The Good Elephant Pottery Online School is now open! The first five videos are now online. Five more videos will be released early next year. These five will keep you busy until then. This is a structured program for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. The lessons are affordable and accessible from anywhere in the world. The first video is free ... it will help you decide if the program is right for you. Visit the School page on this website for all the details and directions. Wishing a lifetime of happy potting to all!
Here's another one-minute sneak preview of my wheel-throwing instructional videos. The first series, called the "Core Skills Series," is designed for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. Compare the snippets of Project 1 (two posts down from here) to Project 5 (today's snippet) and you'll see how quickly the difficulty level advances. The release of the first five videos is only a few weeks away. Join my Email List, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, to be notified of the release.
I've made a few hints already that I am learning how to shoot and edit videos. It's time to reveal what I'm really working on. As you may know, I was a pottery teacher for seven years. I gave it up when my studio demands took over all of my time. I miss it! I've been looking for a way to get back into the role of "teacher" in a way that works with my schedule.
Here's a one-minute sneak preview into my soon-to-be-released pottery instructional videos. My first series of videos will be called the "Core Skills Series," and it is designed for beginner and beginner+ wheel-throwers. These are real lessons from an experienced teacher, and they will be affordable and accessible from anywhere. The first five videos will be released Summer 2017. Join my Email List, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, to be notified of the release.
I was invited to give a demonstration to ceramics students at Anne Arundel Community College. I was glad to have a diversion from my usual studio routine, and glad to be inside a classroom again. Thank you for the invitation, Rick Malmgren! And to the students who suggested my name. Rick was interested in seeing a demo of my slip carving techniques. I wasn't sure that could fill a four hour demo, so he said that throwing demos were always welcome too. I decided to plan a throwing demo that was all about lids, because lidded forms are probably my favorite forms to throw, and I have a lot to say about them.
Look at this beautiful classroom. It's huge and well-equipped. Outlets everywhere!
I started with some small jars. One with an upside-down lid, and one with a right-side up lid.
Now on to something larger. I shaped a casserole body, then measured it for its lid, then cut the lid to the right size.
We took a break for lunch (potter potlucks are the best potlucks), then I started carving some leather hard pots that I brought from home. I brushed on the white slip before our break, so the slip could dry to leather hard while we ate. The first piece was a two-sided vase.
And I finished with a carving of a koi fish in a large bowl.
I was done a little after 3pm, and since I had the rest of the day off, I drove into downtown Annapolis and did something I've always wanted to do but never have. I walked through the Maryland State House like a tourist. What a great way to spend a fall day!
I'm not going to pretend that I don't miss teaching. I miss the regular contact with other potters, and I miss the process of teaching. However, in the time since I gave up my teaching gig, my studio schedule has evolved in ways that make teaching a weekly class or two even less realistic. But why should that stop me? I am looking for other ways to include teaching in my business plan, that make sense for me time-wise. Using my own studio as a classroom has always been a possibility, because it means I can control the time requirements.
Some of my former students had asked me to teach them about glazemaking. I see this as a common issue for potters who have come up through a community studio program. Glazemaking is not taught in these studios. For good reason, the results could be disastrous. But when someone becomes interested in establishing their own studio at home, they find that glazemaking is an intimidating hurdle.
This summer, I developed a glazemaking workshop designed for this type of potter. The workshop covered all the basics: how to buy and store the raw materials, how to mix small test batches, how to mix full-size buckets, and how to develop new recipes. The workshop met for three Saturdays in June. Then I held another session on three Saturdays in August, because there was more interest in the class than I expected.
Everyone learned a quick method for making proper test tiles.
They each picked a glaze recipe to start with, then they made two test-size variations of the same recipe.
The batches were sieved ...
... then poured into a six-step line blend. The test tiles were numbered and dipped into all six samples.
It was a lot of work!
And here are the fired results. As you can see, everyone did a very detailed and thorough job of measuring and mixing.
A simple line blend is the basic building block for developing new recipes. With this experience, these students can continue to test new recipe ideas on their own. They spent a lot of time analyzing and discussing each other's test tiles, from which they gained a lot of materials knowledge. How does this oxide/opacifier/flux affect the result? They have a lot of exploration ahead of them, but they know how to find information about raw materials, and how to test their ideas. Plus, you can't learn how to do a line blend without becoming comfortable with measuring and sieving glazes, so they can start working with known recipes right away.
To potters in the Washington, DC area: If you are interested in taking this glazemaking workshop, leave a comment here to express your interest. Or use the Contact Form on this website. If there is enough interest, I will hold the workshop again in the spring of 2016.
To potters everywhere: I am also planning to develop a series of wheel-throwing instructional videos. I have lots of great projects that I taught to my students over the years, that I'd like to share with the world in video format. I think this is another gaping need in adult pottery education ... the number of student throwers who want some expert instruction, but don't have access to it. I think I can fill this need. If you think you'd be interested in these, leave a comment here, or use the Contact Form to let me know.
My quest was to make gray pots in a wood kiln. It's not that my quest was so difficult, it's that I only get to wood-fire about once a year. I have always loved the brown and celadon green pots that I've gotten out of wood-firing. But as you've probably gathered by now, my aesthetic priorities are soft shades of gray. In recent years another priority has emerged, which is that I now support myself financially with nothing but pottery sales. Therefore everything I make must make sense within the line of work that I present for sale. My wood-fired pots are special to me. I do want them to stand out when I display them with the rest of my pottery, but also to look like they belong. Now, after about ten years of trying, I think I have struck the right balance.
All of my attempts to make a gray glaze for cone 10/reduction resulted in blue glazes (shudder). And sometimes I made gray pots by accident, mostly with heavy crusts of salt and/or soda. I love that look, but I need a process that is more predictable, and more food-friendly. Last year, the answers began to emerge for me. The basis of the solution is porcelain. In order to make gray, you need to start with a white background.
These pots were thrown in porcelain, then brushed with a thin layer of a gray flashing slip. I've learned this slip does not look great on stoneware, it just looks flat and brown. But the white porcelain peeking through brightens everything, creating pretty shades of gray and brown with lots of variation.
And this is the second approach I took this year ... these pots were thrown in stoneware, then brush with porcelain slip. I carved a minimal pattern through the porcelain, to reach some of the brown tones of the stoneware. Then I fired them in the salt chamber of the kiln to receive some of those gray tones of salt.
I'm really pleased that I got to wood-fire with my friends from the Greenbelt Community Center again this year. Even though I no longer work there, I was able to sign up for this workshop, which is now deftly led by Karen Arrington. And once again we had a great experience working with Jim Dugan at Baltimore Clayworks, where we always get loads of guidance and expertise.
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."
It's the last day of 2013. I should have written this a few weeks ago, but I was busy driving my family around in the minivan (I learned how to squeeze in six adults and two kids at the same time ... woot!). Last month I wrote that 2013 would contain one more big change. This was a long time coming. I knew I had to do it almost 2 years ago. But I dragged my feet because I was conflicted.
I gave up my job teaching pottery at the Greenbelt Community Center. I couldn't make it work time-wise anymore, because of the demands of my growing pottery business. There were nights when I would come home from teaching around 10:30pm, eat something, then go back to work in the studio. Also, I had to commit to class dates six months in advance, which made it tricky to apply for shows, especially those that required travel. You might be asking yourself "but doesn't a regular teaching gig provide some steady income to an otherwise unpredictable business?" The answer is that the income for a whole year of teaching was less than I typically make in one weekend art festival.
So why was it hard to leave? Because I loved the job. I loved my students. It was really important to me. It was important to them too, and I didn't want to let them down. I tried to emulate the great teachers I had in my past, to pay it forward to someone else. I believed in what I was doing, and I was rewarded all the time in ways that had nothing to do with salary.
One of the last big projects I got to do with my Level 5 students was the Festival of Lights holiday art fair. Level 5 was my most advanced class. Again, I tried to give them what my best teachers gave me ... an environment where they could continue to stretch and flourish, beyond their considerable accomplishments. We have done a group booth in the Festival for five years, as an entryway for them to learn about the professional side of pottery. Here are some photos of our gorgeous booth, and the individual displays within the booth:
Click on the thumbnalis to see larger images and names.
This was a two-day show, and I'm pleased to reveal that we had our best Saturday ever, in terms of sales. Sunday brought a worrisome weather forecast, but despite the snow we were still busy with sales. That was until the falling snow was replaced by ice, and the show was closed down early. For the past few years, our booth has been generating sales that would make any veteran festival artist envious. Overall I'd rate this as our best showing ever, and I'm really proud of them and pleased with their success. Although this is the last time I will lead them through the process, I'm confident they have enough knowledge to go forward without me, either as a group or as individuals.
My other class was Level 4 Wheel. This class used to be called "Intermediate Wheel" but many of these students stayed with the class for so long, they outgrew the name. They were doing advanced-level projects too, some of them could have done well in Level 5 if there were available spots in that class. So the week after the Festival contained the last meetings of my two classes. We planned a Casserole Night for both classes, where everyone brought food in handmade casseroles. (This proved to be much healthier than the Pie Night we had in the spring, which I don't regret, it was worth it!) In both of the classes, my students had planned surprises for me that made me feel ten feet tall. Here's my first gift from the Level 4 class, a collage of photos taken over the years, framed with a matte board they had all sneakily signed during one of our class nights. The collage is now hanging in my studio at home (photo by Judy Goldberg-Strassler):
And here's my second gift from the Level 4 class, the "Things Mea Says" apron. Not just for me, they made them for themselves too, so they can have all of my advice and rules nearby as they continue to take pottery classes without me. Back row l-r: Quianna Douglas, Kara Duffy, Jeri Holloway; Front row l-r: Carolyn Neuendorffer, Melanie Choe, Andrea Schewe, me, Margaret Lukomska, Jenny Adams, Judy Goldberg-Strassler (photo by Lorraine DeSalvo):
Here's a closeup of what the aprons say. Yes I've already splattered mine with glaze. Some of these things are inside jokes, so they won't make sense to you:
The next night in my Level 5 class, I was greeted with a pile of small wrapped gifts! They had all decided to give me a small pot made by themselves. I cleared out a shelf in my living room to display them. When I look at this display, it reminds me of all the time we spent hanging out together, making pots and enjoying each other's company:
But they weren't done yet. There is a piece of equipment I've been drooling after for a while, a Speedball ST-1 pottery stool. It is the "luxury car" of pottery stools, hailed by all who have them. It has a bicycle-style seat, which takes pressure off your hip joints and provides thick padding for everything else. It has a real back rest. And most importantly, the seat can be adjusted to tilt forwards while you're throwing, which is a much healthier angle for your lower back and hip sockets. Behold, my new ST-1 that the Level 5 students bought for me. I will think about them every time I throw!
I haven't had a chance to be "less busy" yet. Right after the classes ended, I had my Open Studio, then a frenzy of online sales. Then all of my siblings and their families came into town for the holidays. I plan to go back to work in a few days. I can already feel the release of some pressure ... the pressure of a schedule that doesn't make sense. It feels good. At the same time, I know I'm going to feel weird, maybe lonely, on Thursday and Friday nights. It's ok, I'm confident I will see the people I care about regularly, in some capacity. And there are new adventures to face going forward. I doubt I will be bored.
Coming up this weekend ... the Greenbelt Festival of Lights will be held at the Greenbelt Community Center. This is where I teach my pottery classes, and I will be sharing a large booth with my Level 5 Pottery students. The Level 5 class is for students who have moved beyond technical clay skills, and are developing their own style of work. These are all highly teachable students, and yet none of their work looks anything like mine! I love that. They know themselves, they know what their influences are. It is a real privilege for me to work with people like this. My own area of the display will be relatively small, because this booth is really about their talent and hard work. Come check it out! We will have high-quality functional wares, ornaments, jewelry, etc., in every price range. Here's a preview:
Greenbelt's Festival of Lights Art + Craft Fair
Saturday, December 7, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, December 8, 11am - 4pm
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770
(And for anyone who is looking for a large display of my work, my annual Open House is next weekend, December 14-15, in downtown Silver Spring. More details will be posted here next week, and sent by email to those of you on my mailing list.)
I am two or three blog posts behind on the things that I wanted to write about this fall. Things have been extremely busy and kind-of stressful, both good and bad. I will write about it all eventually, when I have time. I just finished the second of two shows this month, and I'm pretty tired. The good news is ... both of the shows were significantly better than I was expecting. The bad news is ... I'm even further behind on my inventory needs for my upcoming shows. I have three shows planned for next month. Yes, this might prove to be a bad idea. All things considered, I took some time out of the studio today to write, because my ass is dragging. And because my little cat is not feeling well, my work overload is bad for her too. If she falls asleep, I'll try to get a stack of plates made later this evening.
But despite everything else going on, really this month revolved around my annual Wood-firing Workshop, where I take a group of students from the Greenbelt Community Center up to Baltimore Clayworks to load and fire their wood-kiln. This is always a lot of work, but this year it was especially challenging due to the weather. It poured buckets of rain for two days straight. Here are some soggy scenes, starting with loading everyone's boxes into my van for the trip up to Clayworks:
In case you're wondering how we managed to load the kiln in the pouring rain, the shed roof over the kiln can protect some pots at a time, but most of the pots were unpacked inside the classroom building that is next to the kiln. We started by hand-carrying out a few pots, as many as could fit under the shed roof. Then, there was a constant shuttling of people and pots. As pots were moved into the kiln, more pots were brought outside. We hunched over them and walked as fast as we could. We got soaking wet, but managed to keep the pots dry. It all took about an hour longer than usual. (Photo by Janet Evander)
Here is our official group photo from the workshop, after we finished loading the kiln and bricking up the doors. From left to right: Karen Morgenstern, Karen Arrington, Tom Baker, Jonathan Gordy, Gina Denn, Amy Castner, Carol Wisdom, Janet Evander, me, Alan Dowdy, and our wood-fire guide and guru, Jim Dugan from Baltimore Clayworks. Not pictured are Karen Riedlinger, Quianna Douglas, and Kuniko Wallis. Photo by Kuniko Wallis, using Alan Dowdy's camera. Yes it was still raining and getting dark when we finished, Alan's camera has a low-light feature that took the best photo.
The next day as we fired the kiln, it rained off and on, sometimes heavily. We worked in shifts of four or five people at a time, so we were able to fit under the roof and stay dry. Here's a shot from the early morning hours near the end of the firing. It's a lovely scene, and yes it's still raining. (Photo by Alan Dowdy)
I've said before that Greenbelters are the best wood-firers I've ever had the privilege with which to fire. Once again, I was shown why. I know there were many situations here that were difficult. But nobody complained. Everybody kept up their good spirits and work ethic, and got it done. I hope that before too long we will all be laughing about "that time we wood-fired in the pouring rain." Thankfully, the weather cleared up in time to unload the kiln a few days later. Our perseverance was rewarded with beautiful pots:
Holy cow, Greenbelters are darn talented.
My years-long quest to make gray pots in a wood-kiln is finally starting to bear fruit. If you are familiar with my work, you know that warm gray and brown shades are the basis for everything I do. I've always gone nuts over the crusty gray pots that are the result of heavy salt glazing, but I want to find a process for gray pots that is more predictable, and suitable for functional pots. Most of my previous attempts resulted in blue pots (the horror!). The taller sake bottle in this photo really excites me. I made a white flashing slip, and added 1% of black mason stain 6600, and mixed it up thin. I used a coarse brush to apply it to this porcelain bottle, which resulted in all of my favorite shades of gray and brown. As you can see, I also used a lot of celadon glaze on porcelain, which I am thrilled about too. But the gray slip is the direction that I am dying to explore further.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
Festival of the Arts
State College, PA
Fine Craft Fair
Rehoboth Art League's
44th Annual Outdoor Fine Art
& Fine Craft Show
Rehoboth Beach, DE
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