Studio Potter has a monthly newsletter! The amazing Molly Hatch (I seriously covet her work…) is the editor and she asked me to write something for it inspired by the theme of their upcoming issue: “Boundaries and the Digital World.” Studio Potter Magazine played a big part of getting me hooked on clay. There was always a stack of back issues in my college clay studio and was excited to be a part of this. I’m sharing what I wrote below, but don’t miss out on their next newsletter. It’s free to subscribe and only takes a minute. Even better, subscribe to this wonderful journal. You’ll read every issue cover to cover and will be left wishing it came out more than twice a year.
This month we are excited to include a mini article from potter blogger Emily Murphy. Emily chose to write about her experience as a blogger which is a great preview to the ucoming isse: BOUNDARIES & The Digital World We encourage you to write in with your own thoughts on past or current themes from issues of SP. We would really like to hear what YOU are thinking!
A New Community of Potters
By Emily Murphy
In the past year, I have gone through a lot of life changes. Exciting but disruptive. After 10 years of living in Chicago and being part of the large, vibrant community of artists at Lillstreet Art Center, I moved to a new city, Minneapolis, bought a house and did a top to bottom renovation, built a studio, got married. One of the scariest parts of moving was leaving an incredible community of artists that I worked with on a daily basis. Lillstreet was the place where I taught classes, it was my social outlet, and it was a huge part of my professional identity. It was also how I sold the majority of my work.
Now I have a studio in my basement. A really wonderful studio, but there are no studio mates outside my door to ask for help when a kiln is acting up, borrow a pound of feldspar from or to have a coffee break with. And I definitely don’t have customers wandering through.
But, surprisingly, I don’t feel alone, I’m still in the presence of a large community of potters. When I needed help figuring out what kind of exhaust fan to get for my the spray booth I’m building, I have people to ask. When I’m asked to be in a show or had an image that was accepted to be published in a book, I have colleagues to share in my excitement. While I’m still without a kiln, I have people offering up space in their kilns so I can fire my work.
This is all because of the online community of potters that I have gotten to know over the years. I have been writing my Pottery Blog for nearly 7 years. More recently, I started a Facebook Fan Page to share more of the day to day thoughts, questions, events and interesting links. When I write, I try to put my truest self out there. Successes along with failures. Lots of technical information with a more personal side mixed throughout. The community of potters that I have come to think of as “my community” has grown and evolved over the years. We have daily interactions. Advice is shared and critiques are given back and forth. I recently posted a question on my page asking people what they think “success” means in the pottery world, and within a couple of hours got a dozen thought provoking responses. I had my afternoon coffee break while reading what others wrote, and sharing my own thoughts. When I don’t post to my blog for a while, I usually get some emails or even a phone call from people who I’ve never met before just checking in to make sure that I’m still out there.
But it’s not confined to the virtual world, it’s has spilled over into daily life too. I’ve been visiting studios, having coffee and firing kilns with new pottery blog writing and reading friends. Many times when I meet someone in person that I’ve been writing with back and forth for years, the meeting starts with a hug and it feels like I’m spending time with an old friend.
It’s easy online to present just one facet of yourself: to look like a professional, an artist, to use fancy language and to edit everything so it’s just right. But if you do you won’t find a community, you’ll just have a “presence”. Everyone talks about going overboard in putting yourself out there (the cliche “In line to get coffee” update) but the opposite is also true — you need to also get personal, to be off-topic sometimes, and if you don’t make mistakes sometimes then you aren’t doing it right. If you over share, or put out boring updates, or use language that is so casual as to be confusing, then be reflective and recognize and adjust; but don’t worry too much about exploring those boundaries. When you put yourself out there, you’re more likely to find a community.
This post is a very personal one. It’s one that I’ve been wanting to write for more than two years but it’s been too hard, and although I’ve attempted, I’ve never gotten through it before. This is not about clay, but it helps to explain why I sometimes disappear from writing for periods of time. It can feel disingenuous for me to write here without acknowledging this part of my life. It’s something that takes up a big part of my mental space, and is hard to casually reference. But today is a good day. Today I can write the words that I’ve tried to write before. The tears are still there. But hope pops up and helps push them away so I can continue to write.
It’s not the kind of good day that you expect to be excited about, but it’s a day that we’ve resisted getting our hopes up for. Today marks 9 weeks since my four year old nephew, Ayrie, last had surgery. This is the longest that he’s gone without surgery in more than 2 years. He’s had 19 surgeries in 2 years. Today can be celebrated because of my sister, Nora, fights tirelessly for her son, and thanks to Ayrie’s amazing surgeon, Dr. Hartnick at Mass Ear and Eye (MEEI) in Boston. And it’s thanks to all the friends, family and supporters who have helped emotionally, physically and financially to help Ayrie get the treatment he needs.
Just over two years ago, we received news that totally changed our lives. My nephew, Ayrie, just before his 2nd birthday, was diagnosed with RRP: Recurrent Respiratory Papilomatosis. It’s a rare disease that is caused by the HPV virus. It causes tumors/growths on the vocal cords, which if gone untreated can block the airway and cause suffocation. It is something that is often misdiagnosed as croup, asthma or pneumonia. In fact, 2 months before he got this diagnosis, he was diagnosed with Croup, and it didn’t respond to treatment. We can’t know if he had Croup or not, but we suspect that he didn’t. The diagnosis of RRP was stunning to us, but we’re lucky that he was properly diagnosed when it was. He was diagnosed after he and my sister had moved to Chicago to be near me and my husband Ian. If they had lived in a different place, it is possible that the physicians wouldn’t have known what RRP was. We had never heard of this and most of what we learned about RRP in the beginning wasn’t very accurate. When something is so rare, there are lots of individual cases, stories, treatments, but that doesn’t add up to the whole story. We’ve been blindly swimming through the world for the last 2 years. Our lives over taken by this disease. Struggling to get through each day, fighting for health insurance, fighting for Ayrie’s health.
Ayrie has had surgery every 4 to 6 weeks since his diagnosis, and occasionally more frequently. Surgery is the treatment for RRP. Mostly, it’s “on-going maintenance,” removing the growths to clear his airway, but the growths return until his body figures out how to fight the virus on its own. There are different kinds of lasers that can be used, some surgeons use a mechanical device. There are a few kind of drugs that can be used during surgery but they almost all have major drawbacks (an understatement), such as being toxic or carcinogenic. After maintaining his condition over a year and a half, without it getting any better, my sister reached out to a surgeon in Boston. Dr. Hartnick is the top physician treating Juvenile RRP. When he first saw Ayrie, he told us it was one of the most severe cases that he had seen. That is a heavy statement. He skillfully removed a huge amount of growths, and used a new experimental drug in conjunction with the surgery. Interestingly, it was the same drug that Ian’s grandmother has injected into her eyes to fight Macular Degeneration with success, which is also experimental. The standard use is to fight Colon Cancer.
The first surgery with Dr. Hartnick happened just a week after we moved to Minneapolis last July. Nora and Ayrie flew to Boston while his little brother Shiya stayed home with me and Ian. My mom met them at the hospital in Boston which is 2 hours from my hometown in New Hampshire.
A few weeks after that surgery, Ian and I were away at a family reunion in the mountains of upstate New York with most of Ian’s family. We had moved to Minneapolis, where Ian’s family is, in large part to expand our support network. But it was the one time of the year that almost everyone that we knew in our new city was away at the same time, leaving Nora home in a new place without her support net. While we were gone Ayrie was having severe breathing problems and Nora had to take him to the emergency room. She didn’t want to “bother” us while we were on vacation, so we didn’t find out that there were any problems until Ayrie had already been admitted. It broke my heart that we weren’t there. Actually, that doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt. I was crushed. I couldn’t breathe. The image of Nora in the emergency room, completely freaked out with a 3 year old with severe breathing problems and his 1 year old brother (being a typical one year old), was an image that I couldn’t shake. If I was feeling this way, half way across the country, I was afraid to even imagine what was happening in the emergency room. No one was there with her. The first thing I did was make some phone calls while driving down winding country roads. Some amazing friends (that I knew, but barely knew Nora at that time), picked up Ayrie’s brother Shiya so Nora could focus on Ayrie’s care.
What happened over the next days was the hardest week of our lives.
The surgeon here in Minneapolis that specializes in RRP told Nora that he believed that Ayrie’s air passage was severely narrowed by scar tissue from all of his surgeries. To correct this he would have to undergo a surgery to open his air passage up. The tissue would have to be held apart while it healed, using an intubation tube. This would meant that he would be put into a drug induced coma for at least a week. When he was brought out of it he would be addicted to opiates and would need to be weaned off of them with Methadone. All this to a 3 year old. After that he would be “out of it” for several months. He would also permanently lose his voice. And the surgeons thought there would be a 50% chance that he would need a tracheotomy. For someone with RRP a tracheotomy means cutting through healthy tissue and giving the virus a path to spread, possibly moving down his into his lungs, which would ultimately be fatal.
At the time that Nora was getting this information Ian and I were heading to the airport to catch the first flight back to Minneapolis. 24 hours had passed since we had first gotten the news, it was the fastest that we get a flight. While we were at the airport, we heard more of the story of what was going on. My sister and mom tried to not tell us the extent of the bad news until we were back in Minneapolis, but I knew that the news was bad, and they finally told us what was going on while we were on a layover in Chicago. On the plane, Ian and I were doing everything we could to keep from sobbing. An incredible flight attendant sat down on the edge of the 3rd seat in our row, greeting people, and making sure that we had the row to ourselves. It made me realize the impact that such a simple, unspoken gesture could have on someone. The rest of Ian’s family followed the next day, knowing that they couldn’t be on vacation while this was going on.
When Ian and I got back to Minneapolis and rushed to the hospital it was an odd experience. At first we came in to the hospital room, Ayrie looked zoned out lying on the bed with his gown on and with a variety of tubes and monitors attached to him. He gave us a big smile, and with all these accouterments and with all our fears having built up on our way home it seemed terribly sad. But then five minutes later he was playing on the floor with us and everything seemed like it always was, except we’re dragging around an awkward IV drip. These stories, what we heard from the surgeons and what we saw in person, just didn’t add up. It was impossible to imagine him laying in a hospital room for weeks on a ventilator. And it was too painful to imagine him not being able to speak. Not even in a whisper, ever again. And we couldn’t bring ourselves to even imagine the worst.
When you get a prognosis and treatment plan like that, there is no question than to get a 2nd opinion, right? But the only pediatric ENT’s (Ear Nose and Throat surgeons) in the area who treat RRP are part of the same surgical team who devised the drastic treatment plan. When Nora spoke to the other members of the team they just agreed with the head of the practice. Not really a 2nd opinion. There is a surgeon at the Mayo clinic that Nora wanted to consult but she was away on vacation for 2 weeks and unreachable. Dr. Hartnick was also on vacation for 2 weeks, but we were able to get touch with him and he agreed to speak with the surgeon in Minneapolis. But the Minneapolis surgeon had no interest in talking or discussing the options. He actually refused to consult with Dr. Hartnick on Ayrie’s case. It was clear that his ego was getting in the way. We had to take the scans of Ayrie’s throat, bring them home, scan them and send them to his office in Boston. And relay the information ourselves, knowing the what possible consequences of a misstatement could be.
Dr. Hartnick, while on an out of state family vacation, wanted to hear about what was happening with Ayrie. His office forwarded the scan of Ayrie’s throat to his cell phone. He diplomatically said that he couldn’t tell much, but he didn’t think it looked like scar tissue. On top of that, he said that he couldn’t remember the last time he had to do a tracheotomy on an RRP patient and he offered to leave his family vacation for a day to perform Ayrie’s surgery. That was more than enough hope to go on. That was actually more than we’d even consider hoping for at the time. The hard part now was at the hospital in Minneapolis. They didn’t even want to let Ayrie travel 5 blocks home, much less fly all the way to Boston. And the surgeon told us that if Nora took Ayrie out of the hospital against his recommendation she would have to do it AMA (against medical advice) and that he would not ever see Ayrie again. Even if they came to the ER (which really is only 5 blocks from our house) and he was on duty. Is that legal? It’s definitely not ethical. What do you do in that situation? Everything in your gut, your heart, and your brain is telling you that the best thing to do for this child is to bring him to Boston. But we’re in the hospital in Minneapolis and the surgeons there are telling us that they can either be Ayrie’s primary physicians or they won’t see him at all. My sister made one of the hardest and most brave decisions that she could have. What’s the point of having the ability to come back and see these doctors when they don’t allow you to get a second opinion, even with the severity of what they wanted to do? Over the past year, we have renovated our entire home, top to bottom, inside to out. And for each thing that we needed to do whether it was work on the plumbing, having the yard graded or having flooring installed, we got a minimum of 3 bids. It wasn’t just about the price, it was about getting 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinions on what the diagnosis of the problem was, the scope of the work and the suggested fix. Why are we intimidated to get 2nd opinions when it comes to our health? So much more is at stake.
With the decision made, we quickly packed up everything in the room and headed home. Three plane tickets were bought for a flight that was leaving in just hours. Ian went with Nora and Ayrie as support for them. Ian described the arrival in Boston as surreal, a late flight arriving to a mostly empty airport, the tension he and Nora were feeling about what they’d learn tomorrow… but a big airport with no one around is too irresistible and Ayrie just ran back and forth, giddy after being stuck in a hospital room for a week, and even though the two of them felt like they shouldn’t let him get out of breath, it seemed too wrong to stop a kid from being a kid.
Ayrie was admitted to the ER and brought up the the adult floor in the hospital because the pediatric floor was closed. A pediatric nurse was called in just to be with Ayrie that night and was both a nurse and a comfort to Nora, Ayrie and Ian. My mom met them at the hospital first thing in the morning. Dr. Hartnick left his family vacation and his fellow assembled a top notch surgical team on a Sunday (a non-surgery day at their hospital). After 5 minutes in the OR with Ayrie he called Nora on the phone in the waiting room to let her know that everything looked fine. That there definitely was not any extensive scarring and that nothing drastic had to be done. This still amazes me that he did that. He knew what we had been through over the past week and didn’t want to prolong the agony any more. Instead of waiting for the surgery to be over, he took the time to reassure the mom that everything was okay.
Dr. Hartnick also suggested a new treatment that had never been used on an RRP patient before. Because RRP is such a rare disease, experimental is our only hope that things will improve, as opposed to just maintain. He had read an article about young babies on a blood pressure medicine due to heart problems. Coicidentally some of the babies also had tumors from a different cause. The blood pressure medicine miraculously shrunk the tumors in these babies as an unexpected side effect. The drug is Propranonal. It’s been around for a long time, and it has few side effects. Dr. Hartnick made the connection between these other tumors and RRP and started Ayrie on the medication. Ayrie takes it twice a day by mouth. This is the first time a non-surgical treatment has been used for RRP: there have been other drugs used, but they are always injected at the site of surgery. No one knew if this was something that was going to work, but it was definitely worth a try. There was nothing to lose.
Thanks to this new drug, which Ayrie calls his”magic medicine,” and his surgeon, the time has stretched out times between his surgeries over the past 9 months. Theoretically (and hopefully), this could continue to happen. We’re now at 9 weeks since the last surgery. A marking point that we were not sure we’d ever see. We’re now hoping for at least another 3 week to make it to 12 weeks until the next surgery. We have hope because over the past couple of weeks Ayrie has begun to speak slightly above a whisper for the first time in 9 months. He is over the top excited about this, and we well up with happy tears when we hear him projecting his quiet voice. This development is something that gives us the ability to hope for 12 weeks. The longer he can go between surgeries, the longer his voice can rest and have some recovery. He will never have a ‘normal’ voice, but the fewer surgeries he has, the less damage will be done and the more strength his voice will have.
Last year, when we decided to move to Minneapolis from Chicago, a big part of the decision was to be able to have a home that we all could live in. Both Ayrie, Nora and Shiya need a huge amount of support. So Ian and I bought a duplex and made it into a space where we all could live. We live within 2 miles of Ian’s mom, dad, sister, and her spouse who are a constant presence in his life. We didn’t really know at that time we moved what the next step for Ayrie’s treatment would be. The care Ayrie received in Chicago was competent, but despite that, his health seemed to be getting worse, not better. We didn’t know what the next step was: Boston, Denver, Seattle, Mayo? We were lucky that Nora was able to find a great doctor and hospital in Boston; it would have been serendipitous had it been near Minneapolis, but it wasn’t, and we always knew we’d send Ayrie wherever we had to to get the treatment he needs. But it means a lot of traveling for Ayrie and Nora.
Weirdly Ayrie doesn’t mind the surgeries. He actually gets excited about going to Boston for a surgery. He goes to new places and he gets his mom’s and grammy’s undivided attention, and though he’s uncomfortable immediately after surgery it doesn’t seem to last much beyond that. He was starting to develop strong fears about anesthesia — a fear of masks and of the sound of gas, apparently common things for children to fixate on. He was having panic attacks when the defrost was on in the car because of the noise, or if he saw steam, it would trigger the fear. But since he’s been going to Boston even that has gone away (the anesthesiologists at MEEI are also some of the best). The thing that affects him most is that he can’t speak above a whisper. We haven’t given up hope on that improving, and he’s learning ways to cope, and his language skills haven’t suffered at all. All of the people close to Ayrie are especially tuned into his whisper. But it is a hardship at school, in large groups, out in public. Ayrie deals with this remarkably well, but it’s something that we all have to work on. Nora is in constant dialog with Ayrie’s preschool teachers about how to handle this in school. We are constantly trying to figure out ways to help him communicate. He’s worn a whistle so he can get attention if he’s in trouble, he knows quite a bit of baby sign language, but it only helps if someone else knows it too. One on one play dates are important for him to develop relationships with classmates so they will more easily be able to tune into his quiet voice. He’s learning exercises to help the strength of his voice. There is a Pediatric Voice Specialist in Boston that he’s begun to see. Part of the exercises include playing the kazoo.
This disease has changed all our lives. I’m not sure that Ayrie remembers life before he was diagnosed. The rest of us do, but we have also settled into a new sense of normal. We cheer when we can hear Ayrie call loudly up the back stairs “C’mon Emmy, c’mon Ian, me, mommy and Shiya are going outside. Wanna come play?” We cheer up when we go nine weeks without surgery. We sleep more easily at night after Dr. Hartnick tells us that Ayrie will, indeed, regain volume in his voice. Not full strength, but much better than it’s been. Better than we had dared hope for. We are grateful that this is our new sense of normal. That the battles have lead to successes. We know we are lucky.
For Nora, everything has changed. Like many parents of kids with a chronic disease, she is not able to have a regular 9-5 job. It wasn’t long after Ayrie’s diagnosis that she had to leave her job in Chicago having exhausted her vacation days, and knowing that she would have to take off work at any time for the next surgery. Having to travel for surgeries every month or so and the constant and endless phone battles with the insurance company make standard work schedules impossible. She’s now in a PhD program at the university of Minnesota, studying the effect of rare diseases on families and how support networks can help. She has been writing a blog, Rare Disease Support. She constantly trying to figure out ways to turn this difficult situation into something that can help someone else.
I am lucky that, as a potter, I do something that is completely flexible. I can jump in to help wherever I’m needed, and take care of Shiya when his mom’s away. And I’m so grateful that our nephews live just a flight of stairs away from us so we can be there to help provide stability in such uncertain times. This has definitely helped me put things in perspective. It has also made me think that you never know what is going on in someone’s life, what they might be struggling with.
As I write this, I have to wipe away tears. It’s exhausting to always have to fight these battles, but the stakes are too high not to. We’re lucky that we have some hope. It’s not anybody’s fault that Ayrie has this disease. I don’t even blame the surgeons in Minneapolis for proposing a bad treatment, no one has found the “right” treatment yet, and I’m sure they were proposing what they thought was best. I am not, however, so forgiving about the lack of openness and thoughtfulness I saw from them after the treatment was proposed. The lack of ability to consider that a second opinion would be worth 5 minutes of time on the phone. A few weeks after we left the hospital in Minneapolis, Nora received a certified letter from the surgical practice notifying her that they would not see Ayrie, even if he came into the ER. They followed through in their threat. This still baffles me.
I often think back to the prognosis that we received last September and what would have happened if we didn’t have anywhere else to turn. And if we didn’t find the courage to stand up and seek the treatment that was best for Ayrie. It’s beyond difficult to have every authority figure telling you one thing, and to believe that it is not the truth and to actually walk away from the situation. When you’re in the hospital, with a young child with all sorts of wires and tubes coming out of him, you’re in an incredibly vulnerable state. Every morning and every evening, when Ayrie takes his “magic medicine” and each week that passes without surgery, we thank Dr. Hartnick for what he has given us. Hope, life, and the sweet voice of a sweet little boy. We need to do whatever we can do to keep Ayrie in his care.
The health care system at times helps, and at times makes it very difficult. MEEI personnel have been very helpful, and they’ve been providing quality, consistent care even as insurance jerks us (and them) around. There was a state health insurance program in Illinois, and one here in Minnesota, that provide Ayrie with the coverage he needs. But the administrators of these programs (particularly in Hennepin County) are terrible: disinterested, lacking in compassion, and simply incompetent. But despite those problems there are always good people who really want to help, and though the system has been challenging to say the least, it has not failed us yet. And we are extraordinarily grateful for the changes that happened this week in healthcare. Ayrie will never be turned down for insurance, he will never be dropped because of his condition (although it can still happen due to bureaucracy), and his rates will not go up because of it. This will be a positive effect for the rest of his life. He is currently on state health care that covers the ‘uninsurable’ — to think, that classification will simply disappear! That’s worth celebrating. Under the current regime the insurance company has limited the number of surgeries that he can have. Of course if he doesn’t have them when he needs them he will not be able to breathe, but that doesn’t seem to concern them. One of the reasons that we’re so happy that the length of time between surgeries is getting longer is because it means there is a chance we can fit into their parameters and maybe have one less battle to fight. I just try to imagine what it could be like if we could focus all the energy that is spent fighting the insurance company and focus it on Ayrie’s well being. Every hospital visit is followed by a flood of letters rejecting this and rejecting that. Always vague, always requiring lengthy follow up with the bureaucracy of the insurance. Despite all of this I’m feeling hopeful we’ll get there. Closer to a point where we can put more energy into fighting for Ayrie, and less of it fighting against the system.
Please keep Ayrie in your thoughts. He’s an an incredible kid with a spunky sense of humor and a deep well of curiosity. He’s a typical four year old, who has gone through so much in his life that he has a wisdom beyond his years. People often remark that he has an “old soul.” If you’re interested in supporting his on going treatment, we have a travel fund to help him get to his surgeon in Boston. Because we never know when he’s going to need surgery next, we usually have to buy the plane tickets with short notice, which means high prices. There is no discount from the major airlines. And although we’ve tried to take advantage of different medical travel programs, they usually require 2 months notice, something that we cannot do. So we rely on private donations to Ayrie’s Medical Fund**. Five and ten dollar donations can add up quickly to a plane ticket to Boston. Thank you for taking the time to read this deeply personal story. It’s the story of a shared experience of all the people who love Ayrie. I’m glad to be able to share it with you on a good day. A day to celebrate. It’s an important part of who I am, as a sister, aunt and artist and I appreciate the opportunity to share this part of my life with you.
It is with the heaviest of hearts that write this update. Ayrie passed away on September 29, 2010 from complications to RRP. We are heartbroken but uplifted by the love and support of family, friends and strangers.
A few months ago, when I heard about the pre-conference happening before NCECA, Making Through Living—Living Through Making: Studio Pottery in 2010, my thought was- ‘I have to be there’. Then I read the list of presenters and once again thought- ‘I really need to be there!’ But, the reality is that I can’t make it to NCECA this year or pre-conference. I had to make the decision between getting a kiln now, or going the Philly. The decision really wasn’t very hard to make- I want to produce more than just greenware! But I was incredibly excited to find out that pre-conference is going to be streamed live, on-line for the 2 days that it’s happening. If you want to get easy updates on the conference, check out their Facebook Fan Page.
I hope you can tune in this week and catch some of the presenters. I have heard that highlights will be posted online after the conference. I’ll let you know as soon as I get a link to that! Enjoy! And to all of you who are going to NCECA and pre-conference, have a fantastic time. I look forward to hearing about it through everyone’s blogs and Facebook Pages. Next year…
This is just a little peak at what I’ve been working on. I am making a bunch of tea bowls that will be given as gifts/favors at our wedding celebration this summer. It’s fun to think about these pieces going out to our families and friends all toasting out of these cups, then bringing them home as reminders of the celebration. Ian’s been having fun decorating some of the cups too. If I could just give away all the pieces that I make, I would be a very happy potter! But it’s not such a great business model… But I’m so happy to have the excuse to give a slew of pots away this summer!
Here are some more updates, and things that I’ve been thinking about lately…
I was lucky enough to be invited to join in on the first firing of Donovan Palmquist and Colleen Riley’s new wood kiln this weekend. Below are some of the pots that I had in the firing. I’ll share with you the finished pieces when they’re out of the kiln! It’s really amazing to be in Minnesota. There are so many amazing potters here- and I’m having so much fun meeting new clay folks every week!
There’s a new blogger around. Actually, there are quite a few! But I wanted to share with you Marcia Tani Paul’s new blog, Ceramic Arts: Clay, Food and More… Marcia is one of the many Minnesota potters that I’ve been lucky to meet. Take a look, and be prepared to be hungry!
Congratulations to Michael Kline and his 1000th post on his blog, Sawdust and Dirt! Talk about prolific! Michael’s been such a great contributor to the clay blogging community- I’m looking forward to the next 1000 posts!
I’ve been making a ton of cups in my studio over the past couple of months. You might have seen some of them in my last blog post. In the middle of cup making expedition, this Sequoia Miller wrote this great blog post about cups. It was a very timely read. This sweet jar of Sequoia’s is a cousin to one of his jars that I’m lucky to have in my collection.
Since I’m talking about blogs…
As you know, I have a big list of clay blogs that I subscribe to and enjoy reading while eating my steel cut oats every morning. I want to ask for a bit of help from you guys out there. Let me know if there are any blogs missing, and also if there are any that are defunct on my list. It’s time for an update! Just leave a comment below, or a note on my Facebook Fan Page, or send me an email. If you’re interested in setting up a blog reader with clay blogs to read over your morning coffee, I have directions on how to do it on my blogroll.
A couple of reminder notes about my list. I have to keep the list limited in some way- so I only include clay blogs, and mostly pottery blogs at that. And I try to limit them to ones that have mostly clay content. And it needs to have original content- not only Etsy listings or sale updates.
If you want a really complete list of blogs, check out the really complete list over at Slipcast, The Ceramics Blog. It’s impressive!
I have some more things I’ve been wanted to share with all of you, but I think I’ll call it tonight and write another post tomorrow. Until then…
I taught advanced throwing and soda firing classes at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago for the past 10 years. I’m not currently teaching, but I am giving myself assignments. It’s something that I’ve always done to push myself to discover new forms, new surfaces and refine the old standards. Last month, Michael Kline posted an assignment on his blog, 12 before noon. Blog readers had a lot of fun with, so I’d share the assignments that I give to myself.
So here is first part my favorite self assignment.
Pick a form. Something simple: mugs, small bowls, tea bowls, etc…
Pick a weight for the piece. If it’s cups, I usually do a small range: 3/4 lbs – 1 1/4 lbs. If it’s plates, I usually pick the same weight. Maybe 3 lbs. I did mugs this week, so all the descriptions below are for mugs.
Weigh out and wedge up at least 12 pieces. (Do more if you can. The more the better. Do 40 or 50.)
Think about the different parts of the form: lip, handle, foot, curves… Think about how these parts relate to one another.
Consider future glazing and decorating. Segment the form for clear places to decorate. Add lines for a glaze to break. If it’s going to be fired in an atmospheric kiln, think about where the liner glaze will stop.
What will the cup be used for? it might be used for: coffee, tea, cocoa, latte, espresso.., and
Think about who might use it and where. A coffee cup for the office, a mug for a nightly cup of Sleepytime Tea, etc… Is the cup going to be cradled and savored? Should it have a narrower opening to keep the coffee extra hot? If the user has little kids or pets, something with a wide, stable base is really important.
Start throwing – different forms. Push each form to be different from the previous one. Some will be radically different. Some with be variations on earlier pieces. Some you’ll love, some you’ll want to smush. But don’t, yet. You’ll want to study it to figure out why it didn’t work and might discover why part of it did.
Note: All these pieces shown below are porcelain in greenware/leather hard state. They are not decorated yet- that’s not part of this part of the assignment. (btw, I took these quick snapshots on my new studio photography set-up. Blog post about that coming up!) I want a form to be able to be strong and stand on it’s own regardless of the decoration, glaze or firing of the piece. So to study them in a leather hard state is perfect.
I shared some quick thoughts about the forms below each grouping (which are in no particular order). These notes are not at all comprehensive, deep critiques, just quick gut reactions to the forms. Feel free to just look at the images. Or if you want to know what my thoughts are about them, you can read the notes.
top left: I’m usually a no-trim mug kinda potter. But I’ve really been loving the yunomi/mug hybrid. I love how the handle placement is so obvious.
top right: This is a standard form for me. I love how it feels to hold when you’re drinking from it, but I don’t love the handle placement. Need to push this more.
bottom left: Great for atmospheric firing. Top third can be glazed and has room to run.
bottom right: Eh- not my favorite. But playing around with yunomi hybrid.
group 2: a
top left: I like the easy curves of this piece. But I think I want it to feel “fuller”
top right: Standard “diner” mug. Should try it thicker- with a heftier lip. But that’s hard for me to do!
bottom left: I like that the top and bottom of the handle have obvious placement. The curves and lines of this mug will be great in a soda or wood kiln.
bottom right: The form a a bit weak for my taste. But this type of form is great for hot chocolate with whipped cream. There’s lots of room to top it off. Also good for a latte. I want to play around with this. Taller form, lower handle placement.
top left: This is my least favorite of one of my new favorite forms. The lines are too stifled. I prefer the curvier ones. But didn’t know until I played the form in both directions.
top right: This is a form that I always have a hard time with handle placement. I have a mug from another potter that gets it perfectly. But I can’t do it. I’ll always try, and maybe someday I’ll get there. I love drinking peppermint tea in the winter out of a full mug like this.
bottom left: I love the elegant flow of these curves. The taller form keeps the hot liquid hot too. And the curves feel good to hold.
bottom right: Another one of my favorite new forms. I’m excited to do some simple decorating on this form. The band is just calling for some attention.
top left: This is a pretty large, wide mug. Maybe good for soup?
top right: This form is getting a little closer to what I want. I love the fluidity of the form. But I want the proportions to be a little different.
bottom left: This form is working a little better for me than the previous iteration. But still isn’t quite gelling. Something to push a bit more.
bottom right: I love the looseness of this form- both when I was throwing it, and the finished product. It has that night balance between a nice strong form and an ease of form.
top left: This is similar to one in the previous group, but I tried to play around with having a stronger line and it doesn’t quite work. Next time I think I’ll make the top of the form a bit taller.
top right: I like the curves of this form with the break in the form at the top. I also like that that break gives me a nice place to attach a handle.
bottom left: Another version of one of my new favorites. Something that doesn’t come through in these photos is scale. Some of these similar forms are quite different in size.
bottom right: A taller diner style cup. But this one is quite large. Great for someone with big hands. The very linear lines of the form work well with most of my decoration. A big blank canvas.
top left: This is my favorite one of this kind of form. The proportions and fluidity are just right. This is a very generous size cup.
top right: This gets the mix of the softer curves with the stronger angle/line break in the form. Will definitely explore this form more.
bottom left: This is a form I haven’t played with before. I was thinking about those stacking mugs. I didn’t think about making them actually stack, but maybe I will.
bottom right: Again, this cup is a different scale from the previous one. It’s a bit smaller. More “standard” mug size.
top left: The curvy mug with a straighter top.
top right: Diner mug with more of a waist. I like that it give you extra room for your knuckles without having the handle loop out too far.
bottom left: I really like the strength of this form. I am mug, hear me roar.
bottom right: This is a variation of one of my first mug forms. I like playing with the proportions of the top and bottom. A slight change makes a major difference.
top left: The curvy tea bowl hybrid with a straighter top. I like the swelling of the bottom part of the form, and the restrained upper part.
top right: I wanted to push the idea of the indented band around the cup, but it didn’t work. Often times, creating a whole new form with a very specific idea leads to an overworked piece. But sometimes that’s just where you have to start.
bottom left: Similar to earlier ones, but with a straighter bottom. Prefer the curves.
bottom right: This is another new form that I want to play around with. Nice and stable and a nice break in the form that can be a nice inspiration for decorating this piece.
There are a couple more parts to this assignment, but that should be enough to get you started for today.
This assignment is something that I do pretty regularly. Not just for mugs, for all different forms. I prefer to sketch in clay rather than paper. By doing so many different forms, it really pushes me to try things that I wouldn’t do otherwise. When you start getting to number 10, you’ll really have to start creating new forms and pushing your standard ones. If you do this in the next 2 weeks- take a photo of your grouping and email it to me: emily at emily murphy . com. Maybe line them up and take a photo of them in a row. It’ll be easier for me to post than to have to edit individual photos.
If you’re a Facebook user, become a Fan on the Emily Murphy Pottery Fan Page. I post there almost daily- links, updates, photos, and questions. It’s been a really fun way to get to know you guys and some great information and advice is shared and debated on there.
The last table for my studio was finished this week. It can be wheeled back and forth between the glaze room and the throwing room depending on what I’m working on. I designed it with a fairly large overhang so it’s comfortable to work at. I hate sitting at studio tables when you can’t really sit at it with your legs under the table. Storage is good, but not at the expense of a comfortable working space.
The top of the table is covered in canvas. If you’ve never stretched canvas before, here’s a little tutorial on how to do it. It’s something that I learned how to do from my dad, who is a painter. It’s basically the same process of stretching a canvas for painting, but on a solid surface, like plywood. If it’s not stretched right, it will be really annoying to work on. One thing that I do that’s a little different from the paint canvas technique is I wet the canvas down with a sponge. It makes it a little easier to stretch and you’ll end up with a tighter fit. I usually buy my canvas at an art supply store, but during one of the discussions on Facebook, someone suggested getting a canvas drop cloth from the painting department at Home Depot. It has a coarser texture, but a good price if the size works for you. It’s an interesting idea.
When I was shopping around for really good locking casters for the table, Kristin Kieffer suggested that I get casters from Caster City. So I ordered up 4 for the table and they’re great! When you’re shopping around for casters for a table like this, make sure you get dual locking casters. It’s really solid enough that you can wedge on it.
You might have seen my post last week about my built in trimming splash pan. I asked for photos or links to other DIY splash pans and Ben Stark shared a post with me that he had written a while back. So here’s another splash pan idea, courtesy of Ben Stark Pottery:
Make sure you look at the original post. The way he designed it to be removable and slide on and off the wheel is pretty genius! If you have any projects that you’ve done at your studio, send me photos or links! I love this stuff! Just send an email to: emily (at) emilymurphy.com or post a comment on any blog post and I’ll see it. Thanks for sharing Ben!
The next project that I’m working on (and will be blogging about shortly) is a new photo taking set-up. I’m really excited about it- and excited to share it. In the age of digital cameras and Etsy, it’s something that we all want to have. I’ve been designing my set up for years, but never had a good place to actually build it. When I took an informal poll f potters about what they wished they had in their studio that they didn’t have, a photo taking set-up was top on the list. Part of the light diffuser that I built is made out of PVC. Last week Miri, over at Nick and Miri’s PR Prattle had some fun ideas about PVC including this get dolly for kiln shelves (photo below). The Rincon Facebook Fan Page had some more ideas too. I love the description of PVC being tinker toys for adults. ha!
A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with some shows on Tivo, and something caught my eye. It looked like the character, Angela, on the show Bones, was wearing one of my pendants. I have no idea if it really is, but when I look at it, my reaction is: Hey! That’s one of mine! It’s a simple design that is not unusual, but the coloration and the knotting of it makes me feel like there is no question. If it is, it’s one of the larger sizes, stoneware with tile 6 slip, a very light spray of a copper glaze around the center. Anyway, it’s fun to think that one of my pieces ended up on a show that I love. A few years back I had some large bottles and platters in the show “Dream Home” on HGTV. A producer borrowed some pieces for the season finale. I wish I had some screen shots from that show!
After I finish my photo set-up, I’ll have some more pendants up on Etsy in the next couple of weeks. My shop’s been empty for a long time. Time to dust it off!
It’s been a busy week setting up the final details of my studio. I know once I’m deep into the clay, it’s hard to find the motivation to take care to the remaining items on the to-do list. I really don’t want to mess up the plumbing, so I was anxious to figure out some sort of clay trap for the sink.
Whenever I think about a clay trap, I have the image of a box trap trying to entice the tiny clay clay particles from escaping down the plumbing.
But that doesn’t really seem like a realistic solution! I had been planning on putting together my own trap, but then I read of stories about how they can “go bad” by getting super stinky or leaky or they prove to be too difficult to change when they get full. So I got scared off of the DIY solution. If it’s something that you’ve thought about doing, these plans look interesting. Then there is the Gleco Trap. People seem to like it, but the little containers seem expensive, and as a full time potter, I was worried that I would have to change it all the time. Then I discovered that they had a couple of larger sizes, but the price tag was too steep. Thanks to Facebook, Paul Randall gave me a fantastic tip. Gleco Traps are used by dentists, and if you buy directly though a dental supply company, they’re much cheaper. I am a huge supporter of ceramics suppliers (trust me, they get lots of my money!), but I couldn’t ignore the price difference. Since I first looked at the traps, the price from the dental company has inched up a little, and the price from the ceramic supply company has dropped quite a bit. But when I bought it, it was literally almost half the price.
The directions are pretty straight forward. When we first had a sink installed, we left room for a system under the sink, so it was easy. If you have a closed sink cabinet, it would be good to make sure you have enough room to squeeze it in before you order it. I bought the 3.5 gallon size. There is also a 5 gallon size, but this seemed like it would be enough, plus it would be a little more manageable.
It comes with lots of extra fittings so it should work with most plumbing situations. Everything just screws together so you can disassemble it when you need to change the bucket. The downside is that you do need to buy a whole replacement bucket. But hopefully that will be a long time from now.
I have no idea if this is going to be the ideal solution, I’ll let you know in the coming months. You can see into the semi-transparent bucket and how much sediment is in to so it’ll be obvious when it needs to be replaced. Changing the bucket will really be the test of the system! It does have the possibility of getting a little stinky, so they suggest adding chlorine crystals from a pool supply company, but it seems like bleach should do the trick, right? That’s what I’ve done with other trap systems.
What do you do in your studio to keep the plumbing from getting clogged?
One of the things that I knew I wanted to build in my new studio was a nice big splash pan for my trimming wheel (I have a separate one that I use for throwing). I often use a large foam bat or a Giffen Grip, so a regular splash pan just doesn’t work. Plus the clay trimmings can sort of fly all over the place, so I needed something with tall sides. Over the course of the studio construction, I’ve been brainstorming different designs. Mostly, I’ve been over thinking it and over designing it. Suddenly last week I had a moment when it hit me- and the solution was the simplest design of all.
I always like having my trimming wheel in a corner. Since I don’t clean up my trimmings every day, I like having it out of the way so I don’t track the trimmings around the rest of the studio. So I already had 2 walls next to my wheel. Separating my two wheels is a wedging table. It’s bolted to the wall and I decided to add some sides to the table to keep trimmings and wheel splatter from getting over all the stuff stored under the wedging table. So that gave me the 3rd side of my box.
So this is what I came up with:
My trimming wheel is a Brent wheel that I picked up 2nd hand from a friend. Brent wheels have a metal plate under the wheel head. A normal splash pan fits under that metal plate. If you put the splash pan above the plate, you’ll end up with a spinning splash pan. So I definitely wanted to avoid having anything above the plate, but with plywood, I couldn’t fit it below, so I just went around the plate.
Here’s a close-up of the plate and how the board fits around it.
I wanted to be able to remove the “splash pan” for cleaning, or if I wanted to use the wheel to throw occasionally. So it sits on top of 2 strips of wood screwed into the wall and the wedging table.
So there you have it. My super simple solution for my trimming splash pan. Of course, odds are you don’t have the exact same space as me, but the idea is adaptable.
I would love to see other photos of homemade splash pans, or other studio solutions. Send me an email with a photo and description if you have something to share: emily (at) emilymurphy.com
Besides the new splash pan, it’s been a busy week around the studio. The building out of it is just about finished.
I also installed a new clay trap under my studio sink. I’ll be posting photos about that on the blog soon. My last work table is built and the casters for it arrived today.
Over on the Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook Fan Page, the conversation has been continuing between blog posts. I can’t believe it took me so long to make a Facebook page, I’m having so much fun with it! It’s been a great way to connect with people and I’m getting a ton of ideas for blog posts from it. Everyone wants more tool making tutorials!
I recently caught up with several months of pottery blog reading. My Google Reader was full of unread posts. Now that I’m caught up, I’ve been adding lots of new blogs to my blogroll. I’ll be posting about that soon, but if you want to get a jump start, check out my updated list here. Let me know if there are any that I should add that I’m missing. My 2 main criteria are: it must be mostly about clay, and it must have real written content, not just posts that update Etsy, etc… My blogroll is connected to my Google Reader, so I read every blog on the list. So I have to have some sort of limits on it!
I’m heading over to Continental Clay right now to pick up some Grolleg Porcelain! It’s (finally!!!!) time to start throwing! I can’t wait!
Thanks for the warm ‘welcome back’ and all the congratulations and well wishes! All the comments and messages make me feel like I’m at a reunion of good friends that I haven’t seen for a while! I’m full of warm fuzzies.
As promised, this post is all about my studio build out. A few months ago we finished the walls, ceilings, lighting and flooring in my studio, but more recently, we’ve been building out the space: customizing tables, shelves and storage to suit my needs. The project is still a work in progress, but you’ll get a sense of the space from the tour below. Enjoy!
The tour starts off in the hallway that leads into my studio. The studio consists of 3 rooms: the first one is a “clean studio,” the next is the glazing/ chemical room and the last one is throwing and decorating room. The studio will be closed off by a pocket door (which is in process of being installed). The left side of the hall is a display area/ storage for finished pots. I have some fun ideas for display that I’d like to do at some point, but it’s lowest on my list of priorities. For now, I’m using Ikea shelves from my show display. Straight ahead is where my electric kiln will go.
My “clean studio” is home my studio office. I’ll be using it mainly for doing photos and updating etsy, etc… Right ahead is my electric kiln area (around where the tool bucket is now). The walls have cement board on them (with an air space behind them) and the ceiling has 5/8th inch drywall. The shelves you see to the right will be for work waiting to be fired, kiln shelves and furnitures, etc… This room used to be a kitchen, and the tile floor are left over from it’s previous incarnation.
Another view of my desk. I’m trying to set up an area that is well set up for photographing pots, listing them online and packing for shipping. I’ve never had a good space to do this before, so it always made it much more of a chore than it needed to be. Across the room is a table for photographing work, as well as packing up boxes. I had conversations with a ton of potters as I was designing my space and I asked “what is the one thing that you wish you had in your studio” and everyone’s answer was to have a better space for photographing and packing up pots.
This next photo will get more of an explanation in a future post. This is the start of my photography set-up, but since it’s not done yet, I’m not going to explain the contraption just yet! The table is on casters has space under it for box storage. There is also a leaf that opens up to make the table larger, but stays out of my way when I’m not using it. This table will be for both photographing work, and also for packing up work.
This next area is just to the right of the photo table, and directly behind my desk. The utility sink is getting a trap installed under it (another post coming up about that). Suspended from the ceiling is a big roll of packing foam (which I forgot neaten up before the photo, oops!). The counter will be more area for staging work for photos and wrapping/shipping. Below the counter is space for both boxes and wrapping paper. There is also a spigot below the counter, where I can fill up bigger buckets without having to lift them in and out of the sink.
The next room: this is my glazing area, as well as clay storage. The shelf building is still in progress, but I’m pretty excited about this space. The counter top in here (and by the utility sink) is just “in stock” laminate counter top from Home Depot, which were also 20% off when I bought them which made them a great deal. For the floor in the glazing room and the throwing room, I did an epoxy coating over the cement floors. I’m really impressed with their durability. To the right of this will be where I eventually hope to have a spray booth just past the window. The clay storage is a pull out dolly so I don’t have to awkwardly reach to get clay out and put clay away. The wheelie things the 5 gallon glaze buckets are on are actually plant holders from Ikea. Much cheaper than ones from hardware stores, and definitely durable enough. I’ve been using them for years.
The next set of shelves are across from the glazing area. These shelves will be for dry material storage, and the bottom part can be more clay storage (also pulls out). The glazing room & throwing room are separated from the clean room by a door to help keep the dust from migrating too much.
Our tour continues into the next room, which is where I’ll do my throwing, trimming, altering and decorating. The 2 rooms used to have a wall dividing them, but I opened them up to get more light, cross ventilation, and generally more space. There will be another table built that will roll between glazing and throwing rooms whenever I need more horizontal surface, but that won’t happen for another week or so. These shelves will hold greenware and work in progress. The shelves on the right is a full cart that I inherited from a previous studio that I altered to fit my needs. There is another rolling dolly for more heavy duty storage at the bottom of the shelves to the left.
This next part is my favorite part of my studio! It’s a canvas covered counter that is 14 feet long and 2 and a half feet deep. There is a space for me to sit at right in front of the window. All the tools and slips are right at my reach. I can’t wait to spend hours sitting here, decorating pots! The throwing area is to the right of this photo, directly across from the shelves/cart.
There is still some building to do in this next area, but you can get the basic idea of the space. I use one wheel for throwing (on left) and one for trimming (on right). The wedging table has some pretty slick bat storage built in. I’m going to build a big catch-all splash pan for the trimming wheel and room storage above each wheel.
So that completes the tour of my studio, so far. I’ll be revisiting some of these spaces on my blog as I finish them and start to use them. I’ve been having fun building out the space that is customized for my needs. I’m not planning on moving anytime soon, so I can really settle in. I’ve had 4 studios over the past 10 years so I’ve always been hesitant to build too much that was not movable and was too customized. But now that I’m more or less permanently settled, I can customize away! It’s taking a little longer to get set up, but it’s definitely worth it. With that said, I’m so glad that the end is in sight!
When I finished writing this post, I was talking to Ian and telling him how I had just written an overly detailed (and very long) post about my studio build out, but I knew if I didn’t write all the details, I’d get a lot of questions about the parts I skipped over, so I just went for it. I know how much people love details about studio design! I soak up every blog post, book chapter and magazine article that is about setting studio set up- no matter the size or location. Ian pointed out that it was like HGTV for potters. I think he put it perfectly!
One of the best parts of writing this blog is connecting with other people. When I first began writing it 5 and a half years ago, I had no idea that it could be such a back and forth dialog. I created a Fan Page on Facebook to help continue the conversation! I just started the fan page this weekend, and it’s been a great start of a conversation. I’ll be using this page to share what I’m doing on a day to day basis in the studio and I’ll ask for advice and try to have an ongoing conversation with the group. I hope you’ll join in!