A Bit Dusty

This past Saturday, my husband distracted the baby and I got out some clay and worked.  I’ve had a lot of time to think of new ideas, and managed to sketch a few during some of my quiet sleeping-baby-holding hours.

There are some things I’ve forgotten, some habits I need to re-establish.  When I neatened up my studio back in January, I didn’t do it in a fashion to help the present Me remember how I used to do things. There were specific little groupings of tools I would use for each type of project back then, and they have gotten mixed up somehow, placed in separate containers from their fellows.  A few other insidious changes – the aloe monster and kale seedlings borrowing the sunny spot on my table, the slight hardening of the bag of porcelain I left off with 8 months ago, and the dust! – surprised me.

I enjoyed myself anyway, cutting through the stiff clay with a wire and kneading it up into a usable ball, albeit with a bit of sweat. The last time I made something was over a month before my son’s birth, and the carpal tunnel symptoms brought on by pregnancy had become somewhat crippling. It was nice to feel my strength again, with the passage of time between me and that weakness.

But I am trying to remember how it used to be, before my hands got too stiff. Not all habits are bad ones. Then again, is this an opportunity for re-invention?

I’ll just speak that question into the air and leave it at that for now.

I made four little pots, letting myself experiment and have fun.  I hope I’ll have some good fruit of my labors to show you here soon, and some new techniques I can explain in future posts.

Thanks for being here.

(Un)Apology

Well, I haven’t been here in a while.  Hello again.

A few big things have happened. (Or maybe only one; I’ve lost track.)  About the time I last wrote here, we were beginning the tenderest journey.We welcomed our son in early March of this year, and it’s been a blur.  Things are pretty crazy and joyful around here.  Not much sleep was happening for a while there.  Not much pottery has gotten made.  (None, in fact.)  This is a baby who loves to be held and does not love not being held; we can barely do the dishes, let alone create dishes.  But we wouldn’t want him to be any different.

***

Today I’m getting my hands in clay for the first time in many months.  I have missed it at times, but there has been something more wonderful at hand, eclipsing all other things, and I’m grateful I can take some time off to tend what needs tending.

I’m not sorry.

Reasons to Love

Places are full of surprises and beauties.  Just try looking.

We’ve loved this city since we first visited it, even if it began as just a feeling that we could enjoy living here.  Now with the decision to stay for a few more years, we look forward to getting to know it better.

The buildings (mostly the old ones) are fascinating.

Of course it’s not all conventional beauty.  Some things are decaying and some are growing;  I find interest in both.

There’s this shell of a building, with some mysterious past, possibly tragic, and a profusion of vines trying to obscure its walls.  (I say “new life” in response to the presence of green; my dad would point out that the vines are actually slowly destroying the walls.  There’s the juxtaposition–you can’t get away from it.)

I think of the gorgeous and rich portrayal of nature’s ambivalence in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in which Annie Dillard writes of the wonder and wildness of things.  Things decay and die, and prey upon each other, and live and grow.  Pilgrim is an achingly beautiful book, a contemplative work, but not light, full of descriptions that stay with you and sometimes keep you awake if you read them right before bed.

I think it’s this way that old and new live alongside each other, the strange yet old-as-time process of building and breaking down, that holds us in thrall.  This place isn’t the city it once was (so I hear), but that’s because all things are being transformed.

Some growth just happens, and some requires tending.  This is good for us.

We are getting some of our food from local farms, an important step in a new direction we’re going.  It has already proved to be a wonderful thing.

Here’s to St. Louis.  We like it here.  But more than that, we’re glad to have a place to love, a place to really get to know as we spend a few years here getting more rooted, caring about community and trying to be good to the land we have the care of (even if at present it’s just a little balcony full of herbs and lettuces).  Life holds so many beauties.

Glazing Day

Time to do a little glazing!  Or a lot, as it were.  Here’s a glimpse of what things look like when I spend an afternoon up at the studio.

I do my glazing and firing at this amazing place.  The facilities and available equipment and materials are pretty much everything I could possibly want at this stage in my career–I’m learning so much!

What’s available in the glaze room:

Glazes!

Test tiles with possible glaze combinations!

Raw materials!  (This makes possible my foray into mixing new and exciting glaze colors–I’ll get quasi-technical in a later post, but right now I’m mostly experimenting with celadons and ash glazes.)

A spray booth!  This is a big deal.  Beautiful gradient effects are possible using this application technique;  I spray most of my larger items and my mugs.  (To clarify: you could spray without a booth–you would just inhale a lot of corrosive and carcinogenic particles.  The booth has a powerful fan that pulls the airborne particles up and away from your face.)

Pictured below are pots that are in the “bisque” stage–they have been fired once, to a low temperature (around 1800 degrees–you know, no biggie), enough to harden them so they can take a little rough treatment, but not enough to make them impermeable to moisture like the finished product will be.  At this stage they are very porous and will absorb the water from glaze, helping the glaze to dry quickly into a relatively solid surface that can be handled.

Today I need to glaze a bunch of these soap dishes and card holders, and also a  pitcher and cup set.  The set I’ll spray; little guys like these just take a quick dip in a glaze bucket.

I neglected to photograph the actual process of this, but you always want to make sure there is no glaze on the feet, or foot, of your pot.  Glaze basically turns to glass in the kiln, flows a bit, and will stick to whatever it touches, in this case kiln shelves.  To avoid this, you want about a quarter-inch of blank clay on the bottom of your pot, to allow for a little bit of flow (this can be pushed once you know your glazes).  So the bottom of one of these trays will look like this after I’ve dipped it, used a damp sponge to wipe back the excess glaze, and fired it:

When I have more than, say, one pot to glaze, to keep from going crazy I create little stacks or groups of them and dash off little notes on scrap paper so that I don’t have to revisit the umpteen glaze decisions I made 10 minutes ago.  This week I have a lot of these little trays and business card stands to glaze (I may have been heard to use the term “a million” when stressed.)

This pitcher and these cups were my donation for the auction at the St. Charles Artwalk this past weekend.  Since I’ve gotten onto this ash glaze kick (more on that later), I decided the set would look stunning in a combination of ash glazes and a glossy blue celadon.  I also had it fired in the soda kiln, hoping that would add another layer of beauty and mystery to it.

Here’s the pitcher after being coated inside with my favorite deep red glaze, then sprayed on the outside with my aforementioned choices.  Although the picture’s fuzzy, you can see the subtle colors on the piece–it’ll look totally different after the firing.

Like this, to be exact:

It’s wrapped in a towel because I had to take it from the (still pretty hot) soda kiln on my way out to the Artwalk.  (The studio manager was pretty cool about opening the kiln early for me, but I won’t ask him to do it again.)

Love that deep red.  The mottled colors you’re seeing on the outside are from the ash glazes–the gray areas at the top are where I applied it a little thick.  Ideally, I’d like a little more stringing (the rivulets), but I’m learning.  Ash glazes can run if applied too thickly, so I think I erred on the side of caution.  I’m also still learning to take risks, I guess.

Now, if I had dipped this pitcher into glazes instead of spraying it, I would have had hard lines of color instead of gentle fading.  It’s all about your personal style–and I’m definitely the gentle-fading type.

Here are the little cups.  I love them.  (In real life, the cups match the pitcher.  Imagine colors somewhere in between the above and the below and you’ll have it about right.)

I’m definitely making more of these.  Maybe for myself.

Sadly, they are gone, and I don’t know who has them!  Some (I would argue lucky) person got them in a drawing at the Artwalk this last weekend.  Hopefully that person will find this blog and/or write me an email–I always love that.

Glazed pots, ready to go!  A day well-spent, with rewards to come.

Spring and All

Life right now is full of green things, rain and thunder, cool breezes and open windows, sun sometimes, lots of obligations, and equal amounts of joy and stress in doing all the things I do.

Between working with clay and planting things whenever I can, my fingernails are never clean.  I like it that way.

Pots are getting made.

We are talking a lot about the self-sufficient and handmade life we would like to have.  More on that later.

We’ve been baking our own bread for years now, and recently have learned to roast coffee.  I think foods are more delicious and more nourishing the more you have to do with the process of making them.  More on that later.

We walk together almost every day now that the weather is nice.  Things blown off of trees come home with us a lot.

And as I said, pots are getting made.  I’m really in love with a lot of the things I get to be part of creating (take this as a spiritual allusion, if you will, but it actually means that none can fathom the mysteries of a 2300 degree kiln).

“Taste and see that the Lord is good . . .”

New Adornments

Well, I’ve been working hard on some new designs, and here they are!  I’ve been making a lot of beads, after finding some very delicate-textured lace in an antique shop (it is seriously old and falling apart, so these may be limited edition designs!).  I’ve planned on branching out into making necklaces for a while, seeing possibilities in lots of natural and vintage objects going with my ceramic beads, and have been gathering parts gradually–stones, wood, old keys, watch gears, and semi-precious stone beads.

I bought these beautiful drilled beach pebbles from StoneStudiosToo on Etsy, and they go perfectly with the glazes on my beads!  (I should point out that the colorants in these ceramic glazes are natural substances and not lab-created, so they are “of the earth” as much as these gorgeous pebbles, and hence the harmony of color.  I love how things connect.)

I’m loving how the jewelry is starting to turn out!  I just debuted the necklaces at the Green With Indie Craft Show in St. Louis this past weekend, and I’ll be posting them in my Etsy shop as I get the chance.  Prices for finished necklaces run from $40-50.

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A Year in Teapots

Teapot 24Teapot 7Teapot 7Teapot 7Teapot 8Teapot 8
Teapot 8Teapot 8Teapot 9Teapot 9Teapot 9Teapot 9
Teapot 10Teapot 10Teapot 11Teapot 11Teapot 11Teapot 11
Teapot 12Teapot 12Teapot 12Teapot 13Teapot 13Teapot 13

Teapots, 2011 Series, a set on Flickr.

A little review of most of the teapots I made during 2011, for your viewing pleasure on Flickr!  Currently planning a new year of teapots (and other wonderful things), building on some of the things I started doing in 2011’s series.  If you like, let me know what you think, and what speaks to you in colors, textures, handle configurations, etc.  Of course this set contains a few flaws (which you may not be able to see in the photos, but which I am well aware of), and I realize none of these pieces are perfect, but they do represent a lot of work, study, practice, failure, joy, and appreciation that I get to do this wonderful thing called creating every day.  Thanks for looking.

Bowls with Sprayed Glazes, and Textured Nesting Bowls

I could almost not contain my excitement after seeing what came out of the kiln last week.  Barring the fact that my camera could not accurately capture the many colors and textures in these bowls, I hope you’ll be excited too.

I’m becoming addicted to the effects that are possible with spray application of glazes.  The soft lines and color gradations are mesmerizing; I can stare at them (for longer than is perhaps respectable with my own work) and not get tired of inspecting the grainy textures and flowing colors.  Bowls are especially nice for this, as you have an inside and outside that are easily visible when the piece is in use.  The bowl form is becoming one of my favorites to make, glaze, and use.

Also debuting this week are these little nesting bowls!  I like how they appear from the top: organic and kind of crumpled (crumpling is actually a good way to describe how I formed the edges).  Then turn them over, and bam!

Fabulous texture.  It’s sort of too bad they’re not meant to be used upside-down.

I’ll slide-show the rest of my images from this week’s batch.  Enjoy!

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Lately

I love fall.

Cooler weather, shorter days, apple- and pear-picking, the wearing of scarves and boots, the excuse to make more warming foods and drinks. . . .

Life is good.

Lately, I’ve been taking things slowly.  Fall must be savored and homemaking must be done, and working hard this summer just tired me out.

At the risk of employing a trite analogy, I’m now doing my life’s work–and it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  I’ve needed to give myself a mental and physical break from a lifestyle of daily panic.

Fortunately, refreshment comes in many forms.  Right now, switching my short-term vision for a long-term one is helping–so are bright fall leaves, freshly-roasted coffee, and spending more time with friends.  Getting out of town for a few days of pure fun with my siblings was an amazing blessing.


Back in my little studio, I am happy.

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