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.