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)
Reposted from offcenter.biz:

Signs it's fall at Off Center Ceramics:
  • The fridge is full of apples.
  • Raincoat moves to the hook closest the door (waterproof shoes likewise).
  • Quilt comes back out of the linen closet to cover the toe zone of the bed.
  • Extra layers worn to Saturday Market and Club Mud (frequently forgotten there as the sun comes out around midday).
  • Pottery production goes into high gear!
After a summer that includes jaunts up into Washington and down south to Roseburg, fall sales are closer to home: Fall Festival in Corvallis, Clay Fest in Eugene. But looming over the horizon in November are my biggest show of the year, Clayfolk (the weekend before Thanksgiving in Medford) and the biggest continuous run of sales, Holiday Market at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene, which we join in progress Thanksgiving weekend and continue right to Christmas Eve.

I've just unloaded a kiln to stock the first two sales; I'll need at least two more 50 cubic-foot firings to get me to Christmas. I just had a ton of clay dropped on my driveway last week. It's time to start making that into pottery.

Last sign of fall at Off Center Ceramics:
  • When we go to recruit bears for Saturday Market, they're all hiding under the quilt at the end of the bed...

offcntr: (maggie)

Reposted from offcenter.biz.

It seems like only yesterday.

We'd started the new year with me being laid off. I still had my very part-time teaching salary from the UO Craft Center, but the extra income I got throwing pots for another studio had dried up. The back room at Slippery Bank was full of bisque. Unless I could come out to Cheshire to throw plates, they'd call me in six months. Maybe.

Denise had picked up some money--along with a case of bronchitis--working the holiday rush answering phones for Harry and David, but though that might get us through spring, it wouldn't stretch much farther. So it was that I took a huge chance: I mailed off my membership to the Eugene Saturday Market, and started making pots to sell.

It was rough, at the start. We shared a booth with fellow potter Kathy Lee, who already had priority points from selling the previous year, so usually got a space. But we moved a lot, a different space every week. Eventually we collected enough points to start getting the same space consistently, but the sales were never consistent, nor predictable. There were weekends when both we and she got skunked.

But we were learning. What sold, what didn't. How to grow a customer base, manage a business. We went at it completely bass-ackward, no business plan, no marketing strategy, no nothing. Just made pots. Tried to sell pots. Made different pots. Gave out a zillion business cards.

Rinse, repeat.

Our first Holiday Market was a revelation; people were buying things. They'd been looking all summer, now they came back with their wallets open. I was playing catch-up making pots all that December. But Denise didn't have to risk life and lung working for Harry and David, and we were able to save enough money to last until April, when the Market opened again.

Eventually, I started applying to out-of-town shows. Started a website. Got some galleries, that promptly went out of business. Got some other galleries, some of which didn't. Even did a wedding registry, a couple of times. Took some interesting commissions.

This April marks our 25th anniversary selling pottery as Off Center Ceramics. (Pulp Romances got started a year or two later.) Twenty-five years of making pots, selling pots, meeting people and sharing their stories. We've been at this long enough to have produced family heirlooms. Been lost in the divorce (our pots, that is. Denise and I are looking at our 27th anniversary in June). Showed up in the Goodwill, more than once. It's been a heck of a ride.

And it's not ending anytime soon. I've already applied for this year's shows, started getting my notifications back. Fired the kiln already this year, and am working to fill it again. I just ordered another ton of clay.

Thanks to all of you for staying with us for all these years. We're looking forward to the next twenty-five...


offcntr: (berto)
It happened again Wednesday night; Denise and I were unloading the big kiln while Nicole's class glazed their student work in the next room. She asked if it would be okay if they came in a few at a time to see the finished results, and I said "Sure," as it had been a good firing, and I'm always happy to show off my work.

And of course, somebody asked, "Does your wife paint these?"


From offcenter.biz, August 2009.
playing to the audience
I don't get it.

My name is on the sign. It's on the business cards. It's on the price stickers. But at least once at every show, someone will come into the booth, look at the work, and ask Denise, "Do you make this?"

Even more commonly, they assume that I throw the pots and Denise paints them. Why? I guess in our culture, painting just isn't a guy thing.

Except in this case, it is. Not only do I throw all the pots in my booth, I hand-paint each and every one. I even make the paint brushes I decorate with. Just call me Renaissance potter. (Actually, please don't...)

Denise does assist with the technical end of the pottery. She always helps load and unload the glaze kiln, sometimes mixes glazes, occasionally rolls out dragon toes. And of course she spends a lot of time in the booth, selling (or trying to sell) pots.

Lest it appear that I only do the fun stuff, let it be noted that I also load and unload bisque kilns, the world's least rewarding job. I also build and repair screens and equipment for Denise's handmade paper business, Pulp Romances. I run the dewatering press when she's teaching papermaking classes at the arboretum, or in the backyard. And I do a lot of computer work for Off Center Ceramics, Pulp Romances, and Braille Transcription Services, Denise's third hat. Processing, sorting and formatting the Oregon Country Fair performance schedule is no picnic.

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that our household is a family business, a lot like the family farm I grew up on, in that everybody takes a part. Someone milks cows, somone feeds the pigs, someone picks up eggs in the chicken coop. Everybody pitches in to make sure everything gets done.

But I paint the pots.


offcntr: (Default)
I was asked about shipping a casserole by two sisters at Clayfolk, so I promised I'd reprint this guide. From offcenter.biz, December of 2009.

But how will I get it there?

It's a common lament we hear this time of year. Someone's found the perfect present for Uncle Fred (or more often, Mom) in Minneapolis. But how to get it there?

Well, the answer seems obvious. Mail it. Ship it. Box it up and send it away. But that's the real question. How to box it so it arrives in as many (or few) pieces as it started in? Here are a few tips:

Space is your friend. The object of packing is to ensure that shock or impact from outside the package is absorbed before it reaches the object inside. To this end, 2-4 inches of non-compressible packing should surround your pot on all sides.

Sadly, the best non-compressible packing is still styrofoam peanuts. I get them recycled whenever I can. (Cornstarch peanuts work too, but keep them dry. They shrink when wet. Mice will also eat them—and pee in the bag—so don't store them in the garage.) Air pillows work all right, but you'll still need peanuts to fill in gaps—leave no empty spaces. I shipped with honest-to-goodness popped corn one year. It worked all right, but compresses and settles more, and I burned out the air-popper in the process. Crumpled newspaper or excelsior does not work. It compacts in shipping, leaving your pot free to bounce around the box and do itself an injury.

If you have more than one piece of pottery in the box, make sure they can't bump against each other. I usually make separators from scrap cardboard to keep each piece in its own little pen. Lids should be packed separate from their pots, or else wrapped in thin foam or bubble wrap and taped in place, so they can't bang against their base and break.

Two boxes are better than one. For all but the smallest of pots, I recommend double boxing for shipping. Pick a second box about four inches bigger in all dimensions than the first. Fill the space in between with more packing materials.

There's no need to wrap the box. My Grandma always wrapped her packages with brown kraft paper and twine. This isn't necessary, and can be a problem if the wrapper (with its mailing label) tears during shipping. If there's no blank spot to write the address, secure an address label with box tape right onto the box.

If you're like me, you'll use recycled boxes scrounged from somewhere. Just make sure to obliterate any previous addresses, logos, etc. If you're shipping with UPS or FedEx, you'll also want to black out any barcodes, even manufacturer's codes. And if you're re-using a USPS Priority Mail box, the Post Office will charge you priority rates for it. (Note: The Post Office also won't let you use boxes that formerly held hazardous stuff that they won't normally accept.) (This would be the exception to the "no need to wrap" rule.)

Actually, I'll let you in on my secret box recycle trick: If you have a hot glue gun, flatten the box and carefully peel up the flap on the glued edge. Turn the box inside out and reglue the flap, then fold and tape the box. Presto! A pretty new box with all the logos, barcodes or hazardous
stickers on the inside.

To "Fragile" or not to "Fragile." While I have no evidence to support the rumor that shippers see "Fragile" stickers as a challenge, or worse, a bulls-eye, I suspect that they don't do much good, either. A potter friend who used to work holiday rush for UPS once told me, "When you've got 20 minutes to unload a 30-foot truck, you treat all the boxes the same. You can't slow down and carefully unload the box with the 'fragile' stickers."

So count on your packing, not on the kindness of strangers.

Where to ship? Your call. Parcel Post is cheaper, but UPS includes the first $100 insured in the price. I generally trust my packing and go with my friends at the River Road Post Office.

If all else fails, let a pro do it. Your local mail center or UPS store will pack and ship it for you. Heck, we might even do it ourselves if you talk nice to us. Or bring cookies.

offcntr: (rocket)
Originally posted at offcenter.biz in February, 2010. I still haven't appeared...

For the longest time, I've wanted to be on Oregon ArtBeat.
It's a public television program, produced out of Portland, that profiles visual and performing artists from around the state. Not just painters and sculptors, either. More than a few of my potter friends have been featured over the years, including a couple of Eugenians, Ken Standhardt and Faith Rahill. Being on ArtBeat is a sort of imprimatur, a seal of approval from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

It doesn't hurt career-wise, either. Both Ken and Faith reported a lot more interest in their work, and a number of new customers, after their ArtBeat appearances.

So it should have been a dream come true last January when I got a phone call from a listener on my public radio show, saying she'd seen me on Oregon ArtBeat the previous night.

Except I hadn't been interviewed. What the heck?

I watched the rebroadcast Sunday night, and she was right, there I was. For about 10 seconds. The crew had been in Eugene to record a feature about local painter Sarkis Antikajian, shot some footage of his retrospective exhibit, and decided to economize on the travel budget by shooting a feature on the Maude Kerns Art Center, where Sarkis' show was held. A feature that included footage of Club Mud.

So there's Don Prey, inspecting a bisque firing. There's Laura, teaching a kids' class. And there I am, way back in the back room, dipping and painting pots. There's a nice 3-second close-up of my hands painting chrome green onto a hummingbird bowl, and about 4 seconds more, speeded up, drawing a dragonfly on a salad bowl. Then cut to the education director explaining why the studio cat couldn't be the ghost of Maude Kerns. (It's a boy cat.)


offcntr: (be right back)
Reposted from offcenter.biz.

You know that old joke--"Ask me what the hallmark of great comedy is."

What's the hallmark of great com--

Timing is everything, this time of year. The end of the year, from October through Christmas, is a series of interlocking hard deadlines. Clay Fest was there, Clayfolk is here, Holiday Market is over there (and there, and there and there...). It takes me 4-6 weeks to make and fire a load of pottery, so I get two firings between Clay Fest and Christmas--and this is the one time of year where I can sell pottery as fast as (if not faster than) I can make it.

Add in the fact that I fire at a co-op studio, so need to fit my firing schedule in with Jon's and Tea's, and things start to get complicated.

And then there's the unexpected changes. I lose a day to a gallery-restock run, another to a mandatory meeting in Southern Oregon. Tea needs an extra day in his firing schedule; can I load a day early? I guess we'll find out.

It doesn't help that after weeks of heat waves and forest fires, we're abruptly in fall weather: cool, damp, overcast when it's not actively raining. Everything in the studio is drying slowly, and taking it outside to dry in the sunshine only a fond memory.

Then there's deciding what to make. Most of the year, I play catch-up. I start with a full inventory in April, then make pots to replace what's sold. I'll come back from a big show with a list of items with a month to make and fire them before the next show. That won't work now; starting in mid-November, I have a big show every weekend.

So I have to anticipate, guess what's gonna sell. Pie plates are easy, pie plates always go. Soups, plates, tall and painted mugs are a gimme, bigger items more of a crapshoot. People spend more, buy bigger at Christmas, but what will they want? Will it be serving bowls? Casseroles? Oh, God, should I be making teapots? (Yes, yes I should.)

Factor in Real Life interruptions--the insulation folks are coming in early November, so all the artwork must come off the exterior walls, all the furniture move in a foot. So much cleaning and sorting to do, most of it falling on Denise at the moment.

So timing is everything right now. It's just time that's lacking.

offcntr: (snoozin')
from offcenter.biz, April 20, 2012:

It's interesting, the assumptions people make. For example, they rarely ask me if I have other people's pottery in the house. In fact, they usually phrase the question in the negative: "You don't buy other people's pottery, do you?" The assumption being, I suppose, that I can make whatever I need, so why should I spend money on it?

In fact, the reverse is true. My house is full of other people's pottery. Just look at the cup rack above, which hangs in my kitchen. Only two of the 22 cups on it are mine. (Can you guess which?)

A visit to my kitchen cupboard is like a catalog of people I've met, studied with, occasionally taught over the years. People I admire, work I covet, stuff that I never in a million years would try to make. Some pots are particularly treasured, because the maker isn't around any more. I'll never buy another Chris Gum bowl, or Tom Rohr wood-fire cup.

And that doesn't even go into the display case in the living room.

Sure, I can make a plate, a bowl, a cup, a pot... but not necessarily that pot. That seductive soft porcelain tea bowl I bought at a rare sale from Michiyo Goble, with a pale blue celadon and just a tiny splash of copper red where it indents to meet my thumb. I'd never be able to duplicate one of Kathy Lee's covered bird pots, plump and tactile with the orange peel texture of a salt glaze. And I wouldn't even think of tackling the layered complexity of one of Craig Martell's slip-trailed and spray-glazed tea bowls.

Don't get me wrong. I like my own pots. The forms are crisp and functional, and the paintings keep getting better. Rare is the firing that doesn't have something in it I can't part with. But I love other people's pots as well, for the form, for the glaze, for the notion that I might learn something about my art from how someone else approaches it.

That's one reason I love to go to shows like Ceramic Showcase, or Clay Fest, or Clayfolk. They're great places to sell pottery, of course, but also to network, catch up with potter friends from around Oregon and southwest Washington, pick up some tricks at the demonstration stage.

And to buy pots. I rarely come home without some new treasure for those very full cupboards.
offcntr: (spacebear)
(From offcenter.biz, April 2015; thought I'd better archive it before I forgot.)
I've talked before about how, with sufficient overcompensation, disorganization can seem organized. Today, a similar topic.

What was I going to say...

Oh, right. I forget things.

Not consistently, not always. I have a capacious memory for trivia. Book plots, song titles and lyrics, stuff I learned in school years ago, are all ready to pop up in the front of my brain at a moment's notice.

Last week's promise, or next week's deadline: not so much.

As with my lack of organization, I have coping strategies.

Write it down. I keep a bunch of different notebooks: a kiln log where I record each step of every firing, with notes about what went wrong or right, gas usage, timing. I'm trying to get better at including the results as well, but since the kiln unloads two days after the firing ends, I don't always remember to bring the log book. A pad that lives in the Market cash pouch, where we record sales, make note of restock needs, and record name and contact information for any special orders we take. I also still carry a pocket calendar, on paper, to record appointments and deadlines, though I'm not as good at using it as I once was. Denise remembers dates better than I do, and I've gotten spoiled. I try to salt my location with legals pads as well--in my backpack, in the studio, at Club Mud. When I don't have one handy, I'll resort to small scraps of paper with cryptic notes that live in my wallet until I've gotten around to deciphering and filing them properly at home.

Get it in writing. Email has been a huge help to me, because I can get very detailed specifications, information from people on what they need in an easily archivable form. (I also cc myself so I know what I promised in reply.) Phone messages are also helpful, but still need to be transcribed and saved somewhere.

Know where to find it. This is crucial. Loose phone messages, notes from my pocket, things left on my desk, disappear. Oh they're there somewhere, buried in the strata. Unless of course the cats have slid them onto the floor, where they disappear into Denise's strata. So I have to be systematic. The first step was to buy a file cabinet. I've got a drawer for household papers, another for business, with labeled folders for important topics. More recently, I've started filing things on my computer, specifically by creating "Special Order" files. They consolidate information from phone notes, Market pad and emails into an easily printable form, with products, patterns names and contact information. And they're dated by glaze firing so I know which one is current, and where to find older ones. That's the nice thing about multi-gigabyte hard drives: you never have to throw anything away.

Right now I've got two current spOrder files in the documents folder, one for miscellaneous small projects, another for an eight-place table setting bound for Tallahassee with a choice of thirty-two different patterns. I'll need to make one more before I start glazing, for a complicated multi-image, multi-plate project that's currently detailed in about a dozen emails.

(Actually, by the time I finished this firing cycle, that last spOrder file had no less than nine plates with 27 patterns. What was I thinking?)


May. 10th, 2015 01:35 pm
offcntr: (window bear)
From the offcenter.biz Occasionally Asked Questions page:

What's with the bears?
Well, the sitter cancelled at the last moment... Actually, we started bringing teddy bears to our first Holiday Market. Sales were very slow, and it was nice to have someone to clutch besides each other, especially someone who didn't bruise easily. Since then we've discovered that bears distract crying children, attract child-like grown-ups, and generally make the process of meeting customers and selling art a lot more fun. We're actually both very shy, so the bears make introductions. In fact, we'd call them the unsung heroes of Off Center Ceramics, except that they now have their own song.

an example from Ceramic Showcase last weekend
offcntr: (rocket)
My second Ceramics Monthly Comment, published May 2006. I piddled around with an idea for a third one, but nothing ever came of it, and now they don't publish them anymore. *sigh*

I was surprised to find they printed this as a full page. As it was a fairly short piece, they filled out the layout with the best pull quote ever.

pull quote

Some day soon, it will happen to you.

You’ll be at a dinner party at a friend’s house, or Sunday supper at Mom’s. There’ll be a pregnant pause in the conversation. Coy looks. Someone will say, “Do you remember this?” And with a flourish, it’s there.

The Thing From The Past. The Monster in the Box. The Skeleton In The Cupboard.

Teapots that dribble. Pitchers that gush. Curly plates, leaden bowls, cups from Abstract Expressionist hell.

Meeting old pots can be as embarrassing as meeting old lovers. You know they were special once. You were proud to be seen with them. You may have even loved them. But now you think you can do so much better.

“It’s like the horrible museum of my pottery,” says my friend Grace, “all these terrible old things. I’ll say, ‘Mom, don’t use that stuff’ and then she’ll get out this awful plastic and melmac and say, ‘What can I do? You won’t make me any new dishes.’ But I don’t have time.”

I’m not sure it matters. The Horrible Museum of Your Pots is a historical collection. New acquisitions add to, rather than supplant older exhibits. They’re all still there, waiting for their place in the display rotation.

“Oh God, I just want take it and drop it on the floor and say, ‘Oops, let me make you a new one,’” confides Tom.

I know that temptation well. I’m only stopped by the sure and certain knowledge that if I do, on my next visit I’ll be confronted by Franken-pot, painstakingly reassembled with Krazy Glue and epoxy putty (possibly even gold leaf, depending on the sophistication of the conservator), a bolt through its figurative neck.

Besides, breaking those old pots smacks of the worst of revisionist history. Embarrassing or not, they’re a fact. Part of our past. A record of our path from pinch to coil to whatever lofty ceramic promontory we occupy now. It never hurts to be reminded of where we came from, nor that someday we may be just as embarrassed by what we’re proud of today. Those who forget the past are condemned to repot it, right?

That’s not to say that breaking pots is wrong. But do it in the now. Reexamine your standards from time to time, remembering that today’s not-quite-second could be tomorrow’s Ghost of Christmas Present Past.

Old pots are a lot like those embarrassing family stories your siblings trot out every Thanksgiving. They sting a little, make you squirm, but they’re part of your shared history. And you can cope with them in much the same way: tell your side of the story. “Oh Lord, that’s when I’d just seen the Bernard Leach cider jug video where he proclaimed the flat rim was the ideal form. I think every potter in Minnesota and western Wisconsin has at least one of those, and none of them pour...”

Engage the pot, and its owner. Because that piece of clay, embarrassing or not, has done something miraculous. It’s become a treasure, a special part of someone’s life, whether because of a connection to the artist, association with an occasion, or just the day-to-day accumulation of memories that precious things accrue. This is what we’re trying to do every time we set up our booth with our current best work. It’d be a shame to miss a chance to learn more about how that connection happens.

Ultimately, you just have to let go. Pots are like children. You put your best efforts into making them perfect, but then one day they leave home. You may wince a little at their choices, but once they’re a part of someone else’s life, you can’t have them back.

“Actually, I don’t mind seeing my old pots,” says Jon. “It’s my high school poetry that I never want to see again.”

Hmm, he’s got a point. There was that thing I wrote about my sister’s wedding where I tried to be ee cummings… But I digress.

Frank Gosar actually made two flat-rimmed cider jugs in his Wisconsin days. He currently lives and pots in Eugene, Oregon, and tells embarrassing family stories at www.offcenter.biz.
offcntr: (spacebear)
Some years ago, a chance visit to a potter friend in Seattle resulted in a piece that was published as a Comment in the March 2006 Ceramics Monthly. It was pretty cool to be in print, especially since NCECA hit Portland in April that year, so I got recognized as a published writer at the CM booth. Just came across the original manuscript on my hard drive and thought I'd resurrect it here.

I’d really expected to be a fly on the wall.

After all, it wasn’t even my class. I was just visiting an old friend, formerly a potter in Israel, now living in Seattle and squeezing in clay time around the needs of parents, husband and two kids. Debby introduced me as a production potter from Eugene, and I went to sit quietly at the next wheel and sketch a little in my notebook.

Amy, the teacher, asked me the usual questions. Did I know so-and-so, where had I studied, and with who. Then she asked, “Do you have any advice as a production potter for the students here?”

I supposed if I’d stopped to think about it, I’d have tossed off something flip, like “Don’t quit your day job.” But I was caught off-guard, and what I said, with allowance for later editorial revision, was:

Practice. Lots. One of my early jobs was throwing for another studio, learning the craft at 75¢ a pot. It was an incentive to improve my proficiency and bring the price up to 90¢, and to improve my efficiency so that I could finish my week’s allotment by Wednesday, and have the rest of the time for my own work. We can’t all get paid while learning, but if you can figure out some incentive that works for you, I highly recommend it. Nothing improves skills like using them.

Make what you love. Then find a market. It pains me to see young potters spending all their time second-guessing what will sell. The problem with finding the perfect product is that then you have to make it, by the hundreds, possibly thousands. Don’t make stuff you don’t like.

Think of a better way. Is there a simpler way to make something? Would a specialized tool help? I keep a box of scraps of wood and wire and metal sheet, make ribs or templates on the fly. It’s amazing what you can do with a handsaw, snips, files or a bench grinder.

Look at procedures that way too. Just because you learned something one way from your teacher doesn’t mean that’s the only way. I picked up a new trimming technique from Amy that night, but also thought of at least two ways to change it to work better for me.

But don’t simplify it all away. One of the temptations of production is to pare away frills and details, to make things faster and easier to produce. This can be a trap leading to deadening sameness, pots with all the life removed. It’s okay to invest a little extra time and care on each piece, add a little ornament or detail or movement. Efficiency isn’t everything.

New ideas come from everywhere. Attend workshops. Take classes. Teach classes--my students come up with questions I’d never have considered. Go to museums and galleries and read magazines, not just art magazines. One of the most amazing pottery pictures I’ve seen recently was actually a self-assembling lipo-polymer in Science News. Who woulda thunkit?

Talk to your customers. I have friends who won’t touch commissions, but I’ve gotten some great ideas from taking them. Once again, anything that stretches your usual boundaries is a chance to grow.

Leave time to experiment. Play around in your studio. Try things differently. Amy had a great assignment for her class: Instead of making ten identical pots for practice, try making ten different ones, all with the same purpose or function. Every year I throw a couple hundred bowls for our local Empty Bowls sale, and twice have changed my production soup bowls based on something I came across in those experiments. Ideas need time to grow. Make sure to provide some.

If you’re not having fun, something’s wrong. I went back to graduate school in ceramics because I loved it. I still feel lucky to be making my living at it. If I wanted bleak, soul-destroying, repetitive work, I could have stayed in advertising.

Frank Gosar quit advertising to study ceramics at the University of Oregon in 1985. His production pottery can be seen at www.offcenter.biz.
offcntr: (vendor)
As the outdoor art fair season winds down, a look back at summer from July 2014 at Off Center Ceramics.

view from the booth

It's the morning of the third day of the second weekend of out-of-town art fairs, and I find myself reflecting on the view from the booth.

We don't see much of the rest of the fair, mostly sleepy vendors unzipping canvas tents, or exhausted vendors closing up again at the end of the day. (Maybe one in a hundred is disgustingly bright and chipper at 8 am; morning-person artists are unnatural.) In between we're too busy in our booth to get out and about much. You're here to see the sights, occasionally to be seen. We're here to manage the store and--hopefully--sell some pottery.

In between, we people watch. Costumes are a big part of some shows' culture. Or lack thereof: the naked bike ride at Fremont Fair brings a lot of body-painted, well, bodies past the booth. Or into the booth--it's a challenge being professional to browsers wearing only an airbrushed coat of his-and-hers gold and silver body paint. Others are less extreme: a group of silk kimono-clad women with bamboo and paper parasols strolled past yesterday. A lone bagpiper circulates through the crowds, serenading us with martial tunes. A little girl in bright blue dress and butterfly wings shows them off for a passing photographer.
Clusters of teenagers are fun to watch, kitted out in whatever is current fashion in their milieu. Goth used to be ubiquitous; now hipster and retro are taking over, with a strong sub-set of steampunk. Matching obscure t-shirts are a couples thing--what is it with the Bill Murray in beard and stocking cap? I've seen several. Occasionally we'll see something really outré, like the girl in manga-inspired geisha (or maybe ronin) ware sewn from Batman-print fabric. Carrying a sword.

T-shirt watching is another entertainment. My favorite this fair? Ask me about my ADD. Or cake. I like cake. What day is it? I just saw a tree. Hi. On really slow days, we play Hair of the Day. So far at this show, it's a toss-up between a little boy with a wavy blue and magenta mohawk and a grandmother with an orange crop and gold highlights. Roseburg is tame compared to Eugene. On a given Saturday afternoon, we'll see six or eight real contenders, and once the hands-down winner was a toy poodle with a rainbow mohawk.

poodlehawk But ideally, we're too busy to do more than just glance. Talking to browsers, handing out business cards. Selling pots and restocking from the boxes in back. Catching up with old friends, making new ones. Commiserating with neighbors who're doing worse than we are, envying those doing better. Quietly, though. You never know when the wheel's gonna turn.

And planning ahead. Stressing about what we should have brought, wondering what's in the shed at home. Making lists of things to make for the next firing. And always, thinking ahead to the next show.
offcntr: (spacebear)
From January, 2010. For the record, duct tape actually worked...
recycling pugmill

Do you remember the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where everyone is fluttering about the "new arrival" at Motel and Tzeitel's house? The crowd finally parts to reveal Motel showing off his new treadle sewing machine—while a still very pregnant Tzeitel walks in from stage left.

Well, this is our new arrival: a Venco 4-inch de-airing pug mill. It mixes and screens recycled scrap clay and runs it past a vacuum pump to remove air bubbles before extruding a nice smooth cylinder ("pug") of clay.

I bought it second-hand last November from a potter who's now doing mostly bronze sculptures, and had to wait until after the holiday rush to get it running. We spent a week tearing it down, cleaning out a decade's worth of dry porcelain scrap and putting the pieces back together, meanwhile rewiring the studio and building a bench around it to replace the lost work space. It was a heavy work; the thing weighs well over 500 pounds, so just getting it down from West Linn to Eugene involved wheels, ramps, and the assistance of another potter from Club Mud who thought he was getting a good deal on free lunch and a round-trip ride to Portland. (Thanks, Don. Hope the back has recovered…)

Tricky, too. Venco is an Australian brand, and half the bolts were metric, half English. A few were also corroded tight. Fortunately for me, my neighbor is a retired log truck driver with some big power tools, including an impact wrench that finally did the trick.

How does it work? Well, we're still working on that. We've run it twice so far, and the mixing and extrusion parts work fine, the de-airing not so much, possibly from air leaking in through the side seams. If we can get them tightened up, there ought to be vacuum pressure. I'm thinking duct tape.
offcntr: (be right back)
From the Off Center website, September 2007.

It's really Kathy Lee's fault. The yellow bear, that is .

We shared a Saturday Market booth, our first few years trying to sell pottery. Her booth, actually, and her tables, chairs, table covers. I provided the sign.

It was a hand-painted wooden sign, five-sided, cut to fit neatly in the peak of the roof. One side said "Off Center Ceramics," with a painting of a cat bank; the other, "Useful Pots" (Kathy's business name) with a yellow teddy bear, holding a honey pot. (Pooh bear, of course. "It's a useful pot," said Pooh, "It's for putting things in.")

After three years trying to interest the stroll-by public in her tiny, exquisitely crafted pots, Kathy gave up on Market in favor of galleries and holiday studio sales. I inherited the booth frame, built some shelves to go with it. Kathy kept the sign, but I kept the bear.

I thought he was awfully cute, you see, a good match for the "Whimsical" in "Whimsical & Functional Stoneware." Besides, we'd already started bringing teddy bears with us to Saturday and Holiday Markets, so when I painted a new sign for Off Center Ceramics, the bear stayed. Holding a cat bank.

Fast forward ten years to 2007, a Thursday afternoon in Seattle. We're setting up for our third out-of-state show in as many weekends. We're very tired, kinda cranky, and have gotten really bored with that particular stretch of Interstate 5. And I can't find my sign.

It makes no sense. That sign never leaves the van. The farthest it ever goes is when I put it on the roof so I can rearrange the boxes inside the van…


Well, the whole weekend went about as you'd expect, with that kind of beginning. We felt naked without our sign, anonymous. Customers were few and far between, and it rained most of Sunday. It was an omen, I tell you, a sign of the craft gods' displeasure.

Now that we're back in Eugene, I've retraced my route from our driveway to the point where Beltline joins I-5, over in Springfield. No sign of my sign. I'm very much afraid that it's been crushed to flinders out on the blacktop somewhere.

Fortunately for me, I still had the template for the lettering stencil on my computer. The University of Oregon Craft Center had some nice half-inch birch plywood in my price range, and let me cut a new oval on their very nice bandsaw. Paintbrushes were on sale at the UO Bookstore, and wonder of wonders, I had half a can of primer and all the paints I needed.

So late on Friday evening, barely a week after that disastrous Seattle show, I was down in my studio putting finishing touches on my brand new Off Center Ceramics sign. You can see it at the top of this page. It still has a bear on it. [ed. note--though I took off the cat bank, for some reason.]

And if you're reading this website from somewhere on the north I-5 corridor, and you've seen an oval wooden sign that says "Off Center Ceramics, Whimsical & Functional Stoneware" with a yellow bear, get in touch. Unless it bounced off your windshield at 65 mph, in which case I'd rather not know.

Do Touch

Aug. 24th, 2014 08:45 pm
offcntr: (vendor)
From offcenter.biz, May 2014.


She snaps "Don't touch!" and inwardly I cringe. Another Saturday, another mom and kids in my Market booth. Or it could be a father, a grandparent, all enforcing the hands-off policy.

And it really bugs me. By saying "Don't touch," in that tone of voice, what we're teaching kids is that pottery is scary: dangerous, fragile, untouchable.

Children learn by touching. They pat things, they pet things, they put them in their mouths. Saying don't touch is tantamount to saying "You can't know about this stuff."

I don't know about you, but I've been noticing that my audience, the people who appreciate and purchase my pottery, is aging. We're going gray, clearing out the cupboards, downsizing. I'm trying to make a living as a potter. If we frighten our children away from pottery, where is the next generation of customers going to come from?

And the funny thing is, hardly any of my work has ever been broken by kids--I remember one incident in twenty years. Heck, I break more than that in a given month.

So I have a different rule in my booth. No "Don't Touch." Everybody, big or little, gets to pet the pottery. Only grown-ups are allowed to pick it up.

And nobody gets to put it in their mouth.
offcntr: (vendor)
Brought to mind by today's discovery, a reminiscence from the Off Center Ceramics website, circa June, 2006.
We had a couple stop by our Saturday Market booth this last weekend, very pleased to find us. Seems they'd picked up one of my bowls at the Goodwill store, and were delighted to find where they could get more.

Ulp. Goodwill?

I've heard stories from other potters, of course, tales of finding their precious creations in yard sales or thrift stores, callously marked down to fractions of a dollar. But this was the first time it had happened to me.

I was immediately beset by doubts. Was something wrong with it? Didn't they like it? Did they think it was really, really ugly but didn't want to offend the friends who'd chosen it just for them? Maybe they were redecorating, and all the roosters had to go. Maybe they were allergic to stoneware, or even--gasp--dead! (I don't have enough customers that I can afford to lose any of them.)

Denise did her best to reassure me. She was certain, she said, that the original owners were moving somewhere far away, the East Coast, maybe, or Australia, and were heartbroken to have to leave their precious bowl behind. (Active imaginations seem to run in our family, have you noticed?) And at least they'd donated it to a good cause.

Ah well, I can get behind donating to a good cause. We're cash-poor, but creativity-rich here, so every year I find myself donating pots to fundraisers for charities ranging from church to schools, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, wildlife rehabilitators and chimpanzee sanctuaries. This June, Food For Lane County's Empty Bowls sale included at least 75 soup bowls we donated, as well as serving bowls for their on-line silent auction and fall fundraiser.

So I'm glad Goodwill got a little boost out of my lonely pot. I recently published an article in Ceramics Monthly about those ugly old pots from one's beginning potter days that somehow, against all odds, find someone who treasures them. It's only fair that the reverse is sometimes true as well. But it's a relief to know that somebody found this unloved pot and is giving it a second chance.

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