Wednesday, March 9, 2016


My three-week vacation to Argentina and Uruguay was wonderfully intense, with lots of sight-seeing, family reunions and unexpected findings. 

While in Buenos Aires, I visited the Boca neighborhood and the area known as "Caminito." 

In the 1800s there was a small stream in the area and later railroad tracks where installed. Eventually, the railroad fell into disuse and the place became a local eyesore, housing many tenements made out of zinc metal panels. 
Tenements turned into artisan shops

In the 1950s, Argentine artist Benito Quinquela Martin painted the walls facing the abandoned street and constructed a stage at one end, which was replaced by a theater house in 1972. The area is now a tourist attraction with many cafés, tango singers and dancers, and artisan shops where the tenement rooms once were. The area's cultural significance comes from the famous tango "Caminito" composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto in 1926.

Choosing a mug Guaralonga Cerámica.
Walking through the area I came upon a local ceramics shop, Guaralonga Cerámica, and chatted with Michael who ended up being from Uruguay. He was painting local motifs from the area onto his mugs, plates and other creations. Of course, I bought one of these lovely mugs and it's now taking its place among my collection of mugs.

Upon leaving the area, I came upon this sign. I have no idea who put it up or why, but certainly concur that the world does, indeed, need more poetry.

We Need More Poetry!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Last Firing Before Going on Vacation

Glazed pieces drying in the sun.
 I'm flying south on February 14th! After the snow storm I'm more than ready to head down to the summer warmth of the Southern Hemisphere. Arriving in Buenos Aires on February 15th to enjoy a whole week visiting the city with my niece who lives there. We had planned a trip to Iguazú Falls but have been thwarted by Aedes aegypti. El Niño has caused a lot of flooding in northern Argentina leading to an increase in the mosquito population and a serious dengue epidemic. So we are staying well south in the Río de la Plata where, thankfully, there is no dengue and no zika. The week will culminate in a celebration of my niece's birthday. After that we are headed for two weeks in Uruguay.

It's 81 degrees F in Buenos Aires and 73 degrees F in Montevideo, compared to the 35 degrees F we have here in Alexandria, Virginia, tonight. So yes, I'm ready to go bask in the sun!
Bottom shelf.

But first, one last glaze firing. I have three orders still to fulfill and they're in this load. The kiln is running tonight and will be ready to open on Sunday.

I have an order for 3 serving bowls in purple, green and blue. One is on the bottom shelf, together with 3 berry bowls and 2 sponge holders. The domed piece is the top of a butter or cheese dish. I put fine sand under the piece so that it can move as it shrinks and it not warp. I've also put a glass marble in the knob. That will melt and, hopefully, make a beautiful lake of glass.

All the items on the bottom-middle shelf are orders. There are 2 more of the serving bowls, a yarn bowl and night light. The yarn bowl has a cutout of a moose and is glazed in purple. It's for a knitter who loves moose and the color purple (I'm told they call her "purple moose"). The night light is for a request for one that could hang on the wall. I made this one flatter than usual and made a foot ring that can hold a wire to hang it. We'll see how that turns out.

Bottom Middle Shelf.
The top-middle shelf has the extra serving bowl and the extra moose yarn bowl. I always make one extra just in case. Last time around, I didn't make an extra moose yarn bowl and, yes, it cracked. So this time I made two.

I've glazed all the night lights white this go around because all six white ones that came out of the last kiln load sold right away.

I made about six wide platters of different sizes this time and could only get 3 in this load. This one on the top-middle shelf is glazed in an iron matte glaze from John Britt's Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes. I sprinkled green and yellow glass frit on top of the glaze and also put in a glass marble. Let's see what happens.

Top Middle Shelf
The top shelf is in three stages. I've got a large platter that's barely visible... that'll be a surprise for next time. Another platter has a carved chrysanthemum and is glazed in waterfall brown (from the Hesselberth and Roy Mastering Cone Six Glazes book). Glass marbles on that one as well. At the very top are the coasters for the berry bowls.

This load is being run in a fast glaze to cone 5. I've had good luck with cone 5 firings so far. It is in the hands of the kiln gods now!

Top Shelf

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Firing the Kiln in a Blizzard

A foot of snow and the blizzard is only half over.
Although the space heaters do a good job of keeping the studio warm, the very cold weather this past week has been a bit of challenge. Fortunately, I was ready with a kiln load to help keep the studio warm and cozy.

I fire overnight to save energy and money. The power company has installed a meter that records our hourly electricity usage so that now we can schedule things like running the kiln or charging the Nissan Leaf during non-peak hours, saving money and reducing our impact on the power grid.
Bisqued pots ready for unloading

I ran a bisque load overnight on Friday, January 15th and had a very warm studio on Saturday. The week was spent preparing the bisqued ware and glazing. All the pots were cleaned and the feet waxed. Then came the glazing and again, some more careful checking and cleaning of the glazed pots. 

Loading the kiln always takes me longer than I expect it to. I enjoy the puzzle quality of loading and stacking shelves and pots in the most efficient manner. Like a lot of other things about making pots, it can be very meditative. Although this time I was more in the mood for rock and roll than meditation, so I happily danced around while glazing.

Pots washed and waxed, ready for glazing
I decided to throw caution (and worries about power outages during the *historic* blizzard of 2016) to the wind and ran a glaze firing last night (Friday, January 22nd). The kiln ran mostly after 10pm and the firing was completed at 1:30am. Opening the kiln probably won't happen until tomorrow sometime. But today, I can work in the warm studio and ignore the piling snow. No worries about cold hands and cold feet!

I make an awful mess when I glaze!
There's a foot of snow outside now (noon on 1/23/16) and it's supposed to keep snowing at least until tonight. The wind has picked up in the last hour. 

I am very grateful that I am in a warm house with a fully-loaded Kindle and a warm studio. I am grateful that my 5 kids and their families are also warm at home and the grandchildren are reportedly having a great time playing in the snow. Life is good!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mixing Glazes

My display at Manassas Clay
I visited Manassas Clay today. Fran Newquist and Jane Cullum have created a wonderful full-service pottery where you can take classes, rent studio space, fire your work, exhibit your pottery, mix glazes, and buy pottery supplies. Situated in the old city of Manassas, Manassas Clay and Tin Barn Pottery Supply has been going strong for over 15 years.

Today, I brought new work to replenish what had sold. I cleaned up my shelves and reorganized. It was also a day for mixing and buying glazes. I got 15 lbs of Laguna Satin White and mixed 10 lbs of Randy's Red. I also mixed 2000 grams of Variegated Slate Blue. 

The fully stocked glaze kitchen at Manassas Clay
The slate blue glaze has been giving me a very difficult time. Even with the new kiln, it continues to be a problem. I plan to mix this new batch in a brand new bucket using distilled rather than tap water. If it doesn't go back to the being the great blue glaze it used to be I will have to (sadly) say that I'm done with it and start looking for a new blue glaze. In December I bought four commercial blue glazes to try out but I'm not happy with any of them. I tried a cobalt blue from Standard which is okay and actually sold, but I don't really like how shiny and dark blue it is. The other two glazes I tried were Oasis Blue from Laguna and Pam's Blue from Coyote. Unless I made a mistake, which I don't think I did, these seem to be the same glaze. It's an ugly green when thin but more attractive when applied more thickly. I might return to the Oasis Blue and work a bit more with if I can't find something else. Finally, I tested Coyote's Mottled Blue, which I like but it's more gray than blue. I made the mistake of applying it a little on the thick side and had to do a lot of shelf grinding.

I also mixed test batches of two new glazes. One is Waterfall Brown from the Mastering Cone 6 Glazes book (p. 106-107).* I've been staring at it on the cover of that book for ages and it was just time to try it. The other is Matte Iron Red from John Britt's new book, The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes (p. 88-89). I'll be holding my breath because both of these mouth-watering glazes are a bit tricky.

Keeping the water warm on top of the heater
It was cold and sunny again: 20 degrees F when we got up this morning. The water in the bottle I forgot in the car was frozen. But it did warm up to 40 degrees later in the day. Drying in the studio are 12 brie bakers, a cheese bell, 6 mugs, and 2 cylinders for a very, very large lamp.

*Mastering Cone 6 Glazes by John Hesselberth and Ron Roy has been out of print for a while and I believe that there are no plans for updates or reprints. Note that this great book, that I bought for $39.95 when it came out, is selling for $163 on Amazon. A black and white version is available for $24.95.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bright, Sunny January Day

The window in the old part of the studio
 It was 46 degrees F when I went to the studio at 11:30am today: a bright, sunny day with a bit of wind. Inside the studio it was 56 degrees F with the heater on low overnight. The studio stays much warmer now because the addition that Chris built in 2014 has an honest-to-goodness door instead of the barn doors that were in the old studio. Those old doors let all kinds of cold air in. I am so grateful to Chris for having built the addition, not only do I have so much more space, but it's sunnier and warmer.

Old half of the studio with the new kiln
The "old" part of the studio now houses the glazes and work tables, with pride of place going to the new kiln I got last September. It's an L&L E23t-3 with a down draft vent; and I even got new furniture to go with it. I had my previous kiln, a manual Skutt, for 21 years. So I guess I deserved a new, programmable kiln for my 65th birthday. What a treat! I learned quickly how to work the computer and I'm delighting in how much simpler it is to get a good firing! 

The new air-tight door
Sunlight was streaming through the window and the glass front door today and, for a while, I was able to work without turning on the lights. 

I finished the last 3 Starry Nights lamps and made 6 brie bakers. It doesn't sound like much for a whole afternoon because of the time-consuming lamps. I figured out that carving out each stars takes one minute, and each lamp has about 45 to 50 stars!

Still carving lamps!

Friday, January 1, 2016

First Day of 2016

Hairy Woodpecker
It was 49 degrees F and overcast today at 1pm. Apparently the unseasonably mild weather will be ending soon. We certainly did enjoy it while it lasted. Chris has been painting his shed, and I went to the zoo w/ some of the grandkids on the day after Christmas. It was short sleeve weather!

 The bird feeder has been a great source of entertainment, as usual. A hairy woodpecker has been coming around to the great annoyance of the resident downy woodpecker. A local Cooper's hawk has decided to include our bird-feeders in its rounds and seems to have made a meal of one of the wrens as well as a mourning dove. The Coopers is a beautiful bird but I'm really unhappy that it's going after "our" birds. Chris has taken to shooing it away whenever he sees it.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Sales in my Etsy store left much to be desired this year. Among the many changes Etsy made last year was getting rid of "ceramics and pottery" as a category. Pottery is now found in "home decor" and "kitchen and dining" and it really gets lost among all the other stuff. Lucky for me (and many other Etsy potters), Amazon launched its Handmade on Amazon site just in time for the holidays. I opened an Amazon store in October and was really pleased with the results. In fact, sales on Amazon more than made up for the shortfall on Etsy. Also, I found that Amazon shoppers tend to buy higher-priced items.

People were out doing some serious shopping at the City of Fairfax Holiday Show in mid-November and the City of Falls Church Holiday Show in early December. I had my best shows ever this year. My ornaments and trinket dishes are big sellers. Although these are low-price items people buy them by the dozen and more. Several people bought between $60 and $100 worth of ornaments at one time. That's a lot of ornaments!

Cooper's Hawk
So all in all, it turned out to be a very good year. I ended up making a small profit even after paying for the new L&L kiln I got in September.

It was 64 degrees F in the studio with the space heater on low. I pugged 50 pounds of BMix5 together with about 25 pounds of Little Loafers reclaim. That got my blood flowing! Afterwards I carved two Starry Nights lamps. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get the two lamps done. That's a lot of work. I think I'm going to raise the prices again because, as it is, I have a hard time keeping them in stock. I still have 3 more blanks ready to carve.

This is happening in the studio today.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last day of 2015

It was 55 degrees F and overcast today; everything still wet from last night's rain. It was a cozy 72 degrees F in the studio.

Working on several custom requests for January. As usual, there's a larger demand for Advent wreaths than my supply. I didn't make any wreaths this year because I find them a bit of a chore to make, but I had 3 that I had not listed. People still found me and asked for them so all were sold. Now I have requests for 3 more to be delivered in January. I need to find a faster and less fussy way to make them for next holiday season.

Last Spring someone asked for a purple yarn bowl with a moose design on it. When I had it ready I let the customer know but never heard back from them so I listed it thinking that it would linger in the shop because who wants a yarn bowl with a moose on it? Well, apparently lots of people do because it sold right away. The original buyer still wants the purple yarn bowl so I'm carving a moose on a yarn bowl again. And along the same lines, someone asked me for a yarn bowl with an alpaca design. Maybe I'll try my hand at carving alpacas.

My customers are constantly coming up with ideas for me to try out. The Starry Nights lamps are still best sellers and I had two customers asking for a variation on them. One customer wants a Starry Nights lamp that hangs on the wall. I'm noodling that idea and thinking that maybe it should be like a sconce or maybe an upside down shallow bowl. Another customer wants a cylindrical lamp (I can do that!) that's 15 inches tall to put on a sideboard in the dining room. That's a really cool idea, but I'm researching the issue of the snap-in socket and the light bulb. I'm thinking that a 4W bulb is not going to be large enough for that size lamp, but I worry that the lamp might get hot with a larger watt bulb. So, I'm doing research. I found a snap-in socket that can accommodate up to a 40W bulb and I'll test it to see what happens when it's left on for a while.

Other orders: teapots, personalized mugs, and brie bakers. Got my work cut out for me!