Thursday, November 20, 2008

Indian Summer and the Crash of Fall

We've been revelling in fall and all of it's really good things lately. To start, Halloween this year was the first time that Wren could actually participate. We didn't go all out, seeing as she isn't even two yet, but did let her go to a few houses around. She is now mad about candy, as seen here clutching packages of dots like she's won an award.

We were actually surprised by the lack of trick-or-treaters in our new neighborhood. It seems everyone goes downtown on Halloween in this part of Concord. Oh well, more dots for us.

We've had a beautiful Indian Summer, where we frolicked outside to our heart's content, basking in the sunshine and taking walks to the grocery. I was in painting mode, so I didn't get to spend as much time throwing as I would have liked. I did get an amazing amount of stuff finished , even if it did mean staying up until the wee hours waxing and glazing. I actually did a firing on Halloween (which worried my little superstitious heart) and it turned out beautifully, despite an agonizingly long firing time. Yes, I had the thing jammed with plates and packed to the hilt. Then came the cold again. I didn't have to look at the kiln to know that winter is right around the corner. That would be 37 degrees inside the studio.

I'm relatively tough if I have a bucket of hot water and a space heater, I can handle it down to freezing if need be. This past week has tested my limits, though, and taught me a thing or two. If I wasn't such a dingbat, I would have been able to puzzle this out before I wasted a day of throwing. I spent Tuesday making dinnerware sets and was so proud of myself, never thinking that there might be trouble if the highs were only in the 40's. I put myself to bed without a care in my head, went out the next morning to tragedy and massacre. Guess what happens to wet pots if the temps get down to 18 degrees? Give you a hint: ice does horrible things to most everything.

I was actually impressed by the destruction after I had some time to get over it. Hey, every day's a new lesson, right? Anyway, one thing that I had tried on the day of great freezing that was so much fun was Christmas ornaments. I had forgotten how much I liked to throw wacky shapes for kicks when I was apprenticing until I stumbled upon this idea. Of course, most of the ones I tried were broken up or had a weird scaly, almost furry surface, so I ran out today while Wren was napping and tried again. I got about ten of them done before she awoke and felt completely refreshed. Nothing like a completely non-functional goofy challenge to put a new perspective on your working life. Of course, mugs are going to seem such a chore now. sigh...

I ran into the house and scooped her up, took her outside before it got really cold again, and had a blast raking leaves. I made huge piles for her to jump in (leaf piles are meant to be jumped in with wild abandon and anyone who would deny a baby that is just wrong), and found a bounty of nuts underneath. I now have an entire Trader Joe's bag full of pecans, and there are still plenty on the trees. I sent a bag home with my mom today, begging her to shell some and promising many more to come. Finding them is better than a daily Easter egg hunt, but shelling them is a different story. Especially with so much to throw and so much to knit!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

cold, inspiration, and the pursuit of the white squirrel

I'm always amazed at the suddenness of fall in North Carolina. It will be 85 degrees for an eternity, then wham! It's freezing and breezy without warning, usually right before Halloween. Although, there have been a few where I've been handing out treats barefoot. This past week or so, the cold has come upon us with a snap, forcing me to drag out the space heater and fill buckets with hot water to try to stave off the inevitable chapped knuckles. My studio is unheated, uninsulated, and very charming with it's open rafters and visible daylight at the join of the roof and the walls. It's excellent to hear bird songs in. A bit worrisome when I think of trying to fire up the kiln when it's that cold, though.

I'm a girl that gets into her groove and stays there a long time. I find shapes I like, designs I like, and stick with them with very subtle evolutions. Lately though, I've been getting new ideas and inspiration like crazy. The latest few have come zinging in from etsy, since I bucked up and joined their clay group (clap clap clap). I'm also not good at joining things, so this is a big step. They have all of these events and challenges which just make my brain go nuts. I'm not used to being challenged, but I like it. Not going to try a holiday pitcher, seeing as I can pull of neither holiday nor pitcher effectively. The valentine's vase has really set me going, though. I actually tried to alter a form last night. Note to self: practice altering forms. You suck at it. Good try, keep going. I've got to go get to it again now that Wren's asleep. I actually have deadlines to meet right now and must turn out some mugs for galleries asap. My work, cut out for me:

One of the more interesting wildlife in our neighborhood are the tribe of white squirrels. They're the only ones I've ever seen in this area, and looking at them one cannot imagine how they can survive predators being so visible. One has taken up residence in our yard and I cannot for the life of me get a good picture of him. Actually, due to six huge pecan trees in our yard, most of the squirrels in the world are either camping out or living with us. Here's a sad attempt at capturing his likeness:

Must run, either to paint mugs or a set of butterfly wings. Or both...

Friday, October 10, 2008

new respect

I definitely have a new respect for photographers, web designers, and those who have the kind of brain that understands computer talk this week. Seeing as how my help went to the beach this week, I got the kiln loaded (packed slam full, you may say) and decided to work on some technical things.

The first was to redesign my web page. The first one had a great concept, but was, how shall we say, technically challenged. I did it in Publisher, a great program with which to design brochures and fliers. Websites though? Perhaps not. Ian wanted me to try Dreamweaver, which was great but completely user unfriendly. I use the stumble blindly around mashing buttons form of learning new software. Dreamweaver is not suitable for this kind of thinking. Frontpage, however, was designed specifically for this dunderheaded technique. I managed to recreate my original idea and it turned out fabulous-ish. If I say so myself. There's one picture that's gone awol, but I'll find it and slap it back in. Later.

I also needed new pictures of my pots, both for my website and for etsy. Ian suggested that I make a light box so I would have a controlled environment to shoot. Great idea. I could have it in the studio, so I could shoot things right after they come out of the kiln. I'd use the same lighting and background, so they'd all look the same. Brilliant. I found instructions on how to do this really effectively online at So I made my version, set up some clamp lights, and took a bazillion pictures. I ran inside, downloaded them, and sat down to a bunch of yellow pictures. Gross. I called photographer friend Jeff McCullough, who pointed out that most digital cameras have an auto correct feature, instead of buying fancy light bulbs. Upon the first attempt of stumbling and mashing buttons (oh yes, this technique spans all technology in my life) I found a tungsten setting. Mashed it and POOF! Instant daylight in the camera. No more yellow. Ha Ha! So I set to work taking many many pictures of many many pots at every different angles. Wow. Photography is hard work. Get up, move pot, sit down, look through, move camera, take picture, repeat ad nauseum. I was sweating by the end of it and my body was tired in about three different major areas. But boy, were my brain and eyes satisfied! And the light box is going to be so useful! Yay!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Okay, a lot has been going on and this poor little blog has been woefully neglected. I will make up for it now, but no pictures until new batteries arrive.

Let's start with Garden Grove. We showed up and it was a very cool garden center in Huntersville, tent already set up and everyone else in place. I think we were a little late, but they were very understanding. It was awesome to see Dean again and admire his new work and his great new workshop. You have to go visit him out there, his work has only gotten more incredible. Good to see his wife, Karin, and their two little ones as well. They were so calm and well behaved. I can't imagine Wren lasting through a long day like that. Which reminds me, that was the first day that I had been away from her for more than a few hours. It was good for both of us. The day was great, very relaxed, nice people to talk to plenty of wine and cheese thanks to Shelton Vineyard and the cheese shop in Huntersville. Couldn't have asked for a better start back! Talking to Dean, I was reminded to contact Drew at Wooden Stone to set up a meeting.

I had met Drew before he opened the gallery, at a Blowing Rock show, and we had never quite gotten together. Actually, my insecurities got the better of me and I thought he wasn't interested. But, I gave him a call, set up a meeting and went out there last week. Wow! What a place. I was almost intimidated to bring my work out. It was very positive, though, and I'm making lots of mugs and platters for him as we speak. It's nice to have that kind of person to deal with, he asked questions that I had never thought about, made observations that caused me to really think about my work and process, and best of all, he made me want to try new things. Better things. Really exciting things. I can't wait to start playing around.

Etsy brought another good surprise with an e-mail from Anne at the Green Goat in Salisbury. I met with her the week after the Garden Grove show, and had a really nice meeting. She was very cool, and had a great space that was part gallery, part yoga studio (the Blue Ewe). She didn't roll her eyes at Wren's antics, was fun to talk to, and had a very good vibe. I'm looking forward to working with her as well.

I'm trying to re-work my website right now with a different program and it's turning out really well! All I need right now is new pottery shots and I'll be about ready to launch it. Which means I need to go get materials to make a light box. Ian pointed out that we need something to put together so that we can just click pictures as soon as I make things and not have a lot of setting up and drama. Good point. I'll let you know how that works out... oh. And navigation. The program I'm using is trying to think a little too much for me as far as navigation goes, so I've got to figure out how to sneak around it's formatting. Hmm...

I can't resist adding some Wren news. It's been fun being able to take her out to the studio once in awhile and let her poke at clay piles. She likes to put tiny little pinches together, piling them on top of each other until there's a big mound. We had family clay time last week, with Ian making grotesques, Wren pinching and piling, and me throwing. I'm trying to convince Ian to collaborate with me on some pieces and add his little gremlins, but he is balking now that I've actually thrown something for him to try. Hmph. Wren surprised us all last night with the discovery of a bean in her nose. We had been planting them last week after watching PBS, and apparently she went back and "planted" one in her nose. Let me tell you, a dried pinto bean becomes a different creature once it's been a nose for three days. I thought she had a head cold! The emergency room handled it with good humor, a nose hook, and plenty of manpower. Poor Wren!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

show me... etsy!

Alright, I have taken my first steps towards actually selling something that I make by creating an etsy shop. You can now find and buy my things at Hopefully, it will be a positive experience and I'll connect with some great new people! And, hopefully, it will be worth the time you have to put into posting a listing. Whoo! Taking and formatting pictures, writing descriptions, trying to calculate postage. It's enough to make a girl cranky.

Now, Wren's asleep so I need to do some serious work to get ready for the Garden Grove show on the 20th. The kiln's going, the creative juices flowing, the time's running out... gotta go!

Friday, September 5, 2008

teaching and making faces

I haven't posted in awhile, but honestly I've been too busy to have a coherent thought. I have, however, had two more successful glaze firings. Definitely getting back into the groove of things, not feeling as scared about the way things will turn out. Now it's back into my throwing cycle. It's really hard, because I learned as a production potter so I want to make each form as uniform as possible, letting the variations come in the painting. However, I never seem to write down the measurements of anything as I'm throwing, so it's a guessing game each time I get into it again. Mugs, for example. The ones that I just finished were actually thrown and bisque fired right when I became pregnant. Two years ago. Now I'm trying to throw and thinking... was that 4 inches high originally... or 4.5... okay it wasn't five... damn. I'll figure it out. And will start a list of sizes. Eventually. Right now, it is very satisfying to have my cupboards full of unmeasured pots.

I am, however, getting extremely organized as I get ready to start my online Etsy store. I've got a code system, am making spreadsheets, labeling all of the pots that are going online, and taking mass quantities of pictures. And formatting mass quantities of pictures. God save my eyes, as I'm going completely blind trying to get them just the right size and brightness and, well, you can see where I'm going. OCD city.

I am letting loose and getting back into making face planters recently. I used to make them when I was apprenticing, made about three and have never wanted to let them go. However, I had forgotten how much fun it can be. So, there will be more. Because my house cannot support any more, they will be for sale. Really. Maybe I'll get my whimsical side out for good and really let go!

Yesterday I had an e-mail in my box from stone carver extraordinaire Dean Reganess, asking that I be a part of his show this month. Thank goodness I've been hustling, because I am ready! It should be cool, it's a day and night of Old World Art. Wine and cheese, tent already set up, Celtic music. Sounds just about perfect. Look for me on the 20th at Garden Grove in Huntersville. Also, there will be a silent auction to benefit Hindsfeet Farm, an organization to help those with traumatic brain injuries. Seeing as Ian has epilepsy from a head trauma, I will be making something really nice.

And finally, today I had my very first student, Michaela. She's 13 and is home-schooled, so morning classes work just fine for her. I've got to say, I was impressed. She was really mature, focused, and strong as all get out. She managed a bowl and pitcher set before her time was up and actually tried pulling a handle. I have to admit, I really enjoyed teaching. I can't wait until I get more students. I'm beat, though. It's a lot easier just throwing than trying to help someone else do it!

Friday, August 22, 2008

at last!

I have finally completed a whole load of pots! Oh, there was gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands as all of the most horrible kiln opening moments of my life flashed before my eyes. There was panic when I dipped the mugs an glaze and tiny cracks appeared in the wax, making me think that they would have a background of spidery crazed lines. There was the agony of worry when I dipped the last things to go in the kiln, the saucers, and realized that the glaze may have been mixed too thin when it was breaking over the lip. Visions of thinly glazed mugs danced through my head as I tried to decide whether or not to unload the whole shebang and dip again. But, upon peeking at 500 degrees (I couldn't wait!), a whole top row of beautifully shiny saucers and magnets greeted me! Of course, I was sure at that same moment I heard the faint yet unmistakable sound of a bowl splitting in half and resting on the mugs surrounding it. Did I mention I have been traumatized by a bad batch of clay? Yet, when the batch finally cooled enough for me to dig down to the next layer, I found the first big bowl fully intact and had heart. Well, at least enough courage to leave the rest in until we got back from my mom's birthday celebration where we enjoyed the cake that Wren and I made, a dark chocolate raspberry that was almost not right it was so good.

We got home relatively late, as far as babies are concerned, and Wren was floppy asleep. I hurried her into the house, wrestled her into her pajamas, and tucked her into bed where she promptly said, "oh, kitties" and fell back asleep. Then I got back to the kiln as fast as I could. I've always said that kiln unloading can either be Christmas or Halloween. It can be like getting the best presents ever one after another, or it can be aaaack-oh-no-aaack shelf after shelf. This batch was Christmas. I only had two magnets get inexplicably stuck to the kiln shelves in spots (they weren't even glazed!) to mar the delight of things turning out well! The graduating class:

Now, to figure out etsy and give that a whirl. Oh! I have my first student starting the first of September! I was so excited, I got out in the studio and gave it a good cleaning and a good cleaning out, removing the last of the garage items that were still lingering about. Now, if I can only get someone to buy the walk-in jacuzzi bathtub so we can get that out!

Friday, August 8, 2008

I may finish something soon... and I give a fig.

The past week or so has been a lot of drawing, painting, and getting ready to start glaze firing. Ahh.. glazing... how I never loved you. I promise as a budding young potter and apprentice, I was fascinated by glazing. I read everything I could on formulas. I mixed until I could mix no longer. I mixed Kim's tried and true recipes for his studio use, and tried to strike out on my own with often disastrous results. Finally, I settled upon the whole let's-just-leave-the-clay-bare-and-paint-it method and used a trusty black to make it food safe. And glossy. I think clay by itself is often amazing in it's fired beauty, and the speckly kind I use is particularly satisfying. And trustworthy. Most of the time. I'm onto you, Standard Clay.

Today, I actually mixed up a bucket of (non-frothing) glaze and pitched in on a few pieces. I started off with the big platters to get them safely out of the way and fired. I also started with them because they've always been a little difficult for me and I wanted to start with the hardest first. It was surprisingly not difficult, not the mixing and straining, not the actual glazing, nor the wiping down. Maybe it's being a mom that makes everything not as difficult as I remember. Anyway, I managed to get all of them finished and in the kiln, ready for me to finish with some mugs and big bowls on another day. I tucked a few of my new magnets around one plate and found the whole effect kind of pleasant.

My latest joy has been pillaging the fig trees that are right outside the studio. There are two of them planted side-by-side, and they have grown to a nice respectable size over the years. They are also two totally different varieties. One has dainty leaves and giant whopping figs that the birds take care of before they're even ripe. The other has giant fuzzy leaves and little dark reddish-purple figs that everything pretty much leaves alone. Except me. They've just now come into ripeness, and Wren and I have had a ball trying to find as many as we can hiding in the leaves. The best way is to just jump right in the middle of the tree after you've circled the perimeter. There are tons! One problem... I'm not sure I can get over the texture issue enough to really like figs. Much less, two hundred pounds of them. So today Wren and I started the fig relocation program. We picked a whole big bowl of them, gave a huge bag to my mom, then started bagging the rest for the neighbors. Luckily, most of the neighbors were really glad to have them. I refused to foist any off on anyone who didn't like them (you're welcome Norbert), and managed to dispense of them really quickly. It was a great way to meet more of my new neighbors as well! Hopefully some of them will want to take lessons...

Monday, July 28, 2008

waxing, mystery bubbles, and the joy of new things

Last week was a hoot in may ways. I've hit the point where I have enough made that I need to start getting things ready to glaze. I moved everything that had been painted out to the studio and started waxing, on a day that I decided to do another bisque firing when it was already 90 degrees. I began to worry that the wax would just run back off, but then talked myself down, realizing that it probably wouldn't get much higher and the wax takes a couple of hundred degrees before it starts dissipating. Not running. It was so exciting to have a place to put them in this stage, thanks to Ian and his spiffy new shelves.

I got out my trusty bucket of black glaze, only to find that it had dried to a nice chunk of plaster like hardness. So, I wheeled it over to the faucet and used the attached hose to fill it halfway with water, thinking that I would leave it to soften up before I started the arduous process of digging it off the bottom of the bucket. Because, for all the good qualities my glaze has, it sticks, as my friend Bob would say, to the bottom like goose poop on a blanket. I then went on my way, waxing and buzzing around the studio for about an hour. Imagine my surprise when, an hour or so later, I stuck my hand in to feel the glaze was perfectly dispersed and mixed. Besides that little oddity, it also felt... well... kind of foamy. I took my hand out and it was covered in bubbles! The glaze was bubbling and foaming, but was not settling back down. I thought for a minute, then turned the hose back on. Sure enough, preceding the water was a foam of white bubbles. Somehow, we had gotten soap in the hose. How, I do not know, but it was there. I called the Clay Connection and they had never heard of this and told me to do a test firing to see if it had affected anything. If not, I may have just solved one of the great trials of my glazing life.

The week ended with an e-mail from a man answering my Craigslist post asking for pottery wheels. I needed at least one more so that I could teach, but hated to buy a new one when I know there are so many lonely wheels out in people's garages, unused and forgotten after the thrill of a new hobby was forgotten. This man had six! He had a business teaching art to children and they had tried to venture into adult pottery classes, only to lose their teacher after three lessons. It was first come, first serve, and I was first. I managed to get two wheels, a stack of bats, eight new tool packs, two stools, and a bucket of tools for about what one new wheel would cost. I was overjoyed, needless to say! I also now have about six buckets of mystery glaze that I need to research. I grabbed them in my frenzy of abundance, only thinking of what color they were, and was juuuust retarded enough not to remember that glazes have different cones. Now, to find out if they'll go to 5 in a way that doesn't involved grinding test pieces off of my kiln shelves.

Friday, July 18, 2008

triumph and utter defeat

That's the way it is, right? You have to just nod at the successes, and just nod at the dismal failures. I had way more time to throw this week, thank goodness, which allowed me to revisit some of my old friendly shapes. Well, I don't know that I would call the teapots friendly shapes, but they are beloved. They're more like difficult children than good friends.

I managed to make eight of them before I pooped out, seven little guys and one large beastie whose two large friends grew weariy of my pulling and flopped to the bat in disgust. I did, however, attempt a new idea on an old form. Introducing... the sugar bowl:

I think that I've tried this one before with painful results. We'll see how they thrive at the end! I also got to try my hand at the platter again. As I remember with both of these forms, it's all about timing. You have to catch everything at juuuuuust the right time to make sure you get them assembled and trimmed so that they don't turn on you. Even then, the moon must be at it's apex and the barometric pressure at just the right level and a druid priestess must be serenading them as they dry. I kid.

Things have gone pretty well, except for the large footed bowls. The first set of six I threw turned out just awful. Perfectly functional, but that conical shape that I try so hard to avoid like the plague. I find it amazing that everything is coming back pretty well except bowls. I'm still struggling to get them just how I like them, in that hemisphere shape that may be unoriginal, but is satisfying to my psyche and feels so good in the palm of my hand. I won't share the cones of distress, but the bowls are looking pretty good... pre-foot at least.

I'm really excited about a new design that I'm playing with on a few pieces. All of my designs come from doodles that sprang up in school, and this is an offshoot of a design I did on my very first painted vases. I stopped doing it because it was too elaborate and took forever to get anything complete. I found a few bowls that I did in my apprenticeship years that had the design on the inside, and decided to try it again on the outside. I really want to see it on a big bowl before I get the full picture in my mind complete. We'll see how they turn out...

Monday, July 7, 2008

a bad week for throwing

Last week was pretty much wasted, as far as throwing was concerned. With a toddler in full-on destruct mode, there's no way I'm getting time to throw unless there's help. Of course, there is the nap, which made it possible for me to get in some quality painting time!

Today my mom came up to help out and watch Wren, which gave me a chance to get back in the mud. I had big dreams of finishing lots of 1 lb lidded ginger jars. The clay gods had other ideas, however, perhaps inspired by Wren and I planting basil and lavender seeds in the kitchen last week. The clay gods wanted to see flower pots today. As many as possible, please.

I did get the kiln loaded with my haul of big vases. I have to have the planets aligned just right to get them to work, but I did have a day where they were coming together nicely. It helped that Ian had the day off and I had more than 4 hours to devote to it! It looks like this week will be better for getting help and getting to throw. Now to say a prayer that those little jars will behave at our next session and hopefully I'll stop knocking them off the bat with that naughty pointy stick.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

coming back to it

Wow. It's been a really long time since I was able to throw or even get my hands into the mud. I guess it was lucky for me that our office had a slow down (read: could no longer afford me) and Ian suggested that I was still a potter. Somewhere deep inside. I suppose that I had to cut that part of me off for awhile as I made a steady income and then was pregnant with our first-born, Wren. The combined effect of a full time job and a full time baby pretty much ruled out any time or energy for pottery. I think the last time I had done anything was when I was about 6 or7 months pregnant, trying to hand paint pots with a giant kicking baby and glazing with a giant belly. I remember throwing my shoes at the wall and crying and being very dramatic about the whole thing. That was the last I did, to get ready for a show that Sharon and Duy talked me into at Sangati.

Amazing how you can jump right back into throwing like there was never a time gap! Sure, the muscles are a little weak and the pots a little heavier... but the center is still there and the forms come right back to you. There was a little learning curve to it, or a re-learning curve you might say. You know, where you accidentally trash something at the end and go, "oh yeah, you can't jam the pointy stick in like that or the vase will fly off the bat." Or, "oh, I remember now... gravity won't allow big bowls at that angle." A lot of laughing at myself and marveling at how quickly catastrophe can swoop down on you when throwing.

Anyway, now that I'm giving it a go again, I'm going to try it whole hog. I managed to design a website (not that hard) and get it up and running (agonizingly painful) yesterday. My brain absolutely goes limp and noodley when confronted with technology. Now I'm jumping on the blog bandwagon as a companion to the website... we'll see how this all works out. I'm mostly afraid of trying to teach classes at home, due to insecurity for the most part. I've got a few interested takers, now I just have to get the studio fit for human habitation and get some new supplies. Like an extra wheel. Ouch. We'll see if anyone can hang with my garage and it's plethora of invading nature. Maybe if I get it below 100 degrees in there...