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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Carving the Tops, Take 3 at Least

All this year I've been trying variations on carving irregularities into the tops of bowls and vases. Here are the latest versions.

 I am learning that it works better on pots with certain proportions: relatively narrow tops or something I haven't figured out yet. I like these vases. I think I like the bottom one best, the rounded shape and the complicated carving. 

These are glazed only on the inside. The more interesting the clay, the better they work. Or do the variations in the clay color (mix different colored clays), and the horizontal lines from the clay moving on the wheel actually distract from the emphasized top rim?

Perhaps they look better, taller. I'll try that next. How marvelous that there is no end to possibility and learning.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Talmadge Art Show, Del Mar Taste and Artisan Stroll and custom pots

Come show and stroll!

 I'll be at the Talmadge Art Show pop-up sale next Sunday, September 20. That's 10-4, at 2211 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla Shores. Not the park by the beach but a small one a few blocks inland. It's still warm enough to swim, there are discounts at local restaurants...

And at the Del Mar Taste and Artisan Stroll, October 4, 9-4. That's on the 101, the Coast Highway, yes in the middle of the street. Also a tasting event by local restaurants.

I usually make pots to my pleasure, exploring shapes and glazes and ideas. I'm also very glad to make pots to your pleasure. We can work out a design together. The pictures here are this summer's (do I have to say last summer?) custom pieces. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Craft Revived

Several months ago I went to an exhibit of pottery at the Portland Japanese Garden. These are pots from Mashiko, a traditional Japanese functional-pottery-making town. In the 1920's, their craft was stimulated by Shoji Hamada (Hamada Shoji, I suppose, in Japanese), a great leader in recreating studio pottery. Who needed handmade pots in the 1920's? Only people who chose them. So the traditional manufacture of pots there was shrinking. Under Hamada's influence and teaching, Mashiko became a center of pottery as art to live with. Here are some of the exhibited pots that grabbed me.

And I realize that I have heard this story several times before, from other places.  With Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada recreated British studio pottery, also nearly disappeared for lack of need or desire for handmade ceramics. Sometimes, they are said to have revived all of European studio ceramics. I'm not so sure, after visits to French pottery towns, where the work has gone on since the Neolithic Era. And where Picasso made art on ceramics. Certainly there has been a great flowering of ceramic art in the industrial age, in these industrialized countries.

And Maria Martinez, in San Ildefonso Pueblo, looked at the history of her dying craft and revived motifs and techniques that set off a boom in Pueblo ceramics as much appreciated art.

And Juan Quezada in Mata Ortiz started absolutely from the beginning. He taught himself to make pottery, with careful observation of potsherds at a nearby archeological site, revived the ancient local styles, and gave his whole town its current occupation and a new/old art.

Wow! From Mashiko.

People often say there are no new ideas in ceramics and that we may borrow (steal?) freely from each other. Each of the pieces from this exhibit looks to me, outside the Mashiko tradition, wildly individual and creative. They are, but also there is the whole local history behind them. Both created and revived.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"I'm Go glad I Bought It From the Potter."

I've been enjoying the pleasure of customers who like what they've bought. Recently I've heard comments like this from several. "I'm so glad I wandered into the sale and by your booth."

They make me think about the link between the maker and the user. Perhaps it could be the same in all fields, between the cook and the eater, the performer and the audience, the builder and the resident. I think we are more aware of that link when we are in the same place or when you take the product from my hand into yours. It's a more personal link then. How many of us know the people who built our houses? Perhaps all those links were equally personal in the very old days when we all lived in villages, and all production was craft production.  Now we almost have to hunt for it. And we find it special when we are that close to each other  --  in small venues, where we can see the dancers sweat!

I first learned to like selling pots in a sale of student and teacher work at the UCSD Craft Center; working my "shift" I looked up when someone said in great delight "I'm taking THIS one", and saw the person waving my pitcher. The pot then stands on its own, goes on from my hands into a sort of life of its own, joins your life.  Wonderful!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Art in the Village in Carlsbad

I'll be at Art in the Village:
        Grand Ave. in Carlsbad
        Sunday August 9
Come and call it a workday.

With new pots?  But of course.

How about a white glaze?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pots To Live With

I've started a new shop on Etsy, a monster website for selling handmade everything. My shop,, joins thousands of potters there. Have a look if you like.

And new pots.

I absolutely love this glaze.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July

Not at all about pots or making pots, but too good not to share. Here's a lovely bit of America; in the grocery store yesterday I saw a woman dressed in complete Muslim modesty, buying only tortillas and guacamole. Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Kiln Mystery

 I fired 2 of these mugs with the same glaze  --  T's green  --  in the same firing in the ECC school kiln. Same clay, same glaze, same firing. Should come out the same, right? Ha, why should it? It depends what the glaze is made of; some glazes are very invariant, some change with thickness of application, temperature, amount of reduction in the firing, and certainly over different clays.

In this case the kiln is not under perfect control; it's a fairly large, hard used, gas kiln in a communal studio, loaded by a varying group of people. The temperature of firing varies a fair amount from top to bottom, the reduction is variable and spotty, and I do not know the kiln well enough to predict what will happen to a pot in a particular place in the kiln. I did not load these cups into the kiln. A setup for mysteries.

Here is the second cup. Same...

Obviously they were not loaded together. This is what that glaze does at a slightly higher temperature: a darker color, glossy, translucent, and with those great crystal speckles. 

Is one "right"? I was aiming for the second. I do like both, though not as a set.  And I actually like it that things are somewhat out of control  -- after the initial shock.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Itching to Open the Kiln

The kiln was cooling, overnight and in the morning, with a load of newly glazed and fired pots. Do you know how hard it is to leave it alone, even though it is really too hot to handle?

This is the point where process becomes product, hope is realized or lost, the invisible changes in the firing can be seen. Potters tend to be extravagant, mystical, a bit wild about glaze firing and the marvelous transformations that happen in it. It's the last step in the rather slow affair of making pots, so the time of success or failure.

And so opening the kiln after a glaze firing is a big deal. Some potters make it a party or an event to share with customers. I do it privately, to absorb what has happened with my latest pots before anybody else sees them. By noon the kiln really was cool enough to empty, after several pretenses in that direction. First I propped he lid up for a few hours, checked it too often, then opened the door and waited some more, then just had to look below the visible top shelf.

That's the first view, the top shelf in my rather small kiln. Looks good so far. But what's down under there? It's a treasure hunt, every time.

Whew, that big platter survived. But the people who asked for it want the same colors as this plate:

Not close. I made a guess, that the colored slips used on both would come out the same color in firings at two different temperatures, and one oxidation, one reduction firing. I think the slips (liquid clay) were colored with stains, which tend to be fairly uniform. They do have top temperatures for keeping their color. I've got another platter to fire at a school, the same way the plate was fired, and hope it will work. Never make just one for an order; "things" happen. So why fire the platter at home? It's bigger than the space on a kiln shelf in the school kiln. The other platter is oval and barely fits there.

These came out fine, just enough thinning of the glaze on the top edges to emphasize the shapes a bit. I like it.

This one was refired with some glaze added to cover, I hoped, a couple of raw spots on the bottom. It sort of worked, not great.But the colors!

Hmmm. What an odd color.Think I'll try again.

Ah, yes. A new glaze I've only seen so far on tiny test pieces. I really like it.

Yeah, but thin glaze. Why? Maybe I'll refire with more glaze. I feel fairly free to do that, as my kiln doesn't use much electricity.

That's a lot better than before, a refired piece with more glaze on it.

So, as usual, a mix of more and less successful pieces. I learn this time to pay better attention to glaze thickness.

The treasure hunt went fine. The mystery continues, the surprises kept coming, and there are some usable new pots. Nothing fabulous this time. The red glaze is promising in it's variety of shade. Onward!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Carving the Rim -- First Results

Several months ago I started carving the rims of pots and loving the new forms that made. Here are some, finished. Time for critique.

Hmmm. If the glaze is a bit dull (not as intended), the form does stand out. I like it. Perhaps better if the rim is consistently a different color.

Maybe not that much. Too wide a white edge for the proportions of the bowl. Maybe too interesting a glaze for the carving to be conspicuous.

 Not as intended either, but it does work. Does this look require a fairly uniform and unexciting glaze job?

 Now that's a flop. Certainly a very dull glaze. And a thick rim, so the whole thing is heavy and ugly.

This one? Good shape, a glaze that breaks so the rim is emphasized a little, would be better without the horizontal throwing lines.

Same here. It's my favorite rutile blue glaze. Not as effective as it usually is; I think it fights with the carving for attention. And the carving was overdone for so shallow a bowl. The one above is better.

Yes, this works. A quieter glaze combination, and it lifts my eye, at least, to the rim.

This is tricky stuff for me. Perhaps it is part of an art education to know where the eye looks and how the parts of a piece add up to reinforce the desired look. I don't know this yet, at least for this form.
So much to learn and develop! Definitely part of the attraction of making pots for me.