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.

“Inspiration is for amateurs…”

That Chuck Close quote is my go-to saying, especially as a high school art teacher, but also as my personal artistic mantra. While I haven’t experienced Close’s seemingly life-long non-stop prolific profusion of ideas, I’ve encountered blinks of time when I believed ‘inspiration’ had eluded me.

imageWhen I look back on those snippets of idleness, I realize what appeared to be a lack of inspiration was in reality a form of quasi self-doubt. So I was curious to figure out how that doubt took up residence in my thought process in the first place. Why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?

Well, that question brings me to another point, one I share with my art students all the time, specifically the difference between product and process. Usually it goes like this: I ask my students to identify themselves as either a product or process person.  The product people tend to focus on the end result throughout their art-making, while the process people travel from one possibility to another, never wanting to finish.  As an art teacher, this distinction of contrasts between product and process helps me tremendously to understand my students’ motivations as they engage in art making, and the preliminary product/process discussion also establishes a basis for dialogue when we talk about their approach to their work. Of note, I’ve rarely seen a student, who identifies as a process person, ever struggle to get going, although I’ve had countless long conversations with students, who identify as product people, to help get them started. More often than not, I’ve discovered through these conversations that the product person believes getting started requires them to have the finished work in mind; in a concept-driven art course, this rigidity of thought impedes the emergence of creative energy at the outset. The process person meanwhile, is off and running, allowing their creative energy to take them somewhere, anywhere. This brings me back to my question: why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?

And there was the answer. These days I revel in my creative process and, in the spirit of Chuck Close, I just get to work.

 

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?

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.

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