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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Everybody's huddling on top of the kiln for warmth!
It's a perennial problem in the fall and winter: getting things dry enough to fire. Even the rare sunny day isn't warm enough to do much good, and leaving the heat on and the fan turning overnight isn't a good option if there's work in progress that needs to stay moist. (Once the sun goes down, my studio makes a surprisingly good damp room. Even uncovered, pots will dry down to leather-hard and then stay that way.)
So the trick is to get enough dry for one firing. Once that happens, there's more than enough residual heat to toast the next kilnload, and the next.
Here's last night's dragons, on their way to their first encounter with fire.
And there's always that one guy... Doesn't it look like the one in the lower right is photo-bombing the rest?
Eighteen years later, some of the boxes are unpacked; many are still there. Added in is a whole bunch of other stuff that just got piled between the back of the work table and the shelves, basically to get it out of my way. More boxes showed up around the periphery, shoved to the side and stacked against the wall. We never seem to manage to find time or energy to deal with them.
But we're finally trying. Denise retired from her service-provider job at Lane Community College at the end of spring term, when her blind student/client graduated, and she's been beginning to tackle some of her boxes in the living room, so I decided to attack three that were definitely mine in the studio.
The top one was labelled Frank's Dresser Top. Lots of easily recyclable stuff: Handouts from my QuickBooks class, and pretty much anything involving the Blair ArtsSpace. The former never turned out useful, as QuickBooks seems designed for businesses that buy wholesale and resell at retail, or possibly provide services, with no cost-of-goods-sold. My business, which manufactures and sells pottery, just doesn't fit their system, as least as of 1998 when I took the class. These days, I just use a hand-rolled Excel spreadsheet. The latter, an ill-fated attempt to build an artists' live/work community that we put a bit over two years into, never came together, and the developer ultimately sold the lot. I think there's a brewery there now.
Other stuff was document and then recycle: The originals to my attempt at a wholesale products catalog (later superseded by my website). Sales tallies from our first Holiday Market, and second year at Saturday Market. A bunch of old newspaper clippings featuring yours truly.
And a few things I don't quite know what to do with, particularly original artwork from our first few years promoting Off Center Ceramics (and Useful Pots, our booth partner). They're lovely things, ink on coated paper or film, and I hate to just toss them, but I don't want to put them in another box.
The second box is way easier: ancient check registers and duplexes. Shred and compost. The bottom box is old tax forms, each with that year's ledger. I think most of them are shred fodder as well, but I'd like to do a little data-mining first, get show sales recorded on a comparison spreadsheet I've been maintaining since I computerized my books in 2008.
We seem to have been missed: I got two emails and a phone call from customers who'd been looking for us at Saturday Market and couldn't find us. One of them stopped by the morning of the 4th to pick up an elephant bowl for her sister in Montana. The other two will look for us this weekend. Also, can't seem to do anything anywhere in the house without one or the other cat glomming onto us.
Most of Wednesday was spent unloading the van, sorting the restock boxes, choosing what to put back in and what to put in the shed. (And what to take to Art & the Vineyard this weekend.) Wound up with four boxes of pots going to ATV, two going into the shed, two or three emptied out or consolidated. I guess we had some sales, huh?
This morning, I started throwing again. We recycled clay before this whole ex-travel-ganza, so I had lots of soft clay waiting for me. Threw about 80 lbs. worth, between four large platters and sixteen dessert plates. I've also got a special order for eight dinner plates in the next firing, in addition to replacing ones we sold, so that'll probably be tomorrow's project. I also have orders for a stick butter dish, small covered crock, covered casserole and a covered pasta bowl. That last one's gonna be an interesting project.
(I also have someone who really wants a spoon rest, but he hasn't sent the follow-up email yet, so I may be off the hook.)
One more show this weekend, but it's kind of low-impact. Club Mud traditionally has a group selling space during Art and the Vineyard, Maude Kerns Art Center's annual fundraiser. I'm one of fifteen potters who'll have work there, so I don't need to be there all the time, just to set out my pots, pick up unsold ware Sunday, and do a workshift or two in the meantime. I'll be doing demonstrations, mostly throwing, though I may bring a set of paintbrushes and demo paper as well, Friday from 5-8 pm.
ETA: I shouldn't try to math at 10 pm. Threw 52 lbs. of clay. Will try to do better today.
My product is neither so valuable nor so perishable that I can't leave it in the booth overnight. We take plates off of the vertical grids, but then just bring the walls down, fasten them, and we're done.
I'm always willing to open my mouth, so I said, "Sure!" Was a little intimidated when I heard the company I'd be keeping: the other three vendors had all been members of Market for at least 30 years, one of them over 40. At 25 years in the booth, I was the baby of the lot. (Also the only guy. Not sure what that signifies.)
Interview day was a cold, grey morning. Not a lot of customers, not the best day to show off a vibrant marketplace. Photographer Colin Anderson arrived first, shot a few pics of me in front of the booth. In deference to the gravity of the occasion, I did not have a teddy bear in my hands, though I was tempted. Reporter Christian Wihtol arrived a little later, asked a bunch of very good questions, called later in the week to follow up and check his notes. Came back again the following Saturday to talk to customers and fill any gaps in his information. Said the story would print sometime in early June.
Well, the story came out yesterday, in the Blue Chip, the RG's local business supplement. And it was actually stories; they wrote a feature about each of us. Colleen Bauman of Dana's Cheesecake got the cover story, but I got the center spread. And for the first time in my experiences with journalism, he got everything right. No misquotes, misunderstandings, no bending what I said to fit a preconceived agenda. I'm impressed.
The other stories seemed just as good, as far as I can tell. I've linked to all of them, below.
Dana's Cheesecake (Colleen Bauman)
Screenprinter Diane McWhorter
Designs by Dru (Dru Marchbanks)
And, of course, Off Center Ceramics (me)
Different potters deal with the intermittent part differently. Jon throws dozens of pots, moving them in and out of the kiln room to take advantage of the heat to speed drying. Sookjae and Michiyo share their firing, so they get to take turns leaving or staying, mostly reading while here. Tea is notorious for going to the movies during the long afternoon stretch.
Me, I fix things.
I fidget too much to throw, or even sculpt down here, I'm always getting up to check the cones. I also don't like to actually leave the studio for more than an hour or so at a time, so a double-feature is out. I can only read for so long, do so many sudoku or cryptoquotes, or blog posts before I get bored.
So I've rewired potter's wheels. Installed new shop lights. Fiddled with the pyrometer and thermocouple, got them working properly again.
Today, I fixed the ware cart.
It's a very basic design, probably goes back to the 60's, two 2-by-4 uprights supporting 2-by-2 shelf brackets. Easy to put work on and take it off by the shelf-load. Only problem?
The brackets wiggle. They move like a teeter-totter. Put a shelf of work down on one side and the shelf on the other side goes up. You needed to be very conscious of the relative weights when loading it up. So today, I brought in my drill and driver bits, a bunch of self-tap screws, some pre-cut 2-by-2 support blocks. A small level, a bar clamp.
In a little over half and hour, the job was done. Shelves are now all firm and level, no give, no bounce. A community of potters is gonna be so grateful.
Now what do I do with the rest of my afternoon?
Well, sort of.
I've taught a lot, over the years. A scifi-based Philosophy class and an Art History survey back at Viterbo, in the 80's; TA with a beginning ceramics class in graduate school, followed by ten-plus years of beginning ceramics, hand building and sculpture, and various specialty one-offs as a resident potter at the UO Craft Center afterwards (including a teddy bear-making workshop). Also a few terms teaching at Maude Kerns after the Craft Center gig went away.
But for a long time, now, I've been concentrating on making and selling pottery. Now, all of a sudden, I’m teaching two workshops in as many weeks.
Well, a demo and a workshop. This Friday I'll be presenting a demonstration of my sculpture techniques at the Oregon Potters Association monthly meeting in Portland. The demo is part of the traditional recognition for winning Best-of-Show at Ceramic Showcase, but as they'd only begun the awards again after several years' hiatus, nobody remembered until nearly a year later. So I'm figuring out the best way to present on my idiosyncratic slab-sculpture techniques, for an audience of who-knows-how many, with whatever tools I manage not to forget to bring the two hours up I-5 from my studio.
Stressed? Me? What gives you that idea?
The workshop is actually easier. I've presented my brush making and decorating workshop (new favorite title: From Tails to Tools) a number of times over the years, so am reasonably confident I can do it once again. I'm going to be out at Lane Community College Friday May 18, at the invitation of the student ceramics club. They're expecting anywhere between 10 and 20 students, so I need to be sure I have enough epoxy, bamboo, and squirrel tails. Hmmm. I saw a roadkill on the way home from downtown yesterday morning.
Wonder if it's still there?