Archive for September, 2010

Making Progress – Ready to Fire


Mugs DryingThe first batch of wheel-thrown wares that resemble something usable are nearly dry enough for a bisque firing.  The bare mug forms from a previous post, now have some surface treatment and the stamp that I use on most of the MugPhlutes.  I’m thinking that a dark blue glaze on the interior that caries over to cover the lip area with be the principal color. Red iron oxide will be washed into the textured areas and shadowed lightly below…after that, a simple clear glaze will cover the handle and all of the outside (except for the lip).  Three of the mugs will be used to test other glazes.  The six that are close enough to call a set will be glazed consistently.

The ware boards on my shelves seem to be filling up with new work.  I hope that is a sign that my technique is improving. The next assignment for class is 20 bowls. That shouldn’t be a huge deal, but I have other projects that keep pulling me back to some interesting sketchbook work…I guess that’s progress.

Sketchbook…Don’t let the paper get in the way


Those of you who know me understand that just about any scrap of paper that happens to be laying  around is subject to becoming a canvas for some sort of sketch.  I find sketches everywhere…particularly in margins of notes from meetings that I attend (no offense to those who are running meetings, but I don’t take that many notes, it just appears that way).  For the next few months, however, all that sketching energy is focused on just two sketchbooks, one for The Sketchbook Project and one for my clay class.  There are some differences that I am discovering.

Clay Class SketchbookMy clay class sketchbook is filling up with project ideas faster than I can wedge clay to even get started.  They may be some of my best technical sketches…often looking like details from a set of architectural drawings (imagine that).  I have to show great restraint from tackling a project from my sketches because most have little application to the pieces required to satisfy the syllabus. I also know that only one other person must view this sketchbook and that the instructor’s view is more of a formality than a critical view of the contents.  Still, this one is filling up and energizing the suppressed, wheel-addicted potter within…and new projects are emerging from the clay in spite of the syllabus.

On the other hand, The Sketchbook Project seems to be stalled in concerns over the very paper that is bound between its Moleskin covers.  The paper provided does not play nice with watercolor or ink wash and I haven’t forced myself to replace it with something that will.  Now remember, that ANY paper laying around has been sufficient in the past…and now this odd circumstance (my stubbornness to use watercolor pencil)  is producing a backlog of sketches relegated to tracing paper, begging for a place to land.  But here is the kicker…this project will be viewed by the general public on a nationwide tour and I think that actually scares me a little.  My original objective for participating in The Sketchbook Project was to use the visual stimuli to overcome inertia from novel writing.  Now, the inertia of novel writing collides with the inertia of a silly paper quality conundrum, that is stalled due to some irrational fear that someone might actually see that drawings that are intended to release creative energy…whoa boy, is that ever messed up!

I recommend the sketchbook process to anyone who works through creative processes that are heavy on the visual and analytical. There are personal reflection qualities in the process that would make Peter Senge proud…my thoughts above, for instance.  Whatever delivery system you choose, however, just don’t let the paper get in the way.

To ‘Turn’ or to ‘Throw’


The choice of terms for potters is probably just semantics.  Whether a pot is thrown or turned implies a mechanical pottery wheel of some description either way.  What appears to be a trend is that crafts people tend to throw pots and artists prefer to turn clay.  There may be something in the marketing world that subliminally tells us that turned ceramics are somehow more valuable than thrown ceramics.

The expression, wheel thrown,  makes a lot of sense to me considering the mechanics of the device and the physics (centrifugal force) of the clay spinning on the wheel head.  On the other hand, turned pieces bring images of a craftsman working at a lathe…where pieces seem to emerge from within a solid block of wood. There are some economics to the word turned that I like as well.  Calling something ‘wheel turned’ seems redundant…and turned could easily concatenate what happens on the pottery wheel with what often happens on a banding wheel during construction and decoration.

Six Inch Tall MugsTo fan the flames of the artist-craftsman feud, perhaps turned requires verbalization with the head kicked back slightly, the nose pointed skyward, and the word sung as if it is a very long, one syllable word.

All that being said, I’m turning mugs this week.  For the most part they will become test pieces for glaze experiments and exercises to help me improve my throwing skills.

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Working in the Woods


Pinch Pot OcainaFirst of all, parked in a paved space with a motor coach at a state park filled with amenities is hardly the woods. And secondly, doing what I do with clay while sitting beside a campfire is so far removed from work that I should be ashamed for typing in the title of this post. OK. I’m over it, but Manipulating Clay in the Comfort of Resort Living is not the sort of title that gets anyone’s attention, right?

The Labor Day weekend has been glorious and restful and fun.  I pulled out a ball of clay last evening just because it was a different stoneware than I have been using for the last year. Sure, I knew that ultimately it would become an flute or an ocarina, but I began the project with just the slightest idea of what I wanted and more in tune with what the clay was telling me it was capable of doing.  The result is a piece that is a bit eclectic and full of discovery and exploration.  The clay is a high fire stoneware and I am not terribly concerned about the survival of the musical parts if the piece actually turns out to be something worthy of decoration.  That is quite a paradigm shift for me…so I’ll rationalize my title as something that the woods is doing that is working.

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First Pots – Let the Wheel Throwing Adventure Begin (Again)


Stoneware - Test CylindersAfter a couple of hours or working on a potter’s wheel for the first time in years, my body reminded me of several parts that are ill-prepared to do this without practice and attention to form (mine, not the pots…well, maybe the pots too).  As a mental break from writing and research, signing up for a clay class looks to be one of the better decisions I have made.  It is fun. The class is full of students plus an great instructor, all young enough to be my children.  I have had more than a few curious looks from my fellow students as I played in the mud the first session or two.

I do have a few ulterior motives.  There are things that a skilled potter can do on the wheel that would make great pieces/parts for ceramic musical instruments…and some of my older sketchbooks attest to the fact that those ideas have been fermenting for some time in the back of my head.  The class also provides me access to a great gas kiln to do reduction firing…a method that produces great color in glazes and from the clay bodies alone.

These practice cylinders are my first.  I suspect that they will end up in the slop bucket, but the picture is a reminder of my first steps back into the (wonderfully addictive) world of wheel-thrown ceramics.