Yesterday’s grace

Ambition could be the title of the hopeful list of ware to be included under the next craft show tent. But I’m taking things one day at a time; throwing a dozen bowls one afternoon, and a clay brick’s worth of mugs on another. Large bowls next, and yesterday, it was teapots – only four teapots, to be exact.

I needed time to allow for personality, teapot personality. Cane handles were a must, but the rest was up to the flurry of happenstance and the what-if’s that come about when throwing has ended and hand-building commences.

From a utilitarian point of view, how would each member of this little quartet function? To fill, to pour, and to carry when tea is about to be served? How would this dark brown clay enhance the series of glazes I plan to use? Thoughts pause hands to consider these and other things, as little periods of grace make room for the future possibilities of each teapot.

 

 

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.

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.

Back to making mugs

I hadn’t thrown any mugs in over a year, because there were bins-full in the kiln shed. My niece had gone through the bins a few months ago to bring with her to Sato Salon Organics, an all-organic salon where she works, and where my pottery and mixed media pieces are displayed and offered for sale.  Some of the mugs she left with that day were for use in the salon, for customers to enjoy a cup of coffee while they waited, while other mugs (and various pottery) were designated specifically for sale. Last week my niece called to say someone liked one of the coffee-designated mugs, and wanted to know if I would throw a new set for her. So yesterday,for the first time in over a year, I was throwing mugs.

I threw a dozen stoneware mugs, half in white and the rest in speckled brown. After trimming and attaching the handles to the white stoneware mugs, I trimmed the speckled brown ones and wedged up some clay for more handles. Now, I’ll go out to my studio and finish the rest today. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed throwing and ‘handle-ing’ mugs.

Altered wheel-thrown form

After seeing a wheel-thrown altered pot on Pinterest, I wanted to try making a few. I threw a form on the wheel with about 4lbs -5lbs of Standard white stoneware clay and after each form was leather hard, used a needle tool to mark the four corners of where the cuts would be created. A fettling knife was used to cut out a little square and then stamped with one of my home-made clay stamps. Then I used the needle tool again to mark 8 holes – 4 holes outside the cut shape and 4 holes, one in each corner of the little cut out square. I made sure the holes were large enough to allow for passing twine through after firing shrinkage. Then I replaced the cut-out shape into each wheel-thrown form and allowed the clay to dry. After bisque firing, I applied underglaze to the cut-out shapes on both forms and when they were dry, applied a coat of wax resist. I also applied wax resist inside the openings created with the needle tool to prevent the glazes from accidentally getting ‘brushed’ into those 8 holes. Next, I applied underglaze to the pot rim and base (shown on left), allowed it to dry and applied clear transparent glaze over the whole pot surface. For the pot on the right, I used Amaco Textured Tan glaze very loosely and unevenly applied. After glaze firing at cone 5, I used garden twine to ‘tie’ the shapes to each form. This was clearly an exercise in procedure and now I’m stoked to try variations on this idea of an altered wheel-thrown form.

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.

 

Little bundle of pottery

Packaging pottery for shipment presents a new challenge for me. While I’ve sent packages cross-country throughout the years, especially since my youngest daughter has lived in California for over a decade, I haven’t packaged my pottery. I’ve always used UPS’s packaging service to do the packing and shipping, but now I’d like to conquer the packaging part of being a potter. This new challenge requires packing pottery pieces both economically and so they’ll arrive in great condition.

I’ve received products in the mail in the box-in-a-box type of packaging method and this assembly seems to work very well. No matter how rumpled the exterior box becomes from ‘over-handling’ the product inside has always remained safe and sound.

For the packaging/shipping test I was only shipping two little 5 inch bowls, so I used an old ‘bark box’ and plenty of newsprint. After nestling the items securely in crumpled paper and securing the the box lid with packing tape, I tossed the box onto my ceramic tile floor a few times to see what would happen. Then I shook the box and didn’t hear the tell-tale rattling of broken pottery.

Next came the actual shipment, this time to San Diego, to my daughter’s close friend, Melissa. The guy at UPS asked what was in the box and I replied, ‘pottery’ and he asked, ‘is it packed well?’ and I said, ‘sure’. Well, the package was to arrive in San Diego on Friday March 10th, but was delayed due to a storm system barreling across the country. Today is the new delivery date, and I heard from Melissa that my packaging system held up as that little bundle of pottery made it’s way to the west coast and safely into her hands.

UPS

PVC Photo booth

Setting up the photo booth was easy once I saw that post about using PVC pipe to create the structure.

Using my chop saw made quick work of cutting the pipe to the dimensions I needed; the 3-way fittings and elbows worked great to not only build the box but to make it stable. I draped a few yards of muslin over the top and sides, then stood a piece of matt board at the back. I ran a roll of tracing paper across the ‘floor’ of the booth and up and over the matt board – folded the paper over the top of the board to hold it securely in place, then left the paper uncut on the roll in the front of the booth so it could easily be replaced as needed. With a lamp placed outside the muslin ‘wall’ I was ready to shoot some pottery images. The whole task took about 20 minutes from start to finish. An added benefit is that the PVC is very lightweight which will make it easy to move and quick to disassemble and reassemble should I ever need to do so.

Form

Working on the potter’s wheel naturally leads matter toward cylindrical forms, while the creation of utilitarian objects that interact with the human form require a conformity to a certain proportion. Slab work, combined with wheel thrown work, invites variety as the two methods of building interact with one another. But it all comes down to one thing; I am constantly evaluating the nature of form everywhere everyday.

A geometric shadow washed over an organic human form (a form that contains circular and spherical geometry) demands analysis as well as investigation. What possibilities are inherent in this intersection of parallelograms temporarily floating over organic/geometrical composition?

‘Little mask’ is tiny at just over 5″ tall, yet commands attention. There’s some compelling visual force when you’re in the presence of that tiny facial representation.  Emphasis though isolation perhaps explains some of the draw, but no matter where this mask has been displayed over the decades, the result is the same powerful visual energy. It makes me ponder the possibilities that can be unearthed in creating tiny forms that can harness that sense of powerful visual presence.

Forms require consideration from multiple angles, as well as how the inside complements the outside, in addition to how light and shadow interact overall. Those endless possibilities…