Goldilocks teapots



The symmetrically spherical bowl of a wheel thrown teapot opens into a circle. The gallery runs around the circumference of that circle, and allows the lid to rest perfectly in place. A truncated conical spout further establishes the form. These three parts thrown on the wheel, with an added handle, are then assembled to form a basic teapot. More than that, it’s about getting those parts just right.

The wheel thrown teapot is a collection of graduated circular spaces and forms. Each radius diminishes, from the largest circular opening at the crown or foot of the bowl, to the solid circular form of the lid, to the base of, and then opening of, the spout. Circular opening, circular formed lid, then circular base and opening, each piece of this round geometry relates in size or proportion to the other, to create a perfectly interrelated form.

The use of calipers to measure the diameter of the opening of the bowl, can then be inverted to measure a snugly fit lid. Rulers work just as well to measure the diameter of the circular space and circular form, or a stick with a pencil line drawn on it. What matters most is the perfect fit -not too loose, not too tight.

Some potters offer that the spout’s length, from base to opening, can be measured as roughly half the diameter of the widest part of the bowl. This rule of thumb usually works in my favor. However, when it comes to measuring the diameter of the spout’s base and opening, I open and collar the clay until I see an echo of space in all of the parts. I know when it’s too small and when it’s too large. The base, the crown, the lid, the lid handle, all inform the diameter of the spout’s base and opening. The teapot’s circles echo throughout the pot.

The spout’s angle and its proportional relationship to the handle requires the final consideration in the building stage. Successfully wrestling the negative space that surrounds the pot can be rewarding when the form-to-space ratio produces the desired results.

Each time, when all is said and done, I hope I’ve made a pot that Goldilocks would choose.

exploration of limitations

There are so many choices in limitations. Options abound with the dark brown of the glaze-fired clay and only creamy matte glaze to points the way toward stamped surface decoration. In some cases one glaze color accent is applied, while in others, none. Options are endless, and I’m only just getting started to explore what is possible.

Prepping for a Craft Fair

Preparations for my first craft fair are revealing definitive signs of success. I’m the first one to admit that I’ve taken my time getting to this eventual point of participating in one of these events; it’s literally been years in the making. Things had to be planned. Lists had to be drawn up, and, being a list maker, I judged the success of planning by the number of items that move from ‘to do’ to ‘done’. Currently the ‘done’ list has become satisfyingly long, while the ‘to do’ list no longer produces even the slightest hint of anxiety. Minor tasks, such as purchasing sand for the tent weight bags, and harvesting newsprint from long neglected newsprint tablets, are two of only four tasks that remain un-checked.

Lists of pottery items topped the list, with goals for various sized bowls – some nested, for both human and animal use; mugs, pitchers and jugs of various sizes; covered pots, jars with lids, teapots, decorative items, and plates of various sizes and styles rounded out the list. I planned glaze ‘stories’ for groupings of ware, which took considerable research time through trial and error. I eventually chose three clay bodies, white, speckled brown, and dark brown – each with their own particular glaze story. My work, when seen as a collection, reveals a subtle nod to vaguely-cultural artifacts, so the clay body and glaze story were planned with care.

Setting the stage for display created more need for research and development. I built portable shelves, which I’ve blogged about earlier (see Tiny Increments). The display space was coming together after a practice tent set up on the back patio, and the groupings of tables and baker’s racks had found their respective locations.  To get a sense of how much square footage all of these large items required – the tent, two tables, portable shelves, two baker’s racks, and stacks of pottery bins, I gathered all of these items in one place. Then, with a comparative measuring of the interior of my Subaru with that grouping of large items, I had a huge wave of relief when I realized that my mode of transportation was a go.

Technology for point of sale was the next step in the process, since I’d be working with Square to manage the sale operations. I decided that my old cracked-screened I-phone 6 just wouldn’t do – it was time for an upgrade, and added a power backup source for my phone as well. In addition to the Square card reader, I snagged a Square Contactless chip reader, along with a stylus, and a business PayPal account to further support the point of sale. To keep my tech  gear handy, I decided on a  three-pocket denim apron.

Branding and Marketing were done all along this process. My daughter, who happens to be a graphic designer, did her thing and created the branding design for my business cards, hang tags, and large vinyl sign. A couple years ago, I had designed and ordered a pewter stamp, which I stamp on the bottom of all of my wheel thrown and hand-built ware. I enlarged this stamp design in Illustrator software and ordered a custom rubber stamp from Rubber Stamp Champ to personalize the handled brown paper bags I had ordered from U-Line for pottery sales.

The last few items that still need to be addressed are creating the price list, purchasing the sand for the tent weights, and prepping the hang tags with twine. I had purchased some 5 x 7 inch acrylic table-top sign stands to display the price lists. In order to save time instead of pricing every item with stickers, only certain one-off items will have stickers on them. The sand purchase and filling the weight bags is a quick task and the hole punching and tying twine to each hang tag will be done during some quiet evening on the back porch.

The list: craft tent, tent weights, 2 tables, 2 baker’s racks, portable shelves, camp chair, square, power back-up, apron, table cloths, wood crates, 20 crates of pottery, business cards and holder, hang tags, large vinyl sign, table top price signs, paper bags, newsprint, pencils, paper, scissors, tape, twine, cooler, sunscreen, hat, and cash for change


Off road authenticity

Of course my aim leans towards some image of near perfection, yet the spirit of authenticity, with all of its foibles, resides in my pottery. I admire what I consider to be the perfect balance in others’ ware, never in my own, though. I’m brutally honest about it – seeing through to the hand in the work beneath the finished glazed surface. I inspect with care until I uncover the flaws that lead me right back to making more.

Precious Time

So, there was another hiatus from most things pottery. Only the rare occasion of throwing occurred, while new endeavors in my career as a high school design teacher elbowed their way to the forefront of each waking hour. A few years ago it was translating and teaching a high school web design coding course as a college level course – great for the high school students, opportunity-wise, and great for me, as a professional/intellectual challenge. I’m always up for a new challenge.

Last spring, another opportunity dropped into my somewhat-already-occupied lap.  Yearbook advisor! Of course I applied for the position; smiling when asked why I thought I’d be better than the other candidates for the job – there were no other candidates. You see, yearbook  advising squeezes like a boa constrictor on your free time. So, the next time I looked up from yearbook work, I heard song birds chirping in the spring morning sunshine and knew I had to return to my studio. That window of pottery time appears smaller now, and makes my throwing and creating time all the more precious.

Extruded execution

So I decided to give my North Star 4″ extruder a workout this week, building two large 20lb. coil stoneware planters. I actually made the bases for the planters last week, using coils as well, then ‘threw’ each base on the wheel to smooth out what would eventually be the interior surface. I left the bases lightly covered in plastic on plaster bats for several days to get leather-hard.

The first leather-hard base was placed on the banding wheel, then scored and slipped, ready to receive the first coil. As each coil row was added, I used a wooden modeling tool to blend one row of coil with the next, then smoothed the outer sides with a small plastic rib.

The process was repeated until I had added several rows of coils and gradually widened the form to a final upper diameter of 17″. Since my extruder is installed right next to the work table, the process of cranking out coils, application, and building the form went quickly and efficiently.

Selecting just the right coil-sized die was essential for quick work, and keeping a bucket beneath the extruder made cleanup a lot easier.

Halfway through the building process I stopped building to allow the coils to set up, wedged more clay for the upper half of the form, and made some decorative tiles to later affix to the outside of the planter.

After the full height of the form was reached, I added one more coil row, this time using a slightly greater width coil to serve as the planet’s rim.

Lastly, I added some decorative surface patterns and attached the decorative tiles I had made earlier. The planter on the right below is shown further along in the drying process, and after the base was smoothed with a damp sponge.

When pottery moves in

Little corked jugs are curious forms. They nestle into any space and seem perfectly willing to take up permanent residence there. A case in point: some of these little guys have been on display for sale at SATO Salon Organics for a while and recently we figured out that they look so comfortable in their spot on the shelf that they avoid moving day. So, they’ll soon be placed in a new location at the salon, but my guess is that they’ll settle in comfortably once again.

The potter’s manicure

All my life my hands have been relegated to the unadorned among us. Oh the toenails saw some lacquer in the summertime, don’t get me wrong, but my hands always found themselves in too much water, sawdust, grout, or reduced by length and banned from polish due to someone’s rules and regulations.



From the dress code in high school to similar restrictions as a nurse in a Catholic hospital, my nail polish went underground,  inside my shoes. A later career change to teaching art kept my nails short and color-free as practicality won over vanity. I could count on less than two hands the number of professional manicures I’ve had. Once, when I returned home with a French manicure for a special occasion, the eye rolls from my daughters confirmed my suspicions that painted digits weren’t ‘me’.



Now, during the day I still teach art, although it’s all graphic and web design- but I’m a potter at night, on weekends, and holidays. Potter’s hands take a lot of abuse from having them in water, not to mention the sanding effect of the grog in the clay, and the incredible drying effect of stoneware on the skin. So, to keep my hands ready to wedge pounds of clay, plunge into buckets of water, and grind over grog-filled stoneware on the potter’s wheel, today I follow my own rules and regulations about short fingernail length and polish-free nails.


Pining for Porcelain

Lately I’ve been considering pottery work with porcelain. Mostly because the translucent characteristic of this clay body lends itself to all sorts of interesting outcomes. It’ll be trial and error for a while I’m sure, but therein lies the joy. Curiosity for how this medium will respond to various hand-building, printing, and wheel throwing techniques serves as the driving force.

The porcelain arrived quickly from the Ceramic Shop (Philadelphia, PA), so I tore open the box to check it out. From the outside of the bag the clay felt a little stiff, but from what I understand from YouTube videos, once the clay is well wedged, it softens up. I was careful to wash the surfaces, tools, sponges, buckets, and anything else that had previously come into contact with stoneware. Again, a YouTube video recommended washing tools, etc. so that no iron bits would contaminate the porcelain clay body.

I used a brand-new wire cutting tool and wedged the porcelain on a heavy piece of clean cardboard, since my bamboo wedging table’s surface was thoroughly embedded with stoneware from previous wedging. With only a pound or so, tried throwing a little vessel with a tiny spout. The clay handled nicely, was very easy to center and form – left the bottom a bit thicker for trimming a nice foot. Next, I threw a little one pound bowl and tried to make the walls as thin as I could without risking collapse. Again, I kept the base thicker so I could trim a deep foot.


Pots that go pop

I should have known better. The bottom of that jug was heavy; I’d convinced myself I liked it that way and scaled back the amount I’d trimmed from the bottom. The problem was that I’d fired it along with the other ware that I had thrown on the same day. So, why I was surprised to see that shattered form in the kiln on Sunday morning was anyone’s guess.

Having taught high school ceramics for a few years, I’ve learned to read green ware (un-fired dry clay) for its readiness to be fired. Occasionally, student work blows up in the kiln, but it’s usually due to attachment mistakes – where air becomes trapped between two pieces of joined clay. Every once in a while a piece is fired that is not quite ready and that little bit of moisture remaining in the clay seals its doom. When firing hundreds of clay forms a week, a system is needed to determine which pieces are ready and which are not quite bone dry.

The surface of dry clay will feel dusty, but more than that it won’t feel cool, unless it’s been stored in a very cool room. Sometimes comparing the hand held temperature – as the form feels against the palm of your hand – of one form that you’re sure is completely dry with the questionably dry form, will reveal the difference. If I still can’t tell if a from is dry, I place that questionabe form against my cheek, a telltale cool sensation will reveal an ever so slightly damp form. I usually only use this technique when the hand held comparison method hasn’t helped me to decide on a given form’s readiness to be fired. This usually happens when I’ve unloaded a couple of kilns and my hands are very warm from handling all that warm pottery.

Working in an outdoor studio has its own set of challenges when drying pottery. Many humid days in a row can delay drying time significantly, and cool damp nights can have the same effect. Additionally, when the ware has taken on the ambient room temperature it can feel deceptively warm, as if it’s dry and ready to be fired.

I (finally) decided to create a system to address the extra drying time needed for that outlier form that is more dense than the rest of the lot. I’ve designated a section of a drying shelf for that one or two pieces of heavier ware to remind me to delay firing.