Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Empty Bowls 2019

It's a lovely event, a fundraiser for services for homeless people.

Potters make and donate soup bowls, restaurants donate soup and bread. You go for lunch, choose a bowl to use and keep, donate money, have lunch, maybe hear some music. This year in San Diego, Empty Bowls is on May 11, 11-1 at the La Jolla United Methodist Church. Have a look at pictures from other years at facebook.com/EmptyBowlsSanDiego. 

I just looked,and enjoy recognizing bowls I've made. I've been donating since perhaps my second year of making pots. I like it.

Monday, March 25, 2019

And, the Rolando Street Fair

I'll be there, Sunday 3/31.

It's 10-6, on Rolando Blvd., just south of El Cajon Blvd.  This is one of those events where I suspect you are required to walk your dog, in order to be admitted. Perhaps you can sneak in without a dog.

And just for the pleasure of spring yesterday...

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What if I Don't Like It?

Taste is fascinating, so variable, so personal, so strong.

I run into this variety in every craft show. It is easy to see favorite colors in people's clothing, and in the pots they choose, but everything else comes as a surprise.

I've thought I am not an artist because so much art does not attract or interest me. I do think I am a potter; but so much pottery does not attract me. The latest Ceramics Monthly magazine forces me to face this.
Do I like this pitcher? Yes,and I'm surprised. Usually my taste runs to simple surfaces, with one or two interesting variable or runny glazes. This is what I'd usually call overloaded, but I find it intriguing, friendly, attractive.

Let's look at others.

The magazine always includes several pages of ceramic pieces from exhibitions. No. I am moderately interested in the top row, but that's all.

Clearly these are expert work, and intended to express whatever the artist has to say. But I don't even look, except for wondering about the carving on the mugs. Overload to me.

Does the expertise matter? Certainly to creating what one has in mind. For me to like it, I'm not sure. I've seen beautiful beginner work. And what I suspect is my best piece ever is not very competent technically.

 It is interesting, graceful, to me attractive.

Definitely, I am attracted to functional pots, not so much to sculpture.

Oh, wow, look at this work by Inge Vincents. Call it sculpture, and it is equally wonderful. Needn't be practical, though these are all usable pots. Simplicity, delicacy, marvelous form.

Ah, that is why I am not so taken with these.

They are chunky and the glaze is a flat color.

 I think I have a narrow taste. Is that OK? I suppose so. If it does any harm, it is only that I do not appreciate a lot that gives other people pleasure and excitement.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Christmas in February!

So much fun to open the kiln on a new batch of finished pots! It's like unwrapping a batch of Christmas presents,  a lot at once, partly expected, full of surprises. Perhaps like Christmas presents, there are delights, disappointments, and surprises.

Here is this morning's set of gifts.

The top layer, revealed as the lid of the cooled kiln comes up.

Yes, like kids at Christmas, you wait for the kiln to cool, before putting hands on pots. At cone 5, the temperature I use for glaze firing, the inside of the kiln is at about 2200 degrees when it shuts off. I wait!

And then, unload. The second layer down:

And, since it's a small kiln, the bottom shelf this morning. The pots were still pleasantly warm,like toast.  Mmmm.

Then you give everything a close look. A few wonderful gifts, which came out well.

Even better than I expected. I'll repeat that.


I like these. But yes, they touched slightly in the kiln. Oops. Fixable.

A number of OK but not thrilling pots.

And a few real bloopers.

Ew, look close.

That bubbled everywhere. Wish I could just exchange it for another size.

Overall, this is a rewarding load. Compare the pots I brought last week from a cone 10 reduction firing at a community studio.

The blue is a reflection. It's broooown. They're all brown.



On the other hand, two people have told me they like the glaze on this set of soup bowls. What do they see that I don't see? They liked the metallic sheen. I see ohata glaze, dull brown because I applied it too thin. As always, I need to look at these pots for several days, before I let go of my expectations and see what is there.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Landscape Pottery

In the latest Ceramics Monthly, the cover article shows Sue Scobie's astonishing pots and describes her work.

 "I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors. Rock climbing and camping, hiking, or rambling around in Australia and New Zealand take you to some places that leave lasting memories, not just of the physical environment, but also of the weather, wildlife, and shifting light. Some locations hold traces of previous human habitation, which add another layer to the resonance of the place.
  With my work, I try to capture a feeling of the places I have been, and hope that they encourage    people to stop, look, and appreciate what is out there." (p 42)

To me, these pots look like the ground, the geology of a place, to the extent that they reference place. I'm surprised at her choices; she trained as a botanist, and I'd expect her landscapes to include life, maybe to be green and patterned. In deserts the geology shows like this, but in New Zealand?

I find them wonderful pots. I respond to the pictures, would love to handle them. I've made a few unglazed pots, some with mixed clays, but so conservative by comparison. Hers are a challenge.

And they are a technical marvel. She mixes different clays, stoneware and porcelain, and "local materials". This is not supposed to hold together, as different earths, even if they are all clays, shrink different amounts in firing, and the pots fall apart. "I can have big losses due to cracking along the joints between the different types of clay. Sometimes a piece warps to an unacceptable level... On a really bad run, I can lose 80% of a kiln load, but if all goes well, I lose none." Imagine the patience, and the devotion to his vision, that such risk of loss entails. I suspect I'd just do something else.

Her pots remind me of Jennifer Lee's, (jenniferlee.co.uk) which I also love.

Sue Scobie's are wilder. are wilder.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Live Tradition -- Creole Clay

I've been reading Creole Clay, by Patricia J. Fay, about functional pottery made in the Caribbean.

There's an active, live tradition, with people making practical pots, mostly for local markets, to make a living. It seems miraculous that such a practice remains real in the modern world. No, it's not the only one, but each such tradition is a holdout, a bit of the pre-industrial world still functioning now. Like the few tribal peoples with whole traditional cultures, this is a marvel and a glimpse of something rare that was once the usual.

American potter Patricia Fay has been living and visiting with potters in Santa Lucia since 1994. The book was published in 2017. So far I have only read the Santa Lucia part of her book. Pots for home use: cooking vessels, dishes, basins, flowerpots, water jars, candle lanterns, and clay cooking stoves (coalpots) are handbuilt by women at home, to meet orders from market sellers and as samples for other markets.

I'm amazed there is a large enough local market to support the level of production. Some of the market is shrinking  --  dishes are rarely sold any more, as people buy commercially made ones. Some is expanding, as the potters connect to the tourist trade in souvenirs and hospitality industry products. Still,  it works largely as it did traditionally, a domestic market for disposable domestic pots. "the local market continues to support the annual sale of thousands of traditional pottery forms, as well as those clay products adapted and redesigned for foreign visitors. In nearly every house on the island, you'll find a coalpot or two around the back, and a line of flowerpots along the front porch." (p.67)

This is production pottery, like preindustrial workshops, factories without machinery. The ware is standard in design and process, made efficiently, unsigned. New potters are mostly the relatives of current potters, learning at home by helping.

 And it is an old process, handbuilt earthenware, fired in bonfires, unglazed.

The pottery production is done at home, part of family life. "The working day... generally runs from about nine in the morning to three or four in the afternoon, with a midday break for cooking, eating and feeding the family. This is the time dedicated to actually making the pots, as opposed to preparing clay, collecting wood and water, or any of the other related tasks." (p.75)

At the same time it is a grand mix of pottery traditions, as the Caribbean is historically a crossroads of ways of life.The local Caribs were potters before Columbus showed up, the incoming Europeans made pottery, the imported west African slaves made pottery at home. Fay traces the shape of the stoves, coalpots, to ancient Greece.

 I'm stuck between the good and bad aspects of continuing traditions like this. It seems wonderful, for those of us who value the craft, that people carry on old knowledge and skill, that we can see it happening, and that the potters and the tradition are respected. But it's a very hard life, hard physical work. These potters and their families dig, haul, clean, and hand mix their clay. They coil large pots on boards set on their knees for years. They tend bonfires in the tropics. They carry heavy loads of heavy pots. Yes, they get arthritis.

In Croatia, a few years ago, I found very few studio potters, and heard the explanation that they still remember, and do not value, old ladies in villages hand making pots. They found it all embarrassing, old-fashioned, peasant like. A recently lost tradition, unwanted by people who choose to be modern and forward-looking. In the Caribbean there is a growing studio pottery movement, and wider introduction of kilns and glazes to traditional potters, but no loss of respect for the old way. Sounds great.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Your Messes Always Turn Out Nice"

I heard this compliment (?) from a potting friend. Moi? Do I make messes?

Yes, actually. I rarely finish a throwing session (the wet part of making pots) without being covered in muddy clay.

 And are the pots messes? Well, yes. There are standard steps in making pots, and I have to add two: sanding sloppy bits of dried clay off my dry pots before firing them, and then washing off the sanding dust before glazing. That's because I forget to wash my hands clean as I trim my pottery.

Why do I make messes? Is it necessary to make messes in the process of making pottery? It is not a neat process. We start with wet clay, wet it more and shape an amorphous material into a chosen form. As the clay spins on the wheel, it must slide freely between the potter's hands, so it has to be wet. Potting is playing in the mud, no doubt. Still, there are potters much neater than I am.

Some of it is simply a fit for personality. I like the material, in its malleability, its openness to become anything, to express the movement of hands. I rarely appreciate precision. Once I laughed when an interior design teacher complimented a student by saying she is detail-oriented. It hadn't occurred to me that might be a good thing.

Precisely shaped and finished pots can be wonderful, like Ellen Fager's

or Merle Lambeth's.

I do like neatly finished pots, but would rather make loose forms that look grown, like this,

rather than constructed. I keep making leaf plates and want them to seem as though they just fell from the tree.

Messes with good outcomes sound just right.