Friday, May 22, 2009

A small package from Scotland

The US Mail delivered a small, carefully wrapped box to my front steps this afternoon. It contained a lovely little slipware bowl from my blogging friend Hannah McAndrew of Galloway, Scotland, one of the newest members of Britain's Craft Potters Association. Thank you, Hannah. Maybe I'll take some melitzanosalata in it tonight to our friends Mike and Tammy Race, who invited Dee and me to a fish dinner.
Hannah gave this package over to the Royal Mail on April 9, which is, I think, just a bit more than six weeks ago. Someone must have rowed it across the ocean. But it arrived in one piece. Also in the box was a bag of dried and sieved Solway Firth mud, which ought to be in some sort of ashy glaze in my next firing. Can't wait to see what that does. Maybe I'll combine it with some of the Antarctic mud I've been using. Unite the planet, and all that ...
Thanks, Hannah. You'll be hearing from us.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"I could never drink out of that cup"

I took eight tall, bulky teabowls out of the kiln last week, pots created by digging out clay from the inside of a roughly wedged two-pound cone of brown stoneware clay. Holding the raw clay in my right hand and digging out the inside with a trimming tool in my left resulted in uneven sidewalls, holes accidentally dug through the walls and then patched, rims that broke apart and had to either be left that way or also patched with raw clay. Some rims flared upward on one side of the rough circle, some stayed more or less on the same plane.
None of those things mattered to me. In fact, that was what I hoped would happen. Throwing on a wheel results in even rims, one quadrant on the same plane as its opposite. Even cutting the rim after the first pull, which I often do, still results in ups and downs that play with the plane of the rim but don't deviate from it very much. In these dug-out teabowls, deviation is the norm. Sometimes substantial deviation. I like that.
But it also scares some people. I knew it would. I often take new mugs or teabowls to the coffee shop to try them out, make sure they work, give myself something new to drink from in the morning, make sure people know I'm still making new pots. I brought one of the new teabowls - the left one in the photo above - to Coffee Obsession in Woods Hole Sunday morning. It came in for some informal and lighthearted (I think) "criticism" by the people at the table. One coffee drinker said, "Well, everyone has to start somewhere," to much laughter.
Tuesday at Coffee Obsession in Falmouth (there are two branches of the same great coffee shop), a woman said, "I could never drink out of that cup," speaking of the teabowl on the right in the photo. Another woman agreed that she would spill coffee all over herself if she tried to drink from that particular cup. Which either means she can't figure out how to avoid the single gap in that particular rim - and I know that's not true - or she's just more accustomed to drinking from the kind of vessel you see in the center of the photo.
The fact is, we all become accustomed to certain forms in our lives - whether it's sitting on the left side of the automobile to drive or drinking from a round, evenly rimmed cup with no disturbing unevenness. Take us out of our comfort zone and we're ... uncomfortable.
All of which means I can't stop making mugs like the one in the middle and turn all my production to rough and uneven handbuilt teabowls. No matter how much I like them. Not, at least, if I expect people to buy enough of my work to keep me in clay and natural gas.
I do like the temmoku mug in the middle, in spite of the fact that its funky neighbors make it look rather ordinary. As always, the trick is finding a way to make pots that I like that people will buy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

And a couple more ...

There were more of these square "whiskey cups" in yesterday's firing than anything else. And a few of these taller vases.

Here's a look at the new pots

There are always surprises when I open the kiln, particularly when there are new glazes or new forms or new combinations of glazes in there. That happens a lot. I don't do anything consistently, which is either a virtue or a vice, depending ...
Fortunately, I like surprises. That's why I like wood-firing, though I don't do it often enough. And that's why I use Shino glazes and combinations of Shino glazes in most firings in my own gas-fueled kiln. This time, the three overlapping Shino glazes on the many square hand-dug brown stoneware cups and vases and the dug-out teabowls worked out pretty well. I used Bright Shino as a base, pouring a Malcolm Davis carbon-trap and a Davis orange Shino over the base. On some of them I poured the Phil Rogers ash celadon I use as a liner. The ash sometimes does nice things over Shino.
There was a fair amount of crackle slip in this firing, which works well under the ash celadon and under the blue ash recipe adapted from blogging potter Brandon Phillips. (Thanks, Brandon.) This blue might still be a bit strong for my tastes, but cobalt is a strong colorant and I mixed a smallish batch, so I might have had a bit more cobalt than the .10 percent called for in Brandon's recipe.
The two faceted vases and the creamer between them are glazed with a basic ash glaze that is four parts Antarctic sea mud and five parts wood ash. That recipe produces a glossy amberish glaze with nice running and pooling qualities on the B-Mix white clay body and with crystally brown/amber qualities on brown stoneware.
All in all, not a bad firing.

First look inside this week's firing

I opened the kiln door this morning after returning from the coffee shop. It's still a bit warm in there, especially at the top, so we're trying to keep the pinging down to a less-than-orchestral level. But here's a first look at the front of the kiln. I put up a sign at the coffee shop that said we'd open the kiln at 11 this morning, so I'm resisting taking things out for now. I don't know how many people will show ... perhaps no one.
It appears the square whiskey cups and the handbuilt funky teabowls did well with the overlaid Shino glazes and occasional splash of ash glaze. The Antarctic Ash looks pretty good, from what I can see. There seems to be some decent carbon-trapping on the pots that got that glaze. We'll know more when we get things dismantled.
That's the first view, anyway.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pausing in mid-glaze

I am in the midst of glazing now. Yesterday, before heading to Hyannis for the weekly beer session at Jack's Lounge with my aging softball teammates, I managed to get the bottom shelves of this kiln loaded. That pair of shelves, which holds about 40 pots, is always the highest hurdle for me in preparing for a glaze firing. I dry-stack the kiln to see how things fit, then I pull down the front shelves and begin glazing. You can see that in the photo above.
This firing will be interesting, perhaps a bit more than some recent ones. I've got hand-built and hefty teabowls in here, covered in two or three Shino glazes and some with pours of ash glaze on them. There's a batch of pots that will be glazed in a combination of Antarctic mud and New York State wood ash, and another small testing batch glazed in a light blue ash glaze recipe from Brandon Phillips. There will be pots with crackle slip pours under ash glazes, square dug-out vases with Shinos, four dog dishes for our new grand-dog, Hopi, who lives out in Seattle, a four-finger mug for one of Dee's mug-loving cousins, and some other things.
It should be an interesting kiln-opening on Saturday morning. But now ... back to glazing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Making an unexpected connection

Those of us who sell pots at craft shows and fairs spend a lot of time whining to each other about the mercurial habits of the buying public. Or, perhaps more accurately, the looking public. We sit behind our shelves of pots and smile at everyone who comes by, even if they determinedly don't make eye contact. We explain our work, our clay, our glazes, our firing methods, that "no, it's not raku" ... over and over again. "Beautiful work," they say, and move on down the aisle to the next jeweler or potter or card-maker or ... or ... or ...
I spend a great deal of time waiting for the one or two people who truly make a connection with the pots. With my pots. Or, really, with anyone's pots. There are people who are truly interested in clay and in the making process and in the thought that goes into the whole thing. I love those people. I love it when they buy, but buying is a secondary concern when you meet someone who knows something about clay or genuinely wants to know something about clay.
This comes up because I met a Chinese woman named Ji Jin two days ago at Coffee Obsession, the best coffee shop in Falmouth and the place I am usually found early in the morning before starting the day in the studio. I was leaving in a moment, it was a crowded morning there and I offered Ji Jin and her friends my table. She sat down immediately and began asking about my mug. She wanted to know about the clay, about the color of the glaze, about the overlap of copper red over temmoku. She told me a few things she knew about pot-making in China. I told her a couple of stories I know about pot-making in Korea and Japan. When her friends sat down, I got one of my business cards and a small Shino cup from the shelf display nearby and gave her both. That kind of interest should be encouraged.
Today she sent me an e-mail: "I hope you know how much it warmed me when you put the small beautiful pot in front of me and smiled, “It’s a gift.” It brightened up my day! Thank you so very much! After you left, for a very long time, my friends and I passed around the pot and admired everything about it: the design, your signature, the color, the thoughtful dip on the side, the texture.... I particularly loved the crystal like green at the bottom of the pot. It reminds of the green tea leaves lingering at the bottom of a tea cup. I’m now using it as a teacup, and every time I sip the tea, I think of the spring time in Coffee O.
"You changed my view of pottery too. I opted for a career in science but I’ve always been drawn towards arts. I started white and black ink drawing many years ago and later painting. I traveled about the world and by luck came across a few friends and each of them directed me to a path further down in the art world. But pottery has never been intimate to me. It has always been distant and cold, although beautiful. You brought me the personality of the pottery. This is something that truly made me happy. Thank you!
"Have a lovely spring day.. "

We should all get such lovely thank-you notes. Made my day.