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...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Are You Thinking about Christmas Gifts?

Seems awfully early. This is busy season for craft sales, usually named holiday something. Get in the mood!

Come by if you like. I'll be at the

Marie Curie School Craft Sale, Saturday Nov.2, 9-3; 4080 Governor Drive (1 block east of Genessee), parking off the side street, in the corner by the food.

Kate Sessions School Craft Sale, Saturday Nov.16, 9-3; 2150 Beryl (on the east  side of Pacific Beach).

And I'm now in the Coronado Art Association and will be at their

Art in the Park sale, Sunday Nov.17, 9-4 and December 1; Spreckels Park on Orange in Coronado.

Do I have a lot of pots? Yes. Onward!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What are these? They are pansy rings.

So what are pansy rings? Evidently a very traditional vase for short-stemmed flowers. I'd never heard of them until the Maertzweilers stopped by my booth at a craft sale and asked for some. I looked online and tried some before I saw the one they had  -- not a great way to see reality, it turns out. How big, how wide is the opening, how high? What's the bottom like? 

It turns out to be a very useful vase shape. How else would you display pansies? hibiscus? plumeria? anything your little kid picks short-stemmed and brings you? 

 I've tried several colors and minor decoration, but here is the one they showed me, as their source for the design, much more elaborate and decorated, with carved, added feet.I like it.

And somewhere I have never looked, clearly there's a tradition. At the last sale I attended, someone stopped, petted the ones I had for sale, and lovingly described the pansy ring she remembered from her childhood. I feel, happily, like the village potter.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm in! Come if you like

Sales for the next months:

October 6, Sunday, 10-5: the Del Mar Taste and Art Stroll; on Camino del Mar (101) and 15th St. It's a juried show, and I'm glad to be in it.

November 2, Saturday, 9-3: Holiday Craft Fair, Marie Curie Elementary School grounds, Governor Dr. just east of Genessee. Entrance to parking is off the side street, Edmonton. It's hard to think holiday already, but maybe by then. Yes, hand-made gifts.

                                                              What are they, anyway?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who's the Village Potter?

When this blog was new, it was hard to find online; there seemed to be many other people with blogs or websites with the same name. I thought, idly, I'd check who else is the village potter, googled the name, and quit looking on page 17, still finding some new and relevant websites named village potter, potters, pottery.

Why do so many of us choose this name?

 Some simply are located in what I think is a village, like Guilford Village Potters, near Perth, Australia. Some are in commercial or would-be villages, like Village Potters in La Grange Park, Illinois. The name just seems to mean "I am in the village".

 Others are really traditional potters in a folk tradition: I found websites with this name in Nicaragua, Malaysia, Vietnam, India. Some studio potters take on a tradition, like Ned Foltz in Lancaster County, PA, reviving and continuing Pennsylvania redware.

Many of us seem to mean something looser, making pottery that is traditional in style, homey, or aiming to give pleasure through functional pots in use, like the Village Pottery in Clifton Village, near Bristol, England, or in New London, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

For me, it is important to remember the traditional aspect of making pots by hand, for people's daily use, though I am not part of an ongoing tradition. The village potter was/is the one who makes useful items for local use and pleasure, need and fun, maybe sometimes art.  That feels like home.

I suppose we could fight over rights to use this name and identity. I rather like the idea that we, who choose to be village potters, have something in common, all around the world.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Art vs. Craft -Ouch!

On the Journal of Modern Craft website, I came upon a painful article called Fire It Up, a description of an exhibit this summer in Zurich. Full name: Fire It Up: Ceramic as Material in Contemporary Sculpture, written by Olga Stefan.

I keep wondering about potting in the industrial world, and I keep claiming to be a potter, not an artist. This article looks at " the status of craft in the word of fine art..."  --  a bit off to the side for me, but very close to the heart for many potters. Here's some of the painful stuff:

"The automation of industry demoted craft's importance, which until then had been essential cultural as well as economic production. This demotion paved the way for fine art to take a superior position...Skill was just no longer needed since machines did things so much better and faster. So art of the modern period needed to be other than skillful  --  it needed to be cerebral. "

Well, maybe. Certainly we aren't making anything of much economic necessity. But there is now a definite backlash against "soulless" mass production (check craftivism), as well as a move to individualizing products.

Certainly fine art is seen as superior, probably has been for far longer than the industrialized world. One of my favorite galleries in London is called Contemporary Applied Arts. People working there explained the name very casually; it's a gallery for art made in materials not accepted in most art museums. Art museums are the source of the definition of art?

OK, conceptual art is a major contemporary perspective, and does devalue skill, making. But it's not the only way to approach art.

Still, "sculptors using materials traditionally associated with the crafts, specifically clay...are called potters or ceramicists, not sculptors...Even Peter Voulkos, the art world's token ceramic sculptor, is often referred to by art critics and historians as a potter. Why this special categorization which smells of contempt?" Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Her answers, to summarize, are

1. the long history establishing clay work as functional, therefore craft. Even Rose Slivka as quoted in this article, (and she was a major supporter of craft as art) defined the difference as function and control:  any reference even to function in a piece makes it craft. And a craftsperson tries to have complete control over the making and the aesthetic quality of the result. An artist values chance and is less controlling. I don't recognize the second point: one of the pleasures of making pottery, for me and many others, is the lack of control over glazes and glaze application, the surprises that come out of the kiln. And potters talk and write rapturously about following where the clay leads our hands.

2. even worse, "the hobby creativity of the housewife". People having fun making pots, as well as serious artists devoting their lives to it. Among the people I know in the field, there is a range between these extremes. Do we want to demean the fun? Do Sunday painters make anyone less respectful of painting artists? Can't one develop into the other?

3. the low-tech materials and techniques used. The "idea of contemporaneity in sculpture...big and touch of quaintness...made by hired labor...the real artist just comes up with the concepts to be made by craftspeople." OK, conceptual art is a response to the industrial world and the images people find powerful now. And I recognize the separation of design and making as usual in architecture and interior design, as well as industrial design, all practical fields.  But, but, but. This can only work in some arts. No performer can produce concepts without skill, experience, doing it him/herself. Can you be a musician without playing or singing? Well, yes, composers, songwriters are musicians, even if they are known for their compositions, not their performance. That's the musical equivalent. But no denigration of the performers.

"Maybe this process-intensive investment associated with mastering ceramics is the reason that concept is sometimes secondary to form,"  I'll agree that concept is basic to art, imagining, expressiveness beyond the materials, at least usually.

When I first read this article, I saw it as snobbishness. Is it in a craft magazine so we will all react with outrage?

On some reflection, I recognize that art ceramics need concept more than functional ceramics. And that the concept may be a large part of the value of the pieces that are made. And that art made by people with skills the artist doesn't have (like architecture) belong to all the participants but mostly to the creator of the design, who is the artist. And even that I am a housewife with a hobby I am trying to develop into craft.

When I make pots focused on concept, I rarely find them as good or interesting as pots made for the form. For example, I've made a number of these goofy looking fish/containers. They are fun, silly, functional as soap dishes or bowls for a few small things, paperclips. I learned to make them in a recreational pottery class; thank you Reiko Campbell. I like them, my customers like them. But now I am done.


I do like this bowl whenever I use it. I made it to remember a trip in Arizona, canyon edges worn by seasonal water flow.

 From the same teacher I learned to make calla lily decorated vases. I like them for the form of the flowers, not the concept.

At one point I tried to color them somewhat more realistically. Definitely, no. 

Perhaps the weakness is in the concepts I have. But what might be the best thing I have made is this wavy bowl, for the loose form and the visual texture in the glaze.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

2 Sales Coming Up

Next weekend, I've got 2 craft sales, actually. Please come by if you are interested.

Friday August 2
Liberty Station, Barracks 15, room 205
This sale shows work by people who were part of the UCSD Crafts Center and benefits our efforts to reopen it.

Sunday August 4
North Park Craft Mafia...
parking lot of the birch theater on 29th St., just south ofUniversity

Just really noticed the previous post. Messed up layout, sorry. Please ignore.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

New Pots, New Sale

New pots again. It's always fun, though more when they come out well. The little ones were good, the bigger ones, ouch. Smaller quantities of glaze take different application techniques and skills; there's no end of things to learn. Hurray, along with the ouch.

I'll bring the best of these, and others to a sale on Sunday, August 4: The Summer Cement Craft Block, in the Birch Theater parking lot. That's 29st and North Park Way, San Diego, in North Park, just off 30th and University. They promise parking. It'll run 10-5. And no, I don't know what the cement is about.

I like this shape a lot. I think I really like the color.

An ok version of the shape. The glaze job would have been better...

I've used the green glaze before, far better on a white clay like this one.

I learned this shape, without leaf, in a class, have made variations on it for some time. Is the leaf overload? I like it, maybe smaller next time. An surprise, after years of enjoying colorful glazes; the white is wonderful for a complex pot. Eva Zeisel, my hero, invented (reinvented, surely) white pots in mid-20th century. It very much makes for a focus on form, which is what I most care about.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Something Really New vs Lots that Varies

I've tried something really new to me, and like it. This feels extremely different from what I usually do: repeating forms I know, and slowly developing improved (I hope) variations on them.

How do you get into something new? In this case I was asked to make it by someone who does not know what I do not know. Not intending to charge for it,  and with no deadline, I could easily, though with warnings, say yes.

I've never made tiles before, nor designed a tile layout. How do you learn? On the web, of course, where there are infinite "how to" pottery videos.

This panel goes into a kitchen, near the beach, with 3x3 blue tiles already in it, and tan and white cabinets and trim. OK. Here I've made more-or-less 3x3 tiles, in similar colors, thinking beach. Shells for impressing the tiles from the local beaches, and our and in-laws' trips over several decades. Sandy grout, beach pebbles. OK results for a first try.

And it opens my possibilities wider than I have been thinking. That's wonderful. Thanks, Chuck.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Makes These So Beautiful?

I think these are gorgeous pots. They were made a few years ago by Irina Davidovich, from San Diego. What is so wonderful about them?

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Contemporary Ceramics Gallery in London, where there are always fine pots. This year, I saw a lot of heavy, chunky forms and bright painted decoration. Not my taste; I am struck again by the range in taste among potters  --  applies too to any other field --  who make things considered good in quality. It's easier to identify technical quality, though sometimes people prefer effects that look less skilled than they can produce. OK, these two pots are clearly skilfully made; beyond that they are wonderful.

For me it is their delicacy and subtlety that stand out. They are about 3 inches high, made of translucent porcelain, feather light. They are mold made, which produces the side seams. For most people, molds are for reproducing a shape many times, quickly. These pots are slightly different from each other.

Both glazes used are almost the color of the clay, which shows unglazed around the outside edge of the bottom.

Inside is a clear gloss. Outside is something marvelous, with a pearly satin finish, and slight amount of color.

So the color range is very subtle. The forms are similar and simple. Within that narrow range, there is a great deal going on. Different amounts of shine and color. Different shapes. It would be possible, even usual, to sand the seams flat and smooth the top and bottom edges to make a finished-looking piece. Here those rough parts are left, contrasting with the smooth sides and elegant form. Without them, these would be much less interesting pots.

Would you use them for something beyond themselves? No, too fragile, and even too rough. They are art,  a delight to look at and handle.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Pots, Always Fun!

And yes, all fired at home in cone 6 oxidation. And, I like the results. Progress!

This blue is going to stay as one of my favorite glazes. I love the way it runs, but clear glaze near the bottom  -- it really runs.

I tried to get a mixed blue/purple on these but made the blue too thick and the red too thin; the details matter.

Definitely another favorite glaze. It shows the iron spots in speckled clay wonderfully. Why the white/blue drippy effect? No idea.

Several months ago, at the Norton Simon Museum, we found these gigantic sycamore leaves, and I, of course, saw pots in them. About a foot across, and the real leaf, except for the veins. Those I drew, looking at a real leaf.

And a big fig leaf from our tree. I like the realistic leaves, though there is no reason pots need to be real leaf forms. I guess those are just very attractive shapes in themselves.

 Here's another leaf shape, used unrealistically. These are patterned on a nasturtium leaf from our yard. Little plates, for tea bags or as a spoon rest, or whatever you think of. Someone told me she needed a small plate for her retainer! And another way around the loss of the UCSD Crafts Center: I've missed the glaze sprayer, been unwilling to buy an air compressor just for this use. But there is a small mouth blown (blow hard!) sprayer for small amounts of sprayed glaze, ok just for effect over glazes applied some other way.

I love this field. There's no end of things to discover and learn.