Finally, about to load a glaze firing

Unbelievable. I am finally about to run a glaze load or two. It’s been nearly a month since I did the bisque firing. Where did the time go?

VPM-9 Guts Getting Cleaned

VPM-9 Guts Getting Cleaned

Well, there was Pug Day. I had some friends over to run their scraps through the pug mill. We started about 9:30am, and I closed the studio door about 8:30pm. We estimated that we milled between 400-500lbs during the day. I had to take apart and clean the pug mill three times total. Once the day before, once when we switched from ∆6 stoneware to ∆04-06 clay, and finally when we finished. I now feel completely comfortable taking apart and cleaning a Peter Pugger VPM-9. Not sure I could do it blindfolded, but I did learn some tricks. And I have to add, the Peter Pugger worked solid, all day and turned out a lot of very nicely pugged clay. Should have photos from some of the participants soon. Initial reports on the clay have been very positive.

That took a big chunk out of the month. I finally got back in to the studio to glaze yesterday and again this evening. I forgot I had to finish mixing a nice “Mary’s Blue” glaze. I had started the mix back in June, and never got around to running through a sieve or hydrating it to the right specific gravity. So, first I screened it, using a nice 60 mesh sieve. Then I adjusted the water until I had about 1.47 specific gravity. In the past, I used a homemade float hygrometer, which was basically a plastic bottle with a 3 oz. fishing weight in it, and Sharpie markings for “working great” mixes of my favorites. That was ok for a while, then I started using a beaker and weighed 100ml of glaze. That was a mess and took some time to get the 100ml just right. It’s very accurate if the volume is correct, but it’s not quick. The most recent approach is a 100ml syringe. I found the 100g mark for water, then drew the same amount of glaze and weighed it. I found I had 147.6g of glaze. So, I checked with my hygrometer and beaker methods and was very pleased to find it confirmed. While I wouldn’t say I have a very scientific approach, I think it is close enough to make functional mixing decisions and adjustments. I found the syringe on Amazon for about $5.00 – I think it was a good buy. We’ll see how long it holds up.

In this batch of pottery are a few pieces I’m planning to submit for the “Japanesque” show at the Overland Gallery, and a few candidates for a submission to the NC Pottery Center’s annual auction. It’s fun having work in the process for which a destination is already in mind. There are a few requests in this batch, too, including a set of bowls for some disc golf friends.

And I’ve done a couple more block prints at home in my spare time. I think I also worked out a couple approaches to try printing on clay. More on that later.

So, that’s about it for July. I hope you’re having a good summer and have lots of great pottery to show for it. Cheers


Another throwing cycle milestone reached

IMG_0743This morning, I took a little time in the studio and finished trimming the last pieces of another throwing cycle. I don’t know how other potters do it, but it seems my work flow runs from throwing what I think will be a kiln load plus a little more, to the bisque firing, then to glaze application, then glaze firing, then finally photography and preparation for sales. Then it starts over again. I think I work this way because of limited space in the studio. I can’t really do more than one of the major steps at at time. In any case, it works for me.

The typical cycle seems to take a couple months, give or take a week, depending on how much big stuff I have thrown in the cycle. It’s also in the down-time between phase activity, like waiting for trimmed ware to dry out, that I find time to do glaze research and planning, design sketching, and reading. Remember, I’m doing the pottery thing in my free time, so it stretches out. And to be honest, I sketch all the time.

During this drying phase, I’ve been reading “The Unknown Craftsman” by Soetsu Yanagi. It’s a series of essays on art and beauty and the craft of making . It makes me think about what I’m doing in a slightly different light. I came to read the book because the local gallery where I sometimes show work has a call to artists for an upcoming show with the theme ‘Japanesque’. I wanted to do some research on Japanese art, and specifically pottery. Which brought me back to  the word mingei, which means “art of the people”. I had first heard this term in relation to the work of Warren Mackenzie long ago, and the connection to Leach, Yanagi and Hamada, made clear in the introduction to “The Unknown Craftsman”. Yanagi coined the term in the process of defining the concept for the collections in the folk art museum he started in Japan following World War II.

It’s way to many threads to tug in one paragraph. The short of it (I know, too late,) is that I’ve found myself back looking at what I’m doing from the perspective of having done it for 8 years, and the basic premise of what makes good work, that I still try to achieve, is still there in the cycle. I’m still interested in making simple, useful, inexpensive pottery that people can enjoy every day, and develop a relationship to through the simple daily rituals of use. Breakfast coffee in that blue-green mug. Or soup in that brown and white bowl that always gets picked when the weather is cold. There’s something inherent in the work itself that transcends what I had in mind when I centered and opened the clay. Not every piece has it. The ones that leave my vendors table early on Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market usually do. There’s an aesthetic that comes from the tradition that informs the work, a form that comes from a practice of throwing and trimming and firing and glazing. It’s the cycle. The cycle pulls in ideas, pulls in energy, pulls in experience and the result is more pottery and more inspiration for me to perform the cycle again, which now that I describe it, I recognize as another form of ritual, a ritual of making.

This morning, I made it through the trimming and sat and looked at all the pieces on the drying shelves and thought about how they would fit in the kiln and what kinds of glazing I might do. And now, hours later, I’m excited that all will be dry in another few days, so the next step in the cycle can be undertaken. Pottery takes patience. The longer I do it, the more times I make it through the cycle, the more I understand it’s not patience, it’s just the temporal scale on which this ritual is performed. Enjoy your daily rituals and look for the cycles that transport you out of time.

King’s Cup 9 Pottery Prizes

This past weekend, we hosted the King’s Cup 9 disc golf tournament in Kinston, NC. This is the ninth year for the Pro/Am disc golf event. Over the past several years, I’ve offered pottery as an added prize for winners. This year, I had 40 mugs and bowls for players to choose from.

KCup9 Pottery Prizes

I heard from several players that they were happy to add to their King’s Cup collection, or that a past year’s prize is a daily use favorite. That makes it worthwhile for me. I hope all of this year’s winners found a piece they can use every day.


Bisque Load for King’s Cup 9

The kiln is cooling down with a load of work, most of which will serve as prizes for the King’s Cup 9 disc golf tournament. I make 20 mugs and 20 bowls for the event, which is a little more than a week away. 

I’ll be glazing as fast as possible to get them all fired in time. I expect this will expand to at least 2 glaze loads, mostly for the big wonky vase and tiles, which take up a lot of space. If needed, they can wait until after the event. 

Aberrant Diptych Show Entry

The Overland Gallery, downtown Kinston, NC, put out a call to artists for work under the theme of “AN ABERRANTLY BEAUTIFUL DIPTYCH”. This will be a juried show.

I’ve enjoyed responding to the Overland’s calls, and couldn’t miss this one. I wanted to do something to integrate photos and clay. I thought through a lot of pieces I may still make, but finally settled on something really simple. I made a pair of panels out of my usual stoneware, and picked an image that would work well on the dark “framing” provided by the dark clay. The result is a folding diptych I’m calling “Hippy Chicks”.

Front-Cover Exterior-Panels Interior-Panels


The panels are a little over 1/4″ thick and approximately 6″ x 8″. They’re tied together with a coarse garden twine. It is intended to be free-standing and is very stable if it’s not folded out completely. It weights about 1.5 lbs.

The images are all variants of a photo I took in Santa Cruz, CA last fall. The hens-and-chicks plant was enormous and very healthy and growing in the swale between a busy downtown street and sidewalk. The progression of the ranks of leaves fascinated me. Each ring draws the eye closer to the barely revealed heart of the cluster.

I found  different aspects of the pattern were accentuated by different color treatments. Each treatment is intended to bring the viewer into a closer inspection of form and order of the plants. Or maybe I just liked the bright green on the dark brown. I hope you’ll find something interesting in it, too.

“Hippy Chicks” will be on display and available for sale from the Overland Gallery. The Public is invited to the Artist’s Opening Reception – Wednesday, May 21, 2014 from 4 -7 PM. Artwork will be on display through the month of May and June.

Second Glaze Firing Results

The kiln wasn’t very full on the last firing, but it did contain a few pieces I was pleased to see. The pie plate is the second in the Traveling Pie Plate series, which I plan to kick off when blueberries come in. The wide tile will wind up somewhere on my fence in the back yard. And the little toothpick holder just made me smile. I just wish it were 12″ tall. Still, not bad.

Next, I get to put price stickers on everything and pack in preparation for the Festival on the Neuse. Whee! Then, if I’m lucky, I get to get back to throwing, which is really my favorite part of the process. So, back to work! Enjoy your day with a piece of pottery.

Traveling Pie Plate #2

Traveling Pie Plate #2


Small Cup


Tile, about 16″ wide

Useful Items in the Studio

Propane Torch Holder

Propane Torch Holder

Torch Holder

I made a holder for my propane torch, which will be wall-mounted within reach while throwing. The torch is really easy to handle, but when it’s hot, it needs to set down on something that won’t ignite. The area around my wheel, when throwing, doesn’t have a lot of predictably free space, so hanging it on the wall made sense. Making a stoneware holder for it seemed like a good idea to protect the paneling from the hot torch tip. This is the first design, so I expect it will be open to improvements, but one must start somewhere.  We’ll see how it works.

2-Piece Splash Pan Helper

I have a Shimpo Whisper wheel. It’s great. I really like using it. The splash pan is another matter. While it’s easy to remove for cleaning, as it has aged, it has worn enough that the two halves don’t always stay together so well during longer throwing sessions. This means the top deck of the wheel gets messy.

Big rubber band keeps splash pan together

Big rubber band keeps splash pan together

Recently, in the grocery store, I noticed a rack with giant rubber bans intended to keep trash bag liners in place. It included a 9″ band and a 15″ band. I had to try them. They both fit, with the 15″ band providing a nice degree of tension while being easy to put on and remove. So far, so good. If I were picking a specific size, I’d guess a 12″ band would be perfect.



Follow up on the torch holder

Wall mounted torch holder

Wall mounted torch holder

I mounted the torch holder on the wall behind the wheel. It looks pretty good, and I think it will be good for a start. It will really come down to using it while throwing, and as it is, the torch holder is a little farther away than I would like, but I couldn’t come up with a better place. I may make a rolling cart for it, and the tank, that would allow the torch to be closer when needed.