Moving on to mosaic making…..

Pink and Purple Header

The last time I made a pot at my wheel is now more than 18 months ago.  I had made pottery on a daily basis for more than 25 years, and it was time to take a break.  I had been thinking of developing a new body of ceramic work that did not rely on my demanding salt kiln – AKA The Beast – for some time…  for a number of reasons.  I am now 73 years old, and plan to sell my farm within the next few years…  and move, probably into Portland, and it’s likely that I will have only an electric kiln to fire my work as many clay artists do.

I had been giving a lot of thought to a majolica process, again, starting with delicious Red Art terracotta clay that I enjoyed so much in an earlier epoch of pottery making.  I am still thinking about that….  I did some experimenting in 2018, and even had a little show with the new stuff.  There are many decorating possibilities…  this piece was thrown, painted in the green state with black slip, and then incised to set off the painting.  Later, I coated it with Red Art terra sigillata, and buffed it up to a nice sheen – just a minute or two of polishing on the fragile green cup.  After bisque firing, I poured in a liner glaze and refired to 04  to set the glaze.

Terracotta cup

But one day I was just playing around in the studio, and decided to make a little mosaic with some pretty buttons I had made that had not yet had backs attached to them.  I built a little wooden box frame, and filled it with grout.  I wanted to press the buttons into the grout, using it as an adhesive instead of acrylic adhesive, so I would not have to clean the grout out of the carving in the buttons.  It’s crude, but it was fun, and it was the start of mosaic making for me.

Mosaic # 1

I began to watch mosaic making videos on YouTube.  I learned about gifted Minnesota artist  Michael Sweere, whose incredible mosaics opened me to the possibilities of a new kind of work that would not only be fun to learn, but which presented unlimited possibility for graphic expression.  I also watched the videos of Caroline Jariwala, whose website and YouTube videos, like this one   – Making the Fence Panels  –  were full of information and exuberant design.

Each of these accomplished mosaic artists creates their mosaics from shaped pieces of fired clay.  Mosaic ready, the are called tesserae, and Sweere and Jariwala obtain them by breaking down tile or dinnerware into component parts.  Jariwala includes glass objects and other materials into her compositions as well.  But I am impatient, and I did not want to fill up my precious studio with mountains of odd tiles and old dishes – or new dishes, as are seen at Mango Mosaics Studio.  I thought…  why not just make my own tesserae from lowfire clay and glazes I have on hand in the studio?  I could make my own to precise thickness, and with every color available in low fire purchased glaze.

Tesserae in bins

At this point, I make tesserae by cutting them with straight-edges from tempered slab, cutting slices from extruded rods of clay, and by freehand cutting of floral  and other special shapes from tempered slab with knives.  I have developed a technique to rapidly glaze them, which makes a tedious process ever so much better.  All of these techniques are informed by years of fiddling around making ceramic buttons, beads, and jewelry components – all electric kiln processes.

Cutting extruded shapes

Yup, that’s a jeweler’s saw *improved* to make a tiny chop saw for extruded clay.  Works great to create precise miniature tiles.

Lately, I’ve been playing around with a different technique.  All those years I made functional pottery, one of my favorite parts of my process was carving on the green pots.  I have always loved to draw, and *drawing* on my pots with a carving tool was just something I had to do to really make it mine.  With the same tool, I have been experimenting with carving on stiff clay slabs – deep enough that the carving lines will hold grout.

First, I prepare a slab of clay – what a fascinating topic!  I may blog about this later – and when it has reached the correct stage of dryness, I cut it to a precise shape to facilitate later framing.  I have accidentally created a few trapezoids or parallelograms, and they are a bitch to frame artfully once they come out of the kiln.  Then, I transfer the drawing to the slab of clay by laying the pencil drawing over the clay slab and tracing over my drawing lines with a not-to-sharp pencil or deceased ball point pen.  After a bit more drying, I use my carving tool to create what will later be grout lines between the *faux tesserae.*  After careful bisque firing, I paint out the blocks of color to match my vision for the piece, and refire the piece, which is basically an oversized tile.  Here’s a floral bouquet mosaic and its’ drawing in progress, almost ready for the bisque.

Floral Drawing and Green Carding

Once the image areas are glazed and fired, I adhere the *tile* to a previously painted or stained wooden frame, and a day later it is ready for grout.  Here’s a finished mosaic that I created earlier this month.  Fun!

Little Bear Walks by Night

Artist pal Jill Mayberg created the original painting from which this was adapted for our joint show at Valley Art in Forest Grove, Oregon.  This piece (16″ wide  x 14″ tall) will be on display there until the end of February.

LIttle Bear features a center *tile* surrounded by conventional 1″ tesserae.

I will be leading a workshop at Valley Art on February 1, 10-4, where all these techniques will be demonstrated.  Send an email if you would like to reserve a place in the workshop, $50.

Report from the New York Whole Bead Show….

bead waves

Friday, October 2

What does it mean when you take the things you make to a show or art fair and no-one buys them? First of all, it means that the money you have paid to participate is wasted. If you have work that has sold well in other venues, and you bomb at a particular show, the work is not wasted. There are times when an artist can have worthy work that juries love and put into top shows, and simply no-one will buy.

Two good examples of this from my personal circle; one involves a long-time friend with many skills and great design sensibility; who saw beautiful canvas floor-cloths in home decor magazines and decided to paint some and see if she could sell them. First application – BAM! – The Bellevue Art Museum Show – accepted the work and she began working furiously to have inventory. At the show? Not a single piece sold, and she still rages about the incessant questions, especially the most hated – “Did you make this?” Uh… duh…

Another is a capable artist and craftswoman who had done shows with her husband for many years. She introduced a beautiful new series of encaustic paintings; got into every show to which she applied, and won Best of Show in several. But the work did not sell, and she has moved on to a new epoch of sculptural glass work. She is now achieving both entry to top shows and awards, and is also selling the work at prices a potter can only envy.  But who knows what became of the floor cloths and encaustic paintings flung off into the vortex by the transition…

Bad weather can send an artist home without a paycheck. In 20 years of shows, the worst storm I have seen was Corvallis Fall Festival, 2013. CFF is a nice little 2 day show; efficiently run; with an educated audience that includes many working and retired academics. They like my work, and offer informed compliments if they are not buying. In 2013, my neighbor’s booth was reduced to a pile of pipe and canvas with the first gust.

The lawns of the park were quickly turned into a quagmire; we learned later that 5 inches of rain fell that day. I was nursing a terrible cold. We knew that the show would be cancelled… I refused to put my pots on tables or shelves, and sat inside my zipped and weighted tent until we were dismissed at 2:30 Saturday afternoon. Bad behavior on my part, yes,; probably too much cold medicine! The load out was a blur… all I remember now is the cheerful assistance from my friend who lives in Philomath. But I had automatic deposit from my day job waiting at home; others did not.

Evanne at Corvallis FFF Mudhole
I have been skunked at new shows that did not yet have a following of customers. One was a Christmas show a decade ago, organized by a persuasive guy who had done art fairs years before. It was in the Oregon Convention Center, which is an expensive venue. I ended up trading many poinsettias from my day job for my booth space. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY came! The show was beautiful; the hall full of Christmas color and music. He had planned and purchased publicity, and it all sounded very good, but alas…. There was also a new show started by civic boosters in Sherwood, and another in a dusty lot on TV highway on a 100+ degree weekend. Lots of trading goes on at these shows peopled only by unhappy artists…..

But the show I am at in New York City will go down as my worst show ever, mostly because what it cost for space, and what it cost to get Pam and I and our stuff here and purchase a week of lodgings in the dreary Hotel Pennsylvania. I should have just taken a whole lot of hundred dollar bills and set them on fire, and stayed home with my dog and cat.

ging table

How bad is bad? In two days, I have made about $200. It’s cheering to think of how much pizza that will buy here in NYC, Pizza Capitol of the Universe. And no, I didn’t put any of this insanity of fees, lodging, and airfare on a credit card, I paid cash. Dawg Bless the day job, and good shows earlier this year….

And the burning question of interest… how are other vendors doing? Yes, I am low enough to take a perverse comfort in the unhappiness of other vendors. Ain’t nobody happy…. The weather sucks; chill, wind, and driving rain.  Tropical storm Joachim has been upgraded to Category 4 and is bearing down on the NYC area. There are transit problems in the area. The show was moved this year from where it had been held for a decade.

And then there is the mystery of who buys what, and who will come to shows now. We all know that commerce is shifting; and fairs and shows where makers and vendors meet the public are an institution that is essentially clinging to life since medieval times. Dozens of times each day I heard, is this work all online? I will go to your website. The new version of “I’ll be back….”

Today I had an interesting conversation with a lovely woman in her 70’s with beautiful white braids. She told me repeatedly how happy she was to see my work at the show, and how gorgeous she thought it was. She said she thought I was the only artisanal bead maker that had been in the show for years. She didn’t buy… she can no longer see well enough to make jewelry. Another visitor was a potter herself, and shared lots of information about how people find places to work in clay in NYC…


Others have confirmed to me that the show changed dramatically after 2008… prior to that time there were many bead makers at the show. But the disappointing art fairs and shows that came with the recession ended the ambitions of many independent artists. I know for myself that pottery sales were halved in those first years of the recession… And I can tell you that there are plenty of bead makers out there in cyberspace… I have been learning from their internet posts. Many of them sell on Etsy.

Now the show, the New York Whole Bead Show, which once had a waiting list of years, is full of Indian and Chinese vendors selling strands of semiprecious stones; tables and tables of them. There is a calm Sikh vendor to our left, selling metal findings and fine chain by weight.

Mr Singh

Customers lament these changes, and talk about the departure of all the NYC bead stores to Brooklyn, where rents are lower. I do enjoy looking at the Tibetan tribal jewelry components.

tibetan bling

To our right, there is an Indian man with a Russian woman business partner. They have SUPERBLING finished jewelry. Their LED display lights are nearly blinding. Pam says, all dyed stones and they don’t make it. I can’t wait to see what the she wears tomorrow. Today it was denim hotpants covered with rhinestones, an equally encrusted jeans jacket, towering high heels, and a whole lot of boobs. She has on more eye makeup at one time than I have used in all my 67 years. Tomorrow I will create some pretext to take her picture.

Russian designer
But we are in New York, a city I love to visit. We have two days off, Monday and Tuesday, before heading home. The Metropolitan Museum is now open Monday, yippee! Tuesday, I hope to go to Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Museum and botanical garden for the day if Pam is willing. The rain has damped my desire to walk around the city, but the weather will improve. I like to walk the streets and listen to all the languages; I try to identify the country of origin of the Spanish speakers. One of my visitors had beautiful French-flavoured speech and a ready smile.


And what about all that stuff – beads and components and finished jewelry – I brought? I still like it – love some of it – and think it has worth. But I need to figure out if I should keep making it, inventing and improving it, and jurying with it. Making it is as much fun as pottery making used to be… but this type of show is no longer a possibility.

Black Disc

Sunday, October 4

It’s hard to evaluate what it means when you don’t sell new work. Is it crap? Wrong for the audience? Improperly priced? Is my display cluttered or barren? I have watched many friends try to change their work, usually because what they have learned to produce through decades of practice and natural mastery simply stops selling. The inertia of the jury system is a huge problem. With images required for entry to shows many months before the event, planning is necessary. With the sort of galleries that carry my work, new work is welcome as long as it is consigned, and the process is efficient to get it in place. Of course, they may want to send the old stuff back… into the Vortex with it!

When manufacturers generate new products, the costs of doing so are clearly anticipated. Market research, design teams, prototyping, process refinement, trial production, beta testing, and sales analyses are standard practice. For we humble artists, sometimes working on the kitchen table, each of these steps is conducted informally and the costs of a failed product line are intimate and painful. But for me, in this process of conception and realization is the real bliss of being an artist. You have to work to please yourself first. All that you have experienced, seen and remembered, studied, and loved, owned, and even lost, informs the making of new work. It’s the exercise of imagination made tangible that distinguishes what we make from what can be bought in a department store.

The experience of purchasing a handmade object from the person who made it is increasingly rare. I sell a little bit of stuff online, and will probably have to get better at it. The main reason I still make pottery is because people come to shows and tell me how much they love the things they own that I have made; what place a cup or bowl or vase occupies in their daily life. They buy another piece for themselves, or for a friend, and sometimes they just say hello. These welcome encounters are the counterbalance to solitary hours in the studio, with the clay and the TV or iPod and my dear little dog.

I am home now, and making up gallery orders from what came home with me. It’s good to remember all the great people I met, and the fun I had with my friend Pam, who I have known since she was a grower of cactus and succulents 35 years ago; not a bead merchant, and we both had armsfull of babies. And there were many good people at the show; customers and vendors. The people are what I will remember…


A November firing… still extracting meaning from the results…

Border ofBeautifulBeads

First of all, thanks again to all of you who read my blog, and welcome to precious new readers. Making pottery is isolating work, and I am a curmudgeonly old thing these days who likes to toil alone.  But I do like to compare notes with other potters, and writing about my process helps me make sense of things that I do habitually, and set down and preserve the things I learn with each firing.  If you are interested in hands-on forming process, there is lots more at my original pottery blog,

Just about everything I learned from others or of figured out for myself is on this original blog. I’d like to get it all together and make a small hand building book to publish notebook style one of these days, but that lies ahead.  This blog was supposed to be just for writing practice…  but it does usually meander back to clay work.  If you haven’t been there, there is also a lot of my work and some of the process blog posts at my Insomnia Pottery website,

Anyway…  I took most of this past year off from pottery making to host my daughter’s wedding here at the farm the first weekend in August.  I also skipped the Edmonds Art Festival this year to attend another wedding in LA in June, and didn’t jury for several other shows I regularly do.  So I have only fired twice this year, first in early March and then again Thanksgiving Weekend.  It was the first time that Steve was able to be here when I am firing.  Here’s a favorite pot from this firing, claimed for Christmas by my kid Madeline months before the firing.

Watering Can 1

My boyfriend Steve is a take-charge kind of guy with a lot of practical skills.  When we met, he had a beat-up Shimpo wheel marked #4 in his kitchen; just the kind of thing a potter woman likes to observe when first visiting the home of a man she has met and finds interesting.  We’ve been seeing each for about a year and a half, and it’s been good.  His home is in Washington, 157 miles to the northeast.

I had the load painted when he arrived for Thanksgiving Dinner, but pots were not yet wadded. Friday we started in to get everything ready for an early Saturday start.  The load was hard to evaluate for volume, because it was mostly small pieces…  lots of cups.  Ultimately, there was about 1/3 of a load of painted and unpainted bisque for next time when all was in, but you don’t know that when you start loading.

I was eager to see some trial pieces of a new clay, Appy, that is from Clay Art Center in Tacoma.  I’ve been using their Welches clay, but find it less than delightful to throw, and am bugged by a grit material that works its way to the surface at trimming time and drives me nuts.  Welches is a very open clay body, which makes it serviceable for ovenware.  This also means that it dries very quickly and I have to be careful to get it at the right stage for carving.  If you haven’t done a lot of incising on pots, you may not appreciate how much the state of dryness of the pot changes the quality of the line you incise with your tool.  I like to use a few stamps with the line work sometimes, and can never seem to catch the Welches pots wet enough for effective stamping.

I am always surprised when people think that I stamp the imagery on my thrown work.  Hand built work in process is perfect to stamp; the clay blanks lie obediently flat on my work table and await every mark. It’s very hard to aggressively stamp a thrown piece and still retain a tight form.

I like the Appy clay.  It’s very pleasant to throw and carve; smooth at trim time.  No problem with handles, so I must just see what the color is like.  Here’s a nice pot, thrown from Appy by my potter friend Steve Provence, Steve #2.Milkweed Vase

The warm brown clay surface in the cotton bolls (aw, you recognized them, right?) is the natural surface of the Appy clay in my kiln.  I used to paint all my pieces with flashing slip made from Helmer and EPK, but stopped doing it a couple of years ago.  One less step!  It was essential for B-Mix, another superceded clay, but less essential when clays have more iron in their body.

I like most of the Appy pieces!  Surface color is warm…  nice distributed orange peel.  The edge bleaching – one of the chemical mysteries of salt firing, along with where the heck the iron goes, is all as once might wish….  I am not so pleased with an open bowl from the top shelf.  My usually reliable Oatmeal Skyline glaze is pocked and warted, ugly!  I am not sure what is up with that – the top shelf is usually reserved for higher value vertical pieces which relish the extra vapors up there. I seldom place an open piece there.  I’ll have to think about that…3 rectangle HB Vases

This is Georgie’s Cannon Beach cone 10, which I used for years, and now only use for pieces where there will be no thermal shock.  It’s a great handbuilding clay.  These three pieces are all exactly the same clay and slips, and all were fired within inches of each other. Vaporous cobalt from my black slip flashes the gold slip green, I like it….

The whole load is rather dark, though good salt deposit is evident; and there was heavy reduction throughout.  After 18 firings, I should know this kiln better, but it can still surprise me.  I believe there are two reasons for the properties of this particular load.  First, there is a control which regulates the quantity of air entering into the back of the burner that is part of the burner.  Using this control, I did not allow as much secondary air into burner itself as I have done at other times.  I was getting a good temperature rise each hour based on records from prior firings, so I just left it a bit tighter than normal on each burner.Tall Cup Muted GreensHave you ever seen a gas kiln at top temperature with flame licking of every tiny gap in the bricks?  I have seen such moments, even on my own kilns.  There are almost always small tongues of flame shooting from gaps during salting, when the damper is closed down to 1” to contain the vapors as long as possible. We see those interstices, those gaps when the damper is closed, but I have often wondered how much air they admit to the kiln when the temperatures are climbing in oxidation, or light reduction.

The use of an Oxyprobe of some sort could answer a lot of questions for me, but I haven’t seen fit to purchase one.  At any rate, during the last firing, my kiln was tighter than it has ever been.  Steve, who is a professional machinist and skilled woodworker,  took on the task of laying up the door, and did a more precise job of it that I have ever done.  I have a 12” wet saw about 6 feet from the kiln, and a big pile of scrap brick.  That door was tight!  There was almost no flame out, even during salting, and possibly much less air in during the firing.

Tiny Sugar Jar


Now, this is dark….  like a small, precious rock.


My farm and nursery have been for sale now for over a year,  and for the first time I have some prospective buyers.  Information has been going back and forth via my realtor, and I am starting to get serious about looking for a place to move.  One of the first things that I consider when I evaluate a piece of property is whether or not I might be able to build a salt kiln on the site.   For months, I have been looking at homes in southwest Portland and Beaverton.  My daughters would like me to move closer to the city; to them and their partners and my hypothetical grandbabies. Those girls are 33 and 35 now, time’s a wastin’.  There would probably be a studio in a basement, and terra cotta clay again for electric process.  Howl!

As for the locations of my life, I’ve never lived anyplace since I was a kid where there have been trick-or-treaters , in other words,  I’ve never lived in town.  My dog barks at night, my boyfriend wants to bang on metal late at night, and I like lots of room to grow things.  I’ve always wanted to build my own house, and have built a 32’x96’ office, a number of barns and outbuildings, and exactly 63 greenhouses as designer and general contractor, sometimes as operator of transit or spirit level.  When I was building the nursery in the late 90’s, I spent so much time at the Washington County building department that I felt like I lived there.  If I decide to build a home, I will hire an engineer make my plans acceptable to the county, and get started.

But today I am buying cuttings and seeds and putting a crop together as if I will be a bedding plant grower for another 40 years.  There will be at least one more beautiful crop here at the nursery on Susbauer Road, and a few more loads of pottery as well most likely.

Dinky Ewer1


Among the lessons from this load, foremost is that the pieces built in play, for fun, are the best work.  This little soy bottle, and the plant waterer pictured above, were both build from scrap on a day when I didn’t feel like throwing.

I don’t think I feel like throwing today.

In Praise of Wadding…

Without wadding, there would be no salt firing.  I believe that most atmospheric firers wad their pots to some degree, and I know that there is great variation in how wadding is made among potters.  For those of you who have not taken part in salt firing of pottery or other atmospheric firing, the vaporous kiss of the salt (or wood ash, or soda….) is what creates the special effects we seek on the surface of our work.  That same vaporous kiss will fuse your pot right to the shelf upon which it sits, where it may shatter into dangerous shards as the kiln cools and it cannot shrink at the same rate as the shelf.  What to do?

Each piece that goes into the kiln must perch upon balls of wadding.  This wadding leaves small white circles where it has been adhered to the pot.  Many buyers hate these white dots, and want pots that don’t have them. They are particularly incensed by the wad marks – usually long ovals – that remain from where wads are placed when casserole lids are fired in place.  Sigh…  Here are some typical wad marks on a salt pig from my recent load.

Salt Pig 1 Bottom

I have used a lot of different combinations of materials to make my wadding.  At this time, I use a 50-50 mixture of alumina hydrate and Helmar kaolin BY VOLUME.  Wearing my respirator, I measure the materials out into a plastic dishpan.  I use about 8 cups of each material, which makes about 10 pounds of wadding.  I mix the two materials by hand, and then add water.  It’s okay to make it too sloppy; just add more of each until you get it right.

I like to make wadding one batch ahead during a firing.  That way, it has time to become more plastic and easier to roll out into coils.   I often mix up the wadding, and then cover it with plastic for a few days before wedging.  I prefer to wedge it on the formica top of my slab roller table rather than on my plaster wedging table.  The alumina hydrate makes it into un-clay, and it sticks to the plaster in an untidy way, even as it is being blended.

When it is smooth and uniform, and still a bit wetter than I would like when I make my wads, I pack it into a tightly covered plastic container from the restaurant supply store and put it in my storage area.  It’s good to keep it on the wet side, because unlike clay, I can’t seem to rehydrate it by spritzing or sprinkling water into it.  Other wads have been easy to rehydrate, but this wad has specific properties that are more important.

What are the properties a salt-firer requires from wadding?  First, and most important, is how the wadding comes free from the pot after firing.  The first wads I used required much hand sanding to make the places where wads had been adhered smooth and attractive.  This quickly becomes wearisome!  I have been known to describe myself a a connoisseur of abrasives, and this is sadly true.  Shelves must be sanded after each firing, kiln posts too; you have to be a little bit nuts to do all this work when you could snatch soulless but serviceable cone 6 pots out of an electric kiln with none of these annoyances…

My first hands-on experience with salt firing was as observer of Craig Martell’s salt-firing process.  Craig has a big salt kiln that he fires occasionally, and agreed to let me come when he was setting up to fire, and even put some of my first pots for salt in his kiln.  I helped with wadding, and learned that a person has to stick the wads on with Elmer’s. Craig has vast technical knowledge, and without his help, I would have given up on learning to salt fire and returned to red earthenware, most likely.  Here’s a pot of mine from that firing in Craig’s kiln. I have never been able to duplicate some of the effects on this humble piece – I still use this gold slip, but it hasn’t been willing do this in any of my three salt kilns….

Pot from CRaigs Kiln

The first wadding I made myself incorporated flour along with alumina hydrate and EPK kaolin.  It was okay to roll out, made decent balls/spheres/bollitos of wadding.  It also soured quickly and needed to be used with a day or two.  I used to put the leftover bits of wadding into the freezer, and still find a small,  mysterious bag of frozen dough once in a while.

James Tingey, another fine Oregon potter, came up and fired with me once,  and introduced me to wadding made with wood sawdust.  This took less sanding, but made a larger minimum wad which didn’t work for my small pieces such as butter boxes.  I am not sure at what point I switched to my present mix, but it’s clearly the best for ease of forming and removal, and keeps forever.  It becomes much more plastic as time goes on, too.

There are two principle uses for wadding in the kiln; setting up the pots, and wadding the furniture.  I may also use wadding for chinking in the kiln, especially since I am laying up a brick door again.  It shrinks, and probably doesn’t really stop that much flame, but it makes me feel like I am doing something.  Better to stuff shreds of kaowool in; but I worry about fibers.  I should research this hazard…

I like to make all the wads for the firing before I start stick them on, and have become surprising good at guessing how many will be needed.  I need two full plates of 1/2″ balls for general use, about 100 3/4″ balls for wadding the contact point between my silicon carbide barstock and the shelves, and about 32 big fat wads of wad for the tops of the posts I use top separate the shelves – 4 per shelf.  Here’s a plate of small wads ready for wadding pot bottoms and lids as well.  I fill up rectangular plastic plates, which are tucked into ziplock bags.


Potter friends contact me from time to time to tell me about new ways to make wads.  A potter somewhere rolls wadding into a small slab, then presses a straightedge into the slab at intervals, in two directions, to create small regular cubes connected at the base,  It’s bisqued, snapped apart, and glued onto pots.  Is this easier than what I do?  Maybe…

How does a potter learn this stuff?  I have been extraordinarily well mentored, not only by Craig, but also by longtime friend and ceramic engineer Barrett Jackson, who regularly introduces me to all sorts of high tech materials.  From him, I got boxes of ceramic cam rollers – diesel engine parts – rejected products of a high-tech manufacturing firm where he worked for years.  These make the all-time best ever kiln posts for salt.  From him I also got – free, for picking it up in LA – my barstock that I use to set the load.  Here’s a shot of early stages of stack building.

Starting the StackYou can’t see the 3/4″ wads under the shelves, but they are there.  And you can see the big wads on top of the kiln posts, waiting for the next pieces of barstock to be laid over the top of them.  You also can’t see the level that I keep at hand.  I check level on the shelves in both directions – at this point, I rarely need to make an adjustment.  All that wadding helps to keep things level…

I wad all pots that go into the kiln, but I don’t wad salt and pepper shakers, beads, tiny cruet lids, and suchlike.  Because my shelves are carefully cleaned after every firing, this works for me.  I’ve considered experimenting with un-wadded pots, but the potential for variation in vapor movement in the kiln makes me feel safer firing with wads.

So!  If you have gotten this far, thank you…  This is pretty dull stuff, Unless you want to fire a salt kiln.  It’s the only way I know to get effects like this….

Flower Panel

Making a new lid for my old butter boxes…

Finish BB House Here’s  is a favorite butter box, slightly grimy from sitting around my studio with other pieces I like too much to sell.  I do like to make boxes.  Hand-building is is a guilty pleasure for an impatient person like me who sometimes doesn’t love the many steps of wheel thrown pottery in my process.   Thinking about it now, I realize that it’s probably just as complex if you take righteously prepping the clay into account.

I am very particular about readying my slabs for hand building.  I do have a nice slab roller, which speeds the process and yields up perfect slabs of various thicknesses.  For the butter boxes, an extruder prepares the molding which forms the lid seat.  Here’s a picture of the extruder die; it’s cut from sheet pvc and supported during extrusion by the round die shown beneath it.  Much trial and error in designing this extrusion… Box MoldingHere’s a bunch of extrusion prepped for box building.  It dries out – DIES! – super fast, so I put it on plastic as well as under plastic. Fresh moldingsThe boxes are just little rectangles.  I have sheet pvc templates that I use to build them. Sheet pvc is a great material for repeated-use patterns in studio.  Mine is salvage from a local electronics manufacturer – it’s used to ship exotic films for chip building – but you can buy it on line or a good craft stores. There are several thicknesses; it takes serious shears or snips to cut the good stuff. Waiting for moldingHere’s a set of little boxes ready to receive their lid-seat extrusion.  As you all know, the most important thing about joining hand built pieces is keeping all the components at the same stage of dryness, er more correctly, wetness. A condition were there is no color change; the clay remains easy to score and “goop-up” with a serrated rib; but is no longer flexible is just right for this clay, a slightly gritty cone 10 stoneware.  As you can see, I don’t perfect the base boxes at this state.  That is so much easier to do hours later, when the piece is ready for final carving. Applying the moldingsHere’s extrusion going on.  I use a little 6″ ruler to measure each piece individually.  There is always a little bit of variation  1/8″ off can spoil the box…  careful! I do not use any joining slip, magic water, or any other such stuff.  If the clay is correctly conditioned none is necessary.  I cut a tiny miter freehand…  decades of sewing prepared me for clay work…  and I can hit it right on every time.  You might like to use a tiny plastic right triangle until you are confident. So…  all the boxes are built; and some have stamping or texture applied in the “flat state” that will be part of the surface.

Now, the tedious part begins – or USED TO begin – the building of dinky lids from four little triangles of clay.  I had thought for sometime that I could press a nice little lid onto a form, but how should I make the form?  Gotta be quick; just a trial, of course.  Wood is a possibility, bisque of course, but how about that crazy pink foam?  I have gained a new appreciation of the stuff because of what my sweetheart Steve makes from it.  Check this out!   Never want to run into the rest of this critter….. Bug head I still have pink foam in studio from days of experimenting with hat-making, to which I will return someday, of course…. Roughing the Block Here’s the first whack at a form for the lids.  Consultation with Steve makes sandpapering the form down a bit the next step… Wearing a respirator would be a good idea; fine particles of this pink stuff are a respiratory hazard, and a potential mechanical irritant to the surface of the eye.  sANDED bLOCK Pretty dang nice!  Took about 10 minutes, mostly because I don’t measure or overthink.  No drying time, bisquing, or other fussing.  Can’t wait to slap some clay onto it…. Lid on Block with RibHere’s a first lid.  I like a very soft rib to smooth stuff; perfect to contour the clay down to the form.  Impatient Ginger!  pink crumbs all over my work area! Cutting the EdgeMy little Chinese wire tool is perfect to trim the slab down to size.  I anticipated that I would do some further fitting, with a small Surform plane tool, so the lid block is a little bit oversized. Built no carvingThe lids are perfect first time through, yippee!  I will dry these boxes under plastic for a few days, and then do final surface design on them.  Production time reduced by the lid form by at least 25%…..

Can you see the lid seat on the box on the right above?  I ran out of extrusion and had to build the lid seat from strips…  I will round and smooth the edges later and they will be just as nice. So it can be done if you don’t have access to an extruder…

Reading over this post before I hit the button and launch it into the world, I realize that what I want to do next is make the series of little architectural stamps that I have been imagining….  little windows and doors, arches and cupolas; all related by scale,  Ooooohh!

The salt kiln roars again…

Algodon Panel

After my last firing back in August, for Art In The Pearl, I was too depressed to even blog.  The firing was fine… pots all good,  but a big chunk had broken out of my door when I opened the kiln.  I had built the kiln a couple of years before, and used a lot of MIzzou castable in its’ construction.  The door was completely cast from Mizzou, and hung on a track which made loading and unloading ever-so-pleasant, especially in the middle of the night.  The kiln had only been fired seventeen times, so to have a 25 pound chunk of castable fall out of the door was a pretty grim event.  For a while, I pretended that I was going to be able to repair it, but a thorough inspection made it clear that it was dangerous, could never be used again, and was irreparably damaged,  It was demolished.

I just had one show after Art In The Pearl…  Corvallis Fall Festival.  A typhoon class storm that dumped 5″ of rain in 8 hours and reduced Corvallis’ lovely city park to a mudhole and sent artists whimpering into their tents, made it possible for me to pretend I didn’t need to make any pottery before Christmas gallery stocking.  Then I started getting emails from a woman in Seattle who had been waiting for two years for another big covered jar to go  with the one she had purchased in 2009 or so.  She was patient, and not cranky, and I finally decided that I would make a load of pots so she could have her husband’s Christmas present.  And I would have to fix the door.

I knew there were some double-size bargain insulating bricks up at Northwest High Temp.  It took just 70 of them to make a short-life door for my kiln.  I am hoping to get 6 firings out of them – one year of work.  Watching these bricks dissolve in the horrific atmosphere of the Salt Beast will cost about $30 per firing, way less than the cost of rebuilding the door.

I fired the kiln two days ago, and pulled the pots out tonight.  The firing was not without problems – I knew I was cutting it close with the gas but didn’t want to pay $150 for an off-schedule propane delivery.  There was 40% in the 500 gallon tank when I started, and it takes just 20% of that tank to get to 2265 F, my temperature goal.  At 2000 there were inch-long frost crystals on the tank, and I felt doomed.  It was 5 pm by them, too late for any begging by phone.  I washed the tank with cold water repeatedly, and it pinged and crackled.  The ex-temp door worked fine and the temperature kept rising.  The third salting was done at 9:30; I crash cooled to 1700, and was in bed by 11.

Today is the 19th of December, and I say to all of you non-potters that the opening of a kiln, even a soulless electric kiln full of bad majolica, is better than Christmas anytime.  And so it was with my kiln today.  Plenty hot, plenty salt! Here are those big jars….

Big Jars

It’s easy to be cranky with people that want you to match something you made years back.  You think  #$@#***WHY THE HECK DIDN’T YOU BUY IT WHEN I HAD TOTES FULL OF THAT WORK?  She’s bringing the jar her husband, a serious cook, loves, to our meeting in Seattle Saturday, and will select two of these to go with it.  They are big, the largest about 20″ tall.

Pitcher 1 One

Here’s another special order from the kiln, 12″ pitcher with my “Cotton”  imagery.  Also a gift from a wife to a husband who collects my stuff.  Aspiring potters, be especially nice to couples who come in together to look at your work.  They are the repeaters, the big spenders, the most appreciative and fun of all customers.

Three bowls

There were lots of these, more than 50 mugs,  and lots of other nice pieces.  I will be visiting Bill Bachhuber, the professional photographer who shoots my work next week, I hope.

It’s a good load.  It’s good to fire again, and I’m glad I finally did something about the missing door.

Rainy day fun with beads…

A couple of times each year, I go on the road to New York with my friend Pam who owns BelloModo Beads.  I am briefly a roadie – a schlepper of her pretty dang vast mobile inventory, coffee gopher, and whatever else is needed.  During the show, I sit in a corner of Bello Modo’s space and cut chain and leather bracelet making materials to length, and also help customers pick out components to make their own jewelry.  It’s fun!  And naturally, I wanted to make some bracelets for myself and my daughters, and as it has turned out, sell some to the galleries that carry my pottery.1 Tools and Materials

Here what’s needed to make a style of bracelet I particularly like.  I was really pleased when I learned that 3/0 glass beads slip neatly onto 2mm Indian Leather, my favorite size to work with.  Here are three metallic colors of leather cord that I like to combine.  You can see the two clasp components slightly to the right of center in the picture.  To their right is a great leather cutter that BelloModo sells, and a little squeeze bottle of the super duper glue that joins it all together.  It takes 6 – 20″ lengths of leather cord to make the bracelet – I will be be using two strands of each color. The color of the beads is “Topaz.”2 Leather cord ready

Work the lengths of cord with your hands until they are all laying side by side in a natural curve,  Then double them in the middle to form a loop.3 Slip on the closure

Slip the end of the closure component through the loop and over the hook, and pull the strands snug to make a reasonably trim loop.  When I am satisfied with the way the strands lie together, I will slip the copper ornament on from the loose ends and snug it into place.  I like to glue it in place about 1″ from the end of the loop – fiddle around and make sure there is room to slip the loop through the ring and over the hook once the ornament is glued into place.  Be sure to work with plenty of ventilation with ANY glue…  who knows what’s in the stuff…..

Now here’s a simply dreadful picture!  Photos for this post were my first experiment ever with a tripod and camera timer to photograph Self doing something….  better next time. You can see the ornament under my thumb, and my right hand squeezing a droplet of glue into the space between the edge of the ornament and the bundle of cords.  4 apply the glue

Once several drops of glue have been applied into the join between the ornament and the leather cord, lay it carefully down to set up.  It’s a good time to go for a snack or change the TV channel; or even pet the dog.  I like to give the glue four or five minutes to be sure before further work.5 setting the glue

Here’s the bracelet at rest with its’ ornament in place. Next, bead are slipped onto each strand of leather cord.  I like three beads per strand; you can do as you like.  Snipping the end of each strand at the sharpest possible angle can make it easier, and a few of the beads simply are too small.  But most glide right on;  and I set the dinky ones aside for other bead work.6 threading on the beads

This is the slowest part of the making the bracelet, but the beads add so much…7 Checking for Length

Next, I hold the strands together and check the size of the bracelet.  There is enough leather cord that it can be trimmed to any needed size.8 clean Cut

Using the cord cutter, I cut a nice straight edge across of all of the strands.  I have already twiddled around with the strands a bit to give them a sense of motion, when you make your own your will see exactly what I mean.  The twelve cord ends will fit tightly into the open end of the clasp component.  I used to fill the component end with glue, and then push the cut ends into the space.  Messy!  Now, I put them in dry and get them exactly as I want them, and the carefully drip the extremely fluid glue into join between the cords and clasp.  Much neater, and works better. 9 Securing the ends

I the bracelet down for the glue to cure, and later I will test every strand to make sure it is firmly glued, and re-glue any willful escapees.10 All Done

Here’s the finished bracelet!  Thanks to all you potters who stayed with this to the end…  I’ll be back to pottery making  soon!

Everything I used is available from Pam at…..

Dinky-ing Around in the Studio

It’s been many weeks since I worked in my studio, and it’s time to get in there again and make some pots.  I’ve been sulking about my clay problem all spring, and did not have the response the new white porcelain work that I had hoped for at my only show so far in 2013.

Here’s the Clay Problem – a stoneware clay that had been  completely great for years for handbuilding and throwing both is no longer reliable.  Last year, I had five teapots returned because they broke when hot water was poured into them.  A few weeks ago, a regular customer brought a cup back that popped and pinged – and leaked! – the first time that boiling water was poured into it.  And dozens of pieces have broken in the bisque.  I had been thinking that it was just the stress of carving that was making the pots susceptible to breaking in the bisque…

At Oregon Potters Association Ceramic Showcase last month, I asked a employee of the company that makes the clay in question if there had been any changes to the formulation or problems with the clay.  As soon as he began to speak – slowly, without eye contact; weighing every word – I knew something was up…  so this morning I spent an hour purging my pugmill and setting up to work with B-Mix.  I have used it off and on for years as a second clay; it’s fairly soulless but reliable.  And teapots made from it don’t break when you put hot water into them, sigh….

When I have gone into the studio in past weeks, I’ve mostly wanted to make dinky little things.  This mood comes upon me from time to time, usually when I am troubled by stress or indecision.  When I was sewing for hours each day in the decades before clay became my drug of choice, I would occasionally be stricken with the need to apply minuscule polka-dot  piping to every finished edge or dither around with appliques of chickens.  I think it’s hereditary.  I still have some  hand-crocheted doll clothes that my old Mum used to make when she was a night-nurse a lifetime ago in Walla Walla.

I recently been fixated on French butter crocks, a favorite dinky thing.  I sell about 20 each year, not a lot, but the people who want them really love the dang things.  If you’re not familiar with them, there’s a crazy deep lid which holds the butter, and extends into a base. Water is placed into the base, and prevents the butter from becoming rancid – the whole point is that the thing can sit out on the counter, keeping the butter soft but preventing spoilage, cat-licking,  fly-landing, and other depredations of kitchen fauna.  There are issues of fit and size with lid and base, but they are easy to throw and fun to decorate.  There were some at Showcase for $17, but I still managed to sell some of my ridiculously overpriced ones for $72.  Thank God for the educated!

The part that bothers me is that you have to soften the butter first, and then pack it into the lid.  One of my more eccentric regulars, who shall remain unnamed just in case, has ordered up several rectilinear handbuilt French crocks for gifts in recent years.  They were really fun to decorate!  But I’ve been thinking – why not size them so a stick of butter plops right in, ending the softening-squishing part of the deal.  I had to work out the shrinkage, which is probably good for the old brain, and here they are.rect french crocks

Nice little forms!  I feel okay about using the now-disgraced stoneware since thermal shock is not in their future.  Here’s the butter-holding part of the action….rect french crock lids

Yup, there’s a porcelain one in the set too, made from a scrap of nearly dried-out slab.  These are going into the bisque as soon as I can fill the kiln….5 pairs salt

I’ve also been doing some ultimate dinky-fying, making salt and pepper shakers.  I resisted making them for years but now I really enjoy making the goofy little objects.  Plus, they are free to fire.  I usually extrude square stock and build from there, but these are made from little patterns.  I made a really great set a few years ago, which had images of a man and a woman that I pressed into the clay with combinations of my regular stamps.  I wish I had them back, have never made anything quite so fun since.salt and pepper peopleThese are quirky and pleasing in their own way.  I believe I still must be under the influence of the tiny real-life gauchos I saw in southern Brazil a few years ago, here they are on the pottery….

I have a fire in my studio today.. it’s pouring cold rain outside.  Tonight I will go in and start a new work cycle, lots of nice big casseroles.  Maybe even some teapots…

And thanks to all you readers, and welcome to my new followers.  I am honored!

Wheel Throwing, Zingdezhen Style….

I’ve been wanting to share some images from a trip to China I made a few years ago.  I went with an NCECA group, and we traveled to the  Porcelain Capitol of China, Zingdezhen.  It’s a small city by Chinese standards,  with about 1.5 million people.  We were told that approximately half the workforce there is involved in the ceramics industry.

There were about 70 of us; potters from all over the United States,  For a  week while we were there, master artisans were brought from all over the region to demonstrated for us.  Here are some pictures of a young man who came to show us wheel throwing, Chinese style, and his two helpers.

In Chinese ceramic industry, there can be strict division division of labor.  I never knew the names of the three guys who demonstrated for us; but one was a thrower, another a trimmer, and the third prepped and wedged all the clay for the thrower.  I can tell you this – they all thought it was completely hilarious that anyone would want to watch them at work.  They were in fine spirits throughout the week, and seemed to be continuously astonished that anyone would be interested in what they did.

The thrower started every day in the same way – by sticking his feet and legs into plastic shopping bags, and then securing the bags around his calves with yellow plastic  tape.  The trimmer did the same.  You can see the bags in this picture….1 The Whole Wheel

Heck with the bags, look at the wheel.  It was on a platform about 20″ high, and the motor was under the wheel head.  You can see a control off to the left for the potter to manage wheel speed.  His bagged feet are set on bats, and the thrower is sitting on a small, square stool.  At left in the photo is the wedger, a slim young guy who just made balls of clay for the thower.  They brought in about 2,000 pounds of clay in pugs for he and the other demonstrators to use; you can see the under the striped sheet – no plastic, just the crazy ambient humidity.

As you can see, the wheel head is down between the throwers’ feet.  I’ve fiddled around a bit in my own studio with this kind of body-to-wheelhead arrangement, and it gives you terrific advantage for large pots.  Without ever having done it before, I could recognize that it was a great  way to make big pots.6 Pulling up the Pot

He’s got almost all the clay here, and is pulling hard off center as he brings it up. His shoulder is right over the top of the pot as he works…  a very  strong position.7 Carrying the ClayNo tools, and no sponge.  He brought this clay up high, and then bellied out a large jar with a tight neck. He had about 12-16 pounds of clay.  Now, for some throwing off the hump…2 Off the HumpStill no tools for this thrower, and he is using the wheel at constant speed.  He didn’t even have a cut-off wire; he just pinched the pots off.  You can see a tidy little foot ring right above the base block.  I didn’t see these cups trimmed, but I assume the trimmer would have put them on a green chuck and trimmed the block off. 4 Trimming 2

The trimmer had his own wheel, likewise down between his feet. The most interesting thing about the trimming process was that the trimmer had a large number of steel blanks about 12″ long, and he made a specific trim tool for each pot form by hand as worked.  He filed each blank until it was razor sharp, and then bent it into the correct form for the vessel.   You can see from the flying scrap that the pot is fairly dry up on the rim, no problem!  The trimmer didn’t want any clay in his shoes, either.5 Tall Trim

Here’s a combined form that the trimmer joined together and trimmed up.3 Born to WedgeThe wedger was the hardest working guy of all, wedging clay and moving the wet pots.  Note the Kareem Abdul Jabbar teeshirt…..

After all that work…  dinner.8 Dinner

Further Reports from New York City…..

The Macy’s Annual Spring Flower Show was a wonderful surprise for Pam and I when we were in New York City.  Not only were all the display windows on one side of mid-town Macy’s filled with amazing floral displays, a huge chunk of real estate at Herald Square was given over to a giant tent.  We were fortunate to go at night, and had the gardens inside almost to ourselves…

HowdahThis is the sight that greeted us at the entry…  a giant elephant with a flower Howdah.  No tiger hunters for Macy’s, the basket was filled with boughs of spring blooming shrubs and other flowers.

Ganesh Dream 2Just to the left of the entry was this 5 foot long statue of a recumbent Ganesha, surrounded by flowers and floating in a pool.  Sweet!

Hydrangeas and CinerariaThe flowers were fabulous!  I can imagine that every grower within 100 miles of the City had sent every bloomin’ thing that they had to make the display.  There were forced hydrangeas, cinerarias, Rieger begonias, bromeliads, tulips, hyacinths, caladiums, phalanopsis and cymbidium orchids of every imaginable color.  There were spring-flowering shrubs and trees, some of which were fragrant.  What a feast for the eyes!

Thru the ArchThe exhibit was huge!  I think that the tent that housed the Spring Flower Show must have been 200 feet long, and 60 feet wide.  The floor was about 4 feet above street level, and there were long cordons for people to wait to enter.  How lucky we were to go at night!  The design of the space – Indian Garden Glory, or whatever THEY called it…  was delightful.  There were many built features, like this archway, that divided the space and made it magical.

Flowers and FoliageHere, foliage and flowers combine for a wonderful, exotic effect.

Bromelia DaisyThis is almost all bromeliads, and dyed forsythia…  how they got the stems to be this vibrant red is beyond me, but it was just beautiful. This was one of about 10 window displays devoted to incredible floral excess.Hellebore

Here, hellebores and bromeliads combine to spectacular effect.

Beautiful Orange

In this orange grouping, there were ranunculus, kalanchoes, and gerberas – strange bedfellows in  a real-world garden but perfect together in this floral fantasy world.

Red Azaleas and Reigers


Rieger begonias, azaleas, gerbera, sprengerii, and who-knows what else combine for red lovers….

Spice MarketNear the end of the show, was a fantasy spice shop to complete the imaginary trip to India.  Delightful!

Buddha and grafted cactiThis might be my favorite image from the exhibition; a lovely Buddha surrounded by utterly insane grafted fasciated cacti. My kind of horticulturists put this together,….

Store Display

Here’s one of the in-store links to the exhibition…  orchids galore, beautiful.

When I was just an eastern Oregon girl of 17, away in Illinois for college, there was public money for displays like this. Lincoln Park in Chicago had magnificent exhibitions like this one…  special greenhouses built with risers; for plants, not singers;  and they were filled at different season with masses of blooming plants.  It was at one of these exhibitions that I realized that people were being paid to grow these plants – to create this beauty – and that I could make a life’s work of growing plants.