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.

 

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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Recycling and repurposing clay

When throwing on the wheel, there tends to be ongoing maintenance due to the extra clay scrap and slop that is produced. Without a pug mill or a mixer, I’ve tried a variety of ways to repurpose the scrap clay.

The process I now use is to pile the wet clay and slop onto a plaster bat and then sandwich another plaster bat on top. When the clay has set up a bit, I wedge it up and roll it out into a slab. Then I create a series of somewhat rectangular but loosely organic shapes, and use my drawerful of stamps to create different patterns on the surface. Lastly, I punch a hole through one end of the shape for hanging.

After bisque firing the slabs, I use matt glazes to finish the surface of each one. When the glaze firing is complete, I tie string or use leather strips for hanging.

Most of the pieces are sized for small wall hangings, the longest being about 8 to 10 inches. However recently, I’ve started to make small pendant-sized pieces and use jewelry clasps at the end of the cording.

The potter’s soiree

If a soirée is an elegant evening gathering , is it posible to have a wheel throwing soirée? Well, that’s what I called those eclectic gatherings of multigenerational socials held for the purpose of getting hands muddy and making art.

During the first soirée, each guest had a chance to try their hand at making art from the earth. Each person took turns donning an apron and sitting at the wheel, taking minimal instruction and finding their way to the form that suited them. To the delight of the guests, many wheel thrown pots were made that first evening. As the summer progressed, they returned to glaze their ware at the next or other soirée. We had a lot of fun with great conversations at each of those gatherings.

The idea of inviting friends and relatives into my studio – or any artist studio for that matter – isn’t some brainchild of mine; the open studio (day or concept) has been around for a long time. What I like about having guests in my studio is infusing working isolation with some social interaction.  My studio tends toward an environment of working isolation, if you don’t count the dogs, so having the occasional guest or guests brings an energy to the space that lasts for a while after they’ve left, and I kinda like that energy.

So, now my studio has the traditional working areas alongside a conversational area for studio guests. It’s a nice balance.

 

Clay mix-up

It’s not the first time I’d ordered something that I didn’t intend to purchase, but this time it would have been 250lbs. of something I didn’t want or need.

The purpose of the call was routine, to schedule delivery of the 500 lbs. of clay I had ordered. The representative on the phone asked if I really intended to buy dry clay mix instead of wet clay. No! I replied and thanked her profusely for her interception; the time and energy she had just saved me with one simple question was golden. Customer service counts.

This experience should teach me to pay attention to the details, but there’s a lot of things I should do.

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Setting up a home studio

A friend of my niece is going to set up a pottery studio in his new house and was asking what he would need to get started.

My work area has evolved since the beginning, so I thought about the basic components I gathered when I first set up my potter’s studio.

Besides a good potter’s wheel, having access to electric, adequate lighting and ventilation, and easy-to-clean flooring /horizontal surfaces are a must.

Speaking of clean, easy access to water, a bunch of hand towels, a good apron, sponges, and a scraper are working and cleaning essentials.

Storing work and ware makes bags for storing unfinished projects; crates and shelves for carrying and storing bats and ware; and vessels to stow tools an organizational necessity.

A wire cutting tool, ribs, sponges, a needle tool, and trimming tools serve as the very basic throwing tools.

A yard of heavy canvas, a rolling pin, a fettling knife, an old kitchen spoon and fork, and a slip container can be the basic hand-building tools.

As far as glazing brushes go, I used 1″ and .5″ hardware store utility bushes for the first couple of years.

Helping a young child to throw on the wheel

It can be daunting working on the potter’s wheel when you have tiny hands. Little ones just don’t have the strength to center clay, even when the clay is soft. When I throw with my grandsons, I use a couple of techniques to help them center, drill a center hole, and raise the walls with relative ease – even with the 5 year-old.

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When centering it’s essential that the clay is already formed into a cone with relatively few lumps or bumps. The child places their wet hands over the clay and I just place my wet hands over top of their hands and voila! Centered clay.

When drilling the hole in the center we work together to figure out where the center is and then I make a slight depression in the clay for them. Then depending on the age they either use their thumb to drill the opening or we drill together if needed.

To open the floor we work together and hand-over-hand we draw the floor open.

To raise the wall again we use hand-over-hand, counting slowly as we raise the wall.