Mar 17 2015

New Direction part two

In my last post, I showed some of Lowell’s facejugs from the wood kiln. I had a few pots in there, but most were from clay bodies I wanted to test and see how they acted with our clay and glazes in this particular kiln.  More testing, more testing.

Wood Kiln stoked and cooking

I really like a wood kiln. There’s a rhythm to the firing, more so than a gas kiln, that I find appealing. Once you hear that unmistakable low and rumbly whoosh of the flame blow through the kiln shortly after stoking, its very easy to be hooked.

Wood firing down here on the coast has had a burst of popularity in the last several years. Marty and Brenda Stokes, long-time potters from Navarre Florida, deserve a lot of credit for this, since starting their non-profit organization called The Gulf Coast Kiln Walk Society. They have been  instrumental in raising awareness and promoting wood firing. Kiln Walk also holds a biannual wood fire conference in Pensacola some 40 miles from here (its so nice to have something going on like this in this part of the world for a change). When I first came down here 15 or so years ago, there were just a couple of potters with small wood kilns, but that has since ballooned to at least 11 wood kilns, that I can think of off the top of my head, within a couple of hours drive from here, and half of those are anagamas, which is pretty mind boggling if you think about it.

Before we built this kiln, I had my trepidations. While I have enjoyed the wood firings I’ve been able to take part in, I also remember how long it took to recover. Exhaustion, sore feet and muscles, are all things that have stuck with me. There’s no doubt that wood firing, while exciting, is pretty physical and demanding. It can also be heartbreaking when a firing does not go right after you’ve just invested a lot of time, labor, emotion, and money just to make a firing happen. I just wasn’t sure I was up to that.  As I get older, I have a growing appreciation for predictability and consistency and ‘work smarter’ seems like a good mantra. While I like anagama pots, its not the aesthetic I am going for in my work, especially since there are so many people around here that are. So I looked around and spoke with a lot of people and most agreed that this ‘manabigama’ is not hard to fire, gets good results, is a manageable size, fires efficiently and in a manageable amount of time so two people can fire it quite easily. I conceded.

Beside dreams of wood pottery, I continue to explore carved designs on pots. I had been carving designs into raku pots but I was really looking for working exclusively in the high fire. I was getting tired of always smelling like a campfire. Doing raku for production may seem romantic to some, but is not nearly as fun as just doing it now and again.

Porcelain Dogwood Bas Relief Vase by Anne WebbSince I was using a grogless clay for my functional ware, I carved a few bas relief designs with that clay and thought that it would be really nice in porcelain. Its not a fast process, but  its very cool to see the design emerge as I carve away the different layers in a design.

Last year I also started to explore sgraffito. I was doing a demo of the technique for a student and had an ‘ahha’ moment and could see definite possibilities for this technique on pots and tiles. I continue to explore.

 

I used to watch and love a show on PBS called ‘Connections‘ years ago, hosted was James Burke. If you remember it too, you can probably appreciate that no new idea comes from a vacuum. I think Mr Burke called it ‘The Trigger Effect’.

Flare bowl with sgraffito carved fish designI do love carving into clay. I wonder where it will take me next.

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    Mar 13 2015

    New directions

    A year is an awfully long time between blog posts. Well it may be time to revisit the practice of blogging. With so much personal stuff going on plus the allure of Facebook, and all the other Social Networking platforms, blogging seems to have taken a spot way down the list.

    Wood kiln in action with nice cone shape flame

    Well here I am, still alive, still making pots. We finished building our wood kiln last year and have fired it with reasonable results. The ‘manabigama’ design is a bit of a killer to load with old knees, but virtually fires itself. Fires in the same amount of time as my old gas kiln, 12 to 14 hours, and with the exception of the very back of the kiln, it fired to a consistent cone 10-11.  Still a lot of experimenting, tweaking, and testing to do yet.

    Lowell got some results he wanted on his facejugs and wig stand that he put right up in front in the place of a bag wall, so some happy results came out of that last firing. Here are a few of his ugly boys.

    Old timey wood fired facejusgsEveryone needs a home for their wig

     

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      Mar 28 2014

      Its a frog strangler

      I’m sitting here in my studio looking out the window a deluge of rain. Someone told me that when it rains here, its “like a cow peeing  on a rock”. Of course that’s not exactly the wording he used, but its a fitting Southern colloquialism.    It is what one would call “a real frog strangler”.  I had to navigate around 5 inch deep puddles, balancing my umbrella and my coffee cup. Feet and shoes are soaked. Gross. Pretty depressing when you know you’re supposed to be loading the truck to do go out of town for a show.

      Thankfully, (hooray!!) I realized this afternoon I have another week before our next show, not this weekend!  Yes! So we will be heading to downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana for FestforAll on April 5th and 6th!  Maybe we’ll see you there! :)

       

      http://www.artsbr.org/FestForAll.html

       

       

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        Aug 6 2013

        Summer

        Kids head back to school here in just 2 weeks. Another summer has whooshed past.  While we had a beautiful spring, we’ve had so much rain here this summer that I feel like I live in a bog. About the only creatures happy about that are frogs and mosquitoes. My garden, which started out great guns, is waterlogged and pathetic, and have little to nothing to show for all the effort.   The figs on the tree over ripened seemingly overnight, and the weeds have taken over. And pots.. well, it has been a struggle to get anything to dry.

        All has not been a loss though. We’ve been working on building a wood kiln – a ‘manabigama‘ kiln modeled after the one featured in Ceramics Monthly a few years ago. Its been slow going, but we’re almost done now. Kiln is now under cover, the final layers of ‘stucco’ material is over the arch, and now there’s just the metal frame that needs welding. Hoping to complete that this week.

        Building Progress - Manabigama wood kiln

         

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          Jun 23 2013

          Coffee anyone..?

          Heading to the Coffee Loft, one of my favourite coffee shops, in Fairhope, AL tomorrow with a new batch of mugs in one of our newer glaze combos.   Here’s one that came out of the kiln this evening. It even fits in a car cup holder.  So ….ready for a cup?
          Custom Stoneware mug for the Coffee Loft

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            Jun 18 2013

            Elemental

            Wouldn’t it be lovely if galleries would promote their artists and their work as beautifully as Goldmark Gallery in Great Britain does? Here is a trailer for the film ‘Elemental” featuring Ken Matsuzaki, a Japanese potter working in Mashiko, Japan.  (I believe there is a longer

            If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

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              Jun 18 2013

              Here today, gone tomorrow

              Up late with the kiln tonight.

              In an attempt to play catch up and whittle away at cleaning up my site after my long absence, I was going through my blogroll. Relieved, and in some ways, sad, to find that I was not alone in taking a hiatus.  Evidently many people have been away or not come back at all. It can be pretty tough keeping up with blogging, especially when you’re out of the habit or life takes you in a different direction.

              The one thing about a blog or any other sort of journal, it needs to be relevant and serve a purpose.  For some its therapy,  some its habit, and for some its a way to generate more web site views, interest, and possibly sales.

              I’ve noticed several people on my list, despite still having their web sites, have done away with their blogs completely.  Good or bad, I’m not really sure, but when I first started blogging, I was told by an art marketing expert and others, that even if you don’t have a web site yet, you need to come out of your comfort zone and blog. …blog blog blog! Get your name out there on the web, etc..  Since then, though, facebook, twitter, and umpteen other different social network sites have popped up and blossomed.

              Well back to clay and then off to bed. G’nite.

               

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                Jun 17 2013

                Hot enough to boil a monkey’s…

                The weather here has finally changed.  Summer is officially here. The Heat index the other day was a grim 100 degrees F.

                We redid my workspace this past year and one of the genius additions, besides windows and doors that actually close properly, is an air conditioner. I finally caved and put it on 2 days ago and, oh my goodness, its pure luxury.  Its so much easier to concentrate without sweat dripping down and stinging my eyes.  I truly love it and am thrilled at the fact that I will be able to work comfortably all summer. So here I sit in coolness sipping hot coffee!

                Now the bad thing about a/c. Artificial cooling and heating plays havoc on the drying process of clay. I’m working on a custom mug order using a high fire white clay (somewhat more finicky than native clay) and, despite draping plastic over the pots at the usual stage, I  had handles and sprigs pulling off the pots. Oddly enough, the attachment was fine and strong, but where they didn’t dry evenly, and clay shrinkage was happening at different rates, cracks occurred in the area around the attachment, not the attachment itself.   This is pretty rare. While I do have some loss, its not usually because of this.

                Upcycled Refrigerator used as Pottery Damp ClosetGenerally when I have pots with attachments I use an old delapidated refrigerator as a damp closet (turned off and unplugged, of course). I’ve mentioned this previously. Not only is it a great tool for keeping pots damp and for clay storage, its a great way to recycle an old fridge or freezer instead of sending it to the landfill.

                So keeping pots damp isn’t too difficult. While some people put a small cup or container of water in the ‘fridge’, I usually just mist or spray the interior of its compartments to raise the humidity, then its ready to use. So when I am doing mugs, for example, I put them in the old fridge and keep them there for at least 24 hours or until the pot and attachments are all the same consistency, then I can take them out and let them dry.  Has worked great so far.  Maybe I need to inspect the door seals and see if they’re toast.  Another possible option I may have to consider doing to prevent this cracking is to work in smaller batches. Well we’ll see.

                As you may be able to see in the picture, these old fridges make for a convenient dry erase board (I use it, for example, to keep track of how many pots I’ve made for orders on the go, and at what stage they are at, how much clay I currently have on hand, or a list of glaze ingredients that are out and/or need to order ).  I have these fridges in the same part of the workspace where we I glaze, mix glazes, store ingredients and clay, and keep the electric kilns. Since they’re right by the kilns, they’re also a handy place to keep a cone chart, quick reference info re how to program the kiln controller and a list of custom programs I use, as well as a firing record. While I’m fine with just using magnets or tape for this stuff, I suppose you could paint the door or sides with chalkboard paint. Lots of possibilities!

                The workspace, fortunately, is large enough to accommodate these fridges under cover. I used to have to keep one outside just because it was too cramped inside. It still worked for what I needed it for, though.  Pots never froze if the temps dropped outside (it actually does get below freezing here in late December and January) and they never dried out even in the most sweltering heat, but it wasn’t the most pleasant thing having to add and remove pots from it  particularly when it was raining, or having to navigate stairs and a doorway in/out of the building. Not exactly ideal.

                I know lots of people for whom an upcycled fridge damp closet just isn’t an option, for a number of reasons.  To get around that, they’ve been forced to be a little more creative, wrapping shelf units in plastic for makeshift damp closets. I’ve known other people who take Rubbermaid containers and set an inch or so of potters plaster or hydrocal in the bottom, dampen it and use that to keep pieces or attachments damp. I was recently at a workshop where the presenter used a plastic container as well, only instead of plaster (which he said was really heavy and harder to transport), he took a piece of canvas or towel, spritzed it with water to get the humidity up in the container, put his pots in and tightly closed the lid.  I tried this while there to keep pots in a working consistency, using a container I brought and it worked great. My only complaint is the dampened fabric developed a serious hum and over a period of just a few days, smelled pretty rank. The pots still smelled fine though 😉

                 

                 

                 

                 

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                  Jun 10 2013

                  Finally Back in 2013

                  Well I’m back!  After a long <gulp> year and a half hiatus, I think I am ready to start blogging again.   Hooray!  So much has happened in that period, good and bad, its hard to know where to start.

                  For those of you who are new to this site, Welcome!  If you are a return visitor, I want to say thanks so much for coming back.   Really, thank you!

                  I will be making some long overdue revisions to the site, as you probably noticed, my photo galleries are not exactly accessible, thanks to a software conflict between the WordPress blogging platform (which is what I chose to use for my entire site) and the photo gallery platform I had used previously.

                  My big plan in the coming weeks is to get these photo gallery pages operational and more up to date so they reflect more current work.   If you have been following my personal profile or Webb Pottery Page on Facebook, you probably have a bit of an idea of what has been going on here at the studio lately.  There’s new work, new kilns, and generally, a bunch of change.

                  You may also follow me on Pinterest, and of course, Twitter.   (That’s a lot of online stuff!  No wonder I haven’t been blogging!)  Anyways, I have a lot of revisions and tweaking ahead of me, obviously :)

                  In the meantime, I will leave you with a photo of one of the raku tiles we did for this year’s Grandman Triathlon which took place last weekend.

                   

                  Raku tiles made for awards for this year's Grandman Triathlon in Fairhope AL

                  Raku tiles made for awards for this year’s Grandman Triathlon in Fairhope AL

                   

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                    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.

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