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In the studio and out of the studio.

I know it has been a while (too long…) since I’ve posted here. I have been busily working away in my studio and spending time with my family. Life has been good. But something had to give, and it was the blog this time. I’ve been overwhelmed with blog updates that are only in my head, and way overdue updates to my website. So I’ve just been hiding from it all. That’s the best way to deal with things, right?

Anyway…back to the pots for a moment! Here is a favorite pair of mugs from an earlier firing.

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_mugs_yellow_circles
Creamy yellow mugs with interwoven circles by Emily Murphy pottery. Glaze fired to cone 10, decal firing.

Since I’m gearing up for a busy holiday season, I just finished several back to back glaze firings and decal firings.  I’ve been photographing, sanding, measuring and packing up pots and sending them out to various corners of the country. It’s definitely the busiest time of the year for me, and most potters!

And for a non-studio update… This fall I got myself a new sewing machine and decided I should break it in by making some super fun Halloween costumes for my daughter, Ada and nephew, Shiya. I tried to have this post up the day before Halloween, but ended up having to do a big blog overhaul to fix a bunch of things that was causing problems.  Luckily it is almost all fixed and working again!

Both Ada and Shiya picked out the themes of their costumes. I present to you: Ada Rainbow (as she called herself!) and Shiya the Most Awesome Viking Warrior ever (also his self appointed name). I love how Ada was mimicking Shiya’s fierce look.  Does that make her a fierce rainbow?

Fierce Rainbow and Viking Pottery Blog

The rainbow is all felt. It’s a mirror front to back.  We found oodles of images online and I made up my own pattern to fit Ada. It’s basically an a-line dress with straps.  And I found a long sleeved red shirt at the 2nd hand store.  The awesome rainbow hat was one that we already had from Zulily.

The cutest rainbow costume ever Emily Murphy Pottery Blog

Shiya’s viking costume was super fun and came together really easily.  We live near the Midtown Global Market where there is a little Swedish/ Scandinavian shop that always has viking helmets! I got a nice neutral shirt and sweater from a 2nd hand shop.  He already had a pair of brown pants.  The rest are layers of fur, felt and leather.  I found some really cool bronze buttons to attach his fur cape together. My favorite part is the fur wrapped boots.  I just wrapped the fake fur around his boots and wrapped some leather cording to secure it on.  Such an awesome look… I might need to steal it for my own boots! Same thing was done around his arms.  Anyway, it was the perfect Minnesota Halloween costume.  Nice and warm!  
Homemade Viking Costume

And while we’re on the topic of handmade costumes… Last year Ian and I made the kids’ costumes together.  They were both owls.  Really adorable owls.

owl costumes at the petting zoo

Ada the owl… She’s grown so much this past year! And yes, those are owl sneakers on her feet! 
homemade owl costume Emily Murphy Pottery Blog

We made our own owl faces  with felt onto fleece hats.  And used lots of different patterned fabrics to make up all of the feathers… so many feathers! 
DIY Owl costume Emily Murphy Pottery Blog
When I was a kid, we always made our Halloween costumes (except for 2nd grade when I really really wanted a store bought Strawberry Shortcake). I think it instills a love and excitement for handmade things at an early age. 

Ok, back to the pots….Here are some photos from my earlier firings.  I realized that I never posted these! Some of these will soon be up in my Etsy shop or  are already on their way to a gallery near you!

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_oval_vases

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_squared_platter_with_circles

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_honey_pot_bees 

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_square_platter_with_dandelion

So that should catch you up just a little bit as to where I’ve been during my absence from this blog! And even though I haven’t been blogging, I do keep my Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook page pretty up to date! It’s a little easier to post a photo as I’m working. I’ll be posting more soon now that my technical difficulties are mostly resolved.  Hope all has been well in your corner of the world.

a successful first bisque

I wrote this post just over a month ago, but for some reason, I never posted it. So here it goes (and there is more to follow).
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I’m declaring my first bisque firing a success.

I have never been so excited to fire a bisque before. But after more than a year of producing nothing but green-ware, it’s a big milestone to fire this bisque.

The process of getting to this point has been long. The house renovations, the studio building, etc… all took a long time. But it was the end part- of getting all the electric service upgraded and everything hooked up and running really seemed to take forever! It really did take a long time, but I do know that my anxiousness about it made it feel like it dragged out even longer.

After many phone calls to the electric company to finish the hook-up of the upgraded service, it took the crew 3 tries to get the work done. First time they got to our house, rang our bell and said “we can’t stay, we have another appointment.” Next day: “We only have one tall ladder and we don’t have it with us today.” Then a few days later, they finally came with all the right equipment.


View from our 2nd floor balcony.

A huge thanks to Paul Randall from The Pottery @ Raccoon Highway.  He did a lot of things to help get me to the point of firing including chiseling a hole through our foundation to install the kiln vent. That was not an easy thing to do! Thank you Paul!

I took my time loading the kiln. For the past 10 years, when firing at Lillstreet, I had to sign up for a time to load the kiln whether it was electric, soda or straight reduction. More often than not, you’d be loading a warm kiln that had just been unloaded by a class or another studio member. And then there was usually a time deadline that the kiln had to be unloaded so the next person renting the kiln could load and start up their firing. So I decided to luxuriously load my kiln. (yes, that’s what I consider a luxury!). So when I knew the first firing was in sight, I started loading her up. I ended up making more pieces to ensure a nicely loaded kiln. I hate wasting space!

After all the electric was done, and the venting was hooked up, I wanted to do a few things to ensure that the ceiling and kiln room didn’t get too hot.

While we were building out the space, we did put up cement board on the walls near the kiln. It is spaced off the wall so there is both a heat resistant barrier, and also the air space helps with insulation. Luckily there are 4 windows in the room, so I wasn’t worried about air intake and exhaust. And of course there is the Envirovent exhaust fan that is installed on my kiln.

Two things that I did need to figure out- A heat deflector and a fan that could keep the air moving in the room.

I knew from previous experience how important a heat deflector above a kiln is. It’s summer, and the room above the kiln room is my sister’s dining room. The floor above is wood (obvious concerns) and I also didn’t want to make their living space too uncomfortable to be in. So I took a piece of thick pink foam insulation, high heat spray adhesive and some wide aluminum foil and attached the foil to one side of the foam (side facing the kiln). The foam and the adhesive were left over from our previous construction and the foil was leftover from Thanksgiving. There are radiator pipes above the kiln (a bonus is that they don’t mind getting hot!). I used the pipes to suspend the foam over the kiln and have a nice air space between the foam/deflector and the ceiling/floor above.

I don’t know if you can tell, but the foam is a full 4′ x 8′ sheet. If you don’t happen to have a piece of pink foam insulation around, you can buy a sheet that has foil on 1 side. But since I already had some, I didn’t want to have to buy a new sheet.

The next thing was air movement. I wanted a really good fan that could keep air constantly flowing over the kiln (by the ceiling). I ended up getting a Vornado fan. I had it next to a similar size/design Honeywell fan and the difference was pretty shocking. The Vornado fan is many many many times stronger than the Honeywell (both were from Target).  So we aimed the fan from across the room, angled up at the ceiling, and towards the windows. Sure enough, at the height of the firing, the air space above the heat deflector was *cool.* It was actually the coolest spot in the room. And I kept checking in the dining room by walking on the floor with my bare feet and I didn’t feel like it was a single degree warmer than anywhere else. Amazing! Of course this is just a bisque. The c.10 firing is next. But I feel like this was a really successful test run. (spoiler alert: I’ve since fired the kiln to c.5 and c.10 and both were successful, and the heat deflector/fan combo worked like a charm.)

This photo is a little funny, but it gives you an idea of the set up. The way the Vornado fans work is that there is a very directed column of air.  So by aiming it up at the ceiling, it gave a constant flow of air over the heat deflector for the whole firing. Super simple and low tech- but it worked.

Next step is mixing up some glazes, finishing building the spray booth and finally firing a glaze firing. Yay!

In non-clay news, I’ve been spending a lot of time gardening. At the beginning of the spring, we didn’t have a single plant growing in the yard, and no grass. It’s so satisfying to have a lush green space now. Last summer we were so deep into the construction, our yard was a total mess- nails, scraps of wood and broken glass was scattered about. We didn’t spend any more time in our yard than it took to walk from the driveway to the house.

I planted a vegetable garden in our front yard. I’ve always wanted to have a veggie garden in the front yard- frees up the back yard for play space and it’s a nice way to get to know the neighbors.  Plus, it’s quite sunny. I started off kind of small this year, but it’s been a great success, so I’m planning on expanding it quite a bit next summer.

Pottery Clearance Sale!

As moving day draws closer, my studio gets a little emptier. I’m officially past the point where I could make any work. My wheels, tools and (most importantly) clay are all packed onto our first Pod. It feels very strange to be without a studio to work in. It’s been a long time since I’ve been without. The house renovations and getting ready for our move to Minneapolis is keeping me plenty busy, but I’m seriously missing making pots.

I’m excited about starting fresh with a whole new body of work from my new studio and (future) new kiln. So I’m selling off most of my inventory. I’m having one last (last minute) Moving Sale this Friday, June 5th from 4pm – 7pm. Everything is at least 50% off. Much of it is marked down even further. I’m finding new gems as I clear off my shelves during the packing process.  If you’re in Chicago, swing by on Friday  after work and say hello and maybe pick up a pot or two. One for yourself and one for that wedding you’re going to this summer!

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The Details:

Moving Sale – Final Clearance
**everything must go!**

Emily Murphy’s Pottery Studio
Friday, June 5
4pm – 7pm

studio 205 west – Lillstreet Studios
Chicago, IL 60640

German ceramics anyone?

I’ve been traveling for the last several weeks and that pattern is going to continue. In a couple of weeks, Ian and I are hopping on a plane and heading to Germany for two weeks. Most of our time will be spent in Berlin and the end of the trip will be in Amsterdam. We’re in the process of actually making plans and we’re looking for and recommendations- specifically clay related. If you have any thoughts or specifics of clay related things in Berlin, just leave me a comment. Potters, galleries, museums, etc… And if you have any recommendations that are not clay related, we’d love those too.

(Regular postings will resume in the next 24 hrs. I have a whole bunch of posts that I started on our road trip, but now I just have to finish them up and post them.)

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.

Burning Man : Astor Playa

 

Ian and I just got back from Burning Man. We went with a group of his co-workers from the Open Planning Project. It was an intense, surreal experience that I am going to try to share in a blog post – not an easy task. This is going to be kinda long, and there will be lots of links and pictures. Our camera succumbed to the dust – so we didn’t get to take as many pictures as we would like, but there are tons of images online that can help to illustrate this story. I linked the borrowed photos to the Flickr albums that I found the pictures in. Thanks to all of the great photographers who put up their pictures with Creative Commons. Follow the links and take a look at their other photos.


What’s Burning Man?
Burning Man is a huge radical arts festival in the desert in Nevada (in the middle of nowhere). This year there were 48,000 people who came together to build a temporary city for a week. It’s also the largest “leave no trace” event in the world. Every person who comes is responsible for bringing in all of their food, water & supplies, and are also responsible for taking it out with them, including any used water, trash, food scraps, etc… Port-a-potties are provided. The only commerce is ice (sales go towards local schools) and coffee (sold at cost). There is a lot of “gifting” – whether it’s a gift of a handmade piece or jewelry, or a drink or something to eat. But there is no bartering or sales beyond ice or coffee.

The art is big and small — huge, beautiful installations in the desert, many of them with fire or illuminated at night. Many are interactive. There’s also many art cars and art bikes.

For more info (better info) on what Burning Man is, go here and here. Also, a documentary that we watched on the behind the scenes prep was: Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock City. I really appreciated knowing the year round effort that goes into the event when I was there.

The photo below is an aerial photo of Burning Man, 2007:

The group that we went were were New Yorkers, so our theme camp had a NYC theme to it: Astor Place Imagined.

Astor Place is a block in New York that has the potential to be a great pedestrian space, but besides the insane traffic it also has 3 Starbucks, a Kmart, and other chain stores and restaurants – all of which keep it from living up to its potential. It’s anchored by a rotating cube sculpture that has been a meeting place for people since it was built, and is easily recognized by all New Yorkers. It’s also home to a beautiful subway station. Our theme camp built replicas of these icons, and included other things that make for an ideal urban block- no cars, lots of bikes and pedestrians; park benching; greenery (Ian and I made the flowers); brownstones with comfortable stoops; a tea house (I made the pots for this); street lamps; a cinema; a lounge and more. All of these parts that were built were shipped out to Nevada and assembled in the desert to create this urban oasis that any and all could interact with or just hang out.

 

For the whole story on our camp, please go here.

Some great pictures of our actual set up is here. (make sure you go to that link!)

We’ve also been pooling our pictures on Flickr, and people have been putting up links to other photos.

Some blog reactions to Astor Place Imagined:


Now that you have some sort of image of what Burning Man and Astor Place Imagined is all about, I’ll get a little bit more personal about the experience that Ian and I had.

Above is our group shot taken by Erick Leskinen.

We have spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing for the event- you have to be prepared for the following conditions: extreme heat (110 degrees); cool nights (down to 30 degrees); crazy dust storms (goggles, dust masks, etc…); camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, headlamps, CamelBaks, etc…); bikes & bike repair stuff (we rented space on a truck and shipped them out with someone else who was going from Chicago); snacks (salt!), first aid, tons of sunscreen, good shoes, etc… We also made sculptural plants to decorate the brownstones and stoops with (see them here). There was a tea stand that a couple other people were working on, and I made pots for them (see here). That was all shipped out on the Chicago truck, too.

And to participate in the experience of gifting, we made tons of ceramic pendant necklaces that had some of the Playa soil rolled into the clay (“the Playa” is the name they use for the desert where the event is every year). My friend Gina had gone to Burning Man two years ago and brought back some of the dusty Playa and shared her stash with me. The Playa soil is a huge part of the experience. It’s a dry lake bed that is extremely alkaline. It’s completely lifeless. If you let your feet be exposed, they will burn and crack. And if you have a small cut, it has a hard time healing. The necklaces were a little piece of the Burning Man experience that people could take away with them.

Since I make my living selling pots, it was an very different experience to give away my work over the course of the week instead of selling it. I wish I could do it all of the time, but it’s not the most practical business model. After spending the last 11 years of my life with Ian, an open source programmer, and spending the week at Burning Man with other open source folks and living in a temporary gift economy, I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring those ideas together with my life as a potter. I realize is that I can do that through this blog. I might not be able to give away pots all of the time, but I can share information.

The thing about gifting that really struck me (as a giver and receiver) was giving with no expectation for reciprocation. No expectations, just a warm fuzzy feeling from a kind gesture. It makes it easier as a giver too – you don’t have to try to figure out who someone is before you give, you don’t have to decide if the exchange or interaction will be worth it, because you know it won’t be worth anything really, you don’t have to figure the person out because it doesn’t really matter. As a receiver, if someone shared their bottle of sunscreen with you, you didn’t have to think “should I give them some money for that.” It’s subtle, but the lack of tension around reciprocation was freeing – a letting go of the question of economics, of valuation, the skepticism you have to constantly maintain in a consumer-oriented environment. The freedom I felt is how I feel about writing this blog. I’m happy to link away and share with you things that I think are fabulous, and if someone decides to link back then that’s great, but it should always to up to the individual. I always get a funny feeling when someone emails me asking for reciprocal links – I’m happy to link to neat things, but exchanging links makes it feel disingenuous.

Back to the dust. There are the dust storms, big and small. High winds (65mph), white-out conditions, blowing debris. You have to be careful- take shelter and make sure that your camps are well secured. But they are also really fun. There is something about an intense, slightly scary situation that brings people together. During the first storm we found ourselves taking shelter in another camp that we happen to be next to when the storm hit. They were nice, but their structure seemed a little precarious, and we move slowly back to our camp where everyone was hanging out snacking and drinking under one of the shade structures waiting it out. We were having such a great time that we didn’t even notice that the storm had ended!The second storm we were out on the open Playa and one of the big crazy double decker art-party buses pulled up and via loudspeaker told everyone around that a big storm was about to hit. We jumped on, and within 2 minutes, there was a total white-out. We stayed on the bus with other dust storm refugees until the storm quieted down and we had enough visibility to walk back to camp. At the end of the storm, there was a hug double rainbow. Beautiful! We were left with a 1/2 ” of dust coating everything in our tent. The tent was made to shelter from rain, but not from dust storms!


Then there are art cars and installation pieces- big and small. And constant pulsating techno music. I wish we’d heard other kinds, but there wasn’t much. Everyone has bikes, and at night everyone lights themselves up with glowing electroluminescent wire and LEDs. Not many white lights, but lots of glowing colors. At night, when it’s cooler, everything come alive and everything’s glowing. The art looks totally different at night, and much of it has a fire aspect to it ( burning man). All very surreal.
Perhaps the best part of the experience was spending an intense week with with Ian’s co-workers and extended crew and getting to know them. It’s an amazing group of people, and since most of them are in New York and we’re in Chicago I hadn’t really gotten to know them yet. I am glad to know them now.

The group worked like crazy for months and months before Burning Man planning and building our camp. And they pulled it off better than I ever could have imagined! People keep asking me if I’ll go again. My immediate answer is YES! But then my next thought is that I can’t imagine going with another group.
Once of the many surprises of our camp was the absolutely amazing food that was prepared for us by chef Lacey. I NEVER imagined that we’d be eating better in the desert then the rest of the year. You can get her cookbook here on Amazon.

The week concluded (and started) with the burning of the man. It was spectacular.


The transition into the default world has been surprisingly difficult, but in a really good way. My dreams have been full of Burning Man thoughts for the last 3 weeks trying to process the experience. Getting some of the thoughts down on paper has helped too. Thanks for letting me share.

Show your love of clay to the world

Cafe Press has some interesting products for people who want to proclaim their love of clay to everyone around. The first time that Cafe Press got my attention was when John Norris put up a “soda fired” mug.
Below are some designs that you can get as t-shirts, hoodies, aprons, magnets, bumper stickers, hats, mouse pad, boxers, tank top, coasters and even a throw pillow. I prefer the more subtle ones that only another potter would understand. Something where we can identify ourselves to one another out in the world.

Chicago Clay

I am going to be working on a project over the next couple of months and I’d like your help.

I am going to creating a guide (on this blog) to clay in Chicago. It’ll be illustrated with photos, and linked to maps- and it will be all things ceramic. Galleries, art centers, studios, etc… (all things open to the public).

If there is something out there that you think should be included or that I should know about, just write a comment to this post.

I’m going to start going to 1 place a week (or more) to document the world of clay in the windy city. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.