Monday, April 28, 2014

Clay + Felt

Doesn't that sound intriguing? I was certainly intrigued when I heard that Catherine Gutsche, a local artist, who was coming to my Clay Day, was going to make something combining clay and felt. I just couldn't see how the two could come together! (Except as a muddy mess..... but I was sure that wasn't what she had in mind!)

I'll let Catherine tell about it in her own words:

"Why do children get all the Play Dates? It's just not fair. That is the reason artists make a point to invite other artists to their studios for Play Dates. It's our version of the coffee klatch in the cubicle world. We like our worlds but occasionally we too need the company of other like minded folk.

It was for this reason that artist/potter Lis Allison extended her Pottery Play Date invitation to the artists in the West Carleton Arts Society group. When I got her email I was so excited. I’ve had this crazy idea cooking in my head with no way to execute it until then.

Over two weekends Lis hosted a small group of artists in her rural pottery studio. She quickly gave us a basic intro to pottery and then let us free in her workspace. She guided us individually and expertly answered questions that flew at her from left and right. We each embarked on our individual projects with coffee and conversation flowing.

I described my project to Lis and we both agreed that I wasn’t really 100% sure how I was going to execute the final product. But that’s often how I work, I have a picture in my head and a pretty fuzzy plan that often takes a few twists and turns until I settle on my final outcome. Being a mixed media artist, my plan was to join pottery and felt into one piece. How they were to join was a developing theory. And here is the resulting fusion of pottery and felt:

I call this one 'Purple Jester', and there's a possibility that you may see it at the West Carleton Arts Society Expressions of Art  fall show and sale."

 Wow! I'm totally impressed! What Catherine did was, she made a small bowl with a row of holes around the top edge. Then she felted the 'hat' and added the beads and wire and sewed the felted bit to the pottery bit. Voila, a nifty little object to make you smile every time you see it. Can't you just imagine one on your desk or on top of your computer or on the shelf near your art supplies? 

I hope she makes lots more! And thank you for telling us about it, Catherine. By the way, I have lots more clay.....

Friday, April 25, 2014

It Must Be Spring

Must be. I'm making Fairy Houses again!

They are rather fun, but you have to be wiley to make them. The first time, I attached the roofs to the houses and then when I came to glaze them, had to brush the glazes on because dipping, waxing, bisque firing to get the wax off, re-waxing, more dipping.... too boring.

The next time, I left the roofs loose so I could dip them in one colour, dip the house in something else, and hope they stuck together in the kiln. Worked, except that occasionally one would go a tad wonky.

This one isn't too bad but others weren't funny!

So this time I've left the roofs loose, AND made pointed tops like bottle necks on the bases to hold the roofs in place. Like I said, wiley!

The reason I'm making them is that I've signed on to put together a bit of a Fairy Village at High Lonesome next weekend, May 3rd and 4th. It's a Creativity Blitz! No idea what that is, but is sounded like fun so I volunteered. I was afraid I'd end up on parking lot duty, but to my relief, I get to make my Village. 

(High Lonesome is a Nature Reserve, in the Pakenham Hills, and the Blitz invites everyone to "join with others and connect with Nature and explore your creative side". All the information, including directions can be found on the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy website.)

Of course, I won't be using styrofoam and spray paint like in this picture! I'm hoping to find a stump or a rock wall or small spooky woods to make the Village in.
Will Fairies come? Check back in a week or so to find out!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Horizons

Maybe it's the weather.... or the fact that I still have piles of crusty snow under the trees while all the blogs I follow are chortling about their spring flowers.... or the fact that my kiln once again stalled at 1763F.... or something, but it is time to branch out a bit. Believe it or not, I am bored. Pottery is hard, the rewards are few, my shoulder is giving me problems and it's been 25 years, folks. So I'm not, not by any means, backing off from the pottery, but I will give myself permission to do a few other things as well.

 This too is part of living the life of a potter.

Here's a picture of the painting I did of Aquilegia on paper.

Much easier than on glaze! Maybe I'll use it to print some notecards. Or gift tags, which I somehow attach to the Wildflower design mugs and such. Could be fun!

Another new horizon I'm going to explore is innovative ways to combine pottery with other craft/art forms. For a starter, our next post will be by a friend who has worked out a nifty way to combine pottery with felt... tune in next week for her post on the subject.

I feel more interested already!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Stains

On the whole, the red and bright orange stains we have available to us these days are a real boon. For those of us who like to paint flowers on our pots, they are especially useful as many flowers have small red areas..... and then of course there are the completely red flowers. Columbine, or Aquilegia canadensis, is one of them. When I was asked to make some mugs decorated with a Columbine design I figured one of the new reds would be perfect. These stains, which are called 'micro-encapsulated' and use selenium and cadmium compounds, are supposed to be food-safe 'when fired correctly' but since I don't really know how I can be sure of that, I'll restrict them to the outsides of things for now. Still, people often ask for red designs on the outsides of bowls and mugs and I thought I'd accept the challenge.

A few tests on tiles looked pretty good.

But my first set of mugs were rather washed out. I didn't have the red stain on thickly enough. I found when I was painting the flowers (and I paint on top of the raw glaze because my glaze is opaque white) that it was hard to brush on a second coat as this made the first coat curl up and peel off. I fixed that set of mugs by over-painting them with china paints, which, by the way, can save your life in situations like this.

The second set of mugs, I thought I'd try painting them, then re-bisque-ing, then adding another coat of red, before glaze firing to Cone 6. Here's what happened:

  I guess the glaze coat, fired only to Cone 06, cracked and it became obvious in the later firing. Luckily, I also had another test in the same glaze load, where I brushed on a double coat of red without letting it dry in between. That is, I brushed on one coat and then immediately a second coat. Seemed to work, at least the stain didn't curl up and fall off but I needed to see the finished piece to be sure it would work.

It did!

A big relief, and now when someone asks me for red, I don't have to roll my eyes (mentally, of course, not physically) and make apologies. Now, how to explain that they can only have the red on the outsides of things....

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

There are Flaws, and then there are Flaws....

And if you are a production potter, you will have flaws.

No, I don't mean in your personality. There may be a flaw or two there as well, nobody is perfect, but I mean in your work.

What got me started musing about flaws was some pieces that came out of the kiln last week that I really debated over. A mug had a glaze skip at the top of the handle. The white glaze I use so much has a tendency to crawl if it is on too thick, or if the glaze coat is damaged before the piece is fired. In this case, because I dip the rim of the mug, then dip the outside of the mug, creating a bit of overlap near the rim, I think it was a bit too thick and probably the glaze coat cracked before the mug went in the kiln.

The skip was almost round, and about 1/4 inch across. It was clearly visible but would not effect how the mug performed. I reluctantly decided it was a second, but I must admit, I was tempted. I've seen worse glaze skips both on other potters' work and on so-called 'fine china' for sale at high prices in upscale stores. I don't think that is right, but on the other hand, if the skip is clearly visible and you buy the piece anyway, you have only yourself to blame so maybe it is alright.

Another flaw that I struggle with is pinholes. In fact, if I ever get dragged, whimpering pitifully, to a small white room all to myself some day, it will be because of pinholes. One dog-gone little pinny and a nice piece is ruined....  so is it OK to put it out for sale? Maybe, maybe not. In a decorative item such as a mounted tile or a vase, maybe. On the outside of a serving piece, maybe. But inside a bowl or other thing meant to be used for food, no.

Specks are almost as bad as pinholes. I use a lot of cobalt for blue decoration, and somehow tiny bits of it get where I don't want them. A nice plate can be totally spoiled by a blue dot or two in what is supposed to be a white background. For the life of me I don't know how to prevent them and sometimes I just decide to live with them. But this past week I had a butter dish that has a veritable splash of blue dots just under the handle; how the heck did that happen?

Then there are the not-flaws that look like flaws. I get very cranky if my dipping tongs leave a scratch of metal on the surface of a piece. It doesn't look like anything at the time, but will fire up a dark line, and you'd be surprised how many people ask me if it is a crack. So if I see such a line in time, I make sure to sand it off. But.... sometimes I don't catch them. Similar to the marks left by tongs are the lines you sometimes get where a glaze thickness changes. If you hesitate while moving a piece through the glaze batch, you may get a line which is visible when you hold the piece under the light just right. I usually consider that to be OK, but I've had customers firmly reject those pieces. And of course, if they find anything they think wrong, they probably won't buy at all and will tell all their friends and.....

And how about a rough spot on an edge? Often these are an excess of stain and can be sanded off, but they are so easy to miss. Then a customer runs their finger over the rim and ouch.... and 'ouch' for you, too. Or a rough spot on a foot ring that you didn't sand well enough. I once lost a large order because the customer's husband found a small rough area on one footring on one plate. Now I am obsessive about feeling footrings very carefully. Hard on the hand, if you actually find a burr, but much easier on the temper!

Luckily, lots of things from the kiln last week were without flaw. My batter bowls looked pretty good:

And I had matching maple syrup jugs and pancake warmers, so I was all set for the Maple Run Studio Tour which was this past weekend. Sales weren't great, but it was because of the rotten weather (snow and rain and ice and mud, yes, we had them all) not because of flaws in my pottery.