Friday, September 29, 2017

Pots by the Pound and Other News


Fall has brought a flurry of activity with it! We got a last blast of summer weather last week, including one day in the upper 80s. This was fabulous for the tomato garden, and I am daily processing and freezing that harvest. Ditto the pole beans!

Claywise, I am getting ready for the next big thing: Maine Craft Weekend. I've skipped it for the last couple of years, but this year I decided to take a different approach. Instead of treating it like a little brother to the Maine Pottery Tour - getting out the good shelves, etc. - I decided to hold a much needed studio clearance sale.

"Clearance sale" sounds so janky, with a side of desperate. To make it a little more fun, I added a twist: I am holding a Pots by the Pound sale. Here's how it works:

Pots with red stickers are $1; pots with blue stickers are $2; pots with yellow stickers are $5; and so on. Customers choose their pots, then weigh them, all together - red stickers with red, blue with blue, etc. Got five pounds of red-sticker'd pots? That'll be five bucks please. I'm counting on the fun and the novelty to bring people out, and my promotional efforts, of course! I really do have a lot of seconds and demo pots that I am tired of looking at.

Once that is done, I have four events to gear up for: the Holiday Pottery Shop(Starting late November), the Portland Pottery Holiday Show (Dec 14 - 16), Art on the Hill (Dec 1-3) and...wait for it...ACC Baltimore!

I used to do this big wholesale show every year. It made my financial life much smoother: write the orders in late February, spend the next few months filling them, call them back for holiday orders. I knew that I could count on at least as much as the orders I had written coming in for those months.

The last time I did ACC Baltimore, the show coincided with the North American Blizzard of 2003. As you can imagine, the blizzard put a damper on the event. Baltimore is not like St. Paul or even Portland; they don't expect 30 inches of snow. The whole damn city was shut down for four days.

Now, being snowed in at home is one thing. You saw it coming, you dutifully bought your milk and bread the day before, you hunker down with your books and wait it out. Being snowed in in a hotel room...that's a whole 'nother thing. When I say the city was shut down, I'm telling you, even the Seven-Elevens were closed! I ate out of vending machines the whole time, with the pickings getting slimmer by the minute.

They didn't cancel the show. Of course they didn't. So we dragged our asses and our wares into the hall to await all the people who weren't there because travelling in a blizzard is a Bad Idea and they wisely stayed home.

Anyway! That sucked really hard, I lost a bunch of money, and later that year my van broke down. I haven't had an appropriate art-fair pony since then, until now. Now I ride the Grey Lady into battle!

If you can't tell, I am pretty excited about this! Art fairs were once my main gig, and though it's hard work, it's also exciting and ever-changing and immerses you in an intense, if brief, community with your fellow artisans. The thought of returning in part to that life gladdens my heart...and makes my back ache, in anticipation.

But first things first! Today I am painting my ware shelves and making wine chillers and sugar bowls, and sending out postcards for Pots by the Pound. Hope to see you here!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thrown & Assembled Birdbath


This one has been on the list in my head for a looooooong time; although to be fair, it is a long list. It finally came to be as part of a class project.

I have many, many repeat students at Portland Pottery. They know how to throw and slab build and attach handles; in many ways, they are grown-up potters! (They are, in fact, grown-ups, all; I am not currently teaching any kids classes.) It's easy for students, having gained enough skill that they are pleased with their results, to coast along at a static skill level. To break that plateau and insure that they continue learning and continue improving, I often create skill challenges to give them a little push.

This one was a challenge to make a pot that would be taller than 18", after firing. In my case I achieved this with three bottomless thrown cylinders stacked together - the bowl was fired separately. I haven't yet epoxied it in place. I intend to, but right now the fit of the foot into the rim of the stand is enough to keep it secure.

The exterior is unglazed, with just a little iron oxide to warm up to color of the clay.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art on the Hill


A few weeks ago, after a long break from art fairs due to lack of an appropriate vehicle, I did a sidewalk show - the Portland Fine Craft Show.  I worked like a mad bastard to get ready for the show, schlepped and hoisted and waited and smiled in what I hoped was a welcoming and not maniacal way during the show, and remembered the deep satisfaction that comes with art fairs.

I remembered: work is awesome. (A friend of mine is fond of saying, "Work is great. It's jobs that suck. " I know what he means!)  Working your ass off for weeks and then seeing, directly, the reward for that work - that is a fabulous feeling. I also was reminded: I work better with a specific event or goal in mind. Or at least I work harder!

That is the way of it, with self-employment: you eat what you kill. Maybe that's why I always got restless, in conventional employment situations; it's hard to feel the direct connection between how hard you work and the rewards you reap.

With all that in mind, and with the trusty Grey Lady always ready for saddle or pack, I registered for another fair: Art on the Hill, put on by the Society of East End Artists at the East End Community School in Portland. This is the school at the end of the Portland peninsula that used to known as Jack Junior.

Summer's not even technically done yet, but with this goal in mind (and, of course, the Portland Pottery show, and the Holiday Pop up Shop) the urge to make is coming on strong.  I know how events sneak up on me! Time can change from "more than plenty" to "oops too late!" in the space of a day. (Or, in the words of Hermione Granger's homework planner, ""Don't leave it till later, you big second-rater!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What I found on my Vacation; or Welcome Home, Fish-Boy!

One thing I hope I have learned from many years of self-employment is that even if you love your work, you gotta take a break. With that in mind, this past week has been my vacation! Other people taught my classes, and I took a break from all things pottery-related. Well - almost all things. I did spend an afternoon cleaning & organizing the studio so it would be ready when I am.

Instead, I did some hiking and some biking, and caught up on projects that have been nagging at my mind for some time. I cleaned out two big storage closets that seemed full but in fact still had plenty of space - just needed to be organized. I donated six bags of office clothing to Goodwill, despite a nagging superstitious fear that in doing so I may have precipitated some unforeseen event that will cause me to again have to get an office job.

Doug & I also just did some tooling around, visiting yard sales & junk shops, a favorite pasttime. One of those was one I visited in the spring, on my way to Blue Hill to deliver pots, and it was then that I encountered Fish Boy - a piece of yard statuary depicting a cherub embracing someone's ichthyologically incorrect idea of a fish.
I was immediately enchanted by Fish Boy, due to his charming oddity, but also because saving fish is Doug's business. He's a consultant for riverine ecosystem restoration. Fish Boy seemed made for us, but at $185 he ws right out of the budget. Nope, uh-uh, no way. So I reluctantly left him behind and went on my way.

Yesterday, when we returned to the junk barn (not sure it has a name), I remembered Fish Boy, and went to look; but he was gone from his place in a dusty corner. I mentioned this to Doug, and the Junk Barn lady heard me. She pointed out Fish Boy, out near the roadway, welcoming visitors. We had driven right past him.

I went out to look, and discovered that his price tag now read $48. This would still be a splurge for me, on something very silly. But I mean...it was so perfect.

I dragged Doug out to look at it with me. He declared it the ugliest thing he had ever seen. This just made Fish Boy more appealing to me. I went back in and asked the shop owner if there was any possibility that Fish Boy could be had for less.
"Forty dollars," came the answer.

Sold.

Now Fish Boy enjoys a place of honor in my overgrown garden among the sedum and echinachea.

My vacation has been a marvel, and now I'm excited to get back to work.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tonight, We Ride



Saddle up the Nopetopus and nope on outta there.

I am always telling my students that saying no is a very useful skill as a potter. People hear you are taking pottery lessons, and they start asking you for things. Can you duplicate this item I found at Williams-Sonoma? Can you make sushi plates glazed to match the koi in my pond (yes, that happened)? Can you make me a stein with a hinged lid and a lion roaring on top?

I get requests all the time that I could maybe do, but I just...don't want to. I have reasons sometimes - my studio is not a good space to give lessons, for example. But this shirt is a reminder...I don't need a good reason. "I don't want to" is reason enough.

"Nope" is a complete sentence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Smell of the Crowd

The crowd actually smelled pretty good yesterday at the Portland Fine Craft Show. It was a hell of a long day - I had to get up around 4 in order to be in Portland in time to set up for the show. We got a great day though, low 70s & dry.
The night before I remembered around 8 pm that we would be on asphalt - no way to stake the tent. I scrambled to Lowe's to find a weighting solution that wouldn't be too ugly. I ended up with white sandbags, about 40 pounds each. Good thing, too! Though it wasn't super windy, city streets can channel breeze in such a way that it gets magnified. I had no trouble - 40 lbs per leg seemed to do the trick - but I saw several people who had to grip onto their tents when we'd get a gust.

I did a firing specifically for this show, and was glad I did - it was a good one, crisp bright colors and some lovely juicy rivers of soda. My bet was a little off, though: I leaned towards mugs and ice cream bowls & other small things, and people wanted serving bowls, vases, and jaunty jars. If I'd had more of the larger items, I could definitely have sold more.

This was The Grey Lady's maiden art fair, and it reminded me of the days when that was my life: make, fire, load, travel, sell, come home & start all over again. Damn, it is a lot of work! Someone I had forgotten that: a shit-ton of work, and all crammed into a few days.

 Also, I need to figure out how to load the truck more efficiently: if this had been a better show for me I wouldn't have had enough work. It didn't suck but I wasn't dancing in the street. Wait, yes, I was, but only because the music moved me to do so. It was an amazing violin and synth duo, I am still trying to figure out the group's name.

But I digress. If it had been one of the more high volume shows I have done - The Uptown Art fair, or The Saint Louis Art Fair - I wouldn't have had enough work there. So I gotta figure that out, how to get more stuff in the small bed of my truck.

Next up I find homes for the leftover inventory. Not too worried about that - it really was a good firing, so I think my wholesale accounts will be happy, but I've got to unpack everything & figure out what is going where.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

FAB Raku Results, & Recipe



These pieces are all wearing the same glaze: the aptly named FAB Raku, a copper luster variation (Thanks, Captain Obvious.) It can also do some brilliant turquoise crackle results, and some yellow/peach/puce (I know, it's a terrible color name! But a beautiful color. All I am saying, is give puce a chance. 😄)
It is a very variable glaze, but all of its variations are great - provided it gets hot enough. It also does an interesting toadskin thing when it is not quite hot enough which most people probably would not consider a successful surface but it has some nice qualities, especially on sculptural work.
It is a glaze that likes to be hot, though: maybe 03? Hot enough that thin or delicate earthenware bodies warp in the kiln.

Because Portland Pottery is right in the middle of an urban neighborhood, we try to use a minimal-smoke approach - which means combustibles on the ground, trashcans over top after a few seconds of free burning. We use pine or cedar pet bedding as our combustible - it's cheap & easily accessible, but contains some pitch which will create black smoke marks on the finished piece that need to be scrubbed off to see the colors. Different combustible material will give you different glaze results, to a certain extent - it's all about how fast they burn and how loose they are to let oxygen through. My very favorite combustible is dry leaves: they burn quick and clean, and create very little rough texture - but good luck getting enough, in June.

 It's tricky to get the FAB into the pile of combustibles while it is still molten enough to get the wonderful copper results but not so molten that is gets a crusty sawdust texture. You can see a bit of the texture on the third photo.

Here's the recipe. This ia for a 4000 gm batch, so WILL NOT translate as percentages - you'll have to do the math on that. (Hint: multiply everything by 2.5.)

FAB Raku

Frit 3110             2800
Gerstley Borate    200
Flint (325)            200
Soda Ash              400
EPK                      200
Copper Carb         140
Bentonite                80

More oxygen in post-fire gives more turquoise, less gives more copper. Join e for the next raku workshop at Porland Pottery on September 16th, from 12-4 pm, or mix it up yourself & have some fun!

To register for the workshop, call 207-772-4334. Bring 5 - 8 bisqued pieces, made of porcelain, groggy stoneware, or a body made specifically for raku. Wear cotton clothing & closed-toed shoes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Interrupt This Blog...

...to bring you a special bulletin:

I, Lori Keenan Watts, potter, teacher, wife, sister, daughter and Mother of Cats, denounce Nazis, Nazism, and all forms of racism and white supremacy. At this moment in our history, I feel it's important for all of us, as citizens, using any platform we have, to be clear about this. There is only one side of decency, and it is the one that stands against bigotry.

My grandfather was a gentle person. (He was known in his hometown as the guy whose chickens died of old age.) Nevertheless when his country called, he went. He went to Germany to fight the Nazis, and he was awarded the Purple Heart when he was shot.

Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents didn't fight that war just to have that vicious ideology take hold here. We, as a people must reject it, and not just in our hearts: out loud, to our friends and family, and even on our blogs! I know it's awkward to talk about it, because politics or whatever, but this is too important to politely pretend it isn't happening and just go on about our business.

I have no doubt that the vast, vast majority of Americans feel the same way as I do: racism has no place here. But with the horrifying events in Charlottesville, it appears the Nazis and other hatebags have been emboldened.

I denounce them. Say it with me: I reject them and their hate-filled ideology as evil and UnAmerican.

Thanks for reading.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The August Messy Minute, and the new Pottery Puzzler!

The August edition of the Messy minute is out! You can check out a half-assed version* of it at this link, or, if you'd like to get The Messy Minute (the real one, without all the blank spaces!) in your inbox, shoot me an email with "Subscribe" in the subject line.

A favorite feature has returned: The Pottery Puzzler. See if you can get it right!

*EDIT: Here's a better one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Garden Inspired Slip Inlay

This time of year inspiration is right outside my door. Blooming now: purple coneflowers! Their simple and easily recognizable shape makes them naturals for slip decoration.





To do this slip inlay, I first painted my image with food coloring.
Next I coated the interior of the bowl with water-based wax. Paraffin will work, as well, but it is a little more brittle, so harder to cut cleanly through.

Once the wax dried, I carved out the image with a sgraffito tool. Then I brushed on a white slip - underglaze will work for this as well. The slip sticks to the carved surface, but beads up on the waxed surface. I used a rib to remove the excess slip - one of the red one from Mudtools works great (I call them Gummy ribs...like Gummy Bears, get it? ) because it's soft enough not to scrape any of the wax away.

The wax will burn away in the bisque firing (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) I'll choose a transparent or translucent glaze t show my slip work to best advantage. I'm leaning towards a shino, but I could see this in Amber Celadon...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In the Groove


Hey all, it's been a bit since I posted! For a good reason, though - I'm not in a depressive funk this time, I am making pots, boatloads of them. I've got my groove back.

My groove likes to have an endpoint, a goal in sight, apparently; and in this case I am filling a kiln for the Portland Fine Craft Show. I'll be in booth #98, y'all, come see me! This is the third year of the show, and the first year it will be happening without its sister show, the WCSH Sidewalk Art Festival. Though I am sorry to see the art festival go - it was a long-standing tradition - no one knows how it will affect the craft show. More visitors? Fewer? I could see a case for either.

Anyway - I am making stuff as if it's going to be a blockbuster, because once I'm in the groove, I stay there for a while. Today was my last wetwork day, shooting for a bisque next weekend.


While I've been doing all this making, I am enjoying a newly discovered pleasure: podcasts. (Yes, yes, I am old and behind the curve. So sue me.) While I enjoy Invisibilia and Hidden Brain and the rest of NPR's brainiac lineup, my current fave is less intellectual: I've been queuing up the Savage Lovecast, columnist Dan Savage's call-in sex advice show. To be sure, it's not for everyone! But I find it entertaining, and not so intellectually demanding that I have to pay close attention. It serves my need to distract just enough of my brain so I don't overthink forms and decoration. What's your favorite podcast?

Anyway! I'm tuckered out after my long day in the studio 😊😊😊! Pots are drying now, and on Wednesday I'll start scraping & washing kiln shelves.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Berry Bowl, in Berry Season

It's raspberry season once again, and my unmowable slope is earning its keep. For a week or so in July, I get a full colander every day.

The little berry colander is one of mine; the scallop tray beneath it was made by my friend Joanna Skolfield, of Blarney Stone Pottery.

For more about my Maine garden & a raspberry dessert soup recipe (I know - but it's good!) check out my other blog, Wicked Cozy.
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