Friday, January 29, 2016

Pottery is Popular

I recently was given an article from the New York Times, last December 17th, "The Budding Ceramics-to-Table Movement". I keep finding it strange.

What is newly popular seems to be not individual pieces  --  artwork. Nor industrial products. Rather the in-between, what we call production pottery. This might be a batch of related dishes to supply a restaurant, or a line of vases that a gift shop could reorder and match. This is real craft work, like mass production before machine-made work. But dishes, yes, for daily use.

Certainly this is not a new kind of pottery nor production. Nor is it new for potters to try to make a living at the craft. It's just newly "in" for some people. To me, there is something odd about that, pottery being such a deeply rooted, ancient craft. But why not? Certain styles of pots have been "in" before. For some of the crazier versions of that, check out Edmund de Waal's The White Road.

And the article describes ceramics as the"craft du jour." That's a warning; it's a fad. It doesn't mean that we will all be commercial successes as potters from now on. But some of us will be, are now and perhaps can continue. A fad market grows fast, shrinks fast, and has a short bloom. What good is it? Besides temporary but bigger possibilities to earn money selling pots and lessons, it provides great exposure to something that is, sorry folks, a very niche interest. If lots of people, however faddish, see handmade pottery or try to make pots, some will continue to care and stick with the craft, as makers or buyers or admirers. All welcome. 

Two more odd aspects of this fad. The article quotes people reporting it (from Vogue, for example), as discovering more and more potters, as if we are appearing suddenly. No, the world is full of us, and has been full of spectacularly good makers of wonderful pots. Yes, some are artists and would not have the interest or patience or facilities or management skill to produce lines of work.

And, of course, dishes are tied to food. Should we have been able to predict that a widespread interest in craft food, and in locally sourced food, would expand to an interest in craft, and locally or identifiably sourced dishes? In retrospect, yes, but who knew it would be now? Craft people have long touted craft production as a stand against the sameness, machine-orientation, and excessive amount of industrial products. Robert Sullivan, from Vogue is quoted in  this article: "ceramics are popular now because they are "among the most obviously and literally handmade things.""

But why this year?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Does it Take to Make a Good Pitcher?

Over the years I've been potting, I've made a large collection of clumsy pitchers. That's not hard. Making a good one, on the other hand... What I'd like is to make pitchers that functin well, for holding, carrying, pouring, and that are elegant as well. Setting out to improve, I'm using Lark Books' 500 Pitchers as a text. It's a 10 year old book, but new to me, and inspiring.

The clumsy ones:

It works, but. Rather shapeless, neither round nor tall. The handle actually works better set low like this one, than in many more usual positions, but doesn't look good. There are tradeoffs to be made, between function and looks here.

Oof, it's heavy, the neck makes no visual sense, the handle goes too far from the body of the pot for good balance in pouring, the spout leans out too far for it to look balanced.

Better. The spout is still out of proportion, the handle visually too big.

This one works, but looks like a mix of unrelated parts. So that's needed too  --all the parts relate, in shape and proportion. If it were taller, I think it would look better. There are lovely round pitchers, but I think they are usually more successful long and lean.

Much better, except for a tippy picture. Look at it with the table edge horizontal. (Can't fix it, the pitcher is long since sold. ) It's the long neck that makes it work.

But this one doesn't. Not a clearly defined neck. Not a clearly defined shape. It functions well.

Ah, yes, here we go. Perhaps the handle is still too wide, the balance is a bit off.

This version looks less good, I think, but works better.  That handle still is far from the pot. I'm not at all clear why it functions better. This is a hard question to answer: what does it take to make a good pitcher?

Here are the ones I'm trying now. Most pitchers that look good to me, in  500 Pitchers, have handles that come off the rim. I'm not sure that works, but we'll see.

This is by far the best proprtioned round one I've made.

 There's a wonderful old-fashioned shape called a Rebecca pitcher, with a handle that swings way up above the pot. I wonder how that balances.

Conclusions? First: it's hard. Second, there aren't as many parts as a teapot has, but pitchers have the same aesthetic problem: how he parts relate to make a unified whole. Third, handles are a problem, with visual success pretty different from functional success. Fourth? More learning to come, for sure. This is fun.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Working Outdoors

Surely most potters have worked outdoors, in the 12000 years people have been making pottery. Not now, though I do. My "studio" is the backyard. I live in a warm, dry climate; why not?

Here's the view from my wheel, in winter position, i.e., in the sun.

And the studio ceiling

Nice, isn't it? Lovely, actually. Many activities we usually do indoors seem to have an extra joy when moved outdoors. I love making pots in the yard, despite leaves, sticks and seeds in the clay or glaze.

But it gets cold, and is inefficient. Run an extension cord from the house, cover the wheel with a tarp between uses. And with the wheel in the sunny spot, my tables are across the yard, the water bucket is in the way, the storeroom is around the corner of the house and up steps.

Worth it though. Now we've got a wet winter predicted. Can't make this work in the rain. What will I do for the next few months?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Meeting Failure

Wow, what a mess. I made yarn bowls for an order, in my favorite and often just fine glaze. Picked them up last week and found this.

They've got measles, badly.

When the glaze comes out well, it's like this, wonderful.

I'm much struck by my reaction and what it says. I took a look at the diseased bowls and stood around for maybe 20 minutes in real shock and horror. Then I went for information, asked others who use this glaze, checked other pots in this kiln load with similar clays and the same glaze. Yes, those came out ok. What in the world did I do wrong? Other people casually said, yes this glaze tends to bubble; but it hasn't for me. Certainly I've never seen such a severe case. I found it hard even to look at the pots.

This is an order for 2 big yarn bowls, to hold 2 balls of yarn each. I made 4, so some would be ok, even though problems happen. That's a lot of material, work and kiln space. The buyer was in no rush, but I hurried, wanting them available before the studio closed for Christmas break, and then took maybe several weeks to glaze fire again.

After some time, I found a way forward, thought what I could offer the buyer. That made it less horrible, though still difficult to pack the pots and to show them to my husband. I found them actually repulsive.

What an over-reaction! What's that about?

I think of several things:

I very much identify with my pots, care about them, judge them and myself though them. Failure is quite normal though. I make mistakes, pots for the "seconds", pots for the trash, regularly.  Until now I've only been disappointed. I think of artists who cannot bear to let their artistic children go to someone else. Not me, but the pots are me, somewhat.

There's pressure in an order, making something to meet someone else's idea and wish. I have been nervous over orders before, though fine with offering pots at sales for other people to consider and choose. Expectations make it hard. In this case, the buyer is perfectly comfortable with my trying again, taking however long it takes to succeed. Definitely this is pressure I invent for myself, not her doing.

It's worse that this particular glaze failed so thoroughly. I love it, think I have learned to handle its quirks. Ouch. It even feels like a betrayal by my friend. 

I felt quite a bit better once I saw options to offer my buyer, regained some control of the mess. So there's a control issue in it.

The buyer rescued me from all this, by seeing some good in them, by wanting to take 2 bowls anyway, by asking for another try, and not seeming shocked at all. Rescue, really? I think so. Thanks Cherie.

My reactions seem extreme, out of line with the small significance of the failure. I'm too invested in what I make, perhaps. On the other hand, who wants to live cool and objective and uncaring about what you do? It seems right to be passionately involved in what we are involved in. Even as we acknowledge that the work may not really have any importance, it matters to live thoroughly in our own lives. I just got a bit unbalanced here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Potters are Everywhere!

Eek! They're coming in the window!

Well no, but there are lots of us, and in places I don't think to look. A month ago, I was in Alpine, Texas, a fairly isolated small town in very empty west Texas. It has a small university, other towns within 20, 25, 50 miles, and an inordinate number of art galleries. Together with Marfa, 25 miles away, it is an art center. And the local potters are fine.

I met mostly with Gregory Tegarden, art professor at Sul Ross State University there; he said he loves being there. The local artists write a lot about a passion for the Big Bend country, and its influence on their work. One of the students I met was full of excitement about a really marvelous glaze variant he had created, substituting local (their standards: 80 miles away) clay he had dug, for a usual ingredient. They know their area, and are grounded there.

Gregory Tegarden is half the art department, teaches all the 3--dimensional art classes, but basically he is a potter. They have a big, well-equipped, lively studio with serious students. So of course I bought one of his cups, with the chance to pick around the university studio and choose one. This one came off  the top of a kiln, a left-over I think from a sale. Pretty fabulous leftover.

It feels great in the hand, round but interesting in texture. The shape is one I always like, and the textured decoration makes 3 varied sides. Who'd have thought you can wave the rim of a cup,  and have it work? It does!

 I'm particularly struck by a quality I don't often reach, a confident hand, visible in the cup.

A good artist/craftsman, and not at all isolated. The world is big, and even full of us!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"The Beautiful One"

My daughter and I were looking at a case full of pottery in a Navajo crafts store. "Ooh, look at that one!" I said. "Which one?" she asked. "I said "the beautiful one!" She looked at me doubtfully. The saleslady stood behind us, with an odd smile on her face. I think she's heard it all.

For me, one pot in that case was clearly the beautiful one. It jumped out of the background, into my attention and admiration. For my daughter, it was not different from the others. For the saleslady?

I was at the San Diego Potters Guild show this morning. Such variety of work, all with technical skill and in one medium and place and time. Some were wonderful, some I found ordinary or uninteresting, some I actively disliked.

When I sell my pots at a craft sale, I find particularly discouraging the people whose eyes slide over all I'm offering and snag on nothing.

What makes a piece jump out as the beautiful one? Why is that effect so different for each of us? Why don't you see what I see?

Unanswerable questions, for me at least and now.

I have a fairly good sense for my own taste in pottery, but often find I like something outside the ways I'd describe that taste. Here's a mug, right down the center of my preferences, by Roberta Klein.

Oh, her glazes!

And this small plate by Ellen Fager; I love the delicacy of the decoration, on a background that is strong and simple.

These questions are probably the same we could and do ask about people: what makes one person stand out from a crowd? Some affinity, some connection ...

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Need Christmas Presents?

If handmade pottery comes to mind, I'll be at craft sales the 3rd weekend in November:

Lindbergh-Schweitzer Elementary School in Clairemont, San Diego
November 21, 9-3. This is a friendly PTA fundraiser, lots of varied crafts, fairly low priced.

Talmadge Art Show, Liberty Station, San Diego
November 22, 10-4. Very classy crafts, some pottery and glass, lots of jewelry and beautiful clothes.