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.

Making a hand-built milk can

Constructing a large slab-built milk-can requires a bit of planning and plenty of work space. Using bristol board sheets to construct a mock-up of the overall form and I then took it apart to use the pieces for templates. The large slab roller in work made quick work of rolling the largest template shape, which was roughly 30″ by 17″ – for the barrel of the milk can. For transport, I rolled the 15 lb. slab within heavy canvas and plastic sheeting, then placed it inside a rolling suitcase to bring it to my home studio. Once in the studio, I unrolled the soft slab to allow it to set up a bit.

Once the slab was no longer soft, I draped it over a 5 gallon bucket and a wheel bat placed at either end, with heavy canvas between the clay and the supporting structure to allow the clay to set up in a large arc without sticking to the bucket and bats.

The slab sat like this for several hours, checked on from time to time, to determine when it was strong enough to hold its own weight. Once it was strong enough, I stood it up and began to form the cylinder for the barrel of the can. While the large slab had been setting up, I had rolled a smaller slab for the base of the can and let it firm up on a plaster bat, so when the barrel of the can was ready, I attached it to the base and positioned the form on a masonite  board.

After wrapping the form in plastic sheeting so it wouldn’t get too dry,  I began to roll and cut the slabs for the upper sections of the milk can using the bristol board templates.

After forming the upper sections of the can I placed each part on a plaster bat to set up. Getting these sections leather hard didn’t take too long, because the warm sun and gentle breeze on the back patio provided the perfect drying environment.

After the upper sections were firm enough, I attached them to the barrel, and added a coil to the joint of each upper section, then a handle on either side.

Wrapping the lower portion of the can in plastic allowed the upper section to dry a bit more so some fine tuning of the form’s surface could be dealt with at a later time. Lastly, I took some measurements to record the amount of shrinkage at leather hard -and later at bisque and glaze- since I’d never made this form before.

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’.

Today during the day I still teach art, although it’s all digital – 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 their hands in water, not to mention the sanding effect of the grout 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.

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…

Square Footage Miracle

It wasn’t the most stylish way to move thirty-some pieces of framed work, but it was the most efficient. Three suitcases, one very large, one medium sized, and one small, along with one canvas bag, did the trick. My niece, Kelly, picked the work up yesterday and graciously offered to hang it all in the Sato salon organics, in the West End.

While picking up the work from the series, “On the Outside Looking In,” Kelly thought some of my wheel thrown pottery would nicely complement this framed hanging work, so out to the kiln shed we went to rummage through my tower of glazed-fired pottery in bins. While selecting a few crates-ful of pottery, Kelly had the idea that when bringing coffee to the Sato patrons, she could pour that java brew into one of a collection of my pottery mugs. So, we went through the bins again to select a group of coffee mugs.

When it was time to load up her car, I wasn’t sure that the suitcases would fit into the tiny real estate of her compact, and now with multiple crates of pottery added to all the artwork, I was even more skeptical of a successful outcome. Somehow it all came together. Who knew you could fit so much into so little square footage?

From the Outside Looking In

So, today I consider myself a potter,but a few years ago I was working on a mixed media series called “From the Outside Looking In,” which was inspired by Tibetan prayer flags. I was intrigued by the premise of these prayer flags as they are meant to invoke words and images from fragmented, separated, territorial, and barrier-driven belief systems of the world in an attempt to harmonize these philosophical divisions. The un-hemmed flags, left in the wind to disperse their intentions, fray to disintegration and are then burned to release every last vestige of prayerful hope.

Art as a temporary entity has always been part of my practice – I’ve left sculpture to disintegrate outside in the elements, I’ve burned or thrown away countless drawings and paintings, because after the process of art making I’m never quite sure what to actually do with the result. Years ago I had work framed but that only lasted for a while and eventually that work was either destroyed or given away. My philosophy about art is the same as my philosophy of life – it’s temporary.

The series started a few years ago when I was teaching an introductory fine art class and was alarmed by the amount of art materials that would go to waste after high school students had created their respective masterpieces. I decided to not only re-cycle, but to up-cycle the waste and create this series of flags. The series grew as the fine art waste churned out scraps of fabric, dyed, inked, batik, or painted, along with leftover paint blobs and scraps of paper. After assembling a flag I would add tiny stitches or an occasional bead to bring tiny pieces of materials to an artistic resolution. Eventually the series grew to over a thousand flags, so I began to consider how I would exhibit these little marvels of trash-picked artistry.

Hanging all of the flags at once in an outdoor space to allow them to float and flutter in the breeze and eventually disintegrate, as the Tibetan prayer flags are meant to do, was one option. However, I had become somewhat aware that the flags possessed an individual simplicity. So, the flag framing began, hesitantly at first, because I wasn’t sure how their delicacy would be influenced by the hardness of a frame surrounding them. Today a number of the flags are in frames – we’ll see how long they last.

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being content

All my life I couldn’t wait to get old, but I figured that living in a culture that worships youth, my anticipation of being a senior citizen wouldn’t be a very popular perspective to share with others. So, I kept my joy of aging to myself.
Two women in my life provided me with that positive perspective on aging; looking forward to my sixties, seventies, and beyond was a gift from my grandmothers. Throughout my childhood, I saw these two women living their golden years with contentment. Both journeyed through their days in a manner that, to my young eyes, seemed the essence of quiet peaceful living. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, yet had eluded me for most of my life, until now. These days, for the most part, I do what I can to live in quiet peaceful living and contentment.

In the past, living in contentment has been much easier to do during the summer months when I wasn’t teaching, however, I’ve found with each passing year, that an inner peace has been steadily growing, whether I was at work or not. What I discovered was that weeks of summer contentment practice was washing into those working months, as every year there was a greater ease in letting go. Holding-on had been working against my sense of contentment, because it had put conditions on happiness. Removing the need for conditional happiness, enabled me to be content with what is.

So, yesterday, when my grandsons accidentally let the dogs go, I felt my grandmothers looking on and smiling that I still had some adjusting to do.

What is artistic?

This question is not often asked, but rather shared as the statement, ‘I’m not artistic.’ Dictionary.com offers that artistic is: “1. conforming to the standards of art; 2. showing skill or excellence in execution: artistic workmanship; 3. exhibiting taste, discriminating judgment, or sensitivity; 4. exhibiting an involvement in or appreciation of art; or 5. involving only aesthetic considerations. So, it looks like there are several ways to be artistic. But how did ‘skill or excellence’ become equivalent to replication representation as a means of defining one’s artistic ability?

Usually when my students or friends share their perspectives about their lack of an artistic nature/ability, I discover that they’re referring to a perceived lack of representational replication skill in their completed or expected execution – notably of a final product. This eye-on-the-replication-representational-prize perspective can get in the way of the ‘space’ needed for artistic creation – for making and creating art may require decision making, a discerning eye, analysis, and modification, but more importantly, it demands the freedom of happenstance. While discriminating judgement is necessary, and confidence in that judgement needs to be nurtured, serendipitous discovery occurs during process rather than deliberate map-following to a pre-determined end product.

Confidence is the fuel that moves artists forward and allows risk-taking action that moves us past a simple conformity to the standards of art and catapults us into the realm of real artistic possibility. Confidence can be present in artwork long after the artist hand leaves the paper, canvas, clay, or stone; just look at Dali’s line drawings of well…anything. The confident energy of an artist’s hand is embedded in that bold line, daringly pounded brushstroke, or unrepentant application of glaze; for self confidence in one’s artistic nature documents concrete evidence of human creative energy.

Simply put, developing an artistic nature requires the ability to allow plenty of room for our self confidence, as we respond with our senses, to our surroundings.