offcntr: (Default)
2019-02-16 10:46 pm

The fix is in

Skimming my Dreamwidth Reading list tonight, and conuly had a link to an interesting Atlas Obscura article on ceramic repairs through history. I've done a bunch of them over the years, most recently a decorative earthenware tile that I reassembled with the help of white glue, spackle, acrylic paint and gel medium.

My most cherished fix-it piece is this one, knocked off a table by cats, reassembled with epoxy and copper epoxy putty, with an appearance not unlike the kintsugi (gold powder and lacquer) repairs described in the Atlas article.

I've always loved this piece, which I bought on an undergraduate pottery class trip to Warren Mackenzie's studio in Stillwater. It's an unusual piece--I don't know that he did that much with porcelain--with a really nice celadon glaze splashed with a blue ash glaze and Mashiko stone. It's particularly precious to me now, as Warren passed away just before New Years.
offcntr: (maggie)
2019-02-15 12:40 pm
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I always like the sleek curves on my cookie jars and pitchers.

offcntr: (Default)
2019-02-08 05:41 pm
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Since I spent all of Thursday trimming pots and pulling handles, I made it to Friday afternoon with two bags of clay left. Fortunately, turning up the heater and cutting down the lumps of recycled clay worked fairly well. Clay was wildly inconsistent, almost leather hard at top and edges, still gooey at the bottom (and in the nougat-y center), but that's what a pug mill is for.

Also fortunately, Denise has Friday off from both work and classes, so helped me run everything through the mill--I fill the hopper and pull down the handle, she catches the extrusions as they come out the other end. Everything runs through twice, randomized to mix the firmer early pugs and the still-squishy later ones, and on the second pass we also turn on the vacuum pump, to remove any air bubbles. Denise then bags the result, and I twist-tie the bags closed and stash for later use.

Or in this case, immediate use. I'll probably start making plates with the softest pugs tomorrow morning. We processed just about two dozen bags of recycled clay in three hours. At 15-18 lbs. per bag, that's almost 400 lbs. more clay than I had this morning.

offcntr: (rainyday)
2019-02-06 02:04 pm
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Last Monday I started another production cycle, with only five boxes of clay. At 50 lbs. per box, that's only 250 lbs. On a good week, I can go through that in about three days; even taking it easy, I'd be out before Saturday. So I called my supplier, Clay Art Center, and told them it was time for another ton of clay. "No problem," they said, "It'll be two weeks."

Two weeks?

Yes, all their freight orders were backed up, due to schools restocking for the new semester. They'd also had a clay mixer break down, and only just got it fixed.

Which left me in a fix. I'm scheduled to load a kiln at the end of the month. I need a week for glazing and decorating, which leaves just about two weeks to actually make the pots. With no clay.

Well, not much. The first thing I did was take a long look at my throwing list, prioritizing, what's essential (more special orders), what would be nice (extra soups, stews, plates), what can wait until April (teapots and oval platters, mostly). March is outside of the production cycle, being devoted to taxes and organizing the van for the start of Saturday Market.

Next, I checked on the drying bat of recycled clay I'd loaded up just after Thanksgiving, and discovered it wasn't. Drying, that is. It was still the consistency of, oh, Greek yogurt, only a slight improvement on the applesauce-like slop I'd started with. I cut it up into blocks, set them up on drywall boards next to the space heater, then started with the actual throwing list.

As of Wednesday, I was down to two boxes of clay, and the blocks were still softer than tofu. Think I'd better cut 'em into smaller chunks and turn up the heat.
offcntr: (Default)
2019-02-01 04:40 pm
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The best part

The best part of a project is, of course, it's successful completion! The tile backsplash is out of the kiln, the customers are very happy with it, took it away this morning, and paid me! They're off to look at paint samples to match, and I, who took advantage of the sunshine yesterday to shoot pics of all the finished tiles, thought I'd share a few with you. You can see the whole series on my Flickr account.

My favorite part of a job like this is scenes that span more than one tile. Sometimes it's just a little overlap, something to add a little interest to an otherwise blank space.

Sometimes it's a more elaborate filler...

Sometimes it's an entire scene:

And sometimes (my favorites, I must admit), the scene doesn't stop with just two tiles.

This project had twenty-two image tiles in all, plus four spacers with angled edges, to span the corners. Twenty-three individual birds all together, comprising fifteen different species.

Someday, we gotta do something like this for our house.
offcntr: (Default)
2019-01-31 10:57 am
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Tile we meet again

It's been a busy week. The kiln has been loaded, fired, unloaded, rejoiced/lamented over, and I'm getting a moment to catch up here before it all begins again. A couple of entries back, I promised to show you my latest tile project, a bathroom back splash. I talked about how to make tiles during a previous project, so consider this a sequel: The Glazening.

We start with a stack of tiles, all bisqued. The difference in color is probably from slight variations in atmosphere in the bisque as organic matter burned out. It won't have any effect on the finished tiles. You'll note the texture on the back, ideal for gripping the mastic. Less ideal for waxing, so I only apply liquid wax resist to the edges. Any glaze that gets onto the back--and it will--will have to come off with sponge and probably a tooth brush. After they're waxed, I lay them out in order and number them on the back with black stain. This will help the tile-setter to lay them in the right order and, preferably, right way up. (Don't laugh, it happened once.)

I've made a tile holder out of the remains of an old wire whisk. I suspend the tile over the glaze bucket while I pour a uniform coat of glaze, then rotate it 180° and pour a second coat. Holding it at an angle allows the last bit of glaze to run off at a corner, and I dab any drips or splashes with a sponge. After it's dry, I can turn it over and clean up any overrun.

Glazing goes much like any of my pottery. I work eight or ten at a time, first drawing the lines with black stain, then coming back to fill in the colors. I have a numbered chart with thumbnail sketches that I consult as I go, to keep everything organized. This client wanted some white spaces in the pattern, so some tiles only have a bit of branch, or leaves, or flowers on them.

Finally, they're all finished. I wish I had a good panorama function on this camera. Since I don't, here's a badly edited-together picture of the entire sequence.

offcntr: (bunbear)
2019-01-28 11:40 am
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Saturday was the Art Center's annual meeting and open house. It was also the day Denise and I were loading the kiln, so we had spectators. I don't mind, really; years of teaching experience leave me ready to lecture--or at least explain--at the drop of a question. Had a few familiar faces from other parts of my life, one of whom took this picture of me moving ware boards and was kind enough to text me a copy.
offcntr: (rocket)
2019-01-23 08:07 pm


Now there's some koala-ty artwork, doncha think?

I'll see myself out.
offcntr: (live 2)
2019-01-22 07:41 pm
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Random acts of glazing

I've been in the studio since Saturday, glazing and decorating, and occasionally remembering to take a few photos. Working on rebuilding my inventory from the holidays, as well as glazing a bunch of special orders. I'll go into one of them--a tile backsplash project--in more depth a little later. Meanwhile, in no particular order, pictures from the last few days' work.

Every day starts with waxing the bottoms of whatever's to glaze. To save space in our little backroom glazing area, things gotta stack. To keep from transferring wax to the wrong surfaces, everything stacks face to face, foot to foot. Making the most interesting towers of bisque ware.

Got a maddeningly nonspecific request: a small covered casserole with "evergreens on it." I'm giving her a choice: incense cedar with Stellar's jay, Douglas fir with wolf, or white pine with cardinal. I don't paint just trees. Also, the stellar was so much fun I painted it on a squared baker as well.

More special orders: puffin pilsners to go with a pitcher purchased before Christmas, and a stacking set of three bear bowls, for papa, mama and baby.

offcntr: (Default)
2019-01-17 10:58 pm

The sound of thunder

For years now, Club Mud has been firing by ear. Literally; we determined the flame adjustment on our kiln burners partially by sight, but mostly by listening. The sound of the flame at different stages of firing was variously described as a "whoosh", a whistle, a flutter. Experienced firers could tell just by the sound whether the kiln was adjusted properly.
Beginners? Not so much.

Add in the fact that, as us veteran kiln-meisters get older, our hearing gets a little less reliable, and you end up with a strong lobby for more objective measurements. So at our November meeting, we voted to install pressure gauges on all the burners of our two gas kilns. Somehow I wound up being the one to figure out how to make this work.

I went online, of course. Quickly found pressure gauges for under ten bucks, if you wanted to measure in pounds per square inch (PSI). Unfortunately, PSI is a huge measurement for natural gas. Normal pressure is a fraction of 1 PSI. What we really need are water-column inch gauges. (You know how atmospheric pressure is measured in inches of mercury? Like that, only with water, which is much less dense, hence measures lower pressures.) I found a supplier priced around $25 per, then hit a Black Friday sale, so we got two sets of four for well under $200.

Then of course, I had to figure out how to install them. They needed to go in the--fairly short--space between the on/off valve and the burner itself. We had to go from this--

--to this. (More or less. All the burners were plumbed slightly differently.) I was able to reuse a couple of 4 and 5-inch pipe nipples, but for the rest, I had to get:

4 1-inch Tee joints
4 1x1/2-inch bushings and 4 1/2x1/4-inch bushings (to narrow down the 1-inch pipe to accept the 1/4-inch gauge stem)
4 2-inch pipe nipples
3 3-inch pipe nipples
And a roll (or two) of teflon tape, the yellow stuff specially for gas fitting.

Also, a small box-end wrench, three pipe wrenches, and a big length of pipe to slip over the end of a wrench when I needed extra torque. Plus our bench vise.

It took me three visits to Jerry's (our local home-improvement chain) to get the parts I needed. Wrong measurements (A 1-inch pipe is actually 1-1/4" across, as they go by internal diameter. Go figure.). Wrong parts. Right parts, wrong size. Last minute fourth run for three slightly longer pieces. And I still have to return three 2-1/2-inch nipples that I got because I wasn't sure 3-inch wasn't too big. That's okay, though. Now that I've finished the big kiln, I need to get the pieces I need to set up the small gas kiln with its own set of gauges.

And it is finished; everything came apart and went back together again! All I need to do is pressure-test all the joints, seal any that leak, and it'll be ready for my end-of-January firing.

Objective documentation! I can hardly wait.

ETA: Pressure test is good! No hisses, no bubbles (you check for leaks by flooding all the joins with bubble soap. No bubbles means no gas leaks). And all the gauges read! Ran them up to warm-up levels, and they were between 2-1/2 and 3 W.C. inches. Things are looking good for my next firing.
offcntr: (chinatown bear)
2019-01-17 10:32 pm

Chinese puzzle

There's something mesmerizing about a kiln as it loads, especially a bisque, where pots are stacked on other pots, or inside, or interlocking. It's really a puzzle in three dimensions, balancing the fragility of the the dry clay against the need to pack in as much as possible. Here's the four stages of my last kiln.

The bottom layer is pie plates, filled with dessert plates; they fill the shelves pretty tightly, leaving only room for one inverted toddler bowl at the center. (I think I have another pic for the Mandala tag.) Second layer is a little more random: batter bowls filled with soups topped with toddlers and cat foods, Small colanders inverted in the middle, mixing crocks, also inverted (to fit under the curve of the batters), and a few tumblers just to take up space.

At this point, I start tall-stacking: casserole stacks two and three high, with plates in between to take some of the pressure off the casserole lids. Tall mugs on painted mugs, pilsners on tumblers, tiles leaning, on edge, in the gap between stacks. Lastly, a half shelf--there's about 3-1/2 inches of unused space, enough for stacks of three plates, or another toddler bowl.

Then close it up, start it firing, and lay out pots to dry on the soon-to-be-hot lid.
offcntr: (Default)
2019-01-08 09:37 am

Getting a handle on it

A long time ago, I wrote, "Making handles is the penance I pay for the ease of throwing cups." And it's kinda true.

Throwing mugs is easy, especially tall mugs. The sides are straight, the only real fussy bits are the base, made with a profile rib, and the lip. In between, they mostly just need the throwing rings smoothed out with a rib. (Although I need to replace my rib; it's wearing into a curve, and I need it straight, dammit!)

Handles are fussier, especially if you're pulling them directly onto the cup. I'm not, so I have a little leeway. If I mess one up in the pulling, I don't have to clean off the mug and smooth out the scoring; I just set it aside and start another. It's a technique I learned years ago from Dennis Parks at Tuscarora Pottery School, and I use it for everything but pitchers.

First, you wedge up your clay, then pinch off a bit. Roll it into a coil on a smooth surface (this is a piece of drywall. My table is canvas-covered, which leaves an extra texture to get rid of.), then taper into a carrot. Thump both sides on your drywall to flatten it out.

Now comes the fun part. Hold the thick end in your non-dominant hand, pointy side down over a container of (preferably warm) water. Using the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, with water as lubricant, pull and shape your handle, tapering edges, grooving front and back. Once it's the proper shape, rotate it so it's butt side down, handle curving up and over 'til the tip touches down again.

Repeat forty times.

Then go do something else for a while. Smooth and stamp the mugs, turn them over so the bottom dries a little. Throw a bag of plates, have lunch, do dishes. Let them sit four or five hours (less in summer), so they're slightly firmer, and no longer sticky.

Now it's time to put it all together. Start with the mug: score and slip the handle attachment points. Take a handle in one hand and a wire cheese slicer (roller removed) in the other. Cut away the butt end of the handle, curving to match the cup, angled slightly so the handle springs up and outward.

Holding the handle between thumb and forefinger (thumb on top, finger supporting), press the handle into the cup. Your thumb will make a little dimple in the top for the user's thumb to grip, and the handle will spread a little wider at the top, which is visually and structurally stronger. Press the bottom into place, smooth and align the outer edges of the top, and clean up any extra slip or score marks. Adjust the curve of the handle from underneath with your finger. Go to the next one.

offcntr: (berto)
2019-01-08 09:14 am
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A yam what a yam

Been meaning to post this since Christmas: an easy and not overly sweet sweet potato side dish.

We never did the marshmallow-topped thing with sweet potatoes when I was growing up. Instead, my mother would precook them, peel and slice them and candy them with brown sugar and butter in a cast-iron frying pan. They were wonderful... for about two forkfuls. After which, your pancreas would start to whimper.

I tried a few other things with them over the years, including a couple of "Sweet Potato Praline Casseroles", all of of which were too sweet and too complicated. So here's my own, simplified take on a sweet potato side dish.

The night before your holiday (or even a few days before), wash and dry three medium sweet potatoes. Pierce all over with a fork or paring knife, put them on a baking sheet, and bake an hour at 350° F. Cool and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

The day of, peel your 'tatoes and mash them into a small oval baking dish. Mix together 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 1/3 cup quick oats/oatmeal, 1/3 cup chopped pecans. Spread crumble mixture over top. Place on lower rack of oven (your turkey or ham are on the upper rack, of course) for the last hour of roasting. Temperature not that important, as you're just heating through the sweet potatoes and crisping up the topping.

offcntr: (live 1)
2019-01-01 07:28 pm
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...And we're off

It's January 1st. I have already thrown 24 pie plates, 15 baking dishes (in three different sizes), 12 batter bowls, 5 mixing crocks, 5 pasta bowls, a platter, and a dessert plate. Also rolled and cut 12 feet of 4x6" tile for a backsplash project. 

Start as you mean to go, I guess.
offcntr: (be right back)
2018-12-25 10:22 pm
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And that's a wrap

Off Center Ceramics is closed for 2018! All the pots are home again, and we'll be down tomorrow to take down our booth. I'll be taking a week or two to recover from the cold that ambushed me right after we finished up, and to pack and ship family presents to Wisconsin. (They know better than to expect them before Epiphany.) In the meantime, have a wonderful New Year!
offcntr: (vendor)
2018-12-25 10:06 pm

Something for everyone

People-watching is one of the true joys of doing art fairs; even when they don't buy anything, people are endlessly fascinating.

Case in point: yesterday morning, a group of four Chinese girls, college students, stopped in my booth, spent a several minutes looking around, pointing out things to each other, conversing about half in English, half Chinese, before moving on. A few hours later, they were back. Three of them were classic college kid-presenting, jeans, nice sweaters, no make-up, though one of them did have a very sparkly ball cap. The fourth one was much more dressy, with careful makeup and model-quality eye make-up: the little wings at the edge of the eye-lashes, a slight red shade all along the edges of the lids. Very exotic and classy.

The three college girls were very excited, comparing different items, patterns, checking prices. The fourth one was more interested in her phone, checking texts and occasionally reviewing her make-up in the reflective case, only occasionally commenting on what they others showed her. Eventually the three all made choices, explaining they were getting presents for their host families: a dessert plate with owl, a dessert plate with Canada geese, a dessert and toddler set with bunnies (for host mother and father). And everyone left happy, chattering, except Make-up girl.

A little while later, I stopped by Jon's booth to tell him about my little group. "Oh, they came to your booth, too?" said daughter Elizabeth. "The one with the cool eye make-up was all over Dad's pots, particularly the lavender ones. The others mostly just stood and waited for her."

I'm really so glad.
offcntr: (bella)
2018-12-24 10:19 am

Simply smashing

I never get any good pictures at the Kareng Fund Charity Auction and Pottery Smash. I'm one of the auctioneers, you see, so I usually get a couple pictures of the preview session, and unsuccessful attempt to catch the opening smash, and then I'm too busy. So this year, I outsourced. Jon King's daughter Elizabeth was home for the holidays. I've literally known her since she was a babe in arms; these days, she's a responsible young woman, so I gave her my camera and said, "Here. Take some pictures."

She did not disappoint. Herewith, the 2018 Saturday Market smash.

We started with four tables full of donations, mostly pottery, but also some 2-D artwork, t-shirts, jewelry, canned albacore tuna, and a 10-pack of chocolate truffles that we used to, er, sweeten some of the sale lots.

Market staff, members and some invited guests started flocking the tables to scope out the goods before we'd even unboxed all of it. Move or help unpack, I said more than once.

With a resounding crash, the event begins. Alex, Jon and I take turns bringing work to bid, while volunteers at the tables work to tag sold lots and collect money. Every now and then, another piece will get broken, either by the auctioneers, or, in several cases, after being purchased by a member just to smash.

It's a busy morning, as we juggle picking out lots, presenting them, taking bids and having fun whilst at it.

At several points, She's buying it to smash! was enough to squeeze out one more bid from the crowd. Other times, a bidding war would spontaneously erupt, and a piece would go for two or three times its normal price.

We paused for a trivia quiz from Fiona's daughter (sorry, I don't remember names any better than trivia), then continued the sale.

Ultimately, with the help of generous donors and even more generous bidders, we raised over $4000 for the Market's crafters' emergency fund. And had a lot of fun in the process.

And the best part? I finally have a picture of a pot smashing. In slow motion.

offcntr: (Default)
2018-12-22 10:20 pm

And another thing...

Two in one day, though the second one wasn't so insistent, just a very nice older lady who'd broken her soap dish, and wanted to buy a new one, and you know? I couldn't think of a single potter at Market who made them.

It's a design issue, or construction or price-versus-time, possibly all three. A good soap dish has to have some sort of raised structure to keep the soap out of the water that runs off of it. It probably needs to be rectangular, to fit on the sink and accommodate the bar of soap. And it needs to be quick to produce, because, like spoon rests, nobody's gonna pay very much for one.

So throwing and altering is out. Hand-building is definitely out. Both take too much time. The best way to produce soap dishes is probably either casting or press-molding (though I think Buck Creek Pottery used to extrude them), and the few potters we have that work with molds concentrate on higher-value products.

Come to think of it, I used to extrude soap dishes, long, long ago, and like my sponge holders, I never sold enough of them to make it worth my while to make more.
offcntr: (rocket)
2018-12-22 10:05 pm

Hot ideas

Former potters are the worst.

They're always the ones with the great idea that you should totally be making and selling in your booth. I got one in today, chatting about how he used to love throwing pots, complimenting my work, then, just as he's about to leave, he does a Columbo and says, You know what you should be making?

Hoping to head him off, I gesture at my crowded shelves and say, "Does it really look like I have room for another item?"

Not to be deterred, he continues, You should make hot pads. Not, like, those things you use to take pots out of the oven, but the thing you put on your table to put hot dishes on. 

"You mean like a trivet?" Yeah, I used to make them in the shape of bread crusts (huh?) and you could totally sell them and... I forget the rest, but I made some comment about the difficulty of drying flat things so they stay flat, and eventually say that there's already someone doing that at Market, and I don't want to horn in on his business. Which is mostly true: Danny Young of Barbarian Pottery does brilliant press-molded tiles, which may be used in this fashion. But they're really gorgeous, and I'd much rather hang 'em up where I can see them.

But I couldn't help wondering, after he'd left, "If this is such a great idea, why aren't you still making them?"