Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Color



Color excites me. I wrote in my last post that I was considering leaving many of those bowls white. Well, that didn't happen. I just love color too much. I pulled out my clear glaze and started off with three bowls, still leaning towards an all white firing. Then I saw my gray glaze just sitting these so I did a few gray. Then aqua, purple, navy, pink and chartreuse. Before I realized what I had done my entire kitchen/glaze studio was filled with colorfully glazed pots. The three white bowls didn't even make it in the kiln. They are still sitting waiting to be fired. I love white, but maybe I love color just a little more!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bowls


I love making bowls. Truly more than any other form. I enjoy centering the clay and stretching it from a narrow base out to a wide rim. I love altering the rims into softer organic shapes, still stretching and stretching as I work. I allow the bowls to sit on the bats until they are only slightly firm. At this point I am able to pick up the piece without it completely collapsing, but it is still soft enough that my hands leave a noticeable imprint.

I just love the look of stacked bowls! Especially bowls with uneven rims. I enjoy the gentle pull of expectations created by the varied space between the bowls, in the bowls and around the bowls. Unglazed I feel these bowls exhibit a beautiful warmth and quietness. I am even a little hesitant to glaze these pieces. I have been longing for white lately. Who knows, maybe I will just leave these bowls white. Sealed with a simple clear glaze. Perhaps its the 100 degree weather we've been having. Summer always brings white to mind. White cotton sundresses, fluffy white clouds and now lots and lots of white bowls.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Attainable Goals


Having goals is an important part of moving forward. This is not a concept unique to pottery, of course. I find setting unrealistic goals is one of the most harmful things I can do to myself. Having unattainable goals is usually worse than having no goals at all. With no goals the most common feelings are confusion, frustration and discontentment. I can handle those feelings. While they still may obscure my ability to problem solve and bring me a sense of dissatisfaction, I can ultimately confront those feelings with relative ease by simply putting goals into place and bringing myself back on track.

The difference with unattainable goals is you are now dealing with the two big F's-- Fear and Failure. I find fear and failure much harder to conquer. Once they set it the roots grow fast and deep, and before you know it you are doubting every aspect of your being. I try to work with all of this in the back of my mind. I set goals for myself constantly. Little mile markers, not marathon markers. Keeping everything in perspective is an important part of my daily routine. I try to stay in the moment as much as possible, often muttering little reminders that all things take time, accept the things I cannot change, no better time than now.. those sort of feel good messages. Setting reasonable goals works right into this present moment approach.

My mind is always going, conjuring up future projects, addressing present concerns, thinking, thinking, thinking. This can get a bit overwhelming. The far away stuff I jot down in my notebook. The right now stuff I break up into smaller units. Because the process from start to finish with a piece of pottery is so layered and time consuming I needed to find a way to stay busy without losing focus on the earlier work that was now sitting just slowly drying. When I used to work outside of the house I would throw a few pots and then go about my busy work and school life until I remembered those poor neglected pots. I'd fire them sometimes months after they were made. I'd eventually glaze them and maybe wait several more months before firing them again. This method used to work perfectly for me. It fit my lifestyle. At that time my goal to do pottery whenever I could, whenever I had the spare time was a no-pressure, attainable goal approach even though I never fully acknowledged that method to be a goal. It simply worked. And that is the important thing; to find a goal that simply works for you.

Now that I am making a go of my pottery full-time I obviously needed to reevaluate my working method. This is admittedly still a learning process for me, but I have found something that works for me right now. Every day I make at least six pots. May sound like a lot to some people. May sound like absolutely nothing to others. But for me, this is just the right amount. Some days I double or triple my goal, but I always make at least six. Size and form do not matter. It is just a number that I am working towards. Depending on the forms this goal may take several hours or less then ten minutes. And that is the perfect thing about it for me. Some days I don't have more than ten minutes to sit down and throw, but I can always find at least ten minutes. Other days I work for hours and hours quite happily, not another thought on my mind.

Setting attainable goals is an important part of disciplined creative work, and self employment. While the details will certainly vary for each individual, I cannot imagine a single person who would not benefit from a set of reasonable goals customized to their own lifestyle. Don't hold yourself to someone else's standards. Set your own attainable goals and give yourself the reward of successful accomplishment each and every day. So, what are you working towards?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Knowing "No"



An important part of my creative process is having the freedom to make every decision from design conception to production, to glaze creation, to complete finished product. My work works for me because I am in charge. I am able to feel the waves of creativity and to respond to the naturally, just as I see fit. I am guided by the things I like. I make bowls I would use. I consider their intended purpose and respond with subtle curves, flared lips, spouts, height and gloss. I make pots and vases I would place in my home. I use color for comfort, reflection and inspiration. 
  
I love classic and timeless pieces, simple yet beautiful things like pearl earrings, a pair of black pumps, wooden spoons, colorful antique glass and any furniture which would fall into the danish modern family. These are the things I value. My work is a jumbled mixture of hair ribbons, chipped wooden picture frames, mismatched printed china, bold plastic clocks without batteries which never read the time and rocks I pick up and pack up each time I move. A little quirky and always beautiful. I am a designer and an artist. I pull from the things I love, the things which fill my home and I create new objects touched with the ideation of these joys. I choose to use clay.

As a potter I often feel misunderstood by the outside world. For one, people never understand what I say when I answer the question, "And, what do you do for a living." When I say simply, "I am a potter." They are immediately confused. Now I know there are trade and craft professions whose titles have been lost to the general public. Our beloved Milliners for example. But, Potter? Is that really a dead word? I didn't think so. It's simply that people do not perceive the possibility that I would be one. After bumbling through the confusion I usually have to say something incredibly stupid, and professionally offensive like, "I make pots, you know, from clay." All that's missing is the caveman grunt. This is a major oversimplification of what I do. Yet people seem to understand this. They usually smile with recognition and begin ordering things- specific things, things they want but don't want to spend money on at the store where they originally saw this piece of pottery. Throw a couple dollars my way and their token of charity is rewarded with a twelve piece bowl set just to their specifications. Or, so they think. I may make common, purposeful objects, but this is art. I am not a factory.


"I am not a factory" has become somewhat of a working mantra this past week. For some reason I have been flooded with inquires about production work. Mindless, soulless production work. At least that is how I see it. I know for many potters production work is a very valuable tool for technical development. And I can agree with this, if somewhat abstractly. The fifty vases I just made challenged me in a big way to make a set bigger than I ever had before. I became a better potter, faster, gentler and more coordinated. This challenge however never felt soulless to me. Repetitive and a bit monotonous, yes, but not soulless. And that is the difference for me. I am not just my hands.

I've deconstructed this to better understand the way I want to define my business. Here's what I've learned: I loved the Paris order because I was making my product. I designed the vase, I made the color and a client purchased a quantity of fifty. This was my work. The customer was not buying factory production means for the creation of their design idea, instead they were acknowledging me and my work and simply purchasing a large quantity. I was still in creative control. And this may sound a little bratty, but at the chance of risking it here goes-- Its my business. I can decide that this is the way I want to work. Call me crazy. I will turn down orders and I will lose money, but I will still have my soul, my values, my ideas, my love for quirky knicknacks and antique jewlery. My work will still be mine and represent me and the way I see the world. Humanness, the uniqueness of each of us and our amazing interconnectivity, I need to be creating work with these concepts in mind. Bowl, bowl, bowl, bowl is emptiness, isolation and mass consumerism. I just won't work this way.


After struggling with how to understand why some orders and inquires make my heart beat faster with excitement while other cause me to groan in frustration. I am relieved that I finally figured it out. I am not just hands at the wheel. I am not an empty piece of equipment or an instrument which can be programmed to regurgitate other people's latest ceramic designs. I am a designer and a creator. I love working with others to create special pieces they will cherish, but I'll be honest and admit there is a catch- I love making these pieces with my everything- my heart, mind, soul and hands.

I am thrilled to create a one of a kind piece of pottery for someone who appreciates my vision and dreams of their own piece of porcelain heaven! I am not opposed to custom orders. What I am opposed to is being perceived as a drone, worker bee, dimwitted craftsman. I went to art school, I've studied and painted right alongside the Fine Arts folks. I just love clay. I love the natural, hands on full body experience of shaping water and earth into stone through fire. If you listen closely my bowls say much more than "Eat cereal from me" although they do serve this little extra purpose! It is form, function and Fine Art.


I am so thankful for all of my wonderful friends, family and customers who understand my approach. I can't just go through the motions. Living passionately is what makes this job different than the gray misery of a mindless day job. I am committed to finding my voice in clay and I can't do that if I am making only with my hands. To those of you who support and encourage my dedication to both the ideation and the creation of a piece of pottery "Thank you". And, for those out there who do not understand what the big deal is about reproducing the bowl you just saw at blah-blah-blah for half the price, well to you I am learning to simply say "No."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Perfectly Plum


Purple has been on my list for a while. For some reason it hasn't been a glaze I have rushed to finalize. Nearly every time I fire a load of pots I mix up a small batch of some shade of purple and glaze at least one pot with the unrecorded concoction. I love purple. I know I want a great go-to purple glaze in the studio but I just haven't been in a rush to figure it out. This is a nice change of pace for me, the whole not rushing thing.


While I've mixed up quite a few lavenders, violets and lilacs I haven't found a shade I am completely drawn to. Until I unloaded the kiln this morning. Hello plum perfection! This color has some serious potential! Keeping with my laid back purple approach I (of course) did not take notes on this glaze. Thankfully, (and hopefully) I think I basically remember how I acheived this rich, juicy hue. Now it's time to get serious about purple and get out my notebook... and even make test tiles.



I'd like to cool down the color just a little bit, but I love the warm pink undertones and don't want to lose much of this richness. I am already imagining a whole range of possibilities. I usually don't look forward to making test tiles. It is truly the simplest thing, but I find it so tedious and annoying.

I constantly find myself in the heat of the glazing moment deciding to glaze prized pots with untested glazes. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it definitely does not work. For whatever reason the thrill of the working times outweighs the horrors of the failures in my memory. Time and time again I do this very brave and questionably stupid thing. In the case of the mysetery purple I'd say this is a big time works example. Now, to conjure up the glaze formula from memory... with the help of my test tiles. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Raku

 Yes, I wore a dress, despite the potential catching on fire thing. Only got a sunburn! Here's a step by step of this past weekend's Raku firing:

My old Cress given a second life as a Raku kiln with a drilled hole and propane fed weed burner.

My friend Michael-- Budding Raku Master, evening potter, chef extraordinaire.. lots of other commas and titles. A man of many interests! Here he is loading our glazed pots into the kiln.

Glazed pots waiting to be fired.

Once they're hot enough they are removed from the kiln and exposed to the air. The drop in temperature shocks the glaze. Getting the glaze hot enough is crucial. We don't use any sort of pyrometer. Instead we usually watch for a few tell tale signs from the glaze:

-Red orange heat
 -Little sweat beads forming on the pot's surface
 -The sweat beads begin to flatten out on the pots making them very shiny and "wet".
**This is the heat point we always wait for.

Removed with tongs the pots are placed on bricks for a few seconds. In this brief time the glaze begins to crack and separate, creating a web-like system of intricate crackles. While they can't be seen yet, the cracks are now established.



The pots were then placed in a nearby barrel which was packed with combustibles such as newspaper and pine needles. The heat from the pots quickly catches this material on fire. The lid is then closed.



 
Allowed to rest for over half an hour the smoke in the barrel fills in the cracks which formed in the glaze when the pot was shocked from being moved from the hot kiln to the cooler (though still very hot) air.



Once the pots are removed from the barrel they are dull and brown. The pots are then dipped in water to cool the glaze completely.



Washed and polished the pots shine with beautiful black crackles!

This is how we Raku, how about you?