Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mugs, Jugs and Ornaments...I'm not going to say "Oh my."

This is really unprecedented; two blog posts in one day. Sure, one was really from yesterday, but still. See what being home and actually working in the studio leads to? I'm not going to say I have anything interesting to write about, but at least I have something to write about.

So today there was no shopping or anything to take care of, just studio time. I made myself a little list of things to get done and started hacking away.

My go to mug shape has a tendency to tip when it is near empty due to a combination of a narrow foot ring and a sizable handle. It is not a big problem, but I am working on correcting it. I am playing around with the foot ring mostly. I do not really want to make the handle too much smaller as it would affect how it is held and how comfortable it is.

Rob's go to mug shape. Note the large-ish handle, small foot and flaring rim.

I am also toying around with different mug shapes. I use the shape I use because I like it, but also because it is simple, uncomplicated. I'm not a big fan of complications. Thus this new mug shape is also simple. It is kind of the inverse of my standard, having a narrower rim and a wider base. I am hoping this will push the center of gravity low enough that I can use pretty much the same foot and handle as on the other mugs. I am pretty happy with how they look so far.
The new standard? Perhaps...perhaps...perhaps.

This is another mug shape I am playing around with; not to fix any problems, just to mix it up a bit. It is a fun shape that is simple, but also has a lot of potential for variation. If anyone is actually paying attention they may notice that this is the same type of mug I used for a commission a couple weeks back. Just a fun fact for ya.

Volcano mugs. I call them that because they kind of look like volcanoes!

And this is just another shot of the mugs that I thought was kind of neat. It looks like they are marching off to battle or something.

After the mugs I threw a set of bowls. Now these I am in a bit of a quandary over. I have finally found a bowl shape that I am happy with. The only problem is that they do not stack worth a crap. Ok, they do not stack bad, but because the bottom is wider than the rim they do not stack inside each other. Thus they are very tall when stacked and do not fit in a cabinet well. Hmmm... I suppose I will just have to get these trimmed up tomorrow and give it a good think.

A family of bowls drying on their heads.

Next came ornaments. I know it is a bit late for ornaments, but, well...I don't care. I made ornaments and there you go. I started out with eight but dropped a few when I was moving them...foolish, foolish Rob. These will probably be sgraffitoed (I'm not sure that is a word) and/or glazed as opposed to previous ornaments which were barrel fired.

And finally, I threw my first cider jug today. It is not exceptionally large (12 inches tall by 9 inches wide); nor is it especially well made. I threw it in two sections, using about 7 pounds of clay for each. I think I let the bottom section dry to much, though. When I put them together they did not really blend very well. You can still kind of see the seem where they are connected.

Shabby cider jug.

Construction aside, I am not really pleased with the overall shape either. It is too wide for its height. It needs to be either taller or skinnier. It actually was taller before I collared in the neck. I was contemplating throwing a third section with the neck on it but decided to go this way so I could get it finished. Now that I look at it, it probably would have been better to throw a third section. Oh well, maybe next time. I guess I will put a handle on this tomorrow and see if that helps any. If not it may end up going in the scrap heap.

That's all for now. I probably will not be back on here until next week, so merry Christmas & whatnot.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21st: A Blog in Three Parts

Editor's note: I was actually going to post this last night, but technology is a harsh mistress. Here it is now, though, chocked full of bloggy goodness.

Part 1: Shopping

I hate shopping. I had to finish getting some Christmas presents this morning as well as do some grocery shopping. I was not amused. Oh, I don't mind browsing through a book store or checking out the new arrivals at the local record store. But a list of crap I have to go track down, usually at multiple locations? Not my cup of tea. Alas that is what was required of me; so I spent this morning getting groceries, not finding what I need at one store, waiting for the other store to open, driving across town to find the other store is still closed 15 minutes after it is supposed to be open, driving back across town to the grocery store again, etc, etc. Once again, I hate shopping.

Part 2: Lost Time...or Perhaps Gremlins

Have you ever had one of those days where you work and work and work, but when you look at the output for the day it looks like you got nothing done? That was my day today. I worked; I know I worked. But all I have to show for it is a few cups and a few ornaments trimmed. Sure, I spent the morning shopping (see above if you forgot), but what the hell happened to the afternoon? It's like gremlins came along and destroyed any evidence of my work. My day was quite unproductive pottery wise, leaving me unsatisfied and a bit confused. Consarnit gremlins! Leave my work alone!
(Editor's note again: Thus far today has been much more productive. Perhaps more on that later.)

Part 3: The Holidays

Don't get me wrong, Christmas is great, but it is really quite over done. What started out as a religious celebration of Jesus' coming has been superseded by a celebration of Santa and consumerism. Not officially of course, but for all practical purposes. I suppose that is somewhat appropriate, though, as Christmas was used to replace the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, among others. What goes around and all that.

Personally I do not mind the celebration of the winter solstice. Not because I am a sun worshiper; I just really hate winter. It's cold, it's wet, and the days are so blasted short! If I didn't have family here I would probably up and move to someplace warmer. Hawaii sounds nice, or maybe somewhere along the gulf... But as that is never going to happen I will look kindly on the winter solstice as a turning point in this dreary time. Sure, around here (southern IL) we still have at least two and a half months left of cold, wet weather, but at least the days will start to get longer again, and that is a step in the right direction.

So tonight I am going to eat a few tacos, drink a couple beers and maybe some wine and celebrate the beginning of the end of winter. Here's to longer days, warmer weather and being more productive tomorrow.

(Editor's note yet again: I did indeed eat tacos and drink beer. They were both tasty. Then I lit into some Mark Twain goodness. All in all a good night.)


Friday, December 17, 2010

Beware the school kiln...and school in general for that matter.

A while back I was asked to make a couple mugs and a canister for someone who was retiring. Good deal; I can do it. Only problem is I don't have time to get a full load put together by the time they need to be done. Solution? Find another firing to jump in on before the deadline. As luck would have it the ceramics teacher at school was generous enough to let me put a few pieces in with her classes stuff. Good deal; I can still get it done. Throw throw throw, decorate decorate, and here we go.

Two mugs ("Retirement coffee is the best kind of coffee."), one and one extra, just in case. The designs are pretty similar, but not exactly the same. I like the movement in the first one better (I don't know that it comes through in the picture too well). The second one just has straight sides; too static. I do like the design on the second one better, though.

The client (my mother in law) took the second one. I hope the recipient was happy with it.

She also requested a canister to store well wishes & such in. I was not very happy with the results, but she thought it looked good. Unfortunately, due to the condition of the shelves in the school's kiln (unwashed, glaze puddles all over), this piece was glazed to the shelf and took some pretty good sized chunks out of the bottom edge when it came off. Thus it was unfit for sale. My mother in law still liked it though, and after I ground the bottom pretty good she decided to keep it for herself.

And for the random child update, we started Noah on cereal the other day. He wasn't too sure what to make of it at first, but after a few minutes he got the hang of things. I guess I have a new commission for some baby dishes coming up.

I should have plenty of time to get that done, though. School just went on semester break for two full weeks. That gives me quite a bit of time to get the banks, ornaments, bowls, serving dishes, oil lamps, etc done that I need to finish. And now I guess baby dishes too.

On a completely different note, someone stole my sketch book the other day! (My wife is laughing about me writing this because she has already been hearing about it since it happened.) It was in my desk at school when I left on a Friday; there was some sort of school function over the weekend, and when I came back Monday my sketchbook was gone. Who the f--- steals a sketchbook?! I can understand why people steal cars or jewelry or whatever; they have something to gain from it. What does someone gain from stealing a sketchbook? It is not like there is some big black market for sketchbooks, is there? GARGH!

Ok, I am done ranting...for now. Until later.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Studio Saga Vol. 2b: Naming Rights

In a previous post I solicited suggestions for a new name for the studio. Thanks for all of your input! Pretty much everyone agreed that Simple Circle Pottery was first pick. I was kind of leaning in this direction anyway, once again proving that I am the smartest man alive. Please notify my wife.

Anyway, I had mentioned that there may perhaps be a reward for name suggestions, but since I went with my own suggestion a winner had to be chosen in another manner...random number generation. The very scientific random number generation went as follows.

Rob - Pick an number between one and seven.
Alicia - Why?
Rob - Because I asked you to.
Alicia - I would rather know what I am picking.
Rob - Why?
Alicia - Because I need to know whether or not what I am picking is important.
Rob - Please just pick a number...I'll do the dishes!
Alicia - (looks at Rob scornfully) You have to do the dishes anyway.
Rob - But I won't do the dishes if you don't pick a number.
Alicia - (looks at Rob even more scornfully) Yes you will.
Rob - (frowns sheepishly) I know.
Alicia - O.k. I'll pick a number if you clean the whole house this weekend...
Rob - (grimaces) ...fine.
Alicia - ...including the showers...
Rob - SIGH...including the showers...
Alicia - ...and you have to give me a back rub tonight.
Rob - FINE! Just please pick a number...
Alicia - Can I change my answer if I don't like what I picked?
Rob - I suppose so.
Alicia - Fine...5. Now what was I picking?
Rob - A random number for my blog.
Alicia - Hmm. (goes back to reading her baby book)
(Note: Things in blue may not have actually happened.)

And thus the random number was chosen. The fifth comment on that post was by...Gary Rith! So if Mr. Rith would be so kind as to send me his mailing address I can ship out his prize (pictured below) post haste!

I guess that is all for now. More to follow as things progress. Thanks to everyone for following along!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Getting dirty and doing for yourself

I have been doing a lot of talking and a lot of thinking about my studio recently, what with the new plans to open a full time pottery business. Unfortunately I have not been able to do a lot of working in the studio lately. Thankfully that changed this weekend.

I read an article last week (I believe it was in the latest CM) about what you really need in a studio to make work. It obviously led me to think about what I would actually need to get the new studio started and what I wanted that could wait until later. It also got me thinking about the space I am working in now. Why am I not making pots? Granted, there is the baby aspect; not having as much time and such. More than that, though, I think I have been doing so much thinking and planing and pining over how great it is going to be to have a bigger work space with (hopefully) more equipment and more time to use it that I have failed to make use of the time and space that I have now. So I finished reading the article and thought to myself, "I have space to work. I can make a little time. Get off your ass and make some pots!"

Thus today I got off my ass and got a little dirty. As I have not thrown in a while I decided to start off with some mugs. This also worked well as I have a couple orders for mugs that I need to get finished.

The pieces in front are actually for a single mug order. I was trying out a new form, though, so I made a number of them to get something I was happy with. The request was for a big coffee mug. I think I made them larger than my normal mugs, but I am not very good at guessing how much liquid will fit in a form. I suppose I will see when they are finished.

The rest are my regular mug forms; some for an order and some just to restock the shelves. These I have already tested. I use 3/4 of a pound of clay and they usually end up holding 8 - 12 ounces.

Now I have 20+ mugs to trim and handle, which is a lot at one time for me. Luckily I have Thursday (Veteran's Day) off work, so I should be able to take care of things then.

Now for something only vaguely clay related. I am lucky enough to have been born into a family that knows what it is to work for something and knows the value of doing things for yourself. I am also luck enough to be part of a family that has the means to do these things from time to time. Pictured above are two gallons of apple cider that we pressed a couple weeks ago using an old manual cider press that my folks have access to. (We actually pressed a lot more than two gallons; that is just what I took home.) Granted it is probably not as efficient and modern presses, but it gets the job done. I might have taken pictures of the whole process but, well, we were busy pressing cider. Maybe next time.

Now, as to what is up with the picture. When I have time I like to brew up my own beer. I also have some blackberries that I will soon turn into wine. So naturally when we were pressing cider my thoughts ran to making hard cider. After getting this stuff home I did a little research and discovered that making hard cider is actually a lot easier than wine or even beer. Very simply, you add some extra sugar (this ups the alcohol content, better preserving the cider), pitch your yeast and wait. So that is what I did.

Another optional step was to purify the cider with sodium or potassium metabisulfite. This is supposed to kill any wild yeast and bacteria that may give the cider an off flavor. Since it was an optional step I decided to try a gallon each way to see if it really made any difference. The jug on the left was not purified and had already been fermenting a couple days at the time of the picture. The jug on the right was purified and I had to wait a couple days for the sodium to do its thing. I was really surprised at color difference when I went back to look at them. That was last Tuesday, though, and the purified jug has been pitched and is fermenting away. It too has undergone a dramatic color change. Strange. Now it is just a waiting game.

So how does this have anything to do with clay? If you are going to make cider you darn well better have something to store it in. A nice big cider jug is on the production list for the next firing. I doubt it will look as good as this one by Doug Fitch or this one by Dan Finnegan, but I'll give it a go anyway.

And now it is way past my bed time. Time to put Noah to bed and hit the sack. Until next time...


Monday, October 25, 2010

Studio Saga: Vol. 2

I believe the studio is going to be registered as an LLC. From my limited knowledge of business, this would probably be the safest route. If you have an opposing opinion, please share it. Those of you with businesses, what are they registered as and why did you choose to do it that way?

In any case, in order to register as an official business we will need a name to register as. I have been going by the moniker "Simple Circle Studios," but my wife (heretofore known as "Alicia") thought it might be better to have something with the word pottery in it to make it easier to identify what the studio does. I tend to agree with her. Since I do not really have much of a business presence built up I don't think changing names will make much of a difference. Thus we have been brainstorming lately to come up with a different name for the studio. So far we have come up with the following...

Mud Chucker Pottery
Chestnut Pottery (pending on the acquisition of a specific property)
Simple Circle Pottery
S.C.S. Pottery (Simple Circle Studios Pottery)
Rockwood Pottery

I know there have been more but I can't remember them at the present. I like Mud Chucker, but Alicia thinks that name would be too coarse for my style of work and might scare people off...I don't agree. Chestnut is the name of a cafe we are looking at for a possible studio space, so that one would depend on getting that building. Simple Circle Pottery would be pretty easy, as would S.C.S. Pottery, especially as I already have stuff set up as Simple Circle Studios or some variation there of. Rockwood has no meaning whatsoever; Alicia just thought it sounded nice.

Now your job, faithful reader, is to assist in the naming of the new studio. Give me your opinions of the present options and let me hear your suggestions for names. Alicia and I will sift through them all and if we pick yours (ala Ron Philbeck), perhaps I might be able to find a little something as a token of our appreciation. Let's hear those names!

And so there is at least one picture in this post...

This fine piece of work is a mug I recently purchased from Brandon Phillips during his Etsy cup sale. It has a great gestural movement and a knockout handle; not to mention the wood fired surface. Perfect for a cup of coffee or some freshly pressed apple cider with just a pinch of whiskey.

Ok, I have bread to finish and a kitchen to clean. Remember, send in those name suggestions and you may be handsomely rewarded! Until then...


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Studio Sage: Vol. 1

DISCLAIMER: This post consists entirely of words. There are no pictures. It may, in fact, be quite boring. If this does not sound like your cup of tea, farewell gentle reader. I hope you come again when you may.

It has been far too long since I have posted anything on here. Part of the reason has to do with my new son. My current schedule is: pick up my son after work, take care of him until my wife gets home, eat supper and catch up on computer stuff, try to take care of any cleaning that needs to get done, etc. then go to bed so I can get up at 5:15 am and start it all again. All that leaves very little time to get into the studio.

What is more than all this, though, I have been rather depressed lately. Depressed about not being able to work like I want to; about the prospect of never being able to turn pottery into a business, about having to work some menial, shit job that I hate for the rest of my life. And really, that is what I was facing; doing something I barely tolerate for the rest of my life just to pay the bills.

I have been bothering my wife for a number of years about not working in a school (or wherever) and starting a full time pottery business. Her response was always the same. Once you can make as much selling pottery as you do working now, then you can do it full time. I could never seem to convince her that I would not be able to make what she was expecting while working another job, at least not a full time job. As it would be rather difficult to start a business without her consent I was stuck.

Now here comes the good part.
I am not entirely sure what brought it on, but my wife finally agreed to starting a full time pottery studio. I think she finally realized that since raising a child is not going to be getting any cheaper, if we didn't jump in now it was probably never going to happen. Granted it would have been nice if she had let me do this four years ago when I first mentioned it, when we didn't have a child to worry about...but I'll take what I can get.
Enough of this talking. I will keep you all posted on how this whole adventure goes.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How do you take a good picture of your work?

Ok, so they are a few days later than advertised, but here are some shots of work out of the kiln. I finally got something of a photo cube set up so these pictures are moderately better than before. I still have to play around with the lighting set up. I am also pretty dissatisfied with my pictures as a whole. They just seem so boring; not very good for advertising the work. I'll have to work on that. Any tips on that front would be welcome.

Blue serving-ish bowl with rectangles, 3.5 x 7 inches

Light and dark brown serving-ish bowl with circles and stripe, 3.5 x 7 inches

Light brown salt & pepper shakers with...whatever that is, 2.5 x 2.5 inches

Light and dark brown flower basket with swirly plant things, 6 x 6.5 x 4.5 inches

I will post more pictures as I get them taken. Until then, don't forget the eggs.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sneak Peek

Just a quick peek in the kiln. It is still a tad too warm to unload, but the kiln is propped open a bit and I will be at it first thing in the morning.

Glaze fire is go!

I finally got all of the work decorated. I decided to run everything through the bisque this time. Next time I will keep a few pieces back to single fire just to test how it will work. If it works out o.k. I might be able to save myself a considerable amount of time and energy eliminating the first firing.
Here is most of the work decorated, but not yet fired. I had quite a few bowls in this round of work. I also had some new forms; banks, oil lamps spice shakers, knob-and-all, etc. I am very interested to see how they turn out and if they will sell. That is really always what it comes down to, isn't it? I really like making the banks and oval flower baskets...but if they do not sell I will probably not be making very many of them even if I enjoy it.

Yesterday I managed to get everything glazed and loaded, so I was able to run a glaze load through last night. Here are the left overs that did not make it into this firing. I am going to have to throw more next cycle. I think I could probably work it out so I can throw enough to fit everything in one bisque and still fill two glaze loads. Of course that is if I don't single fire.
I am also going to have to throw a wider variety of forms. Like I said, I had a lot of bowls in this cycle which made for a bit of unused space in the kiln. I had a few small items, but not enough to fill all the voids around the bigger items. It looks like there may be more spice shakers in my future.
I am pretty excited to get this stuff unloaded. Aside from the new forms I have in there, I also used new colors of slip. My old slips I mixed using oxides & such. These I mixed using mason stains. I already tested them a while back and was pleased with the color of most of them, but they were lacking something that the oxides had. They were too clean. I will just have to wait and see how these turn out.

Glazing my work is the easiest and fastest part of the process. Since all the decorating is done before firing, glazing just consists of dipping everything in a big bucket of clear. I am trying something new in this load, though. On a few pieces I sprinkled some wood ash over the wet glaze. Now ash glazes are not my favorite, but some ash can do pretty cool things. I am not sure how this topical application will work, but I am anxious to find out.

And last but not least, here is the latest slug. You will have to excuse the picture quality. My wife spilled water on the camera, so it kind of fuzzed out on us for a bit. It is right as rain now, though. You can't really tell from this picture, but this guy is laying down with his back arched.

Kiln temp as of 10 am. It will probably be some time tomorrow before I can get everything out and photographed. I will try to get something up when I do.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's Decoration Day, but not the holiday

This week has been decoration week, which consists of spraying layers of colored slip on all the greenware, then carving images and designs through the slip to reveal the white clay body beneath. So how has that all gone?

Set up spray booth & such...check.
Slip greenware...check
Carve...che- wait, it's time to bale hay, carving will have to wait.
Bale hay...check.
Ok, now carve...check...for a couple hours anyway.
Bale hay again...check.
Now we can carve for a while...che-wait, there is a fire call, carving will have to wait again.

It has been a pretty hectic week, only allowing me a few hours here and there to get this stuff decorated. Thankfully today I had a relatively uninterrupted day to get down to it. Here are some of the results.

Oil lamps and a set of bowls with various brown, blue and black slips.

Large-ish serving bowl in a couple different colors of brown. I was pretty pleased with how this design turned out. I will have to try it again in the future.

Salt and pepper shakers, wine set and a berry bowl set in various shades of brown, blue and black. Not real happy with the shakers, and I am undecided on the design on the wine set. I do
like the pattern on the berry bowl though. It too will be returning.

And finally, a green and black teapot with a plate design on it. That is, I was originally going to use this design on a set of plates, but thought it might look good on here. Still not happy with the proportions on this thing, though.

I was thinking about spraying a thin layer of clear and single firing some of this stuff. Not the stuff with wax on it (teapot, oil lamps, bowl set), of course, but I could swing it with most of the stuff. I have always been kind of leery of single firing, though. I'm always worried something is going to blow and ruin the whole load. I don't know; the jury is still out on that decision.

Now it is a break for supper and possibly a movie, then perhaps I will try to decorate a couple more pieces before bed. Wait, my wife just informed me that instead of more deco we will be bathing our son. I guess that works too.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

As one cycle ends...

Yesterday was a very frustrating day; well, at least yesterday morning. It was one of those mornings where nothing seemed to go right. Things were broken, both accidentally and intentionally. As an example of the difficulties I ran up against, here is the large canister I had been working on for a while.

I threw it using coils, got the lid thrown and trimmed, and even got some decent looking lugs and a handle on top. Yesterday, when the handle had finally set up enough to remove the lid without breaking it, I popped the top only to find this.

Apparently when I cut this guy off the bat I cut through the bottom. Shit! And since I could not see this until I took the lid off, I finished the whole thing not knowing that it was all for naught. Oh well. We'll just call that one practice, I guess.

Things finally did settle down, though. As my shelves were filling up with green ware it came time to leave off the throwing and start up the decorating cycle. Thus I got things set up and applied slip to all the green work I had. While most people dip their work or pour slip on, I prefer to use a spray gun as it allows me to blend different colors on each piece. I will have to take a picture of my current spray booth set up some time. It is different from my original booth as that one developed a crack and spilled over-spray everywhere. This one does double duty as a trimming catcher.

Here are a couple of the results from yesterday's efforts. I actually meant to take pictures of these oil lamps earlier, but alas it did not happen. So here they are in all their slipped glory. I guess oil lamps could be pretty simple, but I tend to complicate things. Instead of just a simple bottle I added a lid/snuffer, which necessitated stops to hold it in place. I also added a separate fuel hole so you do not have to remove the wick to refuel. And last but not least, a handle is always...handy.

And finally, here is slug #8. It kind of looks like he was shot out of a cannon and missed the landing mat. He is dealing with it pretty well, though.
Ok, now I must tend to the chickens and garden before I find my sketch book, sgraffito tool and a comfy chair and set to decorating. Maybe I can get some stuff finished up before I have to make hay this afternoon.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The biggest thing I've ever thrown...

Here it is...the biggest thing I have ever thrown. Sure it does not look that big in the picture, but I assure you it is huge, at least by my standards. Which means it is really not all that big. This here is going to be a flour keg. It is roughly 13 inches across and 11 inches tall, with the lid adding another couple inches. I know this is pretty small potatoes for some folks, but considering the average size of my work is probably around 6 inches in any direction this is a pretty big achievement for me.
I went with the coil and throw method to make this guy. For those of you unfamiliar with this method, this is how I did it (that is not to say that this is the proper way of doing this technique, though). I started by throwing a flat base as wide as I wanted my jar. To this I added a thick coil around the edge and pulled it up to start the wall, leaving extra clay on the rim. After that had set up for a bit I added another thick coil and pulled, etc, etc. Today I will make sure the lid fits and try trimming. Hopefully it does not completely fall apart as it dries.

This is some other work I finished up yesterday. Flower baskets in the back and a couple of teapots up front. I was not really satisfied with how the teapots turned out. It has been quite a while since I have made teapots and, especially now looking at the picture, I am not happy with the proportions. Oh well; something else to work on I guess.

A wine set I threw yesterday. It consists of a ice bucket/bottle chiller and a few small cups. Not sure how many I am going to include when it is all said and done. My wife does not think this item will sell very well, at least not with the cups. "Who drinks wine out of cups," she says. I decided not to remind her that she has drunk wine out of cups on many occasions while sitting around a camp fire.
Besides, I am not a fancy wine person. I know stemmed wine glasses serve there purpose for people who want to be fancy and talk about clarity and legs and bouquet. I am more of a homemade wine kind of guy, though. I just want my wine to taste good; and if I can drink it out of a nice piece of pottery all the better.

This is a tile mold I am working on. I made an original a while back and let it dry out (that is what is in the middle), then packed wet clay around it to make the mold. I know I could have done the same thing with plaster a little easier, but I am not especially fond of working with plaster, probably because I just have not worked with it much. Bisque molds work just as well, and you don't have to worry about plaster chips working their way into your clay.

And finally, another installation of rattle sculptures. You cannot see very well from this picture, but I really like the gesture on this guy. He is leaning forward quite a bit and looking down. Rather menacing, especially with his horns. I think I am going to try making this a regular thing; maybe make one or two a week and post the results. Until then...tschus.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

With regards to "Dark Thoughts"

I just read a post by Whitney Smith, along with the comments on said post. I was going to comment as well, but as tends to happen, my comment got a bit lengthy. So in an effort to keep the comments on Whitney's blog more concise I decided to do my own post on the subject.

Yes, the craft industry is in a time of transition. But what really worries me is exactly where it is transitioning to. A lot of people say that there is currently a push towards more quality, hand made items. And to an extent that is least within our circles. People naturally have a tendency to surround themselves with other like-minded individuals. Thus a lot of the people we interact with do have a desire to buy local, hand made, sustainable, quality, etc. Unfortunately we do not interact with the majority of society.

Now mind you, the following is not backed by any kind of hard evidence, just my casual observations. But it seems to me that the people buying quality handmade goods (like ours) are mostly older (30+), affluent (upper middle class) individuals. These people do not make up a large percent of the buying public. A much larger percentage of the buying public (the majority of society) is spending their money on crap. Mass produced, cheaply made, use once and destroy crap. This in iteself is not worrisome. This is, in fact, natural; it is to be expected.

What is worrisome is the transition. Like I said before, there appears to be a move towards more quality goods because those are the people we associate with. Perhaps there is a broader movement, but from where I'm sitting, I haven't seen it. What I have seen is a proliferation of cheaply made products. An increasing number of people are buying crap because that is what they can afford. And because more people are buying it, manufacturers are making more of it, and making it cheaper to increase their profits. Because it is cheaper now people buy even more crap, and the circle continues. And what is worse, fewer and fewer people can afford to purchase quality, hand made products, meaning more and more people are buying the crap.

Is this just a low point in the craft industry? Will the pendulum eventually swing back in our direction? I certainly hope so. But based on the recent economic trends and my experience with younger generations (whom we will be relying on to sustain the craft industry) I don't expect it to happen any time soon.

The economy is in the toilet. And despite what any experts say to the contrary, I have a feeling it is going to be there for quite some time, especially for a market like ours that relies mostly on an affluent clientele. And from what I have seen working in a public high school, the next few generations have little to no interest in quality made products. They have been raised in a throw-away society. They do not expect things to last so they do not make an effort to look for things that last. They are perfectly content to spend money on a product, only to spend more money later when the first one breaks (or they are just tired of it and throw it away).

An economy in the crapper; fewer people purchasing quality goods; the increase in production of disposable products; future generations with no interest in quality...all this adds up to a pretty bleak outlook for the craft industry in the near and possibly distant future. While I do think things will improve, I am not sure they will ever get back to the bustling economy some folks are used least not in my life time.

Does this mean that there is no hope? Obviously not. It is simply a challenge. It is a rough patch that will have to be muddled through. Now, we might have to muddle for a while, but eventually things will turn around. And it is an opportunity to help educate the public about why buying quality, handmade goods is better than buying mass produced crap.
What this down turn also allows for is a reexamination of the industry, pricing, business practices, etc. Is selling through high end galleries that tack on 30 - 40 percent commission the best way to get your work out there? Maybe, maybe not. Is it really necessary to charge $40 for a mug, $50 for a bowl and $70 for a vase? Maybe, maybe not (I would lean to the "not" on this one, but that is a different subject). What do you need to do to continue supporting yourself doing what you love? It will obviously be different for everyone; but it is something we should continue working at and something we can support each other in.

That was a rather abrupt ending, but I ran out of things to say so I'm done. Tschus.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Sometimes I make a Slug

I do not usually make much sculptural work; mainly because it it more time consuming than my functional stuff and it does not sell. I have, however, made a few small sculptures here and there, mostly as demonstrations for classes. This one was actually an experiment with some paper clay that turned into a project for a class.

Slug Man #1

He is small (only about four inches tall) and made from a pinch pot with additions. In the summer classes that I recently taught I had the kids make something similar, but with beads inside so they rattled. This is obviously not a groundbreaking project for a beginning clay class, but the students seemed to enjoy it. Here are a couple of the examples I made for the class...

Slug Man #2

Sorry it is not a great picture. It was taken as he was sitting on a shelf in the bathroom.

Slug Man #3

His arm was severed in a tragic gardening accident. Surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday...or whenever he comes out of the kiln.

And here are a couple of examples of what the students came up with. In addition to unicorns we had turtles, cakes, dragons and a bizarre five-faced volcano monster. These two are actually in my studio right now waiting for a glaze firing. They were the only two that I could not fit in the kiln at school.
And finally, all this example making got me going to do a little more sculpture work on my own. These slug men were made Friday. Although the original slug man was not a rattle, I kind of liked the idea, so these fellows double up as musical instruments.

And on a completely unrelated note, this morning I took a test to be eligible for a job as a fire fighter in Carbondale. The written portion was this morning; this afternoon I have to go take the physical portion. If I pass those two I will be interviewed to see if I would be suitable as a fire fighter. Unfortunately this does not mean I will be offered a job or even that there is a job available. The city is required to test every two years to compile a list of possible applicants. Then, if by chance there would be an opening on the department (which does not happen often) all they have to do is go to the list. You cannot even be considered if you are not on the list. Thus, even though there are not any openings at this time, and there are not likely to be any any time soon, a testing I will go. That's all for now. Tschus.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Starting summer with the sound of crying

It has been a while since I posted anything on here, so a quick recap of what has been going on in the merry old land of Rob.

From June 7th to July 2nd I was teaching summer enrichment classes at the high school I work for. These were not really a big deal, just something to keep the kiddies busy and out of trouble for a while. There were three classes a day, each class lasting 2 hours. Personally I thought 2 hours was a bit long for each class considering most of the participants were incoming freshmen and had the attention span of...well, freshmen. I was teaching three classes: a drawing class, an illustration class and a ceramics class. While they were not terrible and the extra money was nice; these classes mainly served as a reminder as to why I do not want to teach anymore.

During that time I did manage to get some stuff done in the studio. My wife wanted a piggy bank for a friend of hers. Not having much time to sculpt a traditional piggy bank I went with this type of bank instead. This is not, however, what she had in mind, so I guess they will be finished and put up for sale some time. I did enjoy making them, though, and if I can get rid of these I will probably make more. Along that line, what are everyone's thoughts on putting a hole in the bottom of the bank to retrieve the money? I have a hole in the bottom of these, but it seems that I could save myself the trouble of finding stoppers and making sure they fit right by making the hole on top a little bigger. Not huge, mind you, but big enough to get the money out relatively easily. Thoughts?

I have also been playing around with bowl forms, trying to find one that I like. I think I finally got one; now I just need to work on throwing it consistently.

A short time ago I also purchased another motorcycle. I have a Honda 450 (Oscar), which runs decent and such; but I quickly outgrew it and was looking for something bigger. Lo and behold, I stumble across a Yamaha XS850 Special. It is an 850, so it is a good step up from the 450. It has a nice big 6 gallon gas tank, good for long hauls. And it has an interesting 3 cylinder set up (as opposed to most bikes with 2 or 4), which I thought was cool.

Sure, it needs a little work, but for $400 it was hard to pass up. So slowly over this summer (and probably into the winter) I am going to be giving it a good working over to get everything in proper running order. I do not have a name for it yet, so any suggestions there would be welcome.

And finally, what has been eating up most of my time lately is this.

A week and a half ago my wife quite unexpectedly went into labor 4 weeks early. Thus on June 27 at just past noon our first child (Noah) was born. Pretty cool stuff. Even though he was a month early, he was fine. No stay in the NICU or anything. They watched him for a few hours in the nursery to make sure he was breathing ok, but then he stayed with us in the room until we went home. Noah has been getting a good deal of my attention as of late, so I have not been in the studio in a while. I am going to try to get in there later today, though, to get some teapots started. Now, however, I think Noah needs his diaper changed. Ah the joys of fatherhood.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Righteous Indignation

This has nothing to do with pottery, but it does have something to do with small businesses, which should be of some interest to most potters. Sunday, while perusing the newspaper, I came across this article. As a proponent of small business and as a hobby beer brewer, I was aghast at AB/InBev's audacity. For those of you who don't feel like reading the article, here is a quick recap. Anheuser-Busch/InBev is suing the Illinois Liquor Control Commission because, as an out of state producer, they are not allowed to be a distributor in Illinois. Illinois breweries, though, can self-distribute within the state. They (AB/InBev) are claiming that small, independent breweries who self-distribute have an unfair advantage.
Really?! Are you serious?! The largest brewing company in the world, with a net income of $4.6 billion, is worried about an independent brewery with a distribution range of 60 miles?!

I have not bought much AB product since InBev took over. Partly because I prefer craft brews and partly because August Busch IV selling out really cheesed me off. Occasionally I would pick up a case of Busch...but I'm pretty sure that is done after these antics. I find it hard to support a company who is working to hold back independent businesses because they are not satisfied with billions of dollars in profit. Bloody savages.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

To boldly go where many thousands have gone before!

At approximately 10pm, central time, I officially became a seller on Etsy! I just got my shop set up yesterday, and finally listed my first item today. (That was my big goal for the week.)

And that is probably the only item I will have up for a little while. I got my photo set up cleared away enough to snap a few shots so I could get something on there that was better than a towel and a counter top. I have a lot of work to do on and around the photo area, though, before it is really ready to roll.
Not that it will make the pictures any better. I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to cameras and lighting and white balance and such. It would be really nice to be able to go to a workshop dealing with all that, but I have never heard of any around my area.

Is this really such a good thing, though, that I will be selling on Etsy? It is a flooded market place. Do I really want to be lumped in will all of the thousands of people out there pumping out mediocre (if not down right bad) work, and offering it up to the public?
I considered these things briefly, right before I considered how much money that mug was making while it was sitting on a shelf. I am fairly certain that millions of people are not going to walk through my house in search of handmade goods any time soon. On Etsy, however, at least it has a chance. So for better or for we go.

On a completely unrelated note, I got a free CD at P-mac Music today. P-mac is this cool little independent music store I used to work at. The owners are first rate folks. Check out their web site, and one of their stores if you're in the neighborhood. Anyway, so what did I choose for my free music selection? Primus: The Brown Album. Les Claypool is a freaking genius. The whole album is good, but Fisticuffs and Shake Hands with Beef get my top picks.