Category Archives: Reviews

How to: Make a texture roller for clay

This project is instant gratification. Something that is not that common in the world of clay. With this texture roller, you can use it as soon as the hot glue has cooling, which is very fast. It’s a great project to do in a class, or on your own so you have a custom tool that no one else has.

Supplies:

  • a roller of some sort (cut up pieces of PVC, empty rolls of tape, couplings for PVC, plastic rolling pins from the dollar store or craft store).
  • a sharpie.
  • a hot glue gun. They only cost a couple of bucks.
  • extra hot glue sticks.

Draw your pattern onto the rolling pin. It’s easier to work out the pattern before with a Sharpie than it is later with the hot glue. Think about some sort of connected pattern, they tend to have the best results. And don’t go overboard with the lines, you’ll regret it later. And remember that the hot glue line aren’t going to be perfect, so just go with the imperfection.

While you’re drawing, plug in your hot glue gun. Make sure that you do it on a surface that you can toss when done, like newspaper or cardboard. When you’re done drawing on your design, start gluing. Be a bit heavy handed with the glue. If the lines are too thin, they won’t show up on the clay as well.

After the glue seems cool, start rolling away… The first attempt might stick a bit, but after there is some dusty clay on the roller, it won’t really stick.

If you’re not a hand builder, a nice use for one of these textured slabs is in the bottom of a thrown and altered casserole.

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to make a bat gripper

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

A tool that I really dug was the Bat Grabber.

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

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

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

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

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

A tour of blogs about pottery and ceramics (Part 3)

Here is the next installment of my tour of clay blogs. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to see the community of blogging ceramic artists expanding. There are bloggers from all over the world, at different stages of the profession. They’re making high-fire and low-fire pottery and sculpture in every type of firing process imaginable. A little something for everyone. I just did a quick count of the total number of clay blogs that I have visited collectively on the 3 tours- and it’s 44!
Enjoy! 


Ceramic Focus: Ceramic Arts and technique blog
This is a site to get lost in and end up following link after link and ending up in an exciting place. Lots of images (and links) of work that is on exhibition around the world


Webb Pottery:
 Anne Webb
You have to check out Anne’s clay mixer! Beautiful work and a thoroughly interesting blog.

 


Ambrosia Porcelain
“We believe in creating beautiful, functional objects that bring happiness to your daily life.”
What perfectly named work. These pieces make me happy.

 

 

Sandwich Mountain: The Adventures of the Little People
More work that makes me really happy. This blog by Mel Robson and Kenji Uranishi is fantastic. They each have their own personal blogs with really interesting work (click on their names to get to them). There are some exciting things happening with clay in Australia! 



Smokieclennell
: Tony Clennell
A brand new blog, but already with regular postings. I’m looking forward to reading more!
 

 

 

The Pondering Potter: Renee Margocee
“exploring the life of a clay artisan in the 21st century”
This is another fairly new blog, but I anxiously await Renee’s honest and thoughtful posts. I first came upon her as a guest blogger on One Black Bird and I’m happy to see that there is more where that came from!

 


Strange Fragments: Shannon Garson
Another Australian potter! I’m still digging through the archives finding one great post after another. Right now the line that’s hanging in my head is: “Make your work for yourself.”
We all need to be reminded of this! (read that post!) 

 



musing about mud:
Carole Epp
Anyone who is making work out of clay needs to read this blog! Carole is keeping us all informed about what’s going on in the ceramics world from calls for entries to spot lighting new and exciting work from different artists. And her pots are gorgeous too! 

 


Little Flower Designs
:Linda Johnson
Linda calls this her “inspiration blog” and I love that idea. It’s a great way to share that part of the process.

 

 

Peppa Studio: Where Beautiful Things are Made by Hand
More happy porcelain pots! There are some stories of the challenges of working in a community studio. I think there are a lot of people that can relate. I can’t wait to see more of the little plump blackbirds.





Colorado Art Studio
: Cynthia Guajardo
Cynthia is a super blogger. She has everything here from studio updates, to tutorials, to suggestions of books to read and music to listen to. Thanks Cynthia!


I love the photos of inspiration and the pieces they inspired. (Like this.) The imagery is stunning throughout this blog. And I’m intrigued by the little snippets of life, like the shot of the Boggle board.

 

 

I think this blog wins an award for the best name of a clay blog. Another blog with stunning imagery! It’s no wonder that Josie is making the pots that she is making when I see the environment she lives in. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m endlessly fascinated by how our surroundings effect our work. I think people are effected by it in different ways, but in general potters (and 3-D makers) are more effected then others. Perhaps because we’re thinking not just about the forms – but how they function and interact with the user and live in their new environment.

 

Christa Assad
A fairly new blog by Christa, currently documenting her latest adventures: starting a new job, moving to a new city, and setting up a new studio. I’m looking forward to what’s coming up next. 


Clean Mud: Jeffrey Guin
Most potters have at least a touch of pyromaniac in them, and I think that Jeffery has a little more than most! He’s self described as “unfocused,” but for readers it just means that there’s a little bit for everyone. If you wanted to learn about raku, this is the blog to read! He also has an offer to trade a pot for $20 that’s go towards food in the local food pantry. Take a look and maybe take him up on it.

 



Anne Murray:
“Currently studying design and ceramics at Glasgow School of Art”
Another new blog with an interesting and different perspective – that of a design and ceramics student. Anne is already posting regularly and I hope it continues.

 

 


Firing Log: Ancient Kiln / 21st Century Logbook
Yet another great ceramics blog that I cannot believe that I didn’t know about! I’m diving into the archives and loving it. The title of the blog is fantastic, and I can’t wait to listen to the podcasts. Again, something that I can’t believe I didn’t know about. I spend much of my day in the studio listening to podcast after podcast – but they aren’t usually clay-centric because there aren’t too many of them out there.

 

 

That’s enough for today!
I hope you enjoyed this tour, and don’t forget to check out the previous tours:
Tour of blogs about ceramics and pottery (Part 1)
Tour of blogs about ceramics and pottery (Part 2)
And as always, let me know what else is out there if I’ve missed something. 

If you’re new to reading blogs, or if your regular sites to visit have expanded out of control, I suggest some sort of reader like Google Reader, which is what I use.

How to: Make a Foam Bat

A foam bat is endlessly helpful for trimming large pieces, and having a soft surface to work with altered pieces on.

You will need:
*A new clean bat. I used a 22″ Hydra Bat from Continental Clay.
*High density foam (it won’t flatten out when you put a heavy piece on it).
*A can of spray adhesive.
*An electric knife.
*A Sharpie or any permanent marker.

Take the bat outside and spray the bottom of it with spray adhesive.

 

Spray one side of the foam with spray adhesive. Put the adhesive sides together and press evenly.

 

Put the bat, bat side up on a banding wheel and cut off excessive foam with the electric knife. This will give you a nice clean edge.

 

Place the bat on your wheel using bat pins to ensure it’s perfectly centered. Use your marker and ruler to make concentric circles. 
Until you get to the outside edge. 
Then trim away!

Tour of blogs about pottery and ceramics (Part 2)

This is an update (a long overdue update) to a previous post about clay blogs. When I first wrote about blogs that focused on ceramics, there weren’t too many out there. I am so happy to find this time around that there are a lot more now! I didn’t include ones that I listed before. And these are in no particular order. Enjoy- and please let me know if there are more out there for the next time around!

one black bird by Diana Fayt
A wonderful blog that I just discovered. (I don’t know how I’ve missed it all this time!) Great posts by Diana and guest bloggers. It’s been a lot of fun reading through the archives.

 

A Potter’s Journal by Ron Philbeck.
Great photos of Ron’s work in progress. I love the how-to posts as well as the studio updates.

 


The Pottery Blog by Jennifer Mecca
Jennifer writes about her day to day life in her studio, balancing her family life with her clay life. This is why blogs are great- you can share your personal experience in a way that you can’t through a book or a more formal publication.



Davistudio: Modern Table Art by Mary Anne Davis
Seeking to stretch ideas about peace, art, design, function, value, culture and making.” And lots of happy pots!

 

Lurearts Ceramics by Pam McFadyen
A fairly new blog- but I think there will be some interesting things on the horizon, like her new Tool Talk series. Keep ’em coming!

This Week @ St. Earth
A weekly update for what’s going on at St. Earth Pottery in Fillmore, IN. I love reading about other potter’s work cycles. And I think one of my favorite parts is listing the music and podcasts of the week.


Douglas Fitch Blog
Maker of “country pots.” When you see the beautiful photographs on his Douglas’ blog, you can see how the landscape effects his pots. Something that I think about a lot as an urban potter.

Bluegill Pottery by Vicki Liles Gill
A nice (and fairly new) blog that has a lot about the business side of pots, and some how-to’s and other studio updates.  


Sister Creek Pottery by Gay Judson
“The occasional musings of an overly-enthusiastic-senior potter who recently found her way to the potters wheel.”
One thing that I really like this blog is
that Gay writes abouts the ups and the downs of making pots!  

 

Design Realized by Julie Rozman
A new blog by a Lillstreeter (def: someone who works at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago) which documents her thought process and her new ventures into selling her work. Keep it up Julie! 

  

Jeanette Harris: A Clay Engineer’s Blog
Jeanette’s blog is hilarious! In addition to the humor she has some great info including documentation on her glaze testing, and reviews of books and videos.

Wirerabbit Pots by Taylor H
Taylor has great tutorials – directions on how to make things like plaster bats and terra sigillata. Great information illustrated with helpful photos.  

Soderstrom Pottery Blog
“A Minnesota potter, trained in Japan”
Check out his wind powered kiln :)

this artist’s life – day to day in the clay studio
by Whitney Smith
Most recent posts have been about Whitney’s residency in Japan. An unusual perspective and thoughtful posts.  

Karin’s Style BlogLooking at the world with a designer’s eye
I love this blog! Karin’s work is beautiful and she has endless links to other makers and designers from around the world.

 

Whip-up: handcraft in a hectic world
This is a group submission site that is about all things handmade. A must visit often site!
See this page to learn more.  

 




Tara Robertson Pottery
A great photo tutorial on pit firing. I’m also enjoying reading about Tara’s venture into Etsy.  

Well, I think that’s enough for now… I hope you have enjoyed this tour. I have thoroughly enjoyed researching this. I have discovered some really exciting new blogs to subscribe to!

Soda, Clay and Fire: a new book on soda firing

It is finally here, Gail Nichols’ new book on soda glazing: Soda, Clay and Fire. This book is based on her research from her PhD in Material Science on Soda Firing at Monash University (Australia). I just got my copy from Amazon (click on link to order)- so I don’t feel like I can actually review it yet. But I wanted to share with you that it is finally out in print. There is still so little information published on soda firing/ glazing- this literally doubles the number of books published exclusively on the topic.

Also, in my neglect of my blog recently, I have not mentioned on here that 500 Pitchers came out in the spring. I was lucky enough to get another 2 images published in the latest publication from Lark Book’s 500 series.

A Study of Continental Clay Bodies

I have recently done a little study of the high fire clay bodies from Continental Clay in Minneapolis. I made teabowls out of each of the clay bodies, and fired one in c. 10 reduction and one in soda (also c. 10 reduction). They are both glazed in a luster shino glaze which shows off the differences in the clay bodies beautifully. The c. 10 pots are glazed both inside and out with the shino glaze (left). The soda pots are glazed on the inside, and on the rim (right). There are 9 clays that I tested in total- so keep scrolling down… Enjoy!

**be sure to click on the images to see a much larger image and really see the details.**

 

A Potter’s Mark: Signing Pots

I just got a new stamp with my signature to sign the bottoms of my pots with. I ordered the stamp at NCECA, and it arrived in the mail last week. Todd Scholtz, owner of claystamps.com was set up at the Brackers Good Earth Clay, Inc booth.

He had me sign a piece of paper to get the right signature. I think that I wrote it about 40 times to get the feel and look that is most consistent with how I usually sign my work. The 10th signature ended up being the one that I used.

He then scanned the chosen signature into a computer and resized to my specifications. He then engraved the stamp and added a nice wooden handle. I am really happy with the results. It stamps beautifully- wet, leather hard, and even a little past leather hard all come out clearly and easily. If I want another stamp- smaller or larger, I can have the same signature, just resized. If you have some other sort of mark, it would work as well- whether you have it as a digital image already, or you have Todd scan it in for you.

I’ve tried to figure out a good signature stamp for years. I don’t like the chunkiness of a clay stamp for my signature, and the fragility always worried me. Rubber stamps are easy to have made, but they aren’t deep enough or firm enough for stamping the bottom of a trimmed, leather hard piece. This stamp seems to be a good alternative.
Take a look at the results:

The flashing from the soda kiln on the bottom of this plate could not have been any more picture perfect!

I have always felt that it is important for me to sign my work. Here are some thoughts on signing or not signing pots…

  • It is an historical record of the maker. There are lots of books about the marks on old pots. I’m not saying that my mark is going to end up in a book, but the idea of being able to figure out who made a pot, a print or a painting is still interesting to me. Having a clear and identifiable signature would make that much easier.
  • I own several pots by different potters that aren’t signed (or it’s hard to make out). When I bought them, I remembered clearly who made them, but as time has passed, some of those names have left me. If I wanted more work by the same artist, I’d sort of have to wait to come upon it again at a gallery.
  • Ceramics Monthly has started including the stamp or mark of each of the ceramic artists that are featured in their magazine. This seems to be some sort of recognition of the importance of the stamp even in contemporary ceramics (as opposed to the historical documentation that I talked about above).
  • The Potter’s Council is asking for potter’s to send in their marks to create an archive of stamps and signatures. They can be sent to: Jennifer Poellet, 735 Ceramic Place, Suite 100, Westerville, OH, 43081.
  • Over time my signature or stamp have changed and evolved. All clearly are by the same maker, but it is a way that I can sort of “date” my pieces, without actually recording a date on them.
  • I come from a family of artists, and the bold signature of MURPHY is something of a common occurrence on our work. Here is my dad’s signature (Jim Murphy) from one of his paintings:

I think that this blog entry will be the first of many about signing work. There is much more to talk about. I’d love to hear your ideas about signing or not signing pottery, or what your method is.

If you’d like to sign up for the Pottery Blog mailing list, go here. You’ll get automatic emails when I write and post a new entry. As always, it is a private mailing list- no information will ever be shared!

500 Cups, Lark Books


500 Cups, cover, Lark Books

This February, Lark Books has released it’s newest book is the “500” series. I am lucky enough to have two images in it.

page 110


page 351

My Lillstreet soda firing partner in crime, Gary Jackson,
also has an image in the book.

page 265

This series of books from Lark is beautifully done.
Inspirational for the potter and visually gratifying for the collector.
I also enjoy (and own) other book’s from this series:

If you’d like to purchase the book
directly through Amazon…