offcntr: (rocket)
I got an interesting request last Saturday at Market: someone wanted three triangular plates.

Apparently, it's a significant birthday thing: their friend was turning 39, so they wanted nine triangular plates by three different potters, 3/9.

My first reaction? No way in hell.

I've had a few days to unpack that initial response, and I think it comes down to time, difficulty and practicality.

Time. Non-circular usually means hand-built, which takes extra time. Make templates, roll out slabs, stiffen slabs, cut and assemble. Or make a mold, dry it, bisque fire it, then roll out slabs and form them over it. Either way, what would take 3 minutes on a potter's wheel is now at least a couple of days, possibly over a week. For three plates. (Well, six, just in case. Always make extras when time is a factor.)

Difficulty. Drying slab-built plates is a fussy, time-consuming process. Clay shrinks as it dries, and if it dries unevenly, it will warp or curl. Even compression of the clay while throwing helps prevent this, but since a slab roller only compresses in one direction, you have to dry slabs much more carefully. I foresee several days on drywall squares, putting plastic on, taking plastic off, flipping them over. And over. And over...

Practicality. Ultimately, I just don't like triangular plates. They don't seem practical to me, corners that aren't convenient to eat out of, wasted space that's poking out, waiting to be chipped or broken. I could see doing trochoidal plates--three corners, but the sides are segments of arc, a fat triangle. But triangles? Nope.

Ultimately, it came down to time of year. I'm just too busy to deal with non-standard items when I'm getting ready for holiday sales, and I think the birthday was before my next firing? So sorry, but there's plenty of other potters to ask.
offcntr: (be right back)

Not here blogging, obviously.

After Anacortes, things got busy. I had another show in two weeks, a smaller affair in Silverton, but also had pottery to make (shows coming up include Corvallis Fall Festival and Clay Fest) and graphic art work to do (ads for myself and Denise for the Holiday Market guidebook, plus posters and postcards for both Clay Fest and Clayfolk). My things-to-do lists have been brutal.

At the moment, I'm caught up, run out of clay and projects, so I figured I should at least check in. In exact, simultaneous order:

1. Silverton Fine Arts Festival. Silverton is one of my smaller shows, about on par with Roseburg. I started going there back when I couldn't get into the nearby--much larger--Salem Arts Festival for love nor money. I've kept going there because a) its a pleasant location, a wooded small-town park, with plenty of room between and behind booths for display and restock, b) it's close enough that we can commute (Not having to pay a motel room or a cat sitter are a big incentive to me.), and, c) they treat the vendors really well. Friday night after load-in, they have a vendor/volunteer appreciation dinner. Saturday and Sunday, the vendor service center had doughnuts, scones, muffins, fresh fruit and orange juice. (Oh, and, what's that smelly black drink? Coffee.) At 11:30 they close for an hour to put out bread, condiments, three kinds of lunch meat, four kinds of cheese, sliced tomatoes and lettuce and cukes and pickles, pasta and potato salads. And six different kinds of cookies. We usually pack sandwiches, cookies, and fruit for lunch, graze the food vendors for supper, but at Silverton, we brought a little fruit--some from the nearby Farmer's Market--and relied on the show for the rest.

2. Making pottery. After Silverton, I was out of three patterns of coffee mug, five patterns of soup bowls, down to only two elephant and stegosaurus banks, and two covered casseroles (one large, one small). I really desperately needed to make pots, but had maybe 12 boxes of clay left, so I planned my throwing list carefully. Three (25 lb.) bags for soup bowls, one for toddlers. At least two each for pie plates and dessert plates, only one for dinner. Serving bowls, colanders, casseroles, canisters. Stick butter dishes. Elephant and Stego banks, tall mugs, tumblers, cream pitchers. At the end of two busy weeks throwing, I checked off everything on my throwing list, with less than half a bag to spare. I'm expecting delivery of another ton of clay sometime tomorrow, to get me through the holidays.

3. Graphics. Back before I became the famous and successful potter I am today (snort), I was a commercial artist. First at my alma mater, then at a 4-color printer in La Crosse. I quit to attend grad school in Eugene, but kept my hand in; my first Graduate Teaching Fellowship (GTF) was writing and producing the Art Department magazine, Artifact. Previous GTFs had typed out copy on an electric typewriter, but the department head was excited about the possibilities with the new desktop publishing software. Which I how I became a beta-tester for PageMaker 1.5. Over the years, I've kept my hand in, doing postcards for Denise and myself, as well as publicity for a bunch of clay shows. Currently, I'm poster or graphics chair for Ceramic Showcase, Clay Fest and Clayfolk. The latter two of which are in October and November, respectively, so this is a busy time at my desktop.


Catching up

Aug. 2nd, 2018 01:30 pm
offcntr: (Default)
The last few days of a firing cycle are busy. Glazing fifty to seventy-five pots a day, then loading, firing, unloading. Sorting and pricing and loading the van for my next sale. I get a little behind.

The timing was tougher than usual too, this time. We usually load on Sunday, fire Monday, unload Wednesday, so I have Tuesday off, while the kiln cools, to catch up on chores, office work. This time we fired Friday, so my "day off" was spent at Saturday Market, and as the firing went 'til after 9 pm Friday, I was more than a little zonked. Add in the fact that the temperature hit 90° pretty much every day of the firing cycle, and you can see how things might get lost in the shuffle.

Like blog posts.

So here's three snapshots to catch you up while I get ready to set up in Anacortes this evening.


1. A para-fox.

I took an order at Edmonds last June for something new: a covered pasta bowl. The customer wanted a fox pattern; I asked if I should paint it on the lid or in the bowl, and he said Why not both?

Here it is ready to load into the kiln, looking lovely. Not show: How it looked half an hour later, after the know snagged on the roof of the kiln and broke off. Or the sound my heart made when that happened.

It's theoretically possible to weld a broken knob on with glaze, but it's anything but certain whether it'll stay put in the firing. Safer to start from scratch, for my September firing.


2. Koalaty workmanship.

Oh, right, like you thought I could pass that one up... And anyway, I had to show off something from what turned out a very nice firing.


3. Harvest time.

Last job before I went in to pack for Anacortes : Water the garden and collect the produce. Clockwise from top left, we have: Mystery red apples, windfalls from the Lutheran Church lot next door; snow peas, var. Oregon Giant, from our garden; blackberries, growing wild over the carport, because it's Oregon; Blue Lake green beans from our new raised bed; Gravenstein apples from our tree; and tomatoes, mostly Sungold cherries, which are trying to take over the whole garden.

So there's another thing handmade pottery is good for...
offcntr: (Default)

It seems everybody has a story like this. Robin and Richard once broke down at a show in Arizona. Bill's van stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a special feeling of helplessness, breaking down at an out-of-town show.

I'm on my third time now, in two different vehicles:

1. My first van, an over-worked Dodge Caravan, died during set-up at the Bend Summer Festival. One of our neighbors worked on his motorcycle, and was able to fiddle with the carburetor enough for me to drive it, choking and wheezing, off the street and into vendor parking, but it didn't run again that weekend. I had it towed to a garage to rebuild the carburetor, rented a U-Haul to get my pots and booth home. Later that week, I took the Greyhound back to Central Oregon to pay the shop and drive back down the mountain.

2. My second--current--van is a Chevy Astro cargo van, much better suited for a load of pottery than the Caravan, but it's not infallible. Driving back alone from a show in Coupeville--Denise had stayed home with a sick kitty--it broke down in 100° heat alongside I-5 just south of Albany. As with Bend, it had not been a good show--third year in a row of declining sales. The breakdown clinched it: we weren't going back there again. My roadside insurance only paid towing to the nearest town; I paid the extra to take it all the way back to my shop in Eugene, where they diagnosed a broken fuel pump, fixed by the next day.

3. The third time was just a week ago. We were in Washington again, at Edmonds. Because the show site is so constricted, they only let a few vehicles on the grounds at a time, coordinating volunteers with clipboards by walkie-talkie. They take some of the pressure off at load-in by dividing us up into time-blocks; north-facing booths like ours set up from noon to 2 pm. At take-down, though, everyone wants out at once. They confirm that your booth is packed before they give you at dash-board permit and let you get in queue.

The queue runs forever. Two blocks up the hill to Alder on Eighth street, then down Alder for as many as four more. So you wait. Trusting your parking brakes. Start up, move forward a couple of car-lengths, shut down again. And repeat.

On the fourth or fifth repeat, my van wouldn't start. No click, no grind. Also no lights, flashers, dome light.

Mike the painter from across the aisle was right behind me, so pulled up and tried to give me a jump. (As a midwestern boy, I always have jumper cables.) No luck. People were pulling around me to continue their packing up--I wasn't exactly at the curb, but was not quite out in the traffic lane either. I spent an ungodly amount of time on hold with Emergency Road Services, waiting for an actual person (cell service was too poor to connect online), and was told I'd have a 90-minute wait for a tow truck, who would take me down to the fair so I could load up. And then I'd have to start the process over again to get another tow to a garage. If I'd have only made it two more car lengths, to the top of the hill, I could have coasted in neutral down to the park and loaded up. (And no, I wasn't gonna ask for volunteers to push me. It's a steep hill, and anyways, they'd already gone ahead by then.)

I phoned Denise to come up the hill to watch the van while I went down to fold up our tent and start hauling boxes of pottery out to the curb against the eventual appearance of the tow truck, thinking if we could load up fast enough, they might be persuaded to wait for us. On about the sixth load, my friend Shelly, from Club Mud, drove up to start packing her car, and asked how I was doing.

I kinda lost it, told her the whole story. Upon receiving my tearful earful, she immediately drove over to my space, started loading shelves and hardware to ferry up to Denise, then came back to get pottery. Kim and Eddie, the paper-quilling artists in the booth behind me also pitched in, though couldn't haul as much, as they'd already loaded their work. Between the bunch of us, we managed to get everything out of the park and up to the van, where I was just finishing loading it in when the tow truck finally arrived.

And refused to tow us.

They'd send out a light duty hook truck, expecting an empty van. Fully loaded, we'd need a flatbed.

I got on hold again. Walked back down the hill to use the porta-pots--in pitch darkness--came back to find Denise talking to a concerned neighbor and a friendly Edmonds policeman. Finally got a service operator, who put me in a three-way conversation with a tow driver, trying to estimate how much a van full of pottery would weigh. I was thumbing through the owner's manual in the dark cab, trying to find the empty weight, and decided to get out of the van to stand under the street light...

...And the dome light came on.

I slammed the key in the ignition, twisted, and started right up. Thanked the operator, apologized to the driver, and headed for the motel, where we arrived just before midnight. And so to bed.

The next morning, we packed up, loaded clothes and bears, checked out of the hotel. And couldn't start again.

I'd noticed a battery store three-quarters of a mile down the street, so called to ask if they could deliver and install a new battery for us. Normally, they could, but a couple of people had called in sick (I'm thinking hangovers) so they were short-staffed.

Which is how I wound up getting my morning exercise rolling a hand-truck down Broadway in Everett, getting a replacement battery, which I had to install with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench. Barked my knuckles something fierce.

And still couldn't get it to start.

It turns out it's lots easier to get a tow on a Monday morning during business hours than it is late Sunday night. We rented our hotel room back for the day, and I rode with the tow driver to the nearest garage. They promised a check of the electrical system, said they'd do their best to get us back on the road again, and drove me back to the hotel.

Slow-forward five hours.

The garage calls. They've found the problem: the screws holding cables to battery are stripped, so not making proper contact. With an hour's labor and two small parts, we're ready to go as soon as the Uber can bring me back to pick it up. (They're short-handed too.)

I get back to the hotel at quarter to six, noticing in passing that the shifter seems oddly stiff, and that the under-dash panel hasn't been properly reattached, but I'm so relieved to be moving that I don't think any more about it. We reload our stuff, check out again, and walk across the street for supper at the Chinese place while the horrible Seattle rush-hour traffic clears. We finally leave for home at 7 pm, catch clear traffic all the way down the interstate, and come in the doors here at just about 1 am.

But I'm not done yet. While driving, we discover that not only is the shifter stiff, it won't go into low gear (1 and 2) at all. And when it gets dark enough to use the headlights, the instrument panel light doesn't come on until about ten minutes after we start up.

So it's back to my shop in Eugene on Tuesday, where they eventually find, Thursday afternoon (short-handedness seems to be a theme here) that, in addition to not putting the dash panel together again, the shop in Everett didn't seat the battery properly back in its tray after replacing the terminals, just left it askew and tightened the clamp. This left a corner of the battery pushing against the shift column which... you get the idea. My shop only charged another hour, though it probably took them longer to retrace the previous crew's missteps. I took down a half-dozen coffee mugs as a thank-you present, then drove home to reload the van again for our show in Roseburg.

Relaxed

Jun. 24th, 2018 06:49 am
offcntr: (vendor)
If I had to choose one word to describe the UVAA Summer Arts Festival, it would be relaxed. Particularly as compared to Edmonds, last weekend.

Where Edmonds has regimented load-in and -out, complete with legions of volunteers with walkie-talkies, Roseburg simply blocks off the curb lane of Harvard Avenue from 7 to 11 am for vendors to drive up and offload. We time it perfectly: at 7:30 we park immediately behind our booth space, unload everything, and I take the van off to the elementary school parking lot and walk back.

Our space is mostly level, a minimal amount of shimming and blocking required, so set-up is fairly fast. Unlike most shows, they allow 11 feet square per booth space, with generous margins between, so we’re not bumping up against our neighbors, nor they us. We also have extra room behind the booth, so we can move our restock boxes back a bit, giving us some space to move around in.

Weather is gorgeous, cool and grey during setup, but the sun comes out around one, the customers even earlier—we make our first sale at 12:30. Some years the heat can be brutal—several times over 100°—but this year it’s predicted in the low 80s, and we have a breeze through our booth most of the time.

Sales are moderate to slow Friday, as expected, though I do sell both my. $70 serving bowls, which I hadn’t managed to do all last weekend. Saturday starts slow, and I go into my “I’m never selling anything again” funk, but things pick up in the afternoon, and we end up the day reasonably content.

Days are long—Friday and Saturday we close at 8—but Sunday’s a short day. Load out starts at 4 pm.

Memorable moments:

1. The customer who’s been buying a table setting a year for five years now (This year it’s a bear plate, bowl and mug). She’s apologetic about missing me last year, and I admit that I was gone too, back in Wisconsin for my 40 year high school reunion.

2. The family in to allow adolescent boy to pick a soup bowl to replace his favorite, sadly broken. While he’s deciding, I ask dad who autographed his straw hat; it turns out to be Asleep at the Wheel, when they played at the Stewart Park Band Shell. He’s the mandolinist for the local HotQua String Band, and we bond over my playing them on my radio show in years past. Incidentally, son Max eventually decides on a bear bowl.

3. The elephant keeper from Wildlife Safari who spends a long time in the booth before deciding to buy the happy baby elephant-patterned large pitcher.
offcntr: (vendor)
Favorite things from the first day of the Edmonds Arts Festival:

1. The little girl, maybe three years old, who spun the wheel at the Edmonds Community College booth and won a prize, delightedly showing off her LED flashlight keychain to any and all passers-by.

2. Edmonds police patrol the festival, in pairs, in uniform, night stick, gun, the works. Then, in mid-afternoon, I see a solo officer, still in full fig, shopping with his wife while pushing the stroller containing their tiny, tiny baby.

3. The family of four--mom, dad, two boys about 8 and 6--who have a prolonged conversation, in Japanese, examining every pot in the booth featuring a crab or octopus, with both boys finding more options to point out. Younger son also has a teddy bear on his shirt, so Yuri (the bear in the icon, above) has an entertaining several minutes communicating in sign language (waving, dancing) before his parents settle on the octopus oval platter. Whereupon I hand him the bear to hold while I dig through boxes to find it and notice him puppeteering it back, waving at me.
offcntr: (window bear)
You'd have thought a month of drying time for a sculpture would have been enough.

You'd have been wrong.
well, crapspare parts
When I unloaded the kiln Friday, this is what I found. Despite over a month in the studio, despite a slow warmup and a hold at 180° F. for two extra hours, there was still moisture in Mumfrey the battle quail's left flank. Moisture that turned to steam in the kiln, blowing off chunks of skin and breaking his tail in two.

Oh, crap.

So as I see it, I have three choices:

1. Fire it as is and try and put the pieces together later. With lots of Bondo and paint to hide the fractures.

2. Try to rebuild from scratch, possibly fitting over the existing legs and base structure. Difficult, as clay shrinks as it dries, about 6.25% from wet to bisque. 

3. Ditch the piece entirely, possibly making something different for the Ceramic Showcase gallery.

Or, I suppose:

4. Not have a gallery piece at all.

Think I need to sleep on this. Right now I'm just too depressed.

Surplus

Feb. 4th, 2018 09:33 pm
offcntr: (Default)
So, normally when I load the glaze kiln, I go through three stages over the course of the day:

1. Oh God, I don't have enough pots.
2. Oh God, I've got too many pots.
3. Whew! I've got plenty of pots, and in fact have a head start on the next firing.

And I generally wind up with somewhere between six and a dozen ware boards of pots to stash in my space until next time.

So this last time, after producing this:

I ended up with this:

That's right. Two pots. One of them a refire. This is the closest I've ever come to a perfect load in all my years loading kilns.

Just wow.

ETA: Okay, so I found a partial ware board in my space that never made it into the kiln room. Holding three more pots. Still pretty amazing, I think.
offcntr: (Default)
Had a couple of less-than-optimal firings just before Christmas, so I decided to see whether a little kiln maintenance might help. I already tightened up the chimney back in December (the bricks expand and push apart over many firings. Gaps allow in cold air that reduces the draft).

Today's repairs:

1. Take a vacuum cleaner to the burners, clearing out scale and detritus from the venturis.

2. Tear down and rebuild the bag walls. These are hard-brick dividers between the flame trough (where the burners shoot in burning gas) and the ware chamber itself. They're about four bricks high, and divert the flame up to the top of the kiln, where it will be drawn back down through the pots and shelves before exiting through a flue in the floor (and isn't that a tongue-twister). Extreme heat on the outer face has caused them to lean toward the outer wall, constricting the flame as it enters the kiln chamber. I tear them down to the bottom layer, reversing most of the bricks--they've actually started to warp, a little--and shimming them up with ceramic fiber to true them up vertical again.

3. Tighten up the bricks of the door, mostly by banging them with a hammer and two-by-four, to eliminate gaps and get the door face mostly flat again. I also brought in wrenches to tighten down the tie rods that hold the bricks in place in the steel work. We really need to get some new valve springs--the pair we have now are almost crimped flat. Automotive valve springs are often used in kiln frames to allow for expansion and contraction with heat. This set seems to have given as much as they have.

I'm hoping this will make for a better--at least more normal--firing Monday.

ETA: Aaand, it seems to have worked. Cones dropped together, same temperature top and bottom from about cone 1 all the way to the end. Used 64 units of gas, substantially better than the last two outings. Could even trim that down a little next time, as the reduction was pretty heavy throughout, could be a bit less.
offcntr: (bella)

Three uses for an Off Center Ceramics small baking dish (clockwise from top):

1. Cornbread dressing (oven-baked)

2. Roast chicken (oven-roasted)

3. Sautéed green beans with mushrooms, cooked with bacon fat (serving dish only)

That was a supper!

offcntr: (maggie)
 Three hours left of Holiday Market today; six more tomorrow. So far, I've run out of:

1. Cat painted mugs
2. Elephant stew mugs
3. Frog soup bowls

Fingers crossed...

ETA: …and done! Nothing else ran out. Last sale of the Market was an Octopus pasta bowl at 15 minutes 'til closing.
offcntr: (vendor)
Highlights of our second day in Anacortes:

  • Having two customers in a row who knew what potica was. (It's a Slovenian nut bread, served at holidays like Christmas and Easter.) Coincidentally, both of the were originally from Wisconsin, as are we.
  • Selling our last yarn bowl to a lovely Polish woman, who said it was the perfect size and shape. Right after someone else had told me it was too small.
  • A girl named Arden. Back in June, at Edmonds, we were visited by a little girl who loved our pots. I mean, it was like every time she noticed a new pattern, she'd squee, bounce a little, almost inflate a bit. I swear she was gonna float away if she saw one more bunny or kitty or elephant bowl. It was delightful. Sadly, she didn't have enough cash to get anything, and Mom wouldn't advance anything against her allowance.

    Later that day, I went down to my friend Shelly's booth to tell her the story, to find the same little girl there, equally enthusiastic about Shelly's animal sculptures.

    Fast forward six weeks. Late afternoon, I look up and say, "Edmonds." It's her and her mom. She's saved up her lawn-mowing money, and come to Anacortes looking for us. She found Shelly first, and bought a small elephant from her. Now she's trying to decide what she wants from me. Bunny toddler? Octopus dessert? Barn owl dinner plate? I'm going through the back stock box looking, for the barn owl dessert plate, when she finds the opossum dessert plate. That's it, we're done. She proudly paid out of her own pocket.
offcntr: (window bear)
As it happens far too often, I'm glazing under a deadline--one week to get everything ready for Sunday's loading. So I come home exhausted, throw together supper from whatever scraps of leftovers are in the fridge, and read myself to sleep. Sorry, blog!

I'm reminded of a piece I read a couple of years back, about the progress of a blog. Went something like:

1. Welcome to my blog! I've got a lot of great ideas I want to share, just as soon as I find the time to write them. Stay tuned!

2. Sorry I haven't posted in a while! Things have been really busy lately, but I'll get back to this any day now!

3. Here is a picture of my cat.


In lieu of my cats, here are pictures of cat pots for other people. First, a replacement job, customer has a Gordon Ward bowl from a good ten years back. Gordon and his wife Barbara moved to Northern California at least a decade ago, and I heard he'd taken up glass fusing, but the internet says he's doing ikebana pots these days. In any event, he's not arond to replace this one, so I took the job. It won't be the same, of course; he worked in porcelain, I use stoneware. The firing is different, the colorants are different, our drawing styles are very different. But I think the customer will be happy.

The other kitty I'm working on this firing is a cheetah, a special order painted mug for another potter's son. I warm up on this medium server. That's one fast cat.

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