Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why I Never Get Ahead

It's no wonder I never get caught up. I started tthree weeks ago to make some Fairy Houses. Several people had asked for them, and I was down to 3 and these 3 are not the coziest nests in the woods. So my plan was to make a dozen new ones and have them ready for the second Saturday (Market Day) in October.

Threw a dozen small cylinders for the bases. Then I started press-molding the roofs. While doing them I got a bit bored so I thought of other things to do. Took a break and washed the floor. Put the mop, an old stringy number, outside to dry. Went back to making roofs. Somehow it became the next day and I trimmed the cylinders and started to fit the roofs to the bases. I don't attach them, because the roofs are glazed in different colours and it is too hard to keep the colours from getting on to the bases... you know what I mean here. Seemed to have some extra roofs... plus I got the idea that a mushroom shape would be fun.

old string mop wetSo back to the wheel to make another 6 bases. While there I threw a dozen or so mini vases, the kind that people want to put brown weeds in every fall. About 2" high, any shape I felt like, some carving, some poking to make off-centre shapes. Fun to throw, fun to glaze, hell to trim.

It poured rain and the mop is soaked.

Had to make more roofs as the new bases didn't fit the ones I had. Made some very small ones and more bases to fit them.

Then I had to go do other stuff - shopping, banking, cooking, even a little cleaning because someone was coming.

 Got back to the houses on Monday. Painted some of the bases, then got tired and spent an hour watering my geraniums - here are a few in the Studio window. I don't have nearly enough room for them for the winter so I took some cuttings and got them set up in little pots under a plastic dome. You can just see the end of the dome on the left.
geraniums in the Studio window for the winter

In front of the Geraniums you see some of the colours I use to paint my pots. I've started giving each colour its own small tile palette and leaving them out. Messy but efficient, sort of.

After that I had to check my fern seedlings. They live in a shelf unit I made, under flourescent lights, until they get too big. Then they have to go outside. Going to be a bit of a problem this time as it's almost winter. Bad planning!
lights setup for growing ferns from spores

Went to get a lid for a small plastic container and the whole mess of lids stored on a certain shelf crashed down around my ears. Picked them all up, brushed off the dead spiders, sorted out the unusual ones and put the rest in a blue bag for re-cycling. Why do I have 396 lids and 3 containers without lids?

Back to the Fairy Houses. Had fun getting out buckets of glaze in neat colours for the roofs. Dipped all the bases in clear. Finally, two weeks after I started, the houses went into the kiln. Here are a few:
small pottery houses for Fairies in the garden
In all, I ended up with 25 Fairy Houses and one tiny weed vase.

small brown mottled glazed weed vase
That's a semi-matte white glaze over a shiny black glaze - an old and hackneyed idea but still effective. It's only a weed vase.

Only 2 weeks late and not really suitable for fall (the weed vase is, not the houses) but hey, I did them.

The mop may dry sometime this month, or else if I wait until it gets really cold, maybe it'll freeze dry.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nine-finger Throwing

I threw 28 mug bodies today.

Not impressed? But I did it using only 9 fingers! A couple of days ago I was changing the die on my jolleying machine and hit the 2nd knuckle on my left index finger when the wrench slipped. It didn't hurt as much as I expected given the whack I gave it, but by evening it was most impressively swollen. I couldn't bend my finger at all. The next morning it was still very swollen and a lovely shade of red. It reminded me of the time about 10 years ago that I dropped a rather large rock on my right thumb. Don't ask exactly how I did this, because I never did figure that out. The point was that the long bone in my right thumb was cracked along its length. A torsion fracture, the doctor said. He insisted on a cast, saying that without it I might end up with crippling arthritis in the thumb. They put an odd sort of cast on, not the metal tube thing you see sometimes. It ended up looking a lot like a tiny barbell, fat at both ends with a thin part in between.

Throwing with the cast on my thumb was interesting. Turns out you need your right thumb to flatten inside the bases of things. The cast, except for really small inside bases, worked very well. At first I was careful to put the rubbery cover thing over the cast to keep it dry and clean, but after a while I forgot about that. When I went to get it off the technician said he had never had anyone wear out a cast before!

So this morning I tried throwing without using my left index finger and it worked fine. A bit awkward but do-able. Here are some of the plates I made on the jolley:

I'd show you a picture of my finger, now nice and green, but nah, look at the mugs instead.

Well, maybe not the greatest mug bodies I've ever made, but then I made them with only 9/10ths of my fingers!

Saturday, September 10, 2016


I'm not sure where 'there' is, but I'm getting there. There were actual flashes of normalcy this week.

On Monday I changed the thermocouples in my larger kiln. Before they failed. How's that for pro-active? I felt quite impressed with myself, especially since I didn't need so much as one bad word during the whole process. Really it's pretty easy, but I tend to be a fumble-finger about these things and fiddling with wires and tiny screws is not my long suit. Ha, and it worked perfectly.

On Wednesday I took my trusty (and rusty) truck in for an oil change... and was told that it had little or no transmission fluid. I don't know much about the innards of trucks, but I understand that this can quickly lead to disaster. The good part was that instead of feeling that this was yet another calamity, I was perfectly calm and just saw it as another of life's little glitches, to be fixed, but nothing to get depressed about. In fact, I feel very lucky that it was caught in the nick of time. Then my totally helpful local repair shop got the parts in, a very kind friend drove me from and to the garage, and my dear truck got fixed on Friday. So instead of feeling stressed, I'm happy!

On Thursday a customer called and asked to come over and see what Herb Tiles I had available. This motivated me to finally get the place where I store my for-sale pottery tidied up and ready for visitors. Not much pottery, but now at least what is there looks good. I've been putting that off, it just seemed an impossible job. Guess what, it only took a couple of hours, including cleaning the windows, and I felt so much better when it was done. And it worked, she came and bought a batch of herb tiles. These are something I used to make quite a lot of, from plaster molds I made from herbs from my garden. I stopped making them when the interest in herbs leveled off, but lately it seems to be reviving. Our local Herb Festival has moved (new organizers) and seems to be perking up. I hope it builds some momentum because I still love herbs and all things herb-ish. I did go to the new Herb Festival this summer, but got rather lost. It was at a place called the Waba Lake Cottage Museum, and there is a village called Waba quite near by, so I assumed it would be there. I also assumed there would be signs. Nope and nada. A quick check on Google using my phone didn't help - their 'here it is' symbol covered the whole area...and  I wasn't the only one confused, there were about a hundred cars in Waba, which is more cars than all the residents together can muster, all driving in circles looking hot and annoyed. I finally had to phone my friend (who was smarter than I and had looked it up at home) and then I was able to find it. But I digress. My point is that I got a chore done, enjoyed it, and felt cheered to have it out of the way.

I'm also slowly getting caught up on pottery orders. One is ready to go out, just need to take it to the Post Office on Monday. One tiny problem I keep having, and if anyone knows a solution, please tell me, is that the clear packing tape we all use, sometimes doesn't stick to cardboard. It seems to stick, then the next morning you find it has popped off. I was told once that it is because of a sort of 'mill glaze' on the cardboard, but why does it only happen with some boxes? I bought these at a local big box store, not wanting to drive for an hour each way to go to my usual supplier, and ended up sorry I hadn't. Had to use duct tape to close the boxes properly, and then of course the address label had to go over it and didn't stick, so more clear tape. My customer will need serious tools to get into these boxes!

So all in all a better week.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Some Sad News

As some of you readers may know, my dear husband, Robert, was ill for a long time. Early this year, his health became even more precarious.

Sadly, he passed away on June 17.

I miss him more than I can say. We were companions for over 50 years, and that is a long time! But I intend to carry on with my pottery and my gardening, and to consider that his spirit is with me as I go about my daily life.
Robert with both dogs, Jake and Kip (hiding his face) looking out across the marsh from the rocky ridge behind our house. This is a favourite picture, and how I plan to remember him.
The blog will return...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Social Media Challenge

There is an enormous amount of pressure on craftspeople these days to advertise their work, and a large part of that involves having good photos of their work. Any show or sale you want to apply to asks for images, stores want posters with photos to put near your work, and a veritable chorus of marketing advice tells you over and over that you must have good pictures, you must do social media, you must... Trouble is, if you ignore the chorus, you risk being over-shadowed by all the ones who don't.

I am trying.

Here is what I went through yesterday, just trying to get one decent image for my Facebook page.

First, I decided to include a few pieces, not just one, and to choose my recent Bird pieces. Then I got the idea that Bird would look good among some twigs... which had to be black... so I searched the woods for suitable twigs, cut them, cleaned them up and painted them black. Turns out that frozen twigs are hard to paint black, they thaw out and the paint doesn't dry and doesn't stick. But eventually I had some.

Then I moved all the plants that have been in my Studio window all winter. It's my only real light source. I've got some photo floods and a flash, but none of them really work as well as the window. Mind you, I can only use the window for a few hours in the afternoon, after the sun moves to the front of the Studio and before it shines directly into the window. The plants didn't complain, but I could sense disapproval.

Then I put up the white background paper. Not quite enough room for it but by hanging one end of the roll at the window and supporting the other end on a tall tripod, it works.

I arranged the pots and twigs. Here is what I got:
Pretty bad.

Definitely a job for Photoshop. First, I cropped. Then I adjusted the colour balance, then lightened and increased the contrast and the overall colour saturation.

Then I started a new file and gave it a graduated pinkish/mauve background. Moved my photo in, then added my logo, then some words. It was still pretty dull so I added some loose birds. Now it wasn't too bad, but I didn't like the way the pottery disappeared under all the other gumpf. So I went back and re-cropped the pots photo to concentrate the attention on the pots a bit better. While I was at it I added a fine black line around the image.

Of course I moved everything around about six times and re-sized things at least as often, but eventually I figured it would do. Here is the final image, ready for Facebook and Google+:

Then of course I had to do the posts, write a covering 'comment' and post it. And I don't even do Twitter, Instagram or any of the other social media sites. What I did do took pretty much all afternoon and early evening, maybe a total of 4-5 hours.

It's a question - do I advertise, or do I make pots?

Friday, February 12, 2016

An Entertainment of a Different Colour

Sometimes you just need a break! So when I was invited by the organizer, who saw and liked my Bonsai pots, to participate in a new event called Seedy Saturday here in Almonte a week Saturday (ie, Feb. 20), I was interested but had to tell her I didn't have any Bonsai pots.

After some discussion, she agreed I could sell my notecards and promote Native Plants. In my other life, I'm a native plant nut, so my eyes lit up and the wheels began to turn and well, the rest of the week is now history.

 I've been making photo notecards every afternoon for a week now. My mousing hand has developed a squeak, my printer is overheated, my paper cutter is exhausted, and I quite forgot that today is Loyal Husband's birthday.

time out:
  Happy Birthday, Dear!  
time back in.

I figured it would be a piece of cake, how hard could it be, etc. etc. Turns out, not hard, but time-consuming! First I had to go shopping (in the world of making stuff, invention usually leads to necessity, ie., shopping), then I had to find the images I wanted among the 35,000+ on my computer, then I had to edit each one, print it, glue it on a card, stick the card plus its envelope into a plastic sleeve, then make a poster for my table... oy. Not to mention agonizing over every little detail. I still haven't decided what colour of tablecloth to use on my table... hmmm, could lead to more shopping.

Here are some cards in progress:
native plant images on notecards
Today I covered the salt dishes I've been making in the studio in plastic and devoted the entire day to making a sign for my table. Cut & paste, yep. And to think I once decided not to become a school teacher because the college told me to report for class with scissors and glue. My younger and not-yet-wiser self was horrified. I wanted to mold small minds, not glue things. Such youth!

But what the heck, it's February. Grab your boots

                                         and head on over to Seedy Saturday                          
 Make sure you come to my table to see my non-seeds and admire my gluing expertise!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kiln Problems

Somebody once said that "farmin' is about 10% hard work, and 90% fixin' something what has got busted".

Running a pottery studio is pretty much like farming in that respect.

I've been struggling with my large kiln since the beginning of December. You can guess how good that timing was... several orders I had promised for then were late, and several in fact never did get done. Great marketing move... not.

At first I thought it had be one of the elements. I had replaced them the month before, after which I had three or four successful firings, but you never know. A careful visual check did not reveal any obvious bads.  Nothing broken, no coils hanging out into kiln space. No error message. Just the firing temperature, as reported on the little controller screen, bouncing around, up and down, and not seeming likely to ever reach cone 6.

Opened up the controller box. Peered closely at every connection. Nothing to see. So I replaced all the thermocouples.

Closed it back up, flipped the circuit breaker back on, started 'er up again. The little electronic message screen said 190F....191F....192F...187F...185F...

Opened it up again. Hey, one of the element connectors looked black and gnarly. I figured that had to be the problem and felt encouraged. I knew what it was! I cleaned up the connector and tried to re-attach it but the 'tail' of the element had burned through and was now too short. There is no way of lengthening that. I tried, but of course the element promptly broke at the other end of the 'tail'.  Luckily, I had kept one of the elements I had removed earlier because it hadn't broken, so I re-installed that. I was so happy to have found the problem...


So I replaced the relays. I had noticed one of them was making an odd sound, not going 'click, clack' like I was used to, more like 'click, scritch'. No telling which one so I replaced them all.


Now I was getting frustrated, discouraged, depressed, not at all happy. Keep in mind that every trial meant waiting for the kiln to heat (or not), waiting for it to cool, then busting knuckles on anything I tried to do. Working on kilns is not done on a work bench at working height, no, you do it with your head down by your ankles, trying to look up into a maze of wires. In the semi-dark inside the cover box, wearing bifocals. Another great quote came to mind while I applied bandaids: 'working on one of these kilns is like working on a pre-war diesel engine'. I've never worked on a diesel and I hope I never have to, but I can imagine.

So yesterday I opened the box up again and carefully went over everything from the top down to the bottom. This time I carefully tugged on every wire, tapped every connector... and lo and behold, one of the wires on one of the thermocouple attachments was loose. Completely dis-connected. A tiny tiny wire!

Got it around it's little post and tightened up, and guess what - kiln fired properly for the first time in over a month! An empty kiln with basically new elements should fire like a rocket, and it did! Temp climbed over 400F in the first hour. I set it to fire to cone 08 and it did, no problems.


Why no error message, I wonder?