Saturday, December 17, 2016

Do We Own Pottery?

I'm thinking of violins, and other string instruments.

 If they are not broken or burned, they last for hundreds of years. We own them legally of course, buy them for money, insure them as property. But it doesn't feel like ownership really. We live with our instruments and are responsible for them. They pass through our hands and lives and on to others'. They outlast generations of us, we hand them on through chains of players. Good instruments gain in value, as they are played, or as antiques. They have their own histories and paths through time, far longer than ours. Maybe we belong to them.

So what about pots?

 They are much more "domestic", lower valued except for museum quality pieces. But they can have the same characteristic independence by longevity.  We hand on the family china to our children if they let us. We use these pots, connecting to their history with us. And then the material lasts for thousands of years. Unbroken, pots outlast memories, use, cultures; they become art or archeological artifacts,carrying different information to later people.

What does it mean to own things with "lives" of their own?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I Like These!

Here's something new. It's not often a new idea works out this well, first try.

A wonderful glaze for texture, brown when it's thin and streaky tan when thicker. And I love the leafy pattern.

We've used these plates several times and find they are easy to wash, despite the texture.

And, no, the first time is not perfect; they warped in the firing. I made these just from a slab set in a plate as mold. I like thin pots, so these were thin slabs, and sagged.  I'll try again, raising the rim on the wheel, and hope it will have more structural strength. Here's a reminder that there is always more to invent and to learn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are You the Potter Who is Giving Cups Away?

For a few months I have been making and giving away cups, in response to Ehren Tool's long-term project of making cups for/with veterans. He makes them with images from soldiers' combat memories and gives them away.  He is up to some 14000. I have made maybe 25, carved with a ubiquitous statement of his: peace is the only adequate war memorial.

 Just starting, and beginning to learn how people react to the offer of a cup. Besides giving cups to family and friends, I have offered them at 2 craft sales.

Most people seem to need an explanation, of the cup, or of the offer. They do not stand alone as a cup, a message, or an offer. Usually people want an answer to "why are you offering these?" Perhaps, in the context of selling, the gift is too odd to accept easily.

Some people have felt guilty at accepting something free, and have bought another pot from me, out of guilt rather than liking. I don't get it.

One woman returned later, having gone to her car to bring me a return gift, a lovely small book of Buddhist advice which she kept in the car for her use. I think that's fellow-feeling, not guilt. I appreciate it; I read it.

One man stayed to tell me at length what he does to support veterans. I'm very pleased; it was not at all clear to me that my project would be seen as supportive of anyone. 

So cups lead to conversation, and that seems to me a fine thing. Someone really did come by my booth at a sale, several hours after the cups were taken, to ask if I am the potter who is giving cups away. In some way these cups are an invitation to expand on the offer, to continue with whatever attracts people to them. I am reminded of one of the pleasures and products of these sales, an openness for me and the customers to what comes up, an availability, an invitation. It's not just selling, and not just the "stuff". I started making and offering cups because Tool's message and project spoke to me. Now I am seeing them attract other people in their own ways.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Upcoming Sales and Pots

Ready to think of Christmas presents? Ouch.

I'll be at 3 very different craft/art sales this month.

November 16-17 all day; a sale to raise funds for the ceramics program at ECC (community college branch), at Educational Cultural Complex near 805 and Imperial;
     very variable quality, including flower arrangements and potted succulent gardens, very low prices

November 19, 9-3, at Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary School near 805 and Balboa;
     a homey, friendly, not fancy craft sale

November 20,  Talmadge Art Show, 10-4, at the Liberty Station Conference Center;
     very classy craft products

Monday, October 17, 2016

And... A Flop

Sometimes it sure doesn't work.

This is by far the best of a batch of new pots. I do like it, form, glaze, weight, feel.

But it cracked, thoroughly. No use.

Now what? I think of  Edward de Bono's recommendation from years ago, to "do a PMI". It means "plus", "minus", "interesting". Mostly it means, don't toss something disappointing without learning from it. First check the plus in it: what's good; the minus: what's bad; the interesting. And, I add, why for each of those.

What's good? The above, also the size is right for handling and use. The glaze came out interestingly variable, and where do those wonderful little red speckles come from? The texture shows. I didn't realize the glaze would look so good on this clay. The iron spots actually add to the interest.

What's bad? The crack, for sure, Why did it crack, anyway? Some stress on the side where the crack starts. I pushed the clay hard into the mold to get it thin everywhere. It's not thinner where it cracked, nor thicker, not patched...but something . Is anything else bad? I sure didn't think to consider that. Well, it could be lighter in weight. Do I dare make the clay slab thinner with this much overhang?

Think I've covered interesting, but I'm also getting interested in the problem. Why did it crack? Think I'll keep the pot awhile, show it around, ask what others think of this. So far, I have no idea.

I'd rather make successful pots, of course, but mistakes in pottery count for very little. No one is hurt, and there are always more pots in clay, glaze, and hands.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Complicated Do Tou Want It To Be?

Ceramics is one of the BIG fields. There seems no end to things to learn, to variants, techniques, forms, designs... . No one gets bored, no one comes to the end.

Here's one technique I am starting to use. You can make a pot from one clay, but why stop there? The world over, people have invented ways to mix clays to produce a patterned clay to pot with. It can be very complicated; you can combine thin, cut slabs of clay of various colors to make pictures that go through a roll of clay, seen when the roll is cut into slices. No way do I want to learn that.

You can stack thin slabs of different colored clays (2 or 3, don't overdo it), throw them hard onto the table to connect and thin them, cut vertically, restack, repeat until done. Then the stacks are sliced and pieces arranged to make patterns, either as a surface over other clay or as the structure of a pot.

It can also be very simple: casually cut slabs of 2 or 3 clays, and wedge (that's knead) them partly together. As you shape a pot on the wheel, the clays combine further and swirl. That's for me.

In English, especially in Britain, this is agate clay, an imitation of agate stone. In Japan, it is nerikome or neriage (the difference between them evidently is the way the pot is made.)

Yes, you have to use clays with similar shrinkage and the same firing temperature, to be sure the pot holds together. Yes, you need a lot of contrast among the colors; two differently colored stonewares will do it, or a clay in sections colored differently by wedging in stains or oxides. Yes, the pot does take a lot of trimming, scraping, sanding to show the clay swirl clearly. And different amounts of wedging the colors together produce quite different results.

This comes from combining the clays less. I think I like it better with a tighter swirl. And without glaze, like the bottom of this vase.

Even the simplest version of this technique involves complications and alternatives. It's all wonderfully endless.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Want to See Something Gorgeous?

I've drooled over Alan and Brenda Newman's pots for several years now. I found them at The Real Mother Goose galleries/stores in Portland, Oregon. Finally I bought one. Look!

So delicate, so elegant, so cool, so convincing. Wow!

Many years ago, near the beginning of my learning pottery, I saw a small bowl at a UCSD Craft Center sale, and thought, if I can make that, I'll be happy. It was thin and graceful, white with a light spray of green at the rim. Delicate, elegant, cool, convincing. I think I can make a bowl like that now. Think I'll do it. And I will be happy. And I also expand my ambitions. No way can I make anything like this goblet now. That'll probably take another decade.

Its only flaw is practical, and it is so beautiful I'm not sure that matters. It's a pot worth keeping just to look at. But it is hard to wash, with that narrow, deep end to the cup.

Want to see some more of their fabulous work?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What a glaze! and a mystery

I've always thought of ohata kaki as one of my favorite glazes. It's a Japanese glaze and name; some part of it means persimmon. It's usually brown, though, in my experience, with a warm orange undertone. Like this:

It's a lovely glaze to work with too; it covers evenly, it doesn't run, and it is spectacularly easy to clean. Everything washes easily off this casserole dish.

Recently, and mysteriously to all involved, pots have been coming out like this

at the shared studio where I take classes. Warm, glossy, orange with depth and a brown undertone. Hmmmm. Any explanations? Pottery is one of those big fields, where there's no end to things to learn and ways to improve and discover. Wonderful.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Peace is the Only Adequate War Memorial: Trying it Out

I was much moved by Ehren Tool's long term project of making cups for and then with veterans about their war experience, by and his much-quoted statement: "peace is the only adequate war memorial." In response to his work, I have started making cups with these words on them, and, following his example, giving them away.

(Yes, I notice this is not peace-making, or at most a very modest and indirect effort in that direction.)

Yesterday I tried this out for the first time, offering cups at the Art in the Village event in Carlsbad, CA. All were taken within the first hour of the sale. People like it, I can tell that. There is a lot more I do not yet know:

The whole plan took explaining, repeatedly; so I suppose I need a poster explaining who Tool is, what he does, how I am responding and how those who take a cup participate.

Even though we were one town away from a Marine base, only one of the recipients seems to be a veteran. The others are just people, mostly women.

So what do they want one of these cups for?  Just a free cup? For some people, I think so; they thought I am surprisingly generous. Some others seemed as touched by Tool's message as I am; the cup is expressive for them too.

Do I care why they wanted a cup? Is it any of my business?

Why do I make them and offer them? I do it to honor Tool, and his project, and to say and spread this message. None of that is about the recipients and what they do. My business is only to make and offer cups. How very simple.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Art in the Village

August 14th, I'll be at Art in the Village in downtown Carlsbad.  Come by.

 With new pots, of course.


I'm leaving the clay showing more, as I've got different clay colors to play with. It works.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

New Forms: a Cake Plate Again and French Butter Dishes

New forms are so mysterious I feel again like a little kid, learning huge swaths of the world.

I've been through several iterations of cake stands, learning from each. The latest is actually a best so far.

I'm not a painter and the invitation a flat surface gives, to treat it as a canvas, is a bit beyond me. I like this somewhat loose and abstract thing, but there are a lot of possibilities to explore.

Oops. This was flat; I think the base warped this time. Not sure. Perhaps fixable.

And I've been trying to make French butter dishes. They are a two-part combo, a bowl with water in the bottom, and a reversed container with butter stuffed into it, set into the bowl for a water seal. The idea is to keep butter, safely closed, out of the refrigerator so it is soft.

That took several iterations too, to get to the point I'm at now, one successful dish. What are the proportions that work? Yes, the butter holder needs a flat top so it can be placed open end up for using the butter. How big should that be to sit over the bowl steadily? What looks good? How far is the vertical distance from water bowl base to the ends of the butter holder sides? How do you measure this? How do you visualize it before you've made one? And how to glaze all the parts, so what needs glazing is covered and no touching parts are glazed? For me it's a visual puzzle. Oof.

This one works. It's such a strictly horizontal and vertical construction that the glaze would probably look better with horizontal edges. Hmm.

The next one, on the other hand, never opened; I must have put glaze somewhere where it glued the two parts together.

Ever onward.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Social Media Shaping Art

There's an article in the LA Times this week, by Carolina Miranda, about the influence of social media on the ways people make and present art. I think immediately how this may refer to pottery.

Some of it doesn't much relate to pots  -- for example the built-in censorship of pictures of nude people. Or Instagram as a medium in itself  for art.

Some does. Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest are places to display art, to get people to see it,  to discuss it. Pots too.

But  -- here is where it gets interesting  -- each medium shapes what can be presented effectively in it.
"social media can be a difficult space for artists to present ideas or images that lie outside of the gauzy universe of sunsets and cappuccinos". If that's true, why?

 Some of it is the custom, what we expect to see, and find acceptable in this sort of conversation  -- fairly safe stuff often. Sure, pottery is mostly safe and public.

Some of it is the self-presentation of the artist, trying to manage the conversation about his/her art, by weird things like creating and presenting a brand of oneself.

Some of it is the scale and form of pictures online. I've put some pictures of my pots on Facebook; they look dull and distant. Is it my photos? Is it the space Facebook offers for photos? And are photos appropriate at all for grasping 3 dimensional anything? We have habits to help; we are accustomed to looking at photos of people, landscapes, and other real, 3 dimensional, and moving things. Maybe video helps  -- you could walk around a sculpture, or turn a pot.

I put pictures in these blog posts. Do you get much connection with the objects from this?

The pictures might emphasize different qualities than a personal encounter with the real piece of art. "...some of these services...may be quietly shaping the way art is produced and shown, perhaps even motivating artists and art institutions to feature work that looks attractive on digital platforms, even if it feels flimsy in real life." Certainly it's all visual. And there's an emphasis in a lot of social media on quick approval.

And what about the real"feel"? Functional pottery especially is meant to be handled, lived with. It's a tactile medium. We haven't yet got that in any kind of recording. Etsy, the website for handmade products, encourages people setting up shops on Etsy to include multiple photos of each object, from all angles. Here's an example of mine.

I think that helps, but it's not touch, texture, weight, or use.

 This is one of the reasons I like art shows and craft sales; people can engage in multiple senses with the pots I'm offering, and I get to participate.

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.