Friday, July 25, 2014

Family collaboration: SRL joins Glynt Pottery

My granddaughter loves to draw. I particularly like her manga/animé sketches. (You can learn all you need to know about manga, and then some, from wikipedia.) As Sofie tells me drawing in the manga style is all about mood. Well, I'm her grandma and to me everything she does es excellent. And, I'm a potter so after seeing several of her manga sketches I thought : "I can put that on a mug!"

I made the suggestion to Sofie and she reluctantly made three sketches, two of which I've put on a mug as a first test on how to best work with them. I think I'll have her draw some directly on the clay instead of having me copy them. And maybe we'll try painting them on over a white glaze.

Glynt and SRL
 I'm thinking I'll make some tree ornaments for the holidays and maybe I'll put one on a yarn bowl.

In any case, Sofie has been promised a third of the proceeds from any item sold that features her drawings. And she said she will make some more sketches in different moods.

It's cool to be 9!
I think she was pretty happy with the results and especially w/ the idea that she would get paid for them! She put her initials on the bottom of the mug right next to my signature.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Still chasing after texture

Earlier this year I mentioned that I was looking for more texture in my work (see 2/1/14 entry), and working more in dark, iron-rich clay. Following the platters that I made then, I have done other experiments that take their cue from a demonstration by Bryan Hopkins that I saw a couple of years ago at Arrowmont, and which has been percolating in the back of my head ever since. The idea is to cut a section off a piece, texture it, and put it back. Simple enough! 

The first thing I did, to test the process was this little green tumbler.
I liked it so much that I made a set of four, this time using dark clay. And instead of glazing the whole piece, I used different oxides on the textured area and left it unglazed. I like the idea of having different textures in one piece, especially something, like a tumbler, that is going to be handled by the user. The unglazed, textured area provides a resting place for the hand as well as the eye. 

I used a roller to texture the clay that I removed and reinserted. The roller stretched the clay and made it taller than the rest of the piece. I left this additional height to bring even more attention to the piece. I also put an extra ribbon of clay around it to frame the textured area and draw even more attention to it. The extra height, the texture, the unglazed surface, and the frame around it mean that the pieces are all about that very small portion of the whole.

The set of four tumblers in various colors sold right away on Etsy! I also made a vase using the same process. 

Once I figured out how to do it on cylinder shapes I tried this process on bowls. So I made what I call "contemplation bowls" to be used during meditation or as a decorative item, maybe to float a bloom in it or sit a pillar candle in a bed of coffee beans.

In this case, I took out a circle from the side of the bowl, textured it and returned it to its place but, again, making sure to draw attention to it. Instead of using the piece that I had cut out of the bowl, I used a darker clay and then used oxides rather than glazes on the outside, which gives a tactile experience that is quite different from the smoothness of a glazed bowl. The inside of the bowl is where all the action is! I melted marbles on the inside and sprinkled copper oxide to make for a lot of interest as you're looking into the bowl.

I'm also using this technique on my ubiquitous yarn bowls. Here are three yarn bowls I made yesterday. It's a real move away from the flower and curlicue motifs I've been using so far. Although, the idea is not completely new since I have made yarn bowls where I would, say, cut out a butterfly or heart and then place the cutout on the other side of the bowl. This, however, is not only more abstract, but I'm trying to reimagine the portion taken out by texturing it and putting it back in its place in a different form. I plan to also use oxides in addition to glazes on these. The end result will be a lot more earthy and rustic than my usual yarn bowls. I don't know how that will over.

I also made a couple of "wrapped" vases, something that I used to do a very long time ago. In this case, I took some bandages and soaked them in slip and then wrapped them around the shoulder of the vase. My thought was to give the vase a scarf around it's neck to keep it warm. The "scarf" was washed in red iron oxide and waxed so that it would not take the rich iron glaze. It stands out because of its rough texture and darker color.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A larger studio

1. New 8x10ft space was added on to the existing studio
This week I began working in my new, improved studio. The inside of the studio addition that we started back in April is now finished. There are still a few things to do on the outside, like painting it and building a small deck and some steps. After 16 years of working in a 12ft by 10ft studio, the addition now gives me a 20ft by 10ft space, which to me seems huge!

The first image show the throwing and hand-building area which is now in the new part of the studio. The glazing, decorating, firing area is in the old part of the studio. I know that I will probably be rearranging things for a while as I start working in the new space. I am exhilarated by all the table and shelf space I have now!

2. View from the front door.
After thinking about it for a long while, I decided not to put in additional windows in the new space. Instead, I chose to use the wall space for added shelves. There already is an existing window and we installed a glass door that gives me a view as well as additional light. I might still decide at some point to put in skylights, but for now the lighting is quite good and I'm satisfied.

3. Pugmill and glazing area in the old studio.
Glazing used to involve a delicate dance around buckets as well as placing ware boards over every flat surface to have sufficient space to put down just-glazed pots. Now, I have oodles of table space for glazing, and I purchased dollies for glaze buckets (as well as the clay bin), which makes my life so much easier! 

The other side of the old studio will be for decorating and also the kiln is at the very back.
4. Decorating table

It really took a long time to get to this point. One of the reasons is that we are doing this ourselves (that is, my darling husband is doing it by himself). Another reason is the wet weather we've had (and continue to have) which meant that there were many days when we were unable to work. 

Also, the last month was devoted to watching the World Cup matches: what fun! Fútbol is part of the soul of every Uruguayan and, although I was only 10 when I arrived in the US, I still carry the imprint of La Celeste. As always, watching the games brought memories of going to the stadium with Dad when we still lived in Montevideo. When we came here in the 60s there were no Soccer Moms and no one played fútbol. Dad, however, was determined to listen to the 1966 World Cup. So he bought a short-wave radio and slung a long copper wire up to the tallest tree in our yard to act as an antenna. And we huddled around the radio to listen to the matches and yelled "GOOOOOOOOLLLLLL"

So now, I got my fill of fútbol. I cheered for Uruguay and when we lost to Colombia, I cheered for the US, and finally I cheered for every team because it was a really exciting World Cup. And, I'm back at work in a brand new clean studio. Time to get muddy!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Go away rain!

 We've had a couple of days of nonstop pouring rain. Our home is at the bottom of a hilly neighborhood and in addition to the rain pouring from above we have the rain coming down the hills. There's a veritable creek that runs at the end of our backyard whenever it rains this hard. It comes under the neighbor's fence and runs right through our property. We've named it Lynt Creek. You can see from the pictures that the water really is running.

Of course all this rain has halted construction of the studio addition, but it has also made it abundantly clear that we need to go a little bit higher because the concrete pads we had installed to scope out the space are underwater. So, off Chris went to Home Depot (yes, in the rain) and got some more concrete pads to raise the beams that will eventually hold the structure.

At this point, we are considering whether to have a step down into the existing studio or to raise the floor, which will give us opportunity to better insulate it. I really want to do the later, but that means emptying out the studio... something that I had hoped to avoid. 

In any case, we'll see what we decide when we get to that point. For now the conversation centers around ideas for improving drainage and channeling the rainwater away from the studio. Another concern is how to do that without damaging my azaleas.

As you can see, there's been quite a bit of progress: the trim and the doors have come off and, fortunately, the shower curtain has done a respectable job of keeping the rain out of the studio. Rain is supposed to stop tomorrow afternoon!

I am so grateful to have such a brilliant husband to do this for me!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Here we go... !!!

Studio tilted to the right
The weather finally seems to have settled down so we have begun preparations for the expansion of my shed-studio (or "sheddio"). This structure was erected in 1998 and has served me very well for the past 16 years. This is my description of my studio in 2011: Fitting Everything into a Small Studio

We have (that's the royal "we," actually my husband is doing all the work) taken up the 10x8 ft deck in front of the sheddio and discovered that one side of it has sunk into the ground. You can see in the picture, if you look closely, that the right side is closer to the ground than the left side. So, the first job on the list is to raise the left side of the shed and make it level.

A reorganization is in my future!
I emptied all the shelves on the left side of the building: greenware, bisqueware, a few glazed things, and a plethora of little containers w/ mason stains and underglazes. We eventually figured out that I had 150 lbs of clay stored in that right front corner of the studio, so that had to come out too. 

Jacking up the sheddio.
We rented a hydraulic jack and after several attempts (the jack was sinking into the ground!) and corrections, we were able to jack the sheddio up enough to slip in some shims and get the building level. I'm not exactly sure what the next step will be, but the idea is to build out in front of this building a space at least the size of the old deck, or maybe a little bigger (10x10 ft).

Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ready for spring!

Male downy woodpecker
The days have gotten longer and we have more daylight hours. What a blessing! I like the change of seasons, but like everyone else, I am all done with winter this year! But here we are again, March 25th and it's snowing in Northern Virginia!

Yet, spring is making every effort to poke its head out of its wintry burrow. Early every morning the downy woodpecker drums on the shutters outside my window, waking me to the day and, hopefully, successfully wooing a local female. The day lilies and the daffodils have poked some tentative green shoots through the leafy mulch. The old cherry tree is, once again, full of buds (albeit snow covered ones).

And I am trying new things in the studio. Now that I think that I've thoroughly explored carving my pots, I'm looking at bringing more texture to thrown pots, maybe even by carving out chunks off a thrown pot, texturing it and replacing it. I'm also working w/ dark clay.

Working in dark clay
Cups w/ added texture

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is it with breaking pots?

"Colored Vases"
I know I'm coming late to commenting on the issue of Ai WeiWei's painted Han dynasty pots. This needed to percolate for a while in my brain. 

WeiWei set up an exhibit with three huge photos of himself holding and then dropping a pot dating to 200BC. In front of these photos was a collection of the same pots painted with industrial paint in garish colors. Maximo Caminero, a local artist, grabbed one of those pots and did as in the photos, dropping it to the floor and breaking it to protest, he said, the fact that the gallery in question did not feature local artists. He later said that he thought it was an interactive display and he was simply mimicking the photos of WeiWei, and was very sorry when told that the broken pot was worth $1 million and that he could face up to 5 years in jail.

I am appalled, not at Caminero, but at WeiWei. After all, Caminero only compounded WeiWei's initial desecration and, if he's to be believed, was only participating in WeiWei's installation. WeiWei's aim was to contrast East and West and highlight consumerism. The pots in questions, while being actual antiquities (from the Neolithic era), are the property of WeiWei and presumably he should be able to do what he wants to with his private property. According to an article in the South China Morning Post (2/18/14), WeiWei made a difference between "smash[ing] his own belongings" and having someone else destroy them. Indeed, WeiWei has been smashing antiquities for a long time and his lawyer has criticized archaeological preservationists for their reaction to these destructions when they fail to protest the Chinese government's treatment of WeiWei, a person.

Yoko Ono and the vase
Yet, these pots are a legacy of the past and whoever owns them, be it a private individual, an educational institution or a national government, ought to preserve them for all of us.

This event brought to mind Yoko Ono's 1966 performance at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre in London where she broke a vase on the stage and asked people to pick up the pieces and take them home, promising that they would all meet again in 10 years time with the pieces and put the vase together again (I don't think that ever happened).

Which makes me ask: What is it with breaking pots? Do performance artists ever destroy paintings or sculptures as part of their act? 

I don't usually comment about things like this because, not having an art degree, I sometimes think that I just don't get it. But maybe I do get it: Pots are just pots, utilitarian items, and there are many more where those came from. No one is outraged at the destruction of pottery as they would be if someone slashed an ancient painting. So it's easy to destroy pots as part of a gimmick to call attention to yourself, whether you're Yoko Ono, Ai WeiWei or Maximo Caminero.

So, in the end, I'm still appalled and saddened that we can't protect these antiquities so that they will still be available to our grandchildren and their children, but then again, we seem unable to protect the planet so maybe one Han dynasty pot is insignificant.

Chibcha pot
A couple of disclaimers that shed some light on my feelings about this: Some museums have more pottery than they are able to display and they often sell some as a means to finance their research and conservation efforts. When I was in my early 20s, I bought an ancient Chibcha (Colombia) pot from one such outlet. I must admit that, although I loved that pot, it accidentally broke while in my care. The other disclaimer is that a few years ago I went to a private exhibit at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, where I was allowed to handle a pot similar to the ones that WeiWei destroyed for his exhibit. It was a very significant experience for me, as I held the pot and felt the grooves left by the hands of the ancient potter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP: Carlos Páez Vilaró

Carlos Páez Vilaró - Carnaval -Uruguay
Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró died today in his iconic Casapueblo in Punta Ballena (Maldonado), Uruguay, at the age of 90. Páez Vilaró was an abstract painter,  potter, sculptor, muralist, writer, composer, screenwriter, and builder. He was a champion of Afro-Uruguayan candombe music and only nine days before his death participated in the "llamadas," a traditional part of Uruguay's carnival. 

Areal view of Casapueblo
He created murals and sculptures for government and corporate offices, private homes and other buildings in Argentina (2), Brazil (16), Chad (4), Chile (3), Gabon (4), the United States (11) and Uruguay (30). Murals in the US include a 162-meter long work in the tunnel connecting the buildings of the Organization of American States and another one in Georgetown University Hospital. The work of which he was proudest is a nondenominational chapel built in Los Cipreses cemetery in San Isidro (Buenos Aires). He is quoted as saying that it was in the design of this chapel that he was able to bring together all the media in which he worked, making stained glass as well as paintings and even the floors for the chapel. He also said that it was a difficult endeavor because "It is not easy for a man who so loves life, to paint for death."
When I visited Uruguay in March of last year I enjoyed a day outing to Casapueblo. Páez Vilaró built the sprawling compound in stages. It ultimately became not only his home and studio, but also a museum with a permanent exhibit of his works, and a 4-star hotel with magnificent views. Google "Carlos Páez Vilaró" y click on "images" to see his works. I leave you here with some pictures of my visit to Casapueblo and other photos of his work.  
More Painted Pots @ Casapueblo

Painted Pots

The painted pots are reminiscent of Picasso's work pottery work. Indeed, Páez Vilaró and Picasso were friends.

Painted wall @ Casapueblo

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Retire early and follow your dream

Throwing a bowl
There was a really interesting op-ed in Friday's Washington Post by Tara D. Sonenshine, titled Why I'm leaning out. The article discusses the issue of women in their mid-50s and early 60s who, even though they have "strong resumés," have decided to slow down their professional lives, "turning down big jobs for smaller, lower-paid assignments" or retiring early.  Ms Sonenshine asks why "women with extensive job experience and children of a self-sufficient age choose to slow down..."

She concludes that there are three reasons to consider.  First: many professional women are simply tired after years of rushing to meetings, taking chances, and attempting to balance home life and career (the latter is my own observation). Second: women are exhausted from worrying about the "barrage of bad news." She says, "We women of a certain age react to other people's pain and loss as if it were ours, alone, to bear." (I am so glad I'm not alone in getting teary-eyed watching the news!) And third: women want to get more involved in their local communities.

The article does not mention another, I think, compelling reason for both women and men to want to slow down or retire early. That is, the need for self-expression. In our world, few people are able to make a living as musicians, painters, writers, sculptors, dancers. How many people do you know who are frustrated artists, unable to express their creativity?
Carving a yarn bowl on the deck outside the studio

I took early retirement at age 57. I had done well in my career as an economist, and then I switched careers, becoming an editor and doing even better. But I had my pottery "hobby" that was calling me. I dreamed of a day when I could devote myself to it. It's been almost seven years since I retired and I couldn't be happier. It turned out that I was not only good at making pots, but I was also good at building a small business that is operating in the black! I get a lot of positive feedback and validation from my customers and peers, and now have a clientele. In addition, I have time and energy enough to babysit my grandkids, play cards with my mother on Sundays, research our family history, travel, and, yes, make pots. Life is good!

Glynt Pottery Studio

Whether it's making pots or painting, traveling or learning a new language, going fishing or writing that novel... we all have some dream that has to be postponed while we earn enough money to buy the house and put the kids through college. When the opportunity arises to leave the working world behind and devote ourselves to those postponed dreams, is it any wonder we all jump at it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

I owe it all to chocolate and young men!

Beatrice Wood

Getting old is not fun. Now that I'm in my 60s I find that I'm not as strong as I used to be. To my dismay, I now have to open up the boxes of clay and carry each 25 pound bag individually into the studio; I cannot carry a 50 pound box any longer.

I'm not taking this sitting down! My routine includes biweekly visits to the chiropractor to get the kinks out of my spine and ensure that my wrists and elbows are happy. Sporadic visits to a massage therapist, just because it feels so good! Weekly yoga to stay flexible and quiet the chatter in my head. And now I've started weekly weight training classes, which are kicking my butt! I can hold my own w/ the arm exercises (20 years of wedging clay help!), but the legs and abdominals are pathetic. 

I'm going to stick with my routine and add some walking once the weather allows because I want to continue playing in the mud for many years to come. In fact, I am planning an expansion to my studio this spring and I'm also thinking of getting myself a programmable kiln (it's about time!). Who knows? I have an aunt who lived to be 100 and Mom is 87 and keeps going like the Energizer bunny.

"I owe it all to chocolate and young men!" That's what Beatrice Wood said when asked about the secret to her longevity. I've got the young man already (hubby is a year younger!), so I guess I just need to eat more chocolate.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Democratizing" Pottery Making

Cups from 3D Systems press release
3D Systems  has just introduced a new 3D printer (called the CeraJet™) that, according to the press release issued in early January will "democratize pottery making ...[and]...  revolutionize ceramic artisanship for the benefit of brands, retailers, designers, shops and hobbyists." The printer quickly produces intricate and detailed ceramic objects that are ready to fire and glaze. Quoting the press release again: "This class of 3D printers and materials infuses the age-old tradition of ceramics with the ability to make previously unimagined complex shapes."

This freaks me out!

I don't mean to behave like a Luddite, don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are machines! And the older I get the more I appreciate them. I'm talking about the pug mill that makes reclaiming clay easier, for example (what did you think I was talking about?). My current favorite tool is Tom Whitaker's ball opener, a neat little invention using nothing more than pvc pipe that saves fingers and wrists from overuse and is easy to make. And, where would I be without my electric wheel and all my other tools?

But, you have to be a potter to use these tools. What I mean is that, at some point, you would have decided that you wanted to learn pottery. Note that I'm saying "learn pottery" not "make pots." And that's the difference that the 3D Systems company is alluding to when they say that this printer will democratize what their press release calls, without a hint of irony, "the ancient artisanal craft of pottery and ceramics." The use of these printers gets rid of "ancient," "artisanal," and "craft" in one fell swoop and just leaves us with the end product. We lose the process, the long apprenticeships, the trial-and-error learning to make that shape you've been thinking about. It seems that now if you can use the software, the sky's the limit as far as form is concerned.

This is great for those people whose interest is in design. They can now bring their idea to fruition w/o "wasting time" trying to figure out how to make it on the wheel or by rolling slabs or pinching clay. And that's a great leap forward for them. For me, though, I make pots because I love the feel of the clay, I crave the solitude of the wheel, I delight in opening a kiln and feeling like it's Christmas morning. And I think that the people who buy handmade pots are looking for exactly that: pots imbued with the spirit of the maker.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

More Texture

Still playing with textures. 

The platter and dishes have a textured slab bottom and a thrown ring for the sides and rim.

This is too much fun!

Keeping fingers crossed so the bottoms don't crack.

Update March 25, 2014: 

Here are the large platters all glazed and finished. I like this a lot and I like the method for making them... So easy!

Friday, January 31, 2014

萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì - May all your wishes be fulfilled

Denise of Morris Pottery
萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì -- May all your wishes be fulfilled -- is one of the common auspicious greetings of the Chinese New Year, which begins today, January 31st. 

Happy Year of the Horse! According to legend, twelve animals responded to Buddha's request that they meet him on the new year and he named each year for one of them. Those born in the Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014) are said to share some attributes of their zodiac animal. Horse people are said to be cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented, and good with their hands.

Brother #1 and Grandson #1 are horse people and, far from being a good thing, it seems that those born w/ the same sign as the year's animal are in for a difficult year. B1, in particular, should be concerned since apparently if you're turning 60 this year, which he is, you need to throw a big party to balance the bad luck. I'm not sure B1 reads my blog, so someone should tell him that now he has a real reason to party! Parental controls prevent GS1 from reading my blog, but he is turning 12 so life is pretty simple. It basically boils down to how much screen time he still has and whether or not he can beat his sister to the computer.

GD#1 on Chester
Granddaughter #1 will not miss her Saturday morning horseback riding lessons for anything. Not even if its 35 degrees outside and her mother's teeth are chattering as she waits in the barn. Her mother (Daughter #1) was actually bitten by a horse at her age so I'm not sure how she feels about them now. I, however, have very strong opinions about horses: they are very big and I have no business getting on one. 

Karen of Song and Branch
Horses are a ubiquitous theme in ceramics, from Greek pottery to the warriors and horses of Xian. A few potter friends make beautiful horse-themed pots and sculptures. The gorgeous plate is by Denise and Paul Morris of Morris Pottery. Karen Dorweiler of Song and Branch makes the wonderful horse sculptures. And the dish with horse imprints is by Jacqueline Allard of Island Girl Pottery.

And one final thing: apparently horses are related to fire energy so the year should bring lots of fires... Here's hoping that the kiln gods smile on our firing efforts in 2014!

Jacqui of Island Girl Pottery

 萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì