Monday, December 31, 2012

Not So Bad After All

Since the much lamented closing of the UCSD Crafts Center, I have been mourning it, deciding it is high time to learn mid-temperature oxidation firing (which I can do at home), buying clay and glazes for that temperature, and trying, with test pots. And so I discover what I suppose is the usual lesson: it's not so bad after all!

 I find I like being in control of the whole process, instead of sharing the firing under other people's management. I feel I know better what I am doing and choosing. I've found some wonderful new glazes and glaze combinations. Eventually, as I find my way, I expect I'll mix my own glazes.

 And I've made some decent pots in this way.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TheHoliday Hit List

I'm participating in the Holiday Hit List, a craft sale December 2, at Liberty Station.

Address: 2710 Historic Decatur; that's the corner of Decatur and Dewey. Take Dewey south off Rosecrans 2 blocks.

Time: noon to 6 pm. We're mostly inside, so rain or shine.

Here's my latest. It's a Christmas sale, I guess, but I'm still thinking fall.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Losing the UCSD Crafts Center

The Crafts Center closed suddenly during registration for fall classes this month. The funding was pulled, and we all sat stunned. I've learned to make pottery there, have been taking classes for almost 7 years.  Wow.

In some ways, it was well done. The Center is funded by UCSD student fees and by tuition for classes and studio membership. Prices rise, university budget falls, the students do not want to pay more in fees. In a poll of students' priorities for the use of their fees, the Craft Center came out low. And it is hard to argue that teaching crafts is so central to a university's work that they must find alternate funding.

But so suddenly? With no warning and no chance for all the people who love the place to work to fill the financial gap? And at this time, after course flyers were produced and distributed, and registration underway?

Individually, we who work there are forced to a decision point. This is not a bad thing  -- how do we see ourselves as craftspeople? what will we do next, since we will not do what we are used to? how much commitment will we make to finding resources to continue in our crafts? Some have already moved to other studios, decided to work alone at home, or quit. I feel kicked out of the nest, required to fly. I think it may be high time for that, good for me. I have been exploring the kind of mid-temperature firing I can do at home, but not with much energy. Until I find another shared studio, if I do, it will now be most of my potting..

But I am also mourning my losses, and finding more as the weeks continue after the Center closed. We scrambled to finish partly-done pots, feeling unwelcome in our home away from home. I have a few pots left  -- will I find another place to fire cone 10 reduction?  Whoa, I don't have access to a slab roller for making a kind of platter I have developed as mine. Like this one:

 Oops, no more glaze spraying, no more of these good effects:


 What about my favorite glazes? For some I have found lower temperature equivalents, but not for other wonderful ones, like this:

And the unpredictable runny and varying looks that high temperature firing produce; I love them.

But mostly, it's the company I miss, the colleagueship, the easy availability of answers to my questions, the shared familiarity with glazes and kilns, the friendliness, the shared history, the community.

For me, not a tragedy. I can continue at home, and I am not dependent on the Crafts Center for income. But it is real loss.

The university calls it only a temporary closure, though that seems unlikely without ongoing action from those who want to be there. A substantial group of  us are organizing to try to continue  --  to preserve equipment, raise funds, look for alternative homes in and out of UCSD, increase support among students.  I am impressed with the beginnings of this process; it seems thoughtful, careful, realistic, long-term. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Last Minute Plan -- Sale This Weekend

Just got an opportunity, so I'll be selling pots on Saturday, Sept. 29, at ArtLab, a peripheral sale to the Adams Avenue Street Fair. The address is 3536 Adams Avenue, San Diego. ArtLab booths will be in their back lot, through their building from the street. From 10 AM all day and evening. Come by!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Am I stealing?

What is a source of inspiration, a good thing? What is theft of someone else's idea, a bad thing?

This morning, an article in the LA Times, about a $1billion award to Apple, by the court that decided Samsung had copied 6 patented aspects of Apple products. That's an amount to get your attention, though probably not much for such huge enterprises.

No one copyrights pottery that I know about. Some people keep glaze recipes private, but hundreds (thousands?) of recipes are published and shared.

What about forms? Decorative designs? Years ago, I taught in an interior design school. Students there were encouraged to look through publications of designed spaces, furniture, fabrics, etc., to keep collections of things that attracted them, and to use these in their designs. And there was ongoing, unfinished discussion of the ethical limits of using these materials: when does it become copying, theft? This seems a common issue in all design fields; may jewelers copy elements of others' jewelry?

In writing, this question has clear answers. Standards have been developed for quoting appropriately, and everything else is plagiarism, theft.

What about ceramics? We don't seem to have answers agreed on in the field, or very clear answers at all. When techniques are taught or explained in publications, it seems to me fine to use them. When recipes are shared  personally or in publications, I assume I may use them. Some people say: copy anything; there are no really new ideas in a 10,000 year-old craft, with traditions world-wide. Perhaps this is so, especially in functional pottery, which is what most of the traditions include. But surely artistic pottery, sculpture in clay, is full of invention, and the artists own and deserve to own their creative work.

Here is a case to consider:

I saw this pitcher on the kitchen windowsill, at a friend's house where we had dinner last week. I like the shape immensely, the proportions, the raised lip, the graceful handle, the flow of the whole thing. I borrowed the pitcher to try making something similar.

I've made several; this one came closest in form to the model. It is not as good, a bit squat, with a less smooth curve in the handle and a fatter spout. I think I like my base better.

It's unfired so far.  I am no painter, and have no intention of trying to match the original color or design. When I finish it, it will look quite different from the original, as well as being a different size. I'm thinking now of glazing it somewhat like this one:

So, am I stealing  from some potter whose signature I cannot read on the base of the borrowed pitcher? I am trying to copy the form, mostly. The result will look different, certainly. This is the other position I've heard from potters: go ahead and copy, yours will come out different anyway.

I think I may ethically make pitchers in this shape, keep and use one, give one to the friend who owns the model, along with hers. But may I sell them, as mine? I don't know.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Next Sale

Hello. Come find me, if you like, at

Christmas in April, at the Old Mission Montessori School in Oceanside.

It's July 14 and 15, 9-5 each day.

The address: 4050 Mission Ave., Oceanside, 92057. Yes, California.

I'll be at booth 152, on the southwest side of things.

The fair website:

Sounds like a good summer weekend.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ouch! Failures and other mysteries

I  --  we  -- like to show the good pots, the successful results. For me, at least, there are plenty of mistakes along the way. Some mistakes come in the process of learning something new. Some come from pure stubborn insistence on doing something that doesn't work. Some, who knows?

So here are some of my recent failures.

I'm learning about cone 5-6 firing, messing up as I go. For the non-potters among you, this is an intermediate temperature to fire glazes onto pots, requiring clays and glazes that fit this temperature. I'm using commercial glazes still at this temperature, some from very old batches given to me by a friend who hasn't used them in years.

That's a commercial clear glaze, and yes it says to fire at cone 6. I fired this kiln load cone 5, about 50 degrees cooler, never imagined it would make a significant difference. It does, full of bubbles.  Refired at cone 6, on these pieces, the glaze is much better..

Here's an old glaze, bubbled, cratered, and ugly. Not much improved by refiring.

Oh, and you can only use stilts at low temperature firing I guess. I tried to hold this lid above the kiln shelf with a stilt, sunk so thoroughly into the otherwise lovely cone 6 glaze that it is still and forever there.

When the pot is thin (a success, for me) and you put a second layer of glaze on before the first is completely dry, the glaze saturates the pot and

runs off in the firing. I try to consider it tuition, for the lesson.

Porcelain clay and sharp corners are a problem combination. Yes, it works sometimes, don't know what makes the difference.

And when you refire to try to fix glaze mistakes, sometimes it works. Sometimes, the clay (B mix especially, I learn) bloats in spots.

Didn't fix the bubbling, either.

Often I have no idea why problems show up. Why did this warp, when many similar sponge holders came out fine?

Or these bowls, the same glaze on same clay, the lighter yellow on the top kiln shelf, the darker on the next 1/2 shelf down. How much difference can there be in temperature or air flow?

Is there anything better than whining here?

Learning, clearly, which costs failure, among other things.

At times, a good discovery. I like those 2 yellow glaze effects, and perhaps can discover how to get both results reliably.

I usually choose to make smooth surfaces. Textures often result from a bumped pot or a slip with a trimming tool, that ruin the pot unless I can turn the mistake into something decorative. Here's one that worked.

There's an old technique from creativity trainer Edward de Bono, which he called "a PMI". He suggested you never give up on a failed idea without "doing a PMI". This means looking for the
            Plus: what's good about it?
            Minus: what's bad about it?
            Interesting: what else does it suggest?
The first two points are for learning; the last one is where the creativity come from.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Next sale: the North Park Festival of the Arts


 I and pots will be at the North Park Festival of the Arts, Sunday May 20, 10-6. Somewhere"near the main stage"; that's all the information I have so far. Come by, have a look.   

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Do You Know About the Empty Bowls Project?

It's an ongoing fundraiser, local but in many places, for services for hungry and homeless people. Potters donate handmade soup bowls, restaurants and bakeries donate soup and bread, sometimes musicians donate performances; and anyone interested comes to lunch or dinner, makes a donation, chooses a bowl, and fills it with food. You keep your bowl. Check out

I know of 2 Empty Bowls events in San Diego this spring:

Coronado High School on April 19

La Jolla Methodist Church on May 12.

I've heard wonderful stories from the potters' perspective, about people choosing their bowls.  There are all sorts of bowls donated, ones you like, ones you hate. But there's the story of the little boy grumping through the entry line, until he found the bowl with the dinosaur carved into it; then it was his event. Or the little girl delighted with a bowl with a big red heart, that no adult would touch.

Something for everyone. But is everything for someone? I am fascinated and always surprised at the things people choose, from the pots I offer for sale, or from the huge selection at UCSD Craft Center sales. Why do you like that? As I work more in pottery, I am coming to see why I like this. But other people's taste? A great variety, clearly, and marvelously mysterious.

There are people who donate 100 bowls. I've got 6 drying. Oh, well. But many potters in San Diego participate. It's a lovely project to get your hands into.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New pots! So much fun to see what's turned out!

Preparing for the Rolando Street Fair, I've been hustling to finish and fire pots. So I've suddenly got all these new pieces. Like opening presents, the full range from wonderful to, ew, how did it do that? Here are some goodies, just for the pleasure of sharing my pleasure.

The red/purple cups are high fired, cone 10, one of my favorite glazes. The brown one is an experiment, cone 5, a temperature range I am just learning about.

Some more favorite glazes, cone 10.

Surprises, always. The yellow bowls were made with the same clay, same glaze, same firing. The lighter ones were on the top shelf of the kiln, the darker ones on the half shelf below. What makes the difference, anyway?

Pottery is one of those big subjects. There will always be more to learn. Hurray!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Developing an Idea

Last May, at a pottery street sale in England I saw ceramic whiteboards for sale. Whiteboards? Noteboards? About 6"x 9" ceramic slabs, like tiles, which you can write on with dry erase markers and eraser. I never imagined the possibility, assumed the usual commercial whiteboards were some special material. I asked the maker for permission to copy her idea, and promised to sell them only 6000 miles away. She agreed, and I've been trying them.

First, low fire white clay so the boards are less likely to warp than clay in a higher temperature firing. I tried 2 clear glazes, one clearly came out smoother. That's it. The potter I am copying from makes ocean inspired pieces, so stamped shell figures on her noteboards. She hangs the boards from rough string. I'd like it somewhat fancier, and I have an idea and materials from decorated jars I have been making. Like this:

So instead of string, I used fabric ribbons and beads to hang the boards. I imagined them on dorm room doors. Here's the first fairly successful result:

Fairly successful? Not a wonderful stamp and the picture takes up a fair amount of the writing surface. Try a smaller, more elegant decoration. Round the corners.

It's more or less smooth and I assume the surface needs to be smooth. I shaped it with a slab roller. Oops, got to be really careful that the plastic surface underneath is smooth. It's also about 1/4" thick and rather heavy for the size. So try thinner. I rolled some on drywall, with a rolling pin, without plastic in between, for a very smooth surface. Some came out fine, some stuck to the drywall, can't pry it off even when dry. No idea what makes the difference. I cut a rectangle, rolled some more and got  a very uneven edge. I like it.

Lighter in weight, they can be a bit bigger; that's more useful. Skip the stamps altogether, they seem fussy. Use more interesting beads.

This is where I am now. I've rolled some on plywood, like the faint wood pattern, though I don't know if the writing will be clear. Forget the drywall. What instead? Silicone sheets? Paper? The wood pattern suggests a light wood color. Maybe they don't have to be white.

For me, an idea develops like this. I have seen artists' notebooks with a developmental series of sketches. I've seen pots with designs planned out carefully and sketched on the pot in pencil. I am more inclined to try something I've seen and liked, then vary it by intent or mistake or what comes out. One outcome suggests another variation. Technically described, there are several kinds of (or ways to) creative thinking. Mine seems to be this, putting together elements from disparate sources, in a varying, wandering way.