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.