I have been busy making pots in my studio and I wanted to share a bit of what I’ve been up to. I’ve been really pushing myself lately on new forms, new clays and new surface treatments. I’m really excited about the new pieces. I love this part of the process. I put my energy into designing, problem solving, trying to have the new work make sense in the presence of the other pieces. (and having many failures on the way to the successes).
To balance out these time intense pieces (and often less than stellar success rates), I’ve been making a lot of smaller pieces: cruets, tiny bottles and tons of mugs. I can’t believe how many mugs I’ve been making lately! The smaller pieces are also tests of clay bodies and surface treatments.
Here are some pieces that are fresh out of the soda kiln:
A duo of cruets with a nice squeeze that fits perfectly into your hands.
A grouping of tiny bottles. I love making tiny little bottles and vases.
The tallest one is about 3″ tall.
A duo of mugs with a nice thick slip applied and a highlight of glaze. Lined with a shino.
Spring always makes me crave color and I find it actively finding it’s way into and onto my pots this time of the year. I love the curves of these mugs. The curves are perfect for cupping your hands around after your coffee, tea or cocoa has cooled a bit.
These mugs were made with a curly wire
and then dipped in slip to soften the edges. They are also lined with shino and highlighted with a sprayed glaze on the outside.
These my mid-western mugs. I always want to attach the word “mid-western” to any of my pieces that have straight, clean lines. Pieces that are simple and approachable. But that is my perspective as a native New Englander who has been a mid-westerner for the last 13 years.
I have yet to fire the larger pieces, but when they are finished I’ll share them with you :)
On a totally different topic, Ron Philbeck has an incredible story on his blog that you really should read!
I know that I have been a somewhat absent blogger lately :) But there is much more to come soon. Things have been in progress, but not published. (Including some pictures from a recent trip to Minnesota where I got to meet Ron in person!)
What is a yunomi you ask? Yunomi is an informal Japanese teabowl that is taller than wide, with a trimmed foot.
Akar’s site was overwhelmed this morning, but the bottleneck seems to have opened up. I am having a lot fun meandering around the exhibition. Just click here (or on the screenshot above) if you want to see my tea bowls. Enjoy the show!
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.
I fired last week. When I’m done glazing, but before I load the soda kiln, I sit down and roll hundreds of wads for the bottom of my pieces. It always takes a ridiculously long amount of time. Time when I’m feeling a bit anxious about getting things done on schedule. When I was rolling my wads for this last kiln, it was a sunny day, and the morning sun was hitting them in the most beautiful way. I took this picture to share with all of you. My happy spin on a less than fun job.
Wadding Recipe for the soda kiln (pretty standard) (by volume):
- 1 part EPK
- 1 part alumina hydrate
- medium grog to taste (not really, but you know what I mean…)
I roll my wads ahead of time and put them in a plastic container (the ones from the local Thai take-out place are the best). Then I glue them to the bottoms of pots before loading (Elmer’s glue). Breaking up the wadding into steps keeps my hands cleaner and helps me avoid the problem of getting wadding where it doesn’t belong.
A shot of the front of the kiln. It was an interesting firing. I reduced the amount of soda that I added by about 25% or so.
(new) Soda Mixture:
- 1.75 lbs. of soda ash
- 2.25 lbs. of soda bicarb
- 4 lbs. of whiting
Mixed together with 1/4 of a 5 gallon bucket of wood chips. Mix together well, then add enough water (while mixing) to the consistency of oatmeal cookie dough. I add it on an piece of angle iron through the ports on the front of the kiln when c. 9 is soft. (More on this in a future post.)
Below are some tea bowls that I got out of this firing.
My friend Brian Boyer took this gorgeous photo of Michigan plums in one of my bowls, and it was just posted on Slashfood. Yay Brian!
Here is a virtual tour of the exhibition that I’m currently having at Haus in Chicago through May 6. It is a body of work that I have been working on for months, and had in my head for the last year or so. It is really excited to have the group of work finished and exhibited together. Click on any of the images to see them larger. I hope you enjoy your visit to the gallery…
I have a series of squared platters that I really see as canvases. The surfaces are a combination of layered slips, sprayed glazes and the soda kiln.
I have taken the idea of my surfaces being canvases one step further. I have made a series of wall pieces. These are forms that I have been playing with for a while, but this is the first time that I have exhibited them.
And here are some mugs that echo the grid of squares above…
Chicago artist Amy Lemaire designed floral arrangements in my low oval vases. These are pieces that stand alone as sculptural forms, but come to life with greens, branches and flowers in them. This is just a selection of the pieces. I took these photos on a white piece of paper so you could see them a little bit better.
This is the sort of mug that I think of when I think about what a soda fired mug is. Warm, rich coloration from the flashing. Orange peel texture built up on the high points.
This is also a soda fired mug:
John Norris has come up with this hilarious idea. It’s a standard, industrial produced mug with the image of soda firing wrapped around it. It’s the “perfect” soda mug.
I enjoy the cleverness of this, but it also helps remind me what I’m doing making handmade pots in a world of industrial pots. Making something that is beautiful in surface and form; designing a form that is not only visually pleasing, but ergonomic. And perhaps most importantly, making a human connection between the maker and the user.
I came upon this essay, “Potters, the Values of Craftsman, and Living True to Self” by Nathaniel Pearlman on his blog: Political Mammal, and I encourage you to read it. It puts into words another reason why potters make.
A couple of years ago I was at the Cambridge Pottery Festival in Cambridge, Wisconsin (outside of Madison) visiting my potter friend, Jordan Taylor, who was, at the time, apprenticing with Mark Skudlarek. The festival is an all clay art fair as well as the Pottery Olympics. I was in a bit of heaven for the weekend. I bought a couple of pots from different potters selling their wares. One of the pieces was a simple little temoku bowl with a triangulated rim and rutile brushstrokes on the interior. When I brought it up to the checkout area of the booth, the wife of the maker was tending the sales. Even though I had already decided on my purchase, she began to inform me of the bowl’s many uses. “It’s perfect for ice cream…just the right size for a snack of yogurt…measure out and set aside ingredients while cooking…” I didn’t really say anything at the time – like “I think I can figure it out,” but the whole idea of being told what a bowl was for seemed a little ridiculous. It’s a moment that often comes back to me. I have probably used it for all it’s suggested uses – but I could have figured them out all on my own. I don’t blame her for offering up the list of suggestions, I often get the question “what’s this for” when I sell my pots at a fair or out of my studio. To me, as a potter, it always seems obvious to me. When I think it maybe not as obvious, I try to use a prop of some sort. Probably the most common pot that has it’s function questioned are my wall vases.
I try to display at least one of them with dried flowers in them, but I guess some people just have a hard time imagining it. Sometimes they want more of an answer of dried or fresh flowers, so I go into stories of people using them to hold real live plants, toothbrushes, or kitchen utensils (depending on the size) or how they’re great for your deck (Chicagoans treasure their decks). But as a rule I don’t offer up this information unless it’s asked. I do understand that the more unusual objects might be a little bit hard to figure out – like the wall vases, oil lamps, butter dishes – but I often get asked the “what’s it for” question for the most mundane pots like little sauce bowls, an oversized mug, or even a teapot. I happily answer the customer’s questions, but I just wonder where people’s imagination and logic have gone. I might think about a really specific use when I’m making things – like a shallow bowl-plate that is just perfect for a fresh salad – but I don’t want to corner my pots into one specific use. I want people to take them home and discover new functions and incorporate them even further into their lives. It wouldn’t have really occured to me to put kitchen utensils in a wall vase, but why not? I think it’s a great idea.
We live in a cluttered world of things that all have a single purpose (and usually aren’t that nice to look at). Think about all the small kitchen appliances that clutter our countertops: rice cookers, bread makers, vegetable steamers, waffle irons, pitzzelle makers. People seem to want to be told what to do. Along with the above mentioned appliances, hair dryers and other electric items all come with very important instruction manuals that tell us things like: “do not operate while in the bathtub or while asleep.” I suppose it’s a combination of our litigious society and, again, the lack of imagination and logic. I came upon this legal notice for the usage of mugs. I think it’s pretty hillarious, but I hope that it never actually comes to this.
These clever cups have foot rings in different shapes (thinking outside of the circle), so when you accidentally leave your dirty cup on the nice white linen, you’re just making it more beautiful.
As someone who is trying to make it in the world as a potter, I try to make nice pots and be confident that that will sell them. Sometimes I try to figure out some sort of clever quirk that might push someone over the edge to actually buy a piece- a nice detail that shows that I paid attention – something to show that it was handmade. This stamp cup idea is definitely not an innovation that I have thought about before, and I don’t actually think that I would make something with this idea…. but at least I can appreciate the cleverness.