Category Archives: Potters and Sculptors

Pigeon Road Pottery

I’m so excited to share with you a new clay blogger (and old friend): Amy Higgason of Pigeon Road Pottery. Amy was a long time studio member at Lillstreet until several years ago where she left her job as a graphic designer and her home in Chicago for the woods of Wisconsin to become a full time potter. Amy has written many email updates over the years to friends and family about her endeavors in clay and life. They are always beautifully written and full of wonderful photos. It’s only natural that she’s now blogging. Head on over to her blog and have a read.

One of the challenges that Amy faced with her work when she moved away from Lillstreet was to transition her work from c.10 soda and reduction to c.6 electric. It amazes me how she has kept the feel and aesthetics of the higher fire work in c.6.
And if you ever find yourself in northern Wisconsin, stop by her studio in Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

Summer’s here…finally!

The end has finally come to the long, dark and cold winter here in Chicago and summer is emerging. In celebration of the warm weather (and in between making pots), I’ve been spending a lot of time outside, soaking up the sunshine.

A couple of weeks ago, Ian and I took a road trip to Minnesota to visit his family and to do the Saint Croix Pottery Tour. It was a great weekend, and we came home with quite a few pieces to add to our pottery collection.

One of the high points of the trip was to meet blogger Ron Philbeck. (Live and in person!) Ron was up from North Carolina to volunteer at Bob Briscoe’s studio for the weekend. I have gotten to know Ron through his blog over the past two years, but it was just wonderful to meet him in person. It was super busy so we didn’t have a lot of time to talk, but I hope that some day in the not too distant future we can meet again, perhaps in Chicago or North Carolina. Here’s a picture of Ron and me at Bob Briscoe’s (borrowed from Ron’s site):
Ron gave me one of his wonderful tea bowls as a gift. Since our return, the bird cup has been spending lots of time outside on our porch. Our porch is a happy space that is filled with flowers, herbs and veggies; a colorful rug; lots of places to lounge, strings of bright white lights; and a swing for our nephews to hang out on. It’s our happy little urban oasis. Here is our 6 month old nephew, Shiya, enjoying Ron’s cup last weekend while hanging out in the swing:Next up on the porch tour is a great big tumbler that we picked up from Matt Metz. It’s hanging out in front of this fantastic VW bus planter. My friend Dave Trost made an incredible series of car sculptures a couple of years back. The roof of this bus cracked off during the bisque firing. He gave me the remains, and Ian painted it, polished it with wax and now it lives on our porch filled with flowers and moss.
Shiya’s big brother, 2 year old Ayrie, enjoyed Cherrios and raisins out of a Jordan Taylor cereal bowl. Drinking the milk from the bottom of the bowl is an important part of the cereal eating experience for Jordan, so he makes them with a “drinking lip” that Ayrie is happily taking advantage of.

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Last week was the final week of classes for the spring session at Lillstreet. A Lillstreet tradition is that each class has a potluck and critique on the last class of the session. My soda class decided to go all out this time around and have a bbq. The day was glorious and a great time was had by all. Below is a photo of Gary, me and Mike during the festivities out front of Lillstreet (taken by Greg).
We grilled out on this little patio that’s outside of Lill’s front door. There are gorgeous greens and flowers, a big mosaic bench and a brick patio that is made up of firebricks from the old soda kiln. Seemed like an appropriate place for the soda class to hang out!

Last week was my last week of teaching until fall. I’m taking a short hiatus from teaching for the summer so I can focus on making pots and spend time traveling with my sweetie. We have several family trips planned in June and July, and then we’re heading to Europe in August. I still need to work on the concrete plans over the next couple of weeks, but our basic plan is to visit Germany, Denmark, Norway and Holland. If you have any suggestions for places to visit, please pass them on to me (especially clay focused things to do and see).

I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine in our corner of the world!

Peace, love and leather hard pots.

One of my favorite moments when I’m making pots is that moment in time when the clay has firmed up enough to handle without distortion. The moment when you can take a trimming tool to the bottom of the pot and you get nice long ribbons of trimmings that don’t gum up your tool.

Normally, the moment in time when the pots are perfect for stamping, carving, slipping and trimming is a moment that I experience in solitude with my pots. But I thought that I would try to share a bit of this moment with you. Below are some images of cups that I made today. They are freshly stamped and awaiting a second trip to the wheel for trimming.

You can see in the image (below) on the left that the soft clay is impressed deep enough that you can see the stamping on the inside of the cup. I hope that you can get a sense of the depth of the stamping from the image on the right from the pictures (click on them to see the image larger). The clay has to be dry enough that the stamp doesn’t stick to the clay, but soft enough to get a deep impression without cracking. More to come on this series in future posts!

 

I know that I am not alone in my love of leather hard clay. I see lots of freshly made pots in the posts of my fellow clay bloggers! I have put together some pictures (and links) from their sites to share with you.
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Eleanor Hendricks of Fenelon Falls, Ontario, shared some great pictures on her blog last week illustrating her love of the process of making. She ended her post with this question:

Does anyone else sometimes treasure the process more than the finished products? 

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Amy Sanders, of Charlotte, North Carolina, shared this image on her blog of her carved plates. What beautiful lines! As usual, with pots, it’s all about the timing!
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I love how these drying beer cups from Euan Craig caught the sunlight in Mashiko, Japan. The perfect moment of leather hard met the perfect moment of sunlight streaming in his studio.
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Cheryl Alena Bartram of Golden, British Columbia, shares this great image of tumblers on her blog. I can imagine the board of cups going on and on and on and on…. I have been known to base the amount of pots that I throw in a sitting based on the length of a board or the size of the table.
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Douglas Fitch makes pots “in middle of nowhere, north of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom,” far from my studio in Chicago. But when I see these images of the rough leather hard pots I think I can smell the mustiness of the clay… and that’s a great thing.
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I find that there is little more satisfying in a day’s work that a table covered in finished pots.
John Zhender (from my home state of New Hampshire) posted this satisfying image of finished banks and lidded cups on his blog:
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Look at these gorgeous plates that Ron Philbeck made at his studio in Shelby, North Carolina! I think I have to throw some plates tomorrow…
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One of my favorite clay books is A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian. The images in the book are almost all photos of leather hard pots. The focus is on the forms without any distraction of decoration or firing technique. If you make functional pots, I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

Empty Bowls – Scranton, PA

This is something that I had to share with all of you….

A couple of days ago I got an email newsletter from my friend, Jordan Taylor. He shared news of a new show of sculptural work which I am excited about. He also announced of a local Empty Bowls project that is being held in Scranton, PA on May 4. This particular Empty Bowls fundraiser is one that Jordan is donating 1000 bowls to. I’m blown away yet not surprised by his incredible generosity.

If you happen to live in north east Pennsylvania, here is a bit of information about the event (from Jordan’s newsletter):

 

Meals on Wheels will host an “Empty Bowls” dinner May 4, 2008 1-3pm at Marywood University, Nazareth Hall, Multi Purpose Room (formerly known as the Crystal Room).

A $10 donation will purchase a bowl of soup, and you get to keep the bowl. The bowls, consistent with Taylor’s work to date, are wood fired, made largely from materials gathered and processed locally, and are microwave-dishwasher-oven safe, lead free, and non toxic. Each bowl is individually decorated by a different Scranton area art student.

Contact MOW Scranton director Linda Steir 570-346-2421 mow110@hotmail.com for inquiries.

Empty Bowls is an international movement that began in the early 1990’s and has since raised millions of dollars in donations to help hungry people. It was founded by several school teachers in Michigan whose students asked for help in raising money to help the local hungry. As a group they decided on a fundraiser dinner of simple soup and bread, served on dishes made by the students in their art class. www.emptybowls.net

Taylor had participated in several “Empty Bowls” events by donating and by dining before becoming interested in staging an event in Scranton. In 2006 Taylor was a visiting artist at a “Craft and Social Conscience” session, run by one of the founders of the Empty Bowls Movement, at the Penland School of Crafts, NC. Taylor’s experience at that session inspired him to reach out to the MOW chapter in Scranton.

I’m truly inspired. But I have to remind myself that it’s important to act on the inspiration and put it into action. This week I plan on calling my friend, Joanna Kramer, who organizes Chicago’s Empty Bowl project to see how I can be more involved this year. Our event isn’t until December, but it seems like the perfect time to start making bowls!

I’m curious to hear about other Empty Bowls fundraisers out there. Have you organized or participated in one? What was your experience? I love that Jordan made the bowls but students decorated the pieces. Have you done an interesting twist on Empty Bowls? Are you in Chicago and interested in joining us?
Just leave me a comment below!

Pottery and knick-knacks?

In the taxi on the way to the Pittsburgh airport on Saturday morning our driver asked if we were in town with all the ceramics people. We said yes and he asked “what do you make: pottery or knick-knacks?” Isn’t that a great question?

I made a promise to myself many years ago that I would make a commitment to continually further my ceramic education. This is done in a couple of ways: attending workshops, reading all clay focused books, magazine (& blogs!) I can get my hands on, and go to NCECA every year. I do pretty well with this commitment and have managed to get to all but one conference in recent memory.

NCECA is usually held in a smaller city: Pittsburgh, Louisville, Portland, Baltimore, Indianapolis, etc… I often wonder what the host cities think about “us.” I don’t know how many people attended this year, but I know that in the past attendance has hit about 6000. In the immediate area of the conference it can feel like every square foot of space is filled with potters and sculptors (and knick-knack makers!). I wanted to share a couple more images from my trip (again, this is just a tiny snippet of the week!).

This is the exhibition hall where vendors, schools, publishers, etc… have booths set up. It felt a little smaller this year than in the past (the whole conference felt that way). But that in no way means that there wasn’t enough to see, hear & buy! I got some fun new tools that I’ll share with you in the near future. 

Most of the images that I am sharing with you were from the La Mesa tableware show from Santa Fe Clay. It’s always one of my favorite shows, and one that I usually go to see 3 or 4 times. There were 150 place settings from different ceramic artists this year. Amazing!
This group of images is more black and white (the last NCECA post was more colorful). It was a different day and I was drawn to different pieces.

Julie Johnson. The gestures of the lines are irresistible.

Molly Hatch I’ve been eying Molly’s work for a while. I love how she outline the shapes with a sketchy line.


Michael Kline I’m a big fan: I eat my steel cut oats out of one of Michael’s bowls every morning and I’m a faithful reader of his blog. I love these pieces with the white slip and wax resist lines.

Yunomis and Postcards

A few updates:    

In a few hours (March 28, 2008. 10am ct) the Yunomi Invitational 2008 exhibition at Akar is opening online. You’ll find several of my tea bowls in their online exhibition(!). My artist statement & resume are up on Akar’s site now. I can’t wait to see the show tomorrow. My tea bowls are in very good company! More to come on the show…

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My friend, Gary Jackson, put together this wonderful super sized postcard for me to take to NCECA last week. If you’ve come upon my blog via this postcard, welcome! If you’d like to sign up for the potteryblog.com mailing list, just go here. If you sign up, you’ll automatically get an email whenever there is a new post. Or of course you can always sign up for the RSS or Atom feeds. I’m looking forward to hearing from the new readers out there. I’ve got a lot of interesting things in the works, many of which are responses to suggestions from potteryblog.com readers. Thanks for all of the emails and comments!

Live! From NCECA 2008 – Pittsburgh

Greetings from Pittsburgh! It’s been quite a week. I’ve met a lot of great people, put faces to names that I’ve come to know through this blog, caught up with old friends, bought pots, bought tools, heard great speakers, participated in lively discussions, and looked at and picked up what must be hundreds of pots and the conference is only half over!

I wanted to share a handful of images of pieces that I’ve seen at shows this week. This is just a little itty bitty taste of what I’ve seen. Enjoy! (click on the images to see a bigger image.)

Beth Lo. I find this piece incredibly endearing.
Justin Rothshank. This has a dinosaur on it! Fossil fuel… get it?

 

Naomi Cleary. I just love how the drawings are on the inside of this cup.
Diana Fayt. I love Diana’s work and this is the first time I have gotten to see her work in person. It’s even more impressive in person.

 

Ursula Hargens. Her works makes me crave spring even more than I already am! 
Simon Levin. I am such a fan of Simon’s work. I don’t know anyone else that gets surfaces like his out of a wood kiln (or any other kiln for that matter!).

The Quarter Trick

This is a little trick that I picked up from my friend Jordan Taylor for throwing platters. I find it extremely useful so I thought I would pass it on to all of you and maybe you’ll find it useful too.

The quarter trick solves three problems that arise from throwing platters:

  • Instead of having to both wedge and center one large mass of clay, you can break it down into two pieces which reduces the strain on your body
  • It helps you more easily judge the thickness of the floor of the platter and adds consistency if you’re doing multiples.
  • And it allows you to compress the floor of the platter REALLY well so you don’t have to worry about any future problems of cracking.
So here is the quarter trick
Wedge up and center your first lump of clay. This piece is going to be the floor of your platter. I used 8 lbs of clay which gives me a slightly narrow but thick foot (great for putting holes into so you can hang it). You can vary the weight depending on the ultimate size of your platter. But I find that the 8 – 9 lb. range works for a variety of sizes of platters since the size foot isn’t necessarily that different.

 

Center your clay and compress the heck out of the floor. Place a quarter in the center of your centered clay (I use a 1974 quarter). 
Wedge up your second piece of clay and place it on top of the quarter. I tend to use between 8 – 12 lbs. of clay for this second piece, depending on the ultimate shape of the platter. 
Open up the platter and establish the curve.
TAKE OUT THE QUARTER!!!!
And clean it off so it doesn’t become part of your reclaim. (I speak from experience on this one.)  

Then finish off your platter as usual and be aware of the thickness of the floor.

This platter isn’t actually the platter that is throw above. That platter is sitting in my studio waiting to be trimmed. But this platter was thrown in the same way.

A Holiday Tour of Lillstreet Studios

I thought I’d give a little tour of what some of the studios are offering this holiday season at Lillstreet Studios in Chicago. It’s truly a unique shopping experience to be able to shop directly from the artists in their studios. I’m including photos of just a sampling of the studios. There are over 50 artists under one roof – and that’s not including Lillstreet’s Gallery!

ceramics by Emily Murphy

 

 

ceramics by Lisa Harris

pottery by Karen Avery

pottery by Gary Jackson

porcelain by Joanna Kramer

porcelain by Karen Patinkin

ceramic and glass beads by Amy Lemaire

 

porcelain by Deborah Schneider

agricultural art by Cathi Bouzide

Photography by Guy Nicol

pottery by Mike Szostak

jewelry by 2nd floor metals artists

Many of the studios are open daily…
check in with individual artists for their hours 
Monday – Friday 12noon – 6pm
Saturdays 10am – 6pm
Sundays 12noon – 5pm

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.