Monthly Archives: October 2007

Useful web tools for the potter

There are some great web tools out there for ceramic artists that are simple, straightforward and easy to use; not unlike a good pot. You probably aren’t surprised that I spend a lot of time both in my studio and online. When a question or problem arises in my studio, I head to Google.

I have put together a collection of these (free!) tools that I use to make fast work of some of the less fun parts of clay- like glaze chemistry and shipping.

Get ready to do some bookmarking!

calculations for the ceramic artist:
Celsius to Fahrenheit calculator and vice versa
weight conversions (grams to pounds, etc…)
basic glaze calculatorMetric/Imperial Converter
metric/ imperial converter from Clayzee
volume calculator – how much does that pitcher hold?

shipping:
compare carriers on iShip. Figure out the best deal on shipping your pots.
USPS postage calculator
UPS time and cost calculator

firing information:
Orton Cone Chart – pdf download
firing temperature color chart – pdf download
firing chart – what happens to clay

other helpful things:
This to That – tips of what sort of glue you should use (surprisingly useful)
Picasa – a FREE photo organization program that makes it easy to edit, print & upload images. A program that I can’t imagine owning a digital camera without.
Doodle – create a poll and figure out the best time for a meeting. I have used this a lot when organizing meeting times for an organization (like a guild or co-op).


If you have any web tools that you like to use, send me the link!

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It’s made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.

I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc…) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.

Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great potter’s stool: Artisan S-2 Stool that I bought from Clay King. It’s totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.

You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.

I feel like I’ve lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of “clay tools that I cannot live without.” (I’ll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan…. My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I’m right handed).

I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it’s in a shared space, like a classroom:

  • Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 – 1/2 an inch so the stool won’t accidentally slip off the wood.
  • Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You’ll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
  • Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.

update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.

update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.

update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.

update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can’t do without.

Empty Bowls – Chicago Style

This December, Lillstreet Art Center is hosting their 2nd annual Empty Bowls event. Last year we had a great turnout, but the plan is to really scale it up this year. Tons of bowls, a big community of people and soup galore will all come together to raise money and awareness to help fight hunger.

The request that I’m sending out is for potters, glass blowers, wood turners, and metal smiths of all levels to make a bowl (or 2 or 20) and donate it to Chicago’s Empty Bowls event at Lillstreet Art Center. We’d also like for you to come a share a meal, if you’re in the area on December 7, 2007 from 6pm – 9pm. For $20, guests are invited to choose a bowl and are served a generous serving of soup and bread made by First Slice Café. Guests keep the bowl as a reminder that there are always “empty bowls” in the world.


Lillstreet has a very unique restaurant in it’s building (sharing space with the gallery), the First Slice Café. Proceeds from the cafe go to feed Chicago’s hungry. They help fight hunger in a very direct way: the food they make for various organizations is the same amazing food that is served in their café. In addition to First Slice making the food for the event, they will also be the recipient of the event’s proceeds so they can continue to create healthy meals for these local organizations: Heartland Alliance, The Night Ministry, American Indian Center Youth Program, and Howard Area Alternative High School. 

If you would like to participate in this event by donating a bowl, please deliver or mail your bowl(s) by November 18, 2007 to:

 

Lillstreet Art Center

4401 North Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60640
Attn: Empty Bowls

If you’d like to join us for a bowl of soup, come to Lillstreet on December 7, 2007 from 6pm – 9pm

If you have any questions about this event, you can contact the event organizer, Joanna Kramer.
Please help us spread the word by forwarding this to a friend. Thanks!

The bowls that are in the photo above are by Gary Jackson, Fire When Ready Pottery.

A path to being a greener potter.

Blog Action Day is a day where blogger from all over the world write about one specific issue: the environment. I am excited to have an extra push to write this post that I have been wanting to write a post for months on what someone can do to be a “greener” ceramic artist. I was inspired by Laura Zindel’s post on one black bird; Mary Anne Davis‘s post on being Carbon Neutral and her list on her work’s environmental impact; and on Soderstrom Pottery Blog. They have started a great discussion that I would like to help continue with within the ceramics community.

I think my aversion to actually writing this post that has been in my head is the same thing that stops many of us from creating greener lives. I wanted this post to be epic, to have all of the answers. It was going to be very complete and very satisfying. But that is truly an impossible task. When I think about all of the environmental changes that I want to make at home or at my studio, the ultimate goal is overwhelming and paralyzing. The only way to get past the paralysis is to stop for a moment, and break it down into steps. The steps will get you closer to your end goal, but they are much easier to conquer than taking a gigantic leap.

Here are some steps that I have taken on my path to being a greener potter…

  • I use almost all recycled materials for both shipping and retail customers. I actively collect bags, boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap from friends, family, students and customers. 
  • I recycle my clay scraps and try to aggressively edit unfired work. I don’t want to turn greenware that is reclaimable into something that is not if I am not truly satisfied with the piece at that stage.
  • I try to make my test pieces as functional pieces (like small cups) that might go on to live a life beyond just testing a slip or glaze.
  • I live close to my studio so I can either walk or drive a very short distance. I teach in the same building that I have my studio so I don’t have to commute to class too.
  • I work in a co-operative type studio that conserves resources in many ways. One specific way is by ordering clay and materials together so there is only 1 delivery truck instead of 20.
  • My studio space is small and efficient. Each space has multiple uses. One table can transform from a wedging table to a decorating table to a glaze table to a display table. Much of the furniture in my studio is on wheels so it can be more easily converted.
  • My studio display lights are on a timer. My studio is often open to the public even when I am not there, and the timer stops the lights from being on all the time. (Does anyone know of nice track lighting fixtures that are energy efficient?)
  • I set up a “free-cycle” area in a common area (hallway) at my studio where the studio artists can pass on unneeded things to the next person. 
  • I sell my seconds as “flawed yet functional.” They are still totally usable, but I can’t send them off to a gallery. Customers get to go on a treasure hunt, and give life to a piece that might otherwise be doomed as landfill. In response to the “flawed yet functional” sign in my studio, I once had a customer get teary eyed and tell me that that was exactly how they felt… flawed yet functional.

I know there are people reading this that are working under very different conditions from 60 different countries. Some are students working at a high school, university or art center. There are country potters with lots of land, and urban potters, like me, that are working in a smaller studio. The problems and solutions that you face are going to be very different if you’re a tile maker, production potter or a sculptor. I hope that you’ll share the steps you take in your clay world to being a little bit greener with the rest of us.

update- 10/15/07 – another clay blogger, Anne Webb, wrote a Blog Action Day post

update – 10/29/07 – Pam McFayden wrote a great post over at lureart ceramics about studio recycling.

Being to Being: Collective Conversations in Clay

This is a virtual tour of a show that I am currently in: Being to Being: Collective Conversations in Clay at Park West Ceramics Gallery in Chicago. The concept for the show is very unsual (remember, I like unconventional things…).

Here’s the idea: There are 5 artists, all with different styles of making and decorating. Each artist made 5 pieces. One of the pieces is made start to finish by that original artist. The other 4 pieces are handed off in the leather hard stage to the other 4 artists. Each participant decorates the 4 pieces from the other artists. Carving and cutting, slips and glazes, adding clay pre- and post firing, atmospheric firings and decals were some of the techniques used.

The photos in this post were taken on opening night and aren’t actually the best images. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll add better images, but I was too excited about this show to wait for those images. But for now, you can get an idea of what the show is all about…

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Platter by Emily Murphy. Soda fired with a crackle slip and sprayed glazes.

top left: Slipped wood fired with low fire decals by Gina Hutchings.
top right: Cut, carved, slipped, glazed and wood fired by Jay Strommen.
bottom left: Slipped, glazed, punctured, reduction fired, then sewn by Joanna Kramer.
bottom right: Cut, then applied stoneware “staples” and porcelain coil then soda fired by Shane Grimes.

The next series are porcelain hand built slab “landscape” vases by Joanna Kramer.
Below is her solo piece that is actually two porcelain vases that are sewn together (post firing, of course!).

top left:
Glazed and wood fired with low fire decals applied by Gina Hutchings.
top right: Slipped, glazed, cut and carved then wood fired by Jay Strommen.
bottom left: Slipped, glazed and soda fired by Emily Murphy.
bottom right: Slipped and carved with stoneware staples and porcelain coils attached and then soda fired by Shane Grimes.

Jay Strommen‘s pieces are thrown and altered with slips and lightly glazed then wood fired.

top left: Slipped, glazed, wood fired with decals by Gina Hutchings.
top right: Slipped, punctured, glazed and reduction fired then sewn by Joanna Kramer.
bottom left: Lots of stoneware staples and porcelain coils added, then soda fired by Shane Grimes.
bottom right: Slipped, carved, glazed and then soda fired by Emily Murphy.

The next group is from Shane Grimes. Shane’s pieces are thrown and altered. His solo piece has his trademark stoneware staples and incredibly thin porcelain spines/coils attached, then soda fired.
top left: Cut, carved, slipped, glazed and wood fired by Jay Strommen.
top right: Soda fired then a decal applied by Gina Hutchings (it’s a very cool spider).
bottom left: Slipped, cut, punctured, glazed and reduction fired by Joanna Kramer, then sewn.
bottom right: Slipped, glazed and soda fired by Emily Murphy.

The Geisha series is by Gina Hutchings who is also the organizer of the show.
Her piece below is glaze and wood fired with a decal applied.

top left: Stoneware staples and porcelain coils attached then soda fired by Shane Grimes.
top right: Slipped, punctured, glazed, reduction fired then sewn by Joanna Kramer.
bottom left: Slipped, carved, glazed and wood fired by Jay Strommen.
bottom right: Slipped, glazed and soda fired by Emily Murphy.

The next group of photos are some close up detail images. Because of the lighting in the gallery, it was hard to get really good photos on opening night. I hope these detail images help you fill in the gaps. (click on images to make them bigger) 




Why Soda Glaze? – by Maryke Henderson

Although there is more all the time, overall there is still very little written about soda (soda firing, soda glazing, vapor glazing, etc…). When I come across something that’s written specifically about soda, I get really excited and I want to share my find with all of you.


I recently came across this great article on the Australian ceramics website Avicam: Why Soda Glaze? It’s a lengthy excerpt from Maryke Henderson’s Bachelor of Arts research report from Australian National University School of Art in 2005. It covers everything from “What is soda?” and the historical background of soda to technical information on soda introduction and it’s corrosive effects on kilns. There are profiles of contemporary soda artists as well as a statement about Maryke’s own work.
The photos that I have included of Maryke Henderson’s work are from Avicam. They are elegant pieces that both intrigue me and make me very nervous. Enjoy the article and the beautiful images. When you’re done reading Maryke’s article, spend some time wandering around Avicam. It’s filled with interesting things to read and some really great pots to look at.


Unconventional Vases

I have been making these oval vases for a while in all different shapes and sizes. The idea for these pieces emerged out of a desire to make a vase that can sit in the middle of a table with flowers in it, yet it’s short enough to see your sweetie sitting across the table. Vases are a form that I’ve battled with. I have high standards for my pieces (vases and others). They must be able to stand on their own, without fulfilling their given purpose. And when they are doing their duty, like holding flowers, it must function flawlessly. My battle with the classic vase form is that I am not interested in it as a stand alone form. I know it’s a broad generalization, but it’s something that I tackle over and over again, and the form just isn’t “strong” enough for my taste. When I push and pull the classic vase form into something that I really like, it is more like a bottle and can’t hold more than 1 flower… So I seem to end up venturing into vase forms that are unconventional.

And since I like things that are unconventional, I am doing a show this much that is just that…unconventional. Haus (a wonderful ceramics gallery in Chicago) has coordinated this show for Chicago Artist’s Month (which is October). The tables at Anteprima, a fantastic Italian restaurant in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood have been filled with my oval vases. The vases have been filled by Sunburst Flowers, another Andersonville neighborhood business. I love all the collaboration!

The above image is of one of the beautiful arrangements for the show. The below image is of some of my platters at the restaurant. When Anteprima was opening, I was commissioned to make these platters.

How to make a bat gripper

I went through a period of time early in my ceramics career where I was a tool minimalist. It’s something that I think every potter should go through. I had 3 tools that I would use: a wire tool, a wooden knife tool, and a basic wooden rib. I was even flexible with what tool filled those 3 slots. I like the idea that it was really about how I moved the clay, not the tools or gadgets. And I also like the idea that wherever I was in the world, I would be able to throw a pot- regardless of the tools. This idea has also led me to using many different types of clay, and to throw on different types of wheels. It makes me a portable potter. So even though that’s my philosophy on clay tools…
..I LOVE TOOLS! I know how to work with the fewest possible tools, but I really enjoy working with many tools. It can allow you to do something with greater ease, or achieve a new surface, or just make you happy because of its cleverness.
At some point over the last 5 or 6 years a little boom of new tools popped up, many as a side business from a potter who was making cool tools for themselves. I’m happy to be a potter during this period. I love trying out different things, and sometimes (many times) I get hooked on one. I am going to be sharing with you some tools that I really love, and some tools that I make myself in the tool section of this blog.

A tool that I really dug was the Bat Grabber.

I loved it for teaching when I was working on a wheel that had worn holes for bat pins to stop the wobble. I also loved it under the little square bats that tend to lift a little when making a tall piece in my studio. But it had a problem where it would start to erode over time (you can see that from the pictures). And then they stopped being made (the material was no longer manufactured). So I had to do something to fill my need of a new Bat Grabber and here is what I did…

I got a roll of rubbery shelf liner. The cheapest one I could find; but I think that any would work. You can probably use a rug pad too.
 

With a Sharpie, I used a bat to trace out the circle and to draw in the placement of the bat pin holes. I made both a 14″ circle and a 12″ circle. Just because.

Then you cut it out, including the holes.
To use it: dip it in some water and squeeze out the excess. Then stick it on your wheel head, and use a bat on top. Circular, square, plastic, wood or foam covered. They will all stay a little bit more secure with this do-it-yourself bat gripper.

(Don’t forget to make pots when you’re not making tools…)

Ceramic pinhole cameras

Ceramic artist Steve Irvine has done something that many artists struggle with (including myself): bringing together two different passions. He has brought together clay and photography with his fantastic ceramic pinhole cameras

Here is one of his vessels that actually captures an image:
And this is an image from the above camera:He has more ceramic pinhole cameras on his website.

He also makes great pots (that don’t double as a camera).