Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis the Season

To have a Merry Christmas!

And, for the New Year:

May all your runny glazes run
   and all your non-runny ones not run.

May all (or at least, most of) your lids fit.

May all your pinks fire up pink
   and your reds fire red.

May your greens be green,
  and your glaze tests surprise you (in a good way).

May your customers snap up your work,
   your students admire you,
   and your mother brag about you to her friends.

In other words, Have a Great 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gak!!! No Title!

That's because I am having a holiday. Yes, you heard right. No potting. No puttering, very little plotting. Just resting, cleaning house, a little shoppin', a little, actually a lot, of getting caught up on the computer. It always seems that whatever I work on, everything else falls behind. If I work hard in the Studio, the house falls apart. If I work on the house and other personal responsibilities, then the pottery doesn't get made. Why can't I be well-balanced like other people?

Come to think of it, I was told I wasn't well balanced back in my school days. Oops.

On the other hand, a maid would solve a lot of problems and nobody would notice that I'm not well-balanced, so it's not my fault.

More seriously, I'm doing some re-evaluating of my work. It's been a tough year for selling handmade pots. People didn't want to spend much, so I more and more made small items. That worked to some extent, but I had to make a lot of them to earn my pay! It takes a lot of $5-$10 items to buy groceries. Not to mention that they are B O R I N G! My Red Fox Watching designs didn't sell. My Pansy designs didn't sell. Oddly enough, plain blue spongeware sold well , as did my new Bird line.

Red Fox Watching

Pansy Design on a plate
Bird design plates, bowl and mug
Guess I'll downscale Red Fox and Elisabeth's Wild Garden (which the Pansies are part of), make more Birds and try a few new ideas I have......

And plan on making a lot of magnets, spoonrests, small mugs, soap dishes and other small things.

How have you found it this year? I'd love to hear how you other potters did in 2011. Did your selling patterns change? What did you find worked, what did not? Any ideas for 2012 that you are willing to share?

Monday, November 14, 2011


Some days are just not meant to be good for your self-esteem.

The phone rang early this morning. A small shop in a neighbouring village. Back in about August, she had asked me to show her some pots to possibly display in her store. I brought a selection and put them out for her to look at but she was in a big rush. The Red Fox pattern she dismissed immediately, 'nobody likes brown'. The Wild Garden designs she ignored. She liked the blue-and-white spongeware. We agreed I would fill up a maple hutch with b&w stuff.

I did.

Now she tells me she hasn't sold anything, nobody likes spongeware, too 'country', they want something more 'upscale' and 'with it'. She wants Red Fox.

Ok. Rewind.

Then a sweet young mom with two impossibly cute little girls came to pick up her Bird design hors d'oevres platter. 'Oh', she says, 'it was supposed to be fish-shaped.' Rapid memory scan. Nope. She never mentioned that. I sent her a picture of the finished platter, she did not email back that it was supposed to be a fish..... She had asked about my fish platters (saw them on my website) but I never connected the two. Luckily, she said she'd be back in February so I can still do it. A fish-shaped platter with black birds on it. Could be fun!

It's only 7 pm. What else is going to whap me upside the head today?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Urban Craft

It's an unfortunate truism that when you aren't busy, there is nothing to write about, and when you are, you don't have time to write.

The last two months have been a bit hectic. I won't bore you with the details but here's a summary: sales at my regular booth at the Farmers' Market were dismal. I had to make and sell a lot of $5 and $10 items. People just aren't spending this year. My local art show, Expressions of Art went very well but my sales were disappointing. I had made platters and shallow bowls with designs of Ravens on them, and they didn't sell. After the Show, I got two calls from people ordering Raven bowls and I found out that they didn't like the ones at the Show because they didn't like the orange leaves! I had done what I hoped were swirly autumn leaves, and was so pleased to be able to use a new food-safe orange stain. Sigh. Then early this month I did a new little craft sale called Handmade Harvest and did very well. I made only Bird stuff and Sheep stuff.... all small items, nothing over $25. This one is interesting - it's a new thing called Urban Craft. Hard to describe, but it's somewhat the twitter approach to crafts. One of the potters on Clayart has this to say about Urban Craft:

"My students ... think it's cool....Personal, handmade objects made with creativity and a sense of fun. The handmade aspect isn't so important to a lot of Urban Craft fans, I think, as the idea that it's not made by some sweatshop worker in the third world, or sold by some faceless marketing conglomerate, or mass-produced in lots of zillions. They like to feel they're making a statement by making or even buying this stuff. Things made from recycled or eco-friendly materials are a big hit, too. ... I don't think that more traditional art and craft fairs even hit their radar very much.

"From their perspective, a lot of traditional(ish) craft has gotten either stuffy and highfalutin', or else holds true to hippie roots that seem irrelevant to most younger folks.... This new stuff isn't necessarily all good or well-made, but it connects with a lot of cultural currents that traditional craft either ignores or disses. It ain't your granny's knitting...."

I think that says it very well. Thank you, Snail!

I'm not sure Urban Craft will displace traditional Craft, but I must say doing this Show was a breath of fresh air. I loved the creativity shown by the various vendors, and even though some things weren't really practical, I found them very appealing. OK, baby bibs made out of felt aren't going to work, and neither are necklaces made out of (mostly) wool roving.... but the designs were so much fun! And imagine this: this craft sale did not have 6 pages of rules for vendors. I felt so free!

Now the Studio is full of pots for the upcoming Christmas Market. After that I'm having my annual half-price sale (with two guests, both painters) so it's busy, busy, busy.

And it's going to snow tonight.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bowls: Done!!

The bowls are done, the bowls are done! Yay, hurrah, cheer, fist-pump, happy dance!!!!

Yes, I know 200 soup bowls is hardly a career. But for me, a small studio potter, it was a big job. It took over the Studio for several weeks. I enjoyed making them; allowing myself to play with shapes and colours was great fun, but I kept having to push thoughts of the orders I wasn't working on to the background. Never mind, the BOWLS ARE DONE and next week cometh!

Next project: a series of platters and mugs showing Raven in the Autumn..... oy. They have to be done for the West Carleton Arts Society annual Show, Expressions of Art, October 8-9.

Another challenge!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bowls, Bowls and More Bowls

Well, the bowls are coming along. I need them all finished by next Thursday so I guess they had better! I keep summarizing to myself, like, 'OK, all 200 are thrown.... 175 are trimmed...... 150 are bisqued...... 100 are finished and packed....'. Actually all but the last 25 are ready for the kiln so the end is nigh. Whew.

For anybody who missed the earlier post, these are for a good cause. The Anglican Church Women in Carp are selling them, with soup or chili in them, for $20 each to raise money for the West Carleton Food Bank. They are doing this during the Carp Fair, which is next weekend (not this one, the next one). Check out the Carp Fair website for more on the Fair, but I don't suppose they mention the Empty Bowls. Or my wonderful bowls, either.

It's been a bigger job than I expected, mainly because I left it to the last as usual. I never do anything until a big haulking deadline looms. (I admit that. Why not? I've been like that for 65 years so far, and I really don't expect it to change, so hey.) I did them in groups of 25. Each group was one shape and then I decorated them to suit the shape. If I can, I'll take a picture of the 8 types and post it next week. What was interesting about the project was that I found that certain shapes were distinctly easier for me than others, and I wonder if that is part of how personal style develops. I find curved walls easier than straight walls, every time. Is this because I've done them more, and so am more practiced at them? And do I like curves better because that is 'me', whatever that means, or because I am better at them?

Next time you throwing multiples, muse on that a bit. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing, but does that mean that personal style is random? This is getting deep.... I may have to make a lot more bowls.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Garlic Fest Update and My Next Crazy Project(s)

Quick Garlic Fest update: the event was a great success. We estimate somewhere around 6000-8000 people came..... three of whom bought Pine Ridge garlic keepers. Not that I mind, though, because I sold plenty of other pots, and the garlic keepers will sell eventually.

Now I'm concentrating on making 200 soup bowls for a local Empty Bowls project. The West Carleton Food Bank, with the help of the local Anglican Church ladies, will sell them at the Carp Fair as a fund raiser. I agreed to make them in a seriously rash moment. Didn't sound like much of a problem 'way back in January, but of course now it's a different story. Ah well, 100 are practically done and there's a whole 3 weeks left.

Somebody asked me to make him an oval pate terrine. I told you about those last post.... Now I have to try to make one. The terrine is easy enough, the lid will be impossible. Actually, I think all lids are impossible, but this will be more impossible. Why do I have so much trouble with lids? I measure so-o-o carefully, and still sometimes they don't fit. I had a friend years ago who was an amazing thrower. She came and threw 60, 10" casseroles for me (she wanted to, it made sense at the time), and when she had them all trimmed and ready to fire I asked her 'What about the lids?'.


She threw and trimmed 60 lids, and when everything was fired, I think about 3 casseroles had fitting lids.

I need an idea for decorating the Market Hall for the Harvest Festival Thanksgiving weekend. All my subconscious has come up with so far is pumpkins.... boring, boring, boring..... must do better. Pots to make are easy: pie plates, turkey platters, veg dishes. Lots of fun. But how to decorate inside a long skinny building?

And a personal note: my daughter has just had a really bad experience. It started with a pain in her tum, and progressed to several tedious and uncomfortable sessions at the local Emergency department, and ended with major surgery. She's fine but will be on mushy food for a while (wonder if she'll still like mashed potatoes after this?). I'm telling you this as a warning. The cause of the trouble? A bristle from a barbeque-cleaning brush. I would never have thought it was possible to swallow such a thing and not know it, but apparently it is. So please, be careful when you clean that b-b-q!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Garlic Keepers, or, 'Everybody Knows....'

This weekend is Garlic Festival weekend at the Carp Market so I have been busy making things like garlic keepers and garlic bakers.

The garlic keepers reminded me of something I find somewhat frustrating. I try to design each item I make to make it as functional as possible, while still looking good, and allowing me to decorate it in a way that I like. Some items are great, like mugs, because there are so many possible ways to make a mugs, and they all lend themselves to my kind of painted decoration. Others, like garlic keepers, are trickier. They wouldn't be so bad except that 'everybody knows' that garlic keepers have large holes. They would work just the same with smaller holes (and more of them) and then I could wrap sunflowers or pansies or whatever around the pattern of holes, but no, they have to have large holes so I can't do that. I tried them with small holes and never sold one. Customer after customer picked them up and asked if they were garlic keepers.... then when I said 'yes', they asked for 'one just like this only with bigger holes'. Eventually I gave up and now they have big holes and the flower, if any, is only on the lid.

They also often balk at the cost, and I tell them they have to pay extra for the holes. They think I'm kidding! Ha!

Another 'everybody knows' which also irks me is that 'everybody knows' milk bag holders are oval. They work fine round, but no, they have to be oval. I keep trying but so far I  haven't managed to make them look very good. And they are always heavy. If I have to squish them oval, I have to trim them fairly soft, and then I can't trim them enough, plus it is hard to attach the large handle.... not to mention that the size has to be super-exact or the milk bag either won't go in or slides out when you tip it. If only I could make that into a sales feature. You know, 'and the milk bag comes out really easily once the milk is half used'. No, I guess not.

Pate terrines, the kind you cook the pate in, are also always oval. Hmmm.

Wonder what other things 'everybody knows'. And I don't.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011



I always seem to get caught up in one area and fall behind in another. I've been putting in the hours in the Studio, so the house has gotten to be a mess. So I decided I'd do a bit each day this week so it wouldn't be too hard to bring it up to scratch before guests come on Sunday.

Yesterday  I vacuumed the carpet and washed the kitchen floor. In other words, I did the bottom three inches.

On Starting a New Business

A potter friend called to tell me about her new kiln. She's itching to leave the desk job and try to make a go of pottery, so she's testing the waters by offering a couple of throwing classes. She happened to mention that her husband isn't totally comfortable with her spending money on equipment and this reminded me of something.

Years ago when I was starting up I took a little one-week course on starting a small business. I think it was put on by one of the levels of government in one of those fits of Encouraging Small Business which happen any time tax revenues fall..... anyway, it was a pretty good course and I learned some stuff and felt confirmed in some other stuff. But what I strongly recall is the different approaches the women had versus the men. The group was about 15, about 10 women and 5 men, give or take a small error of memory. One of the exercises we did was to write down what we'd need for our businesses, and how we were going to get it. All of the women had lists like, 'well, I can borrow a serger from so-and-so, and I won't need an industrial iron until such-and-such, and I can work in the back of the basement for now' followed by,  in a gradually failing little voice, 'I can maybe borrow $500 from my mother....'. All the men said 'I'll need a this and a that which will cost about $100,000,  a building which should only cost $30,000 a year, and my wife and I have about $200,00 saved up for our retirement, so no problem.'

None of the women, and all of the men, considered that family savings were available for them to use to start their new business.

All of the men assumed they would succeed, and the women knew there was a pretty good chance they would fail.

Speaking of New Kilns

My new ConeArt is working very well, but, at 7.5 cu. ft., it isn't large enough. I'm having to really juggle what to fire when, sometimes even getting up in the night to re-load just to get those extra three or four hours so something will be done by some certain day. It takes a long time to cool, which is a good thing, but it does mean I can only do about three firings a week.

I'm thinking me and my trusty major financial institution may have to make another investment soon.

Photographing Pots

Another thing I'm really thinking about is how to set up some convenient way to take pictures of new pots. Right now it's so much trouble to set up for good pics that I don't bother. Bad. The question is space - where do I have room to set up a background and leave it up.

Musing about this, I realize that neither my house nor my Studio has any wall space left. The house is filled with books which take pretty well all the space not given over to doors, cupboards, shelves, windows and the like, and the Studio walls are covered with posters, pots I want to keep,shelves, counters, windows....

Anybody have any ideas? If you have a creative solution to this problem, I'd love to hear it!

Friday, July 29, 2011


Well, like all events do, it's come and it's gone. I had a pleasant day sitting in my tent on a fairly cool sunny day, but I can't say it was a great success as far as selling my pots goes. I did make some sales, but wouldn't you know it, really only mugs and flat dishes. All my cute 'herbish' things got ignored.

A couple of things I learned (or re-learned).

First, my booth layout stinks. A 10' x 10' tent is not the same thing as a 10' x 10' space inside a building. By the time you subtract the edges which suffer from passers-by bumping into them and adjust for the big low spot in that corner.... hard to fit in two tables, a chair, a small wrapping table, an easel with tiles and make it look good. Next year I plan to have narrow tables that can act a bit as walls and block off clumsy pedestrians, small children and yappy dogs. I also intend to be firm with my booth neighbours - this time one of them insisted there had to be a walkway between us and I didn't realize until too late that he wanted this so he could set his booth up so people could look at his stuff from the side as well as the front, and I had his customers in my booth most of the day.

Second, the idea of hanging the herb tiles on a cloth-covered styrofoam board on an easel was a failure. Turns out people don't lift tiles down, they just yank. Several times the whole board came down. Broke three tiles. Got tired of saying 'Oh, don't worry, not your fault' with slightly gritted teeth and finally just stood the board on the ground. Didn't sell many tiles anyway, but I don't think it was because of the display. On the whole, people didn't look inside the booth at all, they just looked at the one table at the front. They glanced at the other stuff but didn't check it out. With the sun so bright outside, the interior of the tent was far too dark. Not sure what I can do about that but I'm day-dreaming about battery-powered lights, solar panel-powered lights, huge silver reflectors, maybe even transparent (translucent?) canopy material.

And, third, BIG third, next time I'm bringing a picnic cooler with lunch, snacks and cold drinks. I don't like greasy sausages or b-b-q'ed exotic meats. And they ran out of drinks other than pink lemonade with no sugar in it around one o'clock. I had a turnover which was supposed to have chicken inside, turned out to be tofu curry. Hmmm. Edible, but not lunch. I was starving again about 10 minutes later. And being alone, I couldn't go roaming around foraging so just toughed it out. The guy next to me, the one whose customers kept stepping back into my wrapping table, kept eating ice cream. He must have spent a fortune on it! His little grandson spent the whole day, as near as I can figure, alternating playing some game on his computer thingie and fetching gelato.

Never mind. Lots of good stock left for the Market booth and Crabapple Gallery. And like I said, it was a pleasant day. Lots of people I know came and stopped to chat, I did make some money, and I learned how to be better prepared next year.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ready for Herbfest

Yes, the truck is loaded, the last tablecloth is in the dryer, the biz cards (bookmarks, really) are printed.... I think I'm ready for Herbfest.

I do have some actual pottery, too:

Lots of fun stuff, all with a 'herb' theme. I'm looking forward to a fun day tomorrow - even if the crowds don't snap up all my nifty herb-y stuff, I'll still enjoy being outside, eating some interesting food (very creative chefs at Herbfest!), visiting with friends, taking a short stroll through the gardens, and just generally joining in the celebration of all things herbal!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Fun Thing for Herbfest

A few of the picture tiles I've made with herb themes have come out of the kiln. There are more in the kiln now, which is 'on', even though the temperature today is over 32C. Oy. And tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter and the whole weekend is going to be over 30C. So Herbfest will be a hot one, not to mention that my booth at the Market will be stifling on Saturday. Good thing potters are tough!

These tiles are very simple. I roll a thin (1/4" or less) slab, then basically rip them into the sizes and shapes I want. I run a rounded point (like a pencil or a thick needle tool) along the line, then gently lift the clay and rip along the line. Sounds odd, but it works easily. Then I just let them dry, bisque them, dip them in my glaze and paint the designs on top. Then fire them to cone6, just like my tableware.

This one is only about 3 inches 'square'. I like them weird sizes as it makes every one of them a composition challenge! Tile adhesive sticks them to pre-stretched canvas panels (available at my friendly local art supply store). There are a few different kinds of tile adhesive. I use the one for walls and it works great. In a pinch, the tile can be soaked off, although it ruins the canvas panel. The only one I have ever had back because the tile came off was from a store owner who hung one right in the drip from his roof. Here are a few of them:

These panels are painted black, but of course you can paint them any colour. One of these days, somebody is going to ask for one in, say, fire-engine red.... let's hope I'm in a good calm mood that day.

Another simple thing for my booth at Herbfest is planters suitable for growing a few herbs on a step or balcony. Not a very exciting project, but the glaze is nice. This is a variation on the Variegated Slate Blue in 'Mastering Cone 6 Glazes' by Ron Roy and John Britt.. I love the colour, and would like to make tableware in it, but I'd have to get it tested for food safety. It has copper in it and, being at least satin-matte, is probably not a very hard glaze. But I love the way it sparkles and shows depth where it runs. It was great on my bonsai pots earlier, too.

Not a great picture, sorry. Too hot in there to work at photography!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Back at Midsummer Herbfest

One of the more enjoyable craft sales around is Midsummer Herbfest. This has been held every July for the last 15 years at The Herb Garden in Almonte, Ontario. As far as I know, it has never rained (OK, once there was a sudden thunderstorm towards the end of the day), which must be some kind of record! I didn't do the show for a couple of years because I just had too much going on, but I'm back this year.

So we've been very busy in the Studio making some fun stuff.

I painted a lot of herb tiles. It's sort of paint-by-numbers! I made plaster molds of various herbs years ago - pressed each herb into a soft clay tile, then made a plaster mold of it. Now I can press clay into the molds and make tiles in the winter. I never have time to make them in the summer and there are no fresh herbs growing right outside the Studio door in the winter so this is a pretty cool solution.

Once bisque-fired, it is easy to paint the herbs. All I need to do is fill in the depressions! Like I said, paint by numbers. Then they get a coat or two of low-fire clear glaze, and I fire them to cone 06. The clay is a porcelain, meant for cone 6, so they crackle nicely.  It's kind of fun, actually. No strain on the brain, and they always sell very well.

Super Helper made a (large) stack of hangers: cut the strips of painters' canvas, cut and bent the wires, then glued the wires into the canvas.

We'll glue the hangers to the backs of the tiles next week.

One thing I haven't figured out yet is how to display them at the show. They take a lot of table space if you just lay them out, and they look better hanging up, but what can I arrange to hang them on? I have a 10 x 10 space under a tent..... no walls .... hmmmmm.

We're making some other fun things as well - I'll post more pictures as things get finished.

By the by, if anyone reading this feels like stealing this idea, go right ahead! There are lots of other ways of using the basic idea of pressing plants into clay and plenty of potters doing it, but maybe you can come up with a unique product. If you do, send me some pictures!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deep Breath.....

The last month has been very busy, totally dominated by a Garden Tour my garden was on. This was a tour they sold tickets for, so I had to take it seriously! Add to that the opening of the Market season and a small local craft sale, and June became something of a blur.

It felt very good to get back into the Studio again this morning. I'd had to take a full two weeks off to get the garden ready, and it was a bit stressful. I start to twitch if I can't pot for more than a day or two.

Now I have to get ready for Herbfest..... fill some orders..... make stock for the Market and Three Yellow Tulips..... Blackbird in Almonte..... looks like July will be kind of blurry too!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Slab Roller Shenanigans

Remember how my kiln failed totally a few weeks ago? Well, this week it was the slab roller's turn. Super Helper noticed that it was making uneven slabs, and we could see that one of the cables underneath was suddenly looser than the other one. We tried to tighten it, and the bolt snapped. I had known the cables were near to having to be replaced and had ordered a new set last year, which was very lucky. These were probably the original cables, and this thing has got to be 40+ years old. I bought it 20 years ago from a 75-year-old potter who was retiring and it wasn't new then. He and my husband and the fellow from across the street lifted it into my then-new pickup truck. They said they used Zen to do it! Then we drove home with it and the jolley/jigger and 200 plaster molds in my half-ton. But that's another story.....

The new cables did come with instructions, but still, replacing the cables looked a daunting task.

Step 2 in the instructions said to drill out and enlarge the holes in the frame that the cable end bolts went through. Yikes. A good 3/16 inch of cold steel..... I was quite worried about that, but went and bought a drill bit for the electric drill. I told Long-suffering Spouse about it at dinner, and to my surprise he said he knew how to do it and would in fact do it for me. So after eating (it's always best to attack challenges on a full tumm), we went to the Studio and he drilled all four holes in no time at all! Many, many Husband Points!

Next day, SH and I removed the old cables and attached the new ones. Except for the fact that we got dreadfully dirty from the old belt dressing on the cables and roller it wasn't really too awful a job. I was a bit freaked by it all, but by carefully reading, re-reading and re-re-reading the instructions, we did it. And the roller works better than ever!

The only thing is, they say bad things come in threes, and now I'm afraid to turn anything else on in the Studio.....

Monday, May 16, 2011

1. Remove chipmunk.......

Top of my to-do list today: get that chipmunk out of the Studio!

It was my own fault, of course.  I had put the extra sunflowers seeds which didn't fit into the metal bird food container in the Studio last week. I did this for two reasons, first because the house just doesn't have room for large bags of seeds and, second because putting a bag of sunflower seeds in the garage would be inviting all the local squirrels, chippies, raccoons, mice and other nightlife in to dine. Then Friday was a nice warm day so I had the Studio door open. Saturday morning I was in there early getting stuff out of the kiln for the Market that day and quickly discovered that there was a chipmunk inside and not a happy one, either.

At that point it was about 7am and I had to go so I decided to deal with Ms. Chippie later. I closed the door because now it was cold out and anyway I didn't want two chippies in the Studio.

Sunday I tried for a while but I couldn't get her to leave. Would you, once you'd found a lifetime supply of food and water, and a warm floor to boot?

So my first task today was, Remove Chipmunk from Studio.

Wasn't hard to find out where she was. There were sunflower seed shells and dug-up plant pots on the windowsill and when I went over there I heard a loud chittering and several pots went skidding across the counter. OK, chipmunk on counter. I pried the screen out of the window and cranked it open.

Loud chittering. Chipmunk on floor behind pails of glaze. Dog attempting to dig chipmunk out. Pails of glaze sloshing as he shoulders them aside.

The screen I took out of the window tips over and bangs me on the head. Aha, chipmunk back on counter. Oh, nope. Chipmunk in fern stand. Bad. Ferns do not like being stepped on by chipmunks or shredded by dogs.

Put dog in house. He sits at the door and barks. Husband lets him back out.

Dog back in house. Husband miffed.

Loud chittering. Chipmunk under bisque-ware shelves. Get broom and try to swish her towards the open door. Sneeze and sneeze because I've stirred up the alumina hydrate which I use on the kiln shelves and which tends to sift under the ware stands. I'm annoyed because two windows and the door are open, it is barely above freezing outside and the electric heater is on to keep the place warm. Turn the heater off. If the Brits can make pottery in studios that are below freezing, surely I can work in one that is above freezing, even if only slightly. No sign of Chipster.

Maybe she'll go out on her own. Start cleaning up some greenware. Peace and quiet prevail.

Back to the Studio after lunch. Loud chittering. Chipmunk on counter. More pots tipped over. Several tiles which have been hanging on the wall for years are on the floor, one of them smashed to bits. Grrrrrr, now I am really getting  annoyed. I shout at her, clap my hands and stomp my feet. Chipmunk freaks out, races around the Studio at head height, dislodging another tile, a poster and several ferns, and dives back under the counter behind the glaze pails.

Husband says, lay a trail of sunflower seeds out the door. Tell him that's a dumb idea. Now he's really miffed.

Back out to the Studio. Open both doors and all three windows. Lay a trail of sunflower seeds out the door.

Throw some mug bodies while shivering in the cold breeze from the door.

Dog wanders in.

Loud chittering. Chipmunk on counter..... she ignores the open window and races back and forth along the counter, scattering seedling tomatoes and jars of paint brushes. Dog races back and forth below, always one step behind Super-Chippie. He'd be barking except then he wouldn't be able to snap his teeth at her.

Yell at dog. Order him out. He gaves me a look that says, 'OK, do it yourself then', but he goes.

I fix the trail of sunflower seeds. This is nuts. No, not nuts, seeds. Hey, maybe peanut butter would work.

Doesn't this chippie have a family? Shouldn't she be home looking after the little chippies, maybe getting the laundry caught up?

Carry Pepper the Cat into the Studio. Heh, heh, heh.

She promptly leaves. She likes rain, the only cat in the Western World who does, and it is raining. She sits on the path and communes with Nature. Grrrr..... Some pets I have. My dog thinks chasing chipmunks is a sport, and my cat prefers sitting in the rain to catching a food species.

I pull all the pails of glaze out from the wall, move the kiln shelves so they are away from the wall, and pull the counter with the water pail and washing bowl out as well. Now there's no place to hide at floor level.

Put Dog in the house and bring Cat back in the Studio.

Point Cat at the corner where Chippie was last seen. She goes down low.... slinks along the ground.... a brownish-yellowish blur streaks for the door.......

Victory, Sweet Victory!

Chippie is out!

Now, what to do with a pile of sunflower seeds covered in peanut butter...........

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unquitting on Monday

Alright, you didn't think I really quit, did you?

The Monday after the big windstorm I arranged for one of our larger financial institutions to buy a new kiln and let me keep it at my place and use it.......

It's a ConeArt, 7.5 cubic feet, with Bartlett controller. I was, and still am, a bit dubious about the whole computer controller thing, but so far so good. To my joy and amazement, the first cone 6 firing with actual pots inside was so accurate I could hardly believe it. I had witness cones on every shelf, and every one was the same and the cone 6 witness cones were all exactly perfect - just touching down. The ware was also perfect, the glaze just the way I'm used to.

And ya gotta LOVE that lid! Spring loaded and so easy to open and close!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thursday Quitting - part 1

On Thursday, I quit. Just plain QUIT. Gave up potting and decided to become a vegetable instead. Too many problems, too much work, nothing ever goes right..... don't make any money anyway....  might as well just give up. Grow vegetable marrows, maybe. BE a vegetable marrow, maybe.


Well. First thing I did on Thursday was load my larger kiln for a cone 06 firing.Went to push the button in on the kiln sitter to turn the power 'on' and it wouldn't catch. The kiln would not come on. Now, the plastic had come off the button a week or so ago, but it didn't seem to matter so I hadn't worried about it. After all, just about everything else on this kiln is broken too. It's old and has had a lot of use.

I took the little panel off and tried to see what was wrong. Since the panel wouldn't move very far from the box, this meant lying on my back on the concrete floor and squinting up at a mess of little springs and clips only inches from my face, wearing, of course, bifocals. Couldn't see anything except that kiln sitters are more complicated than I thought. Tried again with reading glasses and a flashlight and learned was that there was no room to manoeuvre a flashlight in there. OK, so I spent 10 minutes moving the kiln shelves away so I'd have more room and tried it again. Now I could see the mechanism, but darned if I could see anything wrong.

This was so not good news.

Thought I'd tidy up a few more greenware mugs and think about it. Doing the third mug, I bumped #2 and over it went and of course smashed. Hard to think about how a kiln sitter might work when you're annoyed with yourself for doing something so stupid as to bump a greenware mug over.

Then I tried to loosen the incoming power cable enough to allow me to pull the kiln sitter dealie farther out so I could see it better. The bolt on the cable clamp was rusted solid. WD-40 to the rescue and more greenware cleaning while I waited.

Got the bolt to loosen. Turns out the insulation on the cable won't allow it to move anyway.

Considered how hard it might be to fix the wrecked kiln I bought the other day and which has been clogging up the only walking space left in my garage. It was clearly dropped at some point and has a lot of chipped bricks but the elements all look practically new and the switches and kiln sitter ditto. Obviously, removing its kiln sitter and replacing the one on the old kiln, which was my first thought, would be next to impossible. Every connection would have to be re-done and the elements on the old kiln are, naturally, old, and thus fragile. Not really an option.

Could I set up this wrecked kiln and get it to work? I could perhaps cut small pieces of firebrick to prop up the elements where they are currently unsupported and see if it would work. It might, but it might not. What are the chances of a kiln that has been moved several times actually working? Not to mention that the lid can't be attached due to the dent in the wall..... but I could just lift it on and off.

Trouble is, that commits me. Once I disconnect the old kiln, I'm committed to making this other one work. You can't twist wires apart and back together too often and this kiln is wired in. No plug, just wires twisted together with little plastic caps on. And did I mention that the electrician who installed the box on the wall put it in upside down? Not that it really matters, but I can't get the cover on, which annoys my local electrician. He won't help until I get that fixed, and if I call any other electrician my name will be mud or worse.

Can I order a new kiln? Well, yes, but it won't come for a few weeks, and I need to fire a mess of stuff by next Friday. The Market opens a week Saturday and I need to fill lots of shelves and I'm also doing a little local sale that I really want to look good at, the same day. The Studio is full of stuff waiting to be fired, and a couple of loads in the 10-cube would get most of it done..... but the 10-cube is d-a-y-d.

Remembered I'd forgotten to pack and ship a teapot the day before and must do it. Customer bought a teapot, took it home, unwrapped it, dropped it on her tile floor, crunch. Send new teapot asap, please. Oops. That was yesterday.

Supposed to set up at the Market on Saturday and need a new floor covering. I have been using a piece of indoor-outdoor carpet, but I hate it because it picks up and holds on to, every little fluff, dust, mud or what-have-you that wafts by. And with a thousand or more people going through on the average Market Day, that's a lot of fluffs, dusts, muds and what-have-yous. I've been checking at various cheap flooring emporiums the last few weeks and none of them had any linoleum-type stuff in colours I can stand. Usually I can find a nice remnant but not this year. Will have to use that blasted carpet thing one more year, I guess, but not happy about it.

Fiddled with the kiln sitter some more. All the little bits underneath seem to move freely, why won't the button catch? Alright, it doesn't seem to go in far enough either. Maybe there is something caught inside. How can that be? It's all sealed. Tried to remove the little box which has the 'works' from the panel. The screws turn and turn and turn and turn and..... don't come out and the box doesn't come off and it's sealed anyway. My neck hurts too much to continue, so go back to cleaning greenware.

Forgot to scratch the Studio name on the bottom of some of the flat pieces, and now I have to do it with them dry, which is always harder, grrrrrrr.

Sprayed the kiln sitter springs and such with WD-40. Hey, what do I have to lose?

Didn't help.

Go in the house and have a cup of tea to calm down. My accountant calls and wants to do my income tax today. Do I have all my papers sorted and totaled, ha, ha, ha. Tax is due Monday so it has to be done. We'd arranged for him to do mine last of all his clients because I needed more time to scrape up the money I'll owe. OK, he'll come a bit later this aft and I'll get the papers ready for him after lunch.

Back to the Studio. Get down on the floor again, flashlight in hand, and peer up at the darn thing some more, trying to apply logic. What moves what and why and when.... ah, that little plate moves up, which then....

Suddenly, I'm in the pitchy dark. No super-cheerful voices from the radio, no hum from the overhead lights.

The power is off.

We are having a violent windstorm. What with worrying about the kiln, I haven't really noticed but the wind has come up something fierce. The trees are whipping around, leaves and even gravel from the driveway are blowing around, my dog is trying to hide between my feet, it's dark and ominous out. Clouds are moving so fast it gives me a sick dizzy feeling. 100-foot tall pines are bending at 45 degree angles. As I stand there in the open Studio door I see my wheelbarrow skid across the garden and my canoe lift and roll down the bank, fetching up against the back of the house..

Clearly, this was no 5-minute storm. The power was not going to come on again anytime soon. I was not going to be able to get the kiln working and I was not going to get my work fired in time and it did not look good for the Market opening day and the little Sale.

So I quit. Resigned. Gave up potting. Decided to get a job at McD's. Or not.

What would you do?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Easter Market/Up-and-down Week

This year, for the first time in a decade, I signed up to do the Carp Farmers' Market Easter Market. It's next Saturday, from 8am to, I think, 2pm. I get only a 6-foot table so I won't be able to show much of my pottery, but I'm hoping people will like my Bird stuff.

I'm also planning to have a few small pots with forced Forsythia and Pussywillows and maybe some moss, as little gift-y flower arrangements. This is kind of against the rules so I'm hoping nobody will object - I don't want to get busted! We're not supposed to sell anything that hasn't been juried, nor are we allowed to sell more than one type of product. I do think a few flowering stems in a pottery piece should be considered 'accessories', but I have to agree it is debatable.

Funny week. The latest firing of Red Fox pieces turned out really well - the soup/cereal bowls show this glaze at it's best - but I'm disappointed in the latest Bird bowls as the edges are all green-turquoise instead of some being blue-turquoise. My own fault for not washing out the spongie I was using well enough. It looked a bit greenish but the two colours, when raw, are so alike it is hard to tell. OK, new batch of Bird noodle bowls comin' up, and they'll have blue edges, dagnabit.

Super Helper tried brushing glaze onto a bonsai pot. It had a little crack in the corner, so it was an expendable crew member anyway and I thought it worthwhile to give it a try. These pots are somewhat large, and it takes a lot of glaze to dip one. If we could get by with a small amount of glaze it would really help. I already have quite enough small pails of different glazes..... Well. It took a long time to do (I knew it would) and it LOOKS AWFUL! So much for that idea.

Then, having already far too many miscellaneous glazes kicking around, we went ahead and mixed up a few more. I wanted some different greens to do a series of pressed leaves we made and bisqued last fall. Of the five colours we tested, all but one are great (the darkest one isn't Spring-ish enough) and I decided to do some leaves in each. SH mixed up useable quantities of two of them. I went to dip leaves in one and found it was really settling, so I asked her to mix some epsom salts and add it. It worked somewhat too well and now we have about a gallon of glaze the consistency of philadelphia cream cheese. Hmmmm. Adding sodium silicate did not help. In fact, it created a nasty brown puddle on top of the cheese..... every time I stir it in the glaze gets stiffer. OK, more landfill and mix it again, Sam.

I finally got that canisters set done, that is, I finally got four jars with lids that fit. It took more than 20 lids to get four that work. I hate that style of lid - domes that fit on top of the jar with the flange inside because you simple have to glaze the rim of the jar and then the jar warps because it has the added word on one side but the lid sits flat on the kiln shelf and doesn't shrink the same amount and your chances of getting the lid to fit the jar are about as good as brushing a glaze on evenly. That is, it can be done, but is it worth the effort? Nope. Here is a picture of the darned thing:

You can't have a good week every week.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To Change, or Not to Change,.....

Some potters seem to keep making the same work. I know several who are still making and selling pretty much the same designs they started with over 20 years ago. I don't know if this is admirable consistency or a lack of imagination. Maybe a little of both.

Either way, I can't do it! I seem to need to change designs, or add new ones, fairly regularly. Maybe I just get bored easily. I made a design of blue hearts on a white background for years, then it wasn't selling so well, and I took a look at it. I really couldn't decide if people had lost interest in this 'look' or if I was bored and expressing it in the work. In any case, a change was called for, and I started doing more flower designs. Now this spring again I feel restless. The pansies, daisies, tulips and so on seem tired and the thought of painting them makes me feel tired. Plus, I want to use the fun new colours I am seeing in the decorating magazines, such as that acid green, and turquoise, and honeysuckle which is supposed to be this year's big colour.

I also keep seeing little bird designs. The twitter bird is everywhere!

So I stuck some on my pots!
Birds on plates!

Birds on bowls!

And birds on mugs!

 Most conveniently, I'm in a small local Studio Tour this coming weekend: the Maple Run Tour around Pakenham..

The birdlets will get their first exposure to the Public, yikes.

I hope people will love them as much as I do!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Glaze Containers

One problem I ran into with the bonsai pots was how to dip them in a limited amount of glaze. I didn't want to make gallons and gallons of a glaze I might never use for anything else, but I needed enough to submerge the pots. None of the pails I had in the Studio were wide enough, and the wider things I had, like old darkroom trays, weren't deep enough. I was poking around in a local Canadian Tire store looking at various plastic boxes and bins and came across some of those plastic 'trugs' made for gardeners.

I got two. One is about 16" across at the bottom and the other about 20". They aren't stiff enough to rest the pail on when you pour the glaze in, but this makes them bendy enough that when you go to lift them by the two handles the handles come together in one hand and make a great pouring spout between! It was surprisingly easy to lift the half-full larger one and pour the glaze back into the bucket. Then cleaning them was easy too, no ridges or such to catch glaze and need scrubbing.

They don't cost much, and I can always use them in the garden if I don't need them in the Studio any more.

Kinda 'red', though!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back to Real Work

After spending the last 6 weeks working on bonsai pots, it sure felt good to get back to throwing bowls! There's something very satisfying about throwing large bowls. They are actually fairly easy, need very little trimming, and you know you won't get all kinds of pushback from customers. Seems if you put mugs out for sale you attract people who come into your booth or shop determined to set you straight on the proper design for mugs, but I have never had anyone try to tell me how to make my bowls.

Maybe it is because there are so many possible sizes and shapes for mugs, and everybody of course has their favourite design. I've had people tell me my mugs are too big.... or too small. I've had them tell me that I'd sell a lot of mugs if I would just make them short and round.... or tall and straight. I should make handles for one finger, two fingers or a whole fist... sometimes I feel there's no pleasing people with mugs. But nobody has told me how to make a salad bowl.

And guess what, they always sell.

I love bowls!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Bonsai Pots

My bonsai pots look better than I expected! The glazes are great, especially the Slate Blue although we mixed it with less cobalt and more copper carbonate to make it greener. (These pots are for plants, so I didn't worry about food safe-ness.) Take a look below! Now I can hardly wait to see the ones made in the dark reddish clay which are currently drying in the Studio. I made some shallow oval ones, and some more rectangular ones. The ones in these pictures are about 12-15 inches across. The ovals are going to be about 20", assuming they don't crack, or split, or come apart, or explode or...... Anyway, so far, I'm encouraged!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bonsai Pots Again

Woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that I had been thinking (or dreaming) about my bonsai pots. I went on thinking about them, and my thought was, 'Why am I trying to make them in white clay?' I'm concerned about having unglazed clay showing near the bottoms of the feet, and underneath where I want to have my signature, so why am I using a white clay? The glazes I am planning to use are all dark and earthy to show off the bonsais.

Good point, so I went shopping today and got a few boxes of a nice dark brown-firing stoneware. Have to do some testing, but I'm thinking the problem of the white feet is solved.

One pot looking good so far - nice dark brown glaze with lighter, bronzy highlights, and NO CRACKS!

Also got some of those bendable plastic 'trugs' they sell for gardening use. I think they are going to be just the thing for holding enough glaze to dip these pots. The pots are too wide to go into any pail, and too tall to go in the trays I have. These (I got two sizes, one about 16" across at the bottom and one about 22" across) will be wide enough and deep enough, and not need a hundred gallons of glaze to fill. Making enough glaze to dip large pots can get costly!

Glazing tomorrow......

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bonsai Pots.... and Muffins

Bonsai Pots

Still at it. There are now over 30 bonsai pots in various shapes and sizes, all bisqued. Only one shows any cracks. Of course, it's the one I liked best..... never mind, I'm going to glaze it anyway and even if the crack shows it should be useable. I plan to make myself a bunch of pots for my Amaryllis bulbs and it would be good for that.

I've re-made those dog-gone rectangular pots and they are tucked up in 2-mil plastic drying s-l-o-w-w-l-l-y. Probably take a month to dry. By the way, what do other potters use to cover pots with in order to slow down the drying? I've always used dry-cleaning bags, they are very thin and soft and don't mar wet pots, but now that I live a non-dry-cleaning lifestyle, how can I get more dc bags? Husband never gets anything dry-cleaned, daughter rarely does. I don't even know anybody who gets stuff cleaned anymore. The thinnest I can buy is 2-mil and it's not the same. I did ask at a dry cleaners, but they said they weren't allowed to give away or sell the bags. One of the stores offers to take back used bags as a 'green' idea, but apparently nobody does it, and even if they did, they still wouldn't be allowed to give them to me. Don't understand why not but such is life.


Made the world's best Blueberry muffins for breakfast this morning. I was about to put butter on a hot muffin when a Blue Jay sailed by the kitchen window. I swear his beady eye was on me - ready to eat a treat, and his feeder (and tummy) empty. So I got my old rubber boots and parka on over my pj's and slogged out to fill up the feeders. I'm too good to those birds.

If anybody, anybody at all, tells me they want me to, I'll put the recipe up here. It's just as easy as any muffin recipe and the muffins are AMAZING! Potters like to eat, right? So it's not off-topic!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Still Challenges

Well. This hand-building gig is just not exactly all it's cracked up to be. You'd think a few rectangular pots would be easy. Hah. Take a look at this:

And they looked so good on Saturday! Then I took the plastic off so they could finish drying and you see the result. The smaller pots are all OK, but I guess these cracked because the bases took longer to dry (and shrink) than the sides.

Live and learn, and learn.... and learn.

If I continue to learn from my mistakes, I'm going to be awfully smart some day.

The other thing we've been working on is testing some glazes to dip the bonsai pots in. So far I have one black glaze (the three on the lower left in the picture) that works quite well for bonsai pots. And there is a lot of it, so I have enough to dip the pots. The little textured tile next to it is an old glaze which always works well on texture so I know I can mix up a batch of that. The tile on the extreme bottom left is the black glaze with the brown one on top. A nice oil-spot if you can see it. Above these are 4 tiles of Ron Roy's 'Slate Blue' from his book Mastering Cone 6 Glazes. It looks nice on the buff stoneware I use, but of course none of the bonsai pots are in that clay.... on the white clays it looks a bit drear.

The blue ones above that are Ron Roy's 'Stormy Blue', which is always nice.

The top row is the 'Waterfall Brown' from the book. I don't know if you can see it here, but it is very nice on texture. Definitely worth mixing a large batch and trying it on those bonsai pots that have some texture. Not too much fun on plain vertical sides, but it'll make nice edges.

And the butter dishes? Well, if someone would explain to me how come, when we made a prototype which worked perfectly and then made six 'real' ones in exactly the same way, the 'real' ones are too small for the butter, I'd be grateful.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Challenges, sigh

Being a newish Year, it seems a good time to take aim at some new pottery challenges!

Definition of a challenge: problem you haven't yet given up on.

The first one is that #$%$##@# rectangular butter dish. Super Helper really thinks we should make these as she gets regular requests for them (she owns a shop), and I have to admit, I have had requests too. We made a stab at them last year, but didn't get very far. So we're trying it again. I made a mold for the upper part (a comedy of errors involving a too-large master shape, a sharp saw and much sanding) and she made a template for the clay. You can see one of the dishes she made this week on the table in the picture below. Now if we all cross our fingers, maybe they will shrink to the right size.

The other challenge is Bonsai pots. I have a friend who keeps asking me for pots for his bonsai. Trouble is, hand-building is not my long suit and I can't see any other way to make straight-sided rectangular pots. So it's learning time around here! High time I learned to make a square pot, right? Anyway, here are the first efforts:

(Note the butter dish hiding behind the bonsai pot in the foreground.)

(Note also the efficient, scientifically precise and highly detailed engineering drawing ....)

So far they seem to be working, but they aren't quite dry yet so there is still the possibility of cracking, especially at the corners, and of the feet falling off, which is what I seem to recall is what feet  mostly want to do.

Once they are bisqued, I then get the nice challenge of glazing them..... here I really need to do some serious testing of colour/glaze combinations. Not to mention figuring out how to handle oddball shapes with holes in the bottom, and, later, really large shapes. The ones above are only about a foot square, but a lot of bonsai pots are much larger. How the heck will I glaze a pot 24" by 18"??

Last minute gifties and Happy New Year

An entirely new year, and like the heroine of Anne of Green Gables said about a new day, 'with no mistakes in it yet'.Maybe, being a whole year, we should say, 'with no disasters in it yet'..... although that may be tempting fate. Anyway, I wish the very Best of Everything to all of you in 2011, and no disasters, please!

I had a nice quiet Christmas season, with all orders picked up well before the 24th (unlike other years) and not even one 'it's an emergency, I must have a purple pie plate to give to my mother for Christmas and I know it's only a week, but surely you can do it.....' customer. It was so calm and civilized around here it almost made me nervous, but then I decided to make a few pieces to give to my daughter's step-daughters. The oldest is studying to be a pastry chef and the other, who is busy sorting out her personality as all teens must, asked for a 'zebra plate'.

Making the zebra plate was harder than I expected. Turned out I had no real idea what zebra strips look like! A quick Google helped out though and here is the result. Not bad, but boy did it take a lot of black.

 The other gift I wanted to make was a series of square plates for serving goodies. Since J. also likes all things oriental, I immediately pictured plates with bamboo designs. Here they are:

Both girls were delighted!