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It is really wonderful to be part of a strong pottery community here.
Everyone is so supportive of each other and I like being with all of them; so when I noticed that our farm cats here were leaving squirrel tails lying around their feeding area (yes, our cats are better at actually catching squirrels than our enthusiastic but clueless dog), I asked Barbara Zaveruha if she would teach a brush-making workshop. My favorite liner brush is starting to wear out and I suspect it is made of squirrel hair or something similar.
Brushes Barbara has made.
My local women potter friends were invited and we convened in my studio one morning bearing various roadside finds and fur bits
to be converted into brushes for slip and wax.
I have a list of what you will need at the bottom of this post.
Step one is laying out the hair/fur. Set out a straight-edge of some sort and line your hairs up against it in a pretty thin layer.
Then begin at the end and pretend that the hairs are like a mat and roll them up. The first hairs in line will end up at the center of your brush. Those will be the tip.
Once you get a good shape, hold your bundle firmly and have someone (another good reason to make this a communal activity) wrap and then tie some dental floss around it where you want your brush to end. This may be the middle of the bundle or closer to one end. Don’t worry how long the excess is, it will be trimmed later. Try to wrap a bit of a band.
What we discovered: coarse hairs should not be tied super-tight. Finer hairs like fox and squirrel hairs can be tied tightly, this does not deform the tip of the brush- but deer hair is much coarser and -my suspicions confirmed from some cursory research on the web– hollow. Which means the tighter we tied the wrap around it, the more it compressed and splayed outward giving us these frustrating multiple-tips results.
It suddenly came to me that we should try to tie it looser and Barbara assured us that later gluing would keep the hairs in place. A gently tightened but not tightly pulled wrapping yielded the first decent deer hair tip.
Notes on what hair to use from where: Barbara was using deer tail. Colleen had some deer fur also; possibly from the belly or hindquarters? Not sure.**
I took the longest hair I could find on our poor fox carcass and it was in the area behind the head, between the shoulders. This will work too, even if your only hair source is your (living) dog – apparently the Japanese prefer Akita hair for their best brushes so go ahead and call Fido over.
The fur/hair should have some kink or wave to it to hold the slip/wax/underglaze.
I don’t think curly coated dog’s hair will work nor the super-straight hair of say, a lab or pit bull (not long enough anyhow). I used the tip of a squirrel tail first and then the side hairs of the tail too- it all seemed to make a nice liner tip. Also, the finer hairs are probably best for smaller brushes and those larger thicker hairs better for big brushes.
Eventually we ran out of time, went in to eat soup and home-made bread (made by my talented husband) and scheduled a second workshop to finish the brushes. We all went off to boil our brush tips so they would be dry enough to clip and glue. This is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP because you don’t want your brush to reek after it has sat in water or worse, rot.
We reconvened on a snowy morning with boiled tips in hand and proceeded to finish the brushes.
The boiling loosened the wrappings a bit so I ended up re-wrapping all the the ends and what I found worked best was about a ½ inch of wrapping to make the base of the brush a solid cylinder.
Barbara showed me a terrific type of knot. Before you start wrapping, you run a loop up that lays along the area you are going to wrap and just past it. Then you proceed to wrap over the loop. When you get to the end of where you are wrapping, poke the string (or floss in our case) through the loop leaving a bit of looseness and pull on the other end of the loop- the end that is sticking out of the bottom of the wrapping where you started-pulling on it will pull the loop and other end of string under the wrapping; pull until it is about halfway down the wrapping and then cut off both ends.
Next we trimmed non-tip end of the fur to a very blunt end and then dabbed that end straight down onto a blob of glue and worked the glue up into the hairs. Sometimes we needed a second blob depending on how absorbent the hairs were. To compress the sides in- prevent flaring, we wrapped the end in tape but I did not tape 2 of the ends and that seemed to work too. You will have to judge which ends need the tape.
I had scrounged some bamboo pieces from our shed- formerly used to hold up plants. You can buy bamboo in varying thicknesses at garden supply stores . The narrow (usually green) I will use for my tiny liner tips and my two Fox brushes will go in thicker shafts.
Next you will have to drill out the right diameter in the bamboo. Look at the diameter of the bottom end of your brush tip and judge what thickness bit you need for your drill. It’s better to err on the side of too-small. As Barbara said, “you can always make it bigger.”
Where I chose to cut the bamboo shafts had to do with the “joint”. I wanted to have a good ¾ of an inch above the bamboo “joint” which provides a “floor” for the glue and brush tip to rest on.
The inside of the bamboo is soft and the joint floor is harder so your drill should sort of stop at the floor and if you don’t push really hard, you won’t go through it.
Barbara is holding the bamboo just below the “joint”.
Next try out your brush tip in the hole before you put glue in there! You may want to drill it out larger. Note: if your wrapping is nice and flat and not lumpy, you should be able to fit it inside the opening in the bamboo shaft. That’s why, when you are wrapping it, you want it to be tight and flat and very cylinder-like.
Note how different the end looks from when we first tied the bundles.
Once you can just squeeze the tip in, with possible help from the fettling knife to tuck a few stray hairs in remove it and put a decent sized drop of glue in there.
Re-insert your brush tip. Let dry and VOILA! You have a nice brush!
What you will need to make brushes:
- Fur with some waviness or kink to it but not curly hair. Squirrel, raccoon, deer or canine fur (fox, dog) is ideal.
- A straight edge of some sort.
- Dental floss or waxed string
- Water resistant glue- we used Duco, 5-minute epoxy would work too.
- Hair clippers are very helpful
- Fine saw
- Bamboo (from the garden store)
- A vice is very helpful
- Drill and variety of sized bits
- Paper plate for the glue (our glue started to dissolve a styrofoam tray I had)
- Fine scissors
- Tweezers can be helpful
- Fettling knife
- Needle tool
- Toothpicks for the glue
** The best information I found on hair were fly-tying sites and blogs! I wish we’d read this excerpt before we started!:
“For example, the body of a deer has hollow hair, the tail is solid hair. The body hair of a calf is solid. Tails of all animals, like squirrel, woodchuck, calf, are typically solid. Solid hair typically is used for wings and tails. It stays compact and does not flare and is relatively hard to stabilize on the hook because it is slippery. Hollow hair is typically body hair and is used for wings or for spinning where you want it to flare. It is used for tails as well, but there you want to control the flare by thread technique. If you look at the typical hollow hair, i.e. deer, elk, caribou, antelope, it looks like a carrot, thick tapering to thin, with the thick part being hollow and the thinner part getting less hollow until it is actually solid at the tip. It is actually honeycomb hollow if you look at it under a microscope.”
Posted 5 months, 1 week ago at 9:31 am. 3 comments
As many of you who have read my blog in the past know, I recently moved from the city of Chicago to the countryside in Minnesota.
The first practical consideration of moving to become a “country” potter was: Where would I make pottery? And the place I thought of right away was my grandfather’s old milkhouse on the family farm where my mother is living. I asked my mother if that would be okay and, as it was not in use, and had last been used as a chicken coop, she thought it was a fine idea.
It had what we needed: electricity and [cold] running water. It also had a lot of good memories for me. I feel so lucky to have known my grandfather for almost 40 years. He was a dairy farmer. I always took for granted that what he did was a natural outgrowth of living. Now I know that is life on a farm. He worked outside; he worked with living things.
Let me take you to a place I love, the milkhouse 40 years ago. Imagine for a moment these sounds and smells: the radio is playing, you can hear it over the rhythmic chugging of the milking machine and occasional lowing of the cows. Floury dust from the grain chutes floats in the path of sunbeams. You can hear the cows chewing and blowing into their grain. My grandpa is here. He’s here twice a day; moving purposefully, efficiently even lovingly around the milk house, milking his cows.
Patiently, he teaches me how to wash the cow’s udder and how to milk, filling up a little pan with warm frothy milk which I always drink. He lets me pull the line to send a portion of grain down to the waiting cow. I marvel at the fascinating system of ropes and pulleys, and weights he uses to open and close doors, gates, troughs and I am thrilled to be able to see the milk flow through the clear pipes which turn and weave through the ropes and rails and cows until they disappear through the wall and reappear in an even more fantastic tangle of floating balls and glass jars in the next room.
It was a wonderful magical place. I loved spending time there with grandpa. I can always find him here, whether it is the end of a long summer’s day when the buzzing of flies and the swishing of cows’ tails adds to the mélange of sounds or it is predawn on a cold winter’s morn, the waiting cows’ breath rising up, visible as I run past them into the steamy warmth and noise and light of the milk house…
There it is in the background (left) of me with my happy family carrying milk!
So you can imagine that I would love to spend my day there filled with warm memories, surrounded by greenery and the farm my grandfather created. A wonderful place to make things.
Last year, before we moved, I brought up my kiln and wheel and a few supplies on a spring trip to Minnesota so they would be out of the way and ready for me when we arrived.
2 months ago, as soon as we got settled in, my husband and I began to make the milkhouse usable for me. We moved out all the old bits left over from when it was a chicken coop, nesting boxes, etc. Machinery stored there was taken away and then we began to clean, scrubbing the walls, and floor. I removed chicken wire from over the windows and washed the grime from them to let in light. There was a temporary enclosure of paneling that had been put up to protect something and when we removed that we were delighted to find 2 sinks and a lot of the original machinery my grandfather had installed in his super-modern milkhouse. My favorite are the glass pipes in which, you could see the milk flowing. I love having that on the wall and using the sink he used.
We also worked to clear a huge amount of brush from around the building. Many brambles had grown up around it and wild grape had begun to take over the upper reaches.Quite a few volunteer weed trees were also taken down. Here is how the milkhouse looked on previous visits:And here it is after we cleared around it.
You can see the huge pile of brush and grapevine that we cleared in the bottom right of the photo. And it looks even better now!
I could feel the light and energy begin to flow much better in and around the building. I had planned to make a list of all the areas I needed (I am heavily influenced by Emily Murphy and her post about her wonderful studio) but I have less space and since I really don’t want to change anything about the building or permanently install anything because it is still, at its heart, my grandfather’s milkhouse, I am more constrained. Things evolved a bit more organically.
As things were made and moved in; the table went in the middle, the wheel went by the east window since I usually like to throw in the morning with the light coming in.Yes, that’s an old swallow’s nest in the upper left of the photo and the chair is salvaged from a shed.
My carving area is often outside but for rainy (or mosquito-y days) we found an old wooden ironing board in the garbage and made it into a counter by the west window for carving in the afternoon light. Shelves were fit in where we could . My grandfather’s area where he kept track of his cows and which ones he was breeding with what prize-winning bull is my area to track my calendar and production. His cupboard where he kept iodine and bovine medicines is where I have my slip and wax and colorants. I do not really have enough room to have a separate packing area or a photo area or a glaze-mixing area- as much as I would love to have those but they can all be done in the general studio area.
My husband built me a beautiful table and we covered it with canvas. The clay is stored under the table in a built in area. Until I could get my box of studio supplies that the movers buried in the middle of our storage unit, I went to the junk store in search of a few supplies: a plastic lazy susan to use as a makeshift banding wheel when I carve as well as a rolling pin, some molds etc.
Another day was spent trying to refurbish a huge kickwheel friends had lent/given us. That resulted in a much better understanding of kickwheels, how ridiculously heavy they are and why we wouldn’t be able to really get this one working very well.
A friend of my mother’s generously donated a dresser, some shelves and a comfy arm chair;a quick trip up to Minneapolis to Continental Clay where they were wonderfully helpful and I was ready to go!
Further work has been done- the area where the cows used to get milkednow has juvenile chicks in it. I chose all black and white chickens for inspiration!
The small interior area is more than made up for by having a lot of area outside to develop!
On one side of the milkhouse is a slab where the cows used to wait to come in. The fence around it is all rotted and gone but we shoveled the dirt off it and pulled out the small bushes that had grown up in it and made a little patio area. To the north I’ve put in a couple of flower beds and much of the dead wood was set aside for firewood in the winter.
My mother gave me her old wood stove for this coming fall and winter. We will need to put in a good stove pipe (there is one but I don’t trust it). I really look forward to going out there and building a fire in the morning and making it cozy. I’ll let you know how I feel about that when it’s 20 below zero!
In the course of this journey found out my kiln needs much more power than the little milkhouse is wired for. We had an electrician out I learned a little bit about amps and panels and mostly that we can’t afford to upgrade the power to the milkhouse. Instead, I feel very lucky to have the Arts Guild in town which will allows members to bisk their work for a small fee and also that several potters in the area do a group firing of cone 10 reduction kiln! So my current firing needs can be met until we decide how we want to tackle the “kiln problem” which is as much a creative choice as it is a financial and technical one. By creative I mean, what kind of firing do I want to do? Electric oxidation? Wood, soda or gas?
So here I am, 2 months into our big change-of-life, I’ve got about 50 pots made and often, as I stride across the farm yard, I flash on my youth, my many crossings and journeys across this particular space in time; my path only dictated by buildings now missing or inhabited by my grandfather and his cows in that time instead of me and my pots now. The milkhouse seems so happy to have purpose or perhaps to contain purpose again; to be used and inhabited by a human and animals (the chickens) certainly it is now my place of work, of creating. I hope my clay dust will not obliterate the slightly milky smell it still has.
Since she passed away, I have often thought of my grandmother, I always carry her with me, as she was the embodiment of home life, kitchen doings and indoor games. She is portable and home tasks and crockery evoke her. But grandpa is of this place; of these fields of driving a tractor under this huge sky and the crops and the pastures. It is he who I envision walking across the space out back, carrying 2 bales of hay, strong and patient. I love being here. I love honoring both of my grandparents with hard work, patience, with just the sheer joy of the beauty of this place and the pleasure of existence that comes from purpose and gratitude.
Posted 11 months, 2 weeks ago at 7:55 pm. 8 comments
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 them.movie 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 1 year, 1 month ago at 1:39 pm. 2 comments
[note! the Casserole from the previous post is done- I am adding photos to the previous post]
Tumblers- harder to make than you’d think!
I had a request for tumblers at the last Art Fair and I thought, “Yeah, those are great! No trimming, no handle, I’ll just knock some out!”
Well, I thought wrong. The problem always with porcelain is getting it tall and keeping it narrow. Then, after that, getting the shape I wanted.
I wanted shapes that were slender but not tippy, graceful and elegant yet would still feel comfortable and balanced in one’s hand. Usually, if you make something that is right for the hand it also appeals to the eye. I thought they should look like they were meant to be tumblers, not mugs missing their handles. Lastly, I had to throw it larger to compensate for shrinkage and have it look right once it came out of the cone 10 firing.
I started with 1 pound of clay which absolutely should have been enough but I had a lot of trouble getting the base walls thin enough to get them big enough; taking Grolleg’s shrinkage rate of near 15% into a account.
But actually it really is okay to have a slightly thicker wall at the base for porcelain as it warps so darned easily. I learned this from Xiao Xiang Bi.
I also realized after much puzzlement, that one of the reasons my mugs and tumblers were warping when I wired them off was that the bottoms were so darned thin that the wire was compressing the base- there was not enough clay to resist that compression.
So annoying until I figured it out! Now I leave enough clay down there.
I have a few tumblers that I love and take inspiration from:
This one by Lester is just so beautifully slim and the painted on decoration is so perfectly suited to the shape.
Then I have this hand-built and stamped Tumbler by Chuck Aydlett This, amazingly, is a cone 6 glaze fired in an electric kiln. He even took the time to detail the interior.
Then I have this gorgeous piece by Ryan Greenheck; I have theories about how he got this surface- something to do with slip and a metal rib- but it’s not completely clear.
I have a very simple shino glazed piece by Rita and it may be the one I use the most. I was feeling lousy one day long ago at Lill and she brought me tea in it and said to keep it and I think it’s just perfect the way it curves ever so slightly in at the top.
This last tumbler was made by me and you can see how the others influenced me. I made several but I loved this one so much I couldn’t sell it.
Since then, I have made a couple more “birds on a wire” tumblers and because the wire is so hard to get straight and thin, I actually incised a line while I was throwing it and then when it was almost dry, inlaid slip into it. * Then I added the little dabs that I touched up into birds. I thought I took photos before they sold but I did not. I will just have to make more!
*This is done by painting slip into the line and then scraping off the surface with a metal rib leaving a very clean line
Here are a few more that I did.
Posted 1 year, 7 months ago at 6:21 pm. 6 comments
Recently, I constructed 4 oval casseroles that I was quite pleased with. I was inspired by some casseroles that Nate Pidduck had made that I really liked.
The construction is fairly straightforward: I first threw some ridged (not rigid) discs about 3/4 of an inch thick on a plastic bat. I set those aside while I threw 4 almost vertical—they tilted inward– walls with a gallery at the top but no floor; also on plastic bats.
By this time, the discs were set up enough for me to wire them off and throw them out on the canvas covered table, stretching them into ovals.
At this point, I also threw out several slabs for what would eventually be the lids. You want all the clay involved to be about the same dryness so that it is all shrinking at about the same rate.
The timing on this altering of pots is crucial.
Too wet, the walls tend to cave in or flop around and the oval is at best, overly controlled by your hand, at worst, a total asymmetrical failure.
Too dry, and the rim cracks as you try to force it beyond what it was once willing to do. If you get it right, the clay chooses its own curve; a delicious, aesthetically pleasing curve that the clay knows so well how to do. You see this curve most often in handles.
Back to the walls which had I wired off and, making sure they slid easily on the slippery plastic surface of the bats, gently –squeezed is not quite the right word–”encouraged” them to be oval as well.
Once this oval sets up, you can set it on the (now)oval disc base and trace around the inside. Score outside that line, then turn it over using a second bat and score the underside of the base of the wall, wet it (I used magic water) and then set that on top of the scored disc base to join wall to it, trimming off any excess on the outside and sealing it by going over it with a soft rib- you can also use the soft rib to give a curve to the edge of the base.
Once this is sufficiently set up- wet-leather hard, you can turn it upside down on top of your slab and again trace the oval (the outside this time) to cut a lid. Add handles to the sides of this casserole if you like and drape the now oval slab inside the opening of the top- separated by a piece of plastic.
Once the lid is medium leather hard- holding its curved shape, you can refine the edge so it fits precisely inside the gallery and then add a handle to it.
At this point, before it is any drier, I coat the entire thing in black slip. When the slip is also leather dry, I carve.
These had a lot of surface area and the carving took a considerable amount of time. Of the 4 I did, 2 came out beautifully, the lid of the smallest one warped in the glaze firing but it’s the 4th casserole I want to tell you about.
The last was quite nice but as it dried (and I dry them slowly under a loose cover of dry-cleaning plastic) the walls were proportionally too thick compared to the floor and they pulled away leaving the floor cracked on the sides. I discovered this when the pot was pretty much bone dry.
There was really no way to realistically repair it- especially since the entire outside surface had been delicately carved. I certainly could not spray it down- the slip design would have run and been destroyed. I was pretty upset about this until Dave Trost, a fellow teacher at Lill, told me about his method of re-wetting.
He told me to take one of the slabs of plaster –they have many at Lill for drying slurry and clay scraps- they are about and inch and a half thick; and to soak it in water until no more bubbles rose off its surface. Then to take my pot and set it on the plaster and wrap the whole thing tightly and let it sit.
Well, I had nothing to lose –I had already invested at least 4 hours in the pot-so I did just as Dave suggested and then double wrapped it in plastic and let it sit on the shelf for at least two weeks maybe more.
When I finally got back to it, the clay was back to a pliable leather hard consistency!! I was able to push the walls back in, reinforce the bottom and repair it.
Then to slow down the drying of the floor this time- to keep it a little more pliable should the walls pull on it as they were drying- I waxed the entire bottom inside and out and then waxed all the handle joins just to be on the safe side and set the piece to dry lightly covered in plastic again. This time the piece made it to the bone-dry stage and is being bisked as I write this. I will keep you posted.
Sadly, I did not take photos during construction. If I make more (and these were popular) I will post them.
Addendum: Okay, the casserole made it safely through the bisk, I glazed it and waited on pins and needles to see if it would split apart in the glaze firing and it did NOT! It came through intact with a few cosmetic cracks but is fully functional! Here are some photos:
Interior: there are reflections that look like cracks but really, the whole thing held together perfectly!
Posted 1 year, 8 months ago at 1:36 pm. 6 comments
First Time Hand Building
Class 1 Double Pinch Pots
I may have written about double pinch pots in the past- but this is for a first time hand-building class.
I did not know what level students would be at so I decided to start with the most basic skill. Yet double pinch pots can take you just about anywhere as evinced by the work my wonderful class made that day.
It is a pretty straight forward process; you start with two balls of clay of roughly equal size and make them both into pinch pots.
A really good tip here is to keep the rim thick by not squeezing it directly. It works quite well to squeeze below it.
After the pots are as evenly thin as you are able to make them, try them out “mouth to mouth” and see if they are the shape and size you need.
You can add a coil or two to one or both of them to make a larger hollow form. Eventually you will need to join them to each other.
Or not. Matthew decided not to join his two pots together and so he has a terrific lidded jar.
If you find it is collapsing, you can stuff newspaper inside. The paper will burn out in the kiln.
Once it is completely sealed and the air is trapped inside, you can roll it on the table almost as if it were a solid piece of clay to smooth it and shape it. Then parts may be added
The shape doesn’t even have to be round. Nan made a turtle!
But if you decide to make a little sculpture like that or like Randy’s Owl here-
make sure you put a discreet hole in it somewhere so the air and moisture can escape and not blow up your piece!
If you decide to make a piggy bank like Kathryn’s
(this pig is clearly worried by the economic situation!)
or a chicken bank like Pam’s
or a Monkey jug like mine,
then the openings are built into the form and no little hole is needed.
The possibilities are endless- here are two pieces I’ve made in the past: a jar and a teapot.
What is good about this form is that it is inherently strong, the form lends itself to so many possibilities and beginners are able to make something that has quite a bit of volume.
Posted 2 years, 1 month ago at 4:20 pm. 3 comments
I recently taught a workshop as a brief introduction to Majolica.
I used the word “creamy” very frequently. It really is the best word to describe the basic white glaze that defines the category and gives Majolica its distinctive look.
First of all let me say that most of what I know I learned from Kelly Kessler and I still find her work inspiring, thought provoking and beautiful.
I brought out some pieces by her,
two small boxes I’d bought in Italy, sitting next to an Angler Fish mug by Karin Kraemer
and a couple of old pieces of mine.
I wasn’t sure how long it had been since I really spent some time making Majolica work but the date on the bottom of the bowl was 1994!
Basically, Majolica was Europe’s response to Chinese Porcelain.
People were crazy for all that pristine white-ware coming out of China. This was eventually answered with a thick white glaze (made with tin)and colorful pigments that sink into its surface. This first began to happen during the renaissance in Italy so Italy is most famous for it’s Majolica but Spain, England and Mexico all have similar ceramic traditions.
Majolica, as it is practiced most commonly now is on terra cotta low fire clay which is dipped in or sprayed with a base coat of a creamy majolica glaze.
At Lill, we use a nice recipe from Linda Arbuckle (http://lindaarbuckle.com/index.html )and commercial pigments from Amaco™
After that dries, you can then apply your pattern or images. Some people draw very lightly on the surface with pencil- I’ve been known to use a highlighter even but for these I just had some sketches and applied it freehand. Good brushes are key. You need something that you can load up but will make a fine line. I like long thin brushes.
For the “sea weed” on the underside of my octopus bowl, I scratched through to thewhite but not down to the clay body.
Karin Kraemer uses this technique to good effect on her Angler fish mug. Also on her mug, you won’t see any of the white undercoat except for the belly of her fish. She painted the entire rest of the mug with a tomato red.
I also did a bit of scratching (sgraffito) on the octopus
Here it is fired. The main thing to know about majolica is that it’s not very forgiving of mistakes when one is painting on the colorful pigments.
You can see it is a lot more transparent- more than I wanted actually. Every brush mark shows so you really have to be careful how you apply the pigments- you can not just make an outline and daub it on to fill it in- it’s best to have some direction and grace in your application. Here is the underside:
This was fired at around cone 04. That is low fire and so the clay body won’t be as dense and therefore as strong as a cone 6 or 10 pot- but these pieces do hold up! Another student brought in commercially made terra cotta pieces: flower pots! and decorated those.
With Majolica the possibilities are nearly endless and it’s particularly great if you like bright colors.
But, as you can see in this Roberta Massuch piece, it can also be used to get a kind of pen and ink effect and it also doesn’t have to cover the entire piece. She’s used it selectively and contrasted it with texture on other parts of her pot.
This is terry’s test- she’s wanted to see how it works in dots!
I also copied one of my own pieces -what I call my “willow pattern”. Here it is before and after:
So there you have it, the very briefest of introductions to Majolica. What I like about it are the bright colors and the endless possibilities of surface decoration coupled with the near instant gratification of low-fire. This is not something that needs to be coddled along- you pop it in an electric kiln and voila! Something lovely, useful and sturdy.
If you want to look at more contemporary majolica work I suggest you poke around Arbuckle’s site and also that of Karen Kraemer or just google Majolica! I know there are countless more talented Majolica artists and you are welcome to put them in comments.
Posted 2 years, 3 months ago at 6:53 pm. Add a comment
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 2 years, 8 months ago at 12:40 pm. 7 comments
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 2 years, 9 months ago at 3:32 pm. 4 comments
It’s been a great class with really wonderful students. I’m always so thrilled to see what they are working on each week. Since this was the last week, I reall packed in the demonstrations.
I started off by throwing a bowl with about 3 pounds of clay. People wanted a refresher in how to throw a larger bowl. This was a good item to demonstrate banding with slip while it was still on the wheel. One of the most common and annoying problems with banding is that the slip doesn’t just glide on there in a steady stream leaving a perfect highway of color on your pot. Especially if you are applying it to a leather surface, the clay can suck up the moisture from a thicker slip and give you a very uneven, often kind-of pitted surface. If you are applying to leather hard it helps to spritz it with a bit of water ; wait a few seconds for the water to sink in a little, otherwise you lay your slip down onto a thin layer of water and it can drip and not stick well.
If you are applying to a freshly thrown pots (which is ideal for bonding for porcelain slip bonding to stoneware) you still have to dip the brush more frequently than you’d think. Just keep the wheel going steadily and hold your hand steady too. You can always clean up the edges with a metal rib or stick tool. Here I used my rib to put a little wavy edge on my band.
Next I threw a low terra cotta bowl so we could do some stencils using leaves. I also showed how you can take something like a fork and with an even motion while the wheel is going slowly, make another kind of border around the rim- this time on the inside.
I had some problem getting the leaves to really lay flat but Kristina solved that problem by using some newsprint to really presss her leaves down flat.
Here is the plate after she pulled the leaves off
Beautiful. She will go back in when the slip is leather hard and clean up any places the slip snuck under the leaves.
Jennifer put some on the outside of her mugs which also turned out great. It’s important to think about how the leaves will fill the space. I think all these examples (except mine) are excellent.
Another thing you can do with two or more colors of slip is to marbelize- like the fancy paper you often see. I think for this you need a fairly flat, contained surface. I had a small stoneware plate which I poured some blue slip into and then dotted and trailed green on top of that in a fairly random pattern. then I dragged a very pointy brush (you could use a feather or pointy stick too) through the dots. I was inspired by plant forms.
When I trim the plate, I’ll go in and clean up the edge of the inside too.
The one thing to be careful of when marbelizing is that it adds a LOT of moisture to your pot. Make sure your form is supported or dry enough to absorb that moisture and keep its shape.
Then I did my surprise demo. This was “etched” clay. Really, I would only recommend this technique for porcelain as you will soon see why. I threw a tumbler and set it to dry. When it was hard leather dry, I painted a pattern on it in wax. After the wax was completely dry (and you can do this technique with varnish was well) I began wiping at the surface with a wet sponge. The wax protects the surface beneath it but the surrounding surface is removed. If this was stoneware, it would just be horribly gritty.
After a few wipes, I decided to scratch into my wax a little to get a more detailed resist area.
This will look great with a breaking glaze like Shino, Celadon or even Josh Green.
Kelly took this idea and ran with it – here is her process: and she got the brilliant idea of inlaying black slip into the wiped away areas. She painted it on and the wax resisted it over the raised areas. She sponged away all non-adhering slip and here is the resultDoesn’t that look cool?
Another variation on this idea is to paint your entire surface with slip, then a pattern over it in wax and then when you wipe away, you leave the color where the wax protects it and the color is removed everywhere else. Kristina suggested this and I can’t wait to try it!
Posted 2 years, 10 months ago at 5:31 am. 1 comment