Dec. 21st, 2018 03:54 pm
offcntr: (Default)
What do you use this for? is probably one of the most common questions I get (after Did you make this?). Since I've not been spending all my time in the studio making pots this last week, I've been able to spend time in the kitchen, using pottery. For example, I started by blind-baking a single pie crust in an Off Center Ceramics pie plate (9 minutes at 475° F). Dice up some bacon and fry it down while the crust waits.

Microwave/steam some broccoli florets in a covered small baking dish while you dice the onions, slice the mushrooms and shred the cheese. Sweat the onions and sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, then drain. Load everything into the crust, bacon and onions first, then broccoli, mushrooms, and cheese.

In a small batter bowl, whisk together 5 eggs, 2 cups half-and-half, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and 1/8 tsp. cayenne. Pour over all the other stuff in the pie crust.

Bake 15 minutes at 425° F, then drop the oven to 300° for another 35 or 40 minutes. Let stand at least 15 or 20 minutes before slicing in, or cool completely and serve at room temperature.

There, that's three uses for pottery (four if you count the soup bowl holding the sliced mushrooms). And a darned good meal.
offcntr: (window bear)
Partly cloudy and dry today, so I took advantage of the weather to sort through my boxes of seconds for next Sunday's Kareng Fund Pottery Sale and Smash. Wound up holding one box back for the Club Mud sale in March, another was all bowls for Empty Bowls. Which left two big boxes and one small one for the sale, and another small one of things to break.

Sometimes you just gotta get their attention.
offcntr: (bella)
I do a lot of slab work in the studio, sculpting mostly. This time of year, the skills carry over into the kitchen: it's time to make my Christmas potica!

Potica is the traditional Slovenian holiday nut bread. The dough is rich with butter and egg yolks; the filling is even richer. Ground walnut meats, honey, butter, cream, brown sugar, whipped egg whites. Then the whole thing rolled up, raised, and baked.

I got my recipe from my mother, who got it from Grandma Gosar. I had to tweak it a little--store-bought eggs aren't quite as big as farm-grown, so I have to add a little extra liquid to the dough. And since I'm not making it for a family of nine, I cut the recipe in half, which is just the size to fit in one of my small squared bakers. (Required pottery content.)

I set the dough up the night before, overnighting in the fridge. I let it warm up during breakfast, then set it aside while I make the filling. Then it's time to assemble: roll out your slab, er, dough on a floured cloth, as thin as you can make it. Spread out the filling, licking fingers liberally. Roll it up ("Like jelly roll," all the recipes say), bend into a spiral and transfer to the greased square baker.

My mom claims her potica takes an hour to raise. My kitchen must be super cold, because mine takes more like four hours, and that's sitting on top of a heating pad. At which point, it's time to poke a few holes to let out any air bubbles, egg wash, and pop into a 325° oven for about an hour.

The result is gorgeous. Also delicious.
offcntr: (rainyday)
I took a box of mugs to the bank this morning.

Actually, it's a credit union, and we've been banking at this branch since we moved up to River Road in 2000. They're always friendly and helpful, set me up with a business account to clear checks written to "Off Center Ceramics" rather than my own name, and that time somebody stole my debit card number and bought a bunch of crap at a skater store in Minneapolis, they were invaluable

So this morning, I gave them all a Christmas present.

There's about a dozen people working there, between full and part-time tellers, managers and all, so I put together a box of slightly-seconds tall mugs--mostly oxidized in the firing, though there was one with a chip on the base. Enough that everybody got to have one.

I've done this before, for the window clerks at the Post Office, and the employees at my favorite (no longer open, sigh) copy shop. People I work regularly with, rely on.

Sure, I could have made a few extra bucks had I saved that box of mugs for our seconds sale in March, but the goodwill I get this way?

offcntr: (berto)
...with a subject line, Quality Pottery!!!

"Fun to use your art in Christmas baking!"

As near as I can make out from the recipe, there's butter, sugar, vanilla and rum flavorings, flour, eggs and nutmeg. And a rum/buttercream frosting. And a nice use of an Off Center Ceramics mixing crock.
offcntr: (radiobear)
Before I moved to Oregon, I worked as a graphic artist in a four-color print shop, La Crosse Printing Company. This was pre-digital photography, pre-flatbed scanner, just barely at the beginning of laser color separation. The latter required a large-format color transparency (4x5", typically), which was wrapped around a transparent tube, using mineral oil to be sure there were no bubbles or gaps between film and tube. The tube then spun very fast while a laser read the colors and recorded them as digital data, which could then be used to produce the color separation negatives.

This has nothing to do with pottery.

What does have to do with pottery is that, since we did so much four-color printing, especially for the local brewery, we needed a studio photographer in-house to shoot products, largely beer cans, though occasionally air conditioning units. (One of our other regular clients was Trane Company). When he wasn't working for the printers, he did his own free-lance work, and practiced at improving his skills.

Which is how he came to take all my slides for graduate school applications. I'd taken some of my own pictures previously, using tungsten film and what back-drop and lights I could cobble together, but Brad had a professional set-up, and shot my slides in return for (if I remember correctly) a set of four beer mugs.

Looking back on those slides, I suspect he's at least half responsible for my getting into graduate school. Certainly, the pots themselves were not all that strong, at least to my forty-years-later eye. There's promise there, but I had a long way to go.

Case in point: two teapots, both decorated with elephants, one professionally shot circa 1984, the other snapped with my phone cam on the shelf of my Holiday Market booth yesterday.

The current one could still use a little work--spout could be shorter, and I want to put the elephant painting on the other side next time, so the trunk runs up the spout. But I, at least, can see the years of practice and improvement.

Flame on!

Dec. 10th, 2018 03:45 pm
offcntr: (Default)
More pictures from the storage unit: A raku class I taught at the EMU Craft Center sometime in the early 90s. I'm actually still in touch with three of the folks shown here; two more, sadly, are no longer among the living. And at least two I have no recollection of whatever. Hey, I've inhaled a lot of (sawdust) smoke over the years. The brain cells get dusty.

Raku is a ceramic process originating in Japan, where low-fire pots were rapidly brought to temperature in very small, wood-fired kilns, then pulled out red-hot and plunged in water to cool. Raku tea bowls were highly prized for the tea ceremony, and the firings eventually became a social event, where pots were provided for guests to show off their calligraphy on. They were then fired on the spot, and much admired before being taken home as party favors.

American raku usually uses a gas kiln, and adds an extra step: After removing from the kiln, and before cooling, the pots are sealed in a metal barrel with sawdust, leaves, newspaper or other combustible material. (A steel trash can with tight-fitting lid works well.) This post-firing reduction emphasizes crackle in the glaze surface, as carbon is absorbed there. Carbon absorption makes unglazed clay surfaces black as well. And it's also possible to get metallic lusters, mostly from copper, and rainbow-hued matte glazes (also copper) as well.

Credit goes to Denise for taking the pictures. I think I just gave her my camera and told her to be careful not to set it on fire.

On the left, Penny McAvoy bravely pulls a glowing pot from the kiln; Kathy Lee scrubs a layer of ash off a plate to reveal the black figure, wax-resist-on-crackle-glaze pattern beneath.

Kathleen Fitzgerald and I pull still-not-very-cool pots from the reduction chambers, while TK McDonald prepares for the next batch of hot pottery.
everybody has something to be proud of

offcntr: (Default)
Two weeks ago, I told you about a little girl who came to my booth four times, to look at all my pottery, and show it to her brother, her sister, her mom.

Last weekend, she came in a fifth time, with her dad, to purchase a penguins dessert plate... that I had just sold an hour earlier.

Fortunately, I'd glazed two more for my firing, one a commission, the other just because. They both turned out well, so today she came back again (thanks, Avery!) to buy her penguins plate.

Sixth time's the charm. 
offcntr: (Default)
Among the photos found in boxes buried was a black-and-white series from my graduate school days, recording an Advanced Ceramics class clay mix. We'd begin by dry-mixing hundreds of pounds of clay and minerals on a table-top in a 2x6 frame. Afterwards, we'd add blunged, screened slip from the recycle buckets, mix by hand, knead into a solid mass, then run it through the pug mill. In a three-hour class, we'd mix up a ton-and-a-half of clay, with time to clean up the shop and pose for a group picture at the end.

In retrospect, it was horribly unsafe. All that silica-bearing dust in the air, and us in cheap, disposable dust masks. (Even worse for those of us with beards, as dust-laden air gets in around the edges of the mask.) But it was a great team-building exercise; we had a read feeling of accomplishment, knowing we'd made the entire term's supply of clay in that three-hour class.

First add the dry ingredients, fifty-pound bags of fireclay (Greenstripe, Lincoln), ball clay (OM4, I think), Custer feldspar and talc as body fluxes. Possibly some silica, too, I'm not sure at this late date what went into a cone 6 stoneware. Then add the glop, five-gallon buckets of recycled clay slip.

Afterwards, it's like making egg noodles from scratch, everybody makes a well in the flour, pulls in some egg, mixes and kneads.

Lumpy, uneven balls of clay get rolled in more dry mix and run through the pug mill, then bagged for aging and eventual use.

Last of all, clean up and try not to look too exhausted for the group photo.

Time travel

Dec. 6th, 2018 02:02 pm
offcntr: (live 1)
In the day or two between the madness that was--glazing and loading and firing--and the madness that will be--unloading and sorting and an early morning trip to Olympia--I've been sorting through boxes. Old boxes, put in storage back in 2000 when we moved to this house. I've been finding lots of stuff to throw away, a fair bit to shred (tax forms from way, way back)... and some that's really kinda cool.

Like photos.

Here, for instance, is the earliest extant photo of Off Center Ceramics, circa 1993. Yup, our first year at Saturday Market, before we got a reserve booth, sharing a space (and points) with Kathy Lee, whose business, Useful Pots, provided the original of what later became the Off Center bear.

Contrary to Eugene-fueled preconceptions, that's not a bong I'm holding. It's a form of ocarina, an eight-note whistle, though as this one has one large sound hole rather than eight small ones, it's played by your palm, allowing all sorts of cool slides and partial notes.

I'm sort of appalled by how few pots I actually have in the booth, though I do see a stack of pie plates, dinner plates, banks and cookie jars. Plus some things I don't make any more, like an orange juice squeezer and a long oval fish baker. And the whistles.
offcntr: (chinatown bear)
Good afternoon, Mr. Gosar

I heard your interview on Productivity Alchemy with Kevin Sonney. If you have a moment, I have a question about worn pottery glazing on a finished bowl.

I have a finished bowl that I believe is stoneware. It belonged to my great-grandmother. It was one of her mixing bowls. And it is a well-used, well-loved mixing bowl.

The glaze around the rim of the bowl has been worn away from years of use. Is it still safe to use the bowl? Should I try to have it reglazed? Or should I use it as a display bowl?

Thank you for your time,


Hi xxxxxx!

Greetings to another Productivity Alchemy listener!

If the bowl is indeed stoneware, worn glaze is not a concern. Stoneware, even when unglazed, is waterproof, so there shouldn't be any absorption of liquid into the bowl.

That said, it's possible that the bowl was never glazed there at all. If the design is like this one that I inherited from my great-aunt, the top and bottom of the rim were left unglazed, so the potter could stack them one on top of another, with the foot of the bowl suspended inside the one beneath. This saved on kiln space, both because the ware could be so closely packed and because they didn't need to use as many shelves and posts in the stack. A lot of crocks have a similar design, with no glaze on the top of the rim nor on the outside edge of the bottom, for the same reason.

A clever potter could stack his kiln floor to ceiling, no kiln furniture needed, with pots designed this way.

I'll have to look in on your blog next week, while I'm firing *my* kiln.

offcntr: (rainyday)
I frequently say Off Center Ceramics is a one-man shop. Oh, Denise helps with the selling, with show set-up and take-down, even (especially) with loading and unloading kilns. But as for making the pots, trimming the pots, glazing and decorating the pots, that's all me.


When I first started Off Center Ceramics, I did a lot less decorating, a lot more dipping. I had odd, labor-intensive things like cow-handled mugs, 24 different styles of animal bank, incense dragons. I've trimmed that down since, lost the cow mugs, only eight types of bank, and I only make incense dragons once or twice a year. But back in the day, Denise learned how to glaze them: dip wax the base and top, paint wax on the bits where top meets bottom. Dip the head in clear glaze, then wax resist the eyes. Dip the whole body in another glaze, then just the head in a third, snapping it to make interesting drip patterns as it comes out of the bucket. Carefully cleaning up with a sponge where glaze beads remained on any of the wax.

It's finicky, careful work, not excessively artistic, and she excels at it. So yesterday, while I was glazing painted mugs, cat food dishes and stew mugs, she glazed dragons for me. All fifteen of them.

She's so good to me.
offcntr: (Default)
More work bound for next week's firing: dessert plates.

They've been surprisingly popular all year. I even bumped the price up a little, and they're still selling. Good thing I enjoy making them.
offcntr: (snoozin')
Yeah, right.

After our first weekend at Holiday Market, I'm down at the studio glazing again. I've got five days to get everything ready for next week's firing (could possibly stretch to six, if Denise would watch the booth Saturday. Sunday, though, she's going to Portland for a paper making workshop).

Should be manageable; I have fewer pots than usual because so many were left over from the last firing, and I'll have Denise's help glazing incense dragons Thursday. Yesterday I got the biggest items out of the way, pasta bowls and platter, servers and batter bowls. Today I blew through the creamers, stew mugs and tall mugs, and did a couple of special orders. 

One was rather lovely--a covered crock with vented lid for keeping sourdough starter. I'd already done one for the customer, decorated with cardinals; this one's for her mom, with Carolina Wrens.

The other is rather silly, though I suppose deeply sentimental to the owner: a picture of his old VW Camper/Van, Buster, painted on a set of three mugs.

Tomorrow, it's flat stuff: dinner, dessert and pie plates, plus a few covered crocks and butter dishes.
offcntr: (bella)
...are sometimes kids.

Part of it is the bears, I suppose, though the most enthusiastic ones ignore them in favor of the animals on the pottery.

Take this one little girl, maybe 10 years old, on Saturday afternoon.

She came in first with her dad and younger brother, and promptly began pointing out and naming the animals, choosing her favorites. (The penguins dessert plate took top billing.) They left, and a couple of minutes later, she came back with her older sister, and proceeded to show her around. During that visit, they spotted the cat food bowls, each painted with a different kitty, and decided they should really have one for their cat, who they proceeded to tell me about.

Two minutes later, they were back again, this time with little brother in tow, showing him the cat dish. After they leave, I turn to mouth to Denise, who arrived in the middle of the last visit, She's been here three times in the last half hour-- 

Just as she returned for a fourth visit with her mom.

offcntr: (bunbear)
A week ago Sunday morning, I was at Clayfolk in Medford, giving my Brushmaking and Decorating demonstration (or, as I like to call it, Making Art With Roadkill).

Now, there are a couple of ways to organize a 90-minute demonstration. You can choose a technique that's long and involved, and just do one or two pieces for the whole 90 minutes--Nancy Adams carving and modeling one of her elaborate relief-sculpted dragon pots, for instance--or you can sit down at the wheel and wing it, throwing pot after pot until you've run out of time or clay. If you have the throwing skills of, say, Tea Duong, this can enthrall the crowd indefinitely.

Because my demo is kinda schizophrenic, both making the tools and showing how I use them, and because I paint my pots so damn fast, I've come up with a system that works well for me, especially given the drop-in and -out nature of the audience. I'll wax my demo bowls and set up my glazing station, talking about my process and organizational system--color coded brush rests, really--and glaze a few pots. Take requests from the audience and decorate them. Then talk about my handmade brushes, make a couple of them. Go back to the other end of the table, glaze and decorate bowls.

Rinse, repeat.

I was on my third repeat, had used up all my prepared bamboo handles for brush making, was preparing to decorate my last pot when a little boy showed up. As is my habit, I asked him for an animal suggestion, and he came up with two I'd already done (a snake and a jaguar). Wound up painting a portrait of Karen Rychek's dog, sitting on her lap in the front row.

So, brushes done, bowls done, ten minutes left. I got out my Magic Paper (a water-activated paper used by sumi-e painters to practice), handed out brushes and a water cup and gave everybody a chance to try painting.The kid was fascinated by the process, loved the way the brush handled, painted circles and spirals just to see how the line went from thick to thin as the line changed directions. It was great fun to watch, and at the end of the demo, I gave him a brush to keep. Told him when he'd drawn something he was really proud of with it, to send me a picture.

Fast forward to this Saturday. I'm digging around in the restock boxes in the back of my booth when I hear, Look Mom, it's Frank's booth. There's Frank! Hi Frank!

I look up and say, "I gave you a brush!" Big grin, nodding like a bobblehead. "How is it?" 

It still works!, he says. His name, it turns out, is Evo, and he and his mom are looking for a present for his dad (she'd covered the rest of the family in Medford). They decided on a flamingo mug, and purchased it to smiles all around. Still looking forward to seeing his drawing...

But what were they doing three hours up I-5 from home? Thanksgiving, I guess.

offcntr: (rocket)
Security this morning at the Holiday Market.
offcntr: (chinatown bear)
My favorite Thanksgiving side dish recipe, invented to take advantage of my small oval bakers:

Twice-baked Sweet Potatoes

3 large sweet potatoes

3 T softened butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup chopped pecans

The night before Thanksgiving, scrub and pierce the potatoes, and put  them on a baking sheet for an hour in a 350° oven. Remove and cool.

The next day, about an hour before the Turkey is done, peel and mash the potatoes, and put them in a greased baking dish (my small oval dish is perfect for this). Mix the butter and sugar until combined, then stir in the oatmeal and pecans. Spread evenly over the top and place on the bottom rack of the oven, (next to the dressing in the small square baker) for about an hour at 325°.

You can see the result in the bottom of the photo here.
offcntr: (bella)
The Maude Kerns Art Center's annual members show, Art for All Seasons, is up! As usual, Club Mud has our own pottery-only display in a side gallery, but this year I managed to get my act together and enter a sculpture in the main show.

She's called The Bookseller's Apprentice, and, like The Cape at Clay Fest, she's an older piece that I think deserves more exposure. If only for the excellent, faux-oriental carpeting fabric I found at Econo-Sales... And the cat.
offcntr: (snoozin')
We're in the home stretch as far as holiday sales go. Yesterday, we went from this:

To this!

It took us about 3-1/2 hours from start to finish, and we still need to do a little more work Friday morning, setting out Denise's paper, putting out business cards and shelf signage, but this will be the last time we have to set up the booth this year. (Holiday Market makes us take out the pottery at the end of each weekend, but the booth can remain until Boxing Day.)

I've been working on ways to better light the lower shelves for a while now, first with battery-powered button lights--which went through so many AA's--most recently with LED counter lights. They're bright, low-power, and can link together to only use one outlet. And they make a huge difference in visibility.

Unfortunately, mounting them is a problem. They come with little plastic brackets that screw into the underside of your cupboard or shelf, but those are designed to snap in once and stay there. Getting the bars in and out again at the end of the show--without breaking either the light or the bracket--was a challenge, as was stacking shelves on the roof rack to get to and from shows. I'd been having good luck using rare-earth magnets for my shelf signs, so ordered in some bigger ones for the lights.

Tried them out at Clay Fest and Clayfolk, and ran into some problems. To begin with, both the light bars and magnets are smooth, and the hot glue I used to attach them didn't want to hold. Also, two magnets per bar seemed to hold all right up until I tried to move the cords out of sight, at which point the lights popped down onto the pots. I wound up using box tape as a temporary fix, but it's messy and sticky and I needed something better.

We discussed possible solutions on the drive home from Medford, and decided to try this:

No, not electrician's tape. That's the anti-gravity device from the space program: Velcro. I got three yards of self-adhesive 3/4 strips from JoAnn Fabrics, which turned out to be just enough for all five light bars, with six inches left over that I used to mount a single button over a dark spot. We'll see how well it holds up over the next five weekends, but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic.

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