Thursday, January 31, 2013

this week in pots

I had a little meltdown early this week.  I've aggravated my arms by throwing with clay that was too hard (I know better than that), doing yoga poses (forearm plank, crow) that I know right well are not good for those already irritated tendons, and by being too stressed.  In the past I've noted that if I have a heated argument (though one tries not to have too many of those), my arms are throbbing by the end of it.  No arguments, but I have let the day to day stresses get to me, and after breaking almost $300 worth of pottery on Monday and Tuesday, I decided I needed a few days off.  The universe, it seemed, ordered it.  And then, during a walk, this popped out at me:

Slow down, says the universe.  Good things will come.  See?  It's January and here's the first four-leaf clover of spring!

So I sat down with my sketchbook.  I got out the watercolors.  I cleaned up in the studio and the kitchen.  I made an enormous batch of meatloaf for my boys and for the freezer.  I perfected my vegetarian version of meatloaf for myself ( meaty mushrooms, onions, garlic, bell peppers, spinach, rolled oats, egg, s/p, tomato paste, and any herbs you like ground until a meatloaf like consistency, packed into ramekins, and baked for 30 min at 375.  not pretty, but then neither is meatloaf).

Then I fired some pots that were waiting and was really happy when I unloaded them and found this:

 I've made almost 30 of these little (and some big) teacups inscribed with my favorite quote from Mother Teresa: Do small things with great love.  It is the axiom I try to live by- lots of small, kind things that make a difference.  I don't have grand plans to change the world, but I do think that small actions bring about great changes, and living with this intention has given me a lot of joy over the years, helping to turn my natural "glass half empty" personality into more of an aware, optimistic life.  I'm not there all the time, but it does help.  

I will have some of these  cups in the shop on Monday and will be making them throughout the month of February.  Those that don't go into the shop will be ready for my very small open house on Feb 8.  Very, very small: these cups, some honeypots, and a few trays.

I'll be back here on Saturday with this week's pitcher.  I am mid-mishima with it and will be playing around with my new underglaze watercolors once it's bisqued.

Have a good rest of you week, friends.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pitcher 4

Last week after I posted about pitcher 3, I was asked to show more process photos, but I'd already put this pitcher together.  Starting next week, there will be more photos of the throwing and assembly process.  I have the inspiration pitcher and some preliminary sketches for next week, as well.

This week's pitcher is my favorite so far.  I'm keeping it.  I love this pale blue gray undgerglaze and the clover motif is one of my favorites to use.  I will probably repeat this, but I'm not sure. 

I started with my Standard 563 stoneware and threw an 8" cylinder that I collared in 4/5 of the way up and flared out at the top.  I cut away the back half of the top to form the spout and added this cut-away portion to lengthen the spout.  After I added the strap handle, I coated it with underglaze and drew into the surface of the pitcher.  After I fire it, I'll add more color and glaze it in a satin clear.  The interior will be glossy white.

One of my favorite parts of this project is incorporating the number into the design of the pitcher.  It's been fun.

This week I have also bisqued my first kiln load of pottery, took a photography class, and continued working on my valentine's cups, which will roll out this week.  I'd planned to glaze today, but it is raining and humid and I always have glaze problems on wet days.  Waiting for a drier moment this weekend to do that.

Have a lovely weekend, friends.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

pitcher 3

I know that I'm only 3 pitchers in, but I'm getting more and more excited about this project and stretching my skills this year.  I like to try new things, yes, but I think that my real emphasis in this "stretching" will be refining the skills I already possess and tackling some of the issues that have plagued me for years (ahem, glazing and proper cleanup).

On Sunday I opened up a new issue of a magazine my mom had ordered for me.  I love magazines- the colors, the shapes, the photography, the inspiration.  In an article about spring bulbs, I spotted this hobnail glass vase and grabbed my scissors and sketchbook.    I've always loved hobnail glass (and dotted swiss, for that matter- I was torn between linen and dotted swiss for my wedding dress) and have a very small collection of it.  I've played with this look in the past but haven't done anything with it for several years. 

I knew I'd need to make this pitcher in two pieces- the base and the neck (which was a cylinder with a flared out top) thrown separately and attached.  I was happy with them when I threw them, but knew I wanted the neck to be more narrow.  What I should have done was put the whole thing back on the wheel and collar the neck in more.  I didn't because I was a) impatient and put the handle on and b) I was a little afraid that I'd collapse the pitcher.  When I do this shape again, I will try to collar in the neck to make it more narrow- or I'll throw it more thickly so that I can trim it down.  Not sure which will work best.  Process is a huge component of this project.  Pitcher #4 may crack in firing and not be usable.  Pitcher #20 may cave in on itself when I'm trimming it.   Last night I was talking to a friend who is a baker but used to be a potter.  He said that really I should make a dozen pitchers, keep the one that works, and throw the rest in the reclaim bucket.  That would certainly refine my skills, but it would also eat a large chunk of my time.  There is a happy medium, I think. 

After I attached the two pieces, I cut away the top to form the spout, then took the cut-away bit to make the handle.  I am really really happy with the handle's curve and how it grows out of the top of the back of the pitcher.  Yesterday I rolled up little balls of clay and attached them (score marks and slip) to the pitcher.  Today I'll go back with a sponge and erase their seam so that they're more hobnail like and less polka-dotty.  This pitcher will probably be glazed in gloss white. 

All in all, I'm happy with this pitcher, but I will remake it at some point this year to make the neck more narrow.

Back to stretching skills- earlier this morning (after I slept through my yoga class) I sat down and reordered the glazes and underglazes I'm running out of.  I also added an underglaze watercolor set to my cart.  I am so inspired by friends who watercolor, and particularly by Julie Whitmore's work that I thought I'd try my hand at adding some of this loveliness to some of my pots.  I don't have any definite plans yet, but I'm excited to play with them.

I wonder- what are you doing to refine or stretch your skills and talents? 
Happy weekend friends.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

slow winter

I have been taking my time this January; working has been almost meditative.  That's going to come to a close as I know that my production schedule has to speed up, but for now, I've been enjoying mornings by the fire, sketchbook (pages, not the actual book yet) in hand, knowing that whatever creative food I take in now will fruit later.

When not drawing or working, I've been cooking (last night was "beta carotene" curried stew- carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red lentils, onions, curry, coconut milk- and homemade garlic naan, plus gingersnaps.  We had a small ice storm and whenever we're house-bound I want to bake) and knitting.  My slow, deliberate pace might just be set by these:

These are socks, knit in wool that I bought last year at the Oxford Fiber Festival (this year's information is here) and wool that came out of Papatya's stash.  I'm knitting the two socks concurrently, each on its own long circular needle, following two charts (I was so happy that they reversed the patterns on the socks for me so that I didn't have to figure it out myself), section by section- toe, toe, chart one, chart one, heel, heel, and so on.  I was intimidated by this pattern at first, but now I'm walking through it, slowly, happily, for about an hour a day.  I hope to have these finished by March, but I'm not pushing it.

Today I am working on valentines cups and vases, and thinking about this week's pitcher.
How are you filling the quiet time in your January?

Talk to you later, friends.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pitcher 2

I felt much more on the ball this week.  I got right up to the studio, cleared the mess out of it, organized, cleaned, and got back down to work.  Here's this week's pitcher:

On Monday I sketched out my idea.  Tuesday, I threw the body out of some reclaimed porcelain (I wasn't sure if it was stoneware or porcelain until I saw black swirls in the clay and found that the clay in my water bowl settled right to the bottom in a thick layer.  My stoneware tends to stay mucky).  I cut the spout out of a slab and pulled a handle, then left them out where the dried completely up.  It was too wet to work with on Weds, so I left the damp box I keep my pieces in uncovered and came back on Thursday.  Made a new spout and let it sit out to dry, made the handle and covered it up.

Some time in the distant past (2001 maybe?) I made a bisque mold with deep impressions of fiddleheads I gathered from the woods around our house in the country.  There were SO many ferns in those woods.  I rolled out a piece of clay, stuck the fiddleheads in, then let them dry.  Once I fired the clay, it made a nice mold for sprig decorations.  Wedgwood Jasperware is decorated with sprigs taken from similar molds.  I used to use this particular mold a lot, but haven't as much in recent years.  Yesterday, Thursday, I spent most of my studio time molding and applying the fiddleheads.  This morning I attached the handle and cleaned up most of my fingerprints, gouges, and excess clay.  Once the piece is leather hard I'll go over it again with a soft rib and sea sponge. 

I haven't decided how I'll glaze this.  I've used white and green before, and also celadon.  I'm also considering a transparent cobalt blue.  We'll see.

It's funny, but my favorite thing about this piece is the "2" under the handle. 

I also started working on some valentine's related pieces this week.  I'm planning a small home sale Friday, Feb 8, after work.  I'll also have some pieces online.  Those will come out at the end of this month.  I have a lot of work to do to make it happen, but I think it's doable.

Have a great weekend, friends.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

pitcher 1

This week was pretty hectic and cold and I did my sales tax for the last quarter of 2012 and some prep for my federal taxes, checked in with some of my stores, and did not get up into the studio.  So the first pitcher of this year is the last pitcher of last year.  That's ok, right?

I worked really hard last year in finding a new clay body after my old favorite began consistently popping off every aqua or turquoise glaze and underglaze I used.  I finally settled on Standard's 536, a white smooth porcelain-like stoneware, and Standard 365, a bright white English Porcelain.  I really like both bodies, but the porcelain is my favorite because of its brightness.  Right now I'm using the stoneware more for throwing, but I would like to transition to using the porcelain exclusively.  That will take time and more skill than I currently have.  It is something to work towards.

This is one of my favorite pitcher shapes because it is modeled after one of my silver hollow-ware pitchers.  I love silver serving pieces and have a small collection of teapots, coffee pots, pitchers, and creamers.  I really love how the pouring lip rises up out of the body of the pitcher, so I learned how to duplicate that in my pottery by rolling a slab, cutting and shaping it, then attaching it to the thrown and trimmed body once they're leather hard.  The handle echoes the lift of the lip.

At some point last year I saw an article on Ceramic Arts Daily about underglaze transfer paper.  I had been playing around with mishima since the spring and wondered if this would be an easier, faster way to make multiples of the same image.  Well, yes and no.  This paper works a lot like carbon paper, but it is stickier.  It has to be applied to a bisqued piece, because any residual dampness in green clay pulls the underglaze layer off more than you might intend.  You're supposed to fire the image to "set" it, but I don't because I like how the clear glaze makes the image flow a bit.  So some of the image is very crisp, some of it is slightly smudgy, and some of it will simply flow down the side of the piece like a chalk drawing in the rain.  That is my favorite part of this process, when the image starts to slide down the side of the piece. 

These flowers are zinnias modeled after drawings of zinnias by Mississippi artist Walter Inglis Anderson, one of my favorite artists.  His work has really influenced me (beyond my zinnia homage) over the years: in subject matter, a very tiny bit in loosening up my drawing, in his keen observation of the natural world around him.  I gave my bridesmaids watercolored copies of his block prints, my son's nursery was inspired by his work, and I've even taken vacations to the city where he lived solely because of the museum there.  The fact that his family's pottery, Shearwater is there, too, didn't hurt.  His personal life was a mess, but oh, his eye.  And the way he drew his zinnias were a revelation to me.

So: Pitcher 1.  Next week I'll have drawings, process photos, and I hope a green (unfired) pitcher 2.
Have a lovely week, everyone.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

happy new year!

 I was excited to greet the morning and 2013.  Excited to start thinking and acting creatively.  Coffee made, we built a gingerbread house (why not? we missed the annual party and had the kit in the kitchen).

My favorite annual sketchbook is back-ordered and won't arrive for some weeks, so I razored out the unused pages from this year's book to begin my daily drawings.  This green ladyslipper orchid was my first subject.  I want to be less rigid this year (in my drawings and in my life), which is difficult for me.  I'm a rule follower and I like for things to be predictable.  If 2012 taught me one thing, it was that my preferences don't always work out for me so well.  So I'll try to go with the flow a little more.

The holiday season was one of my best for sales.  It was difficult personally because of so much loss.  I scaled back and made things more quiet than usual.  I set a firm deadline for stopping work and stuck by it.  Didn't bake a single holiday treat (until I made baguette the day after Christmas) but that worked this year.  Less pressure, fewer events.  More sitting and knitting and resting.

Now I'm ready (I think) to begin again.  One of my favorite gifts was a huge 11x13 600 page sketchbook from Gary.  It is enormous.  A little intimidating.  Today it is at the kitchen table, but it will probably live in the studio.  I'd love to make it my daily sketchbook, but it's not so portable, and I like to have the daily sketches all in one single volume.  I decided, after reading a pottery magazine one night, that I wanted to really explore pitchers this year.  I've always loved them- for pouring, serving, pressing into use as vases, just admiring their heft.  My plan is to sketch out an idea, throw and alter or hand-build a pitcher and really work with the form each week.  One pitcher for each week of the year, sketches for form and surface design, an unfired vessel each week, and then four finished glazed pieces each month, resulting in a body of 52 pitchers, large and small.  Knowing some will be things I want to keep forever, some I'll hate, some will crack and break.  I want this to be process-oriented, less product oriented (but you know I want good product, too!).

Happy New Year's, friends. Thanks for reading along with me.