Thursday, April 17, 2014

Empty Bowls 2014

This year's Empty Bowls fundraising for TACO is May 10, 11-1, at United Methodist Church, 6063 La Jolla Blvd. in La Jolla.

This is a world-wide, annual lovely fundraiser for organizations serving homeless people. Potters make bowls to donate, restaurants provide soup and bread, sometimes performers donate their shows. You can come, choose a bowl, fill it for lunch, make a donation, keep your bowl. I hear it started with a high school ceramics program in Michigan somewhere.

For more details, check

So far my bowls look like this

Work to do!

Friday, April 4, 2014

I'm Waiting for It to Move

Who could know? The best fun I had at the Rolando Street Fair on Sunday was hearing reactions to the "fish" in my garden bowls--bird baths--patio ponds. I had one bowl on the street in front of my table of pots, with water in it. I've been making these for awhile.

Here's an early one, with a few ripples on the bottom.

Then I started adding a fish; why not have one in your bird bath?

Then I find that wonderful things happen when other people see them. On Sunday, both a mature woman and a little boy informed me with confidence that the one in the next bowl is an alligator. Several other children knew it is an eel. And a serious teenager squatted next to the bowl on the street, watched a considerable while, and told me he was waiting for it to move.

I like making pots. But I think I like touching imagination even more.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At the Rolando Street Fair, with New Pots

Hello I'll be at the Rolando Street Fair on March 30. That's on Rolando Ave, 1 block south of El Cajon Blvd, slightly east of SDSU. It runs 10-6, whatever weather. And I'll bring new pots.

Here are a few:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Makes a Good Pot?

A good pot has to have several qualities. I'm thinking here of functional ceramics, where use is probably primary for the person who chooses to own the pot. The basics first.

Structure: a good pot is well made.

That means reliably strong enough, not like this one

That was meant to be a pitcher. I picked it up by the handle after the first firing (not a good idea anyway, I learn, but usually ok).

And the bottom compressed enough and kept dry enough in the making, not like this one.

If it's meant to sit steady on a surface or hang flat, it does that.

Then function:

It should be the right size for the intended use. A picture won't show how big this pitcher is, but it's very different if it is to hold lemonade for six or a bit of cream for coffee.

A good pot should be stable in use. I generally like pots light in weight. A full teapot, pitcher or big mug will be heavy enough when it is picked up. Vases, though, might be better somewhat bottom heavy, as flowers are top heavy and arrangements can spread.

And then, ergonomic quality, so the pot works well with the holder's body and movements. It's about form, balance, size of the parts you come into contact with (like the handle fitting a hand). Enough about this in the past 2 posts.

And aesthetic quality. If pottery is an art, it's usually a visual art. A good pot looks good.

Here are some that inspire me.
Both pictures are, I think, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. So there are museum-quality looks.

Maybe you don't see these pots as wonderful. Taste makes so much difference. Here's a pot I made in a class, and dislike intensely.

It's reasonably cute, ok. Not really a pleasant glowing brown, rather a muddy khaki. I took the elephant home to photograph before throwng it out. A visiting friend claimed it immediately, and, several years later, still enjoys it.

At a recent sale, my pots were given a compliment "nice earthy colors and refinement." That I do like. I hope she was talking about this sort of pot

But I make vases for a florist who knows exactly what he wants, what he describes as contemporary, like these vases.

So are these the necessary kinds of quality: structural, functional, ergonomic, aesthetic? They fit. Are there others? I don't know. Each one certainly has a lot of parts. And I remember an old book by Richard (maybe) Bennett, called Spaces for People. He adjusted Maslow's psychological Hierarchy of Needs to buildings, which he says, need to provide good safety, function, comfort and aesthetics. That made sense to me, and actually works for the tiny buildings we call pots. 

How about the order? Following Maslow, he meant the list of needs to be in order, from the most important and basic to the least important. My design students never liked that, of course. And surely they are interactive. For example, a substantial lip on a cup makes it sturdier, a structural quality, and comfortable for the drinker's lip, an aspect of function. Is one of those more important? I prefer "all of the above" as the requirement for quality.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Living by Your Hands, Part 2

I've just finished reading one of Edmund de Waal's books, The Hare with Amber Eyes. De Waal is a major contemporary potter; check him out; He has been a potter since childhood, and has written several books on pottery. This one is a sort of family memoir. No, not memoir, rather a search for his family history, built on a search for some history for a collection of netsuke he inherited. Netsuke are a kind of traditional Japanese fastener, small clever carvings. It's a wonderful book, personal, thoughtful, expansive, and, basically very sad, I think.

What struck me in the book, for purposes of this blog on pot-making, is his emphasis on touch, his extraordinary sensitivity to all things tactile, the way he lives through his hands. The netsuke are objects to handle, with "passionate touch, discovery in the hands, things enveloped lovingly..."

The best I can say here is simply to quote what he writes about handling and touching and making objects, and about his understanding from experience by touch.

"I spent the first twenty years of my life as a potter earnestly trying to get objects out of the glass cases in which my pots were placed in galleries and museums...'Out of the drawing room and into the kitchen!' I wrote in a sort of manifesto...But the vitrine   --  as opposed to the museum's case  --  is for opening. and that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric."

"Everything in this place, I realize, is very shiny. There is nothing to grip onto with these marbled surfaces. Its lack of tactility makes me panic: I run my hands along the walls and they feel slightly clammy."

"'Don't you think those netsuke should stay in Japan?' said a stern neighbour (yes, he's British) of mine...No, I answer. Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters.
     It is the counterpart of the question that I am often asked: 'Don't you hate to see things leave your studio? Well, no, I don't hate it.I make my living from letting things go. You just hope, if you make things as I do, that they can make their way in the world and have some longevity."

I think relatively few people are so touch-oriented. Here is what that is like.

And I grew up with an aim not to be materialistic, and so devaluing the material. His perspective is very different; he focuses on objects, with great respect and care. It is certainly no crass materialism, and not in opposition to more intellectual or spiritual values. And I make pots, and value them, and have felt somewhat uneasy with the contradiction I felt.  So I read this book partly appreciating the invitation to say more "yes!", to include more in what is valuable.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Pot in the Hand is Worth Two on the Shelf

That's a quote from Mark Hewitt, in Kevin Hluch's lovely book: The Art of Contemporary American Pottery. I love it. So true.

When I sell my pottery at craft shows, I so often see people looking at the pots with hands firmly behind their backs or arms crossed. And I always say "please handle."  I think you only know if you really like a pot by testing it with your hands. It's about feel at least as much as sight. So pictures in a blog or online shop lack something important. It's the body connection, and pottery is very bodily. All about hands, especially, in liking and in making. This is so for handmade pots, but also for appreciating industrial products, why not? You live with them in your hands, unless they are just for diaplay.

It's a hand skill, though we make pots with mind, eyes, arms, torso as well. From, Hluch: "the experienced potter's gestures are fluid, sure, economical  --  almost nonchalent" and the pots show it. I see the ease and sureness in making and like it, even in pots very much not to my taste. Throwing pots on a wheel is actually playing in the mud, bodily immersion in material.

The finished pots show the marks of the making hands; the horizontal grooves in this jar are effects of throwing. (That's lifting and shaping the clay on a potting wheel.) Usually I choose smooth surfaces and trim off this sort of thing. Here I like it.

We talk about pots in terms of body parts.

This pitcher has a foot, a belly, a neck, a mouth, a lip, almost as much as you do.

These have shoulders, rather than bellies.

Hluch suggests that though we never say it,
it is erotic to throw pots. Could be; certainly it's bodily and sensual, especially when we're working with people-colored clays.

"The link between the hands of the maker and the hands of the user" (Charity Davis-Woodward, quoted in Hluch)  -- that's it, and it's an intimacy, even if I do not know the users of my pots in any other way.

If I do, so much the better. It adds a dimension to a relationship. It also, maybe unfortunately, keeps me judging the quality of the pots  -- because this is the quality that matters most.

Oops, the handle isn't right, the balance is way off.

Here's a commercial teapot, good balance, but the handle is a bit odd in the hand. You really have to grab it.

The plate is by Ellen Fager. Good looks, good feel.

Thanks Will.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Calla Lily Vases: Developing the Form

I like where I've arrived. Of course, I did earlier too. Every improvement feels great. I suppose there are many more to go, in everything that can develop. Here's the story of one development.:

I've liked the form of calla lilies, a graceful, loose, wavy curve. Thought several years ago I'd try to make vases in a similar shape.

OK. Rather clumsy, and a flared shape isn't good for many kinds of flower arrangements  -- they flop.

Sometime later, in a class I learned this idea. Thank you again, Reiko Campbell.

Interesting. How to make it better?

I like the looseness of both of these early ones, the curves, the cut top. Not the stems I didn't attach well enough. They broke, immediately. And the shape of the pot? Eh. And the proportions? Something very wrong.

Next try:

 Ah, better with a flared base for stability. Stability is a big issue for vases. Bouquets are so often top heavy, and cantilevered arrangements are tempting. The vase needs to stand up under all sorts of inspiration.

 But stiff and a bit dull.Try this:

Much better with a looser shape. I like the emphasis on the flowers. Thought I'd try to make them realistic.


 Not enough control. Forget it. Better like I did it before, just something in the glaze that marks the flowers as a bit different from the body of the vase. Note: development is not, nothing like, a straight line of progress.
 So what shapes really work to make something that holds flower stems close together, is stable, and looks graceful and organic? These seem more successful.

I started adding a leaf, as the vases got bigger.

 But get rid of those horizontal throwing rings. They fight with the general vertical form. Here are the current best, and a new glazing idea that I like. Wonder what's next...