I got a new stamp to mark the bottoms of my plates and platters. It's larger and easier to read than my previous stamp. I can only use it on flat-ish items that are built on a hump mold, because it needs the support provided by the mold in order to make a clean impression. Also, it's too large to fit on anything three-dimensional. The stamp is rubber so it tends to stick to the clay, but a dusting of corn starch solves that.
This is one of my favorite designs. I've been making "the captain" for many years. The design has been updated a few times, but is essentially the same: a medium-sized, deep dish, flat bottom, vessel with a lid. The name "Captain Casserole" describes its superhero-like functionality. It not only cooks and bakes, it can serve, store, and transport. It makes a grand entrance at potlucks. The lid also works as a bowl. And, as much as I love casseroles, both the pots and the foods, I felt that the word "casserole" had developed an outdated and frumpy reputation. An association with people who can't cook, other than dumping a can of condensed soup over other canned products. I'm trying to elevate the word "casserole" into the realm of good food and serious cooks, by making it sound courageous and cool. I know there are people who always saw it that way, all I want is for everyone to agree.
One of its strong suits is covered roasting. This method allows you to slow roast inexpensive cuts of protein. The covered vessel keeps everything juicy and fork-tender, while still allowing the meat to brown.
Start with a glug of olive oil in the bottom of the pot, then a layer of sliced onions. Salt and pepper 1.5 lbs of shorts ribs, cut "flanken-style" which is another way of saying "the way Koreans cut their short ribs."
Layer the short ribs on top of the onions. Cover with lid, and bake at 300°F for 3 hours.
This is how the short ribs look right out of the oven. Yum.
Served with a sweet potato salad. This exact recipe works for brisket and lamb shanks too.
Braising is a lot like covered roasting, only with a little liquid to create a steamy environment, and a nice sauce at the end. Combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and 1/4 cup honey. Add one clove of minced garlic, a tsp of minced fresh ginger, and whisk it together. Pour the liquid over four chicken thighs in the casserole. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1.5 hours.
Oh yeah. Get in my belly.
Served in a bowl over rice, with some strings beans that I managed to harvest despite the bunny problem. This exact recipe works with a small whole chicken, or thick cut pork chops.
I've been working with cone 10 clays this week, making pots for a wood-firing that's planned for October. This time I am not the teacher ... my friend Karen Arrington has taken over this workshop for the Greenbelt Community Center ... and I am one of the students. I'm really happy that I still get to wood-fire with my favorite fellow stokers.
All of these pots were thrown with Helios Porcelain and brushed with a gray flashing slip on their exteriors, except for the jar lids. I plan to glaze the interiors with celadon. I made a few small pots last year with this approach, and it resulted in all of my favorite shades of gray and brown. And I'm dying to try it again.
These pots were thrown with Highwater Phoenix. Oh how I love to throw Phoenix. When I throw large and precise forms, sometimes my usual stoneware is like "uh I'm not so sure" but Phoenix is always like "LET'S DO THIS!"
Here are the Phoenix pots trimmed, brushed with porcelain slip, then carved with lots of skinny vertical lines.
With the rest of my Phoenix clay, I threw small bottle forms. Aside from brushing porcelain slip on the larger ones, I will leave these undecorated, and try to place them in the "heavy snot" zones of the kiln. Ash snot or salt snot, I like them both.
Now of course comes the hard part ... trying not to anticipate how they will look when they emerge from the kiln. If you don't think that sounds hard, you've never done it. It is a serious mind bender, and probably the most challenging and important aspect of wood-firing: accepting the limits of one's control. Funny thing is, the first time I was exposed to this mental challenge, my mind was blown open and I saw how much bigger and greater the subject of pottery is. Or another way of putting it, if you think you can control everything, you will confine yourself to making only mediocre pots. This is one of the reasons why I make time for wood-firing about once a year, in order to keep my perspective clear. I sometimes say "it's the closest thing to religion in my world."
My next show is not until October, therefore this month I can catch up on some tasks other than my usual routine. The first item is the first thing I plan to do (starting as soon as I finish writing this post), but the rest are in no particular order.
1. Clean the studio, especially the floor.
2. Change the elements, and possibly the thermocouples, in one of my kilns.
3. Teach a workshop at Chestertown River Arts in Chestertown, MD, on August 23.
4. Design the template and mold for a "kimchi dish." Hopefully debut the new design in October.
5. Make pots for an upcoming wood-firing. I've got lots of ideas brewing in my head, waiting to get out.
6. Weed the front yard gardens. Dig up some of the grape hyacinth bulbs, which have multiplied prolifically, and give them to my mom. Move the japanese ferns to a better location, and add some new coral bells.
7. Sew a custom "table runner" for my art festival display. There is one shelf where I display my dishes as placesettings, and I want it to look like a dining room table. I'm using linen napkins now, but they are not the right size and shape.
8. Sew a new carrying case for the tabletops I use in my display. Right now I carry all three 4x2 ft. tabletops in one case. I've decided there are some shows where I only want to use two. So I'm going to split them up ... two in one case, and one in a separate case. Also, carrying all three at the same time is really heavy. Splitting them up will be easier to carry.
9. Order more receipts and shopping bags.
10. Paint my steel canopy weights. They are looking a bit rusty.
11. Run run run. Go for as many runs as I can.
Three shows in three weeks. One Large and two X-Large, and two road trips. It wasn't that bad, in terms of the workload. On the weekdays in between, I kept working in the studio, though at roughly half-speed. I was planning to do this only once, to determine which were the best July shows, then pick the best one or two for next year. But now that I know I can do all three, without feeling exhausted, I want to do it again.
The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts was the first show, and the one I was hoping to like the least. It was the furthest drive, and the most expensive given that it requires four nights in a hotel. I loved the show. The logistics were easy, the sales were amazing. Factor in that the veteran artists there said it was a down year. I did notice there were hours when the crowd was very light. But still, my sales were gigantic. Wonder what a "normal" or "good" year would be like? I met Simon Leach there. Yes, that Simon Leach. It wasn't an accident, he and his wife saw my work on the festival's website and came to meet me. Very humbling, and I hope my pots impressed them in person too. As if I needed more reasons, the show invited me back for 2015. No jurying or jury fee for me to return next year, they offer this to the top 50 or so artists according to their onsite jurors. Definitely going back.
Then there was Artscape Baltimore. Holy crap, Artscape. The event was blessed with unusually comfortable weather. There was a full shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for most of the show hours, easily twice as many attendees as usual. Here's the story about Artscape this year: at the beginning of the year, they announced the booth fee was increasing from $500 to $700. Ouch. The announcement was respectful, like "please understand we have been eating costs for many years, we can't afford to do it anymore." It wasn't like "we're greedy and we hate you." (That might sound like a joke, but trust me there are shows where you can sense the organizers are greedy and hate the artists.) There was much hand-wringing and discussion amongst us artists. Some artists decided they simply couldn't afford it. But most of my friends and I decided that, even at $700, it would still result in a meaningful net profit. I noticed there were fewer ceramics exhibitors, I think there were fewer exhibitors overall. This probably helped my bottom line. I scorched my previous best sales mark for that show. I was stunned. All of my friends were in the same boat. And I don't think the huge crowd was just from the good weather. I saw and heard a lot of marketing leading up to the show. I also noticed my tent was clean with properly working walls (not so in previous years). I went into the show with some wariness, looking for signs that my $700 was not well-spent. But it wasn't the case at all. Everything was done right. The results were spectacular. Kudos to them, they chose to make a risky move, and pulled it off successfully. I will definitely keep applying.
So after having big successes at CPFA and Artscape, I was thinking I should stop doing the Pennsylvania Guild Wilmington show. But by the time this show was over, I was thinking "why would I do that?" This show is indoors in a convention hall. Air conditioning. Carpet. The new hotel next door was like staying in a palace. The restaurant in the hotel was incredible. Compared to four long days outdoors at CPFA and three long days outdoors at Artscape, this was literally a vacation. A vacation that yielded a handsome income. It was only two days with reasonable daytime hours, so this show's gross sales were not as high, but in fact the sales per hour were the highest of all three shows. And the effort level was by far the lowest. I really can't imagine passing up on this show either.
There were a few negative aspects of doing this many consecutive shows. I got a large wholesale order from one of my favorite gallery accounts in June, and had to ask for an extra month to complete it, because of the amount of inventory I needed to produce for the shows. This is an amazing account, and I would like to be available on shorter notice for people like that. I also forgot about the deadline to apply for one of my favorite fall shows (Bazaart at the American Visionary Art Museum). It was due on the Saturday I was away at CPFA. I sent in my app a few days late, and learned this week I did not get in. I take full responsibility. Realistically I will be ok without it, but I will miss being there. I will try hard to do it on time next year.
I have already pulled out of a September show, and didn't get into the AVAM show in November, so my fall schedule looks like four shows (one X-Large, one Large, one Medium, and one Small), plus my Open Studio. My production should be lighter for the rest of the year, and I should be available for some wholesale orders. Next year, I can certainly eliminate some spring shows (ahem ... Columbia), in order to create some space in my schedule, then go all out for the three show marathon in July again.
Here is the "after" photo of my inventory shelves. Scroll down to the next blog post to see the "before" picture. I didn't make any pots this week, because I was glazing that large wholesale order. Next week I will start filling these shelves up again.
The van is packed and I'm hitting the road. And I won't stop until three weeks from now.
Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts
State College, PA
Thursday, July 10, 10am - 8pm
Friday, July 11, 10am - 8pm
Saturday, July 10-12, 10am - 8pm
Sunday, July 13, 12noon - 5pm
Along the streets of downtown State College, and the Penn State University campus. I will be in booth R09 on Fraser Street.
Complete event details at http://arts-festival.com/
Friday, July 18, 11am - 9pm
Saturday, July 19, 11am - 9pm
Sunday, July 20, 11am - 8pm
Along Mt Royal Ave and Charles Street. I will be in Booth E11 on Mt Royal Avenue, near the northwest end of the show.
Complete event details at http://artscape.org
Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Fair
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Saturday, July 26, 10am - 6pm
Sunday, July 27, 10am - 5pm
An indoor show in July! I will be in chilling out in the air conditioning in booth 345.
Complete event details at http://www.pacrafts.org/fine-craft-fairs/july/
Unlike last year, when I sometimes booked more shows than I could supply, I feel totally confident that I have enough inventory to get through all three shows. I've been busy. In fact, I produced an entire cycle of work more than my wildest predictions for sales. (A cycle is worth roughly $5000 of inventory). This photo does not even include the last cycle, which was waiting to be fired at the time. So hopefully when I'm done with this month, I'll already have a head start on fall inventory.
This is the third time I've been asked by the Ceramic Guild to jury their bi-monthly show, which is now on display in the Scope Gallery at the Torpedo Factory, in Alexandria VA. Their current exhibit is titled "Seeds of Summer" and runs through the end of July. I have been doing this every two years or so. Some of the artists have been in the Guild all three times, it is nice to see how one person's work can grow over the years. There were also some new artists this time, which I enjoyed reviewing as well. Here are some of my favorite pieces (click on the thumbnails for a larger image and caption):
I have been working on something on the side for a few months. For all of you who worry that my life is one-dimensional ..... oh who am I kidding? My life is totally one-dimensional. But the past couple of days have not been my usual routine. I am now an Election Judge for Montgomery County, Maryland. Yesterday, June 24, was a Primary Election Day, and my first time doing this job. I have wanted to do this ever since I began voting. I always vote, even in the primaries. And I have always looked at the Election Judges and thought "I want to be on that side of the table."
It turns out that the job of Election Judge has a lot in common with being a festival artist. The setup of the polling place, and the pack down, felt awfully familiar. Arriving for work at 6:00 am, I'm used to that too. As well as interacting with crowds of people, all day long. "Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Thank you. Have a nice day. Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Thank you. Thank you. Have a nice day." Make people feel welcome, make them feel like they are in good hands. I can do all of that.
It was fascinating and humbling to see the process behind the scenes. It is serious work. Lots of laws need to be followed. It seems to me that Montgomery County has developed a thorough and accountable system. It is quite a rush when a voter reveals that this is their first time voting, because they just became a US citizen. How do so many people take this for granted? I admit that I peeked at some of the comment cards left by voters, we got excellent reviews for efficiency and customer service. The part I was looking forward to the most was handing out the "I voted" stickers. I can now say, with first-hand knowledge, that it felt as good as I imagined. I'd say all of the voting hours were as rewarding as I thought it would be.
Now for the parts that weren't so great. My assigned precinct, Glen Haven Elementary School, is home to an unknown quantity of cockroaches. We didn't see any during the day, but after 9:00 pm or so, we saw them in swarms. So why were we there after 9:00 pm? Because setting up and packing down the polling place was interminably slow. Both of the Chief Judges were first-time Chief Judges. They did their best, but the process was unplanned and disorganized. Anyone who knows me well understands that the words "unplanned" and "disorganized" cause me a lot of distress. There was lots of reading-out-loud of instruction manuals, and phone calls to the Board of Elections tech support. Way too much standing around doing nothing. Thank goodness my fellow judges were able to maintain a sense of humor as the hours dragged on, even after the air conditioning was turned off. Did I mention the cockroaches? We were not excused from duty until 12:30 am. The Chief Judges still had a pile of paperwork to do, but they were gracious enough to let the rest of us go.
I am used to having control over my time. I also consider time to be uniquely valuable, and I spend it carefully. I would like to continue working as an Election Judge, but I need to consider whether I can afford to donate more 6:00 am to 12:30 am days.
(fyi ... Montgomery County Election Judges do get paid. But we can choose to waive the payment, which I did because my tax return is complicated enough. And like I indicated above, this is something I've always wanted to do, and never expected to be paid for it.)
When I was in training for this a few months ago, one of the trainers asked me if I wanted to be a Chief Judge for this Primary Election Day. I thought that was odd, given that I had no experience. I told them I would consider it after I had an election or two under my belt. Now it doesn't seem as strange, I know they are willing to train people with little or no experience. Ultimately, the Chief Judges at my precinct did get the job done, albeit slowly. I bet I could do it. I am good with electronic devices. The pollbooks and voting machines seemed easy to me. And again my festival work is a very similar concept. When I was a teacher, I had to plan projects and supervise groups of people all the time. It would be like getting twelve potters through a wood-firing. (The potters are like the judges. The hundreds of pots are like the voters.) Maybe if I was a Chief Judge I could get everyone home earlier? Or would it mean I would be the one who stays after 12:30 am when everyone else gets to leave?
I need a few days or weeks to figure out how I feel about continuing to do this. I need to decompress from the experience first. It was pretty intense.
Did you know that while working as an Election Judge, we are forbidden contact with the world outside the polling place while voting is going on? In this modern day, it's weird to go a whole day without checking your email. When I dragged my tired ass into my house, I headed straight for the email, and learned that I was accepted into this year's Bethesda Row Arts Festival. So at the end of a very long day, I collapsed into bed and drifted off to sleep on a good note.
If you are interested in becoming a Montgomery County Election Judge, now that you've gotten an honest account of my experiences, visit http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections for all the info. The General Election is coming up in November, and they are constantly recruiting. Maybe now that you know it can be an 18 hour day, and that public school buildings are pretty gross, you will be more prepared than me. Again, it was a remarkably rewarding experience despite these things.
I guess I set myself up for some irony, by blogging recently that my show process was very efficient and can be performed without exhaustion, like it's just another day at the office. After this past weekend, I need to concede there are factors that I can't control.
The past two years at the Columbia Festival of the Arts, I was really happy with the show. My booth was located in a shady sidewalk area, where the music stage was a distant background noise. It was low-key and refined, with good quality art, easy logistics, and good sales.
As soon as I arrived for this year's show, big fat drops of rain started falling. The kind of rain drops that say "you're about to get walloped." To make things worse, I was informed that my booth location had been moved to the area next to the music stage. I already knew from other artists that this area was not comfortable, due to the music volume and lack of shade. And the logistics for getting my display and work down there were very tricky.
I set up my booth in a downpour. Once the rain stopped, the blazing sun and thick humidity arrived. My rain-soaked clothes became sweat-soaked clothes. It took me four hours to finish setting up. I'm pretty sure I looked like a homeless cat at this point.
You know how excited you feel when you arrive at a concert and realize you are near the stage? Would you be as excited if you had to spend 20 hours there?
This is not an exaggeration: at least once an hour at shows, someone will walk into my booth, exhale, and say "it's so quiet in here." They are referring to my minimal forms and neutral glazes, displayed in a white booth. The word "quiet" might be "peaceful" or "restful" or "zen" etc. I count on this to inspire people to linger and take a break from a festival where everything else is screaming for attention. I only heard this comment once during the entire weekend, when the music was between acts. Can you imagine how it would have sounded when the music was playing? "IT'S SO QUIET IN HERE!" "WHAT?" "I SAID IT'S SO QUIET IN HERE!" "I'M SORRY WHAT?"
As you can tell, I had a tough time trying to communicate with customers. And during the afternoon hours, the sun blazed straight into the front of my booth, making the pots too hot to pick up. Not that it mattered, there weren't many people walking into the booth anyways. My space wasn't just "near" the stage, it was "beyond past" the stage. Most folks who walked down all the stairs to the stage area didn't venture any further, I really can't blame them for sitting down on the shady hillside facing the stage instead.
Here's what I saw during most of the show: anyone near my booth was facing the other direction towards a gurgling fountain. On the hillside was a huge crowd of people, listening to music and not noticing any art.
(aww .... elephant butts, heh heh)
I did note that this all started on Friday the 13th. But I'm not superstitious, so from now on I will never assume that a show will go smoothly.
I do need to make some thank yous ... this show is in my local zone, and I was visited by some people from my mailing list, who made some really nice purchases. You know who you are, and it really helped! Thank you!!