Thursday, April 26, 2012


Earlier this year (late 2011, actually), I abandoned my standard clay body because it would no longer behave- any turquoise glaze or underglaze sheared right off in sharp glassy shards.  Disappointing for me, hazardous to anyone who used the pieces.  At first, I thought the problem was the glaze, but after seeing this happen with multiple glazes (and then with certain colors of underglaze), I realized it was a problem with the clay.  Sad, because this ultra-white, smooth, easy to throw, easy to hand-build clay body was one I'd been using for 10 years.  I switched back to one that I knew had some problems (have to baby it as it dries or oops, that mug handle will pop right off *just* before it is bone dry), but oh, those problems.  So I've tried 2 new stonewares, one of which didn't play well with glaze (see my crazing post) and another which is fine, really, except that it isn't white.  See the cup above.  Not white, more of a french vanilla.  And I'm coming to the realization that well, it's just what it is.  Even the porcelains I've tried aren't strictly white.  (the whiter pieces above are porcelain, and they're fine, but a bit speckled with something that doesn't show up unless it's coated in clear glaze).  I've forgotten how to throw large pieces (such as plates and serving bowls) with porcelain and will need to re-learn.  Porcelain also has to dry very very slowly to keep its form and not crack. 

So, unless I can bite the bullet and order new clay bodies from afar (and either drive to get them or pay several hundred dollars for shipping), it seems that french vanilla is my new white.  There is some white-glazed french vanilla stoneware in the kiln, cooling. Test stoneware #1 showed through the white glaze (it looked dirty, not like a thin glaze, just like a dirty cup).  I am in mourning for my ultra-white stoneware, but like any loss, I'm learning to move forward with the new reality.  And the reality is that very few people will care if the base clay is ultra white or french vanilla, and the ones who do care will let me know, quite vocally.  And I'm becoming ok with the fact that it's out of my hands, that pottery is alchemy, and that I'm just not in control of very much.  And with that, I'm going to head to the studio to throw more and re-learn how to make larger forms in porcelain and figure out how to fill my dinner and breakfast ware orders that a few sweet folks have been waiting quite patiently for.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I stumbled across this video earlier this week.  It's really stuck with me.  It is quiet, meditative, purposeful, inspiring.  I began thinking about the local impact of pottery-  in terms of my local economy (including but beyond my family), local influences (people, seasons, materials), and I was particularly struck by a scene of this potter digging clay to use in her decorations. 
Several years ago my family camped at a state park on the banks of the Mississippi river.  We spent a day on one of the sandbars and found deep, dark, iron-rich clay veins running throughout the sand.  We all marveled at how black and sticky it was, took note, and went home.  Later in the season we returned with small shovels and buckets to bring some of that clay home.  I made a few test bowls to see how this local clay would fire, closed up the bag and forgot about it.   Because I work with light clay bodies, switching between light and dark clays is problematic- all of your tools, wheel, bats, etc have to be thoroughly cleaned when switching between clays to prevent mixing that is either ugly (dark or light streaks showing up unexpectedly) or catastrophic (some clays have different rates of shrinkage and absorption- this means explosions in the kiln or bubbling glazes, or cracks, none of which makes this potter happy). 
Returning to the video, I thought about this stash of dark local clay in my studio, pulled out a small jar, and made some slip.  I'm experimenting with using this dark clay as an inlay.
I only decorated two tumblers that I'd made with this local slip- we'll see how it works.  Local is very important to me- I try my best to support local food and farmers, shop at local small businesses, but all of my supplies come from who-knows-where.  I'd love it if this works and I could add this to my regular work.

A second thing that stuck with me was the artist's statement that "we have enough things already in this world" and she is careful about what she makes.  Is everything that I make worthy of firing?  The energy expended by the kilns, the materials rendered from the earth?  The money I've spent on clay and glazes?  No.  So no more firing of warped bowls, pieces with design flaws or drawing bloopers.  Seconds happen (speaking of, that kilnload of ^7 cups didn't heal.  The chicken platter was better, but the cups were still crackled from too-thick glaze on bottom).  Most of my flawed pieces go into a smash bin for mosaic work, but I don't want to put time or energy into firing pieces that I know are flawed before they are fired.  Lots to think about. 

Have a nice weekend friends.  I'm returning to my quiet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


New bee flight school on Sunday when it was warm and sunny.
Little kiln ticking away to ^7 to see if the glaze fit issues will resolve on cups and the chicken platter.
Big kiln waiting for a large bisque load.
Lots more cups drying and drawing in the studio.
Chilly day.  If it were March I'd start a fire in the wood stove.  
Enjoying the quiet.

Friday, April 13, 2012

some quiet

Thank you, sweet friends, for your kind comments on my last post.  They mean a great deal to me.
I'm going to take a few weeks "off" from the internet- after losing so much time to the flu and then the unpredictable chemistry of pottery, I feel like I have a great deal of work to do (and I do, several orders still outstanding, some custom dinner sets I have yet to finish or even begin) and I need to figure out where I want to go with my work.  I'll be popping in periodically with photos, and I hope to be able to have a body of work to put up for y'all, both locally and in my etsy store, at the end of my internet sabbatical.  So I'll leave you with my favorite piece that I finished from my recent surface decoration e-course.  I want more of these!

Have a lovely weekend.

Monday, April 9, 2012

snap, crackle, & STOP

Of Friday or Saturday I opened my kiln to a total disappointment.  I knew I was testing, but I'd hoped to have some pieces I could use, and I didn't count on it being so bad that it would bring me close to tears.  Most of this work had been previously fired, to a low-ish ^6 (that's in the high 2100 to low 2200 F range) and I had a lot of problems with glaze fit.  I glazed a bunch more work, including some porcelain that I hadn't tried in the little kiln, and fired it again to a hotter ^6 (that's pronounced Cone 6, by the way, and I took it to the 2260 F range).  Still, it was crackle city.  Can you see it in this cup?  The crackles in the bottom?  The ones that will trap the honey and the tea from your hot cuppa and grow bacteria?  I'm trying it again at ^7 (almost 2300F) later this week when my cones come in.

This is a platter I made just for me, and the entire thing is a fine map of crackles.  Both the cup and the platter are a new-to-me clay (the glaze is one I used and liked well enough to buy a gallon of).  I'm out of the clay and won't buy more of it.  I'd love to rescue both the dozen cups I made and the platter- the cups because they're pre-sold and the platter, because, well, I'd like to use it.  All told, this is two weeks' worth of work that is potentially lost.

I've moved on to another stoneware and ordered several more white and clear glazes to keep testing.  All this to say that I'm feeling perpetually behind.  Glad that I'm not signed up for any events or sales or markets.  But I have some custom dinner orders that I'm sitting on, and I'd like to get them out the door.

I would like to address one thing- so many of my customers were kind and understanding to the absolute utmost degree when I told them that their orders would be delayed further.  I had one negative experience out of the whole lot, which shook me pretty badly.  It was downright venomous, and I think it was due to a miscommunication that made me feel defensive and then downright shocked.  I try hard to accommodate all kinds of requests and try to send out my best work.  I think that *most* people who have handmade businesses try their very best to please their customers.  They all have feelings that are easily bruised by unfair, or, even if fair, harsh, criticism.  This just to say that we should all (me included) remember that we're dealing with people who have lives and families and feelings and we never know what's going on in their lives- illness, failed work, failed relationships.  I'm stepping off my soapbox, but I was accused of gross misrepresentation and unprofessionalism, and it hurt.   I'm mostly over it, but I wanted to address it for my own learning, as much as anyone else's.

I had a lovely Easter, and hope your Spring holidays were wonderful, as well.  See you again soon.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

bees! and testing

I am very excited- yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from Rita Underhill of Peace Bee Farm that my bees were ready.  I was not!  There was a lot of hustle and bustle to get everything situated so that we could install the hive this morning.  This is the inside of my hive, the comb that they drew down on top bars at their farm, and some pieces that we had to trim (the white is brood that the bees will, um, recycle, and they'll re-use the wax, as well).  We forgot to smoke the box of agitated, truck-shaken bees before we opened it and I got popped for the first time in 6+ years, but she popped me through my clothes so it wasn't bad (obviously, I'm not allergic to bees).  I'm very excited to see their (and my) progress.

I think that I may have mentioned that I needed to find a new clay body.  My old body had been reformulated and the glazes I'd been using no longer fit the body.  There was shivering (where the glaze has shrunk more than the clay and will come off in razor sharp slivers and sometimes cause the piece to break), especially with blue glazes and underglazes, so I began testing new bodies.  My first body was a bust- too much crazing on the inside of cups- the body shrinks more than the glaze, causing the glaze to crack, which can lead to bacteria growth.  Yummy, bacteria with your tea!  No thanks.  I tested a porcelain which did fine with the glaze, but I wasn't happy with its color.  I tested a stoneware that was much warmer and showed through my white glaze, making the glaze look too thin (or maybe it was just too thin) and there were fit problems- crazing in the bottom of cups.  I'm on my second stoneware and porcelain to test with my next batch of pots.  All of this is to say that if you're waiting on pottery from me, this is why it's taking a while to deliver.  I don't want to ship out defective pots, and I appreciate everyone's patience.

Ok.  This weekend is Easter, tomorrow is Good Friday and the beginning of Passover.  If you celebrate, I hope that it is a meaningful time for you.  If not, enjoy this beautiful spring.  See you next week!