Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Give and Take of it All

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with a classmate of mine from art school. I haven't seen this person in 8 years. She is an incredibly talented potter whose work I really admired while in school. After graduation, she tried her hand at potting full time, but was incredibly frustrated by the lack of financial security, and the long hours needed to make ends meet. After hiding out in teacher's college, she is now teaching at a facility that she loves, has a stable career and a steady paycheck. And yet...

"You know, I'm jealous of you, of what you have..."


Let's just recap what it is I "have".
I work 7 days a week. In fact, I just finished a two year stint where I could count my days off on one hand. I am plagued with financial insecurity; let's face it, I make luxury goods and we're in the biggest global recession of a generation.

"Yes, but you get to make pots all day..."

Sure I get to make pots all day. Dozens and dozens of pots. Every day. And though I've been better lately, I rarely get to make new pots, different pots, or even just pots that explore the creative realms of my brain.

I guess all I'm trying to get at here is that there's a trade off to everything. For those of us who do production work, we DO get to make pots all day, but that comes with a heavy price. I'm stressed. I worry about finances. It's hard to find time for creative play. And while making work all the time can be incredibly rewarding, it can take its toll. There are others who maybe teach pottery classes, so that they don't have to do as much production but that comes with it's own price too. Teaching can be exhausting. It might subsidize the pottery making, but it also takes time away from making your own pottery. Other potters try to balance a part/full time job with a pottery career and that's no small feat either. There's only so many hours in a day, and so much energy that one person has.

So everything comes at a price. The price you are willing to pay for what you want is completely personal. I would never begrudge someone for leaving a studio career to pursue a full time career somewhere else. I can't imagine how difficult a decision like that would be. Nor would I begrudge someone who doesn't pot full time.  While it's flattering that people are envious of what I do, at the same time, I'm not afraid to admit that I'm pretty envious of others who don't have to worry about how their bills are going to be paid next month.

I guess the most important thing is if you REALLY  want to make pots, that you find a way to do it whether it be full time, part time or even sporadically. And don't come down on others who choose to do things differently. It's ALL hard. It all comes with sacrifice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nose to the Grindstone...

With summer officially out of the way, I find myself elbow-deep in clay and glaze. Christmas is coming! (It's exhausting just thinking about it!) Things are in full production here and the studio is already overflowing with work.

My cat Frank, sleeping in the midst of some bisqueware

This coming weekend is my local studio tour. This year is the first time that I will be at my own studio. The previous three years I have been featured as a visiting artist at Linda Rapai's studio in Port Rowan. I'm excited to showcase my creative space. My studio is in a century old barn on my parent's apple orchard. There are hand hewn wooden beams and floorboards up to 19" across. It's a beautiful space and I'm lucky to be able to use it.

AND... you'll be happy to hear I'm still doing really well with my pledge to maintain some creative time amidst all the production. I've got some new test bowls in the kiln as I type this, some more drying out on my work table, and some new felware to show off.

feltware cups

Anemone Teacup and saucer

Feltware Vase

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where the heck did summer go?!!?!!

Okay. So basically summer's over. And exactly where the hell have I been, you're wondering?

My summer has been incredibly hectic. I spent three days a week at an art fair in Stratford, Ontario. Which doesn't really leave me a lot of time for making work, packing and shipping orders, glazing and firing, keeping up with my paperwork, and definitely NO time for keeping up with my blog posts.
My most sincere apologies.

BUT, here's a taste of what I have been working on...

I've tried my hand at casseroles, and I can honestly say I never thought I'd be so excited by them! Working on several different sizes, including an individual one.

I've also been working on my feltware collection. Here's a little covered jar from an anemone series I'm working on. People seem to be a little weirded out by the anemones but I'm having fun. I've also got some other pieces in this series I"ll post soon.

there's some functional feltware...

I decided that rather than felting the wool right onto the porcelain, I'd make it removable. This, after listening to customers at shows. So thanks everyone for the feedback! On the left is a travel mug. It was tough getting the top to fit, especially with porcelain's tendency to warp, and I'll admit out of 4, only one was round enough to fit the lid snugly. This guy now happily resides in Michigan! The other pieces are dessert bowls. I fell in love with frozen cherries this summer as a refreshing treat... little bit of brown sugar on them, YUM! But I found I had to wrap my bowl in a towel because it got so cold and there was a lot of condensation on it. So voila! Hand felted cozies that perfectly fit the bowls. Just wash them like you would a wool sweater, in cold water, and then stretch them over the bowls to dry. Perfect for ice cream or even hot apple crisp, or a steaming bowl of soup in the fall to keep you warm!

With all of the fun I've been having taking my work in a new direction, I have found I've come full circle and have added several new pieces to my Arabesque line as well. And you remember some of these tests I did a while back? I've found my way back there and using some techniques involving transfer paper. I have some ideas on how to incorporate this into my work so we'll see how this works out over the next little while.

Making new and different pieces has been very invigorating. It's been really hard to "fit" in the time to make them, but has been well worth the effort and stress it caused. And with the hectic fall/Christmas schedule I have lined up, it will important for me to take these creative diversions for my own sanity.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Few More Gray's and the Lessons Learned

This year started off with a bang in our studio. Going from a HUGE Christmas show, to developing new work and replacing stock by the end of January didn't leave any time for much of a break. Then came a wholesale show that I do, and this year we introduced not only a new line of pottery, but a completely different line of work as well.

This strategy proved to be a success and has left us absolutely swamped with orders. Yay! BUT, it has also made it difficult for us to balance work and rest. In addition to all those orders we are struggling to fill, my husband and I were off to Toronto for Easter weekend for another huge craft show. Getting ready for this show in the midst of fulfilling wholesale orders meant working 12 hour days, and seven days a week for 2 months straight.

I certainly don't recommend that.

With wholesale orders needing to go out as soon as I returned from the craft show, I squeezed in a glaze firing two days before we were scheduled to set up for the show. When I came in the next morning to check the kiln, I was a bit puzzled to see that it had taken 2 hours more than usual to fire. Hmmm....

It only took me a minute to realize what was up. I had wanted to drop my firing temperature of 2205 by 10 degrees to prevent my matte glaze from boiling. Instead, what I did was increase the temperature by 100 degrees. Yup. I set my kiln for 2295 instead of 2195. As soon as I became aware of the situation my eyes teared up and I was left feeling rather nauseous.

So in addition to packing for a show, I now had to re-throw a bunch of work, dry it super fast and trim it so that it would be ready to fire as soon as I got back from the show so that I could still get the order out in good time.

And what did I learn from all of this?


Rushing get's me nowhere. In fact, rushing actually pushes me backwards. I definitely need to pace myself better, recognize that time off is important, no matter HOW much work I have to do.

I also learned that extended periods of stress seem to multiply my gray hairs.
Oh well.

The good news from all of this: I only damaged ONE kiln shelf. And I actually managed to salvage 4 of my berry bowls. They look extra amazing with lots of juicy drips.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Feltware

Here are some of the latest additions to my feltware collection. I'm feeling pretty confident about the process now and have a system that is working really well for the templates I'm using for this type of 3D felting.

I'm especially enjoying playing with the colours available to me with the wool roving that I am using for the felt. And my slate glaze has become a perfect neutral to pair it with.

As usual, it's my limited time to play that I find the most frustrating. But I have been adding a few 'extra' balls of clay to my daily 'to throw' pile and this means making a few pieces a week to felt. While I would love to focus MORE of my time on this new venture, it's just not going to happen. I've got orders to make, bills to pay, and shows to get ready for. So, while my pace may feel glacial, at least it's moving forward.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Singing the Test Tile Blues

It's that time of year again. Test tiles.

You may recall, I've been working out ideas for a new line of work for quite some time now. This past Christmas things finally came together and I unveiled this new line at my recent wholesale show in Toronto.

Getting it ready for the show, unfortunately, was quite the ordeal. I was struggling to find a nice, clear, durable glaze that I could use with this one that I had been working on a while back. I had a very specific color in mind and set about testing, testing, and testing some more to achieve it. Robin's egg blue. Maybe a bit more of the blue, less of the turquoise, but just to give you an idea. And I had an idea of where to start with my testing. Copper, maybe a fraction of a percent of cobalt to punch it to the blue side...

My guesses were pretty good and in my first batch of test tiles I hit the color I was looking for: 1% copper carbonate plus 0.1% cobalt carbonate. So I set about mixing up a slightly larger batch to get it on some work. It's always easier to get a real feel for a glaze by testing larger batches, rather than just mixing up a huge bucket from what you see on a test tile. Annnnnnd.... I'm glad I did.

Disaster. Super ICK. Bubbles! Everywhere, thousands and thousands of bubbles! My beautiful, clear, glossy glaze was dulled with a pitted surface and microscopic bubbles everywhere. Test tiles are far too small to get an accurate picture of what a glaze will do, and in this case, what the glaze did on a plate, was much different that what it did on a tile.

So. I hit the books. Copper gives off gas after 1975' or so. (Don't quote me on that temperature though, I'm not sure exactly where it starts to get volatile). All that gas was getting trapped in my glaze, even with a hold at peak temperature. Okay. No problem. The carbonate form of copper can release more gas that the oxide form so I mixed up some more tests, using 0.65% copper oxide instead of the carbonate. (The oxide is a stronger colorant). But alas, the bubbles persisted.

Okay. No problem. Tinker with the glaze recipe a bit and I should be able to fix that, right? Working with my Insight program, I tried adding 2% lithium carbonate to the glaze as a way to smooth out the surface. And it worked! But now instead of a beautiful, clear glaze, I had a beautiful, variegated glaze.

Okay. No problem. Back to the Insight program. I removed the lithium and decided to tackle the alumina. I was able to lower the alumina content of my glaze to make it a bit runnier, the idea being that if the glaze flows and moves better, those pesky little bubbles will be able to escape.

Annnnnd, it worked! but now I had yet another problem. Boron clouding. Ugh. The alumina keeps the glaze stiff which prevents boron crystals from forming. Without the alumina, the crystals were able to grow. That means, no clear glaze for me.

With the clock ticking and me needing to resolve this issue, I turned to stains. Yes. Stains. Something I had sworn I would never use. Something I had always considered as a form of cheating. With my head hanging low, I ordered several different shades of what looked like promising colors and went back to mixing up test batches.

The first bunch of tests gave me an idea of how each stain looked. From there, I was able to put together some blends that I thought would push the color to where I wanted it. And as luck would have it, the next batch gave me just what I was looking for.

Actually, it gave me better than what I was looking for. I have a whole new respect for those stains, let me tell ya'. And I may just be turning to them a lot more in the future.

And as for that new line of work...
You may be wondering why it's so different from where my tests began so many months ago. What can I say? There's no telling where creative adventures will take us. I can say, however, that I'm really pleased with how the new line looks!