Monday, June 20, 2016

The Patience It Takes

I keep trying new forms, of course; there is no end to the possibilities of clay. Usually I feel fairly competent at making pots, have been doing it for a while now.

But every new thing requires more learning.

The idea comes from this cake stand, seen at a fund-raising party while I was in the kitchen, and from the enthusiasm of a collector of cake stands. Why can't I make some?

I've been trying. The first two, handbuilt from slabs of clay imprinted with wood patterns (fun idea, huh?) never held together, and are in the trash. This worked, sort of, but warped in the kiln.

Hmm, looks ok from the top. Anything with that overhang risks warping, so I'll make them at low-fire kiln temperatures, cone 05.

Ah, better.

But still a bit uneven.

OK, this is the general idea, but there are mysteries remaining. Another cake stand, drying flat, warped drastically while drying, and is recycled. Maybe the plates may stay flatter when made on a wheel, rather than as a slab? Not sure. And finding little advice online. Do you know how to do this?

Perhaps because the inspiring pot is so bright (yes, I should have gotten the hint there that it is low-fired), I am invited to glaze wilder than I generally think or choose. Fun. And a new direction.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Whole World is Pottery Tools!

Like every other field, ceramics has a whole collection of specialized tools and materials. But nearly every potter I know makes or finds more tools, and we find them everywhere.

Some of this is just an extension of the usual use of tools. I use a wood or metal file to shape fired clay, and an exacto-knife to cut leather hard clay precisely and neatly. 

But most of it is more imaginative than that. Of course old wet t-shirts wrap well around pieces of over-dry clay, and leave no fabric fibers.

But, polling people in a class I am taking, I learned of an elaborate  and effective process that involves a plastic bag, with water and the clay in it, closed by a cut-off plastic bottle top and cap, the whole submerged in water to press the water into the dry clay.

Ah, plastic bags. We have a whole technology of plastic bags for drying pots at a chosen rate: grocery bags to slow drying a little, vegetable bags to slow it more, and cleaners' bags to keep a pot wet indefinitely.

I've made trimming tools of various shapes from the metal straps that used to hold together pallet-loads of lumber at Home Depot. Now they use plastic straps. I have a lifetime supply of metal strapping, but what will you do?

We can buy throwing sticks, professionally made, to raise and shape pots with too narrow a neck to fit hands inside. In this class, people use wooden spoons, and I hunted out a perfectly shaped stick in the woods. 

The widest and wildest repurposing is in tools to add texture to clay. People who like texture develop an eye for possibilities, from the kitchen, the yard, and, oh, the 99 cent store. Doilies,

screen, graters, buttons, leaves,

 seed pods, textured rolling pins, lace and burlap, wrench sockets,

pens, silverware (use the back of forks, not the tine points, for a smooth line),


Everything small enough to be a hand tool serves as a pottery tool. And, of course, a cat toy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pottery Really Lasts!

I make pottery for the making, but it's worth noticing the frighteningly long history my pots have after that point. The stuff really lasts.

Once fired, clay pieces can break, but  are impervious to almost everything else. Highfired, glazed pieces, especially, are tough.

Because it is so variable, traditional, and lasting, archeologists use pottery for location and dating information, to identify peoples and eras, trade and migration. You can dig up pieces of pots in an archeological site, recognize the materials and style of the pots, and know that people at your site were in touch with the makers of those pots in some way.

There's an article in a recent Ceramics Monthly about a 9th century shipwreck, full, among other things, of marvelous Chinese ceramics on their way to the Middle East or Europe. Hard on the people involved; great for us, a nasty commonplace in archeology. Finds from the shipwreck shed new light on a lot of the East-West trade, and on Chinese ceramic production of the time.

Many of those pots are still whole, but their current value doesn't require that at all. For the information we can glean from them, broken pots are just as useful. For Edmund de Waal (The White Road),the ground outside Jingdezhen, China, full of broken porcelain bits, is almost sacred ground, a marvel. Jindezhen is where porcelain was perhaps invented for the first time, certainly where it was made in mind-numbing quantity 1000 years ago.

There's an extra responsibility in making something that lasts so long after it leaves my hand. As long as the pot is whole, it continues usable, for function, hand and eye. After that, it still continues, and maybe of some use.

So, what is my responsibility to this depth of time?

First, don't make junk.
Second, don't keep weak, flawed, badly designed pieces.
 I tend to keep, and offer for sale, "seconds", and some people prefer them as stronger evidence of hand work than more symmetrical or neater pieces. But should they be let out into the world to last forever?

Until pots are fired, the clay can be  recycled, and the pot is truly gone. After that, it's here. It seems important, now, the choice to put a piece into that first firing.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ehren Tool, take 2

Since I discovered Ehren Tool's work, I've been much moved by his always quoted comment: "Peace is the only adequate war memorial." Have we completely forgotten about that?

Finally I have a response, that does not make peace, but maybe carries on the conversation. I'm making cups with this statement on them, and giving them away, copying Tool. Want one?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

And the Talmadge Art Show

And I'll be at the Talmadge Art Show  on May 1, 10-4. It's held at the Liberty Station Conference Center in central, coastal San Diego. One of my favorite shows. There's all kinds of lovely stuff to look at. From my perspective that means: set up early so I have time to look at everyone else's work before I need to stay at my booth. A fun day.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

This year's Rolando Street Fair, yes

 I'll be at the Rolando Street Fair, March 20, 10-6. It's on Rolando Blvd, San Diego, fairly near San Diego State. A fun and friendly neighborhood street fair. New pots? Yes, of course.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Ehren Tool, Potter and Marine

He was a Marine, in our first adventure in Iraq. Now, he says, "I just make cups." They are commemorative cups, discussion cups. He started making them for veterans, with images (stamps, decals) from the wars in Iraq, then elsewhere. Then he started making them for individuals, with images they chose, of their weapons, decorations, friends... Now he makes them with people.  And gives them all away. He's had exhibits, lectures, group discussions, hoping to start talk about the experiences and costs of war.

I discovered him in a very moving segment of the Craft in America TV series. It's from 2014, "Service". What grabbed me most was one sentence: "peace is the only adequate war memorial." Of course. Plus something to acknowledge the individuals who suffer.

And my response is to make and give cups with that sentence written on them. Let me know if you want one.

check him