Tag Archives: Ian Bicking

The case of the missing pottery blogger: solved!

Well… after a loooong hiatus from both blogging and making pots, I’m back. I never intended to take such a long break, but the rest of my life kind of took over. Thanks to all of you who inquired about my whereabouts! I kept meaning to write a little update, but it’s been a whirlwind of time the past six months.  I thought I’d share with you what I’ve been up to in this post.

As many of you know, I recently moved to Minneapolis after 10 years in Chicago. The move was crazy, but the real crazy part was that we bought a duplex last winter that was condemned, and we brought it up to code through months and months and months of intense renovations. The house had a total of 4 units (2 original, 2 illegal units)- which included 4 kitchens and 4 bathrooms and not a single part of any of them was salvageable. The house has 54 windows, and only 4 of them were worth keeping. The house had been empty for 2 years when we bought it. I’m sure much of the deterioration happened during that time. Minnesota winters are rough! But we saw past all that and we fell in love with the house. It’s brick, after all! And the raw space and layout were perfect for us. So we dove in head first and have learned a lot along the way.

our-house-1

Ian and I live on the 2nd floor, and my sister Nora, and her two little boys, Ayrie and Shiya live on the 1st floor. The attic is Ian’s office, and guest space. The basement is my studio and a shared family room. Lucky for me the basement has tall ceilings and full sized windows. It’s the perfect space for me.

For the construction, we tried to hire people that were friends, family, friends of family and friends whenever possible. Most people commuted to work on bikes, so this is what our yard looked like on a busy day:

our-work-crew-1

This picture will just give you a little idea of what the house looked like when we bought it. Our Realtor thought that we were crazy, but now thinks we were brilliant :)
old-kitchen-1

This is what our kitchen looks like now. It’s a pretty dramatic before and after!
new-kitchen-1

We designed these shelves to hold our pots for every day use.  As they were being built, everyone kept saying: what are you doing? These are super engineered to be incredibly sturdy. There are no worries about overloading them! I’ll do a blog post at some point in the future so you can see the interior structure of the shelves.

open-shelving-1We live right in the middle of the city- but we have a barn in our back yard! It needed quite a bit of work, being over a century old, but we’re glad we did it. There is a great loft space that I hope to turn into a showroom someday.

barn-minneapolis-1

Of course I have tons more pictures of our renovations, but I just picked out a handful to give you a sense of what I’ve been up to. If anyone wants to see more photos, I could post a slideshow of the rest of the house.  My next post will be of my studio progress so far, so there will be some more house photos to come.

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Then, just as we were nearing the end of our renovations, Ian and I decided, after 13 years together, to make it ‘legal’, and we got married! We had a tiny ceremony, in our living room. It was perfect. We’re planning a larger celebration in the spring in our back yard after the snow thaws but before I begin construction on my soda kiln and kiln building.

ian-and-emily-1

So that basically sums up where I’ve been.  It’s been a great year with a lot of exciting changes. I’m anxious to be back to blogging, and back to the world of clay! I have a ton a blog posts lined up in my head, and even more ideas for pots! Thanks for checking back in with me.

Four Years of Pottery Blog!

How it All Began

It’s a bit of an anniversary for me… It’s been 4 years since I first started writing PotteryBlog.com. It all started about 4 and a half years ago at NCECA – Indianapolis. I had attended a number of panel discussions and lectures given by writers, editors and publishers of both books and magazines. I found myself inspired by the words I had heard throughout the week and the conversations had, but I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it. I knew that I wanted to write, but the time lines for traditional media didn’t appeal to me. Magazine articles usually took about a year to be published, and books could be 3-5 years. I wanted to go in the direction of something less formal and with more immediate feedback, for now.

On the trip home from Indianapolis, a conversation started with my friend Brian Boyer (programmer, writer and potter). He really felt that a blog was the direction to go in with my post-conference energy. Ian and I had many conversations at home and he had been urging me to start a blog throughout the previous year. My hesitation was that I didn’t know any other potter that was writing a blog about clay. A huge part of blogging was the connections with other bloggers writing in the same field. Blog writers are great blog readers, and when you begin to link to each other, your audience can grow exponentially. But after the conference, and my conversation with Brian, I realized that it was what I was going to do. And so I went home, registered the domain name: PotteryBlog.com, and soon I began to write. I had no idea where it was going to lead me, but I knew it was were I wanted to be at that moment.

A Slow Start

When I started this blog, I had to do a lot of educating. The question that I got from most of the clay folks that I talked to about my writing endeavors was “What’s a blog.” I guess it’s a question that I still get, but in the beginning it was the question that I got from everyone that I talked to about it. I continued to write for the next 2 years. Not on a super regular basis, but regular enough. A couple of years into it, I had that nagging feeling that maybe no one was reading my blog. A large part of writing a blog is personal, so theoretically, I would continue to write with or without readers. But when you send your words and images out there, you do hope that someone is reading them.

Why do I Blog?

The other top question that I get on a regular basis is: why? Why do I spend my time and energy into writing this blog. Why do I “give away information for free” (their words, not mine)? The answer is pretty simple: information is free. I would love to give away pots, but it’s not the most sustainable business model. Ian (my significant other of 12+ years) is an open source programmer. He’s rubbed off on me over the years. The idea with open source is that the programming code and/or the process of writing it are open for others to see and use and that by making it public, the larger community will benefit from the sharing of information and collaboration. With programming, you can easily do this regardless of geography. With clay, it’s not so obvious on how to do it, but I think blogging is has been a good way to do “open source ceramics”. If I give you a pot, now you have a pot and I don’t have that pot. But if I give you an idea then we both get to keep it.

The open sharing of ideas might be the overarching reason on why I write, but I’ve discovered many more benefits to blogging. I have found that writing has greatly impacted my work. The conversations I have with myself about my own work have grown and evolved, affecting the aesthetic decisions I make daily about my pots. As a visual artist I’m used to falling back on the thought that my work will speak for itself. I hope it does, up to a point, but there is something to be said for backing it up with words. And obviously not everything I write is that profound (like instructions on covering your remote with plastic). But when I have to be more serious and thoughtful about my words, like when writing an artist statement, it comes easier than it ever has before. The habit of writing makes writing easier.

Getting Re-energized

Two years after I began this blog, I once again found myself at NCECA (Louisville) and throughout the week had some amazing conversations with people that “knew me” from my blog. I suddenly realized that my blog posts were not just disappearing out there, but they were being received on the other end by ceramic artists that not only knew what a blog was, but were excited to be reading one that focused on clay! Once I had the knowledge that people were out there across both the US, but also around the world were reading, I was energize and completely dove into the blog.

When I got home I started writing more regularly. I also started to pay attention to the statistics on who was reading my blog. And I set up an email list so readers could automatically get an email with each post. Knowing people were out there on the other end really pushed me.

Some Nice Side Effects

I’ve had a website of my work, in one form or another for the past 9+ years. I used to be conflicted about having pots online. They are 3-dimensional and tactile; things that don’t usually go so well with the internet. I think that a blog helps add other dimensions to the piece. You can show the pieces in progress. Talk about the process of making. Show the pieces in use. Talk about inspirations and frustrations in making. Some of the blanks begin to fill in and the connection between maker, pot and user has grown stronger. Stronger than I ever could have imagined way back when I began my first adventures online.

There have been some great and unexpected side effects of writing my blog. It turns out that it is the best kind of publicity: it’s publicity as a side effect. I get to put my efforts into what I want to do: write, teach, share my work, and connect with others. And it just so happens that it’s publicity. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been asked to be in a number of invitational shows where the curators, jurors and gallery managers have found my work and gotten to know it through this blog.

It’s also allowed me to keep up with regular customers. They can check in and see what I’ve been up to easily. The email list, RSS feed and blog reader instructions have been really important. I wrote a while back about the concept of 1000 True Fans. I’m far from it, but my blog helps me on my path.

The Ceramic Blogging Revolution

Ever since my return from NCECA in Louisville 2 years ago, something really exciting is happening! The number of clay focused blogs has grown exponentially and an incredible international community of clay bloggers has developed. It’s a community that I feel very lucky to be a part of, to have these relationships with my readers and other pottery bloggers. I’m learning a lot, both technically and personally.

What’s Next

I have at least 6 other posts in progress, and another dozen ideas in my head, but if you ever have any suggestions, I’m glad to hear them and respond to them. I find that the more I write, the more I want to write (like this past week).

I will continue to have tutorials, studio updates and show announcements. But I’m also expecting the unexpected, just like when I began. You never know where life (or a blog) is going to take you.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please share your thoughts about pottery blogging with me and the other readers in the comments, it’s an important part of the process for me. It would be quite a different experience entirely for me if I wrote without comments. The posts would become static. This post doesn’t end with this sentence, it ends with the last comment at the bottom of this page.

Road blocks, Mister Rogers and a future guest blogger

On Thursday evening, I got an email from a neighborhood newsletter letting residents know that there was going to be emergency road work being done right outside my studio on Friday and Saturday and the road would be closed… the exact two days of my sale. Luckily, I was able to send out an email giving folks a warning about the big orange signs, let them know about some alternate directions.

The road blocks did not deter anyone. The sale was a huge success and my shelves are now pretty sparse. It’s always great to see my regular customers and old friends. Thanks to everyone who navigated the detours and came out last weekend!

The road blocks were only a little bit of an inconvenience… Nancy and Burt had to deal with a tornado at the Kalamazoo Art Fair! It’s a good reminder why I prefer studio sales over art fairs.

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I was watching Mister Rogers with my nephew, Ayrie, the other day and there was a nice surprise: Eva Kwong was the guest!

 

In case you missed it, check out this blog post from January about another surprise appearance by a potter.

 

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And lastly… here is a picture of Ian…

 

The thing that is interesting about this picture to those of us who know him is that in this photo he has no beard and has short hair! Ian and I are approaching our 13th year together, and this is literally the first time I’ve seen his chin! Ian usually has longish hair and a very full beard. I’m posting this picture for our friends and family across the country that won’t get to see this in person… It’s not going to last long!

Although Ian is a programmer who writes a blog that most of us don’t really understand, he will be taking a turn writing a guest post for this blog sometime over the next week or two. I can’t wait to read it!

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.