Glynnis Lessing

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Terra Cotta “Fossil” Paver Tutorial

These “Fossil Pavers” are so named because you are inlaying the lighter clay into the larger Terra Cotta paver body. This is a fun and useful project for all ages and can be a lasting decoration for your garden or house (provided you have access to a kiln!)

9 finished paver

I taught this class a few years ago at Lill Street and again recently at the Northern Clay Center.

At Lill we did it as a family workshop and what is great about this project is children as young as 3 or 4 can help lay out the design. You’ll need something round to trace- about 12″ across.

We used 2 kinds of clay. Continental Clay’s Terra Cotta will fire nicely to Cone 1 which is what we did so that the pavers would be essentially non-porous for wintering outside and also extremely dense for the strength needed to be able to step on the pavers.

2 laying out the paver design

Start with your light colored clay (porcelain, light stoneware or raku clay) and make your design. Make it as fine as possible as it will spread out when you flatten the terra cotta over it. When rolling coils, if they are drying and consequently cracking, roll them on a little patch of dampened table- a canvas covered table is ideal. If you are cutting out leaf shapes, make the clay as thin as you reasonably can- that means less than 3/16th of an inch! More like an 8th of an inch or less. The reason for this is so that your paver won’t be lumpy and the white clay not fully integrated into the surface of the paver. These leaves are a little too thick and caused a bit of trouble getting them to fully integrate.2 paver design

Lay out your design on a piece of board or paper! We found it helpful to draw the pattern on a piece of paper and to trace our circles so that we knew the boundaries of the paver and could lay out the design well within it.2a laying out design

***IMPORTANT NOTE!*** Words must be laid out in mirror writing. This may seem really hard but you can lay out the word and then simply flip it over. You can see we have the world “Welcome” backwards here.2b writing backwards

Also important to keep your white clay pattern moist- spritz it before you set it aside and again before you put the terra cotta over it. Make sure it does NOT sit in water! That will make it too soft and it will smear.

And before you throw a slab and shake the table, MOVE your layout! Several layouts were shaken to bits before we caught on!

Next, throw a thick terra cotta slab and then roll it to about a ½ inch thickness. You can do this using two half-inch thick boards on either side of your slab. You will need a long rolling pin though! We needed about 7-8 lbs of clay to make a 12 “ circle.

4 tc slab

Before your lay your finished and smoothed terra cotta slab over your design, wipe the surface with a sponge and spritz your design.

5 dampening slab
Then starting at one edge, lay your slab carefully down over your design and using the flat of your hand pat/smack it down firmly over your design. You can also go over it gently, firmly and evenly with the rolling pin. It’s okay if it gets thinner than ½ an inch- but not too much!

It is important to lay the slab over the design instead of vice versa to give you a very uniform flat surface where the clay pushes down to the level of the light clay’s design.

Now you can flip it over by sandwiching it between 2 boards or simply picking it up and flipping it over.6 before cutting circle

If your design is still sticking up, you can gently go over it from the front with a rolling pin too.8 rolling front

After that, lay your circle pattern over the slab, covering your design and cut around it. 7 tracing circle Go over the edge with an dampened sponge to soften the corner and get rid of sharp chip-able edges.

Let dry thoroughly and fire to Cone 1!1 picture fern paverHere is my fired fern paver example from Lill. I was working very fast to make the example as I had young kids waiting to work! I’ve had it for years now, left outside in the winter many times and it’s still intact!


Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 11:22 am.


Pottery Adventures in Nepal

I am back from our 4 week trip to Nepal and 1 week in India. I will post about India shortly.

The reason for taking this trip was chiefly influenced by my mother and my deceased Uncle.     Uncle Mike first went to Nepal in 1962 when he joined the Peace Corps.   He really loved it there and spent the rest of his life going back and figuring out ways to live there and to help many of the people he met and worked with. He did a second two year stint with the Peace Corps and then  worked with US Aid in Nepal for 2 years returning to  live in the U.S. for ten years and then returned as a program officer for the  Peace Corp. After that he got a Nepali partner and started a restaurant, Mike’s Breakfast in 1988. For many years it was known as the only place to serve decent coffee and affordable authentic American food in Katmandu (and perhaps Nepal for that matter!).

In 1996 he leased and fixed up Hotel Fewa on the shores of Lake Fewa in Pokhara. The hotel also housed Mike’s restaurant.Both are still going strong.

My mother visited him and traveled all over Nepal with him and alone; sometimes on errands for the restaurant (to get equipment or train people) many times for pleasure. She had been to Nepal 9 times. This, she said, would be her 10th and last visit; I wanted to go with her and to see what my uncle had created as well as experience Nepal.

In 2001 he was diagnosed with Myeloma  which he fought for 7 years and passed away in 2008.

My Uncle wrote two books about his experiences there, the first is a cook-book, liberally sprinkled with anecdotes, the second, more of a memoir about his time in Nepal which he wrote just before he died. My mother edited it and it has just been published. It is available from Larchill Press.

So, although this was a pilgrimage and mostly devoted to general travel and visits to many friends there, it was heavily infused with my Uncle’s creations and experience in Nepal. Nevertheless, I was on the lookout for clay and potters wherever we went.

My first  delighted discovery was on a walk through the neighborhood of Asan (Asan tole) which was medieval madness overlaid with a thin sheen of modern technology. I was delighted with the winding streets and narrow alleyways opening onto quiet courtyards filled with laundry or some home industry or most often, a temple or two. Every low door and passagewa or narrow alley beckoned me. Imagine my delight to walk through one low passageway to pop out into this courtyard  overflowing with all things clay! There seemed to be a temple under that stack and there were things that were most likely press molded  but most of it was hand thrown-  now THIS is production pottery! Naturally, I was dying to find the source of all this ware.

Potters also have guaranteed they won’t become obsolete by making a lot of disposable items. Chief among them, these little incense holders

and also larger offerings holders, dishes and saucers.


Let me digress a moment to talk about garbage. We did notice the Nepali don’t seem to deal with it well. It’s everywhere and although there is a specific caste meant to handle garbage, a lot of it seems to end up in the rivers (my mother pointed out that in rainy season, the rivers swell and wash it all away – ugh). I hypothesized that NON-biodegradable garbage is probably relatively new (the last 20 years or less) and that before that, garbage was mostly vegetal. Look here at these lovely disposable leaf plates that were for sale and that we saw everywhere. Who cares if you leave these lying around your picnic area? (everyone seemed to have some stored at their house)

And the same for the low fire pottery, it just turns back into rubble and eventually, powder. Plastic, in so many ways, is the bane of our existence.

The next clay-related sight was a few days later on a day trip to Changu Narayan; a 5th century temple complex high up in the hills but to get there, our taxi took us through fairly verdant (but rapidly filling with urban sprawl) lowlands strewn with brick factories in the Katmandu Valley. I am used to thinking of clay as deposits from lakes (Chicago especially) or inland seas (the American SouthWest) but of course rivers are continuously depositing clay in many places and Katmandu, surrounded by mountains, is also laced with seasonal rivers. So it was not really surprising to see swaths of grey carved out of the  grass and filled with carefully stacked drying brick(Those aren’t gray stone walls, they are stacks of unfired drying brick.)

nor to see beyond this, huge chimneys belching out grey smoke as they fired the huge subterranean kilns below them, filled with bricks. (okay this one is not firing right now)

  We drove past many brickyards filled with chalky, soft-looking orange brick, each stamped with a special mark denoting its maker.



Eventually, we went to Bahktapur. Unfortunately, we were distracted by the beautiful traditional architecture and lovely temple complex.The building on the right is a temple.These beautiful wooden carved windows were everywhere.

By the time we wended our way to the pottery square, most everyone was packing up for the day.  Even so,  I was so excited. Oh what joy!

A square full of potters, wheels, piles of clay and a huge pit firing just starting up! But several potters I approached to talk to, kept saying “tomorrow, tomorrow” thinking I wanted them to demonstrate throwing and they were done for the day.

Here, I was so frustrated by my inability to communicate that I was a potter too. In fact, I was a bit embarrassed because the kind of potters these guys are is pretty intimidating to someone like me. These guys throw off the hump on these huge hand-turned wooden wheels.This is propped up for the night. Next to it are a couple of baskets of drying money banks. This seemed to be the main form they were throwing here. I found this woman trimming woman trims banks by hand

trimmed and drying green banks. I wish I could have seen them throwing them! They are super light!


Then I saw  a man loading his truck with BAGS of the banks. next to where they were prepping a firing. He spoke English and was able to give me some information about the firing.

They were just beginning to fire about a month’s worth of pots- Three  potters were cooperating. They don’t use a kiln to fire them! The pots are under tin, which is under straw 

and they covered the whole thing with straw ash. Fired pots hold up the tin.


They will fire for FOUR days. They don’t use any temperature-measuring devices- only experience. This is under a shed, right in the middle of the town. Did I mention how much wood is in the buildings?! I wonder if they ever have any problem with fires? Probably not because I suspect that they attend the fires closely and keep them banked down. The potter I spoke with told me they fire the pots once OR twice. The second firing turns them black (must be reduction!) Not all pots are fired twice.

My husband and cousin found a courtyard with a super-friendly potter. He was done for the day too but totally understood my desire for connection  –he spoke enough English and set me up on his huge wooden wheel in the ground.

The potter told me the brick makers are using up all the clay and it’s great clay!  Here it is just piled up dry.The firing shed is directly behind this shed that was shared by many potters.

The clay is black and super plastic, very easy to throw except that I was hunched over a huge wheel. My son and husband both filmed me but no one took a photo! I first threw a bowl and then a really bad vase. He was SO nice.

To turn the wheel, one inserts a stick into a hole near the edge of the wheel and turns it. He really got it going. It could tip easily and did at first, but the faster it goes, the more the centrifugal force keeps it level like a gyroscope.

I think the best part for me was simply connecting about pottery with this man. Eventually his wife and daughter arrived and the daughter spoke better English; although his was good enough for us to communicate. I bought 2 banks from him and 2 candlesticks and a little hand-built  elephant incense burner .

I feel so sad we got there so late in the day. I had really hoped to be able to witness potters throwing off the hump on those huge wooden wheels.They are first and foremost production potters. I have no idea if they ever give a second thought to the beauty of the traditional forms they throw. I would love to be able to ask.

It was just about dark when we left our affable friend after exchanging addresses. He was just so wonderfully kind and generous!

We returned past the firing just being lit and  through almost dark streets- there are no street lights and additionally I think that “load sharing” was happening (another way of saying “no power”). The medieval feeling was stronger than ever. People were hurrying home or putting away their wares in the lowering darkness and I was feeling tremendously content. I only regret not asking for a fistful of wet clay.


Throughout the rest of our trip I saw pottery in many places but that was my last contact with a Nepali potter.

Also, this is what a pottery shop looks like:

I’m so curious what uses each of these shapes are put to. The pottery is chiefly functional. All the clay I’ve seen seems to be terra cotta.

We saw clay used in so many places in so many ways. I saw countless raised clay ovens on the highway way to Narayangot. The stove is built on wood and the only thing that keeps it from burning its own supports is the clay coating.


This is a local variation on the most common clay “stove” which is on the floor in most houses. 

Another use was as a stucco or wall covering. Outside and in. My uncle used it over the brick walls in his cabins in his hotel .

And also in the Tharu vernacular architecture in the Terrai area which is south of the Himalayas but still in Nepal. You can see that the clay here is much more tan than the strong orange clay in the Himalayas. I love the way they decorate these with handprints although they very well could have some significance, I was unable to find out.

So that is all things clay from my experience in Nepal. I will post my experience in India next!

Posted 7 years, 11 months ago at 1:39 pm.


A Big Change


In 1971 and I was a tween, my mother started a commune with her best friend. This was a rural “Intentional Community” in northern Wisconsin.

Instantly there were a lot of people in our lives. We were living with 2 other families with children. Suddenly I was the oldest of 7. Many college students would come and stay for the summer, other people for a year or two. We became acquainted with other people living in the area who were also trying out alternative ways of living.

Throwing in the barn at 17

As a result of these connections and my interest in pottery (which is a whole other blog entry) when I was 16, my first job was working part time for a potter. I sifted straw ash, pugged clay, sat up during wood firings, washed his dishes (I loved doing that because all his dishes were handmade pots- many by Warren MacKenzie, his teacher, mentor and friend) I also met and spent time with a few of his potter friends.

Somewhere in there, I think I assumed I would become what I now call a “country potter”.

I didn’t think about it consciously. I didn’t even realize at the time that there were “city potters” I just loved the people I knew who lived out in the country in these funky cool houses and made pots for a living (sort of – there were auxiliary sources of income like teaching and employed wives and insurance settlements).

I went off to college at the U (Minneapolis) took ceramics, met my husband there and eventually moved to Chicago. After about 5 years living here in Chicago (and not making pottery), I met a potter at an art fair who told me of Lill street. I called there that afternoon and was signed up for a class that week, teaching there within months.

That was in 1989 and I’ve been there ever since.

I met so many “city potters” and saw the great benefits of belonging to a large community of potters where we could see each other’s work every day and in process and grab anyone to discuss technical or aesthetic problems as they arose. Resources could be pooled, glazes shared, firings happened 2-3 times a week, test tiles came back immediately. I learned a huge amount.

Most of all at Lill, I learned I was a teacher. That I loved teaching, loved imparting information, loved the challenge of finding the best way to help someone understand how to do something. Teaching is an ever-changing, ongoing endeavor as you adapt to your students and their age and the environment in which they are learning. At Lill I came to realize I truly had something to offer people.

And now, I’m choosing to leave.

It’s not that I actually want to leave Lill it’s more that I have never completely let go of my dream, my image of myself as a country potter. Of my children growing up in the country. Of open sky and forests and the freedom of space you get when you live in the country and so we are moving back to Minnesota. Most likely to Northfield where my family is from so we can be near aging mothers and other family.

I will be tackling such challenges as setting up a studio and, most worrisome for me, figuring out how to continue firing my pots to cone 10 reduction. I don’t know if I will build a kiln or buy one or share an existing kiln. I hope to connect with a small community of potters in that area and perhaps find a place to teach again. I have some friends and connections left over from my college days and also some transplants from Lill who have inspired me. I will be excited to see them again.

I look forward to sharing this whole journey with the readers of my blog.



Lastly, in between selling our house and moving to Minnesota, we will be traveling to Nepal!!! I am sure I will want to post about the potters there because I have always wanted to see in person, those potters who throw off a massive hump on a hand-turned wheel set in the ground; the fruits of their labors spread around them drying in a sunny courtyard.

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago at 10:16 pm.


Mata Ortiz Pottery

Remember how, in my last blog entry,  I mentioned a store in Hasting, Mn that carried Mata Ortiz pottery?

Well, I am very pleased to say that for my birthday, I received no less than three gorgeous pieces (bought from Mississippi Clayworks) from that little town that lies in Mexico just south of Arizona and New Mexico.

I am so thrilled with these amazing pots that I wanted to write just a little more about Mata Ortiz (what little I know) and to post photos of these amazing pots. I first heard of Juan Quezada when I encountered a children’s book “Juan Quezada” by Shelley Dale. After that I made a specific effort to see a short term exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum and I was stunned. These were incredible pots with intricate decorations. They sold a few small ones in the gift shop but they were beyond my means.

Here is my new personal collection!

This first pot is a small seed pot. the opening is small so that one could seal it agains mice with just a nice flat stone.  It is approximately 2.5″hx 4.5″w

This was  made by Alina Mora- possibly you can see the amazing intricacy of the the brushwork. This one is made of “white” clay so that is the underlying color.

Also she put a bird on the underside!  This is something I like to do too!

A few years ago, I took a workshop from Michael Wisner at Lill Street. He has worked with many of the indigenous potters in the southwest including one of my idols (now deceased) Maria Martinez. He was able to answer some questions- one of which was about the brushes that Juan Quezada uses- Juan found that the hair of children is softest and used some from his grandaughter. Mike told a story about going to her and she just matter-of-fact-ly held up her hair so they could take some from the nape of her neck under her hair where it wouldn’t show!

So I imagine the brush that painted these teeny lines was made of child’s hair.

This is a less traditionally functional pot although the shape is not uncommon.

It is around 6.5″h x 5″ w Lourdes Nuñez is the potter who made it.

This pot was given to me by my mother.  These patterns are all hand painted with such a steady hand!

Inspiration for these patterns come from the ceramics Juan found in while gathering firewood in the 30’s and poking around as a young man.  These shards and pots were  made by the ancient cultures that lived near Mata Ortiz. One group was the Paquime indians who lived in the area from the 1200’s to the 1500’s.

Juan’s interest led him to experiment with clays and soils and minerals that he dug up. He figured if they would make those pots here, so could he.  With no knowledge of clay processing or pottery making techniques, he taught himself how to make similar pots. Then he taught anyone in his town who wanted to learn. Now there are no less than 30 accomplished potters in Mata Ortiz and this has completely reversed the severe economic downturn they were experiencing. This is a great short video about it.

Lastly, I admit, this pot by Daniel Gonzalez captivated me immediately as I pressed my face against the glass of the window of the closed store. It’s big too! Roughly 12.5″hx  11″w.

This pot, in person, spectacular!  It is large, extremely light and the pattern of the snakes is amazing! I love how they are “see through” and the way they curl and move around the curves of the pot, emphasizing and enhancing its voluptous curves.

All the pots have round bottoms and came with little padded rings to sit on. If you get a chance, try to experience these pots in person!

Posted 9 years, 6 months ago at 12:40 pm.


Mosaic shower surround finally finished!

My shower surround is finally finished!

Okay well, the niche isn’t but that involves a promise and procrastination.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to JUST. DO. IT.

And I’m so glad I did!! Showering in it is as delightful as I’d hoped.

In taking photos of it, I have decided to make this a post about the whole bathroom. This is possibly the first themed room I’ve ever done. It is SO fun!  Anyhow, the shower is about half of the space.

I was concerned about making the grout stick to the celiling. Obviously it is not straight up but at a pretty steep angle and I felt that if I got the grout the right consistency and also if I positioned myself correctly, I would be able to do it and indeed that was the case. I made the grout a little thicker but not so thick that it was not sticky which can happen.  The hardest part was actually getting it up in the pointy peak part where the ceiling the wall meet because it is a small pointy space.

The big mistake I made and the thing I learned was that my placement of tape was STUPID. I put it in places where I could not extract it and did not need to protect that surface. Namely on the skylight, the floor and the side of the trim. see that hint of blue along the edge? TAPE.

Anyhow, here is the end result

and let me just say that showering in here, night or day is SUBLIME. Yes, a little bit of water bounces off your body or the shower floor and gets onto the bathroom floor but a nice absorbent rug takes care of that- way better than some suffocating and ugly off-gassing shower curtain.

The only plumbing glitch we encountered was that the brand new shower head was not working.  Apparently it had gunk in it from the new plumbing- we took off the head and pulled out the putty-like stuff and then it worked wonderfully!

Here are some detail shots:

a goldfinch,

a nest,

yes, the grout on the slate looks a bit sloppy- let me just say in my defense that slate is tricky with hidden cracks and a certain “attraction” for grout.

a redwinged blackbird and its nest, this one I made and it has holes in the bottom to drain any water.

a rabbit hiding in the prairie grasses;

I’m afraid the grey grout helped this rabbit hide a little more than I would have liked.

all the little details of the shower. The shower has a prairie theme  and the overall theme of the bathroom is birds and nests.

Another note on paint color. I picked it before the lights were installed. Once they were in the green (on the bottom) was overpowering in such a small space so I picked a much lighter green and had the upper half painted with that. I love the two tone- I think it worked out well. Props to Ray, my painter!

I made this toothbrush holder/vase- I think it’s what inspired the whole theme!

Now, does anyone know where I can get some egg-shaped soap? I had to carve these myself!

Posted 9 years, 7 months ago at 6:54 pm.


Minnesota Clay

It was so interesting on my trip to Minnesota to see how clay was ever present and in so many forms!

Naturally my focus was on clay while I was in the Powderhorn Park Art Fair and I was lucky enough to trade with Ryan Myers again- I feel so honored he wants to trade since I love his work! This is from a thrown cylinder.

I also walked around and bought  these e tiles from Martha Enzler I love those breaking glazes!

A potter  was also named the winner of  Best in Show,  giving us all hope.

But even after the fair was over, I found myself buying clay in various forms. We went to the Uptown Art Fair where I saw my friend Bob Briscoe and I bought these wood fired bowls from Sarah Dudgeon. She is so nice!

On a different day, I took my cousin-in-law to the Minneapolis Institute of Art where I commandeered her camera to record these breathtaking pots from China

Afterwards I took her to see the Northern Clay Center as a way of showing her the type of place where I work. It was fun to look at their kilns [-cool chimney!- is it merely decorative or does it serve some sort of pulling/updraft purpose?] and explain generally how so many potters and students share the space. I also  had to try to explain kiln gods- in Spanish!

While there I chatted with and admired the work of Kip O’Krongly and her delicate stencilling technique. It didn’t hurt that she was stencilling my favorite thing- a bicycle! onto a tumbler.

A day-trip to Stillwater had us traipsing through antique malls and there I saw endless examples of mass produced pottery. I personally have a deep weakness for mixing bowls. I bought this beauty I love mixing bowls because they are so utterly useful and functional and yet balanced and beautiful. Bowls in general are my favorite form because they are so all about receiving. They are open and inviting. They are voluptuous and curved and generous.

Another daytrip  spent at  my friend Riana’s   is always profoundly inspirational, healing and invigorating.  Her attention to detail and her aesthetic sense means that there is nothing ugly or unattractive at her place. EVER.You see? she COULD have some hideous but serviceable plastic bucket there to catch water but NO- she has taken the trouble to make a pig shaped trough. No plastic, and in fact not much that is mass produced. Her cupboard (which is handmade) is filled with pots made by potters- most of whom are her friends or acquaintances.

Riana was kind enough to accompany me to Randy Johnston and Jan Mckeachie’s place so I could buy these:

and also to ogle their new-ish Anagama kiln.It’s a bit of torture to see scads of gorgeous (but somehow mysteriously flawed) pottery just lying about Jan took time out of her busy schedule to chat and answer my multitude of questions.

At a  party at Emily Murphy’s I was utterly surprised to see all my Lill street friends and we all admired Emily’s amazing and enviable studio as well as to receive beautiful tea bowls made by her. Here’s mineI had such a great time there and the music and  desserts were awesome!!

For our anniversary my husband and I spent the day in Red Wing Minnesota -of shoe and pottery (!) fame.  They have a small museum in the old pottery factory and I found it absolutely fascinating. I learned a lot. I didn’t know the grey was salt glaze and the  brown on all these pieces was Albany Slip!  So simple!

I would never have believed that the early crocks- even the 30 gallon ones were hand thrown!!

I felt compassion for those potters who had to work in what looked like pretty unhealthy conditions with low light. (You can see the belts- in motion above and then running below to power the wheels)

Look at the small windows, the SINGLE LIGHT BULB and all the shavings and loose clay on the floor. I think he’s working a jigger here.

They did get an interesting special privilege,  I very much enjoyed looking at their “lunch work” pieces- things they made on their lunch time with materials from the factory and fired there.

It looks to me like some of the workers took pre-existing forms like sewer pipes to make their “stump” umbrella stands- and others just worked with the raw clay which was mined nearby.

A short movie of the history of the factories (quite a few devastating fires and also mergers) was fascinating and  I was tickled by the amazing range of work that came out of the factories over the years.

If I read correctly, these pieces predate mass produced glass canning jars!

I just love the lines and proportions of this pitcher.

Some of the much later work that came out of the  factory.

Here is an early potter’s wheel from there.

I can’t imagine that they threw the crocks on this wheel- certainly that’s not what we see in the photo.

Outsidea huge old kiln is still standing. I saw a set of rails in the floor so I assume they wheeled in the pre-stacked work. This looks like a gas kiln. There was a huge blower on the other side.

Also in Red Wing’s Pottery Place were more antique malls packed chock full of fired clay too precious to abandon. Look at all that lead!

From Red Wing we travelled to Hastings where we discovered (too late!! It was closed!) a store carrying work from the Mexican town of Mata Ortiz- a town on the brink of poverty and saved by Juan Quezada and his personal quest to teach himself how to make pots like the ancient pots that he found in the hills around his town. The work is gorgeous, hand built and the surface decoration is intricate. To learn more about Mata Ortiz click here.

A few days later, on a trip to Duluth. I saw this beautiful and colorful  Art Deco Terra Cotta, reminding me not all clay is made into pots and dishes.

Then, on a hike in a nearby river, my daughter dug up the very iron rich clay she found  and made me the most basic clay creation of all:

this pinch pot.

So there you have it; a mad dash through the history of clay

from ancient Chinese vessels to various local contemporary potters,

from Red Wing production pottery and building facades to a pinch pot made on the spot…

it’s all clay and it’s all great.

Posted 9 years, 7 months ago at 3:32 pm.


Kohler Festival of the Arts

For some odd reason I’d hoped to get through this latest art fair without any dramatic incidents but of course that would not make for a good story!

We rented a trailer again- it’s really easy to load and then we have our own car the whole time.  The drive to Sheboygan was lovely.

This person travels heavy!

When we got there, there was ample space to just pull up and it was shady too.  We unloaded and then ate a picnic lunch right on our spot.  As we prepared to set up they decided they had to do some last minute mowing!

Set up is getting smoother as we become more practised and find short cuts and routines.

We had a really nice spot.  

As soon as we were done, we went right over to the Kohler Arts Center. The exhibits were excellent. Interesting, thought provoking and sophisticated.

Then there were the bathrooms.  Luckily our little group (my family)  had genders of both kinds and so got to give each other the “all clear” sign so we could view ALL the bathrooms (there were 4) Here is the main Men’s note that the mirrors are reflecting the other wall – all of it was AMAZING.

my favorite was this Women’s Bathroom.

And the other Men’s was also great.

it was all about water. Although that paisley pattern has a germy look.

Next we went out to eat at Il Ritorno- OMG!  The best pizza I’ve had in years!  Possibly ever! Also a great salad.  Sated, we went off to our hotel which has an attached water park and we all went on slides and inner tubes etc. until we were exhausted and saturated with chlorine.

The next morning dawned beautiful and sunny but I had a fairly slow day. At some point I left the husband in charge of my booth and walked around.  I was really impressed with all the great pottery. I now own some pieces by Michael Kahn of Greenbush, Mi. and also Ryan Myers (who won an award at this fair) of Mudhead Studio.

As soon as we packed up for the night (all the pots in boxes on the ground) we went over to the(  free)  Artists Buffet and Awards Dinner. This is the 40th anniversary of the Festival.  Chinese food, great salad and beer or wine; very nice.

Another winner was Sarah Chapman a fellow Lill denizen- a jeweller.

Back to the hotel where we had a walk on the beach and the kids did the water park again.  So far incident free, right? Everything going smoothly… BORING but smoothly.

The next morning we got all set up- we had the awnings down overnight because of possible wind- and right after we got all set up it rained on us pretty hard.

Unlike 57th Street, that didn’t scare the customers away for the day- they came out with the sun and I had a slow but steady day.

THEN with 45 mins left to the fair, while a volunteer was shopping in our booth, this HUGE TORNADO SIREN goes off. We were about a half a block from it

it was so loud it obliterated all thought and all my decision making functions in my brain shut down.  Should I take my kids to the nearest basement? Should I try to pack up my pots? Was it a REAL TORNADO?? What if it was just a strong wind? Kids would be okay but the pots could be detroyed…. but what if it was a REAL TORNADO? Then I didn’t care about the pots at all….. finally the sound stopped and my brain unfroze. The jeweller across the way who had already lost a tent that weekend (his wife was in Iowa at a different show and wind destroyed their better  tent) was packing up extremely rapidly – to put it mildly.

It looked to me as though the artists all decided, “okay, the customers are gone, it’s been a fair with lackluster profits* let’s just call it a day”

*let me just reiterate here- the fair itself was really really nice- well run, great art, lovely setting, good treatment, good music. These are just tough economic times.

So we all began to pack up.The sun actually came out again and everyone was pretty relaxed.

Amazingly, some customers did return only to find the things they’d been eying for several hours packed away.

Load out was easy, and we were headed home by 6.

Oh, and by the way, there WAS a tornado- north of us!

Posted 9 years, 8 months ago at 8:19 pm.


The Krasl Art Fair

What an interesting fair in terms of what I learned and also rife with little incidents.

First of all, I decided to try using a trailer to haul my stuff to the fair.  I paid for a hitch to be installed on our poor old car and rented a U Haul 4×8 trailer.  The men at the U Haul seemed vastly more confident in my driving skill than I was.Really flattering picture, eh?

I picked it up Friday morning and drove it  without a hitch (haha!) to our house where a spot to load magically opened.

Everything fit in there with room to spare; darn, now I realize I didn’t take a photo!

As we drove off I noticed in my rear-view that the trailer has a sign on it- designed to be readable in my mirror- “Max Speed 45” !!

So there I am creeeping along the highway until I see some guy pulling the exact same trailer whiz past me at about 65 or 70!  So I went 60 with no problem after that.

We arrived in beautiful weather.

There is a certain air of quiet, hardworking, purposefulness when all the artists are setting up. It feels good to be part of that.

While we were setting up some guy sunnily walked through singing very badly at the top of his lungs.  Pretty harmless.

Our spot on the bluff overlooks a brand new fountain. We knew they were building one last year but we had no idea it was an interactive fountain!  My son could barely contain his excitement enough to help us set up and then we let him go down there where he stayed for nearly 2 hours! Every 20 minutes or so, the “big cannons” go off.

We also have two friends from Argentina in the fair. Last year, I noticed Marisa Rufino’s  paintings and sent my husband down to check them out and he came back very excited saying they were from Argentina, up here for about a month to do a bunch of art fairs and could they stay at our house?

So they are back. Her partner, Daniel Belloli makes these incredible sun dials so they were both in the fair this year. This is their web site:

The next morning as I was setting out my pots, I could hear some guy just yelling. I thought maybe it was our singer from the evening before but pretty soon word began to spread. The guy had been asked to leave and was completely out of his gourd. First the police tried pepper spray and then finally they had to use a tazer- neither of which had any effect at all! As I went to change clothes at the hotel,  I saw 4 of St. Joseph’s finest really struggling to get him into the squad car. He was alternately yelling “I love you!” followed closely by vicious swearing. I just kept walking feeling grateful this happened before the fair opened!  By the time I emerged, the squad car was gone with the guy in it.

It was a beautiful day and people were very appreciative. This fair is the best run fair I’ve ever been in and they treat the artists wonderfully. I love being here.

My son and husband went off to ride the new carousel and check out the museum and fountain (again).

Sunday was another lovely day

and I had several customers who had bought things from me last year. It’s always so wonderful to hear how people are living with my pottery and if they like it.

I guess the reason I make mugs is because it is an object so many people take away from the table, cradle, hold, sip from, and start their day with.  I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from hearing people say, “I start my day with your mug every morning”  or “ I love my mug!”

Late in the afternoon we had yet another small incident when I heard one of the artists nearby chide a tourist – who had been bad mouthing Obama- “you’re not a very good Christian” at which point the tourist came at him very aggressively and the tourist’s wife had to physically drag him away while he raged that he had been called a  “bad christian”.

This unpleasantness was completely erased by the pleasantness of all the other fairgoers who cheerfully walked the length of the fair in the hot sun buying art and chatting with the artists.

Our take-down is getting better and more organized but we did have to stop and go get the trailer which kind of slowed our momentum. I tried backing it in but at some point, with traffic backing up I started yelling “just unhook it and we’ll push it by hand!!” which is what we did and that worked just great. The 4X8 is easy to manouver by hand when it’s empty.

We had a a celebratory dinner with Dani and Marisa and slept well at the hotel. The next day we went blueberry picking and had a picnic lunch at the beach nearby.  A perfect weekend!

Posted 9 years, 8 months ago at 7:18 pm.

1 comment

Garden Gnomes


I have to say, Garden Gnomes could easily fall into the “too cute” category but we had a blast in my Garden Gnome workshop.

My class was wonderful- I had at least two people who had never really done anything in clay before and they all came out great!

We had a very short discussion on what your standard gnome looks like and we did look at this book which may have had undue influence; but I stressed to everyone that the gnomes could look like anything, be any gender and wear any type of clothes. That said, I think we all liked the way the book (and example) looked. Perhaps because these are supposed to be Garden Gnomes, we wanted them to be recognized as such.

I started with the body being a double-pinchpot construction which turned out to be ideal for him. To make double pinch pots- you take two balls of clay roughly  the same size make a sturdy pinch pot of each one- pinching below the rim so the rim stays thick and attaching them to each other, making sure to seal them completely so the air trapped inside keeps them from caving in when you roll them to smooth them and get the shape you want- I rolled mine along the table to get a “waist” . Then set him up on two sturdy legs that were hollowed-out cones.

the tips were bent over to make his feet. I put a flange on the top of the cones for ease and security of attachement. Here is the body on the legs

IMPORTANT: any trapped air needs a small hole to let it 0ut, we pierced all our sealed air traps after we were done.

I have a little neck knob there but it turned out I didn’t need it- we made the heads as a single pinch pot with maybe a coil or two added to get the height right. here is Shawna’s head with the beard on it- the beards were made using a garlic press. you just have to remember to press all the little hairs against the body so they don’t break off.

I foolishly put the head on next and the beard before painting slip on his jacket.

After that my students did it the right way, painting the coat before adding the head. We added a little skirt around most of them to make it look like a long coat, blending the top edege into the body .

To make the “stitches” I had brought a notched wheely tool that is often used in sewing. Note also that Shauna’s Gnome is wearing clogs.

Above, you can see Jennifer’s body and legs awaiting belt, head and arms. In the background, Rich’s body rests atop curly-toed boots and already has the belt.

Next we attached the heads- Krissy’s guy looks a little like the muppet version of Uncle Fester but later he got hair. He is also sporting a super-fashionable spotted belt.

The arms were pretty simple and most people chose to copy the pose in the book where he has them clasped behind his back. Here is one of my arms:Veronica put her Gnome’s arm to good use, bearing arms!check out his great ears too!

Belts were also added after painting the coat- we used slip for the colors since we will be high-firing these so they can be outside all year ‘round. What I’m missing are photos of how to make the hat. We just made thin slabs, rolled them up with a point at one end and cut away the rest- they are only one layer thick- we attached the edges to seal the hat and tried them on the gnomes- cutting off clay around the opening and shortening them until they fit.As soon as he’s fired, he’ll be ready to move into my garden!

Here are some more finished but unfired Gnomes:

Finally, here are some photos of the finished gnomes!

the hat color comes from Cohen’s Red glaze and the body is covered in clear. I left the face just raw, unglazed clay. The gnome on the right, above has no glaze on it anywhere.

And here’s my little guy

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 10:10 am.


Top Ten Things to Remember When Throwing

Once again I have the pleasure of teaching First Time Potter and it is always exciting to see people introduced to the joys and frustrations of throwing.

First of all let me say, my class ROCKS!  Take a look at these pots from the first class!  I am so proud!Aren’t they awesome?

Then, because I’ve posted before for FTP, I thought I’d do something slightly different  – as I try to tell my students everything they need to know to make pottery, I realize there is simply too much information to absorb in the time allotted. And not only do they have to learn about the properties of clay, and the steps involved in throwing but also have to learn the systems at the studio. When to put what where! Each stage has a different location and system.

Since it is easy to become overwhelmed, I thought I would write up a list of

The Top Ten Things to Remember When Throwing

(for beginning students)

something like the Cliff Notes™ you would read when cramming for a test

If the test was making a pot that didn’t careen wildly around, laugh at you and collapse.

Really, I should have had the class vote on these but we don’t have the time! Maybe later they can tell me what was the most helpful.

So as a teaching tool and reminder, here is my ultra-subjective

Top Ten Things to Remember When Throwing

  • 1. When centering, brace your arms- preferably your elbow against your hip; make your left forearm an “immovable force” (kind of like I’d hoped to parent my teen but failed.)
  • 2 .Don’t forget that whenever the clay feels “sticky” to use a little more water! You can end up ripping half your clay off the hump and wondering what you did wrong.
  • 3. Remove all the lumpy clay that is at the bottom against the wheel head. You won’t be able to center if your hand is bumping over that. BUT keep the bare wheel-head clean or you will sand off your skin.  And.  Bleed.
  • 4 . After you open the clay, slow down! You will be unable to control the clay when it’s going too fast. (again the teen analogy springs to mind)
  • 5. When you open, you set up your future pot- wide base or narrow base, flat floor inside for a cylinder or curved bottom for a bowl. DECIDE NOW.
  • 6. Always always always triangulate! Brace your arms, connect your hands! If they are just floating out there you can knock your pot off center.
  • 7. When you do a pull, make sure your fingers are directly across from each other. The entire pot should pass through that little space between your fingertips. It’s a zen thing. And try to throw from your wrists, not your shoulders (I know, this should be a separate tip- just count it as a bonus and be grateful, okay?)
  • 8. Go on and off the clay in slooow motion. If you remove your hands abruptly, it will throw the pot off. You are Isadora Duncan but without the scarf- because you know what happens with scarves and wheels.
  • 9. You can use a rib to compress the sides and remove some moisture. This could extend your throwing time. (If you use a metal rib, it could extend your time in the ER getting stitches. Remember, the clay wants to take your tools from you and hurt you with them.)
  • 10. When wiring off the pot, stretch the wire very tightly and push down against the wheel head. The wire’s inclination is to rise up as it encounters resistance; (TEEN!)    if it does this, it can cut a hole in the bottom of your pot. Then you have a flower pot. Every Time.

Okay !  So I hope these are helpful and I look forward to my next class!

Posted 9 years, 9 months ago at 6:38 pm.