Lauryn from Three Trees Pottery

Three Trees Pottery

chopnob

Sacred Ceramics for Everyday Use

I first came across Lauryn Axelrod’s work doing research on the Anagama firing process. A pot caught my eye and I had to follow down the rabbit hole to her Etsy account.

It was titled Begging Bowl and had the following description:

Altar bowl fashioned after the bowls Buddhist monks carry for receiving offerings. Anagama woodfired stoneware, unglazed exterior, celadon interior. Great flashing in tones of orange, blue, and gray with ash. Perfect altar bowl to remind you to be generous, humble, and compassionate as you both give and receive.

I purchased it on the spot.

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Begging Bowl

And in living with the bowl for a while I decided that whoever made this was an interesting individual and I wanted to get to know them better as a potter and as a person. A few emails later and we were corresponding and having a fantastic conversation. I wanted to share that conversation with you.

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Sebastian – 

First lets start with the name: Three Trees Pottery. How did that come about? I found, for myself, its almost like naming a child. It just has to be right and it just has to come to you. For mine: FireCrown Pottery, it came in a dream that was so intense and emotional that I was compelled to get up and make a crown of fire out of colored construction paper. LoL! This was long before I got into ceramics of course but after the bug bit it was a perfect fit.

img_0905Lauryn –

Three Trees Pottery came from working with the idea of “Pottery of Place,” which is more and more my focus. Native clay, firing locally with local wood, and using the ceramics to express something of the place where they are made. I live in the Redwoods, and on my property, I have a small grove of old growth Redwood trees. Rare on private land. Trees are very central to my own inner landscape: I’m not a desert girl. I find them both inspiring and comforting, and am most happy hiking in a forest. When I was looking for property out west (I am from Vermont), I specifically looked for tall trees. When I found it, I felt blessed. I call my studio, “The Treehouse” as it is surrounded by the tall redwoods.

The Japanese kanji for tree is a symbol I have always used. Interestingly, when the kanji is repeated three times, it forms the word for “Forest.” Hence, Three Trees. It became my “chop” and it just felt right.

Tell me: What brought you to ceramics?

Sebastian –

 

I was heavily involved in martial arts and earned a black belt in the Martial Art of  Hapkido. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. This fulfilled my need for a physical and mental outlet that complimented my IT job which is mostly just mental exercise. But I still felt like I wanted to get into something that allowed me to use my mind and my hands in a different kind of way and where I could work on it solo, whenever I wanted. I’m really drawn towards holistic and meditative practices.

Everything connects to everything else in some way. When there is a balance between all, it just feels “right” to be involved in something like that, no matter what it is. So I felt that clay is basically just dirt and it would be a nice cheap side project to satisfy something that I felt like I needed in my life. (Oh how naive I was!)

So as with any other undertaking it never hurts to start with familiarizing yourself with the “masters”. I started looking through books and online articles and finding people like Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Ken Matsuzaki, Phil Rogers, etc… and I found an amazing and beautiful object that has such deep meaning and symbolism that it blew my mind: the Chawan. Something clicked and it was all over, I was hooked.

So now I’m a few years into learning the process and trying to be patient because pottery is a slow rhythmic process that becomes part of your life and your life becomes part of it.

So how about you Lauryn? What made you want to get your hands dirty?

Lauryn –

Thanks for sharing that journey! Seems like we’ve had some similar experiences. I originally trained as a ballet dancer, then morphed onto sculpture, theatre, writing, making documentary films, teaching, and a whole host of other things, including working as an holistic nutrition and health counselor. 7 years ago, I began studying Japanese tea ceremony and discovered that tea brought together so much of what was meaningful to me – the appreciation of the natural world, beauty, ritual (theatre and choreography and design), and a contemplative practice (I’ve been a mostly Buddhist practitioner for almost 20 years). The Japanese aesthetic also exemplified what I have always sensed was beautiful. I was never drawn to the Western ideals of beauty, finding them too “perfect” and sterile.

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Practicing tea, I was exposed to many different types and styles of chawan. One day, I asked my teacher why tea masters didn’t make their own chawan, given that they usually had some very strong opinions of what was good. He looked at me as if I were crazy, and stated quite definitively, “Because tea masters are tea masters, and potters are potters.” That was enough for me to think, “Well, screw that! I want to make my own chawan!” Other tea people told me I was crazy – a woman AND a gaijin making tea bowls???!??!?!!!

 

Undaunted, I began. Like you, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But, once my hands were in clay, it was as if I had found a new lover – the kind that make you wish you had met him 20 years earlier. I dove in completely. For the first 6 months, I did very little other than make chawan and fire them, striving to make a bowl that met the technical and spiritual requirements (until I figured out that “striving” is the opposite of what is needed!:-)). I honestly didn’t know what I was doing, but I kept reading, studying the “masters,” looking at pictures, taking workshops, throwing and firing in gas reduction kiln or in a raku kiln (trying to achieve an aesthetic I had in my mind).

 I was interested in the “essence” of a chawan – what the bowl suggested, symbolized, held – but I didn’t really know how to get to that essence.  Was it form? Surface? Both? (of course). I had an image in my head – something deep, harmonious, layered, unpredictible. A pot that evoked the natural world, not the human-constructed world. It wasn’t European at all in it’s aesthetic – it wasn’t “decorated” in the Western sense. It was rougher, more organic, painterly in an abstract way, but it had warmth, life. Simple, but unimaginably complex. It felt ELEMENTAL. But I didn’t know how to achieve that aesthetic. I didn’t know about woodfiring (I honestly didn’t know anything about making pottery, I just knew I had to do it). I kept trying to achieve something that approached that feeling in a gas reduction kiln. I threw ash over Shino pots and reduced them like crazy. I was (naively) excited by the results – I was getting closer – but to what?

 

I realized that the aesthetic I envisioned required long hours in a wood kiln, lots of ash, and the mystery of the kiln. Wood firing also gave me what I missed in my long, solitary hours in the studio: a communal experience. It also fed my need for “magic.” There is simply nothing like sitting around a kiln, listening to it breathe, sensing the flame and heat, feeding it wood, and then looking at the pots that come out, being utterly awed by the process of ash turning to glass. Jack Troy divides potters into “mud” potters and “fire” potters: I am definitely a “fire” potter – I’d put a lump of clay in the kiln just to see what happened in the fire. But, when the fire combines with a chawan and it moves you, quiets you, or brings you into closer contact with what is beautiful and sacred in this life, then it’s pure magic. Maybe 1-2 bowls from each firing do that. I keep those.:-)

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So, now, I fire in any kiln I can get myself into. Fortunately, where I live is a little woodfire mecca – there are about 20 kilns within a 3 hour radius, and two colleges with very active ceramics programs. Sometimes, I am firing two kilns at the same time!!!  I am just trying to learn as much as I can, considering that the process of making and firing pots takes a long time and is so deeply layered. I am in the process of designing my own kiln, which will be called the “Mamagama,” and I will begin building this winter. One of the things I discovered is that women woodfirers are a distinct minority. It’s a very “macho” world around the kiln and most of the time, I am the only woman stoking (other than a few young students or someone’s girlfriend). So, I want to encourage other women to woodfire, and of course, I want to be able to fire in a way that gives me a little more control over the process and the results I am looking for (firing in other people’s kilns is a crap shoot: you don’t get a whole lot of say in the placement of your work or the way the kiln is fired.).

 

Making chawan has led to making other things, and I discovered that I really had no interest in being a production potter. I am not interested in making more “stuff.”  But making things out of clay and the firing process is capable of saying something about where we are right now. I am currently exploring two different directions within what I call “Pottery of Place,” both inspired by living in California at the moment (I am from the East Coast). One series explores “Drought and Fire,” and uses traditional water-carrying vessels made with cracked, torn and dried local clay. The other is called the “Sierra Series,” and uses local clay from the Sierra foothills and feldspar and granite that I collect in the High Sierra. Both of these projects combine woodfired functional forms with sculpture, and a reaction to my environment. Other than making chawan, these give me the most pleasure and discovery in the studio right now. Local clay, local wood, local fire, and a relationship to place, time, and what is going on.

So, that brings us to the present:-)

What directions are you going with your work?

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Selections from Drought and Fire Series

Sebastian –

My direction is the same as it has been since I got into it. Learn the rules so that I can then forget them and “play.” The ones who do it well always have a sense of play and nonchalant-ness (while still grounded in the ethic of hard work and dignity). Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to be really really good at something. I think it must be built into the continuation of the things we humans do and strive for. The ones that exemplify these traits make what they do look so easy! “If it’s easy I can do it too!” Some folks stick through the misinterpretation and some don’t but the cycle continues.

As far as technical and aesthetic direction, I really just make things for myself. I experiment and try to make things that please my hands, my eyes, and most importantly my soul. It’s almost like a melody that you hear that goes on for a while and then you have to create the last few notes so that the whole thing resolves, and you can move to the next melody or motif.

I hope to build a manabigama kiln (small anigama type kiln with an emphasis on ease of firing and education) in the future. I have not yet had the opportunity to be involved in a wood firing other than a few pieces being put through by a friend at a firing in South Georgia run by some folk potters. The feel of the raw clay where your finger rests at the bottom of my cup was enough to confirm that my direction towards and into wood firing was 100% correct. My gut rarely leads me astray.

Being involved in things that are traditionally thought of as male dominated, I have found that females often excel. In shooting, archery, martial arts, ceramics, etc… Do you think this is because women can more easily step out of their own way? This is something that I find myself up against fairly often. You mentioned “striving;” striving does not often equate good work. It’s an enigmatic concept that on certain days sends your mind reeling, and on others, there is no other way it could possibly be!

I find myself aligned with the Buddhist and Taoist philosophy as well. I have never overcome a problem in my life by hanging on to something, only by letting go of something. If that makes any sense. 

Can you talk more about your philosophy and why you chose “pottery of place” as a path to explore? There is obviously something there that makes the topic worth exploring. Are you just an explorer by nature? Or was there something specific that drew you to it?

 

I fondly remember exploring the woods behind my many childhood homes and finding “places” that I enjoyed being. Maybe the energy there was what I was after. Later I enjoyed exploring abandoned places and the feeling of sort of being inside a memory. Now that I’m older I choose not to put myself in those places due to the dangers involved.  Beth Dow, a photographer I admire and who I corresponded with calls it “genius loci” the spirit of place. The ultimate spirit of place is within and I’m content to explore there for the rest of my life. 

– Lauryn

Aren’t we lucky to have the temperament that combines a belief in hard work (showing up in the studio everyday) with an unflagging sense of curiosity?

I think we all make things that interest us, challenge us, move us, or that we find beautiful. I discovered that making a coffee mug didn’t do any of that for me (other than providing a technical challenge – ah, handles!). But, when I get fascinated by a form or an idea that doesn’t yet have a form, my desire to get into the studio is almost obsessive. I keep playing with the form until I find something that rings true to me. Then I refine and refine and fire and fire. Each piece seems to be a prototype for the next one. It’s a wonderful way to live in the truth of nothing being perfect or fixed or finished. It’s one of the things I love about clay.

I don’t remember who said it, but there’s a quote that says a lot about the process of “playing:” An Artist is someone who plays with the things he loves.

It’s that spirit of play, the “what if?” and the letting go of any preconceived result that seems to bring about the best, most authentic work. As potters, we definitely have that spirit of play built into the medium: What if I use this glaze? What if I use this clay body? What happens if I pull the clay this way, or cut it that way? What if I fire it this way?” In fact, the whole process is one giant playful experiment! (As long as we remember the joy of play, and don’t get caught up in expectations or the need to meet market demands, etc.). I think all the arts are this way: the creative process is always a function of “What if?”

 

Making chawan is serious business, however. I once read an article that said that chawan are the hardest thing to make. Deceptively simple, they are. Leave it to me to choose the hardest path:-). So,  it remains the constant challenge, and I am always playing (within the “rules” of that specific “chawan” game.). Still, there is always a “What If?”

 

But the “Spirit of Place” has always called to me. I don’t know how or when or why, but I have always been drawn to the specifics of place. I am an avid traveler, and one of the things that I discover when I travel is “travel mind.” It’s another form of “Beginner’s Mind,” but it’s when you experience everything around you as new and interesting. Your senses are heightened; your perceptions sharpened. Having been a documentary filmmaker and photojournalist, I suppose this just came with the territory. And as a theatre person, I used to work with groups of people IN A SPECIFIC place, to tell their own stories on put them on stage. With all those experiences, I learned that everyone is profoundly and inextricably shaped and informed by the place in which they find themselves. I have a friend who is an “ecopsychologist,” and he maintains that our very psychology is defined and described by our experience of place.

 

So, what story does a pot tell of it’s place? What story CAN it tell? What does the form, the function, the type of clay, the minerals in a glaze, the wood used for firing, where and how it is fired, tell us about the place a pot comes from? What does it tell about who made it? When we look at the pots of different cultures or locales, they tell a story about the place in which they are made – in materials, in form, and in maker.

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When I returned to the West from the lush green East Coast at the end of the summer, I was profoundly saddened by the drought and fires in California. The ground was parched and brown, cracked and dusty. The air was filled with smoke. The land itself told a story of thirst, brokenness, death, disintegration, despair, demise. And my heart was breaking. So, I started playing with that idea in pottery. How could I tell a story about what was happening to this land through pottery? How could I explore how that story affected me? Working with native California clays, I stretched, dried, cracked and patched them into traditional water vessel forms that wouldn’t hold water (even if they were supposed to). Then I fired them in kilns fueled by local wood, near where the most severe fires happened. Some are combined with wood from the fires (a bucket handle made from burnt pine), or dried, cracked rope (a strap that holds a water jar); others are fired so deep in the firebox that they are scorched and charred. I’m still working on this, and I continue to explore forms and firings (I will pit fire some pieces here) that, when combined as a series, tell that story. They aren’t “pretty” pots, but they “say” something. And that’s more interesting to me.

 

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The other exploration of “Pottery of Place” comes from love. One of my first trips in California was to the High Sierra Nevada mountains. I was utterly awed by the granite, the light, the shapes of rocks, trees, and ruggedness of the landscape. I spend several weeks a year in the Sierras now, and I gather granitic rock on my journeys to wedge it into clay. Again, I wondered how I could tell the story of the Sierras in pottery. The forms I developed (and am still developing) are as rugged as the mountains. All are handbuilt, carved and shaped and fired to evoke the rocks, mountains, lakes, rivers and trees of the Sierra. They use natural ash glazes made from trees that grow in the foothills, and tell the story of the rock and fire that formed them. These are functional forms (for now), though I expect them to morph into more sculptural ones. I just keep playing.

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I have other techniques specific to where I live: I often use Redwood ash in my glazes (or just alone), since it’s the most plentiful wood around here. But it is also interesting: Redwood trees don’t really burn. They don’t really rot. They are the oldest trees in the world and they are virtually indestructible. They are about as permanent as flora gets. I also found a source of local clay that can reach high temperatures (most local clays are Cone 6ish), and have been experimenting with it as both clay body and as a slip. But, the next IDEAS I want to play with have to do with the instability of the land. I live in a DOUBLE subduction zone. Think MAJOR earthquake! I am curious about – and terrified by – tectonics. I also live on the coast: the ocean is 5 minutes from my house. There are tides, waves, birds and shells, the endless shifting of sand dunes and fog and clouds. All these landscapes affect me, and those are the stories I want to explore. In clay.

 

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Of course, the inner place is part of that exploration. For me, making art is an inner journey to an undiscovered place. And, since that place is where I REALLY live, it shapes the work most profoundly. Self-knowledge is the greatest journey of them all!

 

Oh, and as for being a woman in a man’s world, I guess I’ve always been one!:-) I do think that women have to try a little harder to be included and respected, but also bring a different sensitivity to the work (whatever it is). Certainly, that’s true when it comes to woodfiring! Again, to paraphrase Jack Troy: A wood kiln is a feminine presence. You can’t just bully and fight with her, or shove wood into her. You have to listen, feel, and respond. It’s not a battle: it’s a love affair!:-). Maybe it takes a woman to know one:-)

 

What is it about wood firing that draws you enough to build a kiln? Have you designed it? And, how does your “PLACE” affect you?

– Sebastian

What draws me to woodfire is the same as you “Leave it to me to choose the hardest path“. I actually laughed out loud when I read that part about you because I’ve said that so many times throughout my life. I just find something magical in simplicity. Earth, Water, & Fire. Three elemental things that you can combine in innumerable ways to express so many different things. A bowl can be a simple thing to hold food or drink, but they can be made millions of times and none are the same. I like the idea of handing it off to the fire to have its own say. Its a collaboration after all.
 

I am working with two other potters, one who has a lot of experience building kilns and doing woodfiring and we designed a tube type kiln and are patiently waiting on some bricks for the right price. Because everything and everyone are over an hour away from me I eventually would like to have my own small kiln, probably a manabigama as mentioned earlier, that I can fire by myself or with my two sons for a few days at a time.

You said earlier, something about “making things out of clay and the firing process is capable of saying something about where we are right now”. My NOW, my PLACE, is learning to live in a world that is always changing. I once thought that I had a modicum of control but no, no, not at all LoL! When things are meant to happen they will happen. It takes hard work and time but eventually the universe says Yes, and off you go:-)

Lauryn –

 

What you say about “hardest path,” and “elemental” is right on. So, I will do my best to answer and expand.

 

After my first 8-day anagama firing with Nick Schwartz, I was hooked. I was like a little kid who got something so fantastic she couldn’t even imagine it for Christmas! Forget the pony; this was a whole herd! The pots that came out defied my imagination. They were rich, complicated, exciting. They were what I saw in my head, but even more so. Each one was completely unique. I had no language for them, no way to “read” them, but I knew they told a story – a profound story. I fell in love with each pot, the way you fall in love with a person or an animal. They had personality, weight, history, and…. dare I say it, SPIRIT. These were teabowls I could call honestly call, “chawan.”

After that experience, I jumped on every opportunity to woodfire. In that year, I fired 15 different kilns, trying to understand the seemingly infinite variables that created the pots I loved. I discovered that I was happy putting a lump of clay in the kiln, just to see what came out. It was like trying to figure out what makes each individual person unique. Yes, you can look at the genes – the raw materials – but there is something ineffable. Something you can’t control or pre-determine that “essence.” And that makes it challenging.

 

I understand (and am still learning) about clay bodies, wood, firing schedules, position in the kiln, etc. But that seems to be only part of the story. There is the “MAGIC,” and I’ll never understand that, but it’s what brings me back again and again. Of course, not every pot has that full magic, but when the form and the surface – the earth and fire – combine in a certain un-knowable way – that pot is special. Born of earth, air, water, fire. It has it’s own life. And then there’s the process: the coming together with others in a common activity for a common purpose. There’s a ritual feeling to it. Most woodfirers will tell you how those moments around the kiln with other potters and friends are special: the sharing of food, drink, stories, splitting, stoking. It’s the classic “campfire” experience. Except that there is something more to it: It’s about creating something together. And this is what I call the “God Impulse.” Forgive my theology here, but I strongly believe that the “god” force of the universe is a creative one. Whenever we humans engage in the creative process, we are continuing – and adding on to – the original creative impulse. Yes, we do so alone in our studios, but firing is a communal creative act. The process is magnified. And so, firing a wood kiln is like that for me. A deeply spiritual undertaking (as well as one that is hard work, and fun, and fraught with potentiality). I love doing it. Period.

After firing many different kilns, I decided that it was time to build my own. To the degree that one can have control (Ha!!) over the process, I wanted to do so. Plus, I wanted to develop a relationship with one kiln. It’s like entering a long-term relationship (not just dating!). Over time, I realized that no matter what you learn from each firing – and you learn so much – only a portion of that information is useful for the next firing in a different kiln. But the more you fire ONE kiln, the more you get to know it’s personality, quirks, hot spots, cold spots, etc. It still doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least you eliminate ONE of the many variables that can interfere with results.

My kiln, which is already named “The MAMAGAMA” will be a small anagama. 250 cubic feet. The plan is to fire it in 24 hours or 3 days, alone or with others. Like you, the design exists, and I am starting to accumulate bricks. In the meantime, I am building what I call the “Pajamagama.” It’s a very small (27 inch diameter), updraft, wood kiln that can fire with scrap wood in 7-10 hours (It’s so easy, you can fire it in your PJ’s!). I have all the parts, just waiting for it to stop raining here! Really, it’s more a glaze kiln than an anagama (i won’t get the surfaces i get in a long firing), but it will give me the chance to test forms, clay bodies and ash glazes in a woodfire. I can fire it every week, if I want. If it ever stops raining , it’s ready to go!

I have no doubt that wood-firing will remain my primary firing technique. Who knows? I might even get to the point, like the Raku potters, where I build a tiny wood kiln for firing one teabowl at a time. A TRULY one-of-a-kind pot!

As for PLACE: How can we NOT be interested in evoking PLACE with our pots? From the beginning of pottery, pots have been born of the earth, air, water and fire of a place. My interest is increasingly exploring that direction. Not just through using native clay, wood from nearby, or the rocks, sand, water, seaweed, and other “earths” of the area which I routinely incorporate into my work, but also in the form those elements take as pots. How can I make a functional object that tells the story of where it comes from? Where it lives? A pot that speaks of it’s place?

Living in California, surrounded by forests, mountains, and oceans, where the elements of the physical landscape are so strong, I am deeply influenced. It’s not just the beauty of the landscape, as FORM, that affects me so, but also by what it speaks of. Tectonics, erosion, flood, heat, evaporation, force, growth, evolution…these are the geologic PROCESSES of creation in a landscape. These ACTIONS create the FORM of our fragile planet. I am curious to explore how those same processes work out in a pot. For example, over vacation camping on a wild beach in Southern California, I came across these bluffs – the edge of the continent – carved so beautifully by the wind and waves. I want to play with that. I also saw parts of the earth where rock was forced upward through tectonic movement. I want to see what happens if I do something similar.


I am also more and more affected by the impact of climate change on MY place – drought, fire, earthquakes, tsunami, deforestation, desertification, the carelessness of human greed. I can’t help but respond to what I see and feel about the planet. I do believe that as artists, we MUST respond. And so I do: I mix the elements of my place – the earth, air, water, fire –   with the forces of my place to say something about the place. My “Drought Series” pots, for example, use native clay, stone, sand, and wood ash in forms that evoke ancient water vessels, but are made from torn and cracked slabs, and are fired in wood kilns near some of the worst wildfires in the state. They speak of a dried, parched earth that cannot hold water. They evoke the remains of a civilization  – the people who would use those pots – that disappeared due to drought and fire. Maybe us?This work is the most interesting to me. It goes beyond making tea bowls, but what if a teabowl could also speak of these things? Why can’t it? Why can’t a tea bowl be the object that spurs our meditation on our Place? Our Planet? Our Place on our Planet? A teabowl is a vessel – a metaphor for the human vessel. The very best teabowls speak to our humanity. Our humanity is inextricably tied to our place, our planet, and our responsibility for it. Now, THAT’S a direction to take my work!

– Sebastian

 

In closing, lets suppose that tomorrow is your last day on earth. Bring us from morning to night and tell us your perfect day from start to finish.

Perfect day? OK, assuming I am physically and mentally able, I’d start with a long walk on the beach or in the forest or in the mountains. Then, I would come home, eat a delicious, fresh meal of homegrown foods with my family. Maybe have a glass or two of fine wine. Then I would sit down to make a bowl by hand. My last bowl. What do I want it to contain? Peace? Gratitude? Love? While it is drying in the sun, I would gather wood to build a fire. After dinner of freshly caught, grilled salmon, warm sourdough, homegrown salad, and more wine –  I would build a big fire, and place the bowl – wrapped in seaweed and other things I have gathered – in the middle. For the rest of the evening, I would sit with my loved ones by the fire, tending it, being warmed by it, listening to it, and talking about the times we had together. And as the flames died down, I would allow myself to curl up in my lover’s arms, being held and caressed, and fall asleep by the embers, knowing that someone else would find the pot in the morning, and hopefully, it will have survived.

How’s that for a perfect day?:-) Hmmm. Shouldn’t every day be like that (minus the not waking up part!)?

 

Sebastian –

I agree completely! Every day is a precious thing.  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your process, your philosophy, and your passion. I look forward to our next talk and keeping up with you and your work. 

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Contact Lauryn through her Website, Instagram & Etsy Store.

 

Connections

  
A lot has changed as far as the needs of ceramics. We have cheap and plentiful, but mostly soulless, daily use pottery. I think that because we have so much mass produced ware that it has given us a desire and a fantastic opportunity to breathe new life into ceramics. We are a connected world but we are so often missing those intimate connections. What is more intimate than a cup or a bowl and an offering of food or drink to a friend or a family member?

It occurred to me, a while back, that eating together is a very intimate act. Eating with a stranger is a primal and meaningful act that allows people to come together. You learn a lot just by partaking in this simple action and the inevitable conversation that comes with it.

Using a cup or bowl also involves the maker. If you drink from a cup made by someone you know, they are with you in a way. Even if you dont know the maker personally you know that the intention is there. If it is an honest vessel it comes not only with the clay and glaze but also with the intention of that connection. Clay is a way to connect with your fellow human beings in a way that no other medium allows you to achieve.

Stuck in a cycle

I’m stuck in this ridiculously long making cycle. I have not really finished making any glazes so I keep on making and making. I probably have 75-80 pots ready to glaze and then to ultimately fire. I guess its not bad for my first real cycle. Every pot I throw gives me more experience, which is good. Once I have some glazes made up and tested I will be able to have a more reasonable cycle, probably 50 pieces made, bisque, ponder about how to glaze, eventually glaze, glaze fire and then done. Repeat.

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Each cycle should focus on getting better at every aspect and out of that a rhythm should occur. Once the rhythm is in place you can play within that rhythm and experiment. I think that every cycle should have a few experimental pieces and every glaze fire load should have some glaze experiments in it as well. You just never know what you are going to get which is aggravating sometimes when you have expectations but also exhilarating at the same time.  I had no idea that iron oxide sprinkled on the glaze would have these shadowy dark brown halos, or that rutile would come out with this wonderful metallic golden orange, or that the 2 white glazes I was testing would come out so warm.

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Electric Kiln Conversion

It occurred to me that I didnt do a proper post about the kiln conversion. Been a bit behind lately I guess.

So here it is.

I found this information on the Ward Burner site which is a fantastic resource. You cant even buy a burner without talking to someone and going through the entire process and calculations so that what they sell you is specifically designed to do what you want to do. They are fantastic to work with. The MR100 burner with the regulator that pushes 11WC” of pressure. Its the standard off of any tank. I got this burner because it pushes more BTU and it is bad to the BONE!

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The important information:

Burner port is 1″ wider than the burner dimentions

Exhaust port is 2″ wider than the burner dimentions

First put on your mask. DO THIS! You dont want to breathe this stuff. It might not kill you right away but it would be a shame to end your ceramics career and life before your have to.

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It starts off like this.

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Get it cleaned out. Vaccum it out with a shop vac and get the inevitable junk out of it.

Then get in there and remove the dangly bits and the wires and controller if it has one.

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Then carefully remove the elements. Those were the most troublesome part as they kept trying to break off the lip of the fragile soft brick.

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For the exhaust I cut the soft brick of the lid using a small saw. I drew the template using a straight edge ruler and a permanent marker but just about anything will do. This shows the width as 2″ larger than the burner port.

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I intentionally cut my exhaust width wise to the correct dimensions but cut it longer than necessary so that I could put a kiln shelf or two on top and regulate how much air gets in or out as well as move the port to the font or the back of the kiln during firing.

Cutting the burner port itself was a challenge due to the sheet metal housing. I ended up drilling a hundred small holes and then doing my best to clip off the sharp edges using some wire cutters.

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Make sure you have a tank of LP Propane, depending on how fast and how hot you are firing you might need a larger tank. I opted for the 100lb tank and I have another 2 firings out of it before I have to refill it. You can see the vapor line of condensation indicating the level of fuel left in the tank. A 20lb BBQ tank would most likely freeze up before I got to temperature.

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Spark it up and make sure it works.

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Then go to town!

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Perspectives Opening – Akira Satake Workshop

I had a wonderful opportunity to go to the opening of the OCAF Perspectives Pottery Event on opening night. Its only about an hour away from my home. I’ve never seen so much quality work in one place and from what I hear it is an event that goes unmatched, at least here in the southeast.

I picked up a few pieces, the prices were reasonable and some of them felt outright too cheap to make a living with (that is another post, pricing your work).

Two pieces from Roger Jamison on the left and the right. A gorgeously decorated and salt fired piece by Kathy Phelps in the back and a piece by Anne Ginkel in the front (I cant find much information about her, shoot me a comment or email if you know of a portfolio page and I’ll add it).

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Roger Jamison is a fantastic potter. This yunomi is a fine example of everything a yunomi should be. Its simple, functional, light, it feels right in the hand both in shape and texture. Also it’s as if the decoration of the piece takes place in layers, some seem further into the piece giving a strong feeling of depth when looking at it. I hope to talk with Roger in the near future as he runs an anagama kiln and I hope to one day run my own.

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In the end I had to just get the hell out of there because looking up and down the aisles I kept seeing things that I wanted for my collection! I’ll be going back every year!

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The next day was a 2 day workshop being done by Akira Satake. I have long admired his organic forms and beautiful yunomi, chawan, guinomi and sculptural work so I had paid for this long in advance. I was actually able to meet a friend and somewhat close potter who goes by Grype who I met through the Ceramic Arts Daily Forums. His work is fantastic and coming along nicely.

Here you can see some of Akira Satake’s work along with a few of his contemporaries. This is by no means a complete document of the show but I really had fun seeing these strikingly beautiful works in person.

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The workshop was full of information and he went over a lot of material. The main thing that I took away was that clay is clay and to let it be what it is and to help it be itself. This is expressed fully in his sculptural works that look as if they are made partly by man and partly by the earth itself.

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He also went over his technique of applying slip and getting the textural pieces that he is famous for. It is a very in depth and lengthy process which requires the right amount of drying time after the slip is applied. He spent a very long time perfecting this technique which goes to show that he is, among other things, a very patient and persistent person. With the textured slabs he built a teapot and showed us how the handles were made. Stories were told and among them were a few about potters who were teaching Akira Satake technique workshops at a very reputable pottery center and another person who took his slip recipe and started selling batches of it on eBay if I remember correctly.

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Shameful really. I’ve heard the same stories from other potters who are really the nicest and most open people but when they talk specific recipes or techniques others shamelessly use it and copy it for their own gain. The one thing about people who copy though, they are always one step behind😉

I personally feel that you can use the technique or recipe, but, MAKE IT YOUR OWN! After all, what you create is truly a reflection of yourself. Why would you want to be anyone but yourself? Some of the techniques shown I will probably never use because they are Akira’s specifically. They are clever and technical and are good fodder for new ideas but the specifics are his. I am grateful that I was able to attend and chat with him and see a great potter at work.

Unfortunately at the end of the first day of workshop I was not feeling well at all so I had to leave and I didn’t make it back for the second day. I wanted to make a portrait of Mr. Satake as I try to do when I meet someone who influences me but it just wasn’t in the cards. He has a studio in Asheville so its not entirely out of the realm of possibility that I could meet up with him again and finally make that portrait.

Here is my memento guinomi from the workshop and meeting with Akira.

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Overall a fantastic few days and I was able to be very productive with my own work. I anticipated this in advance and booked some vacation time from work:-)

 

Shiho Kanzaki

I have just finished a fantastic autobiography of Shiho Kanzaki called – Voice of Fire, Voice of Earth. It’s only available in ebook format and the $3.00 I spent on it was well worth it. I love this man’s work and his philosophy on life. A true potter who understands that pottery is not just about pots, its about life. As you shape the pots and participate in the process, the process shapes you!

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Very few of the older generation potters are computer savvy but Shiho Kanzaki is on Facebook as well!

Gas Firing Results

People are anxious to see results even though they are definitely nothing to write home about. There is definitely some promise with the Malloy Clear and the No Craze Clear recipes. Some of the pieces I sprinkled some Red Iron Ixide and / or Rutile, which you can see in some of the small bowls. My temmoku ended up being a nice celadon because I miscalcilulated the Iron amount 😄 Lol. Also you can see exactly what carbon coring looks like.

Carbon Coring

    
  

Two examples of the Chinese White Crackle glaze which did not mature.

  
  

Clear over porcelain with Rutule. Gives a nice orange gold.

  

Nice Leach 4-3-2-1 Celadon due to miscalculation of iron for Temmoku

  

Local clay slip declration under clear

  
    

I kept some of the items unglazed to see what iron and reduction would do. Not much action.

 

Fire In the Hole! 

Finished my test glazing. I have around 65 pieces with varying degrees of attachedness so I pick the little throw away pieces to test with. A mix of stoneware, porcelain, slipped stoneware, textured pieces, some organic material and small bowls. 

I am testing Chinese White Crackle, Malloy Clear, No Craze Clear, Leach Zircopax White, Leach Temmoku, and refiring a few pieces with wood ash that did not melt. 

  
Lit the kiln at 10AM with my muscles aching from the previous nights Hapkido workout. Man it feels good. It hurts but it’s good. 

 I left the valve 1/4 open to let it warm up. At 11am I turn it up to full and after another hour it’s looking good and I added 2 bricks on the outside of the burner to further direct the heat. 

  
By 1PM cone 5 starts to bend and by 1:30 it’s flat. I was told to slow it down and stretch it out to 6 hours. 

  

Not wanting to cause eye problems down the road I don my shades so I can check the cones through the bright haze of yellow heat. 

  
So I remove the side bricks to slow the process a bit. After cone 5 it stalls and I get a tip to slightly close the damper. No change after 15 minutes so I add the side bricks back. Cone 6 drops at 4PM but no change in temperature after that. I added a third brick on top to further direct the heat and cone 7 starts to drop. 

  
By 6PM I see cone 9 starting to dip so I put it into reduction with a combination of closing the damper a bit more as well as the air flow on the back of the burner. The flame seeks oxygen so I know it’s reducing. I can no longer see the cones through the peep hole so I figure everything is good and since you lose a bit of heat during reduction my plan was just to let it go for another hour and cone 10 should be reached by that time. 

  
I get curious by 7 and stop reducing by opening the flu a bit. I see cone 7 is still not flat and cone 9 is stuck where it was, softly bent. Confusing to say the least. I need more temperature. Not much I can do with the limited variables I have so I move the damper to the front of the kiln instead of the back, changing the airflow.

  
I cut the lid the proper width which is 2″ wider than the burner width or another inch wider than the burner port width according to the info on the Ward Burners site. This was to allow for this very situation so I’m glad I had the option. 

By 8PM I figured it was the best I was going to do so I shut down the gas and closed the kiln the best I could to let it cool overnight. I got a very soft cone 10 out of it. 

The next day I go back out to check the damage. Total failure save for the lessons learned. The problem with the entire firing, I hypothesize, is that the shelf was too big for the heat to efficiently rise. The bottoms of the pots had a better melt than the top. I probably got way above cone 10 below the shelf. The shelf was actually bowed. 

The reduction was too early and too much which caused carbon coring. Even the porcelain was grey. This is due to not enough burnout of the carbon materials during the firing. This is undesirable as I have read that it weakens the vessel. 

I don’t have pictures as they don’t even really bring any more insight. If you have a failure like I did, you will see for yourself what went wrong. I put them in my electric at cone 8 to see if the test glazes at least will melt given some even heat.  I’ll post some pics after it cools. 

So I spend the next day being ticked off, throwing some more pots and going over the firing again in my head.  The next firing I will use 1/2 shelves which is my only other option for shelf sizes. 

Another tip was brought up by a friend who suggested that a top shelf neared the damper on the inside will allow for more heat to stay in the kiln longer before exhaust. 

I have enough LP and enough bisqued pots for another go. Maybe this Monday. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that firing a kiln is not work. It’s exhausting to focus for 10 hours on something you have very little control over. It costs real life money to fire as well and after this firing all I can think about is how I was basically spraying quarters out of the propane tank for 10 hours straight. 

Live and learn. Try not to have expectations on your first try. Then do it again, and again, and again, until you get it right. That’s about it. 

A Plate a Day

I found this wonderful blog – A Plate a Day.

Just a massive amount of variety to the simple plate. The plate is something we use daily and most of us don’t ever give it a second thought.  As humans we need, in order of importance –

1) Air
2) Water
3) Food

The vessels that we use to drink with and to eat with are very meaningful when you think about it. It’s just part of the routine, the ritual of staying alive and thriving. They are so ubiquitous that they are virtually ignored beyond the initial reactions of “Oh these plates are cool lets get this set!” or the oh so often “I am really tired of washing dishes!”.

Give your dishes a second look next time you sit down for a nice meal. Do they just do their job or do they give you something beyond that? A connection with the maker perhaps? A symbiosis with your food or drink? A reminder of someone or some time in your life? Food for thought I guess. Have a great day!

A Plate a Day

A Plate a Day

plate by Jude Allman

Shiro Tsujimura

Steve Booton Ceramics just posted a great video of Shiro Tsujimura.


Here is a man who boldly works on his own terms. With his own two hands he built his own compound, not just a house, but 4 buildings, one of which is purposed as a place to view the moon. It says something about Shiro that he spent the time and energy to build something dedicated to watching the moon and I dont know who wouldnt envy having one of their own.

As far as getting along in the art world, he does not enter any competitions and says that the critics can go to hell. Bravo! It’s not about pleasing the critics. With any type of work it is best to do the work for yourself first, to the best of your abilities, and then see what the world thinks.

It is unusual that he was not a Deshi  (apprentice) under any Sensei (master) during the time he was learning. I myself felt cheated at a younger age when I learned of this system of learning. However I quickly learned that the entire world is full of masters at anything you care to learn about. Shiro became a potter at the age of 22 and had his first solo show by 30 which was hosted at his own residence.  His knowledge traverses the range of styles that Japan is known for: Shigaraki, Iga, Shino, Kohiki (Beautiful Style), Ido, Oku-Korai, Kuro Oribe (Black Oribe) and Setoguro.

His black chawan in any style are very impressive and for one of his solo shows it was said that he made 500 teabowls in 3 months. In the documentary above he says that on a busy day he can throw 800 tea bowls or 1000 teacups. Because of the wide range of work he is producing, technical skill and probably in part due to his nonchalant demeanor, he has gained fame. There is more information on Mr. Tsujimura here at Artsy & E-Yakimono.

Here are some of his works.

(Special thanks to http://artsy.net for the use of these images. There are many more wonderful artists and works to view on their site)

 

 

Being Busy

I have the opportunity to convert an old electric kiln to LP and found that leasing a tank is supposedly very inexpensive. This way I can get to cone 10 temperatures without shortening the life of my electric kiln, experiment with reduction and test glazes in an environment closer to a wood kiln. 

I’ve been working nights to get some more work done. It’s much cooler. The Georgia summers are just brutal with the heat and humidity. 

Night time in the stidio looks like something out of a dream. Living the dream:-)

I’ve been using porcelain exclusively for a month and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m trying to push it to its limits, which means that my scrap bucket does not go hungry :-) 

I am experimenting with some irregular shapes and found the issue of trimming the bottoms was a pretty simple solution. I used a large enough lump of clay as a chuck. I should turn a few sizes on the wheel and then bisque. I can use a small lump of clay (carpet under-matting or similar) as an adhesive. This will solve the secondary problem of not being able to bear down on the clay to get a good cut. 

  
 
I’ve been finding things to do indoors as well. So I have hijacked my own island in the kitchen for my small ceramics projects that don’t need the wheel. I have a beautiful backdrop thanks to my wife 😀

  
Been carving with the Mudtools brand tools. The Do-All Trim Tool is a Ferari of a tool and just gets better the more I use it.  The Drag Tool, I still need some practice with but there are a lot of possibilities there too. I’ve been making small guinomi chalices as they are small, quick jobs and keep my pinching skills up. 

   
 

Tokoname Master Craftsman

Peter Machek posted a very nice throwing demo of Tokoname Master Craftsman Hokujo (Genji Shimizu) throwing a teapot.

A photo gallery containing pictures from around his workshop.

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And also take a look at the Tokoname Gallery which features his work as well as many other craftsmen.

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And if you want even more of an insight into the creation of his work, check out this gallery. A very interesting thing is that some of his work is fired with seaweed to give the subtle and natural decoration.

Schulz Pottery

My Friend Greg from Schulz Pottery, working out of Canton, GA, is doing some amazing sgraffito work! This is where the work is dipped into one or more alternate colors of slip and the design is literally scratched and carved into the surface. This creates texture, either subtle or pronounced. Keep in mind this is all unfired greenware. It takes over 2 hours or more to create these designs plus the time it takes to throw and form each vessel. I can’t wait to see them when they are fresh out of the kiln!

These mugs are bound to be a popular item.

The amount of detail against the textured negative space creates the feeling of serene water, making this platter all the more special.

I’ve always been a fan of Van Goh’s Sunflowers. How Beautiful is this vase?

New Kodai

A new porcelain bowl. I’m experimenting with a new kodai (foot ring) form, that gently dips downward towards the bottom creating a concave section and a foot that tapers to a softened point. It has taken longer and presented new challenges with this bowl because I shaped the form to completion outwardly. I cannot carve the outside further. I think the end result is worth the technical “challenge” (if you can call it that). I guess it’s less a challenge than just an order of operations thing. You just complete the outside first and I’m used to leaving the outside mostly unfinished and forming for the interior. 

   
 

The inside IS the outside

Very excited about this yunomi! I threw it on the kickwheel and I always throw a bit thick which is just natural for me. In throwing and trimming it forces you think about how the inside of the vessel is formed and how it will affect the balance and the overall shape. 

  
This leads to an insight which is best explained by the Tao Te Ching – 

Use What Does Not Exist

Thirty spokes are united around the hub of a wheel, but the usefulness of the wheel depends on the space where nothing exists.

Clay is molded into a vessel, but the usefulness of the vessel depends on the space where nothing exists.

Doors and windows are cut out of the walls of a house, and the usefulness of the house depends on the space where nothing exists.

Therefore take advantage of what exists, and use what does not exist.

Kiln Site

So yesterday we met up and figured out the math for the Anagama kiln. We need around 1840 bricks, 1000 of which may already be secured.


We took a trip to the kiln site and I neglected to get any photos as I was too busy picking my jaw up off the ground the whole time. One of the main features is that there is a black marble quarry on the 60+ acres. There is also electricity, a barn, a 100 yard firing range, and it is gated. Here is my sole momento, a weather polished piece of black marble.


And if that wasn’t enough, there is a large deposit of yellow clay onsite which is pretty much completely workable right out of the ground and fires to a terracotta color at cone 6. A fine looking yunomi was made to test. We will see eventually if it can be taken to cone 10.

Procrastination comes to an end…

Procrastination comes in a many forms – gotta wash the dishes, I’m shot from work, should do the laundry, clean the yard, relax. It’s productive procrastination sometimes. But I’ve finally got 5 glaze test going with the kiln at 700F and falling. Can’t wait to see if I’m on the right track or if more tweaking is necessary.


Moss ash, Temmoku with moss ash, my marshmallow white with moss ash, standard wood ash, a ru Celadon with some Zircopax. Up front is internally glazed with celadon and externally with moss ash. Bake until bubbly!

Here is the list for anyone interested in the recipes (ru is incomplete, I’ll update full recipe later)


My workspace is in complete disarray  but the shelves are up and I now have a space to mix and glaze and some spare room to house greenware. There are three bags of recyclables being collected for another art project for a friend and you don’t want to see the rest of the place! (There’s a Christmas tree out of frame! Etc…)

Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a few fellow potters to do the math on the new Anagama kiln which hopefully will be built and operational before this time next year. Something similar to this.


Single chamber, smallish but perfectly workable. I mostly do smaller pottery, yunomi a and chawan and the such, so no problems there! We’ll be able to stack high and deep. In fact Jay has no intention of fully relying on this kiln as his livelihood comes from the controlled firings he gets in his gas kiln. But man what fun to see what the fire brings to the collaboration! All 3 of us work within our own styles and that is a kind of symbiotic / synergetic thing! I love that I can get ideas and input from various sources and filter it through my own sense of taste.  We might already have 1000 bricks so it shouldn’t be too much more expensive to get the rest of the materials.

Myself, I have a cone 8 electric kiln which I really have no desire to peruse firing in that manner except for bisque and the ocasional glaze test. I’m prepared for the inevitable frustration of having a priced piece of work come out different from what I envision. Along with that should come some happy accidents and having my physical input into the process is something that I highly desire. Kind of like shooting film and thendeveloping it yourself. It’s a beginning to end process. It is a collaboration after all.

Back to being excited and motivated thanks to getting my diet and supplements in order. Some medications just take it all out of you. So goes life.

I’m also working on a list of decoration techniques (other than form based). Mostly to just solidify different techniques in my brain so I can compliment the forms I make. Probably hundreds more of these to come, just getting started.


So my day pretty much looks like this when I’m able to focus on ceramics. Being a potter with a 45 hour a week side gig at a fortune 100 company is sometimes full of challenges, both logistically and motivationally.


So there you have it! My Fourth of July update. No red white and blue pots, but some gold motivation to keep on pushing. It just takes time to get any better and you got to put in the work. Same goes for anything. Life itself. You get out of it what you put in!

Layout

i got the shelves half way up. I don’t want to go too high with them because kiddos will probably try to climb them. Way better for storing the chemical & glaze buckets.

I really can’t figure out the layout I want though. I have a heavy bag in the corner which takes up space… Maybe it should come down for the time being.

I was thinking of a layout sort of like a kitchen, where the main elements are in a triangular shape for efficiency. It doesn’t really matter though. It’ll transform as I figure out what needs to be where and every space and situation is unique.

  

Scrap Bucket

I took 1/2 the day off yesterday so I decided to throw a bit for 5 hours. Most of it ended up in the scrap bucket. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I’m not disappointed. Its just more practice.

I got a new wheel. A Shimpo VL-Whisper which I can say lives up to its name. Its as quiet as my kickwheel. Its a challenge to learn a new wheel. The centering is different. You can get an immediate center but within a second its out of center again and you have to do a second centering. A new muscle memory I have to learn. And the pedal is a new clunky thing that does not come naturally for me. I decided on getting this because I need to learn how to be proficient on any type of wheel and the majority of wheels are electric. This one is semi-transportable and can even be set on a tabletop for throwing while standing. The kickwheel is a 500lb beast and isn’t going anywhere, ever.

Throwing is as much in your mind as it is in your body. The state of mind will determine what kind of work you make. However good you are it will be there. It is, after all, your creation and creation comes from within. So even though a seasoned potter of 30 years might be able to bang out the same looking cylinder there is some subtle nuance that is contained within it. It is the jena se qua of pots. The one you hold that you like, and the other you hold and although it may be similar and pleases you visually there is something different about it. The one you like I think has that extra something, that intent embedded by the maker.

When you go to the wheel…

… and forget everything. One tiny bit at a time. First was the best so not a total loss but man! Little by little until I knew nothing. And not in the good way where you are in the zone and just do it, more like my brain just farted. LoL! It’s a new wheel so I’ll be at it again and again until it does my bidding. I guess it’s best to step away for the night though. 

  

Service above and beyond

I really have to give a shout out to my local clay and chemical suppliers Stone Mountain Clay and Glaze who have worked with me since the beginning to understand and overcome kiln issues and educate me in all things ceramic. They’ve spent a long and I mean a LONG time talking with me and giving ideas on how to overcome technical issues and passing on general knowledge which is all part of the beauty of clay. And they continue to do that.

It all really works out because I have a desire not just to “get some result” but to understand the why and how. There is no learning without failing.

Thanks Jason and Megan!

Fail Number 2

Fail number 2, time to build different vessel with new clay. My kiln at cone 5 fires to cone 4 temp so logic says cone 6 should fire to cone 5 temp eh? Nope six on the dot. No worries though. I’ll make something even better:-)

This clay, which I believe contains manganese, needs to not be over fired and needs a loooong bisque to burn off any gasses and other things that can cause bloating. Which I did. A 13 hour slow bisque to cone 05. But in the end it blistered anyways because of over firing.

Blisters

Semper Ad Meliora

Semper Ad Meliora – Always towards better things. This has been my modus operandi for my entire life.

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Lately, and I’m not embarrassed to say, that I’ve been going through one of the hardest times of my life. And it has also been one of the best. The two live hand in hand. I need to let go of the notion that life or situations should be some other way than the way that they are. What is, IS! Accepting that tricky little nugget has caused an upward wave and I have been riding it for a few days and using that momentum to get me out of  the hole that I’ve been in.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
– Kahil Gibran – The Prophet

Having pottery and being able to explore, problem solve, and create something from the base elements of the earth has really been an important part of recovering. Its symbolic. The more symbolism something has (that I can understand and that resonates with me) the more meaningful it becomes. It’s all very meaningful to me today.

I said this a few months back and it still rings true and can be said again –

“I’m just speechless. The amazing people that come into my life, at just the right times, helping me to go in the directions that I seek. It’s not even possible to repay the generosity of friendship, knowledge, time and guidance. It compels me to be the best that I can be in everything that I do. Everything that I am, so that I can become a vessel of their kindness and share it with everyone I meet. I become what I create: a bowl.”

Have a great one!

The Heart of Man

I had a very hard time letting this yunomi go up for sale. However to fund further projects I have to let some of them go. Its hard to convey how the vessel feels in your hands, how it is thrown a little thicker to accommodate hot tea, how big it is, how heavy. A picture is worth a thousand words but holding it in person is the final answer. And even that is subjective.

I want the pieces that I create to fit the owner and to fulfill their purpose. I’m so glad this one went to a repeat customer in Australia. I’ve talked with him several times and we share some of the same tastes and ideas about pottery. He even sent pictures when it arrived. It truly makes my day when I get pictures back! If it is being used and enjoyed then I am on the right path with my work.

The Heart of Man is truly at home. I hope he discovers the “secret” to the name during its use.:-)

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Speaking of Nuka

Speaking of Nuka. I got some great information from my friend Lance​ who is continually learning things about the beauty of the world and he creates videos to educate on his findings. He talks about “the living fossil” : Equisetum, which was around in the days of the dinosaurs. It is edible and has medicinal properties but what struck me was that it is very high in silica.

Since rice husk ash is used to create the beautiful nuka glaze. Its color is not easily describable but it has shades and hues of blue, green, white and grey. Every nuka glazed pot is different. I think that the somewhat random nature of the glaze is one of its greatest characteristics.

Look at this beautiful square bottle by Shoji Hamada Sensei using nuka over black glaze. Exquisite!

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Image from Pucker Gallery

 

I have a theory about my own work: that it needs to have an element of control (shaping the clay) and an element of relinquishment (letting the fire do its thing). And since my shapes are so simple, the two need a perfect balance.

Miranda Forrest published a book called Natural Glazes: Collecting and Making in which she describes the glaze using horsetail:

“The first test with horsetail ash alone produced a melted, creamy, greenish glaze with an optical blue in the centre, perhaps the most interesting single land-vegetation result to date. It also mixes well with other ashes and rock dusts. One of the other interesting effects associated with horsetail is carbon trapping during the firing, which gives a dark smoky colour to the glaze in places.”

Very very interesting! I’m all about local materials and making work that is harmonious with nature. After all, nature gives us what we need to live, to thrive and to create. Working with clay is a very primal type of creation for me.

I read somewhere that Shoji Hamada Sensia made nuka using the following

1/3 rice husk ash
1/3 wood ash
1/3 terayama stone ( a high silica bearing feldspathoid)

The highly respected Michael Coffee uses the following:

Custer Feldspar    36.00
Quartz   30.00
Whiting   22.00
OM-4   6.00
Wood Ash (unwashed)   3.00
Talc   2.00
Bone Ash   2.00

Another potter, Steve Mill uses

Silica  40
Rice Straw Ash  50
Feldspar  60

I plan to start somewhere along the lines of the simpler one and work from there. Now… Horseail grows in very wet conditions. It favors clay (how appropriate!) It’s summer. It should be around somewhere. I just have to find it:-) (then burn it, then wash it, then test it, etc…)

Good Times at the Wheel

Clay is a beautiful beautiful thing. We collaborate with nature and refine it and shape it and then offer it to the flame. If you are lucky, it will give you something back that will last a lifetime.

I’ve been turning out some decent work after a hard few weeks. Its good to get going and I’m maintaining some momentum. I had a success with my Terra Sigillata experiment and I’m really liking some of these new shapes I’m designing.

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I also made some small hand jewelry plates, which if the clay cooperates with the heat of the kiln it wont bubble or blister. I’m planning to bisque a looooong cone 04 to burn out as much junk as I can and glaze fire to cone 5. I think I’ll do it in two batches as I don’t want to risk them all in the same load.

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Terra Sigillata

Long story short, I needed a small amount of Terra Sigillata by way of alternative chemicals. Well after literally hours of research and no answers from any of the clay forums I created my own recipe for Terra Sigillata. I needed an alternative to sodium silicate as none is on hand and I’m impatient so I’d rather play kitchen chemist and see what I could come up with. It’s not rocket science. So I thought I’d share and save some folks from having to go out and find sodium silicate.

1 Parts Clay – I used a manganese wet clay (everything else calls for dry ball clay and I was not sure about using wet clay but it worked out fine)

3 Part Water

2 Teaspoons Jet Dry (for deflocculant)

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Jet-Dry and some old black clay with manganese as colorant

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Shake it up and you can see the separation clearly after an overnight sitting. The entire top was filled and I only got a picture after I had drained most of it. There was no layer of clear water on top. Entirely Terra Sigillata.

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Poke a hole in that mug! Just above the heavier solids.

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Drain into some kind of container

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I’m impatient so I boiled off the excess liquid by about 1/2

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1/2 cup morning piss (aka terra sigillata!)

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You can see a bone dry burnished piece with a few coats

Chemicals contained in Jet-Dry

Tetrasodium EDTA
Citric acid
Methylisothiazolinone    
FD&C Blue #1    
Water
Sodium Polyacrylate    
Methylchloroisothiazolinone    
Sodium cumenesulphonate

I think the Tetrasodium EDTA is the main source of deflocculant as it is used for a chelating agent and sequester and decrease the reactivity of metal ions that may be present in a product. DigitalFire lists Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate in their database of deflocculants, which is not the same as Tetrasodium EDTA but it seems to do the same thing.

The knife is a Kiridashi made from a recycled tool file by Jared Kramer Studios. The handiest knife I’ve ever known.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day from FireCrown Pottery! Here is a picture of the first pot I ever made back in probably 4th or 5th grade (when schools still had budget for art). I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I do now. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there:-)

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Cooling Water for Green Tea

An important process for brewing green tea is cooling the water to the correct temperature. I was recently asked to create a samashi / chahai or cooling bowl.

In Korean this is called an ulshikim sabal

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This is a beautiful example, minimal and elegant and completely functional. I have some ideas and cant wait to get started. I think it is going to be pointless to create one vessel alone when they are to be used together in the process. I have a lot of work to do:-)

Here is a fantastic video on brewing green tea using the Hohin and the Samashi. It is important to use the same material for both vessels.

I also found a very interesting article about oxidation firing versus reduction firing affecting the taste of the tea.

http://hojotea.com/en/posts-53/

On Ritual

A picture of the weekend office

And office attire is basically useless for keeping your clothes tidy, but I feel it is important for the routine and ritual of getting into the flow.

Hapkido had a huge part in teaching me how to push beyond my self imposed limits, how to dance (a little bit lol), and how to throw clay. It all started with the ritual of putting on a Dobok (our martial arts uniform) and tying the Dhee (belt). Once that belt is on you know it’s go time


It’s a bit different in ceramics. It’s laid back. It takes longer. The curriculum is not laid out for you. There are no preset goals to achieve. It’s harder in a way. This is confirmed by my friend Jay who has been doing it 7 days a week since 1999.

So, putting on the apron is a must for me. It is an impetus for creation.

Testing Results

I’m very happy with the test results. Tweaking these recipes in my cone 8 kiln so that I can get as close to possible before taking up precious room in the big gas fired cone 10 reduction kiln. All of these recipes are based on the Leach 40 – 30 – 20 – 10 recipe method which so far seems very stable. Getting the specific gravity dialed in is important.

Testing rolls right along

So I’ve got all the chemicals I need to make a vast amount of glazes in my simple palate and color range. Testing to cone 8 in my electric kiln so I can tweak it as close as I can before putting it into the big gas fired kiln at cone 10.

  • Zircopax white over temmoku
  • White over Celadon
  • Temmoku over Celedon with a dip into the red iron oxide (FE2O3) as a differentiator test
  • Clear glaze by itself
  • Zircopax white by itself.

Im really excited about these simple glaze combinations. Along with red wild clay slip from the lake and black slip that goes to cone 10 I have a wide range of decorating possibilities to play with.

Previous Celadon glaze tests with incrementing FE2O3 from 2% to 12%


Testing the specific gravity of the glaze with hydrometer.


The only thing I may want to do different is to get more flux into the white glaze to have it run, almost like a Nuka style glaze over Temmoku.

John Britt’s Complete guide to High Fire Glazes has enough information to keep me busy for many years! Big thanks to Jay Benzel of Benzel Pottery for loaning it out to me.

Another thing I was working on was pulling technique and made a nice delicate serving spoon. Beautiful right?!

Not anymore! Haha! The spoon is just a spoon.  That’ll learn me to put stuff on the counter!

Understanding Core Materials

Years and years ago I got up the courage to develop my own black and white film after reading an article that gave me the very basics in a way that I could understand. That understanding only took place after researching over the period of many months.

I’m experiencing the same thing with glazing. After seeing the results of cone 10 glazing and seeing the depth that it creates I’m ready to take it on.

Cone 6 in oxidation just pales in comparison. It looks as if there is a film of glass on top of some clay. Sure some of it looks good but cone 10 just has something that makes it sing. It’s as if the glaze is a part of the clay itself.

This article from Ceramic Arts Daily, along with John Britt’s excellent books on mid range and high fire glazes just pushed the right buttons for me and I’m ready to go.

rawmat_main_500

I had previously bought chemicals for some cone 6 testing so I have a lot of 2 gallon buckets with a lot of the chemicals I need but cone 10 calls for some specifics. So I’m off to my supplier in a few days to pick up the rest of what I need.

I’ve made up some small pinch pots to test without fear of melting stuff to the kiln shelf. These will also be to test the creation of a black englobe to go along with the buff white clay body I’m using. I want to get 2 complimentary glazes, and with the color of the at body and a black englobe I will have a decent start for decorating and making functional wares with my OWN glazes.

I’m very excited to get some good reliable glazes:

  • Temmoku
  • Celedon
  • Oribe
  • Cream White
  • Nuka

🔥🔥 I’m fired up! 🔥🔥

A Conversation With Jeff Guerrero

Jeff_Guerrero_Ceramics

When I first got into clay about two years ago I read a book called Shoji Hamada: A Potters Way & Work by Susan Peterson. I then went immediately into the kitchen and took all the dishes out of my cupboards for a thorough examination. Why did I pick up certain dishes more than others? Why was this bowl my favorite? Why did I dislike this particular mug?

This led me into a deep dive of ceramics and discovering my own tastes and preferences. I discovered Chanoyu (The Way of Tea), Matcha and in particular the Chawan (Tea Bowl). There are endless variations of the same vessel, and to me that makes it something magical.

The only place to see and purchase Chawan that I knew about was to look to one of my favorite places: Etsy. There I found literally thousands of Chawan. I had to have one. I had to have one from someone that embodied the same tastes as myself so I could further know what this was all about.

In my search for the start of my collection I came across the bowls of Jeff Guerrero and found myself drawn to the simplicity and elegance of his work. This bowl was the first in my collection and remains one of my favorites. I use it often.

The start of my Chawan collection

Since then I have purchased several more Chawan and Yunomi (informal tea cup) from Jeff because they just speak to me somehow. Seeing pictures is one thing but drinking tea from a bowl involves all five senses. The sight of a beautiful functional piece of art. The sound of the water being poured and the Chasen (bamboo whisk) frothing the matcha. The shape and texture of the bowl in your hands and the heat of the tea. The smell of the tea before it hits your lips. And finally, the taste of the tea which is unlike anything else.

I love to have matcha in the morning before starting the day. It promotes a calm and present state of mind.

I have spoken with Jeff on several occasions and I appreciate his ideals, his generosity, and his work. I find it fitting that I should interview him first. After all, he gave me my first taste of what a good Chawan should be. He has also given me lots of good advice in regards to my own work. I wanted to get to know him a little better so I thought that this would be a fun way.


In my limited time here on earth I’ve found that passions sort of have to “catch” you at the right time. Once they do, you know you have to follow and there is very little choice in the matter. How and when did you find clay as a passion? 

I haven’t been a potter for especially long, but my introduction to ceramics was rather serendipitous. In 2007, I was hired to teach digital arts at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, a non-profit arts center in Pittsburgh. MCG was started as a ceramics studio, and so clay is central to the culture there—the founder is a potter, my boss is a potter, and so are a number of my friends. I tried my hand at the potter’s wheel, and because my existing skill set helped me have some early success, I got hooked pretty quickly.

A few months after starting, the National Ceramics Convention came to Pittsburgh. At that time our studio was hosting a month-long residency
for Hiromu and Mieko Okuda, ceramic artists from Shigaraki, Japan. I spent a lot of time with them, in the studio and in the cafeteria. Hiromu is from a family who create pottery for the Japanese tea ceremony, so that became an important component of his residency. They both make conceptual ceramic art, but I was drawn to the notion of teaware. I was astounded by the value, not just monetarily, but by the way functional pottery was celebrated as art.

Can you tell me a bit more about the how, what and why that draws you to teaware and what, if you can put it into words, do you feel when you hold a nice chawan, made either by yourself or from another maker?

Following Hiromu’s residency, my interest in Japanese tea ceremony was piqued. I attended several cultural events and invited the Japan-America society to demonstrate for my students. Eventually one of the performers suggested that I inquire about lessons from her teacher. It was then that I truly fell in love with tea ceremony, mostly because it was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. Nothing in my life was so austere yet pleasant—rigorous yet beautiful.

My initial interest in tea ceremony stemmed from the ceramics involved, but further study revealed the interaction between many elements—wood, cloth, metal, clay, flowers, paper, water. Surprisingly, the tea bowl is typically not as revered as other implements, even though high-quality tea bowls often command more than $1500.

As for what I feel when I hold a nice tea bowl, unfortunately, I’m afraid I don’t really have the kind of philosophic/poetic commentary that people might like to hear. A good tea bowl is usually light, aesthetically pleasing, and properly shaped for its specific function. I aspire to make good tea bowls, but I have no delusions about my place as in the world of ceramics. I enjoy what I do, and I sell my work at a very reasonable price.

That’s what all philosophic / poetic people say😉 What do you strive for in your work? Ceramics is not something that you pick up, master in a few days and then you’re finished. Much like the Martial Arts, it’s  a lifestyle, a choice to pursue something that has no end. There is ultimately no completion, no finishing, only onward for as long as you choose to travel the path. So along the same lines, what is “that certain something” that keeps you coming back?

The short answer is that I like making good pots.

I’ve learned a lot from my friend Tadao Arimoto, a master woodworker here in Pittsburgh. One of the things he’s taught me is what it means to be a craftsman. It’s not just about you and your work. It requires an intense respect for your craft, the materials, the end user, and your fellow craftsmen. I strive to be respected as a craftsman. I know that I’m not a master craftsman yet, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever deserve that acknowledgement, but I like to think that I’m at least a journeyman who’s on the right track.

Ceramics continues to fascinate me, both technically and aesthetically. As frustrating as the technical challenges can be, I enjoy problem solving. And while I’m not a mad scientist in the studio, but I do a bit of experimentation. Even an ordinary kiln firing may yield unexpected results, and when I pull a “jewel” out of the kiln it’s like Christmas morning.

Of course, my interest in Japanese tea ceremony fuels my interest in ceramics. As my studies progress, I continue to learn more about the craftsman’s role the this tradition. It seems that there’s a nearly endless variety of tea ware, which keeps things interesting, to say the least.

How do you stay motivated? I find the before work ritual to be of immense importance to getting started and sticking with it. How do you deal with the ups and downs and breaks in between inspiration?

I don’t really have a problem with motivation. I enjoy making pottery, and I’m anxious to grow and improve. Unfortunately, between my day job and my freelance obligations, I have limited time for pottery. And because of my particular studio situation, I have to make hay in the sun. So I’m often scheming and daydreaming about pottery while doing my day job. It also helps that there’s a financial incentive to create new work, though I try not to let that be too much of a driving force.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years? Are there any upcoming projects you hope to start or do you let it flow organically, one thing taking you to the next?

In five years I just hope to be doing what I enjoy doing. Of course I hope that I’ll be better at it, and that my work reflects the time I’ve invested. If all goes well with my tea ceremony studies, I should have learned a great deal more, and perhaps my work will be in greater demand. Hopefully I’ll have added some new forms to my regular repertoire. Maybe by then I’ll have a different studio situation—maybe not. I’ll just be happy if I’m able to make some nice pots in the future.


Here is a small sampling of Jeff’s work.

You can see more on his Etsy page – https://www.etsy.com/shop/GuerreroCeramics

His web page – http://www.guerreroceramics.com

And his Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/guerreroceramics

On Establishing a Rhythm

Art takes rhythm. Ceramics is no exception and probably needs it moreso than the majority of other art forms. It is especially slow paced and the process from beginning to end to create a piece can be weeks to months depending on firing schedules. Not to mention that it can take years before you truly master your materials. Testing glazes alone will take me many months to complete.

The rhythm with ceramics tends to go at “life pace”. Most of us hold down full time jobs, have families and other obligations to attend to before working on our own projects. It seems that it falls into a slow seasonal rhythm spanning years and this is something that I do not mind.

Winter is spent mostly indoors for me so I tend to work on pinched vessels and things that I can do away from the wheel. Spring is a time for re-invigoration, cleaning the mental  clutter and getting back on the wheel. Summer is hot and with that comes the long days and trying to tighten up with routines. Fall is a magical time where I feel the most creative and bold. We’ll see how it goes over the years and how it gets more integrated with life until the goal of life being pottery and pottery being life comes about.

Here is a nice video on Establishing Rhythm with Dionne Swift. While not specifically a pottery video the core concepts span across mediums.

Establishing a Rhythm from R&A Collaborations on Vimeo.

Motif

From Wikipedia – In music, a motif or motive is a short musical idea, a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: “The motive is the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity”.

In my last firing I started thinking about decoration of my vessels. After a decade in photography I realized that I had an enormous amount of knowledge and was able to solve just about anything that came along. I had my own language.

So now I have a template to go by for learning and mastering what I want to create in ceramics. The template is repetition, the ability to solve problems and exercising your imagination. Once you  get it rolling you are able to create a motif of your own with infinite variations.

Small guinomi / shot glass from the recent firing. Nuka over Temmoku on white clay body in cone 10 reduction.

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”
– Zig Ziglar

You start with the basics: Color & Texture.

  • Single Solid Color
  • Blending of two or more solid colors
  • Floating colors
  • Creating Breaks
  • Where do you create the delineations of colors / textures / shapes
  • Color Combinations – What looks good together
  • The breaks can be on any part of the vessel, what parts look good?
  • Patterns, both in color and or texture
  • Other things I cant think of at the moment

The sketchbook is out and I’ll try on paper each variation and combination and see what suits me. The happy accidents are the deviations that can lead you down a new path.

30 Years Ago

I remember a ceramics class, back when schools had funding and felt an importance to preserve the arts rather than focus on standardized testing. I didn’t get bitten by the pottery bug back then but it sure must have planted a seed, that lay dormant for around 30 years. This pot has laid dormant as well, in the back of a cupboard, until it was recently found by my mother. I don’t think I actually remember making this one although I can drum up some memories from the class. It’s funny though, I was making kodai (foot) on my bowls since the very beginning. I found the same in photography. Looking back through my oldest images. The style was already there, small, simple and unadorned.

I think we all enjoy reminiscing and having a wash of nostalgia every now and again. The thing that I like about this pot is that I didn’t “care” too much, I just made it. You can clearly see my fingerprints. A pinched pot with a foot that I was able to see again after so long.

On Making a Living

Not many people make a living exclusively doing pottery and pottery related activities such as teaching and workshops. I know a few though and in researching the necessary evil of business and marketing I came across Joel Cherrico of Cherrico Pottery. Joel is a mid 20’s potter who is not only making awesome pottery and making a living with his passion but also doing great things for the community at large.  He writes posts on the business side of pottery for the American Craft Council called A Potters Journey.

Not only that but check out his amazing idea and implementation of Cosmic Mugs, inspired by images of galaxies made with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Cosmic-Mugs-Oil-Spot-Black-Cherrico-Pottery-2014

One of the keys is making connections and getting information from real people on the subjects that you need to be more knowledgeable in and to implement something with that new found knowledge. There is a fire hose of information on every conceivable topic: the internet. It’s a magical tool with almost the sum of human knowledge, but the way (for me) that the knowledge is transferred is important. Face to face. One on one. That is where things click. Research, research, research, and then talk to someone and solidify all of that chunked information into something cohesive, something that you can use and act upon.

 

Upcoming

Spring, I find, is a renewal of life and life takes work. Hopefully its the work of living harmoniously with the cycles that it brings, which doesn’t seem much like work, just more like life.

The forsythia blooms just happen. When we work to become ourselves sometimes we get in our own way.

I have a new load of pottery to photograph and some things on the horizon with my friend and instructor, Jay Benzel.

I’m also working with a few people to bring something special to the blog that I hope you will enjoy. The process will take a few weeks but it will be well worth it.

“Good Burn”

I’m sick in bed still and trying to recover and work out a few other things. Jay told me to think happy thoughts and then sent me a pic of the kiln opening today though so that I can have something to look forward to.  I spy some promising gems in here. Thanks Jay! 



Spring again

The Forsythia

Does not notice me

Sketching


 

Recovering from double pneumonia that I caught over the weekend somehow. There has been an epidemic of it around here as of late from what my brother  tells me in the ER. So I’m taking it very easy and doing what my body tells me to do, be slow and comfortable and enjoy the beginnings of spring.

Forsythia is a beautiful blooming bush from the Olive family. It blooms without leaves early in spring with yellow / golden four petal flowers and is a delight for my mind to run around in the branches seeing them arc and dart and entwine. this is the second year that we have been able to see it bloom outside our bedroom window. I decided to do some sketching and relax. All the hard work I’ve put in is still moving along even when I get put down and have to stop. It all keeps going.


 

My son, being the 6 year old boy that he is, decided it would be fun to break one of the huge flower pots we had out back. It was the one that caught my eye when we were out searching and when I realize that this would be our new home. He didn’t realize how sentimental it was to me. All was not lost however since I remembered that it could be turned into a fine grog and mixed in with my new works. Now the pot can live on in new forms and be a part of someone’s life. So now, not only does my time, my effort and my soul go into my work, but the sentiment of my home and current studio as well.

 

 

Liking Mistakes & Collecting

I came across this video from Basement Potter and its a very interesting watch and opinion on the little nuances that make something handmade special. That one speck of RIO or smudge or fingerprint in the glaze, sometimes makes the pot what it is.

I also came across a nicely put together site of a collector and ceramics enthusiast – CollectCeramics, which has dozens of beautifully photographed vessels from various makers. No information about the author. Anyone know who this is?

 

Cutting & Creating

I learned a new trick the other day. I’ve thought about using fishing line as a cheap solution to the braided cutting wires. The problem is that it’s not braided and does not cut cleanly enough. In comes Spiderwire – 50lbs. It’s braided and quite expensive at $14 but it should last 20 years with the amount I have.

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Here is my short cutting wire made with some nubs of clay fired to cone 6. They have just enough to get a grip on and indented so that the wire fits in nicely.

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I’ve been asked to create a large volume of vessels so as to help fill a kiln load. I’ve been working with Jay and we get to fire to cone 10 in reduction. This will be very nice as the clay body I’m using goes to cone 10 and comes out as a buff grey with tiny white speckles. Just beautiful.

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I’ve gone from making 1 pot per session to 8 and I just need to get the muscle memory going and create a repertoire of 5 to 7 styles of my own design that I can perfect and build upon. It’s been a very successful month in learning with Jay. Next up is learning the ins and outs of creating the classic glazes!

Yugen

From the Wikipedia article on Japanese Aesthetics:

Yūgen (幽玄) is an important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. The exact translation of the word depends on the context. In the Chinese philosophical texts the term was taken from, yūgen meant “dim”, “deep” or “mysterious”. In the criticism of Japanese waka poetry, it was used to describe the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested by the poems.

This led me to trying to find the term in Korean since Buddhism traveled to Japan from Korea and China. I am told the term in Korean is yuhyeon (유현)  The concept goes very deep and I find that getting different perspectives helps me to understand the concept better.

If you notice the first Hangul character in my tattoo. This tattoo for me represents the three principals of Hapkido –

  • Yu (Flowing)
  • Won (Circle)
  • Hwa (Harmony)

You’ll see that it is the same first character – 유 Are they related? Probably on some level, but I don’t have enough experience with the language to understand it yet. Everything connects to everything in some way though:-)

A fantastic blog post going even further in depth with this concept can be found here at CreativeSystemsThinking. A fantastic blog I stumbled across when looking into this.

Maksabal

Special thanks to SunJu Park and Lee Love

Maksabal – A Korean term for “A bowl for everything”.

There is such a rich history of ceramics in Korea. Japan gets the limelight for the Chawan and making the Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony – Way of Tea) famous but the vessels came from Korea first. Its like I’m taking a trip back in time as I further research my interests in ceramics and Martial Arts. There are many types of Sabal (bowl) but It especially resonates with me the unpretentious and natural beauty that these bowls embody.

I found a fantastic short documentary on the history of the Maksabal and an abbreviated history of how they came about. It includes how they are made and what makes them special enough for a war, The Hideyoshi Invasion (1592-1598) to erupt, sometimes called “the pottery wars” that involved this type of simple and utilitarian bowl.

One of these bowls is now designated a Japanese National Treasure – The Ido Chawan

ido chawan

Lee Love has become my go-to guy for his depth of knowledge on the Japanese and Korean concepts that come along with a really in depth study of the “why” of ceramics and the tea bowl in particular. He has kindly steered me in the directions I wish to study. The deeper I go the better it gets!

I truly hope to get to the Hadong region during our Korea trip later this year where the tea is grown. Enjoy the video!

Here is more commentary on the same video (also better quality)

And further commentary on the history Korean Ceramics

 

Decoration and Calligraphy

Ok so this will be a short post but necessary for me to keep the ideas coming and stored away for future reference.

So in the past month I’ve learned more about ceramics and pottery through Ohi Toshio and Jay Benzel than in the past 2 years combined. Youtube and friends on Facebook are nice for ideas and can steer you in a general direction but there is no substitute for hands on watching an 11th generation master at work or working hands on with someone who has thrown over 100,000 pots in the past two decades or so.

I worked with Jay from Benzel Pottery yesterday and made a few Yunomi and some mugs. Very excited that my throwing skills are improving. I have shied away from the wheel so that I didn’t pick up any bad habits and just been doing pinched vessels and slab construction and just playing around with some ideas so that I can stay in it with the clay.

We did some basic decoration with porcelain slip and it got me thinking about Calligraphy and the pens and brushes that they use. Straight up and down with a calligraphy pen and you get a straight narrow line. Then side to side gives you a thick line. Now add in the variables of curls and motion and you get the graceful transformation of thick and thin. This is not the best example in the world but it demonstrates the point.

calligraphica

So I want to go and get some finger paints. ALWAYS back to the basics. Back to childhood where life was simple and direct and the true spirit of the creative desire lives without complication. Closer to the “source”. Which in my mind, means pure potential.

finger painting

So one finger can go in any direction leaving a single line, thicker or thinner. Introduce another finger and you have another dynamic to deal with how far the fingers are apart. Introduce a third and a fourth or a fifth and the variables grow considerably. Now, I’m not looking for “too much”. Never, ever too much. Always “just enough” is where I want to be. As much done as needs doing and no more.

This leads into a conversation with my wife about a collection of pottery being like an album. A cohesive whole. I completely understand that and I want to focus on a few standard shapes and designs of my own so that I can repeatedly throw them and have a cohesive collection. This in addition to experimentation of course.

This is something that you can never complete. You can never truly be done. In a conversation I had with Jay last night. “Why would you want to get into something you’d never finish?” A very hard question indeed and one that warrants its own post I guess. I’ll work on that sometime😉

Ohi Toshio (大樋年雄) Workshop

Ohi Toshio – 大樋年雄 is an 11th generation Tea bowl master. I had the privilege of spending 2 days with him at Piedmont College watching him form Chawan, learning about the importance of tea in the Japanese culture and getting a glimpse into the depth and symbolism that tea ceremony and the tea bowl bring in Asian culture. (Think golden ratio kind of deep. Think Shinto kind of deep. Think about layer upon layer of symbolism.)

Mr. Ohi is a fantastic and widely knowledgeable person and I stopped taking notes exactly 3 minutes into the first workshop so that I could just focus and take in as much as possible. This was, I later found out, a 2 week session put into 2 days. The fact that he came at all speaks of his generosity. In my humble opinion you will learn more about the teabowl and the culture from deciphering the man who makes them than by memorizing any kind of technique.

Here is a man who is, a father, photographer, artist, designer, speaker and tea bowl maker (among other things probably as well). He continues a tradition began in the 1600’s while still being an artist who is true to himself. He blends and balances the new and the old through his ideals. Mr. Ohi unfortunately did not have time for me to create a proper portrait of him as the gallery and Japanese consulate were awaiting his arrival. I wanted it to be a a gift to him for imparting so much knowledge to myself and the other attendees. I am hopeful that we will meet again with more time one day.

If anyone has any questions about the workshop I will try to answer as best I can or try and locate the information requested. Please enjoy some moments from the working sessions. I apologize in advance that I did not get more pictures of the attendees but please share links if you have some. I would love to see the perspective of others.

Communication via structure

Tycho – One of my creative heroes in graphic design and music tweets – “Graphic design is architecture in the abstract, communication via structure.”

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Since I was young I’ve loved good architecture, subjectively of course, and graphic design.

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I have also admired the book illustrators who were the kings of their craft until photography and computer generated art cut into their business quite heavily. I know all of you can probably remember a children’s book that you loved because the illustrator spoke in pictures, visually, the words that were written. A condensed version of what you were reading.

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Jay Benzel & Ohi Toshio

So excited! So when it rains, it pours. After visiting the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art and viewing the Japanese Pottery Exhibit currently on display I made a few connections and found out that Ohi Toshio not only will be giving a lecture at the end of the exhibit on Jan 22nd at 5pm but also teaching a class on the 21st during the day of the 22nd as well. The first day will be working the clay and the second day will be some firings.

https://www.facebook.com/events/354204131447021/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

Promo Flyer – Toshio Ohi Workshop

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Just got into a class with Jay Benzel to help me get my skills up to level! I went in and bought a tumbler (the southern term for yunomi haha) and recognized his Asian influences. I emailed him last night. He gave me a ring this morning and we chatted for a while. He started throwing out the names that have influenced me and sort of feeling me out: Phil Rogers, Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and mentioned his preference to local materials. I was just thinking the same things about being true to your local materials and letting the beauty of your direct geographical influences come through.

One of Jay’s works

Glaze Inspiration?

My friend Graeme of Arcimboldi Studios made a post on FB where he was experimenting with Copper, Salt and Ammonia. It makes a fantastic patina.

Long strip soaked (right) overnight. other 2 place a small amount of ammonia in a small container like bottle top place in tupperware box. Sprinkle salt over brass sheet randomly and cover tupperware box for about a week. Don’t breath in:-)

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I’m wondering if it is possible to add a small amount of salt to a glaze with copper oxide and see what it does. Or placing small salt crystals on wet glaze. The box of things to try is miles deep.

Potters of the U.S.A

Again put together by Richard E. Peeler who was a pioneer in documenting these treasures. This documentary features potters of the United States – Charles Lakofsky, William Wyman, Vivika and Otto Heino, a young Warren Mackenzie, Paul Bogatay, Toshiko Takaezu and Frans Wildenhain.

Potters of Japan Documentary

I’m always interested in the older pottery videos of times gone by. My wife and I enjoyed watching The Potters of Japan the other night. Put together by Richard E. Peeler who was a pioneer in documenting these treasures. It features some the great pottery styles and regions of Japan like Bizen, Tamba, Haki & Mashiko that we saw during the visit to the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum at Piedmont College. The soundtrack is just classic!

A visit to The Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art

In researching tea ceremony for a client I came across a ceramics show held at the Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art at Piedmont College. It is a beautiful museum and the curators are friendly and knowledgeable. I was asked by some friends to make a few pictures so I decided to blog it.

JAPANESE POTTERY

The rising generation from traditional Japanese kilns


The installation runs through the end of January. A special reception featuring a gallery talk by Ohi Toshio, one of the artists included in the show, will be held from 5–7 p.m., Jan. 22., 2015. He is an eleventh generation Ohi Master.

Ohi Toshio has even given a Ted Talk

Chronological List of Masters

Genenation Master’s name Other name
First Ohi-Chozaemon Hodoan 1630-1712
Second Ohi-Chozaemon Hodoan 1686-1747
Third Ohi-Chozaemon Hodoan.Kanbei 1728-1802
Fourth Ohi-Chozaemon Doan.Kanbei 1758-1839
Fifth Ohi-Chozaemon Hodoan.Kanbei 1799-1856
Sixth Ohi-Chozaemon Sakutaro 1828-1856
Seventh Ohi-Chozaemon Michitada 1833-1896
Eighth Ohi-Chozaemon Yuigensai.Sosyun 1851-1927
Ninth Ohi-Chozaemon Todosai 1901-1986
Tenth Ohi-Chozaemon Toshiro 1927-
Ohi-Toshio 1958-

Testing and Findings

The Kiln is firing with the witness cones as suggested and we’ll see today if there is anything wrong with the kiln itself.

In searching for a Tea Ceremony Master this morning for a client I came across the Consolate General of Japan in Atlanta. Here I find that there are a group of tea ceremony enthusiasts that meet in Atlanta and I will contact them about services. Very exciting!

Also I have come across a beautiful blog called Shizen to Bizen today. Shizen, meaning Nature and Bizen, which is Japan’s oldest pottery making technique. Please check out their page. It is definitely inspiring.

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Also the Bizen Gallery. Such AMAZING work here!

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There is also an exhibit of Japanese pottery at Piedmont College running until the 31st of January. More information here – http://www.piedmont.edu/events/view/19

A long day getting ready

First thing to test is the kiln. If it is over firing or some other malfunction is going on its of no use to be even attempting to make a base glaze. Sarah from Olympic Kilns gave me a few cones to test with. I’ll place on each shelf so we can see if we are getting even heating from top to bottom. One thing I noticed in the last firing was that the click to turn on the elements stayed on longer than I heard it before. Almost a full 60 seconds. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but we’ll see.

I keep notes of glaze tests that I’ve done in the past but got a great tip from Jason and Megan at Stone Mountain Clay and Glaze – Keep a firing log and record the times that it takes to reach temperature and I suppose its good protocol to record the cooling times to room temperature as well. This will tell you if your elements are going bad or a thermocouple or something like that. Or maybe in my case if it runs very short and over-firing we’ll know by the time it is supposed to take to reach temperature. I’m trying to eliminate as many variables as possible as is standard in just about every type of troubleshooting.

Also on order and will be here shortly:

Amaco Hydrometer – for measuring and keeping a consistent glaze density

The range for dipping or pouring glazes is 0.9 to 1.00.

The range for spraying glazes is 1.5 to 1.7.

The range for brushing glazes is 2.2-2.5.

Kemper DTA Glaze Dipping Tongs – Because I’m tired of brushing on glaze and getting inconsistent applications.

Aftosa Wax Resist – For creating a more precise glaze line on the feet of my pots.

Stainless 8 Inch Caliper – I really really want to get into making lidded vessels.

Ozeri Pronto Digital Scale – Need precise measurements for each ingredient (duh!)


 

For those interested in the base glaze recipe that I intend to match to my white clay body

Recipe – Plainsman Cone 6 M370 Transparent Liner Base

Material Amount Units +/- *Stat
Nepheline Syenite 18.30 kg
Ferro Frit 3134 25.40 kg
EPK 19.60 kg
Wollastonite 6.90 kg
Silica 37.60 kg
Talc 2.30 kg
110.10

 

Witness Cones 5, 6 &7 to see where it ends up at and where in the kiln.

Respirator, because I like to breathe and want to continue to breath even after mixing dusty chemicals.

 

Christmas part 2! 5 lbs each of a bunch of chemicals.

Broken scale – new one on the way from Amazon!

 

Celebrating Failure

Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong with this last firing has gone wrong.

Clay body cracks

Crazing

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Crazing reduces the strength of the vessel by up to 80% A short drop to the wooden floor split this right in half.

Blistering AND crazing

Blistering

Blistering

Pinholing AND Blistering

Pinholing like a CHAMP!

Even a bit of reduction in part of the kiln. Although I must say the reduction looks beautiful!

I’m picking up some dry materials to start testing my base glazes. At least I know that my chosen clay body tolerates overfiring very well.

I’m getting some witness cones (5, 6 and 7) to stack on each shelf and see what they do. I don’t understand whats happening yet. Olympic says that the kiln usually underfires if something is wrong rather than overfiring. The company that makes my clay body says that blistering happens from overfiring. The cones should tell the tale though. I need to get that straight before I drive myself crazier than usual.

The Craft of the Potter

Since reading John Britt’s book – The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes, a lot more things have started to make sense. I happened to come across these documentary clips on YouTube – The Craft of the Potter. I found the glazing portion to be particularly interesting and relevant. After all, the materials and techniques used in ceramics have been around for quite a while😉

I wish everyone a great year in 2015 with all your endeavors!

“Today we’re going to introduce you to the mysteries of glaze and fire…”

On language

Lee Love posted a story last night that got me watching some videos about Warren MacKenzie, his pots and his philosophy. One of the points that he made was that a good pot is a communication between the maker and the user. This concept transcends the medium. Pottery has its own language, as does photography or any other art.

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I’ve always heard the question: “What do you want to SAY with your art?” I think in starting to get an inkling of what that really means after spending time in a few mediums. 12 years in photography, almost 5 in Hapkido (I do consider it an Art in the way that I use and apply it), and 2 and some change in ceramics.

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Each medium has its own language and its own symbolism. Each medium though, accentuates a certain something that you may not be able to put your finger on.

Photography relies on what is around you, and your perception and interpretation of that environment. It lets the viewer respond to what is being said with the photograph. It’s a language conducive to certain types of emotions, some more than others.

Hapkido, the martial art, relies on your mind and body and the manipulation of both yourself and your partner or opponent to come to a conclusion. Ideally that conclusion means no fight at all or at least no lasting damage.

Ceramics relies on form, color and texture. Also, when being used functionally, it adds a vast and completely new language on top of what can already be seen and felt in the hand.

Each language can be loud or soft. Heavy or light. Gesturally dramatic or low key. Sophisticated or ham-fisted. It’s almost like wine, in that the flavors and sensations you pick up are unlike anything that we have a proper names for. Every lover of these arts interprets each word or phrase or taste In a different way. Sometimes it lines up with another taste but more likely it is each person’s perspective on life that draws them to a photograph or to a pot.

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In the end, whether the creator was trying deliberately to put some concrete message into a piece of work or just conveying their own personal story, people respond to it. Either through disinterest or a heartfelt connection.The connection is to the maker who can speak his own life’s language through that medium and to a viewer that shares the language of the maker’s life.

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Reading

Just got John Britt’s new book The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes: Glazing and Firing at Cones 4-7. I’ve got a lot of learning to do. Need to brush up on some math and chemistry. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and is looking forward to pushing on into the New Year. 2015 is going to bring great things.

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Christmas Gifts

My wife got me this gift literally a year ago. It was so nice that I was waiting on getting a permanent awesome frame for it and it never made it onto the wall for financial reasons and just other things taking precidence. Its called a Gyotaku which is basically where ink is applied to the object directly and then applied to the medium that receives the ink.

This one is from Fishing for Gyotaku

Enso Project & Other Updates

I’ve just pulled a bunch of pinched vessels from the kiln. Three different kinds of clay – speckled grey – to be glazed in clear, a white buff to be glazed in whatever, and red – to be glazed with something dark or something that breaks.

I’ve also picked up a copy of John Britt‘s very well received book The Complete guide to Midrange Glazes. I’m hoping to learn a ton, save some money, and get some control over the glazes that I choose so that I can form a complete color palate.

Filling orders & packaging

I’ve filled a large order this morning and I’m excited about it! The packaging has evolved from simple reused boxes to the tins pictured below. Now I’m all out of tins and it’s not economical to purchase these again. I would love to do wooden boxes but I’m really not at that level yet.

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I think I am going to purchase a flat of black gift boxes in various sizes and keep working with the stickers which look absolutely amazing. Still looking for some Eco friendly packing material. Packing peanuts are not what I want to continue to use.

Also here is a preview of the third iteration of the kusamono bonsai pots, needing a clear glaze but almost ready for the kiln.

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Third Iteration

So I’m in the middle of doing the third iteration of my Kusamono / Shitakusa vessels and they are coming along nicely. I love love love this clay. Its very porous and I think that it would be good for the plantings in such a small place to be able to get enough oxygen to the roots. This is the advantage of terracotta, not only is it cheaply produced and low fired but it is porous as well. We’ll have to keep in mind that the plants that are paired with these pots may need to be watered more than something that is in a plastic or fully vitrified pot. I’ll have to prove this out but it seems that if the roots can get more oxygen then they will flourish for longer.

Keeping the pots from cracking by wrapping them to carve the hard clay.

First two done!

All 8 carved. Got a bit fancy with some texturing on a few.

I have been getting heavily into Kusamono since I learned the term from my friend Chuck. This is something that I’ve never seen before. Mushroom cultivation for Kusamono! It seems to be a high investment in effort and time for a small payoff but for originality I give it two thumbs up. If you care to dive into the way other mushrooms are grown the success rate is a bit higher and the technique should translate very well to the more decorative mushrooms such as the beautiful Amanita Muscaria which reminds me of Christmas.

There is an excellent article dealing with creating Mushroom Kusamono that I found – http://ofbonsai.org/species-specific/accent-plantings/simplified-cultivation-of-mushrooms-for-accents-and-kusamono – Just beautiful!

Shou Sugi Ban

Tonight’s project involves a blowtorch, a nice piece of poplar wood, some sandpaper, a stain and sealant, a drill and some drawer pulls.

Sword holder made with Shou Sugi Ban technique on poplar

Shou Sugi Ban or Yakisugi is the process of charring wood, cleaning it and then using an oil or stain / sealant to protect the wood. It weathers the wood and paradoxically protects it via a charred outer shell to give it resistance to the elements.

I first learned about this watching a documentary about an architecture class building a tiny house and using this method instead of more expensive materials to weather seal the outer structure. its becoming all the rage for interior design as the grain patterns are intensified and it lends a look that you cannot achieve otherwise.

A fantastic example can be found on this forum – http://www.forestryforum.com/board/index.php?topic=58314.0

Burning a timber

Coming Along Nicely

Enso project coming along nicely!

Also I just found a neat little plugin called Orange Twig that lets me import my entire Etsy Store into my Facebook Page. Nice!

I’ve gotten a new tattoo based on the 3 Hapkido Principals

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Yu – Won – Hwa or Water – Circle – Nonresistance

My explanation in a very very condensed form and are ever changing and take on new meaning in different situations and at different times in life.

Yu – Water or Flow – Flow like water. It can be soft or it can crash. It can find the lowest ground. It can conform to any container and take its shape. It can bore a hole into solid stone over time. Flowing movements.The indomitable spirit of the Hapkido practitioner!

Won – Circle – Using circular motion to overcome instead of using force against force. Do not counter a linear attack linearly. Counter it with circular motion. “Roll with it”. It can lead away from something and also to completion. The circle is a sacred sign that I talked about in a previous post.

Hwa – Nonresistance or Harmony – Represents the harmony between mind and body, the spirit and the physical self, It represents harmony in every aspect of your life. Nonresistance is a big part of attaining harmony. The huge oak tee will crack and fall down in a storm while the wispy tree next to it is flexible and offers no resistance to the wind.

These three principals exist and fit together in a way where they become greater than the sum of their parts. These principals are used time and time again and are an integral part of my pottery, my photography and my life. Now I have a visual reminder to delve even further into the symbolic depth of these symbols.

On Inspiration

Inspiration is literally pouring out of everything that we can see, feel and sense. As long as we can get out of our own way, its there. You can spin around blindfolded and pluck it from the very air around you. Striking Therefore its important to let the muse come and greet her as if she was lifelong friend, entertain her and collaborate and then let her go as she pleases. She doesn’t stay forever and that is O.K. really. It’s all part of the creative process. If we can’t see the connections between things then that is of our own doing. EVERYTHING is connected to EVERYTHING else. There is no doubt in my mind as of late. Everything in nature is connected. The symbol below, the eternal knot, is an auspicious symbol in Tibetan Buddhism and represents the interconnectedness of all things, and houses other symbolism as well.

The divine and the earthly are connected as well. I find it interesting and inspiring that the symbolism of the Torii gate represents the transition from the profane to the sacred. We each have our own gate to go through so that we can manifest and create without hindrance. Easier said than done, but practice helps I think. Happy creating everyone!

The Ensō Project

Being that I am always learning, failing, refining and trying to improve, I have had many discussions on habit, discipline and ritual. I think that ritual and repeated practice is a thing of beauty. There is no “perfection” when a human being is involved. Is there?

In the beginning there is pure potential. Potential for anything to happen within the laws that govern our existence. Then there is the idea, the spark that is the very first impetus of creation. Then comes the external motions needed to create that idea in the physical world. We move away from the infinite, the directionless void that holds all potential, and towards a more focused action.

Once you master that action and you create, over and over and over again, there are subtle variations. This IS perfection! The perfection is in the subtle variations. It can be argued that you can make a machine or a computer drift into imperfection, even more perfectly than a human being could, but is that something else? A question to ponder I suppose.

I have a tattoo on my back that is the same shape of a pendant that I gave my wife years ago. I was drawn to the pendant because of its small shape and that it was hammered by hand and had a beautiful weathered look to it. It was an Ensō. My Ensō symbolizes the eternal bond, the lean times and the times of plenty, together with my family. The fact that the fuller part of the Ensō is on the bottom represents the laws of the universe and gravity pulling the aspect of fullness and fulfillment into its natural position.

The Japanese have circular crests called Kamon which are used to identify individuals or families. There is a list of thousands of these crests here. My Japanese lineage goes back to the Tanaka (田中) and the Wakabayashi (若林) families and is another search and story altogether. I could also consider the Kamon a sort of Ensō in that within the circle or boundary there is a family and the symbol representing that family is carefully chosen.

Suffice to say the simple circle holds meaning  and symbolism that is fathoms deep.

The creation of an Ensō symbolizes when the mind is free to let the body create. Each one contains within it the expression of what is in the artist when he or she created it. And by extension what surrounds the artist. And by extension of that, what the world wants to be created. And by extension of THAT, what the universe wants to exist. We do not create, the universe creates. The void creates. God creates. We just practice and do our best to let it be created without hindrance. Some creations come out better than others and there is a direct relationship to the mindset of the body that manifests that creation and the creation itself.

I am happy when I am in the “flow“. My mind is not concerned with anything else other than the present moment and what I am doing or just purely being in that moment with nothing to do. I tend to gravitate towards activities that let me get into the flow so that I can practice getting into and coming out of it gracefully. Adapting to change has been something that I have always wanted to be more accepting of.

To turn something so simple as a drawing a circle into an act of meditation is beautiful. My goal, if you can call it that, is to turn everything that I do into a sort of meditation, an act of worship and devotion even. To be in the moment, the eternal present.

Today I created an Ensō project of my own. Using clay.

  • 21 Eight ounce balls of clay
  • 21 Days
  • 21 Meditations
  • 21 Pinched Vessels

Each vessel created will be a meditation. It extends the amount of time that I have practiced my craft and helps me to practice effortlessly getting into the flow. It allows me to free myself from the technique and get into a deeper level of creation. A simple pinched vessel. A simple circle. A simple life.

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Do what you love

Sometimes all you have to do is wake up, get yourself out of the way and let it come. Life is an amazing opportunity generating machine. Do what you love. After some time, you end up loving everything that you do. We all swim in the same ocean. Just be there and do what you love.

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Experimenting with Rim Lighting

Overflowing with inspiration to do different things I decided to have an hour or so of camera time in the studio / kitchen with my new Studio Pro 600 LED Panel. I frickin love this thing!

Studio Pro 600 LED Light Panel

Rather than break out the Alien Bees 800 strobes that I usually shoot with I decided to give continuous lighting a try. I sold one of the two strobe units I had to a friend and picked up one of these off of Amazon Prime. This will give me the flexibility that I need to shoot video for clients as well as do studio work and portraits. The unit is lightweight and I can attach Sony V-Lock batteries (which are more than the unit itself though) for untethered outdoor shooting.

I’m practicing rim lighting tonight. I like each of these for different reasons. The first being probably the best in my opinion. I think I’m just going to dump the other flash and get two panels. I can use one for rim light, and the other for a main light and use modifiers for the rest. I know, I know. The Alien Bees are fantastic and I’ve gotten some great use out of them. I just “see” better with continuous lighting and am willing to deal with the tradeoffs. The good thing about studio photography is that the model never moves or gets tired. A perfect way to hone your lighting skills and then take those to something that breathes and moves and blinks and talks back:-)

Out of the fire and into the …

The bisque firing went as expected to Cone 04. The home processed clay from Lake Lanier was sifted through a window screen and retained some pretty course grog and stones. There was a single crack in the lip of the Chawan after the firing. I repaired it as best I could with some slip, let it dry.

The main firing to cone 6 went very well a few nights ago. I had several items of high value in this firing and spent the night getting up and checking the temperature and inserting the final plug in the kiln to slow the cooling once peak temperature had been reached.

I glazed my new style miniature bonsai pots in Shino and used a sponge to remove some of the glaze on the higher portions of the texture. The internal I left unglazed. My Mother and I did a quick project using one of the pots and created this beautiful little accent. I learned that this is the art of Kusamono or Shitakusa. You can find these pots and others on my Etsy Shop – https://www.etsy.com/shop/FireCrownPottery

Small ceramic bonsai pot with matching drip tray. Kusamono / Shitakus

 

The Chawan was glazed in clear. The inside was glazed very heavily to see how a thicker glaze application would take and to possibly seal the very porous body. I was very surprised, neigh stunned, to see what came out of the kiln once the temperature dropped and I was able to pull out the wares. The color had changed from its mars-like red to a dark brown with white speckles and an almost purple hue. You can see the contrast in the Kodai (or foot ring) below. An absolutely gorgeous gem! I have to work on the clay body as it is very porous but there is so much potential here and it is very exciting.

 

My Mothers sculpted piano is precious to hold and admire and I think we have an heirloom on our hands.

Miniature speckled stoneware piano sculpture. Glazed in clear.

Although the Chawan, made from the earth beneath my feet is exiting and bursting with potential, this is the one that I consider my finest piece so far. I call my pinch vessels my Ensō series. Like the Japanese concept of the Ensō each of the pinched Yunomi vessels I make are unique and singular in their existence. Each portrays the character of the creator and the context of its creation.

Made with white stoneware and glazed with Tenmoku which displays a beautiful variation of dark brown breaking to gold. It was created by hand over the course of about an hour. Each curve is subtle and graceful. It is the culmination of each pinch and motion of smoothing the inner and outer. It is a quiet mediation on creation in its simplest form. Shaping by hand. No tools involved.

Next post will be something that has been in the making for around 6 months. A wedding (and now baby!) gift for friends.

Don’t let this happen to you!

Cleaning up around the kiln I noticed something odd. The cord had been touching the side of the kiln as we had to move it over slightly since the last firing to make room for another outlet.

This being a blog about success AND failure I decided not to save face and post this as a warning. I have the recommended 12 inch clearance on all sides as well as adequate ventilation when firing. But this time I neglected to look at the cord after moving. Don’t burn your house down! If I can help prevent one accident it is well worth the embarrassment.

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WTF?! Uh oh!

I rigged up an interim solution using zip ties to keep the cord well off the shell this next firing and will move the kiln to a more suitable location after this bisque firing (It’s full at the moment).

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Lets make it safe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally!

Finally had some time and inspiration to get my hands into some clay. The Lake Lanier home processed clay feels awesome and is very groggy. When soaking wet it has some placticity to it but you can easily break it apart when working with it. There is so much iron that it stains your hands and makes a complete mess. I used gloves like I would when using iron oxide wash.  I first hand-shaped this chawan. Very bulky and heavy. It looked interesting enough and I paddled some texture into it.

I had a feeling about it though. I don’t know how the clay will fire, first off. So without knowing that I might as well go for broke. So I did some thinning of the bowl on the wheel and revealed the awesome texture just below the surface.

It looked so nice I had to use my new LED light panel to give it a good shot. It is still amazingly heavy for the size and shape. I can only hope that the bisque firing goes well and that cone 6 doesn’t turn it into a puddle.

I’ve made a few other things as well with my normal “Jackpot” clay body and they will go in with this to bisque.

Some newly designed miniature bonsai pots with matching drip trays.

A pinched lidded vessel

Of course my Mother’s first try with clay she made this beautiful piano. Its where I get my crafty from:-)

Home Dug Clay

Well it took a while but the clay is processed and needs a good wedging. In the second image you can see my terrible attempt at what will be a small (and I mean very small) test raku kiln built of soft brick. I intend to simply let the material itself and the form be the focus of what I create from this using a white slip and a clear or clear crackle glaze. I hope it works out without much tweaking needed.

I took the kayak out across the lake and found a nice deposit of very iron rich clay. So rich in iron in fact that when washing up you can see the granules of iron washing out of the clay itself.

Around one gallon of dug clay yielded about 7 lbs after screening through an ordinary window screen, wrapping in a piece of cloth and hanging up to dry a bit.

A simple spoon

I bought this small wooden spoon from Robert Kidd of KitchenCarvings to serve as a coffee scoop that will fit in the can.

I always struggle to find a word (trinket comes close) for something that is interesting, special, solid, good hand feel. This is one of those items. I appreciate that this person is passionate about their work and it shows. Even the simple spoon becomes something more when it is made by someone who imparts part of themselves into their work.

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Goings on…

I’ve been up to a lot with work projects and its slow going on the clay front. I’ve managed to paddle the kayak out across our part of the lake and gather what I hope to be some good clay for a Raku firing. I have 32 soft bricks, some home dug clay that is drying and an empty propane tank. How can I make this work? Sounds like a plan for the A-Team! A weed burner torch that I’ve seen used successfully in Raku before is only 45$ at the local home depot. A refill on the propane tank is only $18. I do need a few more bricks so I can at least fit one of the 1/2 kiln shelves into my home made contraption. I dont think we have anything to do this weekend so its ON!

New Logo!

We had a new logo drawn up to fully envelop what I want to express with my creations. Years ago, I had a dream in which I wore a crown of fire. I can’t recall much of it, but it was very intense and it resonated deeply with me. Immediately after I woke up I proceeded to get red, orange, and yellow construction paper and made myself a crown which we might still have around the house somewhere. Yes, random.

All of this happened before I discovered the joy, experience and lessons of creating with clay. Once I realized, I took all the dishes out of the cupboards to examine them with new eyes.

“Before I sought enlightenment, the bowls were bowls and the cups were cups. While I sought enlightenment, the bowls were not bowls and the cups were not cups. After I reached satori, the bowls were bowls and the cups were cups.”

* I have not reached satori with my craft, maybe in 30 years or so😉

The crown speaks for itself if you let it. The brushed lettering, although static in the logo, gives a sense of something that can only be created once. Each vessel that is created is slightly different no matter how perfect your form and measurements. The slight variations give the unique touch of the makers hands. For me, the interaction is important. Knowing it was made by hand by someone who cares deeply about their work gives it a certain special quality that I usually only find in hand made objects.

Ultimately it is an exploration in a medium that I find appealing. It’s simple and accessible by all yet few truly master it. There are limitations to the medium yet there are almost unlimited variables in the process. This leads to a freedom of expression that, when you get good at it, allows you to play, like a child again.

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Sky Blue Celedon

I love this bowl. It was the first thing to come off the wheel after having it resurfaced so it went in payment for that. You can see the very thin edge on the bottom which collected a bit more glaze and gives a deeper blue ring around the bottom of the bowl. One of my best pieces and I know it went to a great home:-)

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Also I have a logo in the works for the site and brand. Cart before the horse? I don’t think so😀 I’ve gotten a lot of traction with this and am putting in the initial work now which is slow and tedious but essential to creating my own vision of what I want to express in my works. I’ve learned so much from the community at large. Everyone is wiling to share tips and pointers freely and in this day and age with technology and FB (call it evil if you must and it very well may be) I get to converse with people who I otherwise would never meet in my lifetime or even several lifetimes. They aren’t deep face to face connections like in real life but they at least have the opportunity to become that over time.

First sale and other goings on

Well there is some great news over the past few weeks. I’ve made my first sale on Etsy! Eight of my pots are now living in New Hampshire.

The buyer gave me my first review. 5 Stars!

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There is not much up in the shop right now but I’ll be working on some good stuff as soon as I can.

I was also able to complete a beautiful sky blue celadon bowl in exchange for the work done on my wheelhead. Its the one in the front. You cant really see it in this picture but I created a small edge on the bottom to collect more glaze which adds a deeper blue accent. It was also the first thing to come off the wheel when it was finished so I think it was fitting that it go to Chris for his work.

Also I am about to send out 2 sake cups (guinomi) going to a friend in Wyoming.

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Also finished up some video work for a client and have 2 more in the hopper. Altogether busy at the things I want to be doing:-)

Preliminary results of glaze testing

… are pretty much horrid. Experiments with black slip and Red Iron Oxide (RIO) give very similar results whether on white clay body or red clay body. I think I’ve found at least a few interesting combinations. I’m done with commercial glaze mixing for the time being. Just trying to figure out a palate of colors that works with the clay body that I’m using which will either be white for lighter color glazes (like the celadons)  or red / brown for the  darker color glazes. Turning a lighter color clay darker with RIO or black slip just doesn’t make much sense at this stage unless I’m going for something very unusual. I’m not at that stage just yet. Right now I’m just figuring out what colors I like and what does what.

Basically what I learned out of this test batch is that RIO and black slip on a dark body give almost the same result with most glazes I’m using. Rio and black slip as a base for the “brighter” glazes looks horrid. Except for white, RIO and white go together quite well on a white clay body.

Next on the agenda is to pick the interesting ones out of the hundred and something test tiles that I’ve made so far and pick 2-3 for the light body clay that I work with and 2-3 for the dark body clay as well as standards. From there I’ll start mixing my own and working that into the rotation, hopefully replacing the commercial glazes with my own. Man, commercial glazes are expensive!

Moving over some photography

In an effort to save some $ I decided that I should combine sites and use the newly featured wordpress.com portfolio features. It seems to work great. I don’t sell many prints and the premium that I am being charged for eCommerce my another site is just not worth it. I’ll eventually upgrade this WordPress site to a paid edition. Anyways, if you want to check out a few years of my photography (minus some of the analog stuff that I have not put up yet) check it out here – https://dreamsofearth.wordpress.com/photography/ I hope you enjoy!

The freedom in limitation

Limitations give us the freedom to explore within a closed set of variables.

When you write music you don’t just say, “Lets start, here are ALL the notes I can play, let me pick some and see how they sound.” There is just way too much in that scenario. You You pick your scale based on the feeling that you want to get across. Then within that scale you start to pick your notes and chords (and the spaces between the notes matter just as much). Then a song is started and we hope that the muse is with us.

Its the same with Martial Arts. There are only a finite number of ways that the body can move. In Hapkido we try to make our opponents joints move in a way they were not meant to😉 which is still finite. We try to master our 15 basic techniques which is what all else builds upon.

It is the same with clay and the techniques used. I am a simple guy. Although Rube Goldberg machines are fascinating to watch I don’t like to get into that method of creation. I want to use the least amount of variables to achieve what needs to be done in a simple and elegant way.

The minimum amount of variables that we can use in ceramics and I’m probably missing some –

  • Clay body (for the sake of argument lets just pick a pre made body – you can go real deep into the ingredients and the amounts of each that make up a ceramic body)
  • Forming method (Wheel / Handmade / Slab / Sculpt / Etc…)
  • Shape & Form (Bowl / Cup / Plate / Sculpture / Thickness / Function / Almost infinite variations!)
  • Glaze (again for the sake of argument lets just pick a pre made glaze)
  • Glaze Color
  • Firing Type (Electric / Gas / Pit / Wood / Salt / Oxidation / Reduction)
  • Firing Temperature (low fire / high fire)
  • Firing Speed
  • Firing Length
  • Cooling Speed

As you can see this simple list contains so many variables already that when you start adding in making your own glazes, making your own clay bodies, firing with wood and choosing the right place in the kiln for the best flashing effects, we end up with basically a whole UNIVERSE of possibilities.

This is why I am focusing on only a few forms, trying to limit my glaze palate and just get better at throwing in general. I’ve only worked a year out of my 10,000 hours (the general rule of thumb that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a given field although I hear it has been debunked a bit in recent years given that an innate talent and quality of practice gives you some wiggle room with that number). Even with the humble Chawan tea bowl there are so many variations that you could spend a lifetime on that single form.

Beyond Wax Resist

Found a very interesting article about alternatives to the traditional wax resist method. I’ll be using some left over parafin wax once I get into dipping my vessels into slips and glazes.

http://users.skynet.be/russel.fouts/Files/Piece_de_Resistance_Published_Article.pdf

I also found a very interesting Korean potter – Choe Jae Ho who is making some beautiful chawan! So much variation in a single form. He has quite a presence on youtube but I was not able to find a personal website. This video features an amazing array of his chawan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eub652cswfw

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It’s back!

On Saturday I got to visit with Chris from CRM Fabrication and Repair to pick up the resurfaced kickhweel head.Not only is Chris a perfectionist in his work but hes also a perfectionist in his life. A philosopher if I’ve ever met one. A quickie pickup turned into a 2 and a half hour discussion on “absolute truth”, relativism, community versus individualism, protecting your loved ones and other topics of interest.

Shiny non wobbly head with grooves cut at an inch apart which will help with centering. Its repairable now if something else did happen to go wrong. Rusty Allen head screws were removed and re threaded. I also picked up a paint mixer attachment for the drill so I can get rid of the little chunks in my slip bucket and mix dry glaze for dipping.

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More Glaze Testing

On a beautiful rainy Saturday I find myself in a fantastic mood, accomplishing chores around the house and letting things flow as they want.

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Today I’m making test tiles and planning more experiments based on the cone 6 accident where the white glaze over iron oxide ended up clear and giving a slight sheen and some tooth to the clay. I have a lot of tiles already but most of the early tests are not to my liking. I’m honing in on my color palate and once I get that down I can better create what it is that is “previsualized” in my head.

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(On a side note I’ve been looking for some wooden stands for festival displays and found these for $5 at Family Dollar of all places. its meant as an over the sink shelf. Cant go wrong with that price)

Previsualization is the key to a lot of arts. Photography comes to mind and its where I learned to see the finished outcome before I made my adjustments and pressed the shutter. Ansel Adams was a master of that. What he had in his head he was able to bring out in the darkroom.

Here is how I make my test tiles.  I roll out the clay suppporting the rolling pin between two yardsticks to get a consistent thickness. I then use the same yardstick as a guide to cut the strips and make them 3 inches long.

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I line up the cut strips and mark them at 1 1/2″ at each end of the line. Then use the yardstick again to score a bit less than halfway through the group to give a place to bend it at around a 9o degree angle.

 

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Then from the kitchen or wherever I get something that can give some scoring to the top of the tiles so that I can see how the glaze performs when it pools.

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Also I am dipping a few of these into black slip as I am obsessed with the way some of the glazes turn out on a dark body. Yep I’m wearing gloves, this slip is messy!

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Finished product drying. The slip covered tiles are not pretty but they’ll get the job done.

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Next up I need to do a batch with my red clay. When they are dry I will bisque fire to cone 04. I will keep some of these without glaze and fire to cone 6 so that I can test a few glazes over the iron oxide and black slip. Cone 6 is vitrified so I expect that the tiles wont pick up much of the glaze at all but I might come into something interesting. If its interesting and repeatable I want to continue testing it:-)

This is the “boring” part of ceramics. The tedious testing and logging but with the occasional surprise that makes you go “Hmmmm… what if I ….”. And also the test tiles that you hate may end up growing on you after a while. Or if not they might spark an idea for another avenue of experimentation.

Double Faceted Vessels & Something I’ve been working on

While I’m impatiently waiting for my wheel to get back I’m hand building and was up at 3:30am with an idea. This circular “plate” will be glazed in Azurite which becomes a waterfall blue and brightens significantly on this red clay. It will be held by a stand with a slot big enough to accommodate the plate. I used a large plastic lid to cut the shape and this quickie tool I made from synthetic broom bristles to give random scoring to the clay. This will give it channels for the glaze to run down. I hope to have it finished in the next week to show the final product.

On another note, a local potter that I’ve been following for a while is Lori Buff, a full time potter in East Atlanta. Recently she posted a great article on creating double faceted mugs. The result is beautiful and simple. http://futurerelicsstudio.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-to-make-faceted-mug-part-2.html

I really want to try this technique. It reminded me of some of the faceted chawan that Phil Rogers creates.

There are unlimited techniques and variations in something as simple as a bowl. A vessel to hold something. Its symbolic at the deepest level. Every human on the planet uses this simple and basic invention that must have been inspired by the hand itself.

The cup that you drink your morning coffee from (of which I need a second cup right now), that you may or may not appreciate in the slightest. The crystal champagne glass from which you drink a toast to a new year and another gone. The juice box you send your kids off to school with. These vessels are so ubiquitous that we don’t even see them anymore.

I remember when I discovered ceramics almost exactly a year ago. I went through my cupboards, took everything out and examined each item. Each plate, each bowl, each cup, trying to see how they were made and why we have the ones that we compulsively reach for (my black cereal bowl missing its twin) and why we have some that just sit there. Why we have some mugs we drink from each morning and some gather dust.

It’s the same with anything really. When our eyes are opened to a new perspective, we run around like children, exploring each thing as if new. Excited to share until we realize that the journey is mostly a solitary one. But we still hope the excitement is contagious, just a little bit, at least enough to broaden the horizons of others by a touch and maybe when they reach for the mug in the cupboard they take that second look.

My Etsy store is up!

My Etsy store is up with the first batch of miniature bonsai pots! Inspired by my friends  Steve and Sandy Cratty from http://plantcitybonsai.com and the new trend of ultra small bonsai – http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/05/ultra-small-bonsai-plants-give-new-meaning-to-the-word-miniature/

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Here is the initial logo. I think I want 2 logos, one very simple logo that can be used as a makers mark and another one with color that really pops on a business card. Anyways, gotta start somewhere!

https://www.etsy.com/shop/FireCrownPottery

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Kickwheel Repair Update

Well the Dodge McMillan Bearings are outrageously expensive. $60 complete with the housing and $50 for just the inserts. That’s across the net and even locally. A bit cheaper on ebay but still I cant justify the cost of that. Maybe if the bearings were made of some kind of magic meteorite where every pot you spin becomes a masterpiece or some other mystical mojo…

I found another bearings company that is in line with the price I need – $7.88 – http://www.usabearingsandbelts.com/m7/UCP205-14–7-8-pillow-block-bearing-ucp205-14.html

The hand wheel I’m coordinating with CRM on should be coming along and I’m waiting on a 3D CAD drawing. I’m terribly excited about this.

In the meantime I’m pinching some small chalices. I have one that I want to give to some friends of mine that just recently got married. I have a good idea for simple and meaningful decoration on this.

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Kickwheel Repair

For a beast of a wheel this sure does seem strange. The head or shaft is warped and needs to be resurfaced. I did the pen test where you take a pen / marker and slowly spin the wheel and touch the pen to the head and just barely keep it there so it shows you where the dips and raises are. There are multiple spots that are warped.

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So I stripped an allen screw out trying to get the head off and so I had to take the whole wheel, shaft and kick plate off which is probably the right thing to do if the shaft is warped anyways. Off we go to CRM Fabrication and Repair. Heck of a shop with outstanding service!

Speaking of CRM; I am working with the owner on a prototype Chinese style hand driven portable wheel. A new type that can be used by my son who is too small for the full size kickwheel to sit on the ground with or to put on a tabletop. You will also be able to use a dowel in a hole on top to power the wheel. An example is shown here where the late master-potter Shoji Hamada is creating momentum on the wheel for another pull. So stay tuned!

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