Monthly Archives: June 2008

Tool Review: Mudcutter

The Mudtool Mudcutter. This is one of the tools that I cannot live without. Ok, that is a slight exaggeration… it’s a tool that I can’t work in my studio without.

It’s basically a giant cheese slicer with a super thin wire. It’s on the expensive side (retails for about $30). When so many of our clay hand tools cost $2 – $5, this is a bit of a jump up. But it really a tool that I use every day, throughout the day in my studio, so for me, it’s definitely been worth it.
I use this for the Mudtool Mudcutter for 5 basic studio tasks.
Here they are (in order frequency):

  • I use it for cutting clay when I’m weighing out uniform pieces. I can cut the clay using the Mudcutter with one hand (my right) and then I can pick up the chunk of clay with my left hand, put it on the scale to weigh it. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it shaves a couple seconds off each time I weigh a piece of clay. It adds up! 
  • Cutting feet on plates and platters:
  • Cutting off the exess clay from the bottom of a handle on a mug.
  • Faceting!
  • Cutting a teapot spout at an angle to fit the body of the pot. The super thin wire doesn’t have much drag, so you don’t distort the spout.

There are more uses for this tool, but those are my top 5. The 2 parts that make this so tool unique: The very thin wire that cuts through clay without drag, and the depth of the area between the wire and the frame.

One time, a couple of years ago, the wire snapped. I ordered replacements… and it turns out that they were out of stock. I had to wait about 6 weeks for the replacement wire. It was hard being without it. I now have a couple stashed in my studio so I’ll never be caught without a replacement again.

I don’t know if this is a tool that would be helpful to you, but it’s one of my “must haves.” I had no idea when I bought it that it was going to become a tool of daily use for me.

What are some of your favorite tools?

Masked Mugs

I’m getting ready for a soda firing next week…. and that means that the big pieces are drying and I’m focusing on the smaller pieces, like mugs that will dry more quickly. So many mugs…
I use masking tape on a lot of my work to mask out slip areas. Each side of the mug is different from the opposite side, and all the mugs are different from one another. You can see the mess of masking tape that is sticking to my table after I’ve finished up with a baker’s dozen of mugs. (A mess… but a satisfying mess.) I was excited to find masking tape in about 6 different widths last week. Oh the possibilities!

I’ll post pictures of the finished mugs after next week’s firing! Hopefully there will be a bunch of goodies to show you (and maybe finally some pots will be up on my Etsy page!).

The Magic of Clay

I added this book to my library of ceramics books a couple of weeks ago. It’s written in the form of a children’s book with beautiful collage images and is chock full of technical information. The Magic of Clay by Adalucia Quan covers a wide variety of topics: where clay comes from; the chemical make-up of clay; varieties of clay; potter’s tools; wedging; slip & oxides; the stages of clay; types of firings; pyrometric cones, etc… All the fundamental information that ceramic artists (students, amatuers and professionals alike) should know about.

The Magic of Clay would be great required reading for beginning and intermediate ceramics classes. It takes a lot of the technical information and puts it into a format that is easy to understand. For some, the talk about alumina and silica can be pretty dry and not very engaging. This book definitely makes learning about the chemical make-up of clay pretty interesting and will engage clay-geeks and non-clay geeks alike. (I self identify as a clay-geek.)

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.


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.


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!

Crazy Pottery Sale – this Friday and Saturday!

I’m making space for new work in my studio and having a HUGE sale this Friday and Saturday in my studio. 

The details:
  • Friday, June 6, 4pm – 7pm
  • Saturday, June 7, 10am – 5pm
  • At my studio in Chicago. 4401 N. Ravenswood, Lillstreet Studios, 205 west (follow link for directions and public transportation options)
  • Pieces are marked up to 75% off (starting at $5)
  • Cash, checks, Visa & MasterCard accepted

I’ll be selling sample pots, pieces from the back of the shelves, discontinued forms and more for big discounts. Seriously, this is the first time that I’ve marked work down this much. (There are tons of pieces that will be $5 – $10.) It’s time to the shelves for new work. Help me make room!

* mugs * bowls * plates * vases * soap dispensers * tumblers * bottles * platters * butter dishes * salt & pepper shakers * pitchers * tea bowls *

Have you been wanting to pick up a couple of plates for yourself? Do you have a wedding to go to this summer and need a gift? Have you gotten your dad a Father’s Day present yet? Stop by and take advantage of this big studio sale! I hope to see you this weekend!

Visiting Chicago? Stop by Lillstreet…

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about where I spend my days making pots and teaching classes. My studio is on the north side of the city at Lillstreet Studios. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood sometime and say ‘hello.’ It’s a great place to explore if you’re visiting Chicago. Or if you happen to live in the windy city, take an afternoon excursion to see what’s happening inside the walls of this old factory building.
Click here to get more information on Lillstreet’s location.

Getting there: You can drive (ample parking). You can ride a bike (lots of bike racks). You can take the Brown Line to the Montrose Stop. You can take the Montrose bus to Ravenswood. You can take the Metra to Lawrence. Etc…

There is a lot to see, so I thought I would give you just a brief “virtual tour” to entice you to stop by on your next trip to the windy city.

This is the directory that you’re greeted by when you walk inside the front door:

On the first floor:

One of the wheel classrooms (this one has 18 wheels):

On the second floor:

Outside my studio, 205 west, there are bios of each artist:

On the third floor:

Jewelry and metals:

The building is open for visitors to wander around. Explore the classrooms, visit the studios, shop in the gallery. The studios don’t have regular hours, but if you stop by, there is probably something open! There is no way I could actually show you everything, so you’ll just have to come see for yourself.

Interested in making a day of it? Other things to see and eat within 2 blocks:

And some things that are pretty darn close, but you’d probably want to hop in a car, on a bike, on a train:
Old Town School of Folk Music

If you’re making a special trip to Lillstreet, send me an email to let me know you’re coming so I can make sure that I’m there to meet you! I live quite close, so if I’m in town, it’s pretty easy for me to meet up with you.

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

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!