I didn’t actually wake up, I was still up.. I wasn’t feeling too good about how the day ahead was shaping up to be. Thanks to the mega storm system blowing in from the west yesterday (tornadoes actually touched down not 15 miles north of us), the kiln didn’t get lit until mid afternoon, much later than I had planned or anticipated.

Propane tank freezing upThis firing cycle, the multimeter I’ve been using as a pyrometer for the last 9 years finally decided to bite the dust just as the kiln temp hit around 1200 degrees Celcius and it started to stall. Great. Felt like I was firing blind. Not only that but I was running out of propane..just 7% left in the tank and it was starting to freeze up. (You can see the 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick layer of ice toward the bottom of the tank in this picture). Its at times like this I get envious of people who fire electric…

Bleary eyed, I dragged the hose around and started a water trickle on the tank to hopefully gain back some of the gas pressure I was starting to lose. Took a breather, made coffee, headed for the phone, sat down and waited for the Amerigas office to open.

Amerigas manThank goodness.. By some miracle, the gas company informed me that they could come out and bring me more propane that morning. Not too happy that the same amount of propane was going to cost $70 more than it was last year, but under the circumstances, now was not the time to quibble. I was just happy to know I’d be able to finish this firing.

Went back out to check on the kiln and cone 8 was starting to bend on both top and bottom. Phew! An hour later, I hear a familiar beeping sound of the propane truck coming down the drive. Total relief.

Porcelain Curio case with dogwood relief design in celadonYou just never know for sure what you are going to get until you unbrick that kiln door. Despite my misgivings and struggle to keep the kiln lit, the firing turned out better than I had anticipated and I actually did get some decent reduction. Here is one of the porcelain pieces you saw in my last post, now glazed in celadon and fired. I love the way this kind of glaze feels and pools, giving a carved design more depth.

Ah yes.. my pyrometer. As an aside, picked up this new multimeter at Lowe’s for $21. It measures both in both Celcius and Fahrenheit and is a good alternative to more expensive pyrometers, like Fluke, out on the market. Thermocouples are available at most pottery suppliers, but I managed to find a group lot on eBay at a really good price a few years ago. I like this one better than my last, actually, as the screen is bigger and easier to read. pyrometer2.


Mar 7 2011

Are the forces of the universe with you this show season?

CameliaWell Spring has sprung and show season has begun!

If you’re down to the wire, it doesn’t matter how well organized you think you are or how meticulously you’ve planned out the final few weeks leading to a show, when you desperately need things to go more smoothly than ever, that’s when equipment is going to fail, bisques over-fire, glazes screw up, etc.. And if you live in the South, you also know that once its finally warm enough to work in the studio again, its going to start raining and the humidity will shoot up to somewhere around 400%, rendering pots more wet than when you first threw them! Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it does certainly become more of a challenge to dry those last few pots in time to bisque and get out in sufficient time for a glaze firing. Oh yes, and lest I forget.. If you have kids, that is the time that they will inevitably get sick. Once they’re finally better and back to school, you find you’ve come down with whatever they’ve just had, only worse!

I remember, years ago, expressing amazement to my teacher, John (a working potter), as he packed away the final pots he had made for the One of a Kind Show in Toronto, not the week before, but an entire month in advance. (Can you imagine?) He chuckled and then said “Anne… its taken me 30 years to become this organized. Believe me, heheh I’ve learned the hard way!” I think with all the extraneous things I have going on in my life (kids, classes, etc.) that I am much better with working smarter with the time I have than I used to be, but I guess I still have a few years yet to be in as good a shape as John. hehehe

Anyways, in my last post I asked you, if you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect to see or want to get out of it? I know several people I’ve talked to who have just raved about the conference we just had here, but there was definitely grumblings from the less vocal.

Its been a few weeks and its taken me this long to digest my experience. I was certainly glad and appreciative that the conference was here in town for a change, and that I was able to go see the presenters, some of the exhibits, and the vendors room, but overall, I can’t say I came away inspired or really even.. well, satisfied. This kind of puzzled me as I have always had something to take away from any conference or workshop I’ve attended.

John Leach saggar fired vessel I couldn’t help but think back to the conferences I have been to that I’ve found most inspiring. My first ever conference had John Leach as the presenter. If you don’t know who he is, he is a working potter from England who apprenticed with his grandfather, Bernard Leach, and he makes good honest pots, both functional and art. He spoke, not only at length about the fundamentals of pottery, but also about his trials and tribulations in business and as a potter. Not only that, but he made a lot of pots in the 2 day period! Another conference I attended, the principle speaker was Val Cushing. Again, he gave a really well rounded presentation which included, the fundamentals of pottery making, glazes, as well as his philosophies about pot making and life in general. In retrospect, I have to say, both conferences had, in my opinion, something to offer everybody in that room, hobbyist, working potter, and academic alike.

I wish I could say the same about this last conference here, despite there being 3 presenters up on stage at one time. Each presenter made only a handful of pieces over the 2 day period and I found myself, on more than one occasion, taking refuge in the vendors’ room or in the lobby visiting with people I hadn’t seen in a while. I wasn’t alone either. It shouldn’t be that way. Cudos to the organizers for doing a great job organizing and putting the whole thing together (really they did), but for me, the conference had a disappointingly over-academic feel to it.

Its not that the presenters were not talented, qualified, or that they didn’t give a good presentation of what they did, but ALL of them made and presented work that very ‘ceramics monthly’/academic and more intended for a gallery than marketable elsewhere. Its great to see a masters thesis in clay, to know that they have collectors who will pay $5000+ for a sculpture or a $1200 for a teapot, but.. come on.. How do I put this.. this is not the real world. …and in this economy…? There was no mention of the fact that one of the presenter’s bread and butter in their business actually comes from production of tiles and that (for other unmentioned reasons) he doesn’t have to eat off his ‘pots’. Regardless, not one of the presenters spoke about the hardships they’ve encountered because of the economy or offered any insight as to how they are dealing with that regarding galleries, how to generate more customers, etc.. Everyone knows, bad economic times is not the easiest time to generate collectors or buyers, so why no mention of it? I don’t get it.

While its important to see something presented at a conference that we don’t make or typically see in our circles, I personally just didn’t feel any connection or anything that inspired me to breathe new life into my work, or benefit my business. Most (probably 90+%) of the people attending these conferences are not academics, and I think sometimes this fact gets lost.

With all that said, I’ll be interested to see what presenters Scott Bennett pulls out of his hat for next year’s conference.


Feb 22 2011

In the studio today

Well the conference is over, the weather is fine, and I’m finally back in the studio. Yay!

Bas Relief on porcelain

Continuing to work on carving some bas relief designs on porcelain pieces I had thrown before the weekend. Its a bit of a leap of faith.. you commit all that time carving a design and hope for the best that they come out fine in the firing and all the glazes do what they’re supposed to be doing. ..on to the bisque firing they go!

Dogwood relief

Well on Saturday, despite the greatest of intentions, I didn’t end up taking very many pictures at all, but here are just a few more shots from the conference for you, this time of the three presenters: Chris Gustin, Misty Gamble, and Christa Assad.

Chris GustinMisty GambleChrista Assad

(fyi Next year’s conference will be in Birmingham and run by Scott Bennett)

It takes a few days to fully digest what one has seen at any workshop or conference. Sometimes you come away just brimming with excitement, inspiration and ideas, and are just rearing to go! Other times, well,.. it just takes a bit longer.

I have a question for you now.. If you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect/like/want to see? What would you like to take away from the experience? Any dislikes…? Please comment


Feb 18 2011

Throw me something, Mister!

On stage at the Alabama Clay Conference

Just got back from the first day at the Alabama Clay Conference that’s being held in downtown Mobile this year (yes, I know, I slipped out of town before the Mardi Gras Parades began.. sad huh?). This year’s presenters are Chris Gustin, Misty Gamble, and Christa Assad. I’m not quite decided if I like all three presenters on stage at once, but thankful there were big screens on stage (and that I had enough coffee this morning to keep up with it).

Conference continues tomorrow, but in the meantime, here are just a few of the pictures I shot today at Space 301 and at the Eastern Shore Art Center (in Fairhope) last night.

Show at the Eastern Shore Art CenterEstella FransbergenClay exhibit at the Eastern Shore Art CenterSpace301 clay exhibitAlisa HolenChrista AssadMisty GambleSpace 301